Another Personal Account, this time from Basil Preston.

“Hi Mark, our intake 132, also did some boat training at Deka Drum (November 1973????). Betty was the bar lady and after much drinking etc, Terry Bowers (the rugby player) would call out, “Betty, you beauty” and she would dish out a fresh round of drinks. Once every one was happy, the guys then decided to swim across the Deka river, possibly near the place where Hannes Botha had his mishap. Those Sappers who were not too sozzled stood guard against any crock attacking the swimmers…but thankfully no crocks were involved; only silly and happy innocent Sappers. Keep up the good writing. Basil.”

Not too sure about the innocent Sappers.

Thanks Basil and keep the recollections coming.

Please also have a look at my website dedicated to Rhodesian and South African Military Engineers.  Please join us on the forums by using the following link:

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© Mark Richard Craig and Fatfox9’s Blog, 2009-2015. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

What a fitting Personal Account to compliment my previous posts of my time on the boats.

Hannes Botha served in the Infantry at 1 Independent Company, Wankie (1 Indep).  Part of their ground patrol area was parallel to the area I patrolled by boat and our paths have in all probability, crossed.

As one of my leading supporters mentioned to me only yesterday, we must never let this part of our history disappear.

Thank you for letting me use this Hannes.  Your contribution is spot on and there was more than one occasion I helped the Infantry out…….we were all Brothers.

Hannes now takes up the post:

“I remember losing a FN off one of the engineers boats into the Deka river in February / March 1974. We were on patrol from the Deka army camp.My corporal couldn’t read a map so we were going round in circles like the “fakwe bird “. We were to patrol a few klicks away from the river.I eventually said to him that i had fished in this area since i was a kid and that we should walk down to the river and get a lift to the Deka Drum fishing camp. While walking along the Zambezi towards the Deka the engineers came past us in their boat.We called out to them and they came over to us .We asked them to give us a ride to the fishing camp, they refused saying that if the brass found out there could be hell to pay. They took off with the boat and we carried on walking to the Deka river. When we reached the Deka river and walked up-stream we had to walk a short distance from the river due to the mud along the river bank after the flooding. We then heard a boat coming up-stream, it was the engineers who came back to pick us up as they felt sorry for us.As we made our way to the boat i lost my footing after stepping into a hole covered with mud and fell onto a rock. I asked my corporal to pull me up. he put his FN on the bow of the boat , took my MAG and put it on top of the FN and pulled me up. We both climbed into the boat and as we moved away from the bank into the stream he handed the MAG to me .The boat tilted to one side and all we heard was something sliding and then “”ploep “. The FN had fallen into the river. We got our ride to the fishing camp where we had beers, and hamburgers after thanking the engineers for the lift and telling them that we would report the loss the next day. Well the next day the s##t hit the fan. There was a lot of noise when we got back to the Deka camp and an inquire once we got back to 1 INDEP in Wankie. That FN is still lying in the Deka river. Hannes Botha”

Please also have a look at my website dedicated to Rhodesian and South African Military Engineers.  Please join us on the forums by using the following link:

http://www.sasappers.net/forum/index.php

Copyright

© Mark Richard Craig and Fatfox9’s Blog, 2009-2015. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

WELL AFTER MIDNIGHT 2 CLICKS UP THE MULOLA RIVER: ALMOST DEAD IN THE WATER

Either way this was going to be dodgy….very dodgy.

I had managed to snap a shear-pin on the port outboard during a high rev gear-shift and it would need to be replaced if we were going to make it back to Rhodesia before first light.  It was pitch-black now and we needed to make a decision.  Firstly whether to attempt to replace the shear-pin before exfiltrating Zambia, or alternatively use just the remaining engine on its own to snail-pace it back home.

The problem with the first alternative was the lack of light.  The moon was long gone and there were no stars.  Shear pins are small components and working on an engine in the dark (and crocodile infested waters) would make things quite tricky.  Changing them in the daylight was pretty straightforward but we had not tried this at night.  The second option seemed feasible except for the fact that should there be a second engine failure we would simply become passengers in a boat going to nowhere.

There was of course a third, unspoken option available and that was to row back.  All of our boats carried two oars for loss-of-power events and our current predicament fell into this category at least half-way without a doubt.  However we had already crossed this option off the list as being impractical due to the distance involved and also because we were a pair of lazy bastards.

We settled on the shear-pin replacement before exfiltration, figuring it to be the best of a bad set of possibilities.  The procedure for replacement is quite simple really, it was just the environment we were in that was going to make it challenging.

