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.

agent-orange-H

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.

'Ranch_Hand'_run

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.

Barrel-covers-from-Boi-pres

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.

Deduction

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.

Doc1

Vic1

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:

RhE_First_Mfield

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.

Copyright

© 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.

 

One of the stops on the long road to Mukumbura was at Mount Darwin.  This was always looked forward to with glee by road-weary travellers as there was a canteen situated in the town that was run by the Womens Voluntary Services (WVS).  These volunteer and always smiling ladies had an abundant variety of non-army home made food and ice-cold drinks available for dusty-faced and sweaty soldiers either going on ops or returning home. Hot-dogs full of fiery mustard, hamburgers with fresh salad and relish, meat-pies and cakes were almost always available as well as huge urns of tea, coffee and juices. All of these culinary delights were normally free but in some cases and depending where the canteen was situated a small payment was taken, often in the form of a small donation. Some of the funding for the WVS came from the Border Patrol Welfare Fund (whatever that was) too. Wherever the funds came from these establishments were huge morale-boosters.  All of us who made use of this hospitality owe a huge debt of gratitude to the sponsors and ladies for making our lives just that little more bearable.

Below is a typical WVS set-up manned by nice smiling ladies packing boxes of goodies for the troops (courtesy of The Herald and ORAFS):
WVS Ladies

I was kept warm on many a chilly night by hand-knitted gloves, balaclavas, caps and scarves that the WVS also made available during the bitterly cold Rhodesian winters.  These were all made by volunteers and came in any colour as long as it was green or black.

The only sad thing about these visits was that they were over too quickly and time was always going to be the enemy.  The more these ladies made us feel like we were at home, the more we missed it and perhaps it was easier for us to be on our way as quickly as we could…….away from the false sense of security and the occasional whiff of a ladies perfume.

It was time to leave, and we furtively filled our water bottles with cool-drink and stuffed extra burgers and buns into side pockets for the final leg of the journey.  As we stepped outside another convoy came to a noisy and dusty stop outside the canteen.  The tell-tale red and blue unit flash on the vehicles indicating they were Engineer Corps vehicles, the same as ours.  The only difference was these were taking their passengers home…….ours were taking us to a very different place.

Below is a photo of Mount Darwin in the 80’s but it would not have changed much from when I was there in the early-mid 70’s (thanks to New Rhodesian Forum)

mountdarwin1

Mt Darwin

As I strapped myself back into my seat I caught the unmistakable aroma of fried onions and tomato sauce…..I looked down and noticed I had dripped food all over my shirt-front.  A trail of yellow egg-yolk mingling with the camouflage pattern.  I would scratch it off later when the sun had dried it to a scaly crust.

The engines started, and as we slowly rolled out onto the main road I realised guiltily that I had forgotten to say thank you to anyone for the brief respite we had just enjoyed.

I cocked my rifle, rechecked the safety, and we were gone.

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:

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.

I had already unclipped and shrugged off my safety harness before the vehicle had come to a halt.  A couple of the lads had started to release the tailgate catches and it fell outwards onto its rubber stoppers with a dull thud.  Some of us debussed via the tailgate step or simply jumped over the side of the vehicle, FN in one hand and the other used for balance.  The smell of burning oil, hot tyres and exhaust gases filled the air.  The heat seemed to make them stronger.

Most of us immediately looked for the nearest tree to pee under, others carrying entrenching tools and bog-roll for more serious business moved further away.  This would not be a long stop so no one had tea-making kit out.  The best we could expect was a sip of water from our water bottles.  There is a funny thing about plastic water-bottles……the water always tastes like plastic……especially when it is warm.  Those of you who know this taste will understand what I mean.  The best solution to this was to chuck a bag of Jungle Juice from a rat-pack in the water and enjoy the orange-like taste.

It was all silent now.  Men cowering from the sun in the shadows cast by the vehicles and trees next to the road.  Always vigilant…..looking outwards for gooks…….sweat filled eyes burning, vision blurred and playing tricks.

The only sound was the metallic pinging of the engines and exhausts cooling down.

Drivers walked around their vehicles, checking tyres and cargo, at the same time stretching their limbs.  They would change-over with the co-drivers now and perhaps find time to relax a little once back on the road.

As the cab doors slammed shut we made our way back to our seats, strapped-in and readied ourselves for the next stretch of our journey……taking us further into the gook badlands…….closer to Mavhuradonha, the “Place Of Falling Water”.

mukumbura-train-2

With every turn of the wheels we were also getting closer to another place….a place infamous in Rhodesian Bush War history……a place called Ambush Alley.

The hypnotic whine of the water-filled tyres on the tarmac and the side-to-side roll of the heavy Rodef Troop Carrying Vehicle (TCV) lulled one to sleep in a surprisingly short period of time. The sun blazed down on us, burning our arms and faces. The matt-painted metal bodywork of the vehicle was hot enough to fry an egg on. We were meant to wear our webbing while traveling in case of an emergency de-bus but the majority of us took it off to gain some comfort. It gets quite irritating having a water- bottle stuck in each of your kidneys for 400 clicks. It would still be a few years before we progressed far enough to have chest-webbing, similar to that worn by the gooks.

