Author Archives: Norman Sander

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Falklands bombing raid

Category : Articles

 

On 30 April 1982, the RAF launched a secret mission: to fly a Vulcan bomber to the Falkland Islands and bomb Port Stanley’s runway, putting it out of action for Argentine fighter jets.

 

The safety of the British Task Force depended on its success.

 

Nick Stanham


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Dave Campbell

Category : Articles

 
 
RIP Dave Campbell former drummer of “The Rising Sons” and Veteran of the Natal Carbineers and the Border war where he served as an Officer. We will remember.

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Entrepeneurs over 50

Category : Articles

For all of those contemplating retirement, here is some food for thought. You could of course do some work for the Legion too.

 

Norman Sander

 


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Colonel “Oom Vuil” Fred Potgieter.

Category : Articles

The story of Colonel “Oom Vuil” Fred Potgieter.
 

When the SAAF bought the farm at Ondangwa to establish an air force base there was pretty much nothing but an open expanse of savanna grasslands. When the Mobile Radar Unit moved in to establish themselves, this convoy of trucks drove into the new base and stopped. There was pretty much naught but a huge big single Camel thorn tree. A grand daddy of all Camel thorn trees. It provided the only shade for miles around and there was no way it was getting cut down so, with the shady shadow it cast, it became the center point of the base. A place where the guys could hang out when they took a break in the middle of the day. It became the social center of the base to be and would remain the social center from that point on. 

In fact it stands there to this day 17.8887136S, 15.947131E, despite attempts, accidental and deliberate, to inflict injury on it … it still stands. 

The tree became a favorite place and so, it became a home to a bar counter that was erected in its shadow. And behind the counter, one needs a bar man. It was my lifetime mate Victor Frewen, that was the barman at Ondangwa. We grew up together. Were in school together, were in the SAAF together, Rode for the same bike club, shared the same adventures … and not out of choice or design, but because fate always seemed to let us gravitate towards each other. 

The barman needed fridges and shelves behind him so those were brought in and tents were erected, to the north. 

To the opposite side was the lounge with easy bush chairs in clusters around tables made of tree stumps. The bar and the counter and the lounge were open to the sky. 

To the south was the kitchen, to the east was the officers mess, and to the west was the noncom mess. A plan that is retained to this day if you look at it from above, though the cross is now made of brick and metal and offset a bit so as not to interfere with the tree, for the tree is sacred to all. And if you look real close, you can just see the wall of the social circle peeping out to the side. 

But back then, the cross was made of tents, and the tree was smack bang dead center of the cross. 

X marked the spot. It was not called pub tree for nothing. 

In the evening we would come and hang out in the bar and drink and sing and tell stories. The ranking order began at the left with the lowest ranks and ended on the right at the highest ranks, an unwritten rule that was strictly enforced. You always stood to the left of a senior officer and to the right of a junior when facing the bar. The barman’s priority of service always began on the right and he would work his way down, privates were served last, that was if he got to them before any of the seniors finished their drinks. Then he would start up at the right, again, and a private was lucky if he got served at all. 

The result was that the bar always gravitated towards a natural balance of more senior base personnel and troepe went straight to B stores to collect their dop and go back to their tents when the bar reached a certain number. If there were less senior officers, the place would fill with more junior personnel but never more people in a bar than a single barman could serve in the time it took to down a round. 

There were fixtures in the bar. The ATC (Air traffic controller) was one of them. He would sit there every night with his portable 2 way radio on the counter in front of him and in amongst the singing and the shouting and the laughing, the moment that radio came to life, there was immediate silence. 

And I do not ever recall a single aggressive incident in the bar at Ondangwa ever. Yes there were the verbal disagreements over this or that but never anything physical ever. A senior could never strike a junior nor could a junior ever strike a senior and no one used first names. Everyone addressed each other by rank during socials. First names were reserved for when there was work to be done. 

Sometimes if there were 4 majors in the lapa, a surname would creep in, but never a first name. Familiarity bred contempt. 

It was Sir or rank upwards and rank downwards. ‘Could you pass us the Ice please Captain’ … ‘Here you are corporal’ … ‘Thank you sir.’ You minded your manners and you knew your place, and you did not socialize upwards or downwards unless it was with your immediate crew. Physical contact or gestures of familiarity were not tolerated ever, nor was any form of disrespectful talk. But we sang along, and told our stories, and drank together like the best of mates as long as you knew your place. And no-one was ever banned or shouted at or anything like that ever. No one had to prove anything to anyone … we did that all day long and we knew exactly what the pecking order was. 

Sometimes, very late at night, the last few diehards might shuffle closer together or sit in a circle, but the rules remained … and no matter where, whether it was a seat at the table or a seat at the bar or a seat in the circle or at one of the lounge tables, you always asked before taking up a perch. It was a social sin to just come and sit uninvited, even if it was a senior officer joining a group of lower ranks … he still asked. Not that anyone ever refused, but you always asked. 

