GF Group Bravo

GF Group Bravo: Op Thrasher, Umtali

                                                                                                                       
Guard Force Headlands Farm Protection Area HQ Bravo1 :  l-r: Gd Pearson, Gd Dzema, Corporal Wifred Matema, Sgt George Parker, BSAP PO Dave Morris, October 1978
                                             

  

 

 

Farm Protection duties Headlands, GF Bravo Op Hurricane Sept/Oct 1978

KC George Parker remembers:

 

I had been based at the Headlands BSAP station on my 3rd GF call-up, and my first involvement in Farm Protection. This was Group Bravo whose local area HQ was at Rusape.

European Farming Area Contact

Towards the end of that camp at Headlands, perhaps late mid-October 1978 I had been taking the opportunity of over-staying at farms at the request of the farmers. Never more than a couple of hours travel from the BSAP base. I was never a great supporter of this as any GF reaction must be based at the central point to have any degree of effectiveness in trying to provide ‘assistance’ to the whole area in which he operates.

On one such occasion I was visiting a farm in the very late afternoon, probably 20 kms to the West of Headlands. For some reason we had quite a large contingent of GF personnel at that farm, (by large contingent I am thinking perhaps 8/9 Guards). In hindsight I can only think that perhaps they were a roving base in the area where we deployed to farms in the local vicinity from that farm.

During the visit the farmer (who was a senior member of the local PATU unit) requested that I join his stick with a number of my men to support them in an operation the following day. I agreed to provide 5 Guards and myself to supplement his force of around 4/5 PATU members (all local farmers).

There had been reports (and some minor events) in the vicinity of a group of terrs who were responsible over the previous months of attacking outlying farms. The BSAP Ground coverage unit had some local information that the terr group would be passing through the African quarters of the farm in question during the very early morning of the following day.

I seem to remember that the farm was on the farming road between Headlands and Macheke, but really it could have been anywhere to the NW of Headlands.

Anyway we were prepared to leave at first light and had the assistance or two BSAP trackers.

At first light we assembled on foot on the dirt road adjoin the farm. We had taken up a formation behind the PATU stick in single file slightly off the main drag. The two trackers were well ahead of us and were leading us in a generally northerly direction. This went on for perhaps 5 kilometres. At one point they veered off into the bush without any immediate reference to a track although these guys seemed to know what they were doing. The pace was strong but around 8 or 9 am we took a break and rested up for about 15 minutes. The trackers did not seem to be aware how much behind we were from the terrs but I am guessing it could have been no more than 30 minutes. I got the feeling that whilst we needed to contact them the trackers and PATU were of the opinion that we would prefer to allow them to be outside of the European Farming Area before contact was initiated. I recall that the trackers were certain that there was at least a group of 10. Theyt were definitely heading in an easterly direction almost parallel to the Mutare road but I guess 10 kms north of it.

We continued for another 2 hours or so and we seemed to be climbing continuously in the foothills.

Both sticks had a radio with them (A73’s?) and were armed with small-arms only (FNs for PATU, and G3’s for the Guard Force stick). We did not carry BRENS/MAGs and I don’t think we carried any grenades although one of my group may have had a rifle grenade. After a couple of brief stops we were advised that the group was pretty close by and the consensus was that they may base-up at the top of the hills before they made the descent into the open country or disappeared into the Weya TTL further north. However at this stage they seemed to be intent on travelling East.

We were continually climbing and the ground was getting a little steep but not so bad that you couldn’t comfortably walk.

We were nearing the top of the plateau and the bush was getting a bit denser, we were on high alert now.

