As mentioned in my previous post we will continue with the personal recollections of some of those that worked on Cordon Sanitaire.  In this post we have accounts from Vic Thackwray, another former Commanding Officer of mine.  I had the pleasure to work with Vic in the Rhodesian Army (RhE), the South African Defence Force (SADF (SAEC)), and also in the private sector after we had both ended our military careers.  Vic and I remain close friends and I wish to thank him here publicly for all of the help and sage advice he has given me over the years, and will probably also need to do in the future.  I am bound to ask him something and he always responds rapidly and with a genuine willingness.  Thanks for everything Vic…..you are one of a kind.

The picture below shows Vic (left, saluting with the sword) as Parade Commander at the Last Official Parade of the Rhodesia Corps of Engineers in 1979……..a sad day indeed and the end of an era but how proud he must have been!!

Doc1

Vic takes up the post from here…………starting with an interesting and sobering Cordon Sanitaire Fact Sheet:

‘CORDON SANITAIRE’ FACT SHEET

The following illustrates my involvement with the Rhodesian Cordon Sanitaire.

  • My initial deployment to Cordon Sanitaire was to take over from Terry Griffin (see previous post) who had trained the first mine laying teams in Mukumbura.
  • My second in command was a Corporal Charlie MacQuillan who had recently attested into the Rhodesian Corps of Engineers from the British Army.
  • We commenced laying the Portuguese M969 mine.  This was followed by the South African R2M1 mine, the South African R2M2 mine, the Rhodesian Engineer manufactured RAP mine (commonly referred to as the ‘Carrot Mine’), and the Italian VS50 mine.
  • The Cordon concept was based on the Israeli Defence Force minefield which separates Lebanon from Israel and is called the ‘Blue Line’, the electronics used in Israel were used for the first 50 km or so in Rhodesia but was soon ‘binned’ for financial reasons coupled with the constant triggering of the system by wild animals.
  • The total length of the combined minefields is 696 km
  • The density of mines was 3,000 mines per kilometer with 300 ploughshares per kilometer for approx 500 kilometers.
  • A committee was inaugurated comprising the SADF, the Rhodesian Army, and elements of CSIR in SA and was called the ‘Geisha Committee’.  It was formed to discuss, workshop and plan all mine action activities between the two countries.
  • One of the senior CSIR members, (name removed) was instrumental in the design and manufacture of the R2M1 and R2M2 AP mines. I was tasked to assist on the ground in the Mukumbura area and established a ‘Seed Minefield’ within our minefield. In this area we laid many mines at predetermined depths and other technical data. On frequent occasions the Professor would travel to the field and I would be instructed to remove selected mines for observation and assessment.
  • Accidents involving own troops during laying, maintenance and some clearance numbered 97, of which the majority were traumatic amputations of one leg, and 1 member both legs, (1 above and 1 below the knee) (Sgt. Willem Snyder). Several of the 96 members lost hands, fingers and eyes, 1 unfortunate member Spr Ndlovu lost both hands and blinded in both eyes during the arming of a plough share.  The deaths of members numbered 30, however, this figure is not confirmed but estimated by me and several other officers of the Corps.  he majority of accidents and ALL the deaths are attributable to the Maintenance phase of the Cordon. I am aware of members being killed when the point Sapper walking down a safe lane was confronted by a snake, normally a Black Mamba or Cobra and he just ran blindly into the minefield and subsequently triggered the trip wire of a plough share instantly dying and often a few of the maintenance team were injured by shrapnel.  Additionally other members were killed or severely injured when replacing plough shares during which the 30 metre trip wire was hit by Doves, guinea fowl, small antelope, and turkey buzzards.  In the Umtali forest areas where I spent considerable time, several members were injured or killed when the plough share was triggered by falling bark from Gum trees as the Cordon went through many Gum Tree plantations.  Again in the Umtali area some 5 accidents were attributed to terrain problems, whilst maintaining the minefield the 15-20 cm. thick soggy/wet leaf mould caused the members to slip/slide and subsequently hit a mine on their rapid descent.  One young Sapper lost his leg when he foolishly attempted to retrieve a set of Kudu trophy Horns in the Northern minefield.
  • The Cordon, in 99% of cases employed the International Border as the Enemy fence, for obvious political reasons.
  • When the terrain dictated that the Cordon could not follow the Border, the proposed route of the field was assessed and this information subjected to a high level detailed Military Appreciation.  Changing the minefield routing obviously required high level Political input as it involved, Private land, farms, forestry, National parks, Police, Internal Affairs, and Tribal burial grounds, to mention a few.  This appreciation and request was forwarded to Parliament via Engineer Directorate to Army Commander to COMOPS for approval.  The agreed rerouting on the Rhodesian side of the border together with detailed maps of the new routing was then subsequently issued from Engineer Directorate.
  • The Cordon including all maps, diagrams, drawings, mine stocks and all reports etc., was officially handed over to the New ZANU Commander of the Zimbabwe Corps of Engineers over period April 1980 to December 1980.

