I never realised how challenging it would be to get information on Rhodesian Army defoliation efforts on Cordon Sanitaire or anywhere else for that matter.  One of the main reasons for this is that these activities took place, and were more or less completed by the time I joined the army.  It is disappointing that so little is known of these activities and I apologise in advance for the scant information at hand.  This is definitely one of those posts where I could do with all the help I can get.

However I have managed to cobble some data together thanks to Terry Griffin and Vic Thackwray (a big thanks to both of them who incidentally were also both my Commanding Officers, at different times of course), and also a number of publications. It would however seem that very little information on this aspect is available.

As a starter to this post it is probably useful for some readers to have a better understanding of what defoliation is all about, why it is used during military operations, the main methodologies used, and historical results both positive and negative. Without question the use of defoliant by the US military during the Vietnam War (and Korea before that) is the best example of these activities and they are well documented, mainly for all the wrong reasons.

A short preamble will therefore follow and we will then look at Rhodesian Army efforts according to my understanding of things.


Chemical Defoliation

Probably the most well-known chemical defoliant used to date is Agent Orange.

Agent Orange was a powerful mixture of chemical defoliant used by U.S. military forces during the Vietnam War to eliminate forest cover for North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops, as well as crops that might be used to feed them. The U.S. program of defoliation, codenamed Operation Ranch Hand (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Ranch_Hand), sprayed more than 19 million gallons of herbicides over 4.5 million acres of land in Vietnam from 1961 to 1972. Agent Orange, which contained the chemical dioxin, was the most commonly used of the herbicide mixtures, and the most effective. It was later revealed to cause serious health issues–including tumors, birth defects, rashes, psychological symptoms and cancer–among returning U.S. servicemen and their families as well as among the Vietnamese population.


Above picture shows a four-plane defoliant run, part of Operation Ranch Hand (wikipedia)

Agent Orange was the most commonly used, and most effective, mixture of herbicides and got its name from the orange stripe painted on the 55-gallon drums in which the mixture was stored (see picture below). It was one of several “Rainbow Herbicides” used, along with Agents White, Purple, Pink, Green and Blue. U.S. planes sprayed some 11 million to 13 million gallons of Agent Orange in Vietnam between January 1965 and April 1970. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Agent Orange contained “minute traces” of 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD), more commonly known as dioxin. Through studies done on laboratory animals, dioxin has been shown to be highly toxic even in minute doses; human exposure to the chemical could be associated with serious health issues such as muscular dysfunction, inflammation, birth defects, nervous system disorders and even the development of various cancers.

Photo and parts of the above paragraphs in italics are from http://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war/agent-orange.


We should also be clear here that the US were not the only ones using Agent Orange.  This interesting fact is expanded on below:

The British used Agent Orange in Malaya, but for the very British reason of cutting costs…The alternative was employing local labor three times a year to cut the vegetation. British stinginess over this matter in one respect helped to avoid the controversies provoked by the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam. The original intention was to crop spray but even this was deemed too expensive by the protectorate authorities. Eventually someone struck on the idea of simply hosing the jungle from the back of bowser trucks and this is what the British did, in limited areas and to no great effect. This happily amateur effort at chemical warfare undoubtedly saved future British governments from the litigation suffered by post-Vietnam US governments (http://www.psywarrior.com/DefoliationPsyopVietnam.html).

In fact the US were largely inspired to use chemical defoliation from the good old Brits.

Mechanical Defoliation

Mechanical defoliation makes use of heavy earth moving machinery to excavate, bulldoze or scrape vegetation out of the ground.  This cannot be considered as permanent a method as using chemical agents but it has the advantage of being localised to where the machinery is being used.  Crucially it does not spray poisonous herbicides from here to eternity, or cause long-lasting  sickness and disease.


So from the above two methodologies we can determine that the main use of defoliation was to:

a.  Deny the enemy cover to attack from

b.  Deny the enemy the ability to grow crops to feed themselves with

c.  For Cordon Sanitaire purposes it also had the added use of allowing us cleared areas in which to lay mines

Rhodesian Army Defoliation Efforts

The Rhodesians used a combination of mechanical and chemical defoliation methods on Cordon Sanitaire and Non-Cordon Sanitaire operations.

So Rhodesia was apparently not squeaky clean as far as using herbicides was concerned although very little is known of their use, or the extent of such use.  There is also no objective evidence that shows what if any residual effect there was on the local population and indeed our own troops.  Perhaps this is an aspect that no one wants to talk about or perhaps it was just one of those activities no one knows much about.  Somehow I have a feeling there is someone out there who knows a lot more about this activity.

I managed to dig up the following and once again I apologise for the lack of real meat for this post:

The Rhodesian Corps of Engineers were responsible for clearing the 25 meter wide strip of land that would eventually become the minefield with bulldozers.  This mechanical defoliation methodology was used primarily to make the job of laying mines easier and to make the terrain more suitable in general for manual, dismounted operations.  Laying mines in vegetated areas is both dodgy and dangerous.  One can very easily become disoriented with disastrous results.