We first made sure the boat was tied up as securely and close to the bank as possible.  It was quite shallow where we were and it was possible to stand on the muddy and slippery river-bottom.  Unseen things brushed against our legs, bringing thoughts of snakes and crocodiles to mind in a flash.  With the few tools and spare part we needed shared between us we moved to the stern of the boat.  She bobbed silently up and down.  Something big splashed not too far from us……probably a crocodile entering the water from the far bank.  At least that is what goes through a mans mind.

We needed to get the damaged motor out of the water to work on it.  While one of us released the motor locking catch the other tilted the entire engine upwards until ut was at an angle of about 45 degrees.  It was then locked into position again.  Like this we could get to the propeller where most of the work would take place.  We now needed to get the propeller off by removing its retaining nut.  This is locked with a cotter-pin which we needed to remove first after straightening it.  These usually break as well so we had a spare with us.  We could just about see what we were doing in the dim light but to our surprise managed to get the propeller off quite quickly.  Feeling up the now exposed drive-shaft we needed to locate the shear-pin hole and having done so pushed out the broken pin.  Taking the new pin we tapped it gently into its hole and then reassembled the propeller components in the reverse order.  Having dropped the engine back into its operating position, we untied the boat from the bank and climbed aboard.  It was only then that I realised how cold and miserable we both looked but for the first time in ages we both laughed at ourselves.

Outboard shear pin

The above picture shows the shear-pin (top) and the split-pin (boatsportandtackle.com).

The picture below shows how the motor is set at 45 degrees on land (fibreglassics.com).  We had to do this in the water.

vndxxc

I got myself back behind the wheel and checked that Tony was ready to start the motors.  He gave a thumbs up and I set the throttles to the start position.  Tony primed the carbs, and ensuring both motors were in neutral, started them one at a time, pulling them to life with an old piece of rope wrapped round the flywheels.  We were slowly drifting backwards towards the Zambezi but to our complete satisfaction both engines had fired up sweetly.  Smiles all around and the tension seemed to disappear as I gently shifted the two motors into forward gear, pushed up the revs and bought us round so the bows were headed for the Zambezi…….we were going home.

The trip out of Zambia was uneventful and seemed to take less time than going in.  I was probably giving it a little more gas than Tony did on the way in and we were soon at the Mulola mouth and headed west.  It was still quite dark although our eyes were by now well-adjusted and I could make out shapes all around.  The high sides of the Zambian bank still towering over us, seeming to want to take us back.

Tony had moved to the front of the boat now and we sat in silence, each with his own thoughts once again.  The engines were looking after themselves now, singing a metallic melody to the starless night.  There was still a way to go though and we were weary too but both needed to stay switched on now.  I moved us gently through the double S-bends that would bring us out close to Msuna and then on to Sibankwazi.  In my dreams I was hoping for a full English breakfast served up by the Member-In-Charge.  Hot sweet tea made with condensed milk, and steak and eggs crossed my mind.  I could imagine the aroma of fried onions.

Msuna was behind us now and we would soon be approaching Sibankwazi.  Their guards should be able to hear our engines by now.  Tony switched on our small VHF radio and checked in with the police, letting them know it was us and requested a strobe flash for direction.  We both strained our eyes looking for the strobe and when it came we were almost opposite the camp.  I swung the boat round 90 degrees to port and headed for our safe-haven……..we were home.

Please also have a look at my website dedicated to Rhodesian and South African Military Engineers.  Join us on the forums by using the following link:

http://www.sasappers.net/forum/index.php

Copyright

© Mark Richard Craig and Fatfox9’s Blog, 2009-2015. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

ZAMBEZI RIVER DOWNRIVER FROM MAPETA ISLAND: EN-ROUTE TO THE SAS DROP-OFF POINT

The boat was heavy and she laboured through the water and it felt as if invisible claws were trying to hold her back…..not wanting to let us go.  An omen perhaps?

Tony was doing the best he could but try as he might he could not get us up on the plane even though we had moved as much kit to the back of the boat as possible to lift the bows.  This in turn caused the stern to dip dangerously low towards the waterline and it was a little unsettling to say the least.  Port and starboard trim was good though and we remained straight and level, not tilted to one side.  We settled on a half-throttle pace, and taking our direction from the SAS Operator on the front bench the twin Evinrudes burbled us slowly back down the river.