Here are the different types of webbing I wore in Rhodesia

Standard Rhodesian Army Webbing complete with FN bayonet frog and bayonet (and kidney bruising water-bottles plus other paraphernalia):

Webbing complete front

More practical Chest Webbing came a little later and is shown below:

17583

Thanks to Military Photos for the items shown above

Normally I would try to get the seat facing the near-side and up front next to the cab.  This had two advantages from my perspective.  Firstly if one fell asleep you could use the vehicle cab as a pillow and secondly if a person stood up to stretch their legs they had something to grab onto as the front roll-bar was right next to this position.  The cab was also a pretty good wind-deflector.  On the Rodef 45 and 75 versions, the passenger side of the cab had a turret at the top and one of the nicest places to be was standing on the softish passenger seat with your head and upper body outside the vehicle.  I had many a conversation with blokes at the back from this position and vice-versa.

One of the most irritating things that could happen to you on the back of a TCV was getting hot cigarette ash in your eye.  This could be your own ash or someone else’s.  Boredom was a big problem on these journeys and smoking seemed to help a lot so plenty of ash flying through the air.  Not good for the lungs or the eyes.  Most of us smoked Madison, one of local equivalents as we could not get the international brands.  Not a bad cigarette though.

Madison_south_african_version_toastead_premium_quality_ks_20_h_zimbabwe_south_africa Thanks to cigarettespedia.com

I must have looked like one of those nodding dogs on the back shelf of a ’65 Ford Cortina.  As the miles slipped by my head bobbed sleepily up and down.  I felt the vehicle driver change down, the revs climbed, brakes coming on and the vehicle slowed.  My head banged into the cab with the changed momentum and I was wide awake.  It was time for a break and driver change.  It couldn’t have come at a better time as I was bursting for a piss.

The Road To Mukumbura

June 22, 2013

We usually left Salisbury at first light, probably nursing massive hangovers. I was always amused by the fact that one could drink gallons of beer but still be thirsty the next morning.

Prior to departure however we would have had to load our vehicles. Cargo could consist of anything from land-mines to letters and fuel to food. It was common practice that whenever word got out that there was a convoy going to Mukumbura, everyone suddenly had urgent kit or personnel to get up there. This regularly resulted in overloading of vehicles and little space left for personnel to sit. One would often find oneself sitting next to ammunition or explosives. Not really ideal but that was the way things worked. Another combination of cargo that didn’t work well was fuel and food. It always seemed that we had to have leaky jerry-cans and bread on the same vehicle. If you have never had a bacon sandwich made with bread that has been splashed with petrol/diesel you haven’t lived in a real man’s world. It gets a bit dodgy when you put a slice of this in the toaster though. There is however nothing like a good old whiff of diesel soaked bread to really whet ones appetite for breakfast.

The road to Mukumbura was a long one. Long, hot and dangerous. The sun, wind, or rain could be merciless to the unprotected, and there were a number of places where the gooks could bushwhack us along the way. Not all of our vehicles had canvas covers on and in any case we needed to know what was going on around us if ambushed so our seats were in the middle of the load-bed facing outwards. Here is a picture of a Rodef Troop Carrying Vehicle (TCV), which is actually a Mercedes Benz with a dodgy sanctions-busting name:

5556343414_26020818ac_z
(thanks to loosecannon55)

These vehicles were “soft-skinned” and offered no protection from small-arms fire. The seats at the back were fitted with four-point safety belts that were a great help if the vehicle hit a land-mine. Additionally the vehicles had filled sandbags on the floor of the load-bed to stop fragmentation from mine blasts coming through the floor and ripping ones anal region apart. There is no doubt that personnel wearing these seat belts had a much better chance of survival than those who never used them. Standard procedure was to wear them but there will are always be those that know better. As a vehicle it was smooth on the road and a pleasure to drive (once you had got used to the water-filled tyres). In comparison to the Bedford RL it was a dream machine.

As our convoy snaked it’s way through the streets of Salisbury, heading for the road that would take us north, people on the streets walking to work would wave at us, silently wishing us luck and wondering where we were going.

Photo2
(thanks to ORAFS and Mrs P Wise)

Once we reached the outskirts of Rhodesia’s capital city it would be time to cock our weapons and switch-on. We were on our way to Indian country.

Wankie (1 Independent Company): 1974/75-ish

Besides landmine incident call-outs, the days at 1 Indep also consisted of camp guard duties, patrolling the married quarters at night, and escorting ration-runs to deployed call-signs in the Company area of responsibility.

Late one afternoon this somewhat laid-back routine was, without warning, rudely interrupted.

Contact had been made with a large group of gooks and they were on the run. Normally in these types of situations the general idea would be to get as many additional feet on the ground as quickly as possible to track the gooks and kill them. At the same time as the follow-up was taking place, stopper groups would be placed ahead of them and straddling their likely axis of advance.