The Tsetse Fly Department (the “Fly-Men”…….see previous posts) were apparently responsible for the Rhodesian chemical warfare effort.  I found this very surprising when I read about this but it appears to be quite true.  Apparently they used back-pack hand-operated sprayers containing HYVAR-X(PRODUCT INFORMATION: DuPont™ HYVAR® X herbicide is a wettable powder to be mixed in water and applied as a spray for non-selective weed and brush control in non-cropland areas and for selective weed control in certain crops. HYVAR® X is an effective general herbicide that controls many annual weeds at lower rates and perennial weeds and brush at the highest rates allowed by this label. It is particularly useful for the control of perennial grasses).  You can read more about HYVAR-X at http://www.afpmb.org/sites/default/files/pubs/standardlists/labels/6840-01-408-9079_label.pdf

It seems that the Cordon Sanitaire planners were not happy with only a 25 meter defoliated corridor and gave orders to chemically remove vegetation 150 meters either side of the Cordon fences (I have to wonder how this was achieved using back-pack hand-operated sprayers).  In a bid to save on costs they substituted HYVAR-X with a different chemical known as TORDON 225.  This would prove to be a costly mistake as this product was ineffective and resulted in Rhodesia instituting court action against the South African manufacturers of TORDON 225.

I found only one record of chemical defoliation usage.  This was apparently on the Musengezi, Mukumbura, and Nyamapanda to Ruenya minefield.  Nothing else is available.

The following two photos were sent to me by Vic Thackwray, a Cordon Sanitaire veteran.  They show the cleared areas between the minefield perimeter fences.  In the first picture the minefield is on the left of the fence.  A parallel minefield maintenance road can be see on the right of the fence.  This specific photo was taken at Mukumbura.



The second photo is a great shot of Vic Thackwray standing next to the Cordon fence.  Note the thick vegetation inside the mined area.

I also have some interesting input from Terry Griffin which I have added below:


The photos above were provided by Terry.  They too show the type of terrain and vegetation of the Cordon at Mukumbura.  I must add the terrain was not always as good as what is shown and from my own experience this was as good as it got (so don’t think we had it easy all the time).

Terry also highlighted some non-Cordon defoliation and I felt it was appropriate to include in this post.  It makes very interesting reading.  Terry takes up the story:

The very first minefield laying etc (again) I was OC of that – starting at Mukambura. Lt Col Horne actually came up with the team I had trained – for a look see.

Tsetse were (as per normal) responsible for erecting fences but we also had plant tp folk with bulldozers and graders clearing all so we had bare earth in and outside the minefield to work on. This was also to prevent gooks taking cover in the bush. At that stage the minefield was approx. 25m wide. In no time I realised this method was an absolute waste of time money etc, etc as we also provided armed protection for the dozer drivers etc way ahead of laying teams. To keep a definitive 25m width etc was patently stupid so I wrote a paper and suggested fences meander to create doubt as to depth of field – albeit still 3 rows – and do NOT clear vegetation as it then aided in camouflaging all. I sent you some pics of the first gook breach and just look at the nice clear earth with fences visible at exactly 25m. Boy did we have a lot to learn – and quickly. This is the only defoliation that I am aware of??

And after I prodded him for more:

Basically I was tasked with doing the defoliation on Chete Island after the gooks wacked the civvy ferry. I called up S Tp from 1 Sqn albeit I was OC Boats at the time and then we sailed plus Tsetse in the Army ferry (Ubique) from Kariba to Chete. Had strike craft as back up and positioned one at each entry to the gorge as it had been declared a frozen area for all craft during the OP. Went ashore (after anchoring on the island – invading enemy territory !! – to clear it of gooks – if any. There were none. Tsetse also provided back up (Jack Kerr plus another) with ,458 rifles in case elephants had a go at us. They did not. After positioning the guys in a defensive role we cleared the area where the gooks had fired from – onto the ferry – which still had much kit lying around from the firing point. Tsetse folk then used a defoliant called Hivar (as I recall) and by hand distributed like it was fertiliser along the entire bank facing the gorge and inland a short way. This would (as it did) clear that sector of all foliage and thereby (hopefully) deny natural cover. After the first rains it was evident all was dying off and it did clear all fairly quickly creating a rather bare scar along that section of the island. Some 10 years later it was still very visible but on my last fishing trip there + – 4 years ago all had now regrown. The gooks never did use the original firing position again.

Looking at this post I realise that although I would have liked to give the reader more on the actual defoliation in Rhodesia, what we have here is real Rhodesian Millitary Engineering history.  The accounts by Terry have probably never been recorded in this format before and the photos from Vic still give me goose-bumps, bringing back a part of my history that must be told or it will be gone forever.  Thanks to both of them once again for all the help and support they provide to me.

I would like to end this post with a cruel irony:

Perhaps no two people embodied the moral complexities and the agony of Agent Orange more graphically than Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr. and his son Elmo R. Zumwalt III. Admiral Zumwalt led American naval forces in Vietnam from 1968 to 1970, before he became chief of naval operations. He ordered the spraying of Agent Orange. The son was in Vietnam at about the same time as the father, commanding a Navy patrol boat. Years later, doctors found that he had lymphoma and Hodgkin’s disease. He died in 1988 at 42. His son, Elmo IV, was born with congenital disorders. 

Perhaps this post has digressed a bit from the title but it does make for interesting reading I hope.

In the next post we will look at Cordon Sanitaire with electronic alarms.


© Mark Richard Craig and Fatfox9’s Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.


In this post we will discuss two of the dodgiest activities when working on Cordon Sanitaire, namely the Laying and Arming of mines. These are the phases that demand mature and flexible Command and Control, intense Sapper concentration, and a natural grip of situational awareness.

Sappers need to know exactly where they are in the minefield at all times.

A lack of any of these key requirements could and indeed did result in own forces casualties. As I have mentioned in previous posts, landmines cannot differentiate between friend and foe…….if you fucked-up you were going down, literally. Sadly, an accident may not even be the doing of the person killed or injured, and somewhere in the root-cause of these events there is without a doubt also a good dose of plain bad luck.

