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Fire Force
Helicopter Warfare in Rhodesia: 1962-1980
Dr J.R.T. Wood

In December 1976, an Aérospatiale Alouette III helicopter (configured as a troop-carrying 'G-
Car') was rocked by a volley of 7.62mm rounds at 800 feet as it descended towards the tree
savannah of central Rhodesia. Flown by Flight Lieutenant Victor Bernard Cook, the G-Car was
carrying a Rhodesian Army medic on a mercy mission to treat an African civilian, who had been
wounded in a contact that morning.

The bullets, flashing up from a clearing in the trees, were fired by 27 members of the Zimbabwe
African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) (supporting Robert Mugabe) whose base camp
Cook was about to overfly. They severed the Alouette's tail rotor shaft and wounded Cook in the
right foot and arms. His technician, Finch Bellringer, was semi-conscious after being hit by two
rounds, which penetrated his body armour. The medic was mercifully unhurt but shocked.

Vic Cooke told his story to Deon du Plessis of The Star (published on 15 April 1977). Du Plessis
wrote that Cooke (33) was flying with his technician and an army medical orderly to pick up
African civilians who had been injured. An army patrol was with the civilians, waiting for Cook
to arrive. Cook was at 1000m when his helicopter came under heavy fire. He felt some rounds hit
his aircraft, and, unable to see where the fire was coming from, took evasive action, plunging
down to tree level.

'I levelled off but, I was still under heavy fire. I was almost on top of them. A lot more rounds hit
us. It was fierce. I felt the controls going, there was vibration. I realised I had to force land. The
fire got fiercer. I picked a place to land. Then I lost tail rotor control. The chopper swung
violently. It would have started cartwheeling. I pulled it up on its tail to knock off forward speed.
The speed came down but we continued to yaw. Still I was quite pleased with what was
happening as I had a semblance of control. I touched the power but could not hold it down on to
its tail. I managed to pull the nose up a little. All the time they were still shooting. Then I saw
them. I thought: “There are about as many as a rugby team”.'

Coming in for a forced landing, Cook saw a group of about five terrorists standing ahead of him
shooting. Cook made his decision: 'I aimed the aircraft at them deliberately. We thumped down
nose first and I lost sight of them.' As they landed a piece of the control column came off in
Cook's hand. The jar of the landing jerked Cook forward. His jaw struck the top of the control
stick, stunning him and cutting his chin deeply. His foot was badly gashed. Cook did not realise it
and did not know how it happened. 'The engine was still running and I left it idling, hoping this
would make them think we were all right.' Cook's memory was hazy. His Uzi submachine-gun
had been hit and was useless. The barrel of the medic's FN rifle was bent.

'I knew the buggers were coming back. I needed a weapon. Then I saw this terr lying beyond the
chopper. He may have been hit by the rotor when we came down. I don't know. But he had an AK
and all I knew was he was between me and that weapon. I grabbed his AK and shot him with it.

He was shouting in Shona when I shot him. I don't know what he was doing. I don't remember if
we even struggled. I shouted to the medic and Bellringer: “Run for the high ground”. I ran, but
then saw they were not following me. I shouted again: “Let's move!” But Bellringer said: “I can't
move”.'

Bellringer had been shot while they were in the air. Together Cook and the medic dragged
Bellringer to the higher ground. Cook then saw the terrorists moving in the bush 100 metres away.
Cook ran forward and fired a magazine from his AK at them. 'I saw other movement and I bolted
to another position and ripped off another burst.’ Cook then positioned himself between the
enemy and his crew. 'Then I went out further and did a few circuits of the chopper. The movement
disappeared and I moved from tree to tree and rock to rock. I was in a good strong position.'

Cook was 'bloody angry' at being forced down, and wanted to pursue the terrorists. He kept
tripping, however, and only then did he see the deep gash in his foot. He could see the bone.
'After that I didn't feel so aggressive,' he said. He helped the medic erect a drip stand on the
wounded technician. Of the medical orderly, Cook said 'He was a star. At no stage did he abandon
his patient.'

The Rhodesian Army unit, which had called Cook from Rutenga (in south-eastern Rhodesia) was
close by and heard the crash and the firing. It summoned help. Fifty minutes later a Reims Cessna
FTB 337G 'Lynx', twin-engined light aircraft, arrived overhead, to be followed shortly by the Fire
Force. Cook and his crew were evacuated by helicopter and a follow-up on the tracks on his
attackers was instituted. Cook recalled: 'There were four brown jobs. They were a beautiful sight.'
Cook was awarded the Silver Cross but said he did not believe that he deserved it. 'Not when you
see what the browns do. Those RLI guys, they are all Silver Cross material.'

For his gallantry, Victor Cook was awarded the Silver Cross of Rhodesia.

Flying the helicopter came later in the life of the always small, if potent, Rhodesian Air Force.
When the helicopter was adopted, its agility - its ability to hover, to land and take-off in almost
impossible terrain - was exploited to the full by the Rhodesians in their counter-insurgency war.
Indeed the Rhodesians were to produce a unique and deadly variant of the tactic of ‘vertical
envelopment’ of a target by helicopter-borne infantry, which they called ‘Fire Force’.

There was nothing new in the military use of helicopters. As soon as helicopters were available,
the air forces and armies of the world gave them a multitude of tasks. The first workable
machines appeared in the Second World War - the American Sikorsky R-6A and the German
Flettner F1 282 Kolibri. Helicopters found general use thereafter. They were used for casualty
evacuation in Korea and for moving forces to combat insurgents in Malaya, French Indo-China
and in Kenya. In Algeria, the French developed the use of armed helicopters, the first ‘gunships’
(armed Alouette IIs) working with parachute troops and helicopter-borne infantry (carried in
American Vertol H-21 twin rotor helicopters) to isolate and eliminate insurgent units.

There was a clear need for helicopters in Rhodesia but almost all of the terrain was over 2,000
feet above sea level and the climate was hot. As height and heat drastically reduced the efficiency
of helicopter engines, a special helicopter was required. Such a helicopter was to be developed by
the French who took the lead early on in the race to design light turboshaft engines.

The man of vision in France was Joseph Szydlowski, who founded the Société Turboméca in

1938 and worked on small gas turbines throughout the Second World War despite Nazi
occupation of his factory. By 1949, he produced the Artouste Mark II gas turbine, which produced
400-shaft horse power (shp) and, at 253 lbs, weighed less than half than any equivalent piston
engine. The American Boeing Company was working on gas turbines and one powered the first
gas-turbine helicopter in the world, the Kaman K-225 twin-rotor ‘egg-beater’ of the US Navy,
which flew on 10 December 1951. Boeing, however, soon lost interest and left the field to the
French.

In 1953, the Artouste Mark II replaced the radial piston engine of the small crop-spraying
helicopter, the Sud-Aviation (later Aérospatiale) SE3120 Alouette [Lark]. This gave it such a
unique performance that Société Turboméca became the leading supplier of small turbine
helicopter engines in the western world.

The Alouette II had an open girder frame, an exposed engine, a skid landing gear and a bubble
canopy. Aside from the pilot, it could carry four passengers, or two stretchers and two sitting
wounded, or a 1,100 lb load - either in a sling under the fuselage, or in the form of guns, missiles
or homing torpedoes. In June 1955, this little helicopter set a new world height record by
climbing to 26,932 feet and found a ready market in 33 countries.

Turboméca’s next jet engine, the Astazou (derated from 530 to 350 shp) gave constant power
under any conditions of height and hot climate. It doubled the load-carrying capacity of the
Alouette II and led to even wider sales. The Indian version, the HAL Cheetah, landed and took-
off at heights above 24,600 feet in the Himalayas. In June 1958, the Alouette II set a height record
for helicopters at 36,037 feet.

The arrival of the even more powerful Artouste engine (derated from 870 to 570 shp) resulted in
the bigger Alouette III, which first flew on 28 February 1959 and was soon performing
spectacularly. In June 1960, it landed and took-off with seven people on board at an altitude of
15,780 feet on Mount Blanc in the French Alps. In November 1960, carrying two crew members
and a 550 lbs load, it landed and took-off at an altitude of 19,698 ft. This was unprecedented in
the world of helicopters.

The Alouette III SA316B could accommodate the pilot and six fully equipped troops. The
Rhodesian practice was to carry a technician and four troops and to mount a FN 7.62mm MAG
machine-gun [after 1976 twin Mk 2 .303-inch Browning Mk2 machine-guns - the RAF's turret
and wing guns of the Second World War] at the port rear door. The passenger seats were easily
removed, allowing the carriage of a variety of different loads. Experience in combat led the
Rhodesians to remove the doors and to reverse the front passenger seats to widen the available
floor space and gain flexibility. Casualties could be put on the floor. It was easier to leave the
helicopter quickly and more could be carried. There was provision for an external sling for
cargoes weighing up to 1,650 lbs (750 kgs). A hoist could be fitted with a 380 lbs (175 kgs)
capacity to allow casualties and other loads to be winched up. The Alouette III could carry two
stretcher cases and two seated wounded.

Produced after first flying on 27 June 1968 and exported after 1970, the SA319B Alouette III was
powered by the Astazou XIV (derated from 870 to 600 shp), which was even more effective in
‘hot and high’ conditions and more economical. The SA319B had strengthened main and tail rotor
transmissions. It weighed slightly more but could carry a heavier payload.

The Alouette III SA316B had a maximum speed of 124 mph at sea level and a cruising speed of
115 mph. The Alouette III’s service ceiling was 13,100 feet and it had a hovering ceiling in
ground effect of 9,450 feet. Out of ground effect, the hovering ceiling was 5,000 feet. Its range at

optimum altitude is given at 335 miles. SA319B had a slightly longer range. In practice, these
ranges were considerably shorter. Under Rhodesian conditions, when loaded with troops, the
Alouette would fly at 65 knots (or 75 mph) and, with a light load, at 84 knots (or 97 mph). At 84
knots, its range was 242 miles (210 nautical miles). The Alouette III SA316B 'K-Car' gunship,
armed with a 20mm cannon and ammunition, and a crew of three, would have an endurance of an
hour and a quarter to an hour and a half when loaded with 600 lbs of fuel. The Alouette III
SA316B troop-carrying 'G-Car' with 400 lbs of fuel, a crew of two and four fully equipped troops
had an average endurance of forty-five minutes.

The Alouette III is a magnificent military machine, capable of being operated well beyond what
its designers expected. It uses jet fuel (paraffin) but can operate on diesel - and petrol in a dire
emergency [and only for a short flight]. It is capable of absorbing astonishing quantities of small
arms fire and even hits from anti-tank rockets. An Alouette III, flown by Ted Lunt and carrying
Major Pieter Farndell of Support Commando, Rhodesian Light Infantry, was hit in the tail section
by an RPG7 rocket and still brought them home safely. On 14 October 1978, Dick Paxton's
Alouette III, with Major Nigel Henson (also of Support Commando) aboard, was riddled by small
arms fire when Paxton flew it slowly at a low altitude over a hidden insurgent camp. Paxton was
caught like this because of confusion over an incorrect map reference supplied by the personnel
of an observation position (OP) overlooking the camp. With all instruments shattered and a blade
punctured, Paxton was still able to climb to his operational height, 800 feet, orbit, and put down
suppressive fire, before flying out. The celebrated pilot and, later, Selous Scout, Michael Borlace,
brought an Alouette III home to Fort Victoria airfield with tail rotor control failure and landed it
without harm to its crew and its complement of black soldiers. As has been seen, Flight
Lieutenant Victor Cook was able to land his Alouette even after its tail rotor drive shaft had been
severed. The impression must not be given, however, that the Alouette was invulnerable because a
hit in the engine or the main rotor gearbox could be fatal.

Both versions of the Alouette III were bought by Rhodesia while finding favour in 68 other
countries. How many of each type Rhodesia possessed has not been revealed. Given international
sanctions as a consequence of the unilateral declaration of independence by Ian Smith on 11
November 1965, clarity of records cannot be expected. It is known that:

3 were acquired in April 1962 (1 damaged beyond repair: on 17 January 1972)

2 were acquired in July 1962

3 (with hoists) in August 1963

4 were acquired in August 1968 (2 damaged beyond repair: on 1 July 1970 and 20 November
1973)

1 were acquired in April 1972 (1 damaged beyond repair: on 17 March 1977)

5 were acquired in December 1972

2 were acquired in January 1974

1 were acquired in July 1974

2 were acquired in January 1975

2 were acquired in March 1975

In fact.4 were acquired in June 1975 (1 shot down: on 18 May 1977) 1 were acquired in February 1977 5 were acquired date not known 3 were acquired in June 1979 12 were acquired date not known There were many more helicopters brought down by fire from the ground than the above list indicates and many were re-built. The engine would be changed after 1. many helicopters were built entirely from spares. all Alouettes are rebuilt totally in the course of their preventive maintenance cycle. 7 Squadron was the largest squadron in the world with 40 Rhodesian pilots and some 20-seconded South African Air Force pilots. At one stage. they had a greater range and double the carrying capacity of the Alouettes. Thus. when its counter-insurgency war was at its height. It is believed that a customer in Kuwait ordered thirteen AB205As from Agusta in Italy.200 flying hours and the airframe after 3. ‘Cheetahs’) were acquired in August 1978. and after armour and twin . which gives some indication of its true strength. In 1980. the South African Alouettes were designated as belonging to Alpha Flight. because of political pressures. In the difficult times after 1965. Pilots served three-year tours on the different aircraft types of the Rhodesian Air Force. It was designed to carry 11 passengers but because these particular AB205As were elderly. By deft evasion of the international sanctions and the consequent arms embargo. 7 (helicopter) Squadron. the Air Force of Zimbabwe was left with eight Alouettes. a Maronite suburb of Beirut. the use of the 205As on external operations into neighbouring countries meant that the Fire Forces engaged in internal operations were not constantly robbed of their Alouette IIIs. were unloaded and moved to Kaslik.600. South African pilots were withdrawn. The Rhodesian Air Force might have been of excellent . Then they were bartered for arms from Israel for Major Haddad’s Christian militia in southern Lebanon. Within No. a common route for embargoed items. to the increased casualties inflicted on the insurgent forces. eleven Italian Agusta-Bell 205A (the Rhodesians called them. They came to Rhodesia via the Comoro Islands. No. This list gives a total of 50 Alouettes but how many were actually owned by Rhodesia and how many were on loan from South Africa is not clear. This allowed the creation of large 'Jumbo' Fire Forces. The AB205A was the celebrated American ‘Huey’ of Vietnam fame built under licence in Italy with a range of 400 kilometres and a maximum speed of 126 miles per hour. they could transport eight troops. They were delivered by ship in Beirut. which contributed. The Rhodesians were led to believe that they had purchased new aircraft but the AB205As they received were beyond their safe flying life. In 1979. With vital parts corroded.303- inch machine-guns had been fitted. when Rhodesia had become Zimbabwe. When. one AB205A was lost when its tail rotor sheared on 12 February 1979 but otherwise they were to make a significant contribution to the counter-insurgency operations. 27 South African helicopters were deployed in Rhodesia. the Rhodesians had a major task in restoring the aircraft to a flying condition. flying 45 aircraft. Early in their operational life. The importance of helicopters to Rhodesia was such that. The purchase and immediate fate of the Rhodesian AB205As before they arrived in Rhodesia is not clear. the loss was made up by seconding senior qualified personnel from headquarters (after a five-hour re-familiarisation course) and by calling up former pilots who had returned to civilian life.

1 Squadron. major Rhodesian units. were not sent abroad. which had departed for the Sudan.432 airmen served in the Royal Air Force with 579 becoming casualties and of those 498 died.quality but it was always the smallest of the Rhodesian units. however. One member of No.six Hawker Hart bombers. when the re-emergence of a German threat to peace caused nations to re-examine their defences. Instead. the British South Africa Police (BSAP). at Cranborne in the southern outskirts of Salisbury. the members of the Legislative Assembly of Southern Rhodesia did likewise. 237 (Rhodesia) Squadron was Ian Douglas Smith.000 men and women for war. 977 Rhodesian officers and 1. On 19 September 1939 the Air Unit was renamed the Southern Rhodesian Air Force with its three flights in Kenya becoming No. which supplied the instructors for the compulsory territorial service which young white males underwent in the Rhodesia Regiment. They trained on Wednesday afternoons and weekends in Gipsy Moths and Tiger Moths. The air-training unit. On 22 April 1940. later the Prime Minister. 233 Squadron of the Royal Air Force. 266 and No. By 1937-1939.000 pilots and 300 navigators for the Royal Air Force. As external threats hardly existed. which produced 2. 44 had ‘Rhodesia’ added to their titles. The birth of Rhodesia’s air force was unintentional.300 personnel (150 of them pilots) and including the General Service Unit. six Hawker Audaxes two-seat army co-operation aircraft and three Gloster Gauntlet single seat fighters. building training establishments outside Salisbury. which was deployed to guard its installations. they offered Britain £10.000 for the Royal Navy to strengthen imperial defence. then. In the mid-thirties. Rhodesians were seconded to the South African and British services. Two flights of Harts and Audaxes took off for Kenya to replace No. not only was she self-governing. attending short camps and weekend parades. Two other Royal Air Force squadrons. defence was left to the only regular force in the colony. Within the Staff Corps. placed under command of the Rhodesia Regiment. Southern Rhodesia also formed the Rhodesian Air Training Group to train British aircrew under the Empire Training Scheme. In 1939. there were airmen fresh from war. Again. in 1947. the 69. Its greatest strength in the 1970s was only ever 2. to the re-establishment of . The imminence of war led to the mobilisation of the Air Unit and on 28 August 1939. in November 1935. sent the first six trainee pilots for instruction at the local flying school run by the de Haviland Company at Belvedere Airport. 237 (Rhodesia) Squadron. The end of the war and demobilisation left Southern Rhodesia with only two regular defence units. Bulawayo and Gwelo [now Gweru].000 whites in Southern Rhodesia were able to spare 10. Rhodesian airmen won 256 medals. Southern Rhodesia had demonstrated her loyalty to Britain and would remind Britain of this when relations soured twenty years later. and their enthusiasm led to the revival of the air unit and. Salisbury [now Harare]. but she had the right to defend herself despite not having the status of a dominion and therefore sovereignty. Southern Rhodesia was the first in the British Empire to send her servicemen abroad. reinforced by the part-time white territorials of the Rhodesia Regiment and district rifle platoons. No. In a gesture of loyalty. the RAR and the Permanent Staff Corps. with the exception of the Rhodesian African Rifles (RAR). To avoid devastating casualties. and 15 biplanes . No. 1 Squadron of the Southern Rhodesian Air Force was absorbed by the Royal Air Force as No. the unit had a new airfield. This illustrated the unique position of the Colony of Southern Rhodesia in the British Empire because. They were not expecting the British to respond with the suggestion that Southern Rhodesia should establish an air-training unit.