And so, this fateful evening, it is about 7 or 8, just after sunset, the bar is in full swing. Singalongs and drinking. Recorded music was forbidden in the bar. No hi-fi’s no speakers, no tapes, no players. Because, no matter what was played, someone always wanted to listen to something else, so canned music was banned from the start. You drank along, and chatted along and you sang along or else you got lost. You could listen to your own canned music in your own tent. 

Then suddenly the ATC’s portable comes to life. A squadron of choppers is inbound from the operational area. No problems, no cassevacs, no body bags, just a routine patrol coming home from somewhere up north. 

‘Look up to the south guys, and we’ll give you a show.’ says the squadron leader. 

So, everyone in the bar is up on the tables and bar counter looking out to the south for this squadron of Puma’s to give us a fly over. 

‘There they are …’ says someone, and a line of brilliant stars approaches from the south. The choppers have their searchlights on, and are shining them straight at us from 2 or 3 kilometers out as they circle the base on their circuit. 

Then they turn towards us and each gunner turns his spotlight onto the chopper next to him and this squadron of brilliantly illuminated choppers, line abreast like a string of pearls approaches us growing larger and larger in the night sky. 

Then, so low, we can see the grinning faces of the pilots and the gunners they are upon us and over us, and gone and the whole bar and the tents shudder with the noise and the downdraught and the chachachacha bass of the chopper blades … I even felt the ground shudder under my feet. … and a sudden violent mini dust storm is blown up in the bar and loose light things like sheets of paper and hats go flying around. 

We rush out of the bar to watch them pull up to the north, and peel off to come in for a single file landing while they now keep the spotlights aimed at us around the bar. 

I tell you, there is nothing more intimidating than having a squadron of Puma gunships focus their spotlights on you, when you know that there is a gunner with a 50 cal behind each spotlight. 

So they land, and we drift back into the bar babbling excitedly about what a brilliant shoot up that was and how that was the lowest flyby we had ever seen and so on and on and on. 

Now, I mentioned that there were certain fixtures in the bar. Permanent residents, night after night after night, like clockwork they were there, and one was an old colonel, who was regarded by the SAAF as being to old to fly combat, and maybe it was because he was mates with his other senor staffers that dated back to the second world war, and maybe they didn’t want to loose him in a combat mission, even though he wanted to keep on flying … so they gave him a Dakota and the daily milk run from Ondangwa to Katima Mulilo and pretty much let him do whatever he wanted to as he got the job done without stuffing anything up. 

He was actually a great old man, and many nights we would sit around at the end of the evening, listening to his stories of how he took on Rommel and his fighters and bombers and how he got shot down and how he escaped across the desert through enemy lines, by burying himself till the tanks and trucks had gone past, till the battle line had moved over him. Of how his squadron, low on everything including ammo and planes, built the biggest home made cannon ever made and blew half the bloody Luftwaffe out of the sky with it… 

Us youngsters, then 18,19,20, were his captive audience, we loved his stories and he loved his audience, and we would hang on every word of his virtually till the light of dawn. And then, after breakfast, after about a gallon of coffee, he would send a runner for his co-pilot, and then he would instruct us … 

‘Carry me to my plane!’ 

And arm in arm, the old colonel and us would take a stroll up to his plane, no we did not carry him, but we steadied him if he wobbled a bit. And off he would go on the milk run, to return that afternoon late, to once again take up his spot in the bar, and god help anyone if they were on his perch on the right hand end of the counter when he waked in. 

And you could see how he would sit an listen in envy as the new young chopper pilots told their tales of action and he would almost challenge them as to the hairiness factor of having a gunner shoot a gook for you from hundreds of meters away if he was carrying an AK 47, as opposed to taking on 4 Messerschmitt’s with a Spitfire. 

‘You young wippersnappers dont know shit … You wait till I chase your arse all over the sky with 8 Browning’s and then, if you get away from me matey, then you can come and brag in the bar … but don’t talk to be about a hairy day when a gook takes on your kite with an AK47 and your gunner takes him out while all you need to do is fly straight and level so as not to upset the aim of your gunner. Balderdash.’ 

So, the banter flew back and forth … and it was good for a laugh … it was good natured … and he put one or two uppity chopper pilots in their places … but you could tell that it cut a bit when he got chirped right back again with remarks like ‘save your war stories for the young’uns Colonel, they’ll believe anything you say!’ … ‘ you just stick to your milk run and leave the real work to us real pilots that go out to get the job done’ and such like. And so the banter would fly back and forth, sometimes very funny, and sometimes very very bitchy. 

It was therefore quite obvious that when the chopper pilots walked into the bar they were the center of attraction and the old Colonel, sitting right at the end of the bar, on his unassailable perch, looking down at his whiskey, did not say anything as all. He conceded them their 15 minutes of fame, their moment in the sun so to speak. 

And it might just have remained so, had some YDFC chopper pilot, carried away in the exuberance of the moment, not slapped the Colonel on the back and said, ‘How was that for some low flying Old Man’ The bar came to an absolute standstill and the chopper pilot, realizing he had committed several cardinal sins in one stupid move stood back. He had physically struck a senior officer, he had encroached into an area of the bar that his rank did not belong, he had socialized upwards without invitation, and he had addressed a senior officer with a level of familiarity that did not become his status or relationship with that officer. 