Group 5: The Laying Party

The Laying Party followed the Digging Party.  They were responsible for carrying the mines in some form of container, often a type of back-pack, and placing three mines more or less at the mid-point of the three holes (the Mine Cluster) dug by the Digging Party, but not in the holes.  They do not arm the mines.  Common sense and safety dictates that the Laying Party were never allowed to overtake the Digging Party.  Remember that these mines were already in an advanced state of preparedness (we started the process the previous afternoon if you recall from previous posts) and all that was required to arm them fully would be to remove the safety device which could be a pin removal or perhaps a spin-off plate action, and was dependent on the type of mines we were using at the time.

Once the Laying Party commences placing the mines, WORKING IN ECHELON becomes mandatory for all in the minefield (this is Laying Party and Arming Party specific).  No one in Bravo Line will ever overtake anyone in the Charlie Line, and no one in the Alpha Line will ever overtake anyone in the Bravo or Charlie Line.  That was the Golden Rule although it was broken on quite a few occasions.

The Rope and Digging Party were way ahead of everyone else and therefore would not be affected by the activities of the Laying and Arming Parties.  Indeed, in most cases once the Rope Party and Digging Party were finished for the day they came back and integrated into the Laying or Arming Party, whichever needed them.  So we all ended up arming mines every day.

Group 6: The Arming Party

The Arming Party arm the mines.  They have one of the most dangerous tasks during mine-laying operations.  Movement of the Arming Party is strictly controlled by an NCO or switched-on Sapper.  Lets assume the primary safety device on the mines is a removable safety clip, and that operations are moving from left to right.  This was the sequence of events when arming mines:

1.  Arming Party (+-8 Sappers) dress up to the line of clusters.  Remember the rope is gone so all you have are the holes to guide your positioning.

2.  Arming Party ensures that there are no large clumps of soil present.  If there are these are carefully broken up prior to arming commencing.

Note: At this time the Arming Party will also straighten any bent safety pins to ensure they are easy to remove when arming takes place.  Depending on the type of mine being used this may also be the time that booster charges are inserted.  Booster charges are used to increase the shock-wave that propagates the main charge detonation.

3.  Person in control instructs Arming Party to place mines in holes but not to arm them.

4.  Person in control authorises mine in 9 o’clock position hole to be armed and covered.  Arming Party move to correct mine position, crouch or kneel, remove safety device and carefully cover the mine.  Arming Party dress back to original position and await further instructions.  Crouching is to be discouraged as if one loses ones balance, Murphy’s Law says you will probably land on an armed mine.

5.  Person in control authorises mine in 12 o’clock position hole to be armed and covered.  Mine armed and covered as in paragraph 4.

6. Person in control authorises mine in 3 o’clock position hole to be armed and covered.  Mine armed and covered as in paragraph 4.

7.  Arming Party dresses back from the clusters and awaits further instructions.

8.  Person in control authorises movement to next mine clusters.  The person furthest to the left steps back and walks behind all the arming personnel on his right and dresses onto the next available mine cluster.  He waits there until the Arming Party has dressed onto new mine clusters.

9.  Person in control commences arming sequence.  This continues until all clusters are completed for the day.  Bravo and Alpha Lines, working in echelon carry out the same process.

Here is a diagram of the personnel movement.  This is very important and I know of at least one Sapper who lost his leg by moving in front of and not behind Arming Party Sappers to his right.

Laying and Arming Party_Corsan

I hope the above diagram makes sense.  Just to clarify:

Sapper 1 moves to the next number 1 position, Sapper 2 to the next number 2 position and so on for the rest of the Sappers.  Movement is always routed behind the person to your right.  No one moves until the Sapper on his left has moved to his new cluster.  All lines must work in Echelon.  This diagram makes it easy to understand why.  There must always be safe ground behind the Bravo and Charlie Line Arming Party so personnel can escape in the case of an attack.  As mentioned previously in the event of an attack from the friendly side we were in the crap as we would probably need to escape over armed clusters.

As all of these activities from pulling out the ropes to arming the mines were all taking place concurrently it then becomes clear that this was a very dangerous piece of real estate if you did not know what you were doing.  I do not need to convince anyone that this was a hazardous activity.

Sadly, the statistics have already proved this.

This post will be the final part of the Mukumbura: (Learning The Ropes) series.  It has been an interesting and nostalgic journey for me to relive those early days of my military career and I hope that it has not become too monotonous. From here on I will be posting my memories of different events as they come to mind and these will be in no particular order although I will continue to keep my Rhodesian and South African campaigns separate.  I hope you continue to enjoy my ramblings.

Again, I ask anyone who reads my posts to flag-up any incident they were also part of and if I have erred in my recollections in some way please do not hesitate to help me put the record straight. It is not easy to do something like this on your own and especially when you have no written record of events, nor access to official documents.


© Mark Richard Craig and Fatfox9’s Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Group 3: Rope Party

The Rope Party were the next group to start work in the morning and followed the Protection Party.  They carried spools of nylon cord which were more or less 50 meters long.  We had three of these spools, one for each of the three lines to be worked (A, B, C) or Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie Lines.  If you read previous posts you will understand this better.

Each rope had a different number of knots tied into them as follows:

Alpha Line Rope: 1 knot every 3 meters

Bravo Line Rope: 1 knot every 2 meters

Charlie Line Rope: 1 knot ever 1 meters

From this you can do the rough maths for 1,000 meters if you work on 3 mines per knot.  Works out to about 5,500 mines.  We normally laid about 3,000 mines per day.  Of course if you were a badly resourced crew you would find extra knots in the rope as a result of breaks and joins and this could make things dodgy and confusing on the ground.

