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1 Battalion Guard Force

Guard at HQ Rutenga
Above are a selection of pictures from Horst Schobesberger of 1 Batt.


The Battalion Flag displays “ 1st  Battalion “ .

No official documents confirming the establishment of 1 BN or any other official data referring to the unit are available at this stage. All information’s are based on the memories of former Guard Force soldiers who have served with the unit and documents of a personal nature [ e.g. promotions ]. This chapter on 1 BN, which is part of the Guard Force Website, will be corrected and updated whenever new information’s will become available.

1 BN was formally established  in May 1979 with its Headquarters in Mtoko. It was formed with the manpower and equipment from the following former Protected Villages Groups :

·       Group 5  Mrewa    became  A COY.

·       Group 6  Mtoko      became  B COY and C COY.

·       Group 7  Mudzi       became  D COY.

The opening of Protected Villages in the area and the availability of additional manpower enabled military authorities to use Guard Force in a more COIN Infantry orientated role. Training and operational deployment for this new role started already in 1978 with selected soldiers from the Protected Villages Groups. Officers like Joe Flanagan, Guenter Maeser and John Radford, to name only a few, were instrumental in leading this effort.

All four companies of 1 BN operated from May 1979 to August/September 1979 in an areabound  COIN Infantry role in their former operational Group Areas of responsibility.

Their previous role to deny the insurgents the Ground of Tactical Importance       [  the African tribal areas and African rural population ] in the static and prote ctive role of the Protected Villages system, was now replaced by an offensive approach in applying mobile COIN Infantry tactics against the insurgents.

Operational Control fell under the SUB- JOC MTOKO.

The enjoyment of being involved in an offensive and mobile Infantry role was short lived.  Another important task was waiting for the unit.

1 BN was allocated the mission to protect the line of rail between SOMABULA and BEITBRIDGE.  

The country’s strategic dependency on supplies from South Africa made all lines of supply between Rhodesia and South Africa an important target for insurgents. Rhodesia could not afford to have their vital life lines interrupted, damaged or blocked. The functioning of the country depended on it. Military supply and material support from South Africa was just one aspect to maintain the country’s war effort. The line of rail between South Africa and Rhodesia became a “ Vital Asset Ground “ and had to be protected at all costs.

The deployment of the four companies of 1 BN to the line of rail took place during August / September 1979. The BN HQ was established at Rutenga.         1 BN came under operational control of 9 RR. A TAC HQ of 9 RR was also stationed at Rutenga. Daily co-ordinating meetings  were held  with officials from the National Rhodesian Railways. Coy Commanders were part of the local JOC structures in their respective areas. Overall command and control was exercised by HQ 4 BDE at Fort Victoria. Two more Guard Force companies , which were already deployed in the southern part of the line of rail, were added to the structure of 1 BN. The final operational deployment was as follows :

·       A – COY  SOMABULA


·       C -  COY  INGEZI

·       D -  COY  SARAHURU

·       E -  COY  BUBYE

·       F -  COY  BEITBRIDGE

·       BN HQ     RUTENGA

      The total strength of 1 BN was about 1200 [ + ]  soldiers.

Men from C Coy, 1 Batt. 'Line of Rail' Ingezi, Rhodesia 1979

The Mission to protect the line of rail against attacks and sabotage by insurgents, included the following specific tasks :

·       Protection of the line itself [ tracks ] and to secure the adjoining area up to 500 meters on both sides.

·       Protection of the rolling stock [ trains, carriages ].

·       Protection of railway installations and facilities .

·       Protection of bridges.

Co-operation and co-ordination between Guard Force soldiers and personnel of the NRR was of utmost importance. The successful completion of this important mission depended largely on a wellplanned and timely deployment of soldiers synchronized with the movement of trains.

Operational success on the line of rail was not measured by the number of insurgents killed, but by the number of trains reaching their destination without being derailed, blocked or damaged.

1 BN completed this task successfully until the stand down of Guard Force in June 1980.


Additional  information’s,  comments  and  other  contributions to the  history  of  1 BN.  [ Photos, documentation, comments, personal stories and experiences by former soldiers of the unit ] :

To explain the type of threat and insurgent activities in protecting the line of rail we were facing, I quote some extracts from the book by Ed  Bird ; Special  Branch  War  – Slaughter  in  the  Rhodesian  Bush – Southern  Matabeleland  1976 – 1980,  published  2013  Amanzimtoti  South  Africa. The incidents described are based on the records of the Beitbridge Special Branch Incident Log and cover the time before and after 1 BN Guard Force was deployed along the line. It covers only the line of rail between Rutenga and Beitbridge.

“ During the night of the 21/22 November 1978, terrorists made determined attempts to sabotage the Beitbridge – Rutenga railway line near the Bubye River. At Swanscoe Siding, twelve charges of TNT were laid over a three-hundred- metre-length  of railway line. Only one failed to detonate with the remainder cutting the line. The biggest break measured over thirty centimetres. Two railway telephone poles were also rigged with charges and although both were detonated, the charges failed to drop the poles.

As Lesanth Siding on Les Mitchells’s Lesanth Ranch fifteen charges were set over a distance of fourhundred meters. All charges fired, the line was cut in fifteen places and three railway telephone poles were dropped by explosive charges placed a metre off the ground.

At Basalt Siding six charges were set over a one-hundred- meter lenhth of railway line. Five of the charges cut the line when fired, with the sixth failing to detonate. Recovered from the scene was a PMN anti-personnel mine complete with detonator.

During the check of the Lesanth Siding further sabotage incidents happened when  a boobytrap device was detonated, resulting in serious injury to four railway security staff. At Lesanth Siding, a landmine planted by the saboteurs was detonated by a large ox. Close to the siding three Electricity Supply Commission poles were destroyed by explosives, as well as a water drilling rig.

The Rhodesia Railways repair teams had the line open within hours.

On the night of 23 December 1978, four large explosions were heard by the Bubye River Bridge guard in the direction of Le Mitchell’s Lesanth ranch. At the same time Mitchell also reported the explosions and confirmed he was not under attack. An air force Lynx aircraft was deployed to the approximate position of the explosions and dropped several flares but the cause could not be explained. At first light, elements of the security forces were deployed and located the site on the Rutenga – Beitbridge railway line. Terrorists had attempted to sabotage the line by detonating sixteen small explosive charges, resulting in two minor breaks to the line. Two nearby high-tension electricity poles were also sabotaged., A boobytrap comprising a stick grenade and an 82 mm mortar bomb was also found and dismantled at the scene.Spoor of ten terrorists was followed into the Diti TTL where it was lost through high winds and rocky terrain.

Again, during the afternoon of 17 February 1979, a northbound train detonated an explosive device on the railwayline in the area of Swanscoe Siding. The locomotive was slightly damaged and was recovered to Rutenga for repairs. Approximately forty centimeters of track was cut by the explosion.

On 21 February 1979, the driver of a northbound train from Beitbridge to Rutenga observed explosions on the line shortly before arriving at Swanscoe Siding, which was followed by an ambush on the train by an unknown number of terrorists. The train continued, with the engine slightly damaged ,to Rutenga. Army engineers and railway security conducted the follow-up and recovered the remains of a terrorist who had been killed, in error, by his comrades.