It was so quiet you could hear the tree growing, and that in itself is a fairly quiet process. 

And it was early evening, it was still many hours away before the Colonel hit his stride … He was to all intents and purposes, as sober as a judge. he looked at the chopper pilot and stood up in front of him, straight and tall, and it was actually a surprise to note how tall he actually was when he stood up straight like that … and he said … 

‘Young man, I will pardon you your social faux pax and put it down to the exuberance of the moment, but that, you little prick was not low flying … if you want to see some night time, low flying … I will show you some low flying you and your squadron will never forget. …’ he turned to his one pip loot co-pilot, the only officer that sat out of sequence at the bar in his permanent position next to his chief pilot … ‘KOBUS … escort me to my aeroplane!’ 

He stalked out of the bar with his co-pilot in tow, as the bar remained in deathly silence … The chopper pilot turned to his other squadron members, 

‘Sorry mates, I stuffed up there’ 
‘Damn right, but don’t worry, buy him a whiskey when he gets back and you will all be best of mates by the end of the evening …’ 

And so, life in the bar returned to normal. 

It was about 15 minutes later when we heard the Dakota motors fire up. and the bar became quiet … 

‘Ondangwa Tower this is Mike One’ came his voice on the 2 way radio in the bar. 
‘Go ahead Mike One.’ 


‘Fuck the takeoff clearance … you guys want a show … I will give you a show …’ 
And we all poured out of the bar onto the open ground outside as the Dakotas motors went to full power at the start of the runway . He held it there for about a minute or so … and then released the brakes. 

The empty Dak surged forward down the long runway 

About a quarter of the way, the tail came up, and then up a bit more 

About half way, the Dak had long passed takeoff speed and was running balls to the wall full tilt tail high down the runway 

Three quarters down, and the tail came down a bit 

And as it reached the end of the runway, people were expecting the biggest prang they ever saw, the tail went down, the nose came up and the Dak went vertical, straight up, through an almost vertical barrel roll, and leveled out as it approached the stall, then it joined the same holding pattern that the choppers had an hour or so earlier … and it descended through the turn and then with all lights on, came straight for the pub, lower and lower and lower … 

‘He’s too fucking low …’ shouted one of the pilots 
‘The tree … he is going to hit the tree ..’ 
‘YOU ARE GOING TO HIT THE TREE!’ shouted the ATC into the mic. 

‘Now wont that be low flying …’ came the reply. 
‘Brush!’ said another 
‘Brush!’ shouted the ATC into the mic 
‘What about it?’ said the colonel 
‘Watch the masts at BRUSH!!!!’ 
‘Fuck yes’ came the reply … ‘Just you watch them!’ 
‘Oh my god, he is going to hit the masts!’ 
I was standing on the earthen embankment next to the road, which was maybe the height of a single story house when he went over the embankment with very damned little margin for error. I watched the guys in the bar scatter in all directions … Some of the brave chopper pilots had reckoned bullshit … This was just going to be another low showoff flyby … They did not know how low till it was too late … and then it was too late. The Dak scraped over the top of the tree, both blades trimming the top … it was into the tree, through the tree, and out the other side … and then, dead ahead there was BRUSH, ‘Bush Recon Unit Signals Headquarters’ with its array of some 10 to 15 masts … all lit up with hazard lights … and the Dak went right wing down in a snap roll, faster than I had ever see a plane do a snap roll in my life before … it went right wing down and full left rudder and arse end down and it crabbed nose high, tail down, straight through the middle of the mast farm at BRUSH, with wingtip feet off the ground, he flew straight through BRUSH and out the other side and leveled out and once more did a climbing victory roll before joining the circuit and coming in for a perfect three pointer landing. 

As the Dak taxied back to the apron, we ran out to meet it. It was an absolute mess. The antennas had been ripped away under the belly. There was camel thorn in the motors, in the cowlings, in the gear, in the tail wheel … there were thorns in the cockpit and even in the closed toilet in the back of the plane. 

Most interesting of all were the several lines of antenna wire wrapped around the wing, which had till a few short minutes before, been strung between the masts at BRUSH. 

We went back to the bar, and the Colonel walked in to a standing ovation from all the chopper pilots who were still picking leaves and thorns out of their flight suits and hair … and choruses of ‘And he’s a jolly good fellow’ 

The Colonel waked up to the chopper pilot that started it all, put his arm around his shoulder and said … 

‘So, what do you think sonny, how’s that for some low flying … reckon the old dog as still got a bit of a bite left in him or what ?’ 

The chopper pilot handed the Colonel the whiskey and ice he had been holding pending the Colonels return. 

‘To your very good health SIR!’ he said snapping to attention. 
‘And yours as well lieutenant’ said the Colonel raising the glass and holding it till all the glasses in the bar were raised. 

After that, when the Colonel gave a chirp to any chopper pilot that got too big for his boots, and the chirp was returned … his mates would stop him right there … with comments like … 
‘No no no lieutenant … don’t go there … its been tried before and it did not end well … ‘ 

I guess that was what the old Colonel needed, was just a chance to prove that he still had it … and he seemed changed after that. 