We were around 10 persons on a fairly broad extended line. The PATU member to my right raised his rifle but never fired......he must have seen something. Seconds later he raised it again and fired two taps. All around me the ‘extended line’ dropped to the ground and we were taking some fire from about 40 metres but on an upward slope. I let off a few rounds as I could see something ‘bobbing’ directly in front of me.....I had no idea what it was. I fired some more rounds in the general direction and my GF guys to the left were firing but in a controlled manner. During that space of time....it could have been no more than 4/5 minutes I had let off 13 rounds, I remember this because the section leader screamed at all of us to change mags as there was a lull in the firefight and he wanted to advance up the slope.  I did so and took off with the rest of them at as much pace as the terrain would allow. I ran straight through a thorn bush about 4 feet high, and not known at the immediate time was covered in small thorns on my face and it was bleeding profusely. We overran the positions and we immediately noted 2 dead bodies with the rest running away at a high speed over the other side of the hill. I again let off a couple of rounds along with my colleagues but it was hopeless these guys were gone. No one in our side was injured in anyway....save for my bleeding face. The 2 dead gooks were retrieved and we dragged them back down the hill to a waiting Land rover. Both had numerous head/upper body wounds.

We recovered quite a bit of supplies that the gooks had abandoned. There were no armaments as such as apart from the 2 AKs recovered from the ‘kills’ the escaping terrorists took their weapons with.

We found much tinned food, books, maps (not local so pretty useless), spare clothing and batteries. Each item was from Sweden, I can’t recall any armaments or rounds from there but it was pretty clear where there support was coming from.

After we collected the gear together we called in for Transport back to BSAP Headlands. I guess the PATU commander called in the incident to JOC but I don’t recall me actually reporting the incident to GF base at Rusape.

It was a gruelling but certainly successful day and whilst I can’t say I ‘enjoyed’ it, I’d never had missed it. Yes it was a good day......it was also the day of my 25th birthday.

I left Headlands in early November  and never returned, little was I to know at the time but my next posting was closer to home and a much altogether different Guard Force duty. Of that......later

 

George Parker (March 2015)

 

 

 

v

Farm Protection duties Headlands, GF Bravo Op Hurricane October 1978

Sgt George Parker remembers:

 

I had been based at the Headlands BSAP station on my 3rd GF call-up, and my first involvement in Farm Protection. This was Group Bravo whose area HQ was at Rusape

Landmine: Inyati Road

Around late October 78, (I think it was a Sunday morning) I was asleep in my quarters when an extremely loud explosion woke me up, it was probably just before 6am. I quickly got dressed and reported to the Charge Office (we were based at the British South Africa Police station to hear if there were any reports on the radio network. It soon came through that the explosion had been heard on the road to Inyati mine. (This I believe was a chromium mine situated about 30 kms from Headlands on a dirt road to the north).

I teamed up with a European PC (van Wyk?) and drove out on the Kudu in the direction of the mine. Over the radio we got the message that the Police Reserve road check Land Rover with a European and 2 African Police Reservists had not returned from their morning patrol. We continued towards the mine, the sun was well up at this stage and it was going to be a very hot day.

Approximately 20 kms up after leaving the main drag we recognised a large hole in the main road on the downward slope towards the river and a low level bridge. The Reservists vehicle was lying upside down in the river to the west side of the concrete bridge. There was at this time no other attendees at the scene.  The Constable and I were very careful not to go straight to the area in case of ambush etc. It was quite apparent however that there were no CTs in the vicinity.  However we could also see no sign of the vehicles occupants. We checked as far as possible that they were not in the vehicle. The river was very shallow.

Whilst searching the opposite banks we could see a large gap in the bush/tree line about halfway up the bank and about 4 feet in width. We quickly checked that immediate area and found an African Police Reservist lying at the base of a tree. The gap in the trees was where he had ‘flown’ when the rear wheel of the vehicle had detonated the mine, he was literally thrown through the tree line and the Land Rover flipped into the river. There was no sign of the other occupants. The policeman was barely alive. Both his legs below the knees were completely severed and his boots were still attached to his legs as the laces were tied high up on his calves. He had lost a tremendous amount of blood and was near death. Whilst I stayed with him my colleague retrieved morphine from our vehicle. We tried to locate a vein in his arm but it seemed all veins had collapsed. Nevertheless we found one and attempted to put a needle into the ‘vein’ to administer pain killers and perhaps get a drip into him. This was unsuccessful and it was during this exercise that the man passed away. One thing stuck in my mind during this time. The man was crying softly... possibly through fear I do not know, I also recognised that my colleague was holding the policeman’s hand.  The policeman never became conscious but I like to think that he recognised that friends were trying to help him. This whole episode from detecting him until he died probably took no more than 15 minutes.