We travelled within Rhodesian territory for quite some time, and for youngsters that had no previous experience of this type of operation this took away some of the tension of what may be ahead of us.  It was somehow reassuring to know Rhodesia, our safe haven, was not too far away if the shit hit the fan.  The SAS Operators were as always the ultimate professionals and I was proud to be working with them.  They instilled a sense of security.  You knew instinctively that if things turned nasty they would know exactly what to do.  They were good men.

We had passed the Maungwa River mouth to the north, and then our second home the British South Africa Police (BSAP) camp at Sibankwazi.  Msuna Mouth glided by in the darkness to our right and I craved for the ice-cold beers and battered barbel snacks I had consumed there on many a visit to the friendly owners of the fishing resort.  It was easy to let ones mind roam and that was dangerous.  We meandered on down the river, passing two large islands……both pitch-black and foreboding.

I was jerked back to the present, my mind having begun to wander off.  Tony had swung us hard a-port and I lost my balance slightly while at the same time keeping a beady eye on the bow wave.  The SAS man at the front had given a silent direction change to Tony.  In a few minutes we would be crossing the invisible line that marked the international border between Rhodesia and Zambia.  It was an eerie feeling, crossing into another country without permission, no passports, no questions.  I began to warm to the idea of doing something I had never done before, and indeed I had crossed that point where fear no longer exists.  You were committed to the mission, personal weakness or doubts could no longer be a consideration and there was no turning back.  On every high-risk mission I have taken part in there was always a short period when I was afraid, sometimes very afraid.  With me this is usually at the start and moving into the advance-to contact-phase, but once time crosses that indefinable moment that I cannot explain, a wonderful warm feeling washes over me….a feeling of being in control of my own emotions and destiny.  The dye had been cast and there was no return.

It was that time for me now……approaching enemy shores on a dark and lonely river.

40

(Reservoir by StrongSteve)

The atmosphere on the boat had changed in a very subtle way.  No one said anything but you could feel it.  The SAS men began to check small details on their kit.  Weapons were moved into more convenient positions, the smell of gun-oil permeating the air, masculine and comforting.  Webbing was tightened over shoulders, shifting the weight of equipment onto the hips.  Legs were stretched in the cramped confines of the boat.

A small red light came on as one of the Operators checked a plastic covered map with a small torch…….looking up at me he nodded his head, managing a white-toothed smile that shone through the darkness of the night and his camouflage cream.  We were now well into Zambian waters and heading towards the Mulola River, one of the biggest rivers that emptied from that country into the Zambezi.  We could see its gaping mouth ahead of us……a huge dark maw of emptiness seemingly waiting to swallow its victim.  As we exited the Zambezi and entered the Mulola it became claustrophobic…….or so it seemed to me.  After having vast expanses of water between the boat and land previously, we were now being enclosed by the high, almost invisible banks of the Mulola.  The feeling of vulnerability returned to me, this would be the perfect place for an ambush and a mans imagination can run amok.  This is good in some ways as it keeps you switched on.  We were trained to always look for cover to move to if attacked.  On land this is great idea but in the middle of a river it means absolutely bugger all.  if the gooks were waiting for us we were well and truly fucked.  Even if we made it to one of the banks, climbing to safe ground would be a challenge in the thick, rich vegetation.  I unconsciously thought of gunfire and green tracers arching through the night sky……..willing them to stay away.

I cannot be sure how far we went up the river but probably about 2 kilometers as far as I can remember.  Tony had the engines throttled right back now and we were just making enough way for the con to respond.  At this speed the engines were almost silent but in the still dark night sounded to me like a pair of screaming banshees.  it seemed to me that any gook within 100 clicks would hear us.

Ops Mulola 2

The map above shows our general route from the pick-up point to the drop-off point.  Places of note along the way are also shown.  The Mulola was, to the best of my recollection dry in some areas at that time and we navigated up river via quite narrow channels.

The boat rocked as the SAS Operator at the front stood up.  He was studying the bank on the western side of the river.  Understandably there had been no pre-recce of a drop-off point for security reasons and getting these lads off safely was now our top priority.  It was past midnight and we also needed to get back before first light.  We kept moving further into Zambia.  The SAS navigator indicated to Tony that we should get closer to the bank and stop.  He took out his map, again a little red torch was used, the only sound the two idling engines.  The navigator moved us forward again…….one, two, three minutes passed and then just before the river took a sharp turn to the left he had Tony pull us into a wide hippo-track that led up the river bank.  We had arrived at the drop-off point.