But we still hung out with him in the pub into the late hours of many a night and listened to his stories. He was a bit of a hero figure to us, and he was our connection … when we needed transport, anywhere, any time, we could hop on board with him and he would even make small detours for us. Weekends saw us hopping over to Rundu to park on the beach for 2 days, or over to Katima to the Zambezi lodge and so on. 

One day, his ground crew, and don’t ask me how they fucked up, but they did, had loaded his Dak with a double load of cargo. They loaded it once … and then somehow, a duplicate load was loaded on board. 

He always used to pull this stunt of holding the Dak down to the last minute, and the hauling it hard up into the sky … only this time it did not haul up, it barely lifted … but it did lift , and barely made it over the perimeter fence and he flew it all the way to Katima … trying to figure out why the old bird was not performing like her usual self. 

When he landed in Katima, they offloaded the cargo intended for them, and found the plane still half full. The investigation found that he was something like 1.7 times overloaded and the plane should never have gotten off the ground, let alone flown … but his stunt of revving the plane down the full length of the runway till the last moment, something he loved to do is what pulled it off. 

‘I always knew that trick would come in handy one day, I never figured that it would save me and my plane the way it did.’ He was a cool guy and a great pilot. I remember him and the stunts he pulled and the stories he told. 

But that is a story of Colonel ‘Oom Vuil (Uncle Dirty)’ Fred Potgieter, as best remembered. ends:


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As Narrated by a Territorial Soldier in Rhodesia


A personal account by a Territorial Rhodesian Soldier…..

                      The Rhodesia Military and me

 

So where to start, possibly the best place is the beginning.

 

So this is it , I was born in Nkana Kitwe in Northern Rhodesia , a mining town where my father had journeyed to as a young Tradesman coming from his home in Durban SA and where he met and married my mother in 1943.


I was born 7 yrs later in 1950. Growing up in Rhodesia was Heaven on Earth for any adventurous boy. I had the wild African bush right on my doorstep.

We lived in a Mine house in 6 th Avenue, the Kafue river that had its origins in the Belgium Congo wound its way through the Copper Belt, past the massive white sandy mine dumps that often spilt over into the river creating white sandy beaches all along the normally muddy banks covered in vegetation, a beautiful and dangerous place patrolled by the ever present Hippo and big Nile Crocs.


The white sandy islands and beaches gave the illusion of a tropical Pacific island paradise but the dense jungle in other places soon reminded you, you were in Central Africa a short 20 miles from the Congo border where the jungle was so dense it was impossible to walk through. However most of this bush is now gone, burnt to make charcoal to earn a bit of money by the thousands of now unemployed miners. My young school days were spent fishing and hunting in this Eden in Africa.


Living in a Copperbelt town was heaven with cheap entertainment subsidised by the mine, there were bioscopes in all the towns with Olympic size swimming pools and sport fields all free to the mine workers. As a teenager we had great beach parties down at the river and dances at the numerous clubs where local bands played all the latest Beetle numbers, life was good. Then without warning it all came crashing down, I was too busy having fun to worry about politics and paid no attention to my father who however did see it coming. Britain was getting rid of her Colonies and just gave Northern Rhodesia to a bunch of thieving corrupt black politicians with a big baboon called Kaunda as the new man in charge.

I remember my father being devastated and predicting the chaos that was to follow but even he was taken back at how quick the rot set in. However by this time I was already well into my love of motorbike racing with my heart set on moving to Salisbury where the politicians led by Ian Smith had the courage to reject Britain’s policy of throwing her former colonies to the wolves , or in the Rhodesia to the baboons.


I arrived in Salisbury as a newly qualified electrician and got a job with a local contractor. Life in Salisbury was even better than life in Kitwe, there were even more clubs and the nightlife was fantastic add to this I was the proud new owner of an E Type Jag, bought at the tender age of 19, I won’t go into how I had so much money at such a young age except to say I had worked bloody hard for it, it was not stolen or given to me by my Dad as a lot of people thought.


I was soon back into racing enjoying the great Rhodesian circuits that had formed great riders like Jim Redman and Ray Amm and got to meet and befriend many great British and South African riders . All was however soon to change and put my life on a completely different course , I got my Army call up papers , this put an abrupt end to my racing but opened up a new and exciting time of my life . By the time I bordered the train in Salisbury to travel to Llewellyn Barracks and start my Military training I was stone broke, having lost everything in a Nightclub scam.


The train trip from Salisbury was an overnight journey and we arrived at Heaney Junction just outside Bulawayo at the crack of dawn to the biggest wake up of my life so far. After exiting or rather falling off the train, we were loaded into old Bedford trucks and driven the short hop to Llewellyn barracks, where half a dozen insane people in uniform were shouting at everyone including themselves, I remember thinking what the fuck is this, these guys are completely nuts. After queuing for hours to sign in and get our uniforms, mine were at least three sizes too big and when I tried to change them for a smaller size the fat guy who seemed to be in charge, had me down doing push-ups, what the fuck, how was that going to help?