Shortly afterwards other BSAP guys retrieved the body of the other policeman. The driver had walked back to the mine without injury. The names of these two policemen who were volunteer reservists from the mine are named below:

Field Reservist Zuzeyo Bitirinyu and Field Reservist Waison Magirazi

Both these men had attested into BSAP some 10/12 years previously. With these deaths it further brought home to me that the Rhodesian War could never be seen purely as a black/white conflict, when African men volunteered on the side of the Government and paid the ultimate price.

 

George Parker (February 2015)

 
Above supplied by Eddie Mendes ex GF 11 1978 these taken after 1st call-up into Group Bravo

 

2 pictures above supplied by KC Eddie Mendes after 1st camp  in Op Thrasher 1978


KC  EDDIE   MENDES  remembers  his  time  when  serving  at  the  Farm Protection  AREA  HQ  Bravo 3 , part  of  OP THRASHER and  responsible  for  the  area  MELSETTER,  CASHEL  and  CHIPINGA  under  Jnr Comdt  G.M.Reves .

“ I remember doing the PAYRUN  in our area of responsibility during the weeks before Christmas. During the pay-run you had to pay in cash the monthly pay / salary to all the guards deployed on the many farms in the area. The money and pay-documents were transported in the standard military trucks. After returning [ hopefully ] from the pay-run you had to balance the payroll with the cash you had received before you left. A nail-biting exercise because you may have found out that you made a mistake and the money you returned was short. You had to follow up the pay-queries of your soldiers and give feedback to them. But that was only the administrative side of a pay-run.

From the operational side there was the permanent threat of being ambushed or blown up by a landmine. You were travelling mostly in one of the mine protected vehicles [ very seldom you had the luxury of an additional escort vehicle ] with a few guards as protection and the trunk full of money. Roads leading to the farms were mostly small dirt roads and many were known as ambush alleys. Sometimes thick vegetation on both sides and very difficult to navigate in the mountainous areas of the Eastern Highlands, specific during the rainy season.

On this specific pay-run , which was a two weeks deployment, it rained most of the time and the dirt roads became difficult to use. Christmas Eve I spent under the truck which got stuck. The rain was coming down in buckets and we got stuck going uphill just before we reached the farm. As the sun came up the next morning we saw that we were about 150 metres from the farm-fence. We managed to get the truck to the farm.

The farmer was killed some time back and his courageous wife was running the farm. We had a hot bath and an excellent meal . It was a Christmas I always will remember and made my call-up a very special one.

Another time we were on the way with supplies and mail from Cashel to Chipinga. At about 15:30 hrs we were driving close to the turn-off to the Birchenough Bridge. We were driving one of the mineprotected trucks and I decided to close all the side hatches and only leaving the driver side open. Shortly thereafter we got ambushed but we had no casualties with the exception of one of the guards and myself. We were injured by shrapnel. We went to the Chipinga Hospital and got patched up.  I used the opportunity to visit another KC who was ambushed the week before and was admitted to the hospital. From Chipinga we went back to our Base at Melsetter. The shrapnel in my shoulder blade was only removed in later years in South Africa.

Remarks :  KC Eddie Mendes was of Portuguese ancestry and served with the Portuguese Army in Mocambique. He came in 1975 to Rhodesia and worked for CMED at Workington / Salisbury and also for TARMACADAM in road construction. With Tarmacadam he was working in the OP Hurricane areas of Bindura, Kandeya TTL, Rusambo, MaryMount etc., constructing roads in areas infested with CTs and experiencing the necessity of having his FN- Rifle always close by. He joined Guard Force in 1978 and did his training from January to March 1978 at Chikurubi together with George Parker in Intake GF11. His experiences when serving with the Portuguese Army in Mocambique became very useful not only for him but also for his comrades- in-arms during training and later during his operational deployments. After the war he settled in South Africa, served in the SAPS  as a Reservist for 18 years at the Jeppe / Jhbg. Police Station and achieved the rank of Warrant Officer. Not much is known about his activities in other parts of Africa.  He left in August 2014 South Africa and returned to Portugal his ancestral Home .  A bewildering experience after so many years in Africa.