Some minefields worked on double-density cluster layouts plus other nasty devices but they are completely other animals and I will discuss these at a later time.  These types of minefield hurt many of our boys and were treacherous, sinister places to work.

For the purpose of this blog I have made the line nearest the enemy Line C and work always started on this line first in the morning so if you were an idle wanker you made sure you got into the A Line.  This meant you had about 20 additional minutes to smoke and talk crap to your mates before you started work.  The fact that you would have to work that time in at the end of the day after the B and C Lines were finished did not make an iota of difference to the devious Sapper brain.  In all honesty the Echelon Method of working did not begin to really matter until the laying party started to work in the Charlie Line, and the Rope Parties could quite safely work on all three Lines at the same time without any danger to personnel.

After the dannert coil had been removed from the minefield, the Rope Party hooked up their rope to the metal picket left in the ground the day before as the start point, and began walking the line off the spool  for the next 50 metres.  They would then put a small metal pin in the ground, hook the line onto it and continue for another 50 metres.  This they continued doing until they had pulled the line out enough times to achieve the days laying objective.  All three lines carried out this action.

At this point it is extremely important to note that there will be live mines adjacent to the initial start point of the day (the last clusters from the previous days work), and there would always be an NCO or switched on Sapper controlling these start-up activities.  A foot out of place here or a moments inattention could be very tragic indeed and fuck everyones whole day up.  And yes, it did happen.

Group 4: Digging Party

From the number of knots shown above you can see the 3 Lines had 3 different densities of mines.  At each knot a mine “cluster” was dug.  A “cluster” consisted of 3 holes dug with a badza (a type of hoe), one at 12 o’clock, one at 3 o’clock, and one at 9 o’clock.  I do not want to go deeply into the science of number of “mines per meter front” at this stage but you can see that by adjusting the number of knots on each Line, the probabability of standing on a mine within any given meter of the minefield frontage can increase or decrease.  Simple Sapper Stuff.

It therefore goes without saying that the next group into the minefield was the Digging Party.

Here is a badza.  They caused bad blisters to hands not wearing gloves.  I know, I dug, I had blisters.  Many of them.  Our medics took much glee in injecting merthiolate into them.  Ours were a bit more modern but you get the idea (theswift.org):


Here is a bottle of Merthiolate……it burns like shit when injected into a blister caused by a badza.  This bottle looks like it just came out of a medics bag (flickr):


Here is a diagram showing mine clusters and the Rope and Digging Parties:

Rope and Digging Party_Corsan

If this looks confusing to you just remember we had to work in here and at this time there are not even any live mines on the diagram!

The Digging Party had to start immediately after the Rope Party and actually chased them.  The Rope Party could not move on to the next 50 meter run before the Digging Party had dug the last cluster of the current run or they would not know where to dig.  Again digging parties could work on all three Lines at once but very soon the importance of the Echelon Method will be seen very clearly.  The Digging Party were also responsible for breaking-up any clumps of soil excavated as well as remove any rocks.  Clumps of soils and rocks/stones were not very useful when covering armed mines.  A very good friend of mine, Charlie McQuillan, was badly injured when a large clump of soild soil contacted the ignitor of a mine he had just armed.  A sad day indeed but thankfully he lived to tell the tale.

Thats it for today.  In the next post we will talk about the Laying and Arming Parties.  Many people think they are one and the same but they are not.


© Mark Richard Craig and Fatfox9’s Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

In this post we will start to have a look at how the Cordon Sanitaire teams operated within (and outside) the minefield boundary.  With the amount of mines being laid each day (+-3,000), the loss of concentration due to fatigue, and poor discipline or procedures could be disastrous and indeed fatal.  Sadly we have ample evidence of this in our Roll Of Honour and also by the number of our colleagues that lost limbs and their eyesight, although there are other reasons for accidents such as dodgy mines/mchanisms and equipment.

Cordon Sanitaire Work Groups

Group 1: Protection Party

The Protection Party normally consisted of Rhodesian Defence Regiment (RDR) personnel.    This unit was, in the majority, manned by Coloured and Asian troops.  It was formed with the intention of using their personnel to protect bridges, camps and other infrastructure.  They deployed with us on many occasions as our perimeter force protection component.  These were interesting individuals, had their own slang (which many of us picked up), and often had a good supply of contraband items, especially exotic tobaccos, the aroma of which could often be smelt wafting through our camp lines.  Please see the previous post for more information on this unit.

After we had checked the area for booby-traps the Protection Party would deploy across the safe area of the Cordon, jump over the enemy side fence and melt away into the bush.  There they would lurk, looking for gooks who might try and attack us while we were laying mines.  Coming under enemy fire is bad enough under “normal” circumstances but inside a live minefield it is disastrous.  There is nowhere to take cover as the vegetation is sparse and there would be mass casualties without a doubt.  We had no defence as we never carried our weapons while laying mines in case they fell and detonated a mine.  Additionally it would not be comfortable working with a rifle slung over your shoulder and would have been a recipe for accidents.  Having said that the command and control personnel working inside the minefield with us were armed and would do their best to direct and cover us in the case of an attack.

The Protection Party were also deployed on the friendly side in case of an attack from behind.  If this happened we were in deep shit.