There were about a hundred of us, we were divided up into three platoons and given barrack rooms with rows of steel beds to sleep on, or so I thought, I spent most nights on the bloody floor next to my bunk as it took far too long to remake the bloody thing to military spec each morning for inspection. However, that was the least of my problems, I was completely unfit having never been interested in any kind of physical sport, all was soon to change. We ran everywhere, then to top it all off, had to learn to March, shit that was even harder than running. After what seemed like months of running in circles, we got taken or rather marched to the armoury, taught how to strip and clean all types of rifles and machine guns, load magazines and belts and unload magazines and belts, attack sandbags with bayonets on our rifles, throw each other all over the place in some kind of bullshit unarmed combat, get into a ring and box each other with an insane barber as a referee.


What started out as fun running around an assault course ended with a mad bastard firing rounds over our heads, then when we didn’t do it fast enough, got sent to run around a rugby field carrying bloody great logs above our heads before finally getting to fire our rifles on a range. But even that was spoilt by the bloody arrogant corporals who after only letting us fire ten rounds, had us running up and down the steep sandy stop buts at the end of the range, holding our rifles over our heads. I can clearly remember being in a state of complete exhaustion and asking our platoon corporal what all this shit had to do with killing ters, unfortunately for me the sweat in my eyes had blurred my vision and I didn’t see the evil little Scotch RSM who was standing nearby, he immediately jumped on me, I thought he was having an epileptic fit, I can still smell his breath and feel his spit hitting my already watering sweat filled eyes as he screamed obscenities and had me back up running the stop buts long after the rest of the guys had gone back for lunch.


To be honest, I was a total fuck up as a recruit, constantly in the shit, I even ended up in the detention barracks for two weeks for coming back from R&R completely pissed and hitting a Sargent. After four and a half months of basic training we were passed out and proudly marched passed smiling proud families, well not my family, they were still living in Zambia and never bothered to make the trip to see their only son finely March like a man.


              We were 127 intake and were sent to 2 Ind Company Kariba. It was 1972 and I was back at my old haunt having spent many months fishing in the dam and the Zambezi with my father while growing up. After possibly being the un-fittest recruit to ever arrive at Llewellyn, I was now one of the fittest soldiers in our company and would often run rather than drive from the camp on top of Kariba Heights the ten kilometres to change the guard down at the power station far below.


My time at Kariba was spent patrolling the Zambezi Valley, one of the most beautiful places on earth, teaming with game. When on patrol we would often have to dive out of the way of a blindly charging rhino or slowly back away from a heard of elephant or grazing buffalo. There were lion everywhere followed by hyena and the ever circling vultures. It was here that I first witnessed a leopard take her kill high up into a tree out of reach of the scavenging hyenas. Most of the time we were deployed by the South African choppers based at Churundu and at FAF2 the airfield at Kariba. We patrolled in five man sticks lead by an NCO who operated the radio and a MAG gunner and three troupies with FNs, as we were carrying a minimum amount of ammo all five of us would fit into the chopper even with five days of rat packs, later when doing fire-force our sticks were reduced to four as we would carry more ammo and the choppers were now fitted with guns.


It was glorious flying from Kariba sometimes following the river down from the dam wall with the high escarpments towering above us, then suddenly the hills would fall away and the flat open plane of the Zambezi valley would stretch out in front for as far as the eye could see. Flying over my old fishing grounds of Mana Pools teaming with game was always exciting and once we even landed and I shot a big buck for the chopper guys back at Churundu camp. This was fun, playing at war, something I can recommend for any young man looking to get his life back on track, however all good things do come to an end.


               I have long forgotten the place names except for a few like Mount Darwin, so what follows won’t be of much use to historians looking for information on the Rhodesian bush war, it’s just my memories or rather what’s left of them of my eight years as a territorial forces soldier in the Rhodesian army. I’m not going to list a long winded report of every contact, though I do remember most of them, I’m only going to give the few most prominent in my mind, I’m also not going to talk about my friends killed in action, keeping away from some of the bad shit that went down its better left in the past or for another story that I’m sure I’ll never write.


After 2 Ind coy I joined C coy 1 RR in Salisbury to start my three months out, six weeks in call-ups. I remember little of my first few uneventful deployments, they pretty much followed the routine of my time in Kariba only we were deployed by vehicle rather than the choppers. The vehicles were either Bedford or Mercedes trucks with a row of seats down the middle and heavily sandbagged for protection against mines and ambush. The bush roads were easy targets for the ter mines, I was eventually to hit one while travelling on a Mercedes 45, the blast was indescribable mainly because I was momentarily knocked unconscious, coming around while flying through the air so don’t really remember the actual blast. My buddies rifle had hit me in the face cutting my lip and cheek, not bad but enough to make me think I had been hit as blood was running down my cheek and onto my shirt, none of us could hear a thing, deafened by the blast  but were soon running on instinct alone, maybe that training at Llewellyn was necessary after all, I first made my way to the driver who was miraculously unhurt as the mine had hit the passenger side front wheel, thank God there was no-one sitting in front with the driver as that side was almost completely blown off.