These men were well-trained.  There was no need for chatter or briefings.  That was all done before we left Rhodesia.  And they were so silent….no clanking or scraping of metal.  Preparation was perfect in all respects.   Everyone knew what he had to do and what kit he needed to carry.  They disembarked fast and before we knew it all except one had disappeared up the hippo-track to the top of the river bank.  The boat seemed to breathe a huge sigh as the weight was lifted from her trusty old frame and she rose proudly up and out of the water, rocking gently to and fro.  The Operator that remained with us spoke in low tones.  He thanked us on behalf of the others and added that the plan had changed.  We no longer needed to go back to the old farm at Mapeta, nor would we need to pick them up.  We were to go straight back to Sibankwazi.

And then he was gone…….a grey ghost vanishing into the night.  I was a little sad really and I would miss those guys.

There was a lot of water in the boat, all pooled at the stern under my booted feet.  This was not as bad as it seemed and it would drain through a manually operated ball-cock on the way back when we got up on the plane.  It was time for Tony and I to change over.  The first thing to be done was to connect the reserve fuel tanks without killing the motors.  We wanted to keep them running to avoid any type of technical failure on a restart.  This was not too much of a challenge and we managed to bring the new fuel on-line without incident.

Tony took his place at the stern and I got behind the wheel…………it was time for the lonely journey back.  Thats when my imagination started working overtime again.  What if the evil gooks had planned it this way?  Let us in and then shoot the shit out of us on the way out?  it seemed plausible to me and something I might try if I were in their position.  Just one of those things though and we needed to get moving.

Both engines were gurgling sweetly on idle and Tony gave me a thumbs-up to start moving astern.  I took a sip of Coke from a can I had opened and shifted both engines into reverse……..and heard the sickening crack of a propeller shear-pin snapping.  I had somehow manged to break the golden rule…….too many revs when changing gear normally equals shear-pin failure.  I had just screwed-up fifty percent of our motive power and possibly placed us in harm’s way.

We were now two clicks up a Zambian Creek in a leaky boat with a dead engine………and the possibility we were being watched by bad guys was very real.

This mission was far from over………….

Please also have a look at my website dedicated to Rhodesian and South African Military Engineers.  Please join us on the forums by using the following link:

http://www.sasappers.net/forum/index.php

Copyright

© Mark Richard Craig and Fatfox9’s Blog, 2009-2015. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PICK-UP POINT: WEST OF MAPETA ISLAND

Tony and I had disembarked after deciding sitting on the boat was a bad idea and made us look like two shit-scared school boys.

We had found a position from where we could observe the boat and anyone approaching it.  We needed to be careful here as in the poor light, we, or someone else approaching could be mistaken for the enemy with catastrophic consequences.  We waited, and then waited some more.  I juggled with the idea of letting the BSAP know we were in position but decided against it.  We had agreed we would only make comms if we were in trouble.

Somewhere close by a tiger fish broke the surface, crashing back down into the water………a baboon barked in the early darkness, signalling danger.  That was all…….nothing else stirred except the mosquitos that had found a new source of fresh blood.  I began to think we were in the wrong position and had indeed fucked-up.

The man appeared silently from our right and immediately reassured us that he was one of us and showed no aggression.  Without introductions he instructed us to follow him further inland until we arrived at what looked like a typical Rhodesian farm-house with a huge verandah facing the river.  We had climbed a bit while following our mysterious stranger and the view from our present position would have been stunning in the daylight………at night all one could see was a black blob of nothingness.

There were about ten of them on the verandah.  These were serious looking men.  Clean shaven, neat military style hair and in full camouflage uniform.  No beards so they were probably not Selous Scouts.  I figured they were Rhodesian SAS.  AK 47’s leant against the low verandah wall, an RPD and PKM rested lopsided on their bipods on the once highly polished floor.

There were still no introductions and that is the way it stayed.  No names and in any case if there were they would have been pseudo.  Thats how these men worked.  We knew who they were and they knew who we were.  That was good enough for me and Tony.  There was quite a bit of banter going back and forth and we were drawn into it.  I savoured the moment of working with a Unit that I considered probably the best in the world.  I was more than a little in awe of these men.  And so I should have been.

One of them called us aside and for the first time we were told what our mission was.  We were to take the SAS into Zambia by inserting them up the Mulola River by boat.  Our old Hercules was about to get her moment of glory…….and perhaps we were too.  I was about to take part in my first external operation and who better to do this with than the men who wore the Winged Dagger and Wings On Chest?  The job was straightforward enough…….take an SAS callsign up a Zambian creek and drop them off…….then pick them up at the same spot 24 hours later.