Vic continues with anecdotes he recalls from the time:

During the maintenance of the Cordon Sanitaire, we frequently had to deal with wounded terrorists in the field, on one occasion near the Mazoe river bridge on the Northern border with Mocambique  we were informed of four terrorists injured in the field, I proceeded with my team, ably protected by “Dads Army” , (the over 50-year-old soldiers)!

On arrival I deployed the protection troops to give me covering fire, gave them strict orders on the rules of engagement and proceeded to clear into the field.

Of the four terrorists, one dead, one youth (more a porter of equipment than a combatant), and two combatants, one had lost both feet and the other, one foot. Both with AK rifles close by and  lying with their injuries slightly elevated on packs to reduce pain and bleeding. I gave them the usual warning that if they moved during my clearance in to save them, the troops would not hesitate to take them out.

All prepared, focused and fully hyped, I commenced clearance, when suddenly out of the blue, one of the “old soldiers”, a bank manager,  called out to me in a loud and very posh voice:

 Quote
“ I say sir, there is no threat here, it appears that all these chaps have been defe(e)ated”
unquote .

That just cracked me up, I needed a few minutes to regain my composure, and focus before resuming clearance.

And another…………………….

First Version of the Ploughshare

Based with Major Henk Meyer 1st. Battalion RLI at Mukumbura,

I had been tasked by Colonel Parker (affectionately called the ‘King’) who was based at Mount Darwin to strengthen the minefield over a certain area as they were expecting a thrust from Mocambique.

I installed 30 trip wire operated devices (First version of the ploughshare, using old pull switch devices.

Major Henk Meyer instructed me to show and explain the procedure to Captain Keith Sampson RhE., and a Selous Scouts Officer Major John Murphy (ex American Military), with parting words from Major Henk, ‘be careful Thackwray’.

I was dressed in Veldskoens, no socks, camo shorts, camo shirt, chest webbing, Camo floppy hat, water bottles and rifle .

We walked about 2 km along the fence with army protection on our left hand side, crossed the minefield at my clearance lane into Mocambique and walked 400 metres along the minefield fence to the position of the devices.

At a safe distance from the devices, I instructed them to wait at the fence whilst I made the device safe, I went in, removed 2 of the 3 ‘keeper mines’ from the base of the device and removed the detonator from the trip wire device, placing the detonator  below my lower legs .

I commenced describing the device when (according to the protection force members) a bird some 20 metres down, flew into the trip wire, the detonator blew and I received detonator shrapnel, mainly to face, head, arms, legs and lost an eardrum, fortunately I had my prescription glasses on.

The two very agitated visitors were trying to come through the fence to assist me, I calmed them down stating that I was OK just a little blood, Major John Murphy then said words to the effect that ‘Rhodesians had big balls’. With ringing in my ears I only remember hearing the word balls, to which I immediately and instinctively checked my 6 o’ clock position, all was found to be good and this reaction was enjoyed by my visitors.

I relaid the 2 mines around the base and we walked back the 400 metres and along the 2 km road to base, it was amusing because all the supporting troops were staring at this walking bloodied apparition.

We finally arrived back at RLI base and my shoes were swimming in blood I was an apparition to behold, Major Henk Meyer was not amused and taking off his beret swiped me with it, saying “I told you to be careful Thackwray and what am I going to tell the King (Colonel Parker)”?.

I was casevaced to salisbury two days later.

Below I have included pictures from Vics contributions showing the types of mines he mentions :

Portuguese M969

M969

South African R2M2 (R2M1 was very similar in overall design but had a different ignitor)

r2inhand

Rhodesian Carrot Mine (RAP)

rap1_001

Some of the items may vary in colour from what the Cordon Sanitaire veterans remember but the general shape and design are spot on.

I would like to thank Vic once again for his input here

………..and just before I sign off this post:

Cheers Vic

CHEERS VIC!!!!!!

 

Please also join me on my website dedicated to Rhodesian and South African Military Engineers.  Sign up to the forums by using the following link:

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© 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.