Group 2: Echelon Support Vehicles

Our Echelon Support Vehicles normally consisted of Bedford RL’s, Rodef 25, 45, and 75 Mercedes Benz clones.  The Rodef 25 was actually a Unimog with a dodgy sanctions-busting name.  No one was fooled though.  Here is a Rodef 25 (newrhodesianforum):


And a Bedford RL in rather smart condition:


Later vehicles were like these MAP’s but I never saw them at Mukumbura:



These vehicles would follow us down the access road as we progressed and carried our mines, water, food, tools and other bits and pieces we needed to do our job.  Our medic was also part of this echelon and excellent blokes they were too.  Some legends amongst them and they will get a mention in future posts.  Needless to say they were highly trained and knew the business.  Radio communications for casevac purposes were also checked before work commenced and maintained by the echelon during laying operations.

The Tsetse Fly Officer (see previous posts) and his crew normally formed part of our support echelon personnel too.

Here is a typical Cordon Sanitaire access road running next to the perimeter fence (Terry Griffin):

RhE_First_Mfield_acess road

I would like to talk about “working in echelon” at this point.  Working in echelon was a very important principle which we applied when working in the minefield.  This principle ensured that at no time was anyone working ahead of fully armed mines.  This is why we always started activities on the Charlie Line, second to start would be Bravo Line, and lastly the Alpha Line.  No activity ever overtook a similar activity on a line that was to your front.  The diagram below demonstrates the principle:

Cordon Layout

As you can see the Charlie Line is ahead of the Bravo Line and the Alpha Line behind the Bravo Line and Charlie Line.  Crucially an Arming Party shall NEVER overtake personnel to their front.  In the event of an attack from the Enemy side, our personnel could safely exfiltrate the minefield by moving directly and straight back toward the friendly fence.

We will discuss the remaining minefield parties in the next post.

© Mark Richard Craig and Fatfox9’s Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Ones memory is a strange thing. Working on my next post I realised that I had forgotten to mention an important unit that contributed greatly to our safety during Cordon Sanitaire operations.  It would therefore be unfair not to mention them as they may well have saved my life on more than one occasion. These were the men of the Reserve Holding Units and Protection Units of the Rhodesian Army.

Here is their badge and stable belt (rhodesianforces.org):



Their work was varied and important and it would be foolish of me in the extreme to try and write a better and more comprehensive account of these individuals than the one that follows.

I thank the author of ‘FIGHTING FORCES OF RHODESIA’ – VOL. 5, as posted in The New Rhodesian Forum.


THE dark green stable belts of the Protection Units have taken on a new significance in the continuing war against terrorism. Over the years the Re-enforcement Holding Units and the Protection Units have quietly grown, and their deployment has become increasingly important in the defence of Rhodesia’s borders.

On January 1st, 1978, these units were combined to form an official regiment and took their place proudly alongside longer serving regiments of the Rhodesian Army. The Regimental Depot at which servicemen will be trained for the Rhodesian Defence Regiment is at Inkomo, just outside of Salisbury.

The embryo from which the new regiment has grown existed for many years, in the form of the Re-enforcement Holding Units. These were originally purely paper units which were formed at the beginning of 1973 to take on theoretical strength those Coloured and Asian personnel who had completed their Territorial service with the Supply and Transport platoons. Also included were the members of “Dad’s Army”, comprising the older age-group White personnel who had completed Territorial service with the Rhodesia Regiment battalions.

For several years members of the Re-enforcement Holding Units were called up for a short period, once or twice a year, and deployed in non-combatant roles. However, as the war escalated, the need for protection and guard troops increased the task of these personnel, and extended it to a more active role. As a result, in 1974 the Protection Companies were formed on a small basis, embracing the Coloured and Asian members. These two Protection Companies had a more mobile role than the previous Holding Units, and acted as escorts for army convoys transporting supplies and equipment to operational areas. They also guarded encampments and machinery where necessary. The situation remained at this level for three years. During this time, however, the strength of the Protection Companies had been increasing, along with that of the Re-enforcement Holding Units as a growing number of men completed their service with the Territorial Forces.

When the combined strength of the units reached approximately 6 000 it became obvious that such a reservoir of manpower could be more profitably deployed than hitherto, and the suggestion of forming a new regiment was put forward.

Thus the Rhodesian Defence Regiment was born, placing the Protection Companies and Holding Units on a properly co-ordinated and recognised footing.

Two battalions have been formed: the Number 1 Mashonaland Battalion, based at Cranborne Barracks in Salisbury, and the Number 2 Matabeleland Battalion, based at Brady Barracks in Bulawayo. The new regiment has its own Depot at Inkomo, near Salisbury, where the Coloured and Asian National Servicemen are trained, and where older serving members receive pre-deployment training.

These battalions are made up from four different categories of servicemen.

Firstly, there are the National Servicemen from the Coloured and Asian ethnic groups, who are required to serve eighteen months, as are their White counterparts in other regiments.

Secondly, there is the “K” Intake, comprising the 25 to 38 year age group of Coloureds and Asians who had not previously been subject to call-up. This category are now required to serve for eighty-four days. Half this period is spent in training at Inkomo and the second half on deployment.

The third category are the continously embodied volunteers. These are Coloured and Asian members who volunteer for a year of continuous service. At the end of that year they are free to leave or to sign on again for a further year. This arrangement virtually makes them regular members of the regiment. At present there is some discrepancy between conditions of service these continuous volunteers and those of regular members of the Army, but it is hoped that these will be equalised before much longer. As a first step towards achieving this, the first Coloured officer has already been appointed. He is a medical officer, with the rank of Captain, and it is hoped that this will lead the way for future suitably qualified members of the Rhodesia Defence Regiment to be accepted into the permanent force. The Rhodesian Women’s Service, from it’s inception, accepted Coloured recruits as permanent members of the force, and at present there are six Coloured ladies serving their country, several of whom are deployed at Rhodesian Defence Regiment Headquarters at Cranborne.