We went back onto the verandah where the other Operators were busy preparing a strange brown, round object that had 2 halves to it, like a cake tin and about the same size.  Instinctively I knew it was a landmine of some sorts but nothing I had ever seen before.  As a Rhodesian Combat Engineer I prided myself on my knowledge of the various mines we may encounter in Rhodesia but this was something else.  And this is when I gained immense respect for our “hosts”.  They told us what it was and how it worked.  It was called a “Rose” mine and had been designed to kill anyone trying to lift it once armed.  This anti-vehicle mine had a number of initiation triggers.  If my memory serves me correctly it could be set off in five or six different ways , including a light-sensitive switch that would activate when the mine was uncovered.  It also had a delayed arming fuse to ensure the person laying the mine was not on a one-way ticket when he pulled the pin.  This was highly secret stuff and the last thing I expected was to be invited to help prepare them for the mission.  After a quick lesson from one of the Operators Tony and I were only too willing to put the devices together……plastic explosives (lots of it), primers, detonators, ignitors.  The last part of the preparation was putting the top and bottom of the mine together…….closing the cake tin and taping it up.  All that would be needed now was to find a nice busy road in Zambia, dig a hole, emplace the mine, remove the safety device, and cover everything up.

I really warmed to these guys.  Utter professionals from their full camo dress to the way they treated us as equals.  Quiet men with nothing to prove.  No rank showing and no rank used.  Making us tea and even sharing a light meal with us.  When they blackened-up they helped us to get it right too while joking among themselves but never taking the piss.  I decided that one day I wanted to be like them and do what they do.  I never quite made it but came close as dammit.

It was pitch black when we started back down the trail to the boat.  The moon glowed behind wispy clouds……stars twinkled in the dark heavens.  The Operators wore Bergen back-packs that looked like they weighed a ton and we helped them with some of the other kit they were taking with them.  It seemed to me the mines were in the Bergens.  Only six of the Operators were going into Zambia.  The remainder had stayed behind to act as a rear link.

Going downhill in the dark while carrying a lot of kit is not easy and it was a relief when we broke out onto the smooth open sand where the boat was tied up.  A million things start to go through your head at this time.  Engine reliability, fuel, getting shot at and the lonely trip back that awaited Tony and I.  One thing I was not worried about was navigating to the drop-off point in Zambia.  We had a bunch of the best navigators in the world with us!  Getting back to the old farmhouse on our own was something entirely different!

We started to load the kit onto the boat.  This was serious stuff now as we needed to get the trim right or the Hercules would be a bitch to handle and very unstable.  We were going to be really heavy on this outward trip and we literally played a balancing act as to where everything and everyone would be located during the journey.  The placing of the kit and personnel was the responsibility of the boat commander who was Tony on the drop-off phase.  He had complete control of who sat where and there were no arguments, irregardless of rank.  This was the rule and everyone knew it.  I would position myself next to the motors on the way into Zambia and one of the Operators would sit next to Tony and navigate us in.

I would be the last person to board.  Once everyone was where they should be one of the Operators and I shoved the boat out into the channel and jumped onboard.  Moving to the back I started the already primed motors and Tony eased us slowly into the darkness………

Please also have a look at my website dedicated to Rhodesian and South African Military Engineers.  Please join us on the forums by using the following link:

http://www.sasappers.net/forum/index.php

Copyright

© Mark Richard Craig and Fatfox9’s Blog, 2009-2015. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

ON THE ZAMBEZI RIVER ENROUTE FROM SIBANKWAZI BRITISH SOUTH AFRICA POLICE CAMP TO MAPETA ISLAND

The wind had picked up as we made our way to the RV and the mystery contact man.

Although not dark it was overcast and last light would be upon us quicker than expected.  I cursed myself severely for not adding some slack to our travel time.  Too late now though as we were about half way there according to our 1:50,000 map.  Tony was navigating and sitting right beside me on the hard wooden bench, spray flying at us over the bows of the Hercules, stinging the skin, but in a perverse way also refreshing.  It had been a sweltering hot day and the coolness of the oncoming night was welcome.

I had the motors at full throttle and we were well up on the plane.  The boat was perfectly trimmed and like this she handled like a thoroughbred, riding the wavelets smoothly as I ensured we ploughed through them at just the right angle.  Tony and I were enjoying this, but ever vigilant.  It was all too easy to fall into a false state of security on this river.  Besides the possibility of gooks taking a shot at us there was the ever-present danger of logs and trees floating down the river.  If we hit one of those at speed we were stuffed.