 

I have received significant help from a number of individuals with regards to various aspects of Cordon Sanitaire.  It is only fair that their experiences are also shared with my readers and this seems a good time to do it.

This is my way of thanking them and acknowledging their contribution to the Rhodesian Corps of Engineers own private war within the Rhodesian Bush War.

Cordon Sanitaire was indeed our very own personal, deadly war.  I am not saying that our supporting units did not contribute to this war………what I am saying is that we were the guys pulling the pins.

I would like to start off with contributions from Terry Griffin, one of my former Commanding Officers at 1 Engineer Squadron.  I am posting this exactly as he sent his recollection to me…….if I done it any other way it would lose the impact of the era.  I have seperated his submissions by a dotted line.

Terry takes up the post from here:

I was quite bemused, when attending an “early” mine warfare committee meeting, held at Army HQ prior to deployment of the first team to Mukkers – as previously detailed. At the meeting, were all sorts of folk who had an “interest” in what was to become the Cordon – as in Tsetse and various Army people etc. These meetings were held on a regular basis to discuss improvements , change of tactics etc, etc. However, at this “first” meeting the aspect of the Geneva Convention was discussed at length where correct signage, fenced on both sides etc, etc was laid down as pretty much a non-negotiable aspect. This was just in case we offended anyone and were then leaving ourselves open to be charged with war crimes. Can you believe it !! I recall very clearly being opposed to this “requirement” (as were a few other folk present) – for many reasons. Not least our “Coin” war aspect where camouflage and concealment etc was a “local” criteria and why should we “advertise” the minefield thereby nullifying its concealment etc and above all – who was going to arrest us and take us to court – in Geneva? We were overruled and the “first” minefield complied with the Geneva Convention – to ensure no comeback !! After completing my ERE attachment to RLI and being posted all over the country I (several years later) became involved with the Cordon again and was delighted to find that the Geneva Convention had been dispensed with. A classic example was in the Deka area where (as I am sure you recall) no North side fence was ever erected. Gooks just had to find out when they entered the minefield – more by when the first explosion went off.  

Going back to the original / first field, am sure you recall, we had not developed the ploughshare (on a stake) yet so, all mines were AP’s laid as per original design. Due to the costly clearing (and stupid) of bush etc it was very difficult to camouflage all and even days later, unless rain (which did not fall often) or strong winds, concealed the placement – most laid mines positions were very/fairly visible. The open bare earth aspect (as per my pics you have) made the field look like a dirt landing strip – for light aircraft – in the middle of the bush. This is pretty much what it became as hordes of Ground Hornbills (Turkey Buzzards) descended into the field and inevitably sourced their daily food by pecking around the obvious digging areas. This resulted in many birds, either exposing the AP’s or occasionally blowing themselves up as they (obviously) pecked with sufficient force to detonate the mine. This resulted in the most hazardous aspect of the Cordon (to my mind) being re-entry to re- lay  mines. We did try shooting these birds, to prevent their damage, but they arrived in their 100’s from all over the NE when the cleared bare earth, easy meal, word got out.  Large animals as in Kudu, Elephant, Buffalo etc were not a problem here as there was no vegetation (between fences) for them to eat. Only the occasional one that took offence, to the fence, being in its way – as it were. This was to change in years to come as without bush clearing, the vegetation between fences had limited predation hence many of these herbivorous animals now saw the pristine vegetation growing between fences and broke through to eat from the protected larder – as it were.  Again, the hazardous task of re-laying took place and I eventually (when OC 1 Sqn) banned all re-laying due to the casualties already sustained. However, the later aspect resulted in another bird being a danger. When an animal had been killed in the field, we now had hordes of vultures descending on the carcase. Empty and light, a vulture just came straight down to feed. After engorging (and now heavy / overloaded) it needed a running take off which often resulted in it activating a tripwire from the now laid ploughshares !! Many occasions I/we came round a corner either on foot or in a vehicle, next to the fence and surprised vultures on a carcase. As they started their running take off we would duck behind any available cover to avoid the inevitable shrapnel emanating for the ploughshare – as I am sure you recall ? I am aware of a dozen or so Sprs (not me thank goodness) who suffered “minor” injuries from this shrapnel as obviously we were at some distance from the detonation.

————————————————————————————————————-

Some light humour – wrt the Cordon, as opposed to all the “damage” it caused to humans and wildlife.

One of the highly intelligent Dr’s working for Tsetse, who had several degrees in Entomology etc  was a rather dour individual. His name escapes me but am sure Vic will recall him if not remember his name. He was present at most Mine warfare committee meetings.