Field Marshal Smuts. and No. In 1952-1953. The air station at Thornhill was acquired from the departing Royal Air Force and was modernised. sixteen Vampire T11 jet-trainers and sixteen Percival Provost T52 piston-engined basic trainers. The Imperial defence authorities had informed the Southern Rhodesian Government that. In response to awakening African rejection of white rule and the British and French retreat from empire. In 1951. 3 transport squadron. without jet aircraft. From 1956.000. Although the Federation did not gain sovereign status. 1 Squadron re-equipped with twelve Hawker Hunter FGA9 ground attack fighters. the SRAF was useless for defence of the Empire and should be disbanded. there were riots in an African township in Salisbury. Not wanting to lose the SRAF and knowing that re-equipment was inevitable once the Federation was in being. The role of the RRAF by then was not an entirely external one. the money for these aircraft had come from a loyal gesture. became more . with Joshua Nkomo taking a prominent role. In 1956. Consequently. the African nationalists in Southern Rhodesia. In 1948. In 1963. 6 Squadron. In 1957. In 1961. equipped with Provosts. turned for help to his future partner in the coming Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. it inherited Southern Rhodesia’s right of defence and took over the SRAF and the army units of the three territories. the RRAF comprised No. The Federation undertook to supply infantry and air force reinforcements to the British Middle East Command as its contribution to Commonwealth defence.an unlikely marriage of a self-governing colony with two protectorates . in 1959 it bought four Canadair C4 transports and fifteen English Electric Canberra B2 light bombers. flying North American Harvard advanced trainers acquired from the South African Air Force and the Royal Air Force. the Leader of the Unofficial Members in the Northern Rhodesian Legislative Council. Welensky persuaded the Northern Rhodesian Government to meet the bill of £200. re-equipping with sixteen de Haviland Vampire FB9 fighter-bombers.the Southern Rhodesian Air Force (SRAF). with eight C47 Dakotas and two Percival Pembroke light transports. the Prime Minister of South Africa. 22 Supermarine Spitfire Mark XXIIs were acquired to be flown by short- service officers and part-time pilots. The RRAF remained small but justly proud of its efficiency. onwards the Federal forces began to concentrate on internal security operations. the Rhodesians could achieve a better rate of serviceability with only 30 men per aircraft. Applying equal pressure was Kenneth Kaunda in Northern Rhodesia. No. In 1958. for an internal security role There were clear signs of strengthening African nationalism in all three territories of the Federation. both of whom hoped to create a great British dominion north of the Limpopo. donated a Douglas C47 Dakota. the RRAF formed No.was the product of a sustained campaign by Roy Welensky and Godfrey Huggins. After 1957. with Provosts. the Vampire squadrons helped the Royal Air Force deal with dissident tribesmen in the Aden Protectorate. the Canberra squadrons regularly reinforced the Royal Air Force in Cyprus. Dr Hastings Banda returned from abroad to lead the African resistance in Nyasaland and would by 1962 convince the British that the Federation could not endure and that Nyasaland had to secede. Southern Rhodesia was. While the Royal Air Force needed a ratio of 300 men per jet aircraft. as ever. Its strength was 69 officers and men. Rhodesian transport aircraft supported British forces in the Kuwait crisis and dropped food in a flood-relief operation in Kenya. Sir Godfrey Huggins. so the long-serving Southern Rhodesian Prime Minister. In 1958. the front-line strength was enhanced when No. In 1959-1963. Again. The British sanction of the formation of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland . 1 and No. 2 Vampire squadrons. the SRAF entered the jet age. Roy Welensky. short of money. The Queen granted the title ‘Royal Rhodesian Air Force’ (RRAF) and khaki army uniforms and rank structures were exchanged for British style Air Force blues and ranks. 4 training squadron.

the Southern Rhodesian Government responded with a state of emergency. the First Battalion of the Rhodesian Light Infantry (1RLI) and an armoured car squadron . Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia were moved rapidly towards independence while in 1961 Southern Rhodesia was given a new constitution. on 9 May 1960. dispersing crowds with air-delivered tear gas canisters. choosing them not only because they suited local conditions.000 whites and blacks. Belgium’s sudden decision in 1960 to withdraw from the Congo. It ordered Alouette III helicopters. designed to crush resistance quickly so that troops could be released to deal with Banda in Nyasaland.000 whites refugees. suggested to Welensky (then the Federal Prime Minister) that the Federal contribution should be reduced from an infantry brigade to a squadron of SAS parachute-trained Special Forces. had decided to speed up the decolonisation process dramatically and seek Britain’s future in Europe. the Chief of Imperial General Staff. had in fact been seeking quasi-dominion status but the British Government was in no mood to give the whites . in a review of Imperial defence. which meant that training facilities and expertise could be shared. brought mutinies. While the whites rejected this. The National Democratic Party demanded power and persuaded its leader. the white electorate ousted him in the general election of 1962. Experience in Nyasaland highlighted the need for rapid reinforcement of troops. He was succeeded by the Rhodesian Front led by Winston Field who promised not to tamper with land tenure and to secure independence at the demise of the Federation in the next year. insurrection and the Katanga crisis. the RRAF’s No. with reserve battalions increasing the number of the Rhodesia Regiment battalions to ten. Lord Louis Mountbatten. Then.C Squadron of the SAS. If Southern Rhodesia were to become an independent sovereign nation. The Southern Rhodesian Prime Minister. The feasibility of the use of paratroops was examined in March 1960 when the RRAF adapted Dakota aircraft for tests. creating Zaire. The Federal Army was deployed to the Northern Rhodesia northern border while the RRAF protected Federal airspace and flew out of the Congo over 2. In February 1959. His party replaced him in 1963 . to reject the new constitution. Field did not deal with the land issue and he failed to secure independence. she had to accept rule by the majority. The mutinies of black soldiers in the Congo in the next month encouraged the Federal Government to establish white professional army units . Harold Macmillan. as did the new Canberra bombers. The Portuguese Air Force had also purchased Alouette IIIs and would be the first to use them with French 20mm cannons. The Territorial Army was expanded. The RRAF formed a parachute school to train the SAS and created the Volunteer Reserve to tap the skills of the civilian population. providing the Federal Army with its paratroops. dropping leaflets and undertaking reconnaissance. 3 Squadron flew troops from Southern Rhodesia to quell unrest in Nyasaland. Sir Edgar Whitehead. By then the British Prime Minister. Whitehead attempted to meet black aspirations with a number of reforms of racial legislation but when he threatened to deal with the fundamental black grievance. it encouraged black resistance.less than five per cent of the population - perpetual political domination. The Alouette III helicopter was not yet available. The acquisition of helicopters was considered but the contemporary helicopters were useless in the Federation’s ‘hot and high’ conditions. This strengthening of forces was also in response to the increasing African nationalist sponsored unrest in all the territories and in Southern Rhodesia in particular. designed to give blacks an enhanced political role and eventual domination. that of the unequal racial allocation of land.as insurance. The Alouette III was also the choice of the South African Air Force.militant. fleeing the violence. The emergence of the militant Youth League in 1957 gave black resistance a new edge. Joshua Nkomo. but also because their price suited the Federal Treasury. RRAF Provosts flew in support of the police and troops. Vampire jets flew ‘showing the flag’ flights. The BSAP recruited a police reserve of 30. In February 1959.

they were sent to fly over the townships. Thus the war of liberation. Over a thousand African nationalist supporters were arrested and Whitehead banned ZAPU. The new No. the police and army were forced to revise their ponderous radio procedures. African nationalists set fire to forests at Chipinga on the eastern border and the SAS parachuted in to deal with them. and generally assisting the police. trained in France and South Africa. equipped with the Aérospatiale SA316B Alouette IIIs. The African nationalists countered with urban unrest . known as the ‘Chimurenga’. brief transmissions. Tanganyika and at insurgency warfare schools in Russia and its satellite countries. 6 Squadron (then a Canberra squadron) was disbanded and its aircraft went into storage. In the division of assets at the break-up of the Federation in 1963. 3 Squadron (transport). the RRAF was returned to Southern Rhodesia with all its aircraft except for three transport aircraft. which were given to Zambia. the ZAPU led by Nkomo. Three Alouettes arrived in April 1962. The pattern of urban violence continued for a year or more and then fizzled out because of good police work and the effectiveness of the law. and established themselves in sympathetic Zambia across the Zambezi. 2 Squadron (fighter) with Vampire FB9s and No.with Ian Smith. 4 Squadron (flying training) with Provosts. 7 Squadron. they sent men into Rhodesia to foster rebellion in the urban and rural areas. dropping leaflets and tear-gas grenades on rioting crowds (only rarely). By then. Some adjustments were made. . the photographic and the air movements sections. as were some Canberras and Vampires. The favoured weapon was the petrol bomb aimed mostly at blacks collaborating with the whites. 1 Squadron (fighter) with Hunters. began in late 1962. from 1966 onwards. the police began to uncover arms caches. and the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) led by the Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole (later to be ousted by Robert Mugabe). the RRAF had concentrated at two bases . No. The trainees first flew Provosts and then Vampire T11s before flying the Vampire FB9s on armament training. In addition. As soon as the first two pilots. Internal security was a responsibility of the police who were assisted by the Army and the RRAF. in 1962. New Sarum housed the administration. two in July and three in August 1963. 7 Squadron (helicopter) with Alouettes. At the time of UDI in 1965. The African nationalists split into two factions. From there. were on strength. the African nationalists decided on an armed struggle and sent young men for training in Ghana. British intransigence on the independence issue led Smith to declare Rhodesia independent on 11 November 1965. No. Its air units were No. No. The towns remained unco-operative but the rural areas began to harbour the insurgents in 1972 when the success of FRELIMO rebels in Mozambique provided the Rhodesian African nationalists with safe havens and supplies close to the border. acting as airborne and command posts. As pilots only have time to listen to snappy.New Sarum near Salisbury and Thornhill near Gwelo. Thornhill had No. In addition. ‘sky shouting’. the apprentice training school and the parachute training section. strikes and the like. the aircrew selection centre. Black resistance in Southern Rhodesia had led Whitehead to strengthen the police force. the RRAF had 1. The Argonauts were sold.200 regulars including a General Service Unit of black soldiers for guard and transport duties. was able to insert personnel quickly to precise points and rescue the stranded and the injured. 5 (bomber) with Canberras and No. to ban the National Democratic Party (only to see it replaced instantly by the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU)) and to introduce security legislation. in 1962.riots.

4 Squadron re-equipped with ten new Aermacchi AL60-B2Ls for the counter-insurgency role. the starter motors for the Hunters had previously been sent back to Rolls Royce for servicing at a cost of £14.Thereafter all pilots rotated through the squadrons. 6 Squadron was revived to take over No. ground attack aircraft. 'Trojans'. and at Fylde. In the mid-seventies. The more sedate pilots would fly transports and the Canberra bombers while the more aggressive would be posted to the fighters. In addition. twin piston- engined light attack aircraft. Assembling them themselves. The jet engines were a particular challenge as. South African and Portuguese defence. the South Africans would reinforce the Rhodesian Canberra force with Canberra B12s of their own. 4 Squadron’s role of basic flying training with seven Provosts. prior to 1965. The Unilateral Declaration of Independence on 11 November 1965 prompted the British to seize fourteen Avon Series 207 engines being serviced for the Rhodesian Hunters and Canberras. Time caught up with the Canberras and the Vampires and they became dangerous to fly. 28 refurbished North American T28 'Trojans' had been bought from France in 1966-1967 but the ship carrying them had turned back within sight of Cape Town when the United States Government threatened to revoke all manufacturing licences held by the French. Pilots would serve two tours with the squadrons before they were posted on their instructors courses. This gave the RRAF pilots considerable versatility. when the T11s were beyond repair. flying Provosts on basic flying training for a year or two before going on to jet instruction or taking up instructors' posts with the squadrons.000 per motor. South Africa set up a flying school in Durban where young Rhodesians flew Impala jet trainers. the Aermacchi AL60- B2L Trojans were replaced by 21 Reims Cessna FTB 337G Lynxes. a Cessna 421A and a Beech 95 C-55 Baron. a new Squadron. No. In 1976 six Britten- Norman BN-A Islanders were obtained for No. capable of handling jet aircraft. Spares and weapons were secured through clandestine purchasing and local manufacture . In 1978. just south of Victoria Falls. These bases were intended to provide for joint Rhodesian. No. the Rhodesians called the AL60-B2Ls. Difficulties in procuring starter cartridges led to the discovery that the Canberra engines would start on compressed air and a truck’s starter motor could replace the cartridge starter in the Provost. twin-boom. More important was South Africa's helicopters and crews. By dint of subterfuge. In August 1967. A Canberra B2 was re-built from spare parts and the South Africans passed on surplus Vampire FB52s and T11s. This loss forced the Rhodesian Air Force technicians to service and maintain the remainder of their engines and equipment themselves with the help of local industry. No. Alpha and Golf. 31 SIAI Marchetti SF260 Genets were bought to replace the Provost trainers of No. the first challenge facing the RRAF (which in 1970 would drop ‘Royal’ from its title when Rhodesia became a republic) was how to procure spares and aircraft in defiance of international sanctions. These were sent . The South African contribution included building two advanced airfields. 6 Squadron and to provide more light attack aircraft. learning to fly a variety of the aircraft on strength. Facing little external threat. they had been sent to Rolls Royce in Britain for servicing. it was possible to replace the light aircraft. The RRAF technicians taught themselves to strip down the starter motors and service them at a cost of 76 pence per unit! That nine of the twelve Hunters were still flying 16 years later was a measure of their success. near Hartley west of Salisbury. They would serve tours on helicopters. fighters. to confuse the outside world. Rhodesia bought from Belgium 42 Avon 207 jet engines in 1966 and ten years would later acquire more from Oman where they had been buried in sand.the Frantan. was created to fly the eleven Agusta Bell 205A Cheetah helicopters. 8. While jet fighters and bombers could not be purchased and had to be repaired. After 70 starts. In fact. In 1977. or transports before becoming instructors. This was met with ingenuity and subterfuge. when needed. The types they flew depended on the pilot's nature.including the production of a singularly lethal range of aircraft bombs . In January 1976. 3 Squadron to join additional Dakotas. at Wankie.

In addition. The jet squadrons based at Thornhill and New Sarum. narrow valleys etc. The South African Prime Minister. Their take-offs and landings required only minimum illumination. Vorster also cut off Rhodesia's supplies of ammunition and fuel. represented by the raid by the Rhodesian Selous Scouts on an insurgent camp at Nyadzonya in Mozambique on 8 August. The ability of the helicopter to fly at high or low altitudes and to decelerate rapidly. Once Smith's acceptance of majority rule had produced the first African dominated government. FAF3 (Centenary). When the RhAF required long-range transports for cross border operations. Under anything but truly abnormal conditions. FAF4 (Mount Darwin). allows it to be flown under marginal weather conditions. the Rhodesian pilots would fly at night if they could see the horizon. however. to provide air support for the ground forces. that of Bishop Muzorewa. Some South African aircrew did tours as long as three years. FAF5 (Mtoko). Henry Kissinger. used it to apply political pressure on the Rhodesian Government. when he was seeking to coerce Ian Smith into accepting majority rule. as needed. amongst other aid. impromptu FAFs would be created. Vorster.J. was an officer in the Volunteer Reserve. The helicopter has unique features to offer the military. Jack Malloch. The troops were South African Parabats (paratroopers) with Rhodesian pilots and army personnel assisting. FAF6 (Chipinga). Thornhill and New Sarum provided facilities for major maintenance and repair but the helicopter units of four to six aircraft were mostly self-sufficient because each helicopter crew comprised a pilot and a qualified technician who maintained the aircraft as well as manning its machine-guns or 20mm cannon. helicopters can ascend or descend at steep angles. forcing Ian Smith to accept the settlement proposals offered to him in September by the US Secretary of State. allowing them to operate from confined and unimproved areas such as forest clearings. The insistence on a minimum horizon was the product of an accident. B. When major cross-border operations were being mounted.000-yard runway. two South African-manned Fire Forces being established in the south of Matabeleland. anywhere there was a 1.into Rhodesia to support the South African Police units. In 1976. such was the co-operation with the South African Air Force that the Rhodesians could field 50 helicopters. FAF2 (Kariba). established once the insurgency became a fact of life. The South African helicopter force was. Vorster withdrew 27 pilots on the pretext of protesting at the escalation of the Rhodesian war. the South African support was liberally renewed with. Other members of the Volunteer Reserve were used to staff forward airfields (FAFs) in the operational areas. with four South African Aérospatiale Pumas each. FAF7 (Buffalo Range). and FAF9 (Rutenga). It was from the FAFs that the helicopters and aircraft assigned to ‘Fire Force’ operated. which served in Rhodesia between 1967- 1975 or were seconded to the Rhodesian Air Force (RhAF) as Alpha Flight or were allowed to ‘join’ the RhAF for tours of duty. combined with the capacity for slow forward speed and vertical landing. Although the French had designed the Alouette II and III as purely clear weather daylight machines and therefore had not fitted the necessary night flying equipment. a double-edged sword on occasions. Many vital spares were brought in by Malloch who ran a sustained exercise in the evasion of sanctions. it borrowed them from the commercial airline Air Trans Africa whose owner. for example. were able to provide quick response anywhere when a target tough enough to need the attention of Hunters and Canberras presented itself. which killed Air Lieutenant . Eventually there were nine such bases: FAF1 (Wankie). being in the centre of Rhodesia. FAF8 (Grand Reef).