The driver was a tough body builder type and full of shit, he was fighting the air in front of him and trying to get up but his seatbelt was still on, I grabbed his arm and pointed to his seatbelt, this calmed him down and he stopped struggling, released the belt and started looking for his rifle that I seem to remember was completely destroyed and found lying in the bush some mtrs away. The rest of the guys had by now formed a perimeter guard assisted by the stick travelling in the 45 behind us and were already checking for booby traps and AP mines in the surrounding bush, looking back we were a pretty professional bunch walking down the tracks left by our 45 before circling back, all done without anyone having to give the command to do so. Many years later I was to meet the driver of the 45 behind us, it was at our holiday beach house in South Africa, our wives had met on the beach and had decided to take us to breakfast at a coffee shop in the town, it was only after breakfast when we were talking that we both realized we had briefly known each other and shared the memory of this landmine incident while serving in the army.


My first experience with dead terrorists was a real wake up, I was still in C coy and doing patrols out of a base camp in the Darwin area, one of our sticks had picked up tracks of what looked like a big group of ters and we were all called in to assist in the follow up. It soon became apparent we were onto a very large group and RLI fireforce were called in to take over on the follow up assisted by a parksboard tracker, my stick was uplifted and moved to a ambush position near a small village, we moved into cover and sat listening to the guys on the ground talking to the choppers flying overhead. It wasn’t long before all hell broke loose and the guys made contact, it all happened a very long time ago and I’m not clear on all that went down because I wasn’t directly involved in the initial contacts.


Our position was at the bottom of a small cliff about a kilometer away, we were still trying to follow the contact over the radio and in the distance could see a fixed wing aircraft firing into the cliff but it was too far away to really see what was going on. When it was all over we were told to remain in ambush until the following morning and then do a sweep in the direction of the cliff, it was a long night and none of us slept. The next morning we started our sweep towards the cliff face beneath the village, an RLI stick had got there before us and three or four dead ters from the day before’s contact were laying in the grass, one of the bastards had most of his head blown away with what was left of his brains splattered all over the place.


Later, we were taken up to the village and told to burn it down, the RLI commando suffered a big loss in this contact and named their pub The 28th in memory of this bad day. In all I think 3 RLI and 1 parks tracker were killed with over 30 dead ters, in military circles this would be considered a good contact but not in Rhodesia where we valued one troupie above a thousand ters. Soon after this, things got really hot and my company was put on continuous service for over a year. The war was now in full swing with the carefree Kariba days a very distant memory.


It was while on continuous service I had my first personal kill, still with C coy, we were doing a mini fire-force out of Karoi, a small town between Salisbury and Kariba, we had based up at the country club with our one and only chopper parked on the front lawn.  Fire Force only operated in daylight so our nights were free to piss it up at the country club, bloody heaven for any red blooded Rhodesian, with the local ladies in their tennis skirts to keep us all awake and on form. We had been here for about a week with not much int coming in from the local SB, so the chopper got a daily clean and the odd joyride as we were by now good mates with the pilot and his TEC. However, the int soon started coming in with a report that a farm crop guard had been abducted, we were operating in four man sticks and deployed by chopper to the scene where we were met by a local police tracker, I was the MAG gunner and the tracker glued himself to me.


We followed a clear spore for most of the morning using the chopper to leapfrog thereby helping us to catch up to the ters now heading for Zambia. The tracker who I guess was in his fifties, a real madala compared to us youngsters but as fit as hell. We had just been dropped off by the chopper for the umpteenth time and were starting to tire, the tracks had now left the path and were heading down to a small dry river bed where the bush was much thicker. We were walking in a sweep formation with Roy on the far right, two troopies and then me and the tracker to the far left and a bit in front. The tracker was starting to get very nervous and moved behind me as we started to climb the bank on the other side of the small river bed,  once up the bank, I turned to look for the tracker, he was by now quite far behind and indicated to me that we were very close to contact, at that moment the chopper flew over and Roy broke the silence as he started talking on his radio, Roy was about three quarters of the way up the river bank when I saw the ters, they were only five or six mtrs in front of me but had not heard or seen me, possibly distracted by the chopper and Roy on the radio.


They had obviously planned to ambush us and it must of been their movement bringing up their AK’s to fire that had caught my eye as they were laying in very thick bush, my MAG was pointing right at them, all I had to do was squeeze the trigger. I fired a full belt killing them both instantly before they could get off a round, as I bent to reload another belt, I saw the already wounded crop guard break cover, he was armed with a shotgun and attempted to fire it at Roy who was by now starting to return fire but the shotgun round was a dud and never went off. The crop guard started fumbling with his gun, still standing in the open, by now I had another belt in and all four of us opened up on the crop guard who turned and took off at a run but was flopping in mid-air as three FN’s and a MAG laid into him.