The best way to get a good grip on the situation was to have an aircraft up above the gooks to give the trackers an idea which way they were heading. Choppers would then drop Fire-Force sticks off to give chase. The choppers would also drop of the stopper-groups into which the gooks would hopefully run. One of the aircraft used for the top-cover and gook tracking was the Cessna Skymaster or as we called it, the “push-pull” due to its engine configuration (one back and one front). This aircraft was also known as the “fuck me-suck me” by many of us. Here she is:

Cessna Skymaster

This specific aircraft had the callsign prefix of “Hornet” due to the twin Browning’s at the top looking very much like insect probiscae. These aircraft also carried Frantan bombs that acted very much like Napalm and it was a pleasure to see these being used. Gooks normally quickly lost the urge to do anything bad after one of these was dropped near to them.

The helicopter of choice for the deployment of troops was the good old Alouette 3, also known in the Rhodesian Forces as Cyclone 7. These could be armed with either twin Light Machine Guns (G-Car), or a 20mm cannon (K-Car). The plan would be for G-Cars to drop troops off on the tails of the gooks who would then chase them into the waiting stopper groups (if they were in position) where they would hopefully be killed or captured. This picking up and dropping off of troops took time as the G-Car could only take 5 troops at a time and many opportunities were probably missed because of this lack of an appropriate trooping capability. Here is one of the choppers we used (Beaver Shaw behind the guns and photo by Dominique Hoyet) :

RLIfireforceKCARtakingoff

I had managed to get dragged into leading one of the stopper-groups this specific day and had been dropped off with whatever and whoever was available at the camp. The area that needed to be covered to catch the running gooks was so wide that we had cooks, medics, bottlewashers, and mechanics in the stop-groups. Remember that in the Rhodesian Army we were all Infantrymen first and specialists second. It was in these circumstances that the training model really paid off.

By last light we were still lying there waiting for the gooks to run into us but nothing happened. It gets a little creepy in these situations as you need to be really careful not to shoot your own people chasing the gooks. With non-combat type troops with me this was a real possibility and I knew it. I was not quite sure what the next move was going to be and was hoping that we were not going to be expected to stay out the entire night. Due to the rushed and calamitous deployment, none of us who were normally non-Fire Force troops were carrying warm clothing or rations. As fate would have it I received a radio message that we needed to stay in position for the night. I informed the gentleman on the other end of the line that my callsign was not equipped for a night stop and he had the temerity to call me a dude (yes, a dude!) over the air. This is a typical example of an out of touch commander giving orders without thinking them through and then firing off insults. I could not have worried less. The welfare of my troops came first and they lifted us out.

As far as I can remember they never did get any of those gooks either so all-in-all an unsuccessful day all-round and perhaps in some way I contributed to this poor result. I doubt it, although in retrospect I should have been more prepared for this type of call-out though and I would not be caught out again. It was pretty piss-poor preparation on my part.

I didnt know it at the time but as we flew back to Wankie there was planning taking place in Bulawayo that would soon see me redeployed to a place synonymous with the history of the Rhodesian Corps of Engineers…..Mukumbura!

On-board Cyclone 7 Gunship………outbound to Sidindi area

The pilot tested and released the brakes on the Alo gunship and we slowly taxied down the runway at FAF1……I was on the back seat….a simple hard bench that could fold up when the chopper was in the casevac role.  On either side of me was an infantryman from 1 Indep.  The infantry section or “stick” leader sat in a rearwards facing seat next to the pilot.  This seat had an olive green cushion for your arse and the seat was armour-plated all round so that whoever sat in it never had his balls shot off by gooks firing from below.

Another troopie sat in the door opening, a position I was later to claim as my own on many chopper rides.  There is something pretty fascinating about sitting in a chopper door when the pilot hits a hard port or starboard roll and you literally hang out the machine but cannot fall…centrifugal force apparently….those of you who have experienced this will know what I am talking about.  The door gunner was a serious looking fellow who had a flying helmet on that had wires coming out of it that plugged into sockets on the bulkhead..these were his umbilical cord to the pilot….they spoke constantly without a sound coming our way.  The weapon on these gunships was the Belgium made 7,62 MAG (Metrallieur a Gas) mounted as twins on a swivel arrangement giving traverse and elevation movement.  There was also an optical sight on these weapons.  Ammunition was fed into from two ammo boxes attached to the gun mounting. 

This was my first chopper ride and as you all know I am shit scared of heights.  My arse was nipping at the thought of the lift off and me just inches from the open door….I didn’t know about the centrifugal force theory at this stage.

I watched the pilot closely…..how he gently pumped his feet on the pedals as we taxied…..and how he flicked mysterious buttons on the rather impressive dashboard that had red and green lights on it.  His left hand had been continuously holding what looked like a car handbrake between the seats and as I watched he slowly lifted this device and the chopper left the ground and began to gently gain height….I learned later this handbrake thing was called the “collective” and had something quite important to do with the up and down activity of all choppers.  Actually if this device broke the chopper was fucked and all aboard in severe shit.

As we climbed I watched as the runway fell away and the buildings below became smaller and smaller…..the cars on the roads looking like the Dinkies I had played with in the sand as a child…..as the pilot swung the machine to port we headed east…..into the rising sun…..and into my first taste of what this war was all about.