The noise of the engines will alert him. Gwelo. An approaching Fire Force would plot its flight to the target with these in mind. during Operation Dabchick. They returned to the parade ground and did not disperse when they heard jet engines again because they assumed that the DC8 was returning. to Binga. to ask where he was. Munton-Jackson was flying one of a pair of Alouette IIIs en route from New Sarum. on 17 January 1972. The Rhodesians also often flew the noisy Aermacchi AL60-B2L Trojans ahead of the Fire Force to mask the whine of the helicopters. Noise. Crucial factors with regard to masking noise were terrain and wind direction. with Beaver Shaw manning the 20mm cannon. Nevertheless. ZANLA were holding their muster parade. The net result was that the Alouettes were fitted with Becker radio direction finders. On Operation Dingo in November 1977 a DC8 jet airliner was flown over ZANLA camps near Chimoio an hour before the airstrike. Pilots found themselves in difficult and invidious positions but. was a constant problem in giving away the approach of an attacking force. Peter Petter-Bowyer did this when leading Fire Force to camps. but the reflection of the sound of low-flying helicopters can deceive him as to the direction being taken. however. had the distinction of shooting down a Botswana Defence Force Islander on 9 August 1979. took cover at the sound of the DC8.G. and can.the French had fitted an E2A as the principal compass. Flight Sergeant P. when flying a load of ammunition and weapons before dawn from Thornhill.J. pilots had flown in the dark. Before that. This happened when Goatley was covering a recovery by helicopters of troops from an external operation against a Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) base at Francistown. configured as a gunship or 'K-Car'. Petter-Bowyer landed next to a farm. they began to transgress the rule less and less. In other aircraft. The Alouettes were caught in a heavy thunderstorm and an attempt was made to bring them in on a radar approach. the E2A was a standby device. flown by Charles Goatley. as the war progressed.the choice can be made of the most concealed line of approach to the enemy. An African enlightened him but did not tell him that he had landed next to ZAPU's base at 'Freedom Farm'. Low on fuel and lost. to stray north-west into Zambia. a Rhodesian Alouette. Salisbury. which opened the attack on them. and. What they heard was the sound of Hunter ground attack fighters diving out of the sun and the approach of a small armada of Alouettes. They were so often in danger that they could not be persuaded to take even greater risks. the SAS call-sign watching the camp heard the approaching AB205A Cheetahs eight minutes before they arrived. The pressure of the war would lead to that ruling often being ignored. The lack of direction finding equipment had led to Peter Petter-Bowyer in 1969. near Livingstone. The wide speed range and high manoeuvrability at slow speeds enables helicopters to fly safely at low altitudes using hills and trees as cover. Garden. a raid on Mucheneze Camp across Rhodesia's south- eastern border in Mozambique. Helicopters can achieve surprise through 'contour-flying' (flying just above the tree-tops. following the contours of the land).where there are no front lines . They can confuse by using ‘dummy’ deployments of infantry stop-groups. In low intensity warfare . as expected. In 1979 a Fire Force would fly from . employ a shock effect by putting down lethal fire. It was not known whether he became disorientated but it was decided that henceforth the helicopters would only fly when a horizon could be discerned. as the Rhodesians showed. On 5 February 1979. Munton-Jackson and his technician. In the interests of safety. the Commander of the Air Force. One Alouette succeeded but Munton-Jackson crashed. The Alouette III lacked the aerobatic capabilities of more modern helicopters. virtually without instruments . which he had discovered through his aerial reconnaissance. the officers commanding No 7 Squadron made every effort to enforce the ruling but precedents had been set and it was difficult to convince the ground forces that a casualty evacuation or other such requirement was impossible because of the lack of a horizon. This Petter-Bowyer did not discover until he had landed back in Rhodesia at the Victoria Falls and was told so by Air Vice-Marshal Harold Hawkins. on the Zambezi River. to Thornhill.

The troopers would hook on and the Alouette would lift them away. One Alouette carried the tube and ammunition. weapons and equipment from situations of danger or for rapid redeployment. to get their heads down. or close to the ground hovering. This meant that the orbit of the searching aircraft had to be widened continuously. the second helicopter provided aerial spotting which produced hits on target often with third bomb fired. and the other carried the crew. Given a controlled airspace. The helicopter crews were also used to observe and correct the fall of shot for the Rhodesian Field Artillery Regiment. This was practised from 1971 onwards but was not widely used because the 20mm cannon of the K-Car gave the Fire Forces potent and instant firepower except when soft ground absorbed its shells. 'Hot extraction' could be an uncomfortable ride when the pilot. reduced height and might drag its human cargo through the trees. The ability to extract wounded from any terrain. the troopers would be put down on the ground and would board the aircraft. The Rhodesian Alouettes and AB205As frequently brought back captured weapons from neighbouring territories. took to wearing special ‘Pegasus’ harnesses.to attack targets in the Sipolilo area in order to exploit a wind from the east to hide its approach. troops can be landed or recovered without the helicopter actually landing. protected from enemy observation and ground fire. while the G- Car came rapidly into land. a pair of Hunters would attack the enemy pursuers to distract them. Helicopters can land troops in tactical formations.having to refuel on the way . resupplying them and recovering them. . however. Every minute wasted in finding them. The warning given by the noise of aircraft led to Fire Force commanders asking the personnel on an OP to tell them when the aircraft could be heard. As well as the rapid insertion of ground forces. Rhodesian Army units on external operations in neighbouring countries. In most cases. The second shell hit the target. Once the mortar was in action. ready for immediate action. With troop ladders. Vic Cook did this at night. allowed them to flee a further 500 metres. They offer the battlefield commander the flexibility to deploy troops and their logistical support over a wide area. helicopters can quickly retrieve troops. enabling him to exploit a tactical situation. some times refuelling twice to reach their objective. two Alouettes were deployed with a mortar team. like Mozambique. helicopters can be used to seize objectives which otherwise are out of reach of ground troops because of obstacles or enemy action. Helicopters can bring back damaged and discarded equipment which otherwise would be abandoned or destroyed. flying above Leopard Rock Hotel in the Vumba (on the eastern border of Rhodesia) and spotting for the 5. This drastically reduced fatalities and boosted the morale of the ordinary soldier. under fire. The ability to change the nature of the helicopter’s load at short notice is a major asset. Once out of range. which afforded them ‘hot extraction’ literally from the grasp of a pursuing enemy.Centenary in a southerly half-circle . The Alouette would lower a trapeze bar. meant that any wounded could be reached usually within an hour. it could still stand-off and wait for the moment to use its firepower to optimum effect. Usually the OP heard the aircraft when they were four minutes from the target and four minutes would give the insurgents time to run a kilometre and a half. the G-Car pilot would land quickly rather than hazarding men on the end of a rope.5 inch medium guns harassing Machipanda in Mozambique. 'Hot extractions' were dreaded by the aircrews who regarded them as the most dangerous of their flying duties because they involved flying deep into hostile territory. For example. Cargo can be carried in an external sling and delivered to inaccessible spots. attached to the cargo sling and capable of carrying four troopers. Although the Alouette III lacked the modern ‘mast-mounted’ sighting equipment which allows a helicopter to remain in a hull-down position. Helicopters permit the placement of firepower and troops virtually anywhere. The Alouette in Rhodesia had a constant daily role of placing radio relay teams on high features. On occasion.

There would be little time before the attacking helicopters would be returning to refuel and helicopters could not land near drums on pallets to which parachutes were still attached because of the danger of fatal entanglement. adopted the South African practice of carrying a small petrol-driven two-stroke pump. led to all policemen being trained in correct procedures of boarding and leaving helicopters with full equipment. The Rhodesians. has a greater range but once its paratroops have been dropped. has its limitations.hail. faced danger every time they flew their daily tasks. This meant that the engine did not have to be switched off. They also sent forward fuel in trucks and tankers with the ‘land-tail’ convoy of reinforcements for a deployed Fire Force so that fuel would be on hand. In the case of the second phase of Operation Dingo in October 1977. The load carrying capacity decreases with increases in altitude.and winds in excess of 30 knots handicap helicopter operations. cannot land anywhere and do not have the flexibility of the helicopter which allows quick modifications of its role to meet changing situations. heavy rain et al . Helicopters require more maintenance than fixed-wing aircraft and have considerably less range. It consumes fuel at a high rate.The helicopter. of course. Poor weather conditions . humidity and temperature. On Operation Mascot in 1978. The personnel at these administrative bases had no easy task because the areas were full of trees and rocks among which the drums would land. are less able to make a concealed approach. Transport aircraft. Engine and rotor noise can alert the enemy. rural police stations and the like. A stinging encounter with Buffalo beans is never forgotten. Surprisingly. Thus. used them in combination with heli-borne troops both on Fire Force operations and on external raids. the Alouette and the AB205A helicopters can only bring in small groups. the Rhodesian Air Force. The helicopter is unstable and a loss of control for more than a few seconds spells disaster. after 1972. Its use in police urban operations. their quick recovery is difficult without helicopters to ferry them out. Weight and balance in a helicopter drastically affect the flight control and loads have to be carefully distributed. Dakota aircraft would fly in fuel to the nearest airstrip or para-drop it close to the Fire Force target area. While a transport aircraft can deploy 20 or more paratroops in a single drop. relieving the crew with the problem of re-starting. the drums landed amongst a cluster of 'Buffalo Beans'. The 'land-tail' would have to get to within ten minutes' flying time from the target to be of any assistance. of course. On external operations the Rhodesians would para-drop fuel into temporary administrative bases set up in remote areas of Zambia and Mozambique along the flight path of helicopters flying in troops and attacking external camps. This in itself was wearying. The need to keep the right hand on the cyclic-pitch control column makes the holding of maps awkward. To reduce crew fatigue when refuelling in the bush. This meant that high-risk fuel had to be carried and the petrol was to catch fire on at least one occasion. It is more fatiguing for pilots to fly helicopters than fixed-wing aircraft. however. rolling drums and setting up pumps. unlike other aircrew. Crosswind velocities of 10-15 knots and downwind velocities above five knots will affect the selection of the direction of landing or take-off. The Alouette in Rhodesia was mainly used to transport and fight with the army in Fire Force but it also had many other roles to play in countering the insurgency. The troop- carrying aircraft. helicopters tend to be short on payload on a given mission. The Alouette inserted and supported the Special Urban Emergency Units ‘SWAT teams’ of the police. two administrative bases were needed to allow the helicopters to reach Tembue camp in central Mozambique near the Malawi border. lowering them by its winch onto the roofs of . however. possessed of sufficient Douglas C47 Paradaks (Dakotas configured for paratrooping). the helicopter crews. The Rhodesians compensated for this by establishing aviation fuel dumps at district commissioners’ camps. If vehicles could not approach the area in time. which limits its range and ability to carry loads. the resourceful Peter Petter-Bowyer designed in 1968 a refuelling system based on a simple suction pipe using the Alouette's engine. In the case of Rhodesia. as has been said.

7mm machine-gun and other weapons of ZANLA. In addition. The 'road runners' were also supplied to double agents. popping up from behind ridges to fire on the ZANLA. such as the Reverend Kandoreka (a close colleague of Bishop Muzorewa and supporter of ZANLA). so that the insurgents would pick them up and take them back to their unit. He moved the territorial troops. need a scent to follow and scents are based on moisture. The incursion had been discovered when security forces in the Inyanga North tribal area had detained African tribeswomen who had been feeding the ZANLA group. The pilots worked with the police and the Army units deployed in their area. They would be sent to Rutenga in the south-east. the tribeswomen were carried aloft to point out the enemy but nothing was seen. This was accomplished by a variety of means. Cook used the terrain to advantage. from which the wheel still hung. The success rate was never high but the disruptive effect was enormous as the pilot and their. McQuaid's G-Car. reducing the value of the tracker dog. For a Fire Force to trap and eliminate ZANLA or ZIPRA insurgents. Led by John Barnes. the helicopter’s unique ability to fly at a reasonable speed close to the ground was exploited in tracking insurgents. had flown from Mtoko ([now Mutoko] north-east of Salisbury) to deal with an incursion from Mozambique. Cook and McQuaid flew in without troops because the intention was to use the men of a territorial company of the Rhodesia Regiment. scents did not last long after 10 a. Cook made so many hard landings. an American. moving troops. Dogs. The K-Car was hit but continued to fire until its gun jammed. One method was the use of the ‘road runner’ or a bugged portable commercial transistor radio receiver. Aside from those aircraft allocated to the Fire Forces. Dogs with radios strapped onto their backs. leaving Cook alone in a running fight of seven to eight hours. was banging against the helicopter's side. troops harried the enemy. working with few means. to cut off the enemy and late in the fight put all the MAG gunners in an ambush position. Vic Cook found himself alone in the air on one occasion when tackling 85 heavily armed ZANLA on the eastern border. and Cook landed gently on it.buildings. flying close to the trees. was so severely damaged that he just managed to fly it over a nearby hill before putting it down. Barnes. abandoning their intention to attack Inyanga Village and later the Grand Reef Airport (outside Umtali (now Mutare)). ending a long day. over which Cook hovered. As the upper oleo strut. dogs were trained to follow a scent while its handler followed it in a helicopter. individual or pairs of Alouette III G-Cars were positioned at times around the country to assist local efforts. Vic Cook recalled the constant use of 'dummy' drops to confuse the enemy as he tried to convince ZANLA gangs that they were surrounded when in reality he was moving four men at a time. hot conditions of the Rhodesian veld. allowed the helicopter to follow at a discreet distance until contact was made. Trained trackers could follow a track from the air. the K-Car fired searching rounds into a wooded area and drew a murderous reply from the heavy 12. who were providing the insurgent gangs in the field with . or on the shelves of rural stores. in sticks of four. These pilots. flying a K-Car. Cook and Bill McQuaid. to Inyanga barracks in the east or elsewhere. had to be remarkably ingenious. picking up and flying stop groups into cut off positions when an enemy gang was being pursued. They also assisted the ground troops by supporting trackers. often reservist. Cook flew back to Mtoko but obviously could not land without crashing and damaging the aircraft. drawing hot responses.. Eventually. which meant that the enemy could be quickly contacted. of course. which was in the area. The Rhodesian Special Branch left 'road runners' lying around in likely areas. their whereabouts had to be discovered. The ground crew built a mound of sandbags to support the G-Car. At the instigation of Peter Petter- Bowyer. that finally his left undercarriage axle broke. Cook's tech broke off a branch from a tree. and wedged it into the broken mechanism to hold the broken undercarriage in place. In the rural areas. the gangs that a single helicopter could confront need not be small. They had routine but vital tasks such as resupplying the radio relay teams.m. In the dry. To find the ZANLA. The K-Car returned to Mtoko. The Rhodesian effort was rewarded by the harried ZANLA deciding to retreat.

that there would be a ZANLA meeting at a particular time and location. it was occupied. These pilots would pick up a series of radiating tracks. and by the fearsome Selous Scouts. Cessna 185s and later Lynxes. villages of sympathisers and the like. The skilled OP operators were the Selous Scouts but all units were used on OPs with greater or lesser success. flying on a parallel or opposing course would secure second co-ordinates. flying Provosts. The criss-crossing of the direction finding of two aircraft would secure a likely area of a kilometre square into which a Fire Force would descend. This meant that. became highly skilled at spotting ‘crapping’ patterns in the wilder parts.ambushes. however. The 'Road Runner' contained a homing device which was activated by the radio being switched off and could be picked up by an aircraft’s homing equipment. through their pseudo-gang operations. from a dense clump of bush made by insurgents going about their daily functions. disguised as ZANLA and ‘operating’ with them. which might give away the presence of the insurgents. often resulted in Fire Force action. ironically. Trojans. The purpose of the OP was to observe the pattern of life and detect anything out of the ordinary. A second Lynx. an unusual amount of cooking taking place or lines of women carrying cooked food into groves of trees and other hiding places. The lack of precision in target identification and the absence of an OP to talk the Fire Force on. discovered that Benecke had a minor visual defect in the green-brown range. The most skilled of these was Kevin 'Cocky' Benecke who was possessed of the most phenomenal eyesight and could see men on the ground under cover when others could not. Information would come from a Selous Scout detachment. OPs would notice. and other agencies. for example. Analysis by the Rhodesian Intelligence Corps (RIC) in early 1979 was to show that the highest ratio of success was achieved when Fire Force action was initiated by an OP as compared . Numerous insurgents were taken by surprise by the unheralded arrival of a Fire Force. Peter Petter-Bowyer taught himself the telltale signs of human habitation in the bush and then passed them on to his pilots.regular or reservist . While Selous Scouts-generated information produced results. As the Officer Commanding 4 Squadron. which commanded significant terrain such as known infiltration routes. Intelligence gathered by the police Special Branch. By the early seventies a number of pilots. which people with normal eyesight could not see. The level of success on reaction to these sightings and interpretations was satisfactorily high.supplies. Pseudo operations were combined with the practice of establishing OPs on hills.and would be called in when trackers or cross-graining patrols made contact with the enemy and called for reinforcement. when Benecke summoned Fire Force to a camp. Once the OP was certain there was an insurgent presence. it was of great comfort to know that reinforcement in the form of the formidable Fire Force was merely an hour’s flying time away. The sound of an aircraft would prompt the insurgents to switch off the radio. for instance. intelligence generally tended to be dated at least and too often produced ‘lemons’ i. Fire Force would then arrive at the meeting. which enabled him to distinguish dark objects in shade. As the Rhodesian Army patrols . the commander of the OP would summon Fire Force. Fire Forces would react to incidents . Fire Force call-outs when the insurgents had already left the area or were never there.e. meant that many would escape. Success depended on the OP's skill at map reading so that he could direct Fire Force with precision to the target. the RhAF would send up helicopter or a Lynx with a Becker radio direction finder to detect the signals. The problem of the OP was to remain undetected by the local population. Doctor Brian Knight. An important method of detecting the insurgents was by aerial reconnaissance. therefore transmitting their position to the aircraft.comprised sections of four men called ‘sticks’ (each stick possessing a VHF radio and an MAG machine-gun). farm attacks and the like . The Air Force's Medical Officer. Once 'road runners' were known to be in an area. which took considerable skill at concealment.

missing the primer. and his wife Johanna at Hartley (now called Chegutu) on 16 May 1966. Cannon planned to spread his mixed force of forty police and farmers serving in the Police Reserve along the main and old roads and conduct a sweep and search operation in the triangle formed by the two roads and the Hunyani River. clad in blue denim. armed with venerable Lee Enfield . Cannon and Petter-Bowyer suggested that the elimination of this gang was a task for the Army and that the Operations Co-ordinating Committee should be involved but the Police Commissioner. flying at 11. Murray Hofmeyr was detailed to follow the police informer in an Alouette. The main aim was to recruit local support for their cause. He placed the other half along the powerline as a . refused. the rocket launcher and the light machine-gun of the insurgents). Consequently. Five ZANU left for Umtali (to blow up the oil pipeline and to attack white farmers). however. he said. Cannon responded by hastily deploying half his men in a line from the main road to the Kariba power line. then reported that the informer was turning off the main road on to the old strip road. The precursor to Fire Force operations.to the other means already discussed. and simply blowing the slab to pieces. in fact.303 bolt-action rifles (hardly adequate against the five AK47 rifles. a kilometre before the bridge over the Hunyani River. this man reported to the police on 28 April. the Officer Commanding the Police Lomagundi District and a former RAF bomber pilot of Second World War vintage.E.000 feet through the early dawn of 28 April. The various members of the ZANU unit were steadily killed or captured over the coming weeks. the first use of armed helicopters supporting ground forces on 28 April 1966. were deployed. six for the Zwimba Tribal Trust Land and seven were destined for the Midlands. Hofmeyr. Hofmeyr's aircraft had been hastily armed with an MAG machine-gun (equipped only with its iron infantry sights) mounted on an A frame at the left rear doorway. reached a level approaching farce but had important consequences. stopped and strode off into the bush to the left. Johannes Viljoen. When the group reached the small town of Sinoia (now called Chinhoyi) it split up. The police and reservists. However. which ran parallel to the main road some distance to the south. two for Fort Victoria. F. telling them the location of his comrades and their intention to change into black clothes and mount armed attacks on the white farmers near Sinoia. In charge of operations was Chief Superintendent John Cannon. The seven Midlands men based themselves near Red Mine on Hunyani Farm just north-east of Sinoia to sabotage pylons and the like. DFC. they had murdered a white farmer. saying that the police would handle the problem. These incidents brought Peter Petter-Bowyer. but not before. to Sinoia in an Alouette III to support the police efforts to root out the gang. Barfoot. This engagement is now graced with the title of the 'Battle of Sinoia' and its date celebrated in Zimbabwe as a public holiday to mark the beginning of the 'Chimurenga or War of Liberation'. On 3 April 1966 a well-led and disciplined unit of 20 armed members of ZANU had crossed the Zambezi near Chirundu from Zambia and moved southwards through the bush eventually marching down the power line to Salisbury from the Kariba hydro-electric dam. The informer drove a hundred metres. The informer said that he would rendezvous with his comrades just past the intersection of the main road with the old strip road to Sinoia. This meant that the seven ZANU were outside the triangle. The ZANU group had sent one man on to Salisbury to make contact with the African nationalist politicians. The informer explained that he would drive back to the gang early the next morning in a blue Peugeot. as the standby pilot (fresh from a conversion course to helicopters). The ZANU men would be hiding in the bush just to the left of the road. the police had thoroughly penetrated ZANU and. Their training was deficient and they often inserted the detonator into the Russian TNT slabs in the wrong place.