I was scared of the unknown.  I’m not afraid to admit it.  Still a young Sapper I took comfort in knowing we had been trained by the best instructors we could have wished for, both Infantry and Engineer……….but they cannot teach a man to be courageous, how to be dauntless.  That has to come from inside when he is in deadly peril or facing an up close enemy who wants to kill him……only then will he really know the limits of his nerve and mettle.  (Note that I did not use the word fearless…….my own opinion is that it is dangerous to be in the company of fearless men).

Tony nudged me and indicated on the map that we were approaching Mapeta Island (Latitude -18.05, Longitude 26.73333).  It loomed out of the twilight, huge in its size.  There was no mistaking it and I was pleased with the timing.  We needed to be careful now as part of Mapeta Island was Zambian territory and there could be gooks present although we had never had trouble from there before.

The light was almost perfect as I throttled back and steered us to port, entering the Islands left side channel.  Checking the map Tony made the call and pointed towards land.  We were at the spot given to us as the RV.  I just hoped we had not fucked-up.

We slipped slowly towards the river bank, the engines just ticking over to give enough headway to steer.  Tony was standing on the bows now, doing his best to see and guide me around anything that may damage the boat.  The wind was coming from behind us here and the exhaust from the motors blew over us, the acrid smell of the fuel mixture seeming to corrupt the beauty of this part of the great river.

I carefully eased the boat into a cleared area of the river bank I could see.  This would make it easier for mooring and disembarking.  I killed the two engines as we gently grounded in soft sand……..and then there was nothing.

The silence was almost deafening and anyone who has never experienced this void of any noise will never truly understand what I mean here.  The only sound was the pinging of the engines cooling down…….and the gentle lapping of water against the side of the boat.

It was now simply a waiting game……….

Copyright

© Mark Richard Craig and Fatfox9’s Blog, 2009-2015. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Forgive the intrusion on my recollections but some things tear at the strings of my heart……this is one of them.

I have not done this before but feel the urge to be with this Brother.  Please read the words well and if you could see this Brother on his way to the Squadron In The Sky please go and stand by his Son and Daughter as they bid him farewell.  After all we will all meet him there one day.

This is an appeal for an old soldier. An Army Commando.

This is Albert “Jim” Howard. Jim was landed on Sword Beach by a Torpedo boat that picked him out the water after his troop ship hit a mine. 250 of the 1000 troops on board were killed and Jim was blown over board by the explosion.

After his unit regrouped they spent most of their time behind German lines doing reconnaissance work and disrupting the enemy. At one point Jim was separated from his unit so rested up the night in a shed. When he woke he found he was in the middle of a German unit, so he sneaked out and jumped into a German truck and drove it back to his own lines.

Jim was sited for an award after he singled handed took out a German machine gun during an ambush but the report was never sent as the officer was killed in action.

Sadly Jim passed away on Feb 1st 2015 at the age of 92. The only family he has is a son and daughter. I’m making this appeal for anyone to come and send this hero off. His funeral is on Feb 20th at 1400 and taking place in the Parish Church in Combe Martin in North Devon.

Can I also ask people to share this post and share the word about this lovely man

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DEKA ARMY BASE: LATE AFTERNOON

Conversation between Camp OC and ourselves:

“I want you two wasters to get your boat ready for a night operation.  You are to take your boat to this grid reference (him indicating on the map) and wait there for someone to make contact with you.  You will need spare fuel tanks, 24 hours rations and full ammo.  I cannot tell you anything else but make sure you get there just as last light falls and don’t fuck up on the position I just gave you”

That was it.  Short and to the point.

It quickly became time to go.  As Tony and I climbed into the back of the Mercedes 25 Troop Carrying Vehicle (TCV) we looked at each other and wondered what the hell this was all about.  We didn’t even know who we were supposed to meet and more importantly, what for.  The driver fired the Unimog up and with a characteristic torque-induced jerk we were off, easing through the camp entrance, and then turning sharp left onto the road to Sibankwazi.  To our boat……..and the Zambezi River.