He somehow managed to run about twenty mtrs before falling, we were soon on top of him, he looked like mincemeat but was still alive, Mike one of the troopies shouted “let me kill him” and took a bead on him but was out of ammo and still full of adrenaline, started fumbling with his webbing trying to get out another magazine. I still had a few rounds left in my second belt so took his head off, Mike was pissed off but all I could say was “too fucking slow china” and that was it, over in minutes, with two dead ters in full rice fleck uniform. I got one of the AK bayonets but the SB guys wouldn’t let me have one of the ter rice fleck jackets. The chopper made a great landing in the thick bush, blades clipping the leaves as we loaded the dead ters and the turned ter crop guard in with the help of a PATU stick who was patrolling nearby. Later that night we all got very pissed back at the country club and I accidently pissed on a chinas sleeping bag, not realising he was sleeping next to my favourite tree. He was so pissed off and as I am a gentleman, I gave him my sleeping bag and spent the night in his wet one, to be honest, I didn’t even feel the wet patch.


           Soon after this, I got transferred to Support coy where I trained on the anti-tank 106 recoiless rifles at the School of Inf in Gwelo. However, not before I nailed a few more ters with my MAG. It was on a trip to Mt Darwin, scouts had spotted 5 ters enter a village and called Fire Force who were busy elsewhere. We had just arrived at Darwin, I seem to remember we were escorting a rations pick-up but can’t really remember, anyway we put together a temporary four-man stick that consisted of two captains, myself with the MAG and a RLI troopie called Louis. We deployed to the contact area with the still loaded 25 and a fixed wing armed with Frantam and Sneb rockets as our air cover. The scouts who were high up on an OP were directing the contact, we deployed from our 25 on the road above a recently cut mielie field and literally charged down to the ter position that was in a stream covered by very thick bush and straight into an RPG manned by a very aggressive ter who was firing all over the place, we charged on like the bloody light brigade, I don’t know if we were trying to impress the scouts or if we had finally lost the plot but just in time the fixed wing came in low and dropped Frantam right in front of us, directly into the ter position, instantly frying the bloody RPG gunner who I’m sure would have eventually hit one of us.


I can still remember the heat from the Frantam that had us flat on the ground for what seemed like ages until it finally went out enough to allow us to continue down the mielie field, however not before we had to take cover a second time, as the now highly motivated pilot put a couple of Sneb rockets into the still smoldering bush. With the all clear from the pilot, we made our way into the contact area, I nearly stepped on the completely burnt ter with the RPG, and he was burnt white with only a few pieces of black skin still on his smoldering body and was very dead. We carried on sweeping through the thick bush as the scouts reported siting 5 ters, where were the other 4, I was out in front with the MAG and firing bursts into anything that looked suspicious, when suddenly two naked black bodies jumped up right in front of me, I got such a bloody skrik, I took them both out before realising they were unarmed, having left their AK’s in the bush where they were taking cover.  Three down, two to go, we swept up and down that bloody place until I was so exhausted I couldn’t carry the bloody MAG another inch and swopped Louis for his FN to give my aching back a break. We never found the other two ters but fuck it, you can’t win them all. In all, I had 5 personal kills during my time as a MAG gunner and certainly had a hand in killing a lot more with the G cars and K cars help as well as my chinas when we were all firing at bomb shelling ters in a fire-force deployment.



                    I did good on the 106 course and got promoted to full Corporal, all good or so I thought at the time. On our first deployment with the 106 guns, we were sent to join the armoured cars at Churundu Bridge over the Zambezi river bordering Zambia. I was hoping this would be a skive as I was tired of running around after bloody ters, our first night was however interrupted by the bloody Zambian army who started to mortar our position while firing on the armoured cars down at the bridge with a 12.7. We had stationed ourselves up at the now deserted BSAP camp overlooking Mana Pools so moved our two 106 guns back out of range and settled into our new lekker camp that had barrack rooms and showers, looking forward to six weeks of leisure, our only duty was to man an OP from the DC’s old house overlooking the bridge and river. But it was not to be, soon after the arsehole Zambian soldiers started having a full go at the armoured cars and even managed to pin down their OC who called us to help. I was now in charge of the 106’s as our OC became ill and had to be casavaced back to Salisbury, it was already dark but we moved our two guns to our OP position and put a few of the guns 12.7 spotting rounds into the Zambians soldiers position to bring our big guns on target. We were hoping the phosphorus tipped spotting rounds would be sufficient to close the Zambian soldiers down but there’s nothing more stupid than a drunk munt on a 12.7 machine gun. To cut a long story short, the armoured cars OC told me over the radio, to “waste the mother fuckers”, he was from the USA. So we fired the 106, the round fell just short of the bunker but we were now very motivated to take the bloody Zambians out so adjusted the gun and put the next round into the bunker, ending our little war with Zambia, Rhodesia 1, Zambia 0.


I’ve no idea what the brass back in Salisbury said to the armoured car officer but I got told if the 106 rounds hadn’t exploded, I would have been sent over the bridge to get them back, the 106 guns being top secret at the time. The next day we were told to report with our 106 guns to 2 IND Coy Kariba and put under the command of the OC there. After this disaster for the Zambian soldiers and me as I was hoping to have landed a cushy job with the 106’s protecting Rhodesia from the non-existing Zambian T54 tanks, I was sent to do all my remaining camps with RLI Fireforce Echo, without my trusty MAG and as a reluctant FF stick leader. However, I managed nearly two years with RLI FF Echo and never lost a troopie in my stick, thank God, as I was nowhere near as good a soldier as the other RLI stick leaders I operated with.