George Carmichael. 147 rounds. shouted to his passengers. Cannon handed over control to Peter Petter-Bowyer who took off with four policemen in his Alouette. the amount of rounds fired was modest. was somewhat outraged. Petter-Bowyer noticed what seemed to be a policeman standing under a tree. however. Such expenditure. Flying on a right hand orbit. The gathering and use of intelligence was centralised with the Special Branch reporting to the Central Intelligence Organisation. Petter-Bowyer first saw the man on the ground running with dust spurting around him. He also stressed the need for map reading skills. who.stop line. Thus. Flying in the vicinity of the last sighting. controlled by Joint Operations Centres (JOCs) on which all services were represented. given the lack of proper sights for deflection shooting. Conn shouted at them to disperse and as he did two ZANU rose out of the nearby grass and bush. In the south-western corner. The second had been in the act of throwing a grenade. Petter-Bowyer broke away. then Hofmeyr's incoming shadow. In fact. Cannon readily agreed and Conn drove out along the main road and turned onto the strip road. It took Hofmeyr's technician. Petter-Bowyer. He waved them back to the road. The anger of the army at being excluded led to future operations being planned and handled by all arms of the security forces. one aiming his rifle. having never been shot at before. In March 1977. all operations came under a single commander. However. when an instructor. Traversing the ground. fired in four bursts. a figure in a white shirt opened fire on Petter-Bowyer. to bring down the running insurgent just south of the powerline. Petter-Bowyer called in Hofmeyr to use his MAG. pointing out the figure under the tree. the helicopter pilots had to land to direct the sweep lines. anxious not to miss the fun. Combined Operations. they looked up and he saw their white faces. led Petter-Bowyer. Conn opened fire killing both. Another pair to join the fun was Major Billy Conn of the RLI and his sergeant who had driven through Sinoia from Kariba and had come upon the helicopters and the armed police. Near the river. Petter-Bowyer did not realise that Hofmeyr was circling left to allow his gun to engage and was on a collision course with him. which then exploded. between the old road and the power line. could not communicate with the helicopters because they did not have compatible radios. Air Force Headquarters later ruled. The Air Force came to demand that its pilots be capable . as Commander. The police in the sweep lines. The sight of a dead ZANU drew the inexperienced police forward to cluster around the body. Conn turned round and drove straight to the Police Station to volunteer his services to his friend John Cannon. Petter-Bowyer next spotted two figures in the bush off the old road but before he could do them any harm. Realising that he could not command the operation from the ground. Dissatisfaction with his own unpreparedness. The enraged Petter-Bowyer landed his passengers on the road before resuming his patrol over the area. due to inexperience. his Sterling 9mm bullets passing through the spinning tilted blades. but was horrified when one of his policeman opened fire out of the aircraft's window. to train his men to fly with maximum weight. The chastened sweep line continued and eventually eliminated the remaining four insurgents. The helicopters circled above. The first group began to advance parallel to the old road towards the last sighting. Petter-Bowyer was awarded the Military Forces Commendation for his coolness under fire and for his control of the operation. Pilot Officer David Becks had to do so to prevent them shooting each other. was intolerable. They were Detective Inspectors Bill Freeman and 'Dusty' Binns who had driven up the road and plunged into the bush ahead of the sweep line. where the two police lines started to converge. Lieutenant General Peter Walls. arriving just as the advancing sweep line from the east shot and killed an insurgent. lacking intercom. This incident had profound effects.

The K-Car was ready. and it was very difficult to secure new helicopters to replace any which were shot down. The gunners fired bursts of three rounds or less and would regard themselves as off form if more than five rounds were expended per enemy killed. The pressure of war would bring relaxation of such rules to such an extent that a black RAR soldier boarded a helicopter at Marymount Mission in the north- east with a Zulu rifle grenade still mounted on the muzzle of his rifle and accidentally discharged the grenade through the roof of the Alouette. Twin Browning . with 7. Later. In this early period the helicopters were treated as such precious objects that the Rhodesian Army liked to believe that the RhAF would only allow their men on board with clean boots. Gunners would look for rocks or hard ground to fire at to maximise the effect of the shrapnel. To allow deflection shooting the gun was equipped with a Collimateur reflector gun sight which was calibrated for the cannon to be fired at 90 degrees to the fore and aft axis at an altitude 800 feet from an Alouette travelling at 65 knots.of reading maps so well that they could navigate with a margin of error of 50 metres to find their target. . there was a need for a quick reaction force and helicopters obviously offered the quickest and most effective method of deploying one.303 round. After 1966. It was apparent that a helicopter gunship could drastically aid the rapid elimination of the enemy. Its rear seats had been replaced with an armoured seat for the gunner positioned to fire a Matra MG 151 20mm cannon out of the rear port doorway. The muzzle velocity was low and the rate of fire was slow.5 bullet was not a cannon shell so a direct hit had to be scored to kill or wound. the K-Car.5-inch heavy machine-guns were fitted but were abandoned because of their weight and because the . Ammunition also added weight to the helicopter. which could be achieved with the lighter . The cannon was mounted on a French manufactured special floor fitting to cater for its weight and recoil. To solve the problem of soft ground and trees. the Matra MG 151 cannon fired a shell with a short cartridge. Certainly all weapons had to be cleared and all magazines removed. some K-Cars were equipped with four Mk 2 . In Fire Force contacts a high proportion of the enemy were killed and wounded as a result of 20mm fire. on occasions.and difficult to obtain. In September 1974. but. International sanctions meant that it was impossible to replace a Hunter fighter. The rounds were expensive - 35 Rhodesian dollars each . To conserve the eight the air force possessed. the cyclic rate was adjusted downwards to 350 rounds per minute. As the 20mm HEI was prone to explode harmlessly on contact with trees. which contained less than normal propellant. 1979. making it suitable for the Alouette. affecting its range. When the war intensified from December 1972. until 1973. their operations were limited to support and not offensive roles. In February 1974 a dedicated Alouette III gunship. The guns were initially obtained from the Portuguese and for a long time so was the high explosive incendiary (HEI) rounds used in Rhodesia. which took 200 or 400 rounds. Trials on the Inkomo Range in March. the technician/gunners took to loading ball rounds on a ratio of one ball: five HEI shells. was ready for trials. helicopters were armed. Thus. for example.62mm MAGs. and white farmhouses were attacked in north- eastern Rhodesia. other guns were tried. The HEI rounds were highly effective except when fired on soft ground. which negated their explosive effect because the shells had to decelerate sharply for their inertial fuses to be activated. May and June led to further modifications including the practice of removing the yaw pedals when trooping. were expressly forbidden to engage insurgents in a 'gunship' role. Like the German MGFF and MG151 20mm cannons mounted in the Messerschmidt 109 and Focke-Wulf 190 fighters. K-Cars were fitted with anti-STRELA [the Russian SAM7] shrouds on their engines and were given matt paint finish. A good gunner would be able to fire accurately at lower heights and indeed some preferred 600 feet. This reduced the recoil of the gun. The cannons were equipped with trays.

The combinations of aircraft of the Fire Forces varied widely with what aircraft were available. The pilot’s defined responsibilities were: to transport the Fire Force troops to the target. So successful was this combination that. to send aircraft away for reinforcements and refuelling. they were armed with twin side-firing . to mark the target (with the gunner throwing out the smoke grenade). as Staff Officer (Planning). The normal aperture sight was retained. The army Fire Force commander was in overall charge but the K-Car pilot. which were slaved to a remote hand operated sighting and hydraulic driver system code-named of 'Kat-oog' [Cat's eye]. with . Out of this project would come a highly successful helmet sight. Ted Lunt flew the Dalmatian fit helicopter while Petter- Bowyer found him targets. None of these modifications had taken place when Murray Hofmeyr took an armed G-Car into the first incident at Sinoia in April 1966. the Fire Forces were constantly stripped of their helicopters to support external operations by the SAS and other units. The weapon was fitted with a padded chest plate and twin handgrips to improve the handling and steadiness of aim. This was done and the weapon was evaluated in early November. flying at tree top height and. and finally to the Collimateur Lightweight Reflector Sight which was used thereafter. in the first week of trials. The four-gun fit was mostly used in the role of a second K-Car. That incident led to the formal training of helicopter technicians as air-gunners.called the Dalmatian Project . 303 Brownings on twin mountings in 1976. Until 1976. to bring in and direct airstrikes. Petter-Bowyer and Lunt would attack the target and then call Fire Force to get troops on the ground to complete the operation. and to control the recovery of troops.303 inch Brownings. Their roles being equally important for success but in many cases the experienced pilots would dominate and sometimes control the entire operation. The Dalmatian K-Cars achieved devastating results in 1979. The G-Cars carried 500 rounds per gun.303 ammunition freely available and with each gun firing at a cyclic rate of 1. seasoned pilots were flying with inexperienced or incompetent Fire Force commanders and therefore would have more influence than the theory would allow. The bipod and the wooden butt were removed. Modifications to the sighting system progressed to a wire ring and bead sight to the GM2 Reflector Gunsight.303 Browning machine-guns. equipment and dead and captured enemy. Modifications to the standard Army weapon were minimal. using his skills as a recce pilot. This meant that Fire Forces might be . as has been said. the Rhodesian G-Cars were re-armed with the faster firing Mk2 . Because the drag on the belts reduced the cyclic rate of fire of the MAGs to 400 rounds a minute. The results of the trials were not spectacular. was involved in this development at the CSIR in South Africa .62mm MAGs and the South African G-Cars with single Mk 2 . usually the most senior pilot in the unit. The Dalmatian K-Cars were used to drive the enemy into the open where they became targets for the 20mm. the troop-carrying Rhodesian G-Car Alouettes were armed with single 7. The rear buffer spring housing was padded and a short wooden handle projecting to the left of the weapon was added. Peter Petter-Bowyer.62mm MAG.150 rounds a minute.and brought it back to Rhodesia to test it in the field in 1978. The arming of the G-Car went back to September-October 1965 when investigations began into the feasibility of mounting the FN 7. to direct the landing of the troop-carrying helicopters (the G-Cars) and the dropping of paratroops where the Fire Force commander indicated (sometimes delegating the talk-in of the Dakota to the first immediately available G- Car).303 Brownings. Thus. When the South African Pumas were deployed. Occasions.5 or . Before the arrival of the AB205As. The MAG mounting progressed from a simple post to a fitting which accommodated the spent cartridge cases and ammunition belts and which limited the weapon's travel to prevent accidental damage to the aircraft. radio equipment and a specially adapted rearward-facing chair next to the pilot’s were provided. The K-Car was also used as a mobile command post to allow the commander of the heli-borne troops to direct their operations from the air above them. 31 ZANLA insurgents were killed. would direct the air operations.

The delays occasioned by this robbed the Fire Force of any effectiveness. The Fire Force was deployed without waiting for the K-Car. the Fire Force enjoyed its first action a month later. The ZANLA split into small groups and awaited the arrival of the Fire Force.m. rifle and machine gun fire from a long range. this force level of 32 gave the Fire Force a three to one ratio of superiority on the ground. The K-Car pilot would always keep at least one G-Car orbiting on the periphery of the battle to be able to move stops quickly. The stops swept forward and. As contact was made typically with 6 to 12 ZANLA. . although they only found an abandoned machine-gun. comprising TNT buried a foot deep in the earth on top of which was placed 8-10 stick grenades.1974-1976.W. to assess a dropping zone and.62mm machine gun with an anti-aircraft sight and 60mm and 82mm mortars. Stunningly successful from the outset. 7. The G-Cars thereafter would be sent back to base or to rendezvous with a ‘land-tail’ of vehicles bringing forward reinforcements.1979-1980 after the election of the first black majority government led by Bishop Abel Muzorewa. the K-Car arrived and drew heavy fire. perhaps. to talk in the Paradak. on 24 February. This G-Car would act as a reserve command post if the K-Car had to transfer the Fire Force commander and depart for fuel.1977-1979. mini-Golf bombs [blast and shrapnel]. the ZANLA had positioned in the trap a 75mm recoilless rifle. The ZANLA planned to draw a Fire Force into the trap. Corporal Crittal was slightly wounded in the leg by the mortar fire and Corporal Titlestad was mortally wounded aboard a helicopter. Phase Two .303 inch. would fire to pin down escaping enemy. they had buried six electrically fired anti-aircraft booby traps. they were subjected to mortar. grenades. a 7. and Phase Three . a Lynx. Support Commando.303 inch machine-guns mounted above the wing). directing the action on the ground. Fire Force went through three phases of development: Phase One . using the G-Car to ferry in troops. Deployed in January 1974. two of them were wounded and captured. which had to be summoned back from a trip to Salisbury. in the night. napalm. The G-Cars were then on hand for quick evacuation of casualties or the re- positioning of troops. The Fire Force quickly yielded an 80 to 1 kill rate by trapping the enemy gangs and eliminating them by air and ground fire. The G-Cars would fire their machine-guns when a target presented itself. In addition. in failing light at 5. four G-Cars (each carrying four troopers) reinforced by a Dakota (modified for paratrooping and carrying 16 paratroops) and a Lynx for light air strike (with 63mm SNEB rockets. For example. The Lynx put in an airstrike and was badly damaged by fire from the ground and by the explosion of three booby traps.reduced for some days to a K-Car and a G-Car. in the fast fading light. The Rhodesian Intelligence Corps study in 1979 concluded that the most successful combination was a K-Car. In the event.20 p. 1RLI. supporting a stick of men pursuing a body of ZANLA. or flush out insurgents from thick cover.62mm for the helicopters and the troops. This is not to say that the enemy did not fight back and with some ingenuity. The G-Cars would make dummy landings to confuse the enemy. fuel and ammunition [20mm. and twin . commanded by Major [later Lieutenant Colonel] P. took the bait. flares and bunker bombs and tear gas for the clearing of caves]. While few helicopters were shot down (considering the numerous daily call-outs) many were hit by ground-fire and a number of Fire Force commanders and aircrew were killed and wounded as they orbited at 800 feet. . to extricate casualties. and one was killed in an ambush by Two Independent Company of the Rhodesia Regiment. There were no ZANLA casualties until. Stops were put down but nothing transpired until. Aside from their normal small arms. while placing men in cut-off or stop positions. contacted 20-30 ZANLA who had set up an ‘aircraft ambush’ near Mount Darwin in the north-east of Rhodesia. on 17 August 1976. after being called in by Lieutenant Dale Collett of the Selous Scouts. Armstrong.

For higher resolution image. The K-Car would fly in to be talked onto the target by the personnel manning the OP (if a sighting was the reason for the call out). It was soon realised that the aircrew had to look outside the circle constantly as the insurgents covered the ground at their astonishing rate of 500 metres a minute. . please visit Fire Force Phase 1 In Phase One. the K-Car gunner would throw out a smoke grenade so that the OP could use the smoke to re-direct the K-Car to the target. if Fire Force were not needed immediately. When over the approximate area of the target. Difficulties of judging the position of an aircraft in the sky to a target on ground often caused delays. which afforded the enemy time to escape. slow and cumbersome procedure and was sometimes fruitless because the enemy had fled. The G-Cars would fly in a wider pre-arranged orbit. This was a somewhat rigid. waiting for orders to put their stops down on the escape routes. The K-Car would then pull up to its optimum orbiting height of 800 feet and put down fire to annihilate the enemy or dissuade them from leaving the area. there would be a preliminary briefing before take-off.