I had looked at the Ops Room map as the Captain briefed us and taken down the grid reference we were headed for.  As far as my memory serves me it was at the position marked SAS pick-up position on the map shown below, near to Mapeta Island:

Ops Mulola

Tony and I had worked the time and distance calculation to get us to the Rendezvous Point (RV) just as last light was coming on.  We were both edgy and rather subdued on the journey down to the boat, each of us respecting one another’s silence.  Travelling the Zambezi River during the day was a challenge at the best of times, always having to ensure that we never strayed across the international boundary (Rhodesia/Zambia), which was an invisible line running up and down the river, but not necessarily in the middle.  We were now going to be travelling on the water towards dusk and more than likely in darkness if our suspicions were right.  Logic told us that no one would want us to meet them with a boat if they were not going to use it.  We were spot on!

We had trained to work on the Zambezi River at night and knew that the landmarks that we used for daytime navigation, could also be used at night.  We always chose high features that would silhouette easily against the sky or stars for navigation.  Simply put we would know what feature to point our bows at and which feature our stern should be pointing at to stay safe.  Quite an easy task in daylight but in darkness a mans eyes play games, confusing the mind as to what feature is what, what is true and what is false.  Making you doubt your own judgement, possibly leading you into a bad place.  No GPS in those days…….maps, compass, eyes and dead reckoning.  I loved that kind of navigating though.  Seat of the pants stuff and a small victory when you arrived at the right location.

We debussed at Sibankwazi, close to our boat.  First on the agenda was to check in with the British South African Police (BSAP) personnel at the camp and let them know we were going out on the water.  There was nothing to tell really, just that we were going up river and would stay in comms with them.  We took comfort in knowing they would come out and help us if the shit hit the fan.  They were good lads and always watched our backs.  And they had nice, shiny fast boats with big guns on.

Tony and I finished our preparations, cleaning the inside of the boat, filling fuel tanks (2 per engine), checking our small supply of boat spares, running up the engines (which had no covers), checking radio comms with the police and Deka Base, and checking our personal weapons and kit.  I would take us on the outward leg and Tony would bring us back.  What happened in between we would share.

The picture below shows Sappers carrying out typical boat preparation activities.  This is the exact same type of boat we were using on this mission (Basil Preston):

Typical boat preps

It was time to move out.  I moved the throttles to the start position and made sure the engines were in neutral.  Tony pumped the primer balls to get juice into the carbs, wound the starting rope around the first engine and pulled it.  The engine fired and I adjusted the throttle to a gentle idle.  He started the second engine and we were ready.  I let the two engines idle for a minute or two while Tony made sure water was being expelled from the cooling system outlets.

I gave Tony a thumbs up and he slipped the mooring line.  I moved both engines to reverse and we began gently edging astern and away from land.  Once far enough out I put the engines in forward gear, pushed up the revs and pointed our bows north-west…..into the gathering gloom……we were on our way.

The picture below gives an idea of the Zambezi River at night……..a very dodgy place to be, especially if there was no moon:

DSC01634

Please also have a look at my website dedicated to Rhodesian and South African Military Engineers.  Please join us on the forums by using the following link:

http://www.sasappers.net/forum/index.php

Copyright

© Mark Richard Craig and Fatfox9’s Blog, 2009-2015. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Recollections of working the boats on the Zambezi River would not be complete without mention of the abundant wildlife that populated the entire length of our patrol area.  Most of the time we did our best to keep a respectable distance from our wild companions but just ever so often our paths were destined to cross.

What follows is an account of one or two of these Close Encounters (not including the Green Mamba in our billet mentioned in a previous post).

Spitting Hippos

We were out on one of our routine patrols from Sibankwazi to Deka Drum.  The sun reflecting brightly off of the wind-swept wavelets, spray from the bows stinging our faces.  Tony had the con and we were at full-tilt.  For all the slagging off I have given the Evinrude outboards the pair of them pushed us along at a fair old pace.  Once we got the boat up on the plane and trimmed the load it really was a pleasure to tear up and down the Zambezi.  The loud banging and the shock of the hull hitting the crests was something you got used to and there was always plenty of that.  One needs to experience it to fully understand.

We had been out for some time and nothing really of note to report when all of a sudden and out of nowhere the mother of all hippos surfaced right in the path of our boat.  Tony tried to avoid the creature but we really never had the space and we were going straight for it.  That’s when it started spitting all kinds and colours of snot and other mucous substances all over the bows of our boat and therefore by default, all over us too.  The hippo was clearly coming up for an air resupply, and of course part of that process is to expel the old smelly, snotty contents of wherever it is they store air.  Pretty scary to be honest as we were well into the middle of the river and if we had flipped we would have been in serious shit.  Besides hippos the river is riddled with crocodiles, a very scary proposition indeed.  What are the chances of being in the path of a hippo coming up to vent and fill its tanks in the vast expanses of the Zambezi River?  Probably a million to one but we did it.