Anyway, one hot and boring day at Mukkers I had been bitten dozens of times by Tsetse flies and in desperation made my way to the cab of a 45 shutting doors and windows to complete (hopefully in some peace- from the flies) my report.

I noticed several flies were shut inside the cab so, in absolute glee commenced with my “payback” as in catching every one, and with my finger nails, removing their proboscis and then releasing in the cab – alive. I  carried on (in peace) with writing my report. Sometime later this Dr who was at Mukkers and seldom ventured into the field joined me in the cab of the 45 as he was also fed up with being bitten. We discussed many things not least where / how he obtained his PhD and that it was sacrilege to refer to a Tsetse employee (especially a Dr) as just a plain entomologist. They were in fact called Glossinologist’s – as in specialist (entomologists) Tsetse fly folk. There is much on the web about this. After some minutes he let out a yell that resulted in me grabbing my rifle and commencing a one man assault on an enemy as yet unseen. Before I could de bus he insisted on the cab remaining closed and in a high pitched voice asked for help in catching the flies (in the cab) as he had just noticed non had a proboscis. They must be some sort of Tsetse “morph “ or anomaly in nature, that he would now investigate and maybe be able to breed, release into the wild and potentially eradicate the Tsetse scourge as there were obviously some flies that could exist without sucking blood.

When we had caught most and carefully placed in a container he had, he enquired as to my persistent giggling as this was an entomologist “dream” but he would assure me of a mention in his research. I then in stiches of laughter told him about my “payback” which did not amuse him. On pain of death he asked me never to divulge this incident as it would make him out to be a bit of a fool – amongst his peers etc. I have never mentioned it until now but still have a quiet chuckle whenever I think about it.

—————————————————————————————————————

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.

Chete Gorge

Kariba-Ferries-Chete-GorgeAfricamemories.com

————————————————————————————————————-

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??

RhE_First_Mfield (2)

————————————————————————————————————

The foregoing was not in any particular order and I am sure this is the very first time Terry has shared anything like this publicly.  I thank him sincerely for giving us all the privelidge of sharing some of his experiences.

Amazing stuff from a true RhE veteran Officer.

I will be posting the recollections of Vic Thackwray in my next post.  Look out for it as it is going to be a good one.

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

If I thought that getting historical background to Cordon Sanitaire defoliation efforts (see previous post) was challenging, I was wrong!

Trying to find anyone who has in-depth information on the electronic early warning systems installed on the fences was an even more daunting task. To be very honest I am not in any way convinced that what I have managed to find holds too much water and this is once again where I will be hoping that someone, somewhere reads this post, tells me I have written complete rubbish and puts things right. I can take it and no offence will be taken I assure you. We simply need to get this as factual as we can. There has to be Rhodesian Army veterans that actually installed and monitored the electronic side of things that can help here.

The following redaction comes from more than one source, the reliability of which has not been confirmed to me. From an intelligence source and reliability perspective I therefore have no option but to rate it as F/6 (Insufficient information to evaluate reliability. May or may not be reliable/The validity of the information cannot be determined) and should therefore by no means be quoted as being the way things actually were. Read on………..

For the sake of simplicity we will consider the Cordon to be 25 metres wide, fenced on both sides, and containing anti-personnel blast mines.

On the home side a system of electronic sensors divided into monitored sectors and wired to sector control boxes formed the basis of the early warning system. I have not been able to find any information as to what type of sensors (movement, vibration, broken electrical circuit, audio, etc.) were used, nor who was responsible for installing them (possibly the Rhodesian Corps of Signals (8 Signal Squadron)).  According to one source these control boxes were placed in bunkers close to the home side fence and manned full-time by troops waiting for an alarm to be set off.

Logic makes me think that a combination of activation triggers may have been used. Apparently the idea was that any penetration of the Cordon would be detected by detonations or some form of electronic sensor. My information claims that reaction to these events was primarily by vehicle and took place within 10 minutes of a signal being received. In addition to the vehicular response, artillery fire was also used to put down fire on ranged, pre-selected targets. I imagine this would be from 25 pounder howitzers or possibly 120mm mortars.

It is my understanding that the only parts of Cordon Sanitaire to be fitted with an electronic early warning system were the Musengezi/Mukumbura, and Nyamapanda to Ruenya minefield. Soon after these areas were completed a significant amount of false alarms were being recorded. This resulted in finding no enemy presence at the alarm trigger point. Due to the significant cost of ammunition being expended on these false-positive events, it was decided to curtail the rapid response on these areas in 1975. An ongoing Cordon Sanitaire review shelved the whole idea of an early warning system shortly thereafter.