Comments by  KC  George Parker  :  If only the CTs knew how much money we were carrying in this tin trucks – lucky it was not worse.

I also did a couple of pay runs when I was stationed at Kezi  [ up to the Matopos ] which formed part of the Farm Protection Area HQ  Delta 3 situated in OP TANGENT. Great pay run deployments. I had my trusted NCO riding shotgun with a 42 ZULU Rifle Grenade on the barrel of his rifle and ready to fire.

The worst thing was when there was a forfeiture or deduction of pay for some of the guards. It was easy for the payclerks at GFHQ but never pleasant for us when we faced the guards full of disappointment and even hate in their eyes , refusing to accept that there were legitimate reasons for these deductions and with their G-3 rifles close by. In retrospect I can say that sometimes we must have been crazy. But that was service in Guard Force.

The best part of my service in Guard Force was my deployment in Farm Protection. I always felt that we were doing a worthwhile job . The  farmers and their families were always pleased when we arrived and extended their generous hospitality to us.

Comments  by  Snr Comdt  Horst  Schobesberger :  PAY RUNS, belittled by the “real” soldiers as an Admin function. The Admin function was when you paid physically your soldiers in their bases, PVs or on farms. The rest of the operational deployment, because that’s what it was, falls under the heading VEHICLE MOVEMENT IN THE OPERATONAL  AREA  and if you have been trained in COIN then you will know that it entails quite a number of operational activites and dangers. E.G. Vehicle Ambushes and Landmines.

Let me share with you my first pay run in Guard Force. I was 2 weeks in the country and 8 days with Guard Force, based at GP 5 Mrewa. My OC was Cmdt Guenter Maeser, an Austrian like myself.  Guenter Maeser decided after my first week in Guard Force that I was ready to be sent on a pay run. I was given one hour  practical introduction in how to drive a KUDU, the vehicle I had to drive on the pay run. I was given the then Sgt George Chinsen as payclerk, three guards as escorts and a trunk with 56.000 Rh$. My task was to pay all the Guard Force soldiers in all the PVs of GP 5 Mrewa . African soldiers and their names difficult to pronounce for me, the Rhodesian money, my very basic driving skills in driving a mineprotected vehicle and my little English I spoke, made me in hindsight not the ideal candidate for such a task. And this was only the Admin part of it. The operational side was actually worse. The PVs in GP 5 area were situated in CT infested and sometimes dominated areas like Maramba TTL, Uzumba TTL and Pfungwe TTL and others. My ignorance, naivite and poor knowledge of the difficulties and dangers ahead made me very confident of completing the task ahead .

It was my first journey into the real Africa and I enjoyed it. Today I am still surprised that I never was ambushed or blown up by a Landmine during the  two weeks of pay run. I saw everything just as an enjoyable challenge . In Austria we say that each person has an “ Schutzengel “ [ angel who protects you in times of danger ] But maybe it was just luck.

My other task given to me was to start to understand how the PV system was working  which was probably the most interesting part of it. I enjoyed the way how pay parades were conducted in a very formal way [ Pay checked and found correct, Sir ] with a lot of feet stamping , smart turning and saluting. George Chinsen was not very much impressed with my driving skills after I managed to got  stuck with the Kudu on a low-level bridge overflowing with water. The thoughts of our African soldiers watching me without any sign of concern – one can only guess. Balancing the money after my return showed that I had a 50 cent surplus , not bad for a beginner. The following week it was decide that my introduction into  Africa, Rhodesia and the Guard Force was good enough and I was posted as 2iC to GP 9 Mount Darwin . But this was Guard Force , a different pair of boots altogether.   [ compiled in July 2015 ].

 Above contribution by Horst Schobesberger


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