There would. the Fire Force commander would have his paratroopers brought in to sweep the area. This meant minimum delay in bottling up the enemy. The Fire Force commander would simply state 'Plan Alpha' and the G-Cars would deposit their stop groups on the predetermined stop positions. to save time and because by then the OP would have crucial information on enemy movement or the lack thereof. Once the escape routes were sealed. If the G-Car crew spotted the enemy. By 1977 it was realised that the K-Car had to fly in from behind and over the OP in order to see what he was seeing and therefore waste no time in finding and marking the target with a white smoke generator. As the G-Cars arrived. The briefing would normally be held at the refuelling stop on the way to the target. Instead of having to wait for the Fire Force commander. If they did not spot the enemy. The achievement of Phase Two was that the quick positioning of stops often trapped the enemy. driving the quarry into the open where the 20mm could deal with them or into the ambushes of the stop groups. be an alternative plan .Plan Alpha. This meant that this stick remained airborne for quick deployment elsewhere. please visit Fire Force Phase 2 The changes made in Phase Two drastically improved the success ratio. The K-Car would pull up and fire on the enemy. they would fly directly to prescribed stop positions on the escape routes and orbit them individually. For higher resolution image. they could land their stop group without reference to the K-Car. however. the G-Cars were given some autonomy. they would not put down their stop group. .

680 André Dennison's fine 'A' Company. One Commando. The stops would be in position quickly and the paratroops would follow to sweep the area. scoring formidable tallies of kills. The Jumbo Fire Force was created by bringing two Fire Forces together. the K-Cars (being used like tanks on the battlefield) would immediately attack without pulling up. often with the support of Hawker Hunters. 2RAR. the enemy. eight G-Cars. RLI. in which the 'Jumbo' Fire Force came into being. was the product of the constant availability of G-Cars in 1979 because the forces deployed on external operations at last had available the longer-range and greater troop carrying-capacity of the AB205A 'Cheetahs'.m. By 7 a. killed 403 insurgents in the period . Those insurgents who survived would go to ground.m. a Dakota and a Lynx. if not kill. the two K-Cars would accelerate and pull away. Once directed onto the target. by contrast. 1RLI. seeking to traumatise. giving it two K-Cars. having dealt with them. Major Nigel Henson recalls tackling and killing 22 insurgents at 6 a. The Fire Force commander might bring in the jet aircraft immediately with their devastating Golf bombs to lower the enemy's morale further. his Fire Force was in action against ten more and. killed 450 insurgents Two Commando 350 Three Commando 410 Support Commando 470 1. please visit Fire Force Phase 3 Phase Three. In the period after the election of Muzorewa's Government in April 1979 until the ceasefire in December 1979. Actions that used to take an entire morning or a day thenceforth were often over in an hour. the RLI took over the exclusive task of Fire Force. In this last phase. The commander of Support Commando. When the Fire Force was seven minutes out from the target. For higher resolution image. The effect would be to 'stabilise' the situation. was by mid-morning in a third contact.

was to react to incidents as they arose and. making it easier to hear transmissions. himself and his men. the Special Branch representative. There were a number of considerations as to where the Fire Force base would be sited in an operational area. The Fire Force commander would want to know what other forces were deployed in his area. their tasks and how many would be available as reinforcements for Fire Force actions. alarm system. He had to establish close rapport with the senior pilot who would fly him in the K-Car and command the aircraft. fences and overhead nets to detonate incoming rocket and mortar rounds]. The siting of the base was only one of the considerations for a Fire Force commander when he assumed command. The personnel on the OPs would evaluate his performance in reacting to their sightings. successful Fire Force commanders had to be men of high and varying skills. The pressures upon him were intense. His troops demanded kills as a measure of success. the protection of the aircraft [the Rhodesians protected them with drums filled with sand. the RIC was able to supply maps on which current information had been overlaid which he would need for his briefings. Major Nigel Henson. close to the aircraft for speedy call-outs.September 1977 to July 1979. Just as vital were the links that the K-Car's intercom and radios provided with the pilot and the troops on the ground. the British SAS killed 108 of their enemy. In the last three years of the war. He could never have enough men. the Fire Force would depart. who commanded Support Commando for two and a half years (1977- 1979) was called out 111 times. its defences. its vulnerability to attack. The helmet was not just worn for protection. By 1977. the technicians and base personnel. Thus. If satisfied by the strategic siting. Of course. It muffled the engine noise. the pressle [transmitting] switch of . The burden of command was heavy and his position a lonely one. despite the OP's sighting. As it needed only an airstrip in the bush capable of taking a Dakota. there were a variety of geographical options for siting a base. or sometimes. Seventy-three of these call-outs were in 1979 and 68 of them resulted in contacts. Perhaps there is no comparison but in nine years of campaigning in Malaya. All related equipment had to be checked. Of crucial importance was his aircraft helmet and headset. if nothing appeared. all regular infantry were trained paratroops and would in turn be deployed by helicopter or parachute or brought in as reinforcements from the vehicles of the ‘land-tail’. it was important to base the Fire Force close to the JOC and its major intelligence agencies such as the Special Branch. His troops needed to be reasonably housed. several months. He needed the active support of the FAF commander. As will be seen. An infantry company of the RAR or a commando of the RLI would be designated as a Fire Force at a forward airfield for six weeks. and efficacy of the joint operations room. it was often ordered away by the JOC to a new target. as intelligence played such a role in Fire Force operations. however. only one in six call-outs were unproductive 'lemons' and this he attributes to the full deployment of the Selous Scouts on the OPs and their professionalism as well as to the experienced dedication to their task of the aircrews. In many cases. As its role. There had always been a high rate of unsuccessful call-outs but many of them were the product of the Fire Force not spending time combing the area. He would be concerned with the communication systems. In 1979. The RhAF would be eyeing him critically. the radios that were so vital for his operations. The tasks of the Fire Force commander were many and varied. he would review the base’s tactical siting.

and a pen and notebook. All would don flak jackets to protect them from fire from the ground when orbiting above the battle. two riflemen. and rations). Troops would use strobe lights (if available). Numerous sets of co-ordinates were pencilled in to avoid having to unfold the whole map to find them along the edge. which lasted for three minutes. the stick commanders would include two MAGs in their section. The generators produced dense white smoke. Because it was crucial to the Fire Force commander to be able to see positions of his troops on the ground (to avoid sticks firing on each other and the like). orange ‘dayglo’ or white panels. and if weight was not a consideration. Often the troops would simply wave the white backs of their maps. the troops dressed in camouflage tee shirts. 'Messus' Moore.000 in a briefcase. The MAG was heavy to carry but its high rate of fire often won a fight and it was highly prized. or flares. His Fire Force commander. he would hold up his cigarette packet. the helicopters were carrying large smoke generators for marking dropping zones for the paratroopers and indicating wind direction. medical kit. the stick would be issued with claymore anti-personnel mines. methods of visual identification would be adopted. A spare headset would be carried in case his failed (and it sometimes did). If a night ambush was contemplated. equipped with a VHF A63 radio and a FN rifle. Short sharp action meant that they were usually back in base by nightfall for re-deployment in the morning. One Support Commando stick leader. binoculars. as well as the small yellow smoke grenades for target marking. Indeed. water. In action. They would carry little else other than ammunition. The maps had to be correctly folded and indexed so that the correct one could be quickly found in the air. Along with his FN 7. If they expected to set a night ambush after the contact. when they could. heliographs. The School of Infantry checklists reminded the Fire Force commander that he could not be distracted by airsickness and had to have the necessary pills on hand if he was susceptible. had to be serviceable as more than one operation was hampered by faulty radios transmitting continuous carrier waves. smoke and white phosphorous grenades. shorts and light running shoes or hockey boots.62mm automatic rifle. he would write crucial information on the Perspex of the aircraft's windscreen. In practice again. leaving the pilot to direct the battle. In the K-Car with him.the microphone and the headset’s connections would be tested. particularly the telehand sets. He replied that. surprised to . The G- Cars had headsets for all stick leaders to keep them abreast of developments while in the air. as he had forgotten his map. The Fire Force commander would check that. The G-Cars would have hoods for captives and body bags for fatalities Each Fire Force ‘stick’ of four comprised: a junior NCO. The K-Car would carry two A63/A76 VHF radios. grenades. compass. was asked to reveal his position by displaying his map. his webbing (containing ammunition. The troops’ VHF sets. The checklists ordered him to have with him a talc board and chinagraphs.000 and 1: 50. In practice. and a machine-gunner carrying a MAG 7. airsick commanders would have short careers because the K-Car pilots would not tolerate them. medical kits and basic rations. the Fire Force commander would have a spare FN to issue to replace any which malfunctioned in action. regulation camouflage denim uniforms would be worn and light sleeping bags carried. The generators were locally produced and were designed by what Peter Petter-Bowyer describes as 'an American pyro-maniac' whom local industry had found for him. He would have complete map coverage of the operational area at 1: 250. he would carry the radio codes and in particular the daily Shackle code. one a spare for the ground troops and the other for the commander if he had to disembark through the K-Car being forced down by ground fire or mechanical malfunction or if it had to depart for refuelling. As they had to move rapidly over the ground.62mm machine-gun. grenades. Major Henson. some Fire Force commanders would wear gloves to cushion their thumbs from damage from the repeated use of the pressle switch.

instant light. There would be a general briefing of all personnel on call-outs. experienced gunners saw the enemy first. Aircraft formations to be used en route to targets. of course. latest tactics and lessons learnt with his K-Car pilot. Very.and point out a feature close to target and order the firing of two rounds. responded 'Stop One. the gunners would prompt the Fire Force commander on orientation. Colour codes would be selected: for example. The Lynx and its weapons would be discussed. the callsigns. Fire Force commanders and pilots. target correction. had much on their minds and very often keen-eyed. They would find time to practise their roles in the air. medics. spare VHF radios. The Fire Force commander would take every opportunity to discuss methods. The Fire Force commander would describe the stop details. briefings and methods. The Fire Force commander would select an alternative VHF channel for the ground troops so that the command net did not become cluttered. for example. emergency drills and the use of ‘wanker’ sticks (men dropped purely to collect the parachutes as sanctions made their replacement costly and difficult). He would deal with the ‘land-tail’. Most vital was the teamwork in the K-Car. particularly how long it could fly. smoke signals (blue for casevac. of course. he would call a course correction .see the upheld packet. and general modus operandi. briefing and spare radio channels would be allocated. heliograph). selecting its commander. This had to be rapid and precise. their equipment. Finally. The ‘wanker’ sticks more than once found themselves in action when fleeing insurgents broke through sweep lines. ideas. He would then correct the gunner's aim from the strike of the shells. target marking (using the Lynx or the K-Car to deliver smoke or the firing by the OP of Icarus. discuss activating call-outs. There was much initial planning to be done and the Fire Force commander. are they Kingsgate or Madison?' [two Rhodesian blends].the smoke generator. escorts. it was the Fire Force commander who could concentrate solely on spotting the enemy. The Fire Force commander had also to understand what the aircraft could and could not do. flares. G-Car One might become Yellow One. and the dispersal of medics and trackers among the sticks. Command.'Hard left!' . As the pilot had the aircraft to fly. The RhAF personnel would detail how many aircraft were available. The latter would include: the OP talk-on. the masking of aircraft noise and associated problems would be examined. his second in command. men had to be fed on their return and much more. and the air gunner/technician sat well back behind the 20mm cannon. the SNEB rocket [the shoulder-held launcher which Petter-Bowyer had developed] or Miniflare markers). the responsibility of the pilots. spare rifles. There was a tendency for everyone at a Fire Force base to volunteer for the 'land-tail' but essential functions at the base could not be neglected. the equipment to be carried by the aircraft would be reviewed . . The provision for refuelling and rearming would be laid down. Such matters were. Thus. On spotting the enemy. Following the action intensely. he could play a crucial role in target identification. the FAF commander and the operations and intelligence officers would meet to review the current intelligence. his officers. Sitting on the left in the front. body bags etc. the marking the position of the troops (by orange dayglo or white panels or by waving the white back of maps or the use of smoke grenades. but experience taught the Fire Force commanders to keep an independent eye on the fuel gauge. trackers and the ‘second wave’ reinforcements. the whereabouts of stop groups and other details. the drop procedure. the radio channel for drops. The use of the Dakota would be reviewed including the height and number of paradrops. the senior and other pilots. he was well positioned to do so. as they had to base their plans on the aircraft's performance. This channel could be monitored by the accompanying Lynx on its second radio.

other Rhodesian Army or Police units. and the locstats of other OPs or nearby troops. by Canberras or Hunters. which should be blocked by stop groups. if the target warranted it. confirm the OP’s information and to reassess his appreciation before his troops arrived. To contain the insurgents they would plan dummy drops of stop groups by the G-Cars and the positioning of their assault troops near enough to the target to be able to exploit the shock of the initial airstrike by the K-Car or fixed-wing aircraft. The Fire Force commander and the K-Car pilot would make a quick appreciation of the OP’s report and devise a plan to preserve the element of surprise and annihilate the enemy. It still depended on the nature of the reported incident. the 'land-tail' would often only approach on tar roads to preclude the danger of . observing the enemy while Fire Force was activated. the proposed method for the OP marking the target. Out in the field. They would select a rendezvous for the aircraft to meet the vehicles of the ‘land-tail’. In the early stages. He could use of noise cover by preceding the helicopters with a Trojan or Lynx. the nature of the terrain.the map number. The troops would practise fire and movement. tactics in general and post-contact procedures would be discussed. callsign etc. would be the OPs of the Selous Scouts. white phosphorous for a contact and the white generator for a dropping zone). He would stand by. deplaning and other drills. weapons. the troops of the Fire Force would follow the rehearsed procedures. to avoid casualties and the loss of vehicles. If time allowed. They would identify escape routes. The Fire Force would want to know: if the OP could still see the enemy or where they were last seen. possible landing and drop zones. The entire Fire Force could arrive simultaneously from different directions or the K-Car would accelerate to arrive over the target first to allow the Fire Force commander to orientate himself. The use of air support. the compass bearing from the OP to the target. such as thickly bushed riverbeds and ravines. The information required from an OP for a call-out would be laid down . refuel and re-arm simultaneously. Once a target was spotted. dress and current activity. the paratroops and their parachutes. to stun the enemy and drive them to ground. the OP’s locstat. The OP commander would be ready to update his report for the incoming Fire Force. familiarising themselves with emplaning. their escape routes. the OP commander would report to his unit. At the call-out. The Fire Force commander and the K-Car pilot would select the optimum killing zones into which the enemy could be driven. The K- Car pilot would examine the route and consider various options such an initial air strike by the Lynx (some Fire Forces preceded attacks with a mini-Golf bomb) or. the second wave sticks and the dead and captured insurgents and their kit. radio channel. the reaction times were as little as four minutes. hidden in the hills. all Fire Force and base personnel including the RhAF would practise the immediate action on call-out. movement across open ground. a refuelling stop on the way would provide time for a methodical briefing. The meeting would review the recovery of the heli-borne troops. callsign. their numbers. Details of the casevac procedures would be given along with the proximity of hospitals or mobile resuscitation units. However. This would be as close as possible to the target area and would be in a sufficiently open area to allow two or more helicopters to land. the locstat of the enemy. It was soon learnt that time taken in briefing was more valuable than speed and the Fire Force would take 10 minutes to get airborne. The first question asked was always: 'How much time have we?’ Often.orange for radio failure. Everything would be done with a minimum of words for efficiency. sometimes initiated by the sounding of a klaxon. In addition. there was no choice but to get the aircraft airborne and to plan on the way to the target. supplying his locstat. cave and obstacle clearing and other tactics. They would zero their weapons on the range and practise quick reaction snap shooting on jungle ranges [bush ranges with targets that sprung up].

. that he had written his radio callsign . (for example. If he assigned a stick the task of searching for the enemy.mines. the Fire Force commander would be describing to his stick commanders and the second wave the known details of the target [the map reference. They would review their firepower requirements. checking the number and condition of their loaded magazines. He would detail positions in the G-Car and remind his men of the emplaning and deplaning drills. The riflemen could also easily hit the blades from a tilting helicopter. He would point out the dropping zone for the paratroopers and give details of the deployment of the second wave and the equipment and ammunition to be carried by the ‘land-tail’. and pass any developments to the JOC. the pangas and toggle ropes [for use in difficult country]. The G-Cars guns for this reason ejected into shoots. He had to ensure that all controlled stores [compasses. when trying to report the sighting in a normal manner. the Fire Force commander had to ensure that it contained trackers or he would reinforce it with trackers. machine-gun belts. using the aircraft’s second radio. While the K-Car pilot briefed the aircrews and operational staff on the aircraft involved. would be told ‘Wait. unlike the MAG. refuelling and recovery arrangements. An additional reason was that loose cartridge cases rolling around on the floor could be sucked out of the open doors and rearwards into the tail-rotor. on the periphery of the battle to intercept any fugitives. the drop plans.on his hand. water bottles. etc. sleeping kit. they would consider having a deputy Fire Forces commander carried in the Lynx to co- ordinate the resupply by the ‘land-tail’. field dressings. The Fire Force commander would remind the stick commanders of pro-words to be used such as ‘Stop. even darkened by sunburn. Show Map’ [the white back of a map would be waved to indicate a stop’s position]. leaving the stick commander the left front seat and the spare headset so that he could follow the progress of the deployment and receive his orders. for example . ‘Show Dayglo’ [the troops had ‘dayglo’ orange panels and sometimes ‘dayglo’ linings to their combat caps which. The MAG gunner would take the rear right seat to give the aircraft additional firepower if the pilot requested it. He and his men had to use camouflage cream to darken their fair skins a white man’s skin. enemy dress. binoculars etc] and his codes were secure and waterproof. ‘Throw Smoke. He would share out: the spare radio batteries. A most important statement was ‘Ters visual’ because too often a stop group would catch sight of the enemy but. The Lynx pilot. The stick leader would return to brief and inspect his men. They would plot the position of other security forces in the area to avoid firing on them and to employ them. such as caves. Stop Two in Yellow Two and so forth].] and the plan. perhaps. rations. grenades. Stop Two etc and placing Stop One in G- Car Yellow One. The riflemen would not fire from the aircraft because. routing plans and refuelling. estimated numbers. when the cap was turned inside out. weapons. The Fire Force commander and the K-Car pilot would select dropping zones for the paratroopers with a view to bringing them quickly into the action. He had to remember that he had a clean white backing to his map. to keep enemy heads down when landing). could be carried. He would allocate the radio channels and appoint the heliborne stop groups [giving them easily remembered callsigns such as Stop One. out’ by a busy Fire Force commander. could be seen at a considerable distance]. He would show his stick where he carried his morphine. He would describe their drop plan [arranging it in a counter-clockwise sequence in the order of their stop numbers so that he could remember where they were and everyone could recall easily who was on their flank]. Teargas to drive insurgents out of difficult places. He would check the medic pack and detail who would carry it. Finally. would indicate to the aircraft that they were friendly forces]. the FN ejected the spent cartridge case upwards into the spinning blades.Stop One. airstrikes. The plan would be presented at the overall briefing. current activity. himself. Go Two for uplift’. might be used for these tasks. the attack directions. The riflemen would take the middle rear and front seats.