And so ended the Cordon Sanitaire early warning system.

I do not know how effective these measures were as I never encountered them during my time serving in the Rhodesian Corps of Engineers. Personally I do not think the electronic system was as successful as the planners initially thought it would be and with the Rhodesian economy heavily burdened by sanctions and an ever-increasing defence budget there was little chance of any project surviving unless it showed significant success indicators (body count, infiltration mitigation, etc.).

I located the following on the issafrica.org website.  They seem to confirm in some ways parts of the foregoing:

EWS 1EWS 2EWS 3

I will continue to seek further sources to help unravel this interesting and little known subject.

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, 2009-2014. 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:

Tsetse-fly

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

tsetse_map500x448

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):

MARK0001b

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

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.

Getting to Mukumbura was a pain in the arse……literally. If you have had the opportunity to sit on the steel benches in the back of a Bedford RL for 400 clicks you will understand exactly what I mean. Your arse goes numb and so does your scrotum for some reason. I have even had pins and needles in my dick during these trips, loosing all sensation and not knowing if it was still an appendage to my body. Here is a picture of a Bedford RL:

Bedford RL

Bedford RL

Secondly, and more irritating than numb-nuts was the fact we had to deploy through Salisbury. This involved having to accept the hospitality of either 2 or 3 Engineer Squadron (Rhodesian Corps of Engineers). These units were based at either King George the Sixth Barracks (KGVI), or Cranborne Barracks (also home of the Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI)). It seemed to many of us from 1 Engineer Squadron (Brady Barracks, Bulawayo), that the Salisbury Squadrons had an air of superiority about them. This was probably a result of Engineer Directorate also being in Salisbury. I cannot say that I enjoyed any of my visits to these units and the sooner we had done what we had to do there and got on our way the better. Having said all of that there were some good men in the Salisbury Squadrons and I made a number of close friends from these units during my 7 years in the Rhodesian Army. Here is a picture of the entrance to Cranborne Barracks:

cranborne Barracksfront gate

Our normal stop over was about 2 or three days and during this time we would do retraining, load up any logistics that needed to get to Mukumbura (including anti-personnel mines), and get pissed in the many watering holes in Salisbury. One of these pubs was La Coq D’or which the RLI considered to be their personal domain and woe betide any other Unit that encroached on their territory. There have been a number of memorable punch ups there. Here is a picture of the place (courtesy of New Rhodesian Website):

5385561975_99d656b981

And a menu cover from way back when:

Le Coq D'Or Ad 1953

All good things come to an end however and we had to move on. We had a mission after all…..to lay mines and stop the gooks getting into Rhodesia. We climbed up into the Bedford’s, and with the stench of exhaust fumes polluting the air and stinging our eyes we were off. Wrapped up against the cold in my prickly grey army issue blanket I could still taste the bacon, eggs and coffee we had for breakfast as I settled in for another ball-numbing journey.

* Gobshite (also referred to as Gobbie, or Gobbies): One who engages in nonsensical chatter or unwanted conversation. For example- What’s that gobshite talking about now?

“Down in Mukumbura where the Gobbies lay the mines,
A Gobbie laid a mine in another Gobbies line,
Said the Gobby to the Gobby, keep on your own line,
And never lay a mine in another Gobbies line”

Minelaying song sung by Rhodesian Sappers laying mines during Cordon Sanitaire operations, Mukumbura.

I have absolutely no idea how I have remembered this song all these years.

The most recent National Service intake of Sappers were referred to as Gobbies.

Below is a photo of the early Mukumbura minefield. Note the gook breach in one of them.

RhE_First_Mfield

Place name: Mukumbura

Latitude: 16° 13′ 57″ S

Longitude: 31° 42′ 31″ E

Below is a gook infiltration map. Mukumbura is in the North-East.

Rhodesia_infiltration_map

Operation Hurricane

The object of Cordon Sanitaire was to use minefields and patrols to channel insurgents into designated areas from which the local population had been removed. They could then be tracked and killed before they reached populated areas.

The first Operation Hurricane “no-go” area was along the Mozambique border in May 1973. Other “no-go” areas were extended along vast stretches of Rhodesian border in an attempt to establish depopulated “free-fire” zones for Security Force operations. This concept that anyone seen moving in an area is considered a terrorist and can be killed was tried in some areas of Vietnam too but was not particularly successful.

More to follow on Mukumbura in the next instalment.