On the 1 March 1979, terrorists placed an explosive device on the Rutenga railway line in the vicinity of Swanscoe Siding. An early morning inspection trolley detonated the device, causing it to derail. There were no known injuries and the railway security team was deployed.

On 10 May 1979, two diesel locomotives and several carriages were derailed near Lesanth Siding after detonating an explosive device placed on the line.Three railway employees were slightly injured. Elements of Army engineers reacted and located several anti-personnel mines scattered at the scene. Obviously, the terrorists were hoping that the AP mines would be activated by security force personnel walking around at night, had they buried them, they themselves would have been at risk when further sabotage attacks were carried out.

Rail Bridge in 1 Batt operational area

On the 30 May 1979, a Rhodesia Railways train detonated an explosive device on the Beitbridge – Rutenga line, approximately twenty kilometres from Beitbridge. The two locomotives and ten waggons were derailed, with the tracks extensively damaged.

The above mentioned incidents occurred before Guard Force was deployed for the protection of the whole  line of rail between Somabula / Gwelo and Beitbridge. Only incidents which occurred on the line between Beitbridge and Rutenga are covered in this log. One can assume that the security threat against the rest of the line was of similar proportions. They are also a clear indication that there was an urgent need to have a force deployed with the sole responsibility of protecting this vital asset.

Guard Force became this Force.

Incidents still occurred even after the deployment of elements of Guard Force along the Rutenga – Beitbridge stretch of line. These elements operated first independently under the command of Comdt Joe Flanagan and formed later E-Coy and F-Coy of 1 BN.

The book also describes them as follows :

 During the night of 22 June 1979, a southbound train detonated an explosive device on the line in the Mtetengwe TTL. The two diesel locomotives and ten waggons derailed. One hundred and fifty meters of tracks were destroyed.”

On 1 August 1979, elements of Guard Force patrolling the railway line in the Mtetengwe TTL observed a group of terrorists digging under the tracks. The Guard Force then opened fire with rifles and a 60 mm mortar and the saboteurs fled. The patrol was unable to locate spoor because of the rocky terrain.

On 10 August 1979, a northbound train detonated an explosive on the line in the Mtetengwe TTL. Both diesel locomotives and twelve waggons were derailed. There were no casualties. Later that night, a railway trolley reacting to the derailment struck a large boulder placed on the tracks in the area of Chapfuche Siding and derailed. The trolley was quickly placed back on the rails and continued to the site of the train derailment. Fortunately, no railway men were injured. The damaged one-hundred and fifty meters of track were soon replaced with the line fully operational by first light. Engineers who attended the scene determined that an electrically-detonated metallic mine boosted with ammonium nitrate fertilizer had been used.

During the early hours of 20 October 1979, three explosions were heard from the railway line in the Mtetengwe TTL. At first light, elements of Guard Force, army engineers and railway security reacted. The line had been blown in three separate places. The engineers assessed the explosives as being TNT but were unable to determine the mechanism used to detonate the device.

On 26 October 1979, a southbound Beitbridge train detonated some sort of explosive device on the line in the Mtetengwe TTL. The train and waggons were unaffected by the detonation and no damage could be found to the tracks, so the line was declared safe four hours later.

On 18 November 1979, a Rhodesian Railways security trolley detonated an explosive device on the railway line in the vicinity of Lesanth Siding. The trolley derailed without injuring any of the occupants.”

The modus operandi of the deployed companies was as follows :

·       Patrols along the railway line to detect explosive devices planted on the tracks or damage to the tracks , communication wire or other railway installations.

·       OPs were the terrain was suitable for it in order to detect any enemy movement or activities along certain stretches of the line.

·       Protection of bridges. There were bunkers on each side of the bridge. Night-ambushes and local patrols supplemented these tasks. Important bridges [ E.g. Ingezi ] had a second set of bridge-building material placed on one side of the bridge in case the bridge would be blown-up or damaged.

·       Night-Ambushes in places suitable for enemy activities and where incidents took place before.

·       Escort duties for Armoured Trolley’s [ E.g. Kudu on rail ] . These Armoured Trolley’s were running about 4 minutes ahead of all trains. Their function was to detonate any  explosive device planted on the tracks . Engineers worked out that for the enemy to plant an explosive device it needed about  5 minutes  To replace a blown-up trolley was relative cheap in comparison to a locomotive, which were in short supply in the country. The explosive devices consisted of a bag of ammonium nitrate fertilizer boosted with two slabs of 250 gramm TNT and were electrically detonated. The drivers of these trolleys were special trained NRR security personnel and GF provided the escorts. A nerve wrecking task.

·       Providing soldiers to man the “ Nanny Wagons “. These socalled  Nanny Wagons were special protected [ sandbags ] railway coaches which had firing slits for a number of machine-guns on each side of the coach. These wagons formed part of the protection measures of goods trains and were used in an anti-ambush role. The origin of the name goes back to the time when coloured RDR soldiers were manning them [ that’s all I want to say in this regard ].

·       Manning  K-Wagons . K-Wagons were open platform wagons with a 20 mm machine cannon mounted on it. They formed part of the protection of goods trains and were used in an anti-ambush role.

·       Reaction Forces. Each company had a small reaction force in platoon strength on stand-by to react to incidents  and provided base protection.

·       Every night 12 north-bound full goods trains moved up from Beitbridge to Gwelo and during day time 12 south-bound goods trains moved down south. These 12 north-bound goods trains provided the life line for the country. Special trains, transporting ammunition or other war materiel required special  measures. There was a fixed airwing plane overhead and all companies were instructed to place maximum manpower on the ground. Reporting lines were used as control measures.  Satisfaction and relief showed in the faces of Guard Force officers at the OPS –room at Rutenga  after receiving the report that all special trains crossed the reporting lines without incidents , successfully sustaining the war effort of the country.

Companies consisted of 4 platoons.The tour of duty for all soldiers, irrespective of rank, was 6 weeks deployment followed by 2 weeks of R+R.  Within this system it was still possible for each company  to deploy 3 platoons.

A special online publication “ Contact Contact ! “ dated October 2012 and published by the New Zealand based Rhodesian  Services  Association Incorporated  published an article written by  Boet  du  Plessis  , who served with  the Rhodesian  Railways Security Branch. It highlights the role he and other Rhodesian Railway personnel played in sustaining the country’s war effort. 1 BN Guard Force  was  part  of  this  effort  . The following lines are an extract of this article :

“ On our arrival, I noticed that the ballast between four railway sleepers had been disturbed and I also noticed two wires protruding from the ballast with one wire attached to the railway line with beewax and the other wire on the inside of the track. This meant, when the train’s wheels flange touched the second wire, the electrical circuit would be complete and the mine would explode.

It was now midday  and extremely hot, with the temperature in the mid fourties and the railwayline was burning through our clothing where we lay on it. While we were lying there I informed the Engineer firstly to remove any wire touching metal and then to bind it up so that it could not make a circuit. The bare wire, which was protruding from the ballast and folded towards the inside of the track was the first one that we taped up. Then we removed the second wire which was attached by beewax and taped it too. We started to remove the ballast, piece by piece, following the electrical wires.