The fourth category is “Dads Army”, who are the older Whites of over 38 years.

Both battalions are structured to take into account the different tasks required of the companies. The National Servicemen, the “K” intake, and the continuously embodied volunteers are generally deployed on the higher priority tasks, whereas the over 38 year old category, who are liable for a shorter period of commitment than the younger men, are used for more sedentary tasks.

This does tend to result in the formation of companies of seperate ethnic groups, but plans are afoot to include an intake of over 38 years old Coloureds and Asians in the future, in order to create additional companies who would contribute effectively to the force. These intakes would be liable for the same commitment as their White counterparts and would be deployed on similar duties.

A recent innovation has been a pilot group of Coloured National Servicemen who have been given full combat training and then deployed in the field.

The Commander of the Rhodesia Defence Regiment, Lt. Col. Peter Grobbelaar, is extremely satisfied with the way in which the servicemen have adapted to training and given a good account of themselves.

Discipline is strict, as it should be with all effective forces, and Col. Grobbelaar pointed out that the Coloured soldier appears to have the natural aggression which is vital in all combat-troops. Other servicemen will undoubtedly follow along the same paths, taking on an increasing responsibility in the fight against encroaching communism. The step from defensive to combat role has not been particularly difficult since in recent years the members of the Protection Units were required to display a more aggressive role in the face of attacks by the enemy.

After a long period of semi-obscurity, the Protection Units and Dad’s Army have finally found their own identity in the Rhodesia Defence Regiment, with their own insignia and embellishments, and they are obviously bent on proving their worth.

Co-operation and consideration between the various ethnic groups have been excellent. On occassions where units of mixed ethnic groups have been deployed the members of this new and vital regiment have displayed a most responsible attitude in making allowances for the differences in diet and religious practice that must obviously exist. Problems have arisen on occasion, in supplying the required contents of ration packs (for example, a Moslem would require a different ratpack to a non-Moslem), but with the general spirit of co-operation that pervades the regiment, these difficulties have been ironed out.

There is no discrepancy in pay and general conditions between the different ethnic groups of the territorial strength of the new regiment.

Despite their newness, the Rhodesia Defence Regiment posses certain distinctive foibles, one being their own language. The RLI are famed for being incomprehensible to their ordinary listener, but the RDR certainly offer a challenge to the RLI superiority in this matter.

The story is told of the RDR private who, on seeing heavy artillery in the field for the first time, went and called his friend, saying, “Hey, Joe, just come outside and sight the size of this catie” (catapult).

The tale is also told of the radio operator who persisted in asking Control to “Bowl me the ages”. After a considerable pause and a great deal of head-scratching, Control finally realised that the operator was merely asking for a time check.

And, of course, all armies have their own clowns who never seem to quite know why they are there at all, and rather wish they were not. (No doubt the officers also wish they were not.) An RDR private appeared before an officer on a disciplinary offence. When he was given an opportunity to speak he proceeded to ramble on in such a vague and inconsequential manner that in the end the officer stopped him.

“Are you prepared to accept the punishment of the disciplinary officer, or do you elect to stand trial by court martial?” the troopie was asked.

To which the bewildered troopie replied, ‘I’d just like to stand down, sir.”

History does not relate his fate.


Figure 1 in the previous post clearly shows we had three distinct working Rows, namely Row A, Row B and Row C.  Row C was always on the enemy side and Row A on the friendly (or home) side.  Row B by default was the neutral (middle) line and located more or less equidistant from Row A and Row C

Working Row Methodology (I need to start at the end of the working day to make this easier):

At the end of each working day Dannert Coils (also known as concertina wire) were pulled across the entire width of the minefield, just outside the mined area.  In addition to this a small steel pin was driven into the ground at the point where the pulling parties would attach their ropes the next day as their start points.  There would be three of these, one for each Row.  This more than anything else was to let us know where the boundary between safe (no mines laid) and dangerous ground (mines laid and armed) was.  A very simple procedure that made things very clear on the ground.  Remember that we had no GPS units in those days so a physical feature on the ground was very useful when using traditional navigation methods.

Here is a picture of Dannert Coils being emplaced (not on the Cordon and for clarification purposes only).  A really unpleasant job when they get old and lose their shape.  We used a single layer of Dannert Coils.  Shown below is a triple concertina fence that will be used as a Field Obstacle.


In Figure 2 below you can see where the Dannert Coil was placed at the end of the working day.  I know this does not look very neat but you get the idea and in fact some of our Dannert Coils were in such poor shape they actually looked very similar:

Cordon Layout_2


Morning Routine:

On arrival at the minefield the first thing to be done was to identify the safe working area and ensure nothing had been tampered with overnight.  I always wondered why the gooks never booby-trapped our Dannert Coils or planted mines where they must have known we would be starting work.  Perhaps they did in some other areas but I never heard of it.  I know if I was a gook I would have had a go at that.  In any case we had to be vigilant each morning.

Other things we needed to be switched on for each morning were the following:

  • Our access roads were a prime target for the gooks and I do know that some of our convoys were hit by vehicle mines on a number of occasions whilst en-route to the Cordon.
  • Wash-Outs:  These were mines laid by us in the cordon that wash-out of the minefield boundary fence during heavy rain or flash-flooding.  They would then often end up on the road we would be driving down and by default debussing on.  This was a particularly dangerous issue for us and a number of our men were seriously injured as a result of wash-outs.
  • Booby-traps on the perimeter fences or mines laid in areas where we would access the minefield.  Unfortunately we once again had people seriously injured by these cunning gook contrivances.