The paratroop stick leader would detail the order of the stick. action on contact with the enemy. indicating it with a tracer bullet or other means. roads. rivers. what to do if the radio failed. When reviewing his selected dropping zone. the OP would give the Fire Force commander the latest information and talk the K- Car onto the target. their position in relation to the target. at which it flew. The Fire Force commander would order the second wave sticks to move to their rendezvous point to be ready for uplift by the G-Cars. The Fire Force commander and the K-Car pilot would consult the OP for an update on the target. The Fire Force commander would establish communications with other ground forces to confirm what callsigns were on the ground. Chains of command within the stick would be established and everyone would be apprised callsigns and radio channels. formations: the drills for clearing kraals and caves.’ Once the Fire Force was airborne. On arrival. by contrast. the responsibilities of the K-Car Pilot were navigation. always mark targets because they would be acting as pseudo gangs and wanted to appear to the tribesmen as the survivors of any contact. this might be the first briefing or the first briefing might be held at the refuelling stop en route. The Fire Force commander would select the most prominent feature to the north of the target as a main reference point and orientate himself with the terrain . the K-Car pilot laconically commented from above: ‘Don’t worry. dampening the smoke. the use of smoke.it would also confirm that a radio was not working). he was to report to his Troop or Platoon commander. I can see where your finger is pointing. He was warned: ‘If you don't brief your stick properly you will have your arse kicked. by its rotating beacon or by letters or numbers on its belly or by the height. for crossing open ground. but heavily wooded areas could be dangerous as were rocks. He had to remember that he was responsible for the success of his men. Coolly observing Flint’s agitated efforts. maize fields and habitation and the direction in which the terrain and rivers ran . in particular. The stick commander had to answer his radio first time. If he had ‘wankers’ or useless members in his stick. He would brief stick on regrouping channels and which was the senior stick. communication with OP including the OP’s talk-on to the target and the co-ordination of the arrival of the fixed-wing aircraft. Ron Flint. All stick leaders would remind their men of tactics. . the Fire Force commander had to remember that paratroops were not limited by a few trees on the dropping zone. a black sergeant. review the plan and brief the stick commanders and the G- Car pilots over the radio on any changes. pointed his pencil flare projector and informed the incoming K-Car just behind him: ‘Marking Target NOW!’ The pencil flare refused to ignite. powerlines and 15 to 20 knot winds. because the Selous Scout OP. He had to remember that he and all his troops had to be orientated on the approach. (in Support Commando failure to answer immediately would draw the response of a cannon shell from the K-Car which would have an electrifying effect . and who was the senior callsign. The G-Cars. of grenades.because his own disorientation was a real possibility as the K-Car orbited. a somewhat flustered territorial sergeant. had difficulty in seeing the target area. of the Fifth Battalion. If the call-out had been rapid. 800 feet. hand signals.the hills. great difficulty was experienced in spotting the smoke of the target marker (an adapted SNEB aircraft rocket). the use of fire and movement. however. He would remind the sticks how they would be able to recognise the K-Car. He would remind the stick to watch where the rest of the sticks landed.’ On another occasion. had marked the target so well that the rocket was buried in the chest of one of the enemy. target indication. the Rhodesia Regiment. arcs of responsibility. Paratroops. sloping ground. The Selous Scouts did not. would be hugging the treetops for safety. Men would be assigned the searching of bodies and warned against looting.

and the third was always to sweep from cover into open ground . in a superb position.sighting. He also had to be ready to react speedily to changing situations. fleeing in all directions to make it difficult to track them. There were fundamental rules with regard to tactics. The commander was trained to draw a sketch-map of the contact area and to mark on it the positions of stop groups. he would unite them with a stick. The first was: never to sweep uphill . knowing who was on their flanks. that he remain over the target area at all times. would not deposit his men on the ground until he had a clear idea of the incident .always downhill. changing to another aircraft if necessary. of course. As soon as he could. which could not be broken. It was not advisable merely to give men the grid reference of their objective if it was possible to describe the route or if the K-Car could indicate their objective by overflying it. The Fire Force commander would quickly confirm where the stops should be placed and the K- Car pilot would direct the G-Cars to their landing zones. the Fire Force commander had to deploy his trackers early to establish the direction of the enemy's flight so that he could leapfrog his stops ahead to cut them off. Anything that could assist the sweep and stop troops would enhance their performance. The insurgents could be expected to 'bombshell'. Thus. and if he could not land to replace it with the spare. whenever he broke these rules. he would re-mark its position on the sketch-map to avoid contacts between friendly forces. he lost men .never from open ground into cover. what the enemy was doing. the sun was setting and there was no . He had to ensure that they identified the features of the target and were properly orientated. He would intend to 'stabilize' them to ensure their elimination or capture. the Fire Force commander bore the responsibility for the success of the engagement and would make his final tactical appreciation. Once his men were on the ground. however. the second: never to sweep into the sun. ambush or reported insurgent base. He had to appreciate their difficulties in crossing terrain and not over-estimate the speed at which they could move. orbiting at 600-800 feet and sitting on the extreme left of the aircraft to guide his men. The Fire Force commander. bearing in mind the speed of the enemy's flight and the objective of preventing their breakout. The sight of the supporting fixed-wing aircraft striking the target was always good for morale as was the rapid evacuation of any casualties by the stand-by G-Car. When a stop group moved. If a stick’s radio failed. he would only break the rules because time was pressing. which had communications. as has been said. The Fire Force commander was. In addition. The orbiting aircraft would deter them from moving across open ground and a pre-planned airstrike or a burst of K- Car fire could stun them into immobility. dummy drops would be used to convince them that there was no way out of the trap.five in all. he would ensure that the stick did not move and therefore not blunder into a killing ground. Prompt congratulations from the K-Car for any success also boosted morale and preserved the vital intimate trust between the commander in the air and the men on the ground. The commander was not to set his sticks impossible tasks nor was he to expect them to take independent action. In quiet moments the Fire Force commander would have the K-Car orbit the sticks to confirm their positions and to reassure them. If the insurgents broke out of the net. This did not mean that the Fire Force commander had to provide a running commentary because the stick leaders would be monitoring to the radio transmissions. It was vital to apprise the sticks of what was happening.Pulling up to 800 feet the K-Car pilot would control all aircraft movements and the use of their weapons. the Fire Force commander had to recognise their problems and assist them with them. Control from the air by the Fire Force commander was crucial so it was essential. As overall commander. Major Henson recalls that.

Calm tones. For mutual defence and for efficiency it was essential that the paratroops came down close to each other. would dispute Hopkins’s claim as in 1979 a Support Commando drop near Rushinga left 14 of 22 men injured when their Dakota maintained a constant height over rising ground. paratroops from A Company. mistaking ‘affirmative’ for ‘negative’. Second Battalion. the Rhodesian African Rifles. Their commander. The RLI. The advice was ‘Rather too high than too low’. through a pilot error. Once he had stopped their flight and driven them to ground. Once on the ground the paratroops would marry up using a separate radio channel and once gathered together. four of them seriously. excitement or anger would only rattle inexperienced sticks and prompt a mutinous reaction from experienced ones slogging through thick bush in the heat. It took considerable skill by the pilots to position the Dakota precisely. Before having his paratroops dropped. drops were often made from 300 feet so that none of the paratroops drifted off the dropping zone. and water and thus was not heavily burdened. driving the enemy into the open (the favoured killing ground of the aircraft) or into the waiting stop groups. None were killed in the fall but eight were injured. bearing in mind the vulnerabilities of the paratroopers . Where possible. Any displays of impatience. This was particularly important when dealing with African forces whose command of English was often not good and who might not understand brisk. late of the RAR. maintains that in fact RAR probably held the record as 16 paratroopers commanded by Lieutenant ‘Blackie’ Swart jumped on 9 October 1978 at something less than 300 feet. clear. were dropped at 300 feet due to an error of 150 feet in the setting of their Dakota’s altimeters. however. It was imperative that the Fire Force commander appeared and sounded calm and confident. grenades. the troops would be dropped facing the contact area. They would lay out an . Major André Dennison. Four days later. the Fire Force commander would ask his K-Car pilot or the first available G-Car to confirm that the landing zone was suitable. On 17 February 1978. estimated that the canopies were open for only nine seconds before the men struck the ground . terse commands. The D-10 American parachute used required 250 feet in which to open fully and in fact. by landing. when flying at 90 knots (to create sufficient slipstream to open the canopies). the precise altitude of the LZ and transmit the QNH setting for the Dakota's altimeter. To expose the paratroops to ground fire for the shortest time. The first men went out at 250 feet but the last jumped at 200 feet. the prescription for the drop was from 500 feet and never lower than 450 feet. They hit the ground only as their chutes began to deploy.time to get his men round to the top of a hill to start a downward sweep. cross- winds and rough landing zones. however. in the direction of their sweep. out of earshot. John Hopkins. an MAG gunner died from a fatty embolism being released into his bloodstream. he would bring in his paratroops to sweep the area. The G-Car might establish. The Fire Force paratrooper carried little more than his weapon.unharmed. ammunition.exposure to enemy fire in the air. report ‘ready’ to the Fire Force commander. An important duty was to control radio transmissions to prevent the channels becoming cluttered with unnecessary ‘waffle’. so that the paratroopers landed on the often small dropping zones. The Fire Force commander would use his stops and his firepower to stabilize the situation by immobilising the insurgents. The K-Car or G-Car would mark the centre of the dropping zone with smoke and talk the Dakota in. as often is the case in military jumps. for example. crisp explanations had a sobering effect on jittery ground forces. The Dakota bearing the paratroops would have flown to an 'IP' (intermediate point) four minutes away. The Fire Force commander would allow time for aircraft noise to diminish before speaking to a stick and would arrange that aircraft orbits were sufficiently high and distant to avoid deafening the stick leaders. to await developments.

This was done for ballistic. their local identity as ZANLA or ZIPRA insurgents had to be protected. The Fire Force commander also had to brief all fresh troops on their way to the contact. fired widely and on automatic. Sweep lines were to disarm and to frisk all insurgents alive or dead on the first sweep. ordering each G-Car to deploy its troops when the particular landing zone was flown over. ammunition and spent cartridge cases were picked up. The troops would fire several rifle shots into bushy thickets to drive out the insurgents from hiding places. Parachutes and the troops on the ground would likewise be recovered. It was essential that the first captured insurgent was flown out immediately for proper and prompt interrogation because he could reveal precisely how many enemy were in the area. In many cases. the troops would be ferried to the .identification panel and face the contact area. the Fire Force troops fired their FN Rifles on semi-automatic rather than full-automatic. masking them with hoods. He would bring in his reinforcements as soon as possible as he could never have enough troops on the ground and might need a reserve on hand for decisive action or for unforeseen eventualities. The Fire Force commander would attempt to observe the landing so that further indications were not necessary. Much of the reason was the presence of air power. particularly the K-Cars and their 20mm guns but part of it was the discipline and training of the Fire Force troops and their marksmanship. Alternatively. If there were time. The Fire Force commander would make maximum use of fire from the aircraft into known insurgent positions. which would be used to lay down sustained fire. Their opponents. Fully automatic fire was restricted to the MAG machine-gun. Later in the war the Fire Forces did confront groups of a hundred or more but were never defeated. When the reinforcements arrived the K-Car would lead their helicopters through the pattern of landing zones. their destination. the Fire Force commander would document bodies. the Fire Force commander would have the target area thoroughly searched so that all abandoned equipment. intelligence and other purposes and to deny the survivors’ ammunition. Even if no enemy were encountered. The Fire Force commander would take care not to compromise the identity of captives. The enemy had to be dealt with immediately and never left alive and unattended. he would keep the JOC informed so that it could plan its wider reaction. never driven away. keeping them away from the locals because in many cases they would be ‘turned’ and recruited into the Selous Scouts for pseudo operations. what their intentions were. a ‘wanker’ stick would be dropped to collect the parachutes. where they intended to rendezvous. Flushing fire or ‘Drake’ shooting was also used by the sweep lines. He would use the G-Cars for flushing fire so that the K-Car remained on station above the target. last base and name of their leader. by contrast. The next step was the recovery of all the dead and captured insurgents and their arms and equipment by helicopter or vehicle. careful sweeping was required so nothing of intelligence value was missed. The parachutes would be abandoned to be picked up later by the closest troops after the contact. While doing all this. To promote accuracy and conserve ammunition. Thus. When insurgents were trapped. to cover the outflanking of the position by the remainder of the stick. weapons and equipment. This was to be done because insurgents were known to feign death when fired on by the K-Car and then abscond when the sweep line had passed through. the sticks would often call for fire from the K-Car or other aircraft after the enemy position had been marked by the ground forces with a smoke grenade and the stick had been pulled back. Most contacts were with small groups so the Fire Forces usually outnumbered their opponents. Long bursts from an AK lift the barrel towards the sky. Once the contact was over. Only the leader of the senior stick of each group would report in once he had regained control of all sticks under his command. to maintain the order of the deployment.

Many call-outs produced ‘lemons’ because the intelligence was faulty or the insurgents had disappeared into the bush or had melded into the local population or because the Fire Force did not spend enough time searching the area of a sighting. which had supplied the OP. the calibre of the talk-on and the identification by the OP and the OP’s subsequent action. It was not necessary for them to return to their base every time. in particular. the strain would often tell. the French were to make over a hundred combat jumps while later in Vietnam the Americans only made one major combat jump. He would ensure they were adequately equipped for their task and. This was more than double the 24 operational jumps. 1RLI (commanded by Major Nigel Henson) in the crucial months of February to May 1979 give a taste of Fire Force action at the height of the war. that they had the correct maps. at the moment when the new constitution of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia was brought in. the performance of the troops on the ground . and the black professional soldiers of the Rhodesian African Rifles who also achieved enviable results. The records of Support Commando. the efficacy of air weapons. and the efficiency of the recovery and any subsequent action. were by then making tactical use of helicopters. Altogether. to deter them from voting. He would review the course of events: the initial briefing. directing them to ambush positions and assigning radio channels for communication with him and the Fire Force base. refused to recognise the legality of his .the stops. the French Colonial Paras in Indo-China proudly boasted of their fifty odd combat jumps. before leaving the area. Once everyone was back at base. of course. they could be recovered by helicopter with relative ease. and many impromptu Fire Forces were created by troops present at a JOC. actions by local inhabitants. In late April. who achieved the highest kill-rate with relatively small loss to themselves. the accuracy of the original intelligence. the possible compromise of the OP. If they were needed for fresh sightings the next morning. Indeed other paratroops of other nations had endured nothing like it. Bishop Muzorewa and his United African National Council gained the majority of the seats in the new Legislative Council with the overwhelming support of the electorate who had defied the efforts by the ZANLA. however. the difficulties presented by the insurgents’ choice of base. The troops assigned to the Fire Forces could expect to find themselves called out two or three times a day. which the two vaunted French Foreign Legion Para battalions made between March 1949 and March 1954. the noise factor. in particular. reasons for insurgents escaping and their numbers. With deployments in the Rhodesian bush war as long as six-ten weeks. would brief them on their task. and the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) (the military wing of Nkomo’s ZAPU).Dakota waiting on a nearby strip or to the vehicles of the ‘land-tail’. In 1950-1952. the Fire Force commander would debrief those involved. as did the First and Second Battalions of that regiment. the para-drop. for example. the new British Conservative Government of Margaret Thatcher. Three operational jumps in a single day was something no other paratrooper had ever been expected to do. The Fire Force commander. the choice of routes to the target and the formations flown. casualties and their subsequent extrication. The permanent Fire Forces. and. conceding for the first time majority rule. The Americans. troops would be left to ambush the contact area or to follow up on the tracks of the fleeing survivors. were drawn from the ranks of the white regular soldiers of the Rhodesian Light Infantry. Rhodesian national servicemen in the independent companies of the Rhodesia Regiment at times served as Fire Forces. the sweeps and action on contact. If necessary. Muzorewa’s popularity would quickly fade because the governments of the west. The Fire Force commander would transmit his comments to the unit.

He and a wounded man were taken into custody by Stop Three who immediately thereafter killed a third. The Greys had killed an insurgent and called for Fire Force Delta to seal off the escape routes with stop groups and sweep the area. By this time. He noted the poor state of the ZANLA weaponry. on the rainy morning of 24 February.ZANLA and ZIPRA . with its woodwork old and rotting. at 1.election. on one occasion. the insurgents had bombshelled. elements of Support Command. who had been on the spoor of a group of ZANLA. 2. two were captured and one escaped. The K-Car attacked the group while Stop One was dropped on a riverline a kilometre west of the target. Support Commando was supplying troops for two Fire Forces. apparently without success. six stick grenades. The twelve RLI troops had fired 250 rounds of 7. Lieutenant Prinsloo recorded in his report that nine ZANLA were killed. three percussion grenades. six AK and one AKM assault rifles.m. Delta and Echo. The pilots of the Fire Forces had the additional burden of constantly being drawn away to support a programme of continual air and ground external attacks by the Rhodesian SAS and Selous Scouts. re-swept the area and shot and killed two more. Fire Force Delta (comprising a K-Car. Both stops swept eastward parallel to each other. Prinsloo noted that interrogation had revealed that the insurgents had not known that the Fire Force was in the area despite its earlier move to a position close by to await the call-out. The K-Car scored its fourth kill another hundred metres on and dispatched Stop One to clear the area. In April.62mm ball and had thrown a white phosphorous grenade.303- inch ball from its front guns. commanded by Major N. five RPG7 rockets and four RPG7 boosters and an 82mm mortar secondary were recovered. one forty-round AK magazine. three G-Cars and a Lynx) had been pre-positioned nearby but in the five minutes it took to reach the target. the ZANLA were fleeing south-east.A. deep in central Angola.m. Two days later.62 intermediate rounds. Stop Two was dropped about a kilometre south of Stop One on a track. Zambia and. One insurgent put up his hands and surrendered to the K-Car. Four SKS self-loading rifles.000 rounds of 7. the Grey Scouts.30 a. The K-Car had fired a hundred rounds of 20mm and the Lynx had expended two Frantan bombs and fired 120 rounds of . Henson. The Lynx pilot then spotted two ZANLA running west behind Stop One who turned about and searched west along the other side of the riverline. The Lynx put in two Frantan attacks onto these two insurgents. 1RLI. on a bright. The forces ranged against Muzorewa . The K-Car's 20mm cannon knocked down three insurgents in a gully a hundred metres away to the west and sent Stop Two to investigate. Support Commando was in the thick of the fighting as one of five Fire Forces. Support Commando’s other Fire Force. but Stop One killed an insurgent on arrival.took a terrible pounding from the onslaught of the Rhodesian security forces both internally in Rhodesia and externally in their host countries of Mozambique. Support Commando itself would raid Mozambique. Fire Force Delta had been brought in to reinforce a callsign of the mounted infantry regiment. acting as Fire Force Delta and commanded by Lieutenant V. twelve thirty-round AK magazines. On 22 February. contacted an unknown number of ZANLA at US 222435 in the Chiweshe Tribal Trust Land. fleeing in all directions. north of Salisbury and south-west of . Echo. very hot afternoon. Prinsloo. close to the South African and Mozambican borders. Stop Three was dropped in a small kraal 800 metres to the west of the target. at 10.D. In February 1979. A mini flare projector had been lost as well as three FN magazines. contacted twelve green-clad ZANLA cadres at UL 128518 [a grid reference ] in the mopani forest and thorn bush of Sengwe TTL in the extreme south of Rhodesia.45 p. The Fire Force flew over the southern area and a keen-eyed trooper in a G-Car spotted the insurgents some three kilometres from the contact area.