We removed all the ballast until we came to the mine, successfully removing the detonator. We traced the cable through to the next section, where we found explosives with detonators which we removed and then followed the cable further to a nine Volt Kariba battery. We continued with this process to the next area where, between two sleepers, we found half a bag of ammonia fertilizer with diesel and explosives. As we removed the detonators we cut the electrical cords and taped them. We were concerned that an AP mine might have been placed under the fertilizer bag, so we used a grappling hook with a long line and gently pulled it up an away from where it had been lying. Having removed all the explosive devices from the scene and quickly scraped the ballast back with our bare hands. With our trophies back in our armoured trolley, we set off back to Rutenga.

As for the armoured trolley drivers, many were elderly men, faced enormous dangers. Can you imagine, travelling every night, up and down the same route, with nowhere to hide, on the rail tracks with lights on at night [ cannon fodder ] just waiting to be taken out, challenging the insurgents to shoot at you in the open areas. You felt naked, and every minute of the hour you waited for a RPG-7 rocket to hit the side of the trolley. You sacrified yourself and crew just to ensure safe passage for the trains carrying valuable fuel and goods inland.

Until today these brave men have not even thanked or mentioned in dispatches. There were no individual heroes. They were all heroes. It was through their bravery that the Rhodesian Armed Forces and Government could continue to operate successfully and ensure their success., “

Can  you  imagine, travelling  every  night   ………………….. These words written by Boet  du  Plessis,  one of the silent warriors of the Rhodesian Railways, are also  valid  for  our  Guard Force  soldiers  who  most nights  provided  escorts  for  these  armoured  trolleys. Success on the line of rail was only achieved through maximum co-operation and co-ordination between  Rhodesian Railways and Guard Force. But it influenced  the way how a different type of COIN operations were enforced upon us, away from creative flexible Infantry COIN operations to  strict controlled protection task oriented COIN operations. Even during our deployments within the Protected Villages system did we have more freedom of action in the way we operated. It  made strict enforced Command and Control the most important aspect of a  commanders function.  Not all Company and Platoon Commanders, deployed along the line of rail , could handle this. It showed that an very important  operational task on the strategic level may be seen as  frustrating to achieve on the tactical level.

Just a small technical remark : I remember that for a few weeks the insurgents used the wrong fertilizer. The TNT slabs detonated but not the fertilizer. The result was that only the ballast was blown out but the tracks remained intact. Explosive devices were not always planted by special trained insurgents, leading to failed attempts by mujibas. There was also a story going around [ probably true ] that signal wires along the line were cut by little boys who were told by insurgents that if they cut the wire they could use it for the wellknown wire-toys.

In an article written by Paul Napier, on the website of the New  Rhodesian  Forum  and accessed on the 28 MAR 2014, I found the following lines :

“ A former Signals Technician and qualified trolley driver explained. If you found a mine you would stop and advise railway control by radio. They would know where you were by looking at their Centralised Traffic Control [ CTC ] panel. If you were ambushed, you drove through it and then advised the control either by radio or by the nearest track side phone. The phones were linked directly to the control and all you did was pick it up and say HELLO CONTROL. It came over a speaker in the control room. Traffic Control would then notify the the Security Forces or BSAP via land line telephone. Each  major  bridge  had  a  military  Guard  Force  section  stationed on  the  end  of  it.  You  could  also  notify  them  and  they  would  inform  higher  command . If you struck a mine the line would be blown apart so the signals in the section [ rail area ] would all turn red automatically. In this case it was reported by radio as soon as possible to inform them of the damage and casualties etc. Also the control knew approx. how long it would take you to go through a section and if it took longer and they heard nothing via radio communications they would automatically put the Standing Operational Procedures [ SOP ] for a mine strike / derailment into operations. “

F-Coy in Beitbridge had also some farm-protection tasks included in their role and function. At one stage there was a joint operation involving Guard Force soldiers from E- Coy / Bubye River  and  F-Coy / Beitbridge and Security Force Auxilliaries in the Thsiturapasi area. Being tired from seeing only railway tracks, I joined Comdt Bill Hart from E-Coy and the Coy Cmdr from F-Coy [ name ? ] on this operation in the bush. The aim of the operation was to search the bush for povo camps, free rural Africans and recover stolen cattle. We recovered a few hundred heads of cattle and brought back a number of civilians living in the most appalling circumstances with insurgents in the bush. Co-operation with the SFA Auxilliaries was good . I still keep a cow bell, which I looted from one of these beasts as a souvenir at my home.

Having all six companies deployed  along the line of rail made command and control somehow easier. But it made it absolute necessary to visit them on an ongoing basis. Some more often than others.  The railway service road along the line became for me a well known feature of these journeys . Wrecks of vehicles, blown up by landmines and craters in the road, caused by landmine explosions, were a constant reminder of the threat .                                                                

A high turn-over in the leadergroup created problems with continuity. Some companies were less affected but others gave me quite some headache. One of the problem areas was the nature of our operational task. Officers and NCOs , who preferred a more aggressive Infantry role, became  frustrated with protection / defensive tasks whereby daily operational routine was dictated by the timetable of train movements. This affected quite a few foreigners. Some left and others joined the SFAs. Other good Officers were needed at other units and transferred. Fortunately there was a stock of reliable good Officers and NCOs who formed the backbone of the battalion and kept the unit going . The task of Company Commanders on the line of rail was to deploy their soldiers in order to prevent insurgents from attacking trains or destroying tracks and installations within a clear defined and restricted area, based on the movement of trains. This restricted to a certain degree the initiative of these Officers who would have favoured a more flexible COIN approach. Positions of OPs were known to insurgents and they came  sometimes under  attack. To check for explosive devices or damages to the rail tracks required patrols to expose themselves in the open. The confinement of operational activities to a very small strip along the line was part of this problem and  led to a lot of frustrations. It was also one of the reasons why other elements of the Security Forces were very rectulant  to take over such tasks but Vital Assets had to be protected and the line of rail was such an asset.

I believe that Guard Force HQ failed in its Public relation effort. The Media was full of the stories of the “ Glory Boy’s “  but Guard Force was the Cinderella of this effort and we never seriously tried to make the public to understand the importance of our role and function.

In Rutenga we had established a small Detention Centre where illdisciplined soldiers served up to 40 days  “ Field Punishment “ . Drill, physical exercises and other discipline enforcing activities formed part of the programme which was strict controlled to avoid excess punishment administered by Regimental Police.

A tragic incident was the suicide of Sgt Fox at E-Coy /  Bubye River . It led to serious friction between officers of 9 RR and ourselves [ Guard Force ] at the HQ at Rutenga. An investigation by the Deputy Commander Guard Force,  Air Commodore Pringle, who came to Rutenga,  cleared the air . He commended us highly  for the good job we were doing and brushed  baseless  accusation aside. I believe that the war was going on for too long for many of the born and bred Rhodesian RR Officers and without a political victory in sight they became frustrated and overreacted. I can also understand that to work with Guard Force was a different pair of boots for elements of the Rhodesian Security Forces whose military tradition , thinking and military upbringing goes back to World War One. Let us just remember : Guard Force was created because other elements of the Security Forces did not want to have their “ offensive spirit “ negatively influenced by protection tasks. There were other structures similar to us. Guard Force increased within a short period of four years from zero to more than seven thousand mostly African soldiers. Training was relative short, equipment lacking and a not very homogenous  leadergroup made Command and Control extreme difficult. Did the leadergroup of units of the Rhodesian Army try to understand our situation ? Very seldom ! [ exceptions confirm the rule ]. We did best when we operated on our own , only answerable to the JOC in the area.