Activities Inside The Minefield

In the next post we will look at how the mines were positioned and armed, and some of the different mine types we used.

Cordon Sanitaire Mine-laying Operations

Working with explosives is a dangerous business.  Make no mistake.  Having said that laying mines is not rocket-science but if you don’t keep your wits about you and exercise strict discipline and command and control, people are going to get hurt.

Sadly, there were a number of Rhodesian Sappers killed in our own minefields during laying and minefield maintenance operations.  Please spare a moment to pay your respects to these brave men by visiting the Rhodesian Corps of Engineers Role Of Honour at http://www.sasappers.net.

Additionally there are quite a few accident survivors living with missing limbs, blindness and other injuries caused by our own mines.  Mines do not differentiate between friend and foe.  They kill and maim the layers and the enemy without distinction or warning.  I have been in the unenviable position on more than one occasion where I have witnessed our Sappers killed or horribly injured during Cordon Sanitaire operations.  I will not discuss the details in this post but I can assure you this type of incident remains very clear in ones mind.

To give you an idea of our mine-laying methodology please look at the following diagram:

Cordon Layout


As you can see we had an Enemy and Friendly Side.  In the case of Mukumbura the Enemy Side would be Mozambique, and the Friendly Side, Rhodesia.  The two fences were constructed using strands of barbed wire evenly spaced and attached to steel pickets at regular intervals.  The lower one meter or so of the fence was also fitted with mesh to stop smaller animals from getting through and detonating mines.

Here are some photos of Cordon Sanitaire, Mukumbura. (Terry Griffin):

Mukkus MF1

Here is a photo of the mine-sign you can see on the fence in the top-left image:


According to Vashona.com, Chenjera Chimbambaira literally translates to “Beware Grenade” in the local (Rhodesian) indigenous vernacular (Shona).  Mine-signs were attached to the perimeter fence to warn the locals of the danger of crossing the fence.  Unfortunately the warnings were not always heeded resulting in civilian casualties.

In the next post I will discuss the duties of the Rope Party, Digging Party, Laying Party, and Arming Party.

© Mark Richard Craig and Fatfox9’s Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Cordon Sanitaire Operations: Rhodesia-Wide

Before I go any further I want to mention some very special people, namely the Tsetse Fly Control crews who normally based up with us.

I had initially thought of including them in the previous post but I feel so strongly about the work these individuals carried out concurrent to our mine-laying operations that I have decided it would be an unforgivable injustice to water-down their sterling contribution to our work and decided to dedicate an entire post to them.

They deserve it.

The Tsetse Fly Teams (North Eastern Border Game Fence or NEBGF crews for Mukumbura operations) accompanied us to the Cordon on most days. These civilian elements were responsible for the construction/maintenance of the fences on the home and enemy sides of the minefield and normally consisted of a manager (Tsetse-Fly Officer) supported by a number of labourers working for him.  These teams needed to stay ahead of us at all times.  If there were no fences we could not lay mines.  It was as simple as that (unless we were carrying out a dodgy operation that was non-Cordon related.  Will discuss further down the line).  They were very good at their job, normally way ahead of us which was good in some ways, but a disadvantage for them at others.  The trick was to keep them within our protective boundary at all times as if they got too far ahead of us they could become too isolated and attacked by the gooks as indeed they were were on some occasions.  Although they were armed with the trusty 7,62 x 51 FN Rifle, it was only the single weapon that the Tsetse-Fly Officer carried that was available for the entire team.  Not very good odds when attacked by 5, 6 or maybe more gooks with evil intentions.  The fight would be very one-sided.

So what exactly is this Tstetse-Fly thing all about?  Have you ever heard of Sleeping-Sickness or Trypanosomiasis?  It is a tropical disease caused by parasitic protozoans (trypanosomes) which are transmitted by the bite of the tsetse fly.  It causes fever, chills, pain in the limbs, and anaemia, and eventually affects the nervous system causing extreme lethargy and death.

See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal_trypanosomiasis.

The Tsetse-Fly is one of the root-causes of Africa’s poverty.  No other region of the world suffers the same animal health problems as the tsetse fly imposes on Africa.  The Tsetse-Fly thrives in an environment where there are large populations of wildlife providing an unlimited and year-round supply of essential mammalian blood on which they must feed to survive and reproduce.  There was an abundance of both game and cattle in the areas we worked in and the main idea of the fences being constructed by the Tsetse-Fly crews was to stop the migration of host animals from one area to the next.  It was quite a clever idea to use these fences as minefield perimeters as well.  It is pertinent to mention here that in some areas of Cordon Sanitaire operations the fences were  not necessarily there for Tsetse-Fly Control, but primarily as minefield fences.

Photos of the fences will be shown in later posts.

This is a Tsetse-Fly.  A nasty piece of work:


This map shows the extent of the Tstetse-Fly problem in 1999 (Joe McDaniel-Africa Travel Diary):


Our NEBGF comrades (affectionately known as “The Fly-Men”) were well-loved and tremendously respected.  I have many fond memories of working with them (some of them joined the Sappers and vice-versa).  They also had permission to shoot game for the pot which was very useful and I recall eating Ron Levy’s kudu biltong and massive steaks many times at Deka Engineer Base which I commanded for some time.

Another memorable incident where I was present was when Keith “Prodder” Byng opened fire with his FN in his tent.  Apparently he had been surprised by a cobra that had taken up residence next to his bed and then slithered behind a deep-freeze.  Needless to say all hell broke loose as no-one knew where the firing was coming from at first.  Interesting days indeed!  Sadly Keith passed away some time back.  Rest In Peace Brother.