                     I had lots of contacts with RLI Fire Force, mostly very successful with very few lemons but it’s one of these lemons that I remember the most, we had int of ter activity at a village situated between open farm land and thick bush covered koppies. We took off from our base with the usual K car and four G cars in formation, I was stop one, not because I was hot, it was simply my turn. Once near the village, the K car went high and the G cars flew at tree top level so as to give the ters on the ground as little warning as possible, somehow the K car got too far ahead and the villagers spotted it before the G cars arrived on the scene, by the time we got there the K car was already firing its 20mm canon. My G car dropped us on the edge of the village and we started to sweep through, there were only a few huts, all empty and we cleared out the other side in a very short time, the other sticks were all in position, dropped as stop groups to nail any ters flushed out of the village. I was in contact with the K car the whole time and he made me go back and sweep the village a second time, still nothing. The OC then told me his gunner had fired on ters running out of the village but was very high and couldn’t be sure if he had hit any. We then did a sweep of the area where the K car had fired and found two dead children, they were both little girls about 7 or 8 years old, instantly killed by shrapnel from the 20mm rounds. I could clearly see the telltale little bumps caused by the shrapnel covering their tiny bodies. Soon after, we came across three more children and two women laying in the mielie field. The women had been hit by shrapnel but were still alive, the children were unhurt but were afraid to leave their mothers, both women also had babies on their backs. I shared my morphine between the two and taped the empty syringes onto their arms so the medics at the hospital could see what I had given them and radioed the K car still high overhead, reporting what I had found.


The OC then informed me he had also seen a group of about four ters running passed the mielie field and into the very thick bush covering a koppie, he then directed us to where he had lost sight of the ters. I could clearly see tracks coming out of the mielie field onto a path but there were so many other tracks in the area of the path, I couldn’t be sure where they went, the other sticks had by now moved from their ambush positions and were assisting the wounded women who were being loaded into the G cars for casavac. The OC told me to sweep the koppie, the koppie wasn’t that big and ten minutes later we emerged from the other side. The OC was furious and told me to go back and not come out unless I had the dead ters with me, we were all taking strain but had a job to do so back in we went, this time I told my stick to randomly fire into thick bush knowing there were no stop groups on the other side of the koppie that could come under our friendly fire.


We had got about halfway over when four little girls suddenly jumped out in front of us, at that moment, my finger was on the trigger, aiming right at them, I was fully fired up and can clearly remember thinking, “I am going to kill these bastards”, then in that same second sanity kicked in and I lowered my rifle and escorted the four girls out to a waiting chopper. The OC never said anything to me and at the time I didn’t expect him to, however looking back, I think we should of had a de-brief. We were all feeling like shit, I never spoke to the K car gunner afterwards but can imagine how he must have been feeling. Not all lemons end like this, most were just bad int where we found the ters long gone and did not end with civilians paying the price.


       I also had my share of missing running ters sometimes from as close as 50mtrs who got clean away to continue terrorising the locals, it was sometimes so easy and other times so bloody impossible, on one of my last deployments, when I thought I knew it all, I lost sight of my objective and the ters got away. We were acting on int that a group of ters were moving into an area at night, my stick was deployed to ambush a track leading up from a river bed onto a road. We had been in the bush for nearly six weeks, our camp was coming to an end and we were tired, the ambush was uneventful and on the day of our pickup I made the mistake of taking the claymore down and moving down to the road to wait for our pickup, two of us had gone down to the river to get water and while down there a group of ters walked straight passed our ambush position, the two guys up on the road saw them but were too far away. They had a go anyway and the ters took off, we were looking up in the direction of the shots when we saw two of the ters run out of the bush and into the river bed before disappearing up the other bank, I also had a go at them but they were too far away.  I radioed the contact in giving our original ambush position, anyway the whole thing went bad and our OC told us to follow up on the ters, however none of us having any real tracking skills, we soon lost tracks and bedded down for the night.


Our OC in the meantime had packed up camp and gone back to Salisbury leaving us to link up with a TF coy in the area, it took another week before we could get a lift back to Salisbury and demob. Back in Salisbury at 1RR a TF Major had a real go at me, I wouldn’t have minded but this bloody jam stealer had sat on his arse in TF base camps his whole time in the army, never ever doing an ambush or following up on ters himself, anyway my next bush trip was my last, with the British monitoring forces at Darwin. After seven years, 8 months it was all over and Mugabe, an even bigger baboon than Kaunda set about destroying Rhodesia. I haven’t spoken about my mates KIA or the times I was guard of honour at their funerals watching their wives, mothers, fathers and children cry.


I never cried then and haven’t yet, maybe one day I will but I don’t think so, it was just too long ago. I recently got offered the opportunity of meeting with an ex ter but turned it down flat, I never respected them then and certainly don’t now, having seen what they are still doing to Zimbabwe thirty plus years later. To sit down with them now over a cup of tea or a beer would be accepting them as equals and that they don’t come close to being, they are murdering cowards and I am a soldier.



 


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