Stop Three was placed on a ridge in the south on the river. In his report. He had only a K- Car. and this time Stops Three-Seven came under intense fire from the summit. having only one troop-carrying helicopter.m. The plan went somewhat awry. On . which had masked the escapes. a Lynx and a Police Reserve Air Wing aircraft (PRAW). The result was the wounding of Trooper Cummings so Henson requested airstrikes by the Lynx with Frantan and a mini-Golf bomb. Stop Eight reported ZANLA ahead. Henson stressed the difficulties of operating in heavy rain. which ran directly north to the camp and beyond. Prinsloo’s Support Commando men of Fire Force Delta contacted seven ZANLA. Further airstrikes were put in and the sweep line found three ZANLA bodies on the northern flank of the hill. Stops One and Two moved directly west along the cut line to the river and then along its banks southwards towards the camp.15 a.30 a. in the difficult light of the early morning of 6 March. On the second central hill. Henson confessed that the idea of tackling 95 ZANLA with a K-Car and a G-Car was daunting because the lack of G-Cars had drastically limited his ability to move his troops. the target area was large (five kilometres by three) and covered in thick bush. The first and second camps (at SL 978892 and SL 971887) were to be bombed by a Canberra at first light. Stops Three-Seven killed an insurgent armed with a 60mm mortar on the hill in front of them and then resumed their sweep.m. An AKM assault rifle. Henson ordered a further sweep of the area. Henson was faced with many problems. ammunition and documents were recovered and handed to the Special Branch at Mount Darwin. Stops One and Two were dropped on a ‘cut line’ [a bush-cleared fire break] to the east of the third camp. No movement was seen from the aircraft when they arrived over the suspected area. Lieutenant V. comprising six RLI and ten Police Anti-Terrorist Unit sticks [64 men in all] with fuel about five minutes from the contact area. with a K-Car. Undaunted Fire Force Delta. Simultaneously. The size of the area of operations had also militated against a bigger kill. a G-Car and a Lynx. and the wounding of Trooper Cummings. Fire Force Delta was to attack the third (at TL 016872) while the fourth and fifth (at SL 955853 and SL 956841) were to be engaged by artillery. (1 Indep) had led the JOC to devise an all-arms programme to attack five ZANLA camps. had pre- positioned his second wave sticks. grenades. from the Special Branch that ninety-five insurgents were in the area but he was not given a precise location. decided to continue with its task. which had been pre-positioned nearby. a PPSH submachine-gun.A. The Canberra had communications problems and had to abort. He reinforced Stops Three-Five with Stops Six and Seven but ZANLA replied with mortar fire. Henson had responded to a confirmation received at 10.the white farming area of Centenary. the escape of fifteen. Prinsloo could see the sleeping places and the blankets but no movement. Stops Three-Five started sweeping northwards and contacted an insurgent across a small tributary of the Ruya. The Lynx and the K-Car attacked but an immediate sweep found nothing. Visibility from the air was poor and heavy rain swept in at ten-minute intervals throughout the day. Intelligence gathered by One Independent Company. Henson wrote. Henson had been forewarned and. a 60mm mortar. The artillery bogged down on the mud road and could not get into position. having recorded the killing of four ZANLA. Henson deployed Stops One-Seven in a curving line from south to north along the banks of the Ruya River. Those killed. three G-Cars. Rhodesia Regiment. had been more inept with their attempted escape than he had yet experienced. north of Beit Bridge in the south of Rhodesia. at TL 016872 in grassland with scattered trees and thorny undergrowth in the Mtetengwe Tribal Trust Land. When the K-Car flew over the camp. Henson moved Stops Eight-Eleven to the west and had them sweep north-eastwards. At 6.

When Stop One and Two failed to find one of the two men the K-Car had shot. in the Masoso Tribal Trust Land in the Zambezi Valley on the northern border with Mozambique.m. contacted 23 ZANLA and killed 21 of them.reaching the proximity of the camp area. two stick grenades. The OP bungled the talk-on and time was wasted. The K-Car flew over. During the sweep. if the first talk-on had been accurate. the Fire Force manned by Three Commando 1RLI and commanded by Major Frederick Watts. the same OP. The country was flat. it was concluded that he had escaped wounded. 7 March. At 4 p. The troops had lost a MAG belt. and that his 20 men (12 RLI and 8 riflemen from 1 Indep) had fired 500 rounds. the troops were sent on foot to check the other four camps. On 9 March 1979. Stop Two joined Stop One and swept the northern flank of the hill while Stop Three searched the kraal to the south of the hill. Three Three Bravo. The thorns were so thick that the troops spent much of their time on their hands and knees. five stick grenades.m. Four and Five then swept the swamp just to the north. An hour later. Major Henson’s Support Commando’s Fire Force Echo (a K-Car. in the Tangent operational area. a SKS. The K-Car had fired fifteen rounds of 20mm. an offensive grenade. In the aftermath. At 11 a. Stops One. on the next day. callsign Three Three Bravo. After searching the area. The sweep returned towards the camp and captured two females. The Fire Force returned to base.62mm ammunition were picked up. working up the main river towards Stop Three. finding them unoccupied. Then the K-Car spotted and killed an insurgent in the camp at QG 624855. Fire Force arrived and one insurgent broke cover as Stop One was put on the ground. Stops One and Two flushed two insurgents off the hill who fled north-east only to be killed by Stops One and Two. and had contacted eight insurgents at OG 624854 in the Godlwayo Tribal Trust Land. called Fire Force Delta back to a position five kilometres north-east of the contact area because it could see that three insurgents had regrouped on a hill. covered with thick Jesse . An AK. all stops were recovered. The bodies of a female and an insurgent were recovered. The K-Car opened fire and killed him. with one of the escapees being wounded. Prinsloo felt that. an orbiting G-Car noticed two insurgents about two kilometres north-west. Prinsloo and his Fire Force Delta were back in action. three AKs. Lieutenant Prinsloo recorded the score of four ZANLA and eight civilians killed. expended four white phosphorous grenades and a high explosive grenade. seven AK magazines and 500 rounds of 7. an armour piercing rifle grenade and 400 rounds of AK ammunition were recovered and handed to Special Branch at Gwanda. The captured females informed the security forces that the camp had held seven insurgents and eleven women. An insurgent killed himself by blowing his head off with a grenade. Seeing movement in the undergrowth. A SKS. all eight insurgents could have been killed. the troops fired and killed ten African women. Two. six more African women were killed in dense thorn bush. they shot and killed three ZANLA in the undergrowth. that day. They had responded to a sighting by the Selous Scout OP. Prinsloo had Stops Four and Five dropped in the east on a tributary of the main river to work down it towards the camp. The thorns were so thick that the bodies of the other three insurgents and the African women could not be recovered and were left behind. Prinsloo ordered Stops One and Two to be dropped to sweep the area of the camp. In the thick thorn bush. three G-Cars and a Lynx) contacted an unknown number of ZANLA at US 8085. shot both of them and diverted Stops One and Two to search this area while Stops Three and Four were dropped to the east to sweep the original camp. south of Bulawayo. Recording the score of five ZANLA killed and three escaped.

ammunition and documents were recovered and handed to Special Branch at Mount Darwin. The K-Car fired its 20mm at a point where an east-west track crossed the riverbed. Second Lieutenant Simon John Carpenter distinguished himself in a contact with insurgents while commanding a sweep line of ten men from Support Commando’s Fire Force Delta. with the result that his section killed all five. Para sticks were dropped to the west of the first hut and Eagle One and Two [para-sticks] were placed in . flowing north to south-west. a PPSH submachine-gun.thorn bush interspersed with patches of mealie lands and a northward flowing riverbed. The naked African stood his ground while the K-Car circled. Then he ran out of ammunition and began to run. getting airborne at 1 p. This took place in an area of open fields divided by thickly bushed riverlines. The K-Car only acquired a target when its aircrew spotted two insurgents fleetingly. On 12 March. and wasted twenty minutes while the aircraft milled about. The light had faded so ambushes were set up on the riverbed. They swept forward to the site of the airstrike where blood spoor and an AK were found. Then. contacted an unknown number of ZANLA at VQ 384518 in the Makoni Tribal Trust Land. before any action could be taken on the ground. The Lynx followed with Frantan. When five insurgents in a concealed position held up the sweep line. Carpenter was to account personally for two insurgents who were concealed in a well- sited defensive position. had been summoned from Mount Darwin. Because the target had seemed so important Fire Force Echo. An RPD light machine-gun. Once over the target. within the square kilometre. At Rusape. firing. Henson was particularly annoyed when the OP refused to fire his target marker into the Mvuradona Valley. was inaccurate and confused. grenades. The first in action was Stop Two who shot and killed an insurgent shortly after landing. Stop Three was put down on a third mealie land in the south. in April 1979. At 4 p. Henson had Stop One put down on the track where it skirted a mealie land to the west of the river. Stop Three. Stop One killed an insurgent on the eastern edge of their mealie land. A sweep at first light yielded no signs of further insurgents. The river divided the hills. The K-Car crew then spotted two insurgents in the riverbed just beyond at the confluence of a small tributary and fired at a further insurgent who was captured by Stop One. Fire Force Echo had been diverted from another call-out but the talk-on by OP. two AKs. the thick bush and the poor light for what he considered a poor score of three ZANLA and one wounded escaped. A month later.D.m. the second across the riverline directly east between two hills and the third also across the river but to the south-east at the foot of the south-eastern hill. in the Thrasher operational area. three G-Cars. east of Rusape. Major N. in the form of huts. Stop Two was put on the river to the north and Stop Three just south of the third hut. now under 20mm fire from the K-Car reached out for an AK47 and fired back. callsign One Two Charlie. Fire Force Echo was told at the briefing in the Selous Scouts’ Fort that there were three targets. The first hut was at the foot of the OP’s hill. however. Henson blamed the talk-on. running north-west to south-east. which completely dominated his own position. The OP was on the summit of the north-western hill overlooking the valley. the orbiting K-Car spotted an insurgent sitting in a zinc bath in a maize field just north-west of the second hut. working up the riverbed. Henson’s Fire Force Echo. Henson ordered the Dakota to drop his paratroopers. and a range of heavily wooded rocky hills.m. on 12 March. Henson had Stop One put down to the west of the first hut. The K-Car gunner knocked him down killing him. Attending the man were two African women who abandoned their role as bath attendants and fled. a Dakota and a Lynx. Stop Two was dropped on a mealie land close to the riverbed and just north of the sighting. Carpenter coolly outflanked the position. soon encountered an insurgent and killed him. comprising a K-Car. The bather.

Corporal Maclaughlin ran forward through the hostile barrage to assist Jefferies. Eagles Three and Four joined Stop Two and swept the southern hill from the east.the north. carried Jefferies to safety. The para sticks were dropped in the south. Stop One killed an insurgent at the confluence of the river. Sweeps the next day yielded nothing. Ambushing the area between the two ranges of hills. Stop One was positioned in the north where the two riverlines converged and Stop Two was placed in the east of one of the southern hills. no fire from the air could be brought to bear on the fleeing men and the stops could not be re-positioned. but found nothing. Eagle Four was brought in down the ravine in the south-east and began to sweep north-west. Success was attributed to Maclaughlin’s clever use of minor tactics. had killed two insurgents in the riverline before they reached the second range. Maclaughlin administered first aid and then. on 13 March. The G-Cars found some diesel being carried by a Police Anti-Terrorist Unit stick and refuelled with the help of watering cans. Called out to a sighting of ten-fifteen insurgents in a base camp the Fire Force Echo had been airborne from Mtoko at 3. Undeterred. The initial talk-on was poor and finally one kilometre to the east the K-Car spotted some insurgents and opened fire. Henson recorded the score as three ZANLA killed and one captured. Twenty-four hours later. When Maclaughlin led his men forward again. Maclaughlin’s sweep line came under fire from a third group of four insurgents.m. They killed a further insurgent on the western flank of the southern hill. Maclaughlin. The K-Car left to acquire fuel. Henson’s Fire Force Echo . which the Special Branch personnel of the Selous Scouts Fort at Rusape assured Henson had been pre-positioned nearby. the ZANLA kept up their fusillade. This to Henson was inexcusable. Henson knew the direction the insurgents were fleeing but was unable to cut them off because his aircraft were running out of fuel. saw 12 insurgents running in a ravine two kilometres to the south-west. contacting fifteen ZANLA at US 849839 in the Masoso Tribal Trust Land in the north-east. Stop One opened fire on locals coming in to remove three undiscovered but wounded insurgents. Eagles One and Two. at 4.m. led by Temporary Corporal Neil Kevin Maclaughlin.J. two G-Cars. Eagles One and Two swept north along the westerly river. The K-Car ordered a G-Car to casevac Jefferies. while the aircraft and the sweep line fired to distract the enemy. Stop Two. The three wounded .was back in action. killing two of the enemy. sparsely vegetated hills intersected by thickly bushed riverlines running north. shortly before last light. The fuel for the G-Cars did not arrive until 20 minutes before last light. just south of the Mozambique border. hidden in thick cover on the riverbank near a hut just to the east.15 p. bringing down Trooper M. Eagle Three and Four killed three insurgents in the easterly riverline as they reached it. All that Henson could do. among low. After Eagles Five and Six joined him. Thus. a Dakota and a Lynx . Two SKS and two AKs and miscellaneous documents were recovered. The K-Car killed an insurgent on the southern side of the second range of hills and killed another in the river ahead of the sweep line led by Eagle One. The K-Car had to return to Rusape to refuel. They then swept the second range. Jefferies. Action continued during the night. There they joined Eagles One and Two on their sweep northwards along the western river. either side of the confluence of the river and a tributary. moved down in the open ground of the riverbed to control the sweep effectively. Eagles Five and Six went north and then moved east along the northern flank of the next range of hills. ignoring his own vulnerability to enemy fire. they shot and killed an insurgent within the first few metres. a G-Car. They began a sweep down the river and killed two insurgents in the riverline near the confluence.40 p. was to have Stop Two and Eagle Four uplifted and placed in ambush. moving away to refuel.comprising a K- Car. The sweep line returned fire. delaying the advance. At that moment. One local was killed adding the existing tally of twelve ZANLA dead.

Maclaughlin was awarded the Bronze Cross of Rhodesia on 8 June. Eagle One. Support Commando’s Fire Force.m. there was a small village in the east and a line of kraals beyond that. further to the north on the Mozambican border. They moved back towards the main hill at the foot of which was the insurgent base camp behind a rocky outcrop. on 19 March. Seven SKSs and a nearly new AK were recovered along with webbing. Ignoring his wounds. At 9. The first majority rule election was approaching and it was known that ZANLA and ZIPRA would attempt to deter the blacks from voting by sending into Rhodesia a substantial number of their more experienced men to ensure that the tribesmen did not vote. if he had not had to stop the advance to casevac Jefferies. The OP continued to observe the area. magazines. there would be a mass mobilization of all territorials and army and police reservists. Support Commando. near Umtali. Before then. which were handed to the Special Branch at Rushinga. To the east of the tributary was a long hill running south-east to north-west. Henson concluded that.30 a. The discovery of ZANLA armed with FNs worried him because of the danger. a complete kill could have been achieved. In all seven insurgents were killed and three escaped. To its south was a large hill running east-west. one DP machine gun. enabling other troops to close with and eliminate the entire insurgent group. Rogers continued to exchange fire with the insurgents. The Selous Scouts OP was on a hill three and a half kilometres to the east. contacted ten insurgents at US 858688. . The paratroops were dropped with Eagle Two across the river. grenades. Prinsloo was complimented for a well- controlled action. He neutralised the insurgent position. one stationed at Grand Reef airfield. On the northern flank. Prinsloo had Stops One and Two placed in the west at the foot of the first hill. which their powerful rounds posed to his troops and aircraft. for example. two FN rifles and six AKs and documents were recovered and handed to the Special Branch at Mount Darwin. when Corporal Christopher William Rogers and his section were pinned down by accurate fire from four insurgents at close range. in the west. before sweeping back to the north. the Fire Forces went to work. commanded by Lieutenant Prinsloo. Support Commando seems to have been stood down for a rest but was back in action on 1 April. Eagle Three to the west on the southern flank of the hill and Eagle One just south of the river in the west.ZANLA escaped into the night. Rogers was awarded a Military Forces Commendation (Operational) for his deeds. again in the Masoso Tribal Trust Land. on the southern flank of which there were three clusters of huts. The insurgents succeeded in wounding Rogers and another RLI soldier. Measures were taken to counter them. moved south and immediately killed an insurgent. Half way to the hill. Later in April 1979. Consequently. He recommended the decorating of Corporal Maclaughlin. Shortly afterwards they killed another and then another further on. they killed three ZANLA. The bush of the area was thick and was dense at the river. Eagle Three continued along the hill and killed an insurgent in front of the small village of huts before moving north. Stops One and Two swept up the eastern stream of the tributary and then worked back down it towards the river where Eagle Two joined them. The exchange was extremely heavy at times but Rogers managed to kill two of the insurgents. Three SKSs. after being called out by a Selous Scouts OP to a sighting in an area that had a river flowing eastwards across its northern sector. and the other at Inyanga. ammunition and documents. They moved on to the base camp where they met Eagle Three who had come in from the west along the hill. Stops One and Two and Eagle Two moved north. A small sub-unit was detached to provide protection for some of the more vulnerable polling stations and the remainder of the Commando was divided into two Fire Forces. was deployed on Monday 2 April. A tributary joined it from the south-east.