Here is a photo of Keith (right) and another Fly-Man, Stingray Reynolds.  Note the improvised hut made out of anti-personnel mine boxes and tarpaulin (John Arkley):


Mostly forgotten it is sad that not much has been written about these brave souls and this small acknowledgment from me is my way of granting them their place in the history of the Rhodesian Corps of Engineers.  Without them we could not have done our work on Cordon Sanitaire. They were our family and our Brothers, sharing everyday hardships and dangers with us.

I salute them all and they will never be forgotten. Not by me in any case.

Here is a typical Tsetse-Fly Camp circa 1967 at Urungwe (non-Cordon Sanitaire and added to illustrate the environment).  Note the soft-skinned Land Rover.  These would later be changed to mine-resistant versions (Joe McDaniel-Africa Travel Diary):

005 Urungwe Tsetse Camp July67

And here is another (Joe McDaniel-Africa Travel Diary):

007 Camp shower

Here is a mine-resistant Land-Rover-note the roll-bars and weapon mount.  They had armour-plate inserts in key positions as well. (Tom King at the wheel, taken c. 1977-8 near Chipinga: New Rhodesian)

Mine resistant landrover_New Rhodesian

Here are some other vehicles used by amoung others, the Fly-Men.  Left to right a Puma, Isuzu soft-skin, and another mine-resistant Land-Rover.  These shown below in fact are Intaf (Internal Affairs) vehicles. (Nick Baalbergen):

Isuzu soft-skinned_Nick Baalbergen

Mukumbura: The Arrival

December 31, 2013

We always arrived at Mukumbura towards late afternoon.  This was dodgy for a number of reasons.

Firstly, travelling towards evening on roads in any of the operational areas was not recommended.  The gooks liked to ambush at these times so they could slink away into the shadows quickly with very little threat of a follow-up in the darkness.  Our choppers did not usually fly at night in those days so Fire-Force and Casevac support were problematic and if someone was injured they were in a serious situation.  Additionally it was never good to get into base too late in the day or early evening due to the possibility of a last-light attack on the camp.

Secondly, passengers on these long trips may also have become tired and having lost concentration and alertness (the nodding-dog syndrome) became easy prey for gooks lying in wait with evil intent.

Most importantly of all was that dinner would probably have been gobbled up in it’s entirety by the personnel already in the base (thus two squashed hamburgers and a sticky Chelsea bun in my pocket from the Mount Darwin WVS canteen mentioned in previous post).

On arrival at the Mukumbura Engineer camp we would be shown where we would be sleeping for the next 8 or so weeks and given a security brief by one of the senior members of the base HQ element.  On my initial trip to Mukumbura there was a Regular Army Lieutenant running the operations with a Territorial Force Sergeant as his right hand man.  Little did I know at the time but the Lieutenant was to become one of the legends of the Rhodesian Engineers.

His name was Charlie Small.

After we had stowed our kit in our accommodation and had our brief we moved to the base perimeter stand-to positions.  These positions were located all around the camp and were lightly fortified with sandbags and berms.  They all had defined arcs-of-fire to cover the most likely enemy approaches.  Each evening at last-light and each morning at first-light we all went to our allocated stand-to positions to repel any attack or assault by the gooks.  These were the times they favoured for such attacks which could take the form of a stand-off mortar bombardment or a small-arms shoot-out from an appropriate distance.  I was to have first hand experience of these attacks in the future so remain a firm believer in the value of stand-to activities.  Stand-to normally lasted for about 30 minutes.

Our camp consisted of tents, bunkers to duck into in case of a mortar attack, a medical post, HQ area, kitchen/mess area, and an explosives/ammunition storage area.  We also had the pleasure of having Tsetse Fly Control personnel on the camp.  I will discuss these gentlemen in a later post but they were a good bunch of blokes and great characters who worked very closely with us on Cordon Sanitaire.

Our next mission was to learn the science of mine-laying and I will cover this in the next post.

Here is a video taken during Operation Hurricane.  Mukumbura Engineer camp was in this ops area:

Let me be clear.

I was never unlucky enough to be ambushed traveling through Ambush Alley in the Mavuradonhas, but I know quite a few people who were. These encounters ranged from ineffectual pot-shots being taken at Rhodesian Security Force convoys to intense firefights, sometimes in the hours of darkness.  We had people killed and injured going through the mountains.  It was a main personnel and logistic route to the North-East Border with Mozambique.  The issue with traversing Ambush Alley was the steeply angled incline of the road and this resulted in straining engines and overheating vehicles.  Stopping in an ambush killing-ground is a dodgy business indeed and not for the faint-hearted. To help vehicles get up to the summit of the pass, concrete had been laid on the road surface to help during the heavy rains that could hit the area. Additionally one side of the road was a sheer drop and the other went straight up and so close to the vehicles in some places you could touch the trees. Perfect ambush terrein and the gooks could not be faulted for choosing it as a killing-ground. The photo below will give you a good idea what the terrein and contours were like although it does not do the challenges on the ground justice. The road is clearly visible:

Mavuradonha Mountains

Here is a map which shows the roads we traveled to get through the mountains.  As you can see any route you chose to Mukumbura had to go through the mountains called Mavuradonha:


Ambush Alley was still a long way down the road though.  Before we got there we would be in for a treat at a place called Mount Darwin.  Something to look forward to.

I settled back in my seat, tightening the straps on my harness, and counted the little white distance markers next to the road to keep my mind active.