Happily we did not hit the hippo and we did not flip the boat so a good day at the office.

The beers were even sweeter at the Deka Drum when we got there later that day.

Here is a typical Spitting Hippo in case you havent seen one.  You can clearly see them blowing snot everywhere (panoramio.com) :

panoramio.com

Cranky Crocodiles

In the Rhodesian Army we referred to crocodiles as Flat Dogs.  The Ndebele term is Ngwenya the Shona is Garwe.

Close-up and personal events with crocodiles are more scary than those with hippos.  This is more than likely due to their terrifying appearance.  Interesting enough though hippos kill more people than crocodiles but that means nothing when you are cornered by one.

I want to recall two incidents with crocodiles in this post.

The first one concerns Tony and I and a couple of irritable old Flat Dogs on a Zambezi River sand-bank.  The whole thing went over who owned the sandbank.  The answer is inevitable but the story getting there is worth telling.

This is what a Zambezi River sand-bank looks like:

zambezi-river-sandbank-hippos-bsp-8336003-500x303

All along the Zambezi you will find these sandy stretches, either on islands or on the river banks themselves.  We called them fishing camps, not because there was any infrastructure on them, but rather because this is where fishermen would fish from.  We also used to fish from these beach like expanses of sand, and it was from one of these we had a conversation with some Flat Dogs.

We had pulled the boat up onto the sand bank and had got our fishing rods out.  Everything was set for a good days fishing.  No beer.  That was no-no, but we had some snacks and other bits and pieces with us.  After all we were going to cook whatever we caught.

The sun and the tranquility of the setting made it very easy to become immersed in a feeling of euphoria and develop a false sense of security.  Our rifles were always next to us but one tended to forget where one was and that was a real danger in more ways than one.  The war would seem miles away and the gooks just a distant enemy although we could see Zambia, their launching ground just across the river.

It started as a quiet rustle in the vegetation behind us.  I am quite sure we were both dozing to be honest and in this instance our rifles were not that close at hand.  In fact they were not at hand at all.  The obvious place to leave them was on the boat, out of the sand, and that’s where they were.

The rustling grew in intensity.  So much so that it began to get our attention.  We no longer concentrated on our fishing gear, but rather on the possibility of an attack from the rear.

Something or someone was coming at us out of the bushes behind us.  Now we had two choices…….make a run for the boat and get our weapons and make a stand, or make a run for the boat and get the hell out of there.  There would not be time for either…….this (or something similar) is what came at us from the undergrowth at high-speed (Wildlife pictures online):

crocodile_lnzp-098_blog

Now anyone who has not found themselves between a crocodile and its natural habitat, namely water, hasn’t lived fully.  It is a sure cure for constipation and will usually result in passing a number of stools in quick succession.

We were riveted to the spot with this big fellow Flat Dog staring us down.  Jagged teeth peeping evilly out the sides of his mouth, his huge body rising and falling with each breath he took.  He eyed us with those sinister yellow orbs that are so characteristic of Crocodylus niloticus.

And so the water behind us full of Flat Dogs muckers or to stay on solid ground with a Flat Dog in front of us.  That was our choice.  We decided to stay on terra firma and try to slowly get to the boat.  As it was it was not necessary as the wily old Flat Dog was apparently as shit-scared of us as we were of him and he decided to take a detour around us and slink away under the waters of the Zambezi.  What was really creepy was that there was a second Flat Dog ready to support the one we could see………he came screaming out the bush just after his mucker disappeared beneath the water.

A lucky day all round.  No harm done but some hard lessons learnt to be sure.

This post is getting longer than I wanted it to be so going to sign of here and continue in the next one.

Please also have a look at my website dedicated to Rhodesian and South African Military Engineers.  Join us on the forums by using the following link:

http://www.sasappers.net/forum/index.php

Copyright

© Mark Richard Craig and Fatfox9’s Blog, 2009-2015. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

 

 

 

 

 

Festive Greetings

December 25, 2014

I would like to take this opportunity to wish all of my loyal followers and visitors, a Very Happy Christmas and a Wonderful New Year filled with happiness, love and success.

Thanks to all of you for continuing to encourage me to endure my journey.  There are new people joining us daily.  Without you I would not be as enthusiastic as I am to keep going.

I will soon be uploading the next post which is entitled Spitting Hippos, Cranky Crocodiles and Fighting Tigers.  Watch out for it.

Join me there!!!

Best regards,

Mark

Xmas card 1