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

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

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

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

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

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

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

40

(Reservoir by StrongSteve)

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

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

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

Ops Mulola 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This mission was far from over………….

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PICK-UP POINT: WEST OF MAPETA ISLAND

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was now simply a waiting game……….

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

DEKA ARMY BASE: LATE AFTERNOON

Conversation between Camp OC and ourselves:

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

That was it.  Short and to the point.

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

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

Ops Mulola

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

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

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

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

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

Typical boat preps

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

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

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

DSC01634

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

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

I watched the snake slither along the wooden rafter of the hut, its black tongue flicking ahead, feeling the way.  Lying on my bed and looking up at the bright green reptile I wondered what my escape plan was.  It was the first time a mamba had come into our billet but I always knew our luck would run out one day.  We were after all in the middle of the bush, working out of Deka Army Base and snakes were quite commonplace.  I didn’t like snakes then and I don’t like snakes now.  Just one of those things.  Anything else I can handle.

Here is a picture of a Green Mamba (greenmambasnake.com)…..a very dodgy visitor indeed:

img0002

There were two of us.  Both Sappers from 1 Engineer Squadron and attached to the infantry unit at the camp.  I think it was 1 Independent Company from Wankie based there most of the time on Border Control operations.  Tony Carinus and I were tasked with operating a Hercules Assault Boat within our area of responsibility on the Zambezi River, and our boat was moored with the British South Africa Police (BSAP) boats at the Sibankwazi Police post.  We had approximately 60 kilometres of river to patrol which was quite a stretch and we tried to cover this as often as we could.

Our boats were shite-looking and the police boats were all shiny and painted in cute pastel colours with lots of aerials on them so they could listen to Sally Donaldson and Forces Requests on Sundays.  Papa5 was a particularly nice police boat that I would have given my left testicle to take onto the river but big John Arkley, the Member-In-Charge of the Sibankwazi BSAP would not allow it.  We never had any aerials as we had no one in particular to talk to and the boats were painted a matt dark green, or at least they were green when they were new which must have been in 1945 or earlier.

Here is a picture of one of our boats (Basil Preston):

Hercules and Basil

Please note the warped wooden seats  made for extreme anal comfort, and the generally dodgy state of seaworthiness.  I must say that this boat at least has engine covers on the twin 40 ponypower Evinrude outboards so is probably a VIP version.  A close look at the red fuel tank also indicates it was probably “borrowed” from a civvy fisherman on a long-term basis as ours were a dull drab brown colour.  Either that or the QM ran out of camo paint or brushes, or both.

Here is a picture of the area of the Sibankwazi Police Post (www.bsap.org) where we moored up.

Sibankwazi

Our boat was not allowed under the shelter because there were too many shiny police boats in there.  We normally tied up to the left of the shelter near the launching area (see above).  Having said that the bobbies were always very good to Tony and I and we had many good piss-ups and braais with them.  They were also destined to get me out of some fairly serious shit in the years to come.

Tony and I normally planned our own activities and it seemed in retrospect that the infantry Sunray (OC) at the camp never had much interest in what we got up to all day.  Only occasionally would we drop-off or pick-up infantry sticks along the Rhodesian side of the river.  This resulted in a lot of tiger fishing, game viewing, stopping off at Msuna Mouth or Deka Drum resorts for beers and a meal, or simply patrolling up and down the river looking for gook crossing points or even better still, some gooks.

This is the Deka Drum area of the Zambezi (Craig Haskins)………

Deka Drum

A pretty enjoyable time for me and Tony in general and I have fond memories of my days on the boats.  We did however have some dodgy experiences and these will part of the next few posts.

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.

 

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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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.

 

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:

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.

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.

 

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.

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.

Life at Mukumbura could be a repetitive affair.  Our daily routine went something like this:

First Light: Reveille and Stand-to (see previous post for details).

A picture of typical first light in the bush……do not be taken in by the serenity.  This was a dangerous time of day. (Wild Eye)

zambezi_sunrise_1_2012_Wild Eye Photography

Shower/Shave: Hot water supplied by a heating “donkey”.  This was an oil-drum affair that got its heat from a wood fire underneath.  Water fed by gravity and worked very well.  Luxury really considering where we were.

Here is a typical “donkey” (ourterritory.com):

donkey

Breakfast: This would be a hearty ensemble of the good old pucker English type breakfast.  Porridge, cereals, eggs, bacon, fried tomato, baked beans, toast, butter/jam, sauces, tea and coffee.  There was always enough to eat except when we were getting near to rat-run day (ration run day).  This was indeed the most important meal for us and we enjoyed it immensely.  Most of us packed an egg and bacon sandwich for tea.

Depart for the minefield: The drive to the minefield (Cordon Sanitaire) was in a convoy consisting of personnel and mine/equipment carrying cargo vehicles (often the same vehicle which was much against the explosive regulations).  The journey could take anything from 30 minutes to some hours depending on how far we were working from the camp.  Obviously every day we traveled further as the minefield progressed, and thus our deployment time from the camp to work area was ever-increasing.

Lay mines: I will discuss in detail shortly.

Return to camp: Self explanatory.

Unload vehicles: Self explanatory.

Late lunch: This was great.  T-Bone steaks, eggs, chips, and pudding were a common feed for lunch or supper.  One thing the army could do was provide good meat to the men in the field and I am sure many of you who served will agree with me.  Some of these T-Bones were huge and we all looked forward to them with great delight.

Prepare mines for next day.  Load vehicles.

To save time we partly prepared our mines for the next days laying after lunch.  This would take the form of inserting booster charges but not removing any safety devices or inserting detonators.  The problem we had with some mines was that the boosters and detonators were combined and thus only the safety devices were keeping the mines in a neutral state (meaning that all elements are in place for the device to fire but the safety pin/plate is still to be removed).  In other mines the detonators were integral to the mine and this was also a dodgy situation.  Tragically, we were to lose 7 of our Sappers at Victoria Falls in a multi-mine uncontrolled detonation with this type of device.  Thinking back this pre-preparation was not always ideal or safe but time was the enemy and it was not possible to prepare 3,000 mines each morning before deploying and it needed to be done the day before.  Yes, the figure is correct, 3,000 mines per day was our normal laying target for Mukumbura, at least when I was there.

It is not the intent of this blog to teach the reader the mechanics of how mines work but I will be describing some of the items we used in some detail as part of follow-on posts as without this the dangers to us as the mine-layers cannot be fully understood.

Last Light: Stand-to (see previous post).

Again, don’t be fooled by the serenity.  These were dangerous times and the shadows played games with a mans eyes (petergostelow.com):

DSC_0968

Supper: Evening meals could be a nice curry or thick beef stew with rice or mashed potatoes.  Whatever it was it kept ones tummy full.  Again the quality would diminish as we got closer to rat-run day.  It was easy to know when rations were due by the amount of bluish-green mould on the bread…….didn’t taste too bad if it was toasted and smothered in similarly decaying cheese though.

Leisure Time Utilisation:  This was just a fancy army term for socialising with your mates and enjoying the 2-beer limit we had at Mukumbura.  If you have never drunk out of a beer bottle that has been stored with meat that is going off in the fridge you have never lived.  Just thinking about it makes me all nostalgic.  There were dart boards, chess boards, checker boards, cards and dominoes available for us to while away the hours.  A lot of us used this time to simply write letters home and relax in preparation for the next days work.  A man also needed his solitude and quiet time.

Shower and sleep: As for Shower/Shave above.

In the upcoming posts we will look at the types of mines we used throughout Cordon Sanitaire operations country-wide as well as the main mine-laying methodology.