One AKM and two SKS rifles were recovered. The ZANLA had been spotted by an OP. Again. which flowed eastwards to a river flowing along the foot of the eastern range. Henson and 36 Support Commando men (flying in a K-Car. a K-Car. Curley believed that he could see a weapon in the doorway of a hut but he was not sure that he was right.’ Four AKs and three SKSs were recovered and handed to the Special Branch at Inyati. the K-Car fired eighteen 20mm rounds and the Lynx dropped three Frantans. contacted an unknown number of insurgents at VR 168038 on the Wensleydale Estate.30 a. that day. The size and importance of the target led Henson to call in an initial strike by a Canberra bomber. north-west of Inyanga Village. placing Stop One in the south on the western flank of a long range running northwards. Henson noted that the ZANLA had adopted the tactic of running. two in the bush.By 1 p. At 3 p. This was precisely on target and the Fire Force’s K-Car. contact was made with the insurgents and would continue for eight hours in terrain which Henson described as ‘unreal’. Most were killed in the main river valley. The Inyangombe River flowing north. manned by Peter Curley of the Selous Scouts. Henson summed up: ‘An excellent action by an extremely well trained and steely-eyed commando.m. Henson praised his troops for their good soldiering. The troops managed to lose two MAG belts. one on the hill and one over the hill by the river. manned by Sergeant 'Jenks' Jenkinson. on 4 April. Just before then. At 10. The para sticks were dropped to form a sweep line to search three riverlines. 56 Support Commando men led by Major Henson were called to a sighting by a Selous Scouts' OP. a Lynx and a Dakota) were in action in what would be a four and a half hour long contact with an unknown number of ZANLA. Stop Three was placed in the middle and Stop Two in the north. which ran east-west.m. saying ‘the troopies were complete stars’. two insurgents had been captured. Henson put his stops down. which were cut into by thickly bushed riverlines. Success came again that day for Henson. Between the river and the ridge was heavy bush. Henson’s Fire Force (36 men. who was hidden in the heavy bush. contacted ten ZANLA at VR 058055 on the Rathcline Estate. The K-Car killed three insurgents while the troops killed four. The southern end of the sweep encountered thirteen insurgents and killed them before discovering their camp on the side of a spur. at VR 923043. a Lynx and a Dakota) at 9. Thus. three G-Cars. three G-Cars.m. his Fire Force (still 36 men and a K-Car. The contact lasted one hour on a thickly bushed rocky ridge. but at the cost of the life of Lance Corporal M.30 a. crowned by a series of summits and stretching four kilometres in one direction and two in the other. In support of the troops. 2 April. again on the Rathcline Estate. To the north of the ridge. was a river flowing in the same direction. on the next day. of approximately 50 ZANLA in a base camp at VR 345051. Overbeek. Henson strung out his troops in a sweep line from the river to south of the ridge.m. a Lynx and a Dakota). This contact lasted one and a half hours in thick bush in front of a hill. The K-Car killed an insurgent. and the sweep line killed another nearby. curved round to the east behind the hill. He was confronted by a square shaped mountain. Lynx and Dakota. 3 G-Cars. just north-east of the Inyanga Downs and close to the Gairezi River on the eastern border with Mozambique. which ran south-west to north-east. Success continued the next morning. 3 G-Cars. north of Headlands. After being called to a sighting by an OP. Henson knew that Fire Force would not have been summoned without the Selous Scout being confident that there were ZANLA present. hiding and then throwing grenades. two sleeping bags and two pangas and sheaths. The area comprised hills.. The OP had not had a clear sighting. arrived exactly on time. 3 April. an OP had summoned them. a white-owned farm. .

15 a. . Henson and 28 of his men. For example. at VR 175003 in the extreme south of the Weya Tribal Trust Land. just north of the white farming area of Headlands. which were believed to hold up to 250 ZANLA. When the blades came to rest. Ten AKMs. That day. Support and Three Commandos and a detachment from the Rhodesian African Rifles were sent into Mozambique to attack a complex of five staging camps. At 10. were killed and one wounded escaped. Calling the terrain the most difficult he had ever experienced. outside Salisbury. grenades and ammunition were picked up and handed to the Special Branch at Inyanga. a Fire Force from One Commando. The afternoon light was going when the K-Car lifted off for base. In the next eleven days. Binion had been a stick leader for two years and had been involved in numerous successful actions. 1RLI. On the way back to base. A G-Car brought the blades to the stranded K-Car where Mantovani. One insurgent escaped and six were killed with Binion accounting for four of them on a low ridge just north-east of a high rounded hill. Helicopter blades have to be calibrated and this the technician had been unable to do in the field. Mantovani radioed for new blades. 7 Squadron at New Sarum. on 7 April. Rifles. Binion received a minor shrapnel wound from an exploding RPG rocket. Other forces were scoring similar successes. while the remainder of his stick put down covering fire. Rhodesia mobilised its territorials and reservists to protect the election. it was clear they were so badly damaged by ground fire from ZANLA that flying was out of the question. Ignoring his wound. Watts. On 11 April. Binion closed with and killed this man.On the summit of the northern hill. his men and the aircraft of his Fire Force would eliminate 106 ZANLA. The K-Car killed an insurgent at the southern base of the easternmost summit. on the next morning. when Henson’s Support Commando men contacted seven insurgents. led by Temporary Corporal Peter Malcolm Binion. The consequent level of vibrations from the unbalanced blades worried Mantovani enough for him to keep landing after short intervals. supported by a K-Car. landed it. Two more insurgents were killed near the stream that flowed to the south-east across the feature. Then. The K-Car killed the fifth insurgent on the ridge and the sixth at its western end. a stick. Henson had high praise for his troops. one on the west of its southern flank. Later the sweep killed two ZANLA on the western end of that hill. The request was relayed to No. New blades were promptly placed aboard a Dakota and flown to Grand Reef. Corporal Binion immediately returned the fire. In all twelve insurgents. Overbeek was killed instantly. until 16 April. approached a clump of rocks and was surprised by point blank rifle fire from two ZANLA insurgents hidden there.m. fired at short range by a third insurgent. Luigi Mantovani. on 5 April. Support Commando returned to Grand Reef where it was reinforced by its Inyanga detachment. Shortly afterwards. dressed in the green uniforms of Mozambique’s FPLM. commanded by Major Frederick Watts. Corporal Binion again scored at 3 p. A further insurgent was killed close by. two on the eastern flank of the second northern hill. 12 April. the technician and Henson replaced the damaged blades. They would be stood down on 24 April. He recommended the decoration of Corporal Binion who would be awarded the Bronze Cross of Rhodesia. dressed in green FPLM uniforms and kit. Binion dashed forward in full view of the ZANLA to a position from where he was able to kill the two insurgents. the K-Car began to vibrate and the pilot. contacted two groups of insurgents totalling 27 men and killed 21 of them. two SKSs and an RPG7 were recovered. The operation was aborted when the helicopters and Dakotas were circling the camps because ZANLA had already left.m.

the terrain was favourable and was divided by converging riverlines.m. supported by a K-Car. The K-Car then killed the insurgent responsible as he fled . Henson. responded to a sighting by a Selous Scouts OP of ten ZANLA in a village at VQ 004089. This result was a contact with thirteen insurgents. On the saddle was the OP. Corporal Binion. The Selous Scouts OP callsign One Three Golf indicated the target with smoke and a number people were seen to run from the kraal.three G-Cars.F. Henson put his helicopter-borne troops down on the eastern flank and dropped his para sticks to the north. The K-Car killed one insurgent in the north-west. The final score was fifteen insurgents. a K-Car. grenades and ammunition were picked up and were handed to the Special Branch at Inyanga. machine guns. two G-Cars. flowing west to east towards the Sabi River. The contact lasted four hours. starting at 10 a. commanded by Lieutenant Prinsloo. Four days later. Henson and 27 of his men. For once. A stream flowed down from the saddle between the peaks.. in the Sabi Tribal Trust Land east of Buhera. north-east of Inyanga. on the central river and at the confluence of the rivers. at VQ 030056 in the south of the Chiduku Tribal Trust Land. killed and one captured. two G-Cars. The sweep line killed insurgents at a house by the stream and in the houses either side of the road. The sighting had been on the northern flank of a mountain. He formed a sweep line on the eastern end of the northern flank. After killing the majority of the insurgents. again made contact with the enemy. grenades. Support Commando’s Fire Force Bravo. Just north of the confluence. In all nine green and blue clad insurgents were killed and two escaped. made contact with an unknown number of ZANLA at UP 673648. At 12 noon on 17 April (the day that the four days of voting by all inhabitants over the age of 18 began). Henson recorded that the contact had taken place in a very difficult area ‘(virtually FIBUA [Fighting In Built Up Areas])’. Stop Two was dropped astride the river in the west and killed an insurgent after advancing a few metres and Eagle One was placed on the most southerly tributary above the confluence and killed an insurgent again after a few metres. On 19 April. Stop Two was placed in the south on the river. a Lynx and a Dakota. it encountered fifteen ZANLA in FPLM [Mozambican Army] uniforms. a Lynx and 29 of his men were summoned to a sighting by an OP of an unknown number of ZANLA at VR 586237 in the Zimbiti Tribal Trust Land. grenades and ammunition were picked up and were handed to the Special Branch at Inyazura. Henson was particularly pleased by the performance of his troops during the six hours of the operation. Henson concluded that the contact was ‘Like eating green mealies’. a Dakota. Moore was killed at a pair of houses across the river in the south-east. west of Umtali. after a sighting by an OP. all dressed in FPLM kit. which was crowned by twin peaks. Poole was shot through the chest. The paras were then dropped in the west and a sweep line went up the river in a northerly direction and swept east through the kraals. which also flowed east-west. parallel to a river.C. close to the last contact in the Chiduku. An insurgent was captured near the northern tributary. The K-Car killed insurgents on the road just short of a stream.m. This time it was with seven ZANLA. Rifles. on 16 April. Eagle Four was approaching yet another kraal cautiously when Trooper R. Trooper M. The K-Car fired on them and stops were dropped. When the Fire Force was overhead. A G-Car killed insurgents in a village in the south-west. and lasting four hours in a series of kraal complexes along a river. When the sweep reached the stream at 2 p. magazines and ammunition were picked up and handed to the Special Branch at Dorowa. rubber hedges and thousands of mango trees stretching along an east-west road. the sweep line killed the remainder of the insurgents. a Lynx and a Dakota. killing ten of them while five made their escape. the MAG gunner. ran to help but Trooper Poole was mortally wounded and died a little while later. the K-Car threw out a smoke marker. Rifles. Ten rifles. The contact lasted four and a half hours among three and a half kilometres of kraal lines with brick buildings. which flowed south to the river.

27% of the votes and securing 51 seats of the 80 seats in the new Legislative Assembly of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. The final tally was ten ZANLA killed. 50 kilometres over the southern border into Gaza Province of Mozambique. the Commando was flown to Buffalo Range to be briefed by intelligence officers on the importance of the staging post. The result of the elections was announced on 24 April. In the evening. On 29 April. 'ineffectual'. two Canberras. the Rhodesian security forces kept up the pressure. which had been monitored by security forces but had hitherto been deliberately left alone. Support Commando. Support Commando was expected to encounter at least two members of the ZANLA hierarchy. The poll had been over 60 per cent and ZANLA and ZIPRA were stunned by the tribesmen’s’ defiance of their orders not to vote.from the hut. Sergeant Frank Terrell. came in with the escort of two K-Cars and two Lynxes. and three Dakotas (including a Command Dakota equipped with radios and secure teleprinters to control the operation from the air). according to officials. containing a resident section of 22 ZANLA. To harass ZANLA on its own ground. Some left their weapons in the kraals and ran. A feature of the contact was that the insurgents were wearing civilian clothes over their denims and tried to conceal their weapons under their clothes. Called ‘Operation Oppress’. three K-Cars. Each rifleman took ten 20-round magazines and 100 loose rounds in addition to numerous grenades. Combined Operations Headquarters proposed to send Support Commando on Sunday. As an influx of ZANLA into Rhodesia was expected. seven G-Cars. it became clear that the survival of Support Commando’s men had depended on the mines functioning. extra machine-gun belts for the gunners and spare 40mm RPG-7 rockets. The operation was being used to test an experimental landmine of which a stop group would lay a number in the approach road to delay a reaction by Mozambique’s FPLM. Four AKs were handed to the Special Branch and the latter removed four more from burning buildings. A military spokesman said on 21 April that during the elections 230 guerrillas had been killed for the loss of 12 regular soldiers and security force auxiliaries. the intention was to attack a logistics and transit base at Chicualacuala called Petulia. There had been a total of 13 attacks on polling stations. two Lynxes. two AB205A Cheetahs. Intercepted radio messages indicated that fresh ZANLA were being brought in. The base comprised three camps. flying in the eight G-Cars and two AB205A Cheetahs. reinforced by the return of the Mortar Troop. High-ranking officers were not to be killed but captured if possible. The mission was to destroy the base and kill or capture any ZANLA present. it was deemed an appropriate moment to bomb and attack the base. To recover their morale the members were sent on four days of leave in Salisbury. who would be dressed in camouflage uniforms with hammer and sickle insignia on the collars. recalls the sound of continuous explosions of burning ammunition. two captured and one escaped. the methodical . The RhAF was to supply two Hunters. was issued extra light machine-guns and RPG-7 rocket launchers and drew as much ammunition and grenades as the men could carry. most of them at night and all. Eastern Bloc military advisers were also believed to be in the area and in the vicinity. As ZANLA and ZIPRA went to ground and their leaders left the country for orders. At Grand Reef on 28 April. The 50 men of Support Commando. the Hunters attacked the target with Golf bombs and were followed by the Canberras. In the event. a former British marine commando serving in Support Commando. dropping 300 Mk II Alpha bombs each. landing on the fringes of the camps in the brown fog of dust and smoke of the airstrikes. The death of three members of the Mortar Troop of Support Commando reduced it to 13 men. Prinsloo commented that there were obvious dangers in approaching insurgents who were holed up in kraals. 29 April. Combined Operations wanted at very least one ZANLA guerrilla for interrogation. The operation was to comprise an airstrike followed by a ground attack by Support Commando. with Muzorewa’s UANC winning 67.

The Sunday Mail reported that worn-out. The huge haul of rifles and equipment were collected but no further ZANLA were encountered. It was clear. letters and photographs of uniformed ZANLA in the company of East German or Soviet military instructors. a large number of ZANLA had vacated the camp on the previous night. The day was drawing to a close. it killed or captured 21 ZANLA from a large group which had recently crossed from Mozambique and which included several high-ranking officials. Soviet Army helmets. was shattered by the defection of the tribesmen to Muzorewa and by the devastating onslaught by the Fire Forces since February. ending the . abandoned and destroyed anti-aircraft guns. Uniforms. under the command of Major Nigel Henson. Although Support Commando had not secured a prisoner. Operation Oppress was pronounced a success because 28 ZANLA had been killed without any RLI casualties. By 20 May. During the airlift. and the remaining light was needed to airlift the attacking force out. A follow-up on the border on 16 May resulted in a running. These guns were dismantled. The RLI troops began their advance and first encountered a ZANLA kitchen littered with dead. but the British Conservatives went back on their promises to him. Support Commando. that the ZANLA had fled before the attack. weapon pits and tents. Margaret Thatcher’s Government persuaded Muzorewa to accept the settlement negotiated at Lancaster House which brought Robert Mugabe to power.reply of an anti-aircraft gun to the Hunters’ repeated attacks. together with its supporting aircraft. They encountered and shot dazed ZANLA while carefully avoiding unexploded red-painted round Alpha bombs. On 14 May. The camp was littered with equipment. web-equipment. The data collected and collated by Rhodesian military intelligence confirmed that ZANLA’s morale. what Muzorewa needed was international recognition. Eventually a Hunter silenced it. which was brought to a halt by striking the landmines laid by the stop group. Once the area was secure the Cheetahs flew in to be loaded with AK and SKS rifles. messages. Not wishing to defy the British Commonwealth. In a seven-week period in April/May 1979. in particular. and had seized large amounts of heavy weapons. Combatant). The search yielded six empty pistol holsters and a leather briefcase. FPLM sent in a counter-attacking force in a convoy of trucks. To exploit this. packs. A follow up was instituted and Terrell believes that the troops were closing on their quarry . carrying Lieutenant Colonel Brian Robinson and Group Captain [later Air Vice Marshal] Hugh Slatter called off the pursuit. from the dropped weapons. 'Their morale is shattered. dispirited insurgents were surrendering. accounted for 165 insurgents in Fire Force operations and on Operation Oppress. while the RLI troopers cleared the trenches and bunkers. the United Nations and the Non- Aligned Movement. which contained papers bearing names and weapon numbers.5mm and a 12.' remarked a senior police officer who added that hundreds more were longing to give up but feared execution by the fanatical cadres 'trained in communist Ethiopia by Cubans'. but Support Commando was to eliminate many of the escapees within days.but ran out of time. aggression and other qualities as a leader earned him a recommendation for the award of the Officer of the Order of the Legion of Merit (Military Division. Two of the dead were wearing Ethiopian camouflage uniforms with hammer-and-sickle insignia on the collar. Major Henson then had the troops search the surrounding bush. grenades and three 14.six high-ranking ZANLA officers .7mm machine-guns. The camp was burning so fiercely that the troops could not at first penetrate its lines of bunkers. As had happened so often before in the Rhodesian war. day-long fight with the survivors of the group. 1RLI. 28 April. The Command Dakota. propaganda leaflets and enormous quantities of tinned food were burned. Henson’s skill.

1996 . Wood. to which the helicopter had contributed so much.T. Dr J.grim toll of war.com Reference in bibliographies as "Fire Force: Helicopter Warfare in Rhodesia: 1962-1980". ©1996 Dr JRT Wood. www.asp. For more information please contact richard@jrtwood.jrtwood.R.com/article_fireforce.