Did we complete our mission allocated to us. The answer is YES and that’s all what counts. Am I proud to have been in command of 1 BN Guard Force deployed in the field. The answer is YES and I expect that all Guard Force soldiers who served under my command will confirm what I have stated.

I attended also the monthly Commander’s Conferences at GFHQ in Salisbury. It was attended by all Commanders of deployed units, HQs and the relevant Staff Officers of GFHQ in Salisbury and the supporting units / structures of the GFRD in Chikurubi. It was chaired by the Commander Guard Force and was a good opportunity to share ideas with other senior officers and find out the latest information’s about the ongoing war. Listening to the reports of the commanders iro operational activities in their respective areas and the modus operandi of the enemy gave me a better understanding of my own tasks, responsibilities and challenges. These reports were a clear indication of the important role Guard Force was playing within the war effort of the country. Our motto “ KWESE – KWESE “, meaning  EVERYWHERE “ were not just empty words but showed our multifacet operational deployments.

In the mean time the families of our soldiers settled well in their new environment  in the railway compounds along the line. At Christmas 1979 we spoiled the families and specific the children with food  small presents and sweets.

Towards the end of the war we  finally replaced  the BREN Machine guns with the 7,62 lMG MAG and intensive training under Jnr Comdt Claud Mbasera started on these weapon.  Guard Force was the first element of the Security Forces officially issued with chest-webbings. Formal retraining was hampered by our operational commitments and only in companies where the Company Commander were committed and interested in, did it take off. We had still not reached the cohesion, central control and uniform approach to operations,  training and regimental duties as in the well established Regiments like RAR. To achieve this, one needs a leadergroup with the same military background and outlook to soldiering. We still struggled in this regard.

The content of our Compo ration packs was taylormade for african soldiers  and a first in this regard within the Security Forces.

During October 1979,  TASK FORCE Y [ Yankee ], consisting of South African Paratroopers dressed in Rhodesian Camouflage operated in a FireForce role out of Rutenga. Interaction between our African soldiers and the rank and file of the  white paratroopers was good. Coming during evening hours into our base to enjoy “  Rhodesian Black Label “ assisted in this regard. Bartering for southafrican items not available in our country was big business.These South African soldiers were still full of drive and energy and one did not always read in the daily  SITREP  “ spoor lost due terrain “ . Insurgents were taken by surprise. Another South African TASK FORCE X [ X-ray ] was operating in the nearby Sengwe TTL.

East of D-Coy’s area, one of the newly formed companies of 3 BN Guard Force was operating for a while in an Infantry role. I served together with their Company Commander, Comdt DM Campbell, during 1978 at GP 9 Mt Darwin. He was an aggressive commander and his F-Coy [ ? ] was quite successful.  Having some SB guy’s attached for tactical questioning helped of course a lot.

Above pictures supplied by Mike Howlett

The most difficult part of this paper is to recall the ranks, names and posts of my Officers. So let me try to remember them. Asst Comdt Taffy Lewis, the Personnel Officer, was replaced by Asst Comdt Charles Hosking who came from INTAF. He was an extreme thorough and serious officer, an important criteria for an Personnel Officer . Comdt Major, the Company Commander of C-Company, was replaced by Asst Comdt Bill Grieve. Bill Grieve came from the “ out of the book “ approach to operational deployments of Comdt R H Atkinson and developed a technical interest in explosive devices. Demonstrating the blowing up of a rail track got us nearly killed when one of the pieces of rail track landed  “ very “ close to our position. Asst Comdt Gordon Fogarty , the Company Commander of B- Company  and easy going  Australian ,[ and I say this in a positive way ], left and was replaced by  Asst Comdt Alison Jubane, an Officer with a solid RAR background. Jnr Comdt Jean Pierre Dubus [ Dubois ? ] from Belgium, and from the same Company also left. Comdt RH Atkinson and Asst Comdt Malcolm Robertson from A- Company were transferred to other important posts. Transfers like this happened always on short notice and were very seldom discussed with me first. There was Asst Comdt Andy Odorico, an officer of Italian ancestry, who was for a while in charge of A- Company . He had RAR background  and was also an excellent  paramedic. He saved once the life of one of our soldiers through his medical skills. Comdt Mike Howlett, Company Commander of D-Company, who stood in for me as acting CO during my absence. He was extreme reliable, young in years but very mature and with a lot of operational experience. Officers like him formed the backbone of the Battalion.  Comdt Bill Hart from California, the Company Commander of E- Company left and was replaced by an Officer with IDF background. His first name was Abby but I cannot remember his surname. There was the Company Commander from F-Company whose Afrikaaner name I forgot. Mark Duff from A-Company also strongly influenced by Comdt Atkinson and like Atkinson with an instructor background. Jnr Comdt Adion Ngwenya  and Jnr Comdt Cloud Mbasera the other African Officers with RAR background. I feel somehow ashamed not to remember the names of the other mainly young Officers and NCOs who served under my command . I recall their faces but not their names. I hope that the website will contribute to fill these gaps.

The ceasefire started on the 28 December 1979. With the ceasefire came the Commonwealth Monitoring Force. One group landed at the Rutenga Air Strip flown in by C-130 Hercules aircrafts with a big white cross painted on each side. We had no direct contacts with them.  Uncertainty reigned. Our operations continued because a lot of insurgents were still outside the Assembly Points “mobilizing the masses “ to vote for ZANU-PF.                                                                                The line of rail had still to be secured, more than ever, because it was one of the most important lines of communication between our country and South Africa and had to be kept open under all circumstances. Nobody was sure if the ceasefire would hold or chaos would break out before, during or after the election. The line of rail  and the bridge across the Limpopo at Beitbridge remained therefore still a Vital Asset Ground . Our task was the line of rail and we understood fully its importance.                                                                                                                We had to supply teams of soldiers who were trained as communicators to use programmed flip charts to explain to  rural Africans the difference between Christianity…and Communism…..and therefore to vote for Muzorewa in the elections planned for the 27 to 29 February 1980. What a nonsense when all what the people wanted to hear was that the war will stop.[ My personal opinion]                                                                                         At one stage I had to attend a meeting of senior members of the Security Forces at New Sarum / Salisbury. We were  addressed by Lt Gen Peter Walls, who had just returned from the Lancaster House talks , and other senior members of the Security Forces. Lt Gen Walls explained us the reasons for negotiations. One of them I still can remember was the “ Chicken Run “ by Europeans. But we were also assured that the British would never allow  Mugabe to take over the country. Assumptions on the outcome of the elections, spelled out during the meeting,  were totally wrong as we found out two months later.

Then came the elections. [ 27 to 29 March 1980 ]. Long queues of cheerful African people eager to vote, wherever polling stations were established. British  Policemen , flown in a couple of days before, standing guard next to the polling stations. Our soldiers deployed to ensure free and fair elections without intimidation. That’s when  Guard Force soldiers of 1 BN had the last contact with ZANLA Forces. We captured a few Chinese stick grenades, Ammu boxes and a  beach towel decorated with the old Rhodesian Flag. The incident was reported to the Election Observers and recorded by them. The election results were announced on the 4 March 1980. During the afternoon of the 3 March 1980 I was standing on the road next to Bubye River and saw a huge convoy of South African soldiers on the way down south.  The soldiers cheered and wished us all the best for the future. There it became clear to me that we had lost the election and therefore also the war .The South African soldiers knew already. Driving back to Rutenga, there was a doom-laden atmosphere. The official announcement by 09:00 hours the next morning was just a confirmation what we  already expected . But somehow one was still hoping for a different outcome. The reality of having lost the war doomed on all of us. The most critical aspect was now  the morale and attitude of our soldiers.

After discussing it with RSM Kwira we decided to give our soldiers a positive outlook on the new situation, which affected African soldiers more than European soldiers. We assembled all our soldiers present at HQ, addressed them and marched through the Rutenga Township. We did not know what to expect, but we also did not want to show a negative attitude towards the new political situation. Singing our old Guard Force  songs we marched in a disciplined way into the township. What a surprise – the African people came out from their houses, cheered us on and accompanied us all the way. There was no hostility towards us and everybody was just happy. For our soldiers that was very important. Later we gave their community leaders a few 50 kg sacks of Mealie meal, which was much appreciated. On the 18 April – Independence Day – Guard Force soldiers provided the Guard of Honour at Nuanetsi. So one can say that we stole the show on this day in Nuanetsi. The new Zimbabwe flag raised on this day was given to me by the District Commissioner as a remembering. Three years later,  while serving in the new Zimbabwe National Army,  I was arrested by CIO for sending my Rhodesian War rememberings, documents and other items to my parents in Europe. Part of the content was this new Zimbabwe flag together with the old Rhodesian and Muzorewa flags. They did not bother about the old flags, but did not accept my explanation about the new Zimbabwe flag. It contributed to my troubles then. But that’s another story altogether.

After it became clear that Guard Force would not be integrated into the new Zimbabwe National Army [ ZNA ], Guard Force HQ issued orders and instructions for our stand-down. Individual soldiers could apply for being integrated into the ZNA, as I did. The first Guard Force soldier who was accepted into the new ZNA was our chef from 1 BN HQ . He started his new post at 4 BDE HQ in Fort Victoria already before the stand down of Guard Force. It was organized by Brigadier Vic Walker, the Commander of 4 BDE , who visited us during the last weeks in Rutenga and was impressed by the chef’s cooking .                                                                                                                                     Guard Force stood down between 11 May and 25 June. My immediate task was to address the soldiers in their company bases. It was a difficult task for me. What could be my message to them. RSM Kwira helped me a lot in this regard. Discipline and morale of our soldiers during these difficult times was holding firm. We organized a lot of sport and each company went also to Great Zimbabwe for a guided tour.  A big last Guard Forcer parade was held at Chikurubi / Salisbury with elements from all units and HQs. It was combined with a sports day [ soccer matches ]. From then onwards 1 BN’s companies, based along the line of rail, marched off into an uncertain future.

Towards the end of our existence, Comdt Sam Patridge, was posted to the Battalion as my Second-in Command [ 2iC ] . His task was to finalize all outstanding Boards of Inquiry. A difficult task finding all the witnesses and collecting all facts in order to come to a correct finding of events which happened long time ago.

Some of the officers went across the border to find out about their chances to join the SADF. Most of the time was spent with Admin and Log and moving all our equipment, weapons and stores back to Chikurubi. It was quite a serious task because every item had to be accounted for. The last elements of 1 BN to be disbanded were D-Coy and 1 BN HQ elements. We dissolved the Regimental Funds and divided the amount in equal shares and exchanged it for vouchers in clothing stores for our soldiers. Myself and Asst Comdt Georg Chin-Sen got into trouble for this when we cleared out at GF HQ. A final party for the last 1 BN soldiers with plenty of beer, meat, a band and girls.  All rations , compo packs and foodstuff was equally divided and given to our soldiers .That’s all what we could do for or loyal soldiers. Unfortunately not much. I remember also sitting in front of my bungalow with other Officers and listening to the last programm of “ Forces Request “ , reminiscences of the past  and a very sentimental issue for all of us.

The last elements of 1 BN Guard Force stood down during the middle of June 1980.

There is one more event I will always remember when I think about my service with 1 BN Guard Force  :  Giving my final address to the soldiers of D-Coy  , with whom I had served in GP 7 Mudzi  before the establishment of the 1 BN, I recalled places and operational activities during those difficult days. I would call out by saying -  Do you remember………………., and the soldiers would respond by saying – We remember. When I was finished with my address one of the soldiers stepped forward and called out – Do you remember Mudzi River – and I tried to respond but my voice failed and I nearly cried . [ P.S. In September 1978 I was running into an serious ambush when crossing the Mudzi River near the Mocambique border and most of the soldiers with me were injured. ]

This is my personal story of 1 BN Guard Force , how I experienced , remembered and recorded it 35 years later. Have I forgotten important event ? Very likely ! Have I mixed up events, persons or dates ? Maybe ! Therefore it is extreme important that other members of 1 BN come forward and tell me their story. What did former members experience on Company, Platoon , Section and individual  level. What have outsiders to remark about 1 BN ? It would be interesting to hear. I have no problems if you challenge my approach to certain issues or rectify my mistakes. In the end we will have a better product.

All in all, it was a learning experience for all of us. It  helped me to understand, manage and overcome problems and challenges I faced later on in the Zimbabwe National Army, the Ciskei Defence Force and the new South African Army.




Marching GF soldiers at  1 BN HQ Mtoko 1979

Asst Comdt George Chinsen, QM 1 BN , and responsible for Catering is bringing in fresh slaughtered cow for the kitchen. 1 BN HQ Mtoko 1979.

Asst Comdt George Chinsen, QM 1 BN , and responsible for Catering is bringing in fresh slaughtered cow for the kitchen. 1 BN HQ Mtoko 1979.
Having tea with Cmdt. Major at C COY 1 BN Mtoko 1979

S/Sgt. Bruce Ralston and RSM Kwira 1 BN, Mtoko 1979

The  dilemma  Guard Force  soldiers  faced  when deployed on operations.

An incident on the 6th July 1979 brought home the dilemma Guard Force soldiers of 1 BN faced when deployed on operations.  The war, we call the Rhodesian War, met all the criteria of a civil war. If we call it Terrorist War or Liberation Struggle, the effect is the same. It affects the civilian population more than the soldiers. The European farmer blown up by a landmine or killed in an ambush or during an attack on his homestead, the rural African peasant killed in crossfire or as a curfew breaker by Security Forces or murdered as a collaborator by insurgents, are just some of the numerous civilian victims of this Civil War. This is the story of the incident:

On the morning of the 6th July 1979 a convoy with soldiers from 1 BN travelling from Mudzi to Mtoko saw a body of a dead person lying in the middle of the Main road in the vicinity of the turn-off to the All Souls Mission.  His hands were tied and a note pinned to his body stated that he was a traitor who had served with Guard Force. The young Guard Force Officer in charge of the convoy deployed his soldiers in an all round defence. Clearance patrols swept the area and other soldiers set up two vehicle check points on both ends of the business centre to stop and search vehicles. Groups of Mujibhas were seen moving around in the area close by which was an indication that insurgents were not far away. The same Mujibhas were probably responsible for the murder of the person found dead on the road. The situation became tense when the soldiers got engaged in two fleeting contacts [ firefights ] with mujibhas and insurgents.

 In the meantime a truck approaching from direction Mtoko was stopped at the vehicle checkpoint and searched by the soldiers. During the search another car, a LandRover ambulance, whose ambulance markings were not visible due to the roll bars, approached from the same direction and was signalled to stop. It stopped, but shortly thereafter started to drive off again and turned down the All Souls road without any indication. The Guard Force Officer in charge, stated “that the first indication that the vehicle had moved off without authority was when I heard the soldiers shouting STOP – STOP. I ran to assess the situation and saw that the vehicle was accelerating away. I then ordered the soldiers closest to the vehicle to open fire. The soldiers did not open fire before receiving my orders to do so. Three shots were fired. I saw then the break lights of the vehicle coming on and ordered cease fire which was instantly obeyed. The soldiers concerned conducted themselves in a professional manner. They cannot be held responsible for any wrongdoing. I gave the order, and with the information I had at the time I was justified to act as I did. The vehicle came to a stand-still. The only passenger in the vehicle was Dr. Luisa Guidotti, a Missionary Doctor, working at All Souls Mission. She was shot in the leg and bleeding. The Guard Force officer, a well trained paramedic, provided first aid and she was then transported by road to the Mtoko Hospital. She died before reaching the hospital.

It was a tragic event and immediately exploited by the then enemy propaganda machinery and used by the international media to speak out against the country. It was also a tragic event for the young Guard Force Officer. Dr. Guidotti was an Italian national and he himself was of Italian ancestry. His parents knew Dr. Guidotti and told him to look after her. As he explained I had not met Dr. Guidotti before the incident and did not know with whom her sympathies were lying and therefore had no animosity towards her. We were in transit at the time and out of our area of operations. I did not know the area nor the enemy disposition on the ground.

As Dr. Guidotti had lived in the specific operational area for some considerable time, one can assume that she must have encountered many military and police vehicle check points / roadblocks. Therefore she must have known the consequences of jumping a vehicle check point or roadblock. With her experience in such situations, maybe the question should be asked is: Why did she do it? “ We will never know. To put it bluntly, her action directly contributed to her own death.

Dr. Guidotti, like some other missionaries, was known for her medical support she provided to the insurgents. Was it for humanitarian reasons, to follow the Geneva Convention as she claimed or sympathy for the cause of the insurgents?

John Dove, the author of the book “ LUISA “ [ published in 1989 by Mambo Press in Zimbabwe ] a fellow missionary and close friend of Dr. Guidotti, wrote in his book:

Luisa’s relationship with the guerrillas was excellent although she was always wary of new groups. Would they know about her? Before the time of the keep they visited her regularly at night time bristling with arms and clenched fist salutes. She made them feel at home. They relaxed and told her of their ailments. Now, during the period of the keep they could not reach her. They sent messages with young girls and requests for this or that medicine. Luisa always judged according to the medical need. “

Did the Guard Force soldiers kill Dr. Guidotti because she was providing medical support to the insurgents? The answer is a clear and strong NO “ . The soldiers opened fire because in an area infested with insurgents and mujibhas, a car driving away from a vehicle checkpoint without being given the go-ahead is seen as trying to avoid of being searched. The discovery of the body of a murdered African person, with the note on his body and two fleeting contacts with mujibhas and insurgents and the pressure on the commander directing multiple operations at the same time, contributed to the tense situation in an area dominated by the enemy.

President Mugabe, who wrote the foreword for the above mentioned book, stated that In 1977-79 the war intensified generally and particularly in this area. To the freedom fighters and the local population, the area was now known as a liberated zone. This statement confirms the situation in the area where the incident happened. A tragic most regrettable incident which haunts me still today, thirty five years later as the young Guard Force Officer commented. The ugly face of Civil War, the dilemma it created for our soldiers on the ground and the suffering it created for civilians on both sides of the fence.

As described by former Asst Comdt. Andy Odorico, the young Guard Force Officer involved in the incident. Compiled by former Snr. Comdt. Horst Schobesberger, CO 1 BN  [ JUNE 2014 ].


My  personal  story  as  the  former  Commanding  Officer  of  1 BN.

To remember events which happened 35 years ago is quite difficult for an old soldier who is fading away. Having served in three more armies, during the turbulent times we passed through, makes it even more difficult not to mix up events, places , names and ranks. Therefore I appeal to former soldiers of 1 BN to correct my story and add on some more information’s. We must record the history of our battalion. There are already many negative mentionings in books, articles and opinions in the mind of former Rhodesian soldiers about Guard Force. My comment to this : Yes, sometimes we failed or made mistakes – but so did others. So let’s not point fingers but share our personal experiences, stories and photos on this website . In the end we will have a more complete and true reflection of our service with 1 BN and Guard Force as a whole.

During May 1979, while serving as the Officer Commanding of GP 9  Mount Darwin, I received the marching order from GF HQ to report to Mtoko to take over command of the newly formed 1 BN. The temporary CO, Snr Comdt  Mackenzie Fraser, explained to me that another officer earmarked to take over as CO [ Carter  ? ] changed his mind and the Commander GF had appointed me in this post. During the next weeks Snr Comdt Mackenzie Fraser gave me the necessary briefings , showed me around and introduced me to the officer in charge of the Sub-JOC Mtoko. It was the CO of 1 RAR,  Lt Col M Mc Kenna,  a “ no nonsense approach “ officer, with whom I developed  good working relations. One must remember that Operational Control of all operational activities in an area were co-ordinated and controlled by  a JOINT OPERATIONS CENTRE [ JOC ]. There were daily meetings and the INT-Briefing was the most important part of it.

The four companies operated in a COIN Infantry role in their former PV Group areas. My way of military thinking had to change dramatically. From being in charge of 17 Protected Villages, which included a small Reaction Force, I was faced with the operational deployment of an COIN Infantry Battalion. ADMIN and LOG in a newly formed unit created also endless problems which needed my attention. This was an issue which was sometimes neglected by  officers who saw operational deployments as their only task. As a first step to improve my skills as a battalion commander, I was sent on detached duties for a few weeks to 2 RAR at Fort Victoria. I spent time at the TAC HQ [ somewhere in the bush ] and was attached to all deployed 2 RAR companies in the field. The CO of 2 RAR, Lt Col T Hammond , ensured that I was exposed and experienced first hand the functioning of professional, regular Infantry companies in the field. Special attention was given to the aspects of Command and Control of operational deployed companies. Finally I visited the 2 RAR barracks at Fort Victoria. The 2 RAR HQ with its administrative and logistic facilities, the family quarters, hospital, school, sport facilities and other structures which provided a safe rear base for the deployed soldiers and their families. It was a second home for the RAR soldiers and contributed to the excellent esprit de corps of this outstanding  regiment with a proud and long history of soldiering.

I returned back to Mtoko to the real world of 1 BN, established only one month ago with very few resources , but already tasked with complex operational responsibilities. I decided not to make any comparisons but to concentrate on the tasks ahead.

The HQ of 1 BN was the former Group 6 HQ. It was at the outskirts of Mtoko and consisted of a number of different type of buildings, from proper houses to A-Frame structures, and was overlooked by a steep “ gomo “ close to the base. Family quarters, consisting of traditional african huts, bordered the military area. A battle trench system surrounded the family quarters and the families had their own stand-to procedures and knew exactly what to do in case of an attack. The wifes of the soldiers were trained in the use of rifles. Having the families of the soldiers close by improved also their discipline. Soldiers returning from operations would not look for entertainment outside the base but would stay with their families. One must remember that Guard Force had no barracks with secure family quarters like RAR and wherever Guard Force soldiers deployed,  their base became their temporary barracks. These temporary family quarters provided also security against attacks and murder by insurgents targeting family members of soldiers. Sergeant Major Kwira, the RSM of 1 BN, was in charge of the family quarters and held regular meetings with the families.

My most important task was to visit deployed companies. Mangwende TTL was the most frequented deployment area of A-Coy. Comdt RH Atkinson was running his Company always along “ out of the book “ military lines and the operational deployments of A-Coy were well prepared and prescribed Battle Procedures were adhered to. I remember when he demonstrated with much pride  improvised  casevac procedures using a Nissan truck [ flatback ]. When one of his deployed platoons created problems within the civilian population and violated the rules of “ winning hearts and minds “ his action was swift and tough. All of his briefings ended with the statement :  “ My aim is that A-Coy will become the first Independent Guard Force Company “. I must say this was a little bit annoying for me.

Asst Comdt Taffy Lewis was the Admin Officer, a difficult task when a new unit is formed. Asst Comdt George Chin-Sen was the Quartermaster, Paymaster and responsible for Regimental Funds. He was an extreme reliable officer and an important factor in ensuring the unit stood on a firm logistic base.

There was Comdt Major, a not so young anymore former Congo Mercenary. An old hand when it came to soldiering and full of interesting stories.

Sergeant Major Kwira was the RSM and I relied heavily on his sound and balanced opinion and advice when it came to holding military courts or in all other situations  dealing with African NCOs and other ranks. He accompanied me many times when I visited troops on the ground.

Asst Comdt  Peter Polzin , who always wanted to be more involved in offensive actions and I knew already from Mount Darwin. COIN operations are sometimes very frustrating for aggressive  young officers. Soldiers deployed on Fire Force duties are likely to see action every day. But patrolling and securing a farming area may be of strategic importance but tactically on the ground very frustrating with few contacts or none at all for a long period.

The above mentioned officers are just a few I remember from Mtoko. Most of the others I will comment on when I write about our deployment on the line of rail.    When I arrived at 1 BN I found a leadergroup which was a mixed bunch of officers and NCOs. Quite a few of them were foreign nationals with the Australians being the one which I will always remember. Their informal approach provided a touch of diversity to the Rhodesian approach to soldiering. The leadergroup of B- and C-Coy was still influenced by the way Comdt Joe Flanagan was running operations before  1 BN was formally established. Comdt Joe Flanagan’s modus operandi was very “ unconventional “ to say the least and his operational exploits would make interesting reading. I hope that one day we will get some of these stories for our website. Sgt Bruce Ralston was part of this group and I remember him very well. I don’t remember their names but I recall their faces, the faces of  European junior officers and NCOs who  together with the African NCOs and other ranks provided the fighting elements of 1BN. COIN is a war fought by junior leaders on Section or Platoon level.Their handling of difficult situations  “ in the bush “ led to success or failure of operational deployments. Some of them were very young but had seen already quite some action. We owe them a lot and I would like to listen to some of their stories and experiences.

D-Coy’s approach to operations at Mudzi was influenced by the remoteness of the area and their close proximity to the border of Mocambique. Bases had to be more fortified and strength on the ground was important. Asst Comdt Gavin Ford [ the fortress builder ] was the Coy Cmdr,  Asst Comdt Taffy Lewis was the Coy 21c and Jnr Comdt Andy Odorico and Jnr Comdt Gordon Fogarty were Platoon Commanders. That was before postings took place.

Because B- and C-Coy had lost quite a number of vehicles through landmines in the TTLs north of Mtoko it was decided that a Pookie mine detection vehicle had to ride shotgun in front of vehicle convoys. What a nerve wrecking task it must have been for the driver of the Pookie, who belonged to the Rhodesian Engineer Corps, to ride along landmine infested ambush alleys. 1 BN was involved in escort duties bringing back stores and equipment from PVs or other Government stations from outlying areas where effective Government administration had broken down or was reduced to a few places. . Being called to the OPS / Radio Room when our vehicles were ambushed or troops were involved in contacts or our bases attacked was always a tense situation and one hoped that we did not take casualties.

I remember to have sometimes joined foot patrols in the Mangwende TTL and in the scenic landscape of the rocky granit outcrops around Mtoko in the vicinity of the Mtoko Ruins. One day 1 BN was asked if we could help and resupply a callsign of RDR  who were protecting the bridge across the Rwenya River. No other unit wanted to accept this task. The possibility of being ambushed or blown up by a landmine was a deterring factor. We had to go up to the  Nyamapanda Border Post and then along the minefields of the Cordon Sanitaire down to the bridge across the Ruenya River, situated next to the border of Mocambique.  The RDR soldiers were already for three days out of rations and had big smiles on their faces when we arrived.

During our time in Mtoko some of our leadergroup elements were used to re-orientate / retrain a group of SFAs loyal to Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole at Stormfield Farm [ ? ] close to Mtoko., It had more the character of Detention Barracks and physical exercises were dominating the programme. These SFAs , based in a camp close to the Mocambiquan border, got out of hand and became a security risk. They surrendered when Security Forces [ SAS ? ] surrounded the camp and were handed over to Guard Force at the Sub-JOC in Mtoko. I cannot remember what happened to them later.

But I also experienced  lighter moments within the military environment  in the operational area. Coming back from a visit to one of the deployed companies I made a stop over at the Sub-JOC Mtoko. Debussing from a Puma armoured vehicle I passed a small stall when the words “ Iced Coffee “ written on a small board caught my eyes. It was a Forces Canteen run by the selfless and committed ladies of the Women’s Voluntary Services [ WVS ] from Salisbury. Asking for a glass of Iced Coffee, the lady on duty enquired about my country of origin. She explained to me that they had music tapes with music from different countries and she wanted to play my traditional home music for me. I told her that I came from Vienna in Austria and it was unlikely that she had any music from my country of origin. She smiled, checked in her box of tapes and put a tape in the audio player. There I was standing,  in the middle of nowhere, dusty and sweaty, in one hand my G-3 rifle, in the other hand a glass of Iced Coffee with cream , listening to a wellknown sentimental traditional song from Vienna. I was not sure if it was a dream or reality, but I will never forget it.  Most of us were also wearing balaclavas, knitted by these committed ladies, which kept our heads warm in the cold nights of the Rhodesian winter. The services of the WVS was a good example of the support given by the people of Rhodesia, and specific the women,  to the war effort in caring for the welfare of the fighting soldiers. Their effort and determination brought many light moments to our deployed soldiers. We own them a lot. And we must never forget them.

On the 1st June 1979 celebration with a parade to celebrate the begin of the shortlived Zimbabwe-Rhodesia under Prime Minister Muzorewa was held. Our soldiers participated in the parade together with members from the BSAP, INTAF and the SFA [ Auxilliaries ]. The new flag of Zimbabwe –Rhodesia was unveiled. The proud history of Rhodesia had come to an end.

During July / August  we received orders to prepare for our deployment to the line of rail. I left with a group of officers for a recce. We had to take over the line between Somabula and Rutenga from a RDR [ Rhodesia Defence regiment ] Company. There strength was about 600 soldiers and there OC was Major Frederick van der Trenck.  “ Freddy ” as he was known, was a wellknown  professional soldier with a very diverse military background, German ancestry and because of his un-orthodox ways of soldiering one could say he was a  bit of a maverick. He served with  Guard Force before and was the OC of a PV Group. I met him in his HQ in Ingezi and we discussed the hand over / take over . On my return I briefed the command cadre and we prepared for the move. It was quite an undertaking because we had also to move the families of our soldiers to the railway compounds situated next to the railway stations were our Company HQs were situated.

D Coy, under the command of Comdt Mike Howlett was the first company to be deployed to the line of rail with their base at the railway siding at Sarahuru. It was during August 1979. The BN HQ was established in a base next to the airstrip at Rutenga. It was also used as a TAC HQ of 9 RR [ Rhodesia Regiment ] and we fell under operational control of 9 RR during the first part of our deployment . Guard Force and 9 RR belonged to two different worlds. It was a clash of military cultures and the way an African unit like 1 BN was operating. Co-operation was not smooth. The first problem started when the families arrived together with the soldiers in the same convoy. The dust settled after all four companies started to operate along their respective sectors of their line. A large number of soldiers from D Coy were affected by tickbite fever which reduced the operating strength seriously. Most of us were affected at one stage. I remember that our quarters were in old railway coaches, which were actually quite comfortable. At a later stage, wooden prefab buildings were built and the HQ  became a well set-up military base. I insisted to establish a vegetable garden in front of my barrack room. With plenty of cattle manure available ,we produced a lot of vegetables for our kitchen.

The line between Rutenga and Beitbridge was first under command of Comdt Joe Flanagan , whose HQ was at Bubye. After he left, E- and F- Coy were formed and became part of 1 BN. How did we now complete our mission and the detail tasks as described in the formal part of this website ?

Each company was responsible for a specific length of line, measured in kilometers  of railway line and indicated on short concrete slabs along the line. These rail-kilometers made it also easier to report incidents by soldiers patrolling along the line. Alltogether 420 kilometres.  Communications were based on an integrated effort and system between Guard Force and the Rhodesian Railways. The main Railway Control Center was in Dabuka south of Gwelo,  and the Railway structure in  Rutenga, where 1 BN HQ was situated,  was used for the daily co-ordination between the Rhodesian Railway running the trains and Guard Force protecting them.

The following pieces have been submitted by Boet du Plessis, we thank him for his contribution and for his kind comments.

I  am Boet du Plessis, a Security Inspector, from Bulawayo and was actively involved with the Railway Security coverage from:-

1)      Bulawayo to Plumtree

2)      Rutenga to Beitbridge

3)      Rutenga to Ngesi.


One of our very first base camps was at Bubye, where we did our initial training with our recruits in the dry  river bed, below the Lion and Elephant.

When cyclone “Demoina” arrived, the Lion and Elephant was at  least 5 to 6 ft under water and our camp which was across the road  2 – 3 meters under water.

 We started with foot patrols and the whole length from Beit Bridge to Rutenga was divided into 10kms and groups of four men, then patrolled the line to see if the track had been disturbed.  I must say all role players were extremely fit with this early morning brisk walk. What the railway men had done initially was to spray a coating of very fine old oil on the ballast – which made the surface dark and when you patrolled either by trolley or walking you could see clearly if the ballast had been disturbed as the unsprayed grey ballast was clearly visible at a distance. By doing this it saved many a ‘Patrollie’ crew.


From 1975 to 1979  we were under enormous pressure and at certain stages, had at least three attacks on our rail per week. During this time, if the trains were attacked and derailed the Railway reaction team would attend – which meant going straight into the ambush set by the terrs to collect your Driver and Guard. The Railway Reaction Team would comprise of the Trolley Driver, his assistant and yourself the member i/c. It meant that this “Fireforce” consisted of only two individuals as the Trolley Driver remained in his trolley manning the Radio. The Trolleys being five seaters meant you could only casevac a driver and the guard. I did this on a number of occasions where we were shot at – and we traded lead.

 I can assure you when the Guard Force took over in 1979 there was a major improvement regarding the Security on the track and bridges.

 I would like to take this opportunity in “Thanking Guard Force” for the assistance that they provided us during the war.

   Chapter 59 - Contact Contact - Bubye Rail Attack.


10th August 1979 at approximately 21h30, while on duty at Rutenga Railway Station, came the dreaded words over the radio from a train driver

“Contact, Contact”, the train has been blown up and is currently under rocket and small arms fire.”


Over the radio you could hear shots being fired and that a full contact was in progress.


I then informed the driver that help was on its way and that we would be at the scene within the hour.


My cousin, Lieutenant Peter Goosen of the Territorials, as well as his trackers (Sparrows) were based at Rutenga. They had been deployed to the area to assist with the tracking of terrorists who had given us such a hard time.


I informed him that a “Contact” was in progress and that he could travel with me in our operational Security Trolley. I told him that it was dangerous as there was a likely chance we could get blown up while travelling on the Railway line. He did not flinch and, with two trackers, climbed on board and we set off for the derailed train.


While travelling I contacted the driver telling him we were on our way and I asked him to give us his exact location so that we could stop approximately a kilometre from the scene. We would then walk to the area giving covering fire.


The driver repeated his “loc” position which was 5 kilometres on the opposite side of the Bubye River Bridge, Beit Bridge side. Having worked and walked the Rutenga to Beit Bridge line often by foot on Security Patrols, I knew exactly where he was.


I then instructed the trolley driver to proceed at full throttle so that we could save the crew. The normal procedure would be to turn off your armoured trolley vehicle lights and only leave the spot light on. This spot light was mounted on a 3 metre pole. It was well known that, on numerous occasions, the enemy would shoot in the direction of the light. As a result, when they fired their weapons, the bullets would go harmlessly over the armoured trolley.


When we got to about 10 kilometres from where the scene should have been I told the driver to turn off the spot light, but to still drive as quickly as possible.


I remember my cousin saying that we should slow down, if we were to hit a land mine at this speed, we would all be killed. I told him that I was familiar with the area and that I knew exactly where the train had been attacked and derailed.


I also said that if we hit a land mine at this speed we would land at Beit Bridge Hotel, about 80 kilometres away, have a quick beer and a meal while we were at it.


At the best of times the experience of travelling at high speeds on a railway track with no lights would send shivers down your back. The clackety clackety sound of the iron wheels of the trolley going over the railway joints and intersections at the sidings was frightening in the dark.


The four faces in the back of the trolley were peering over the driver’s shoulder - eyes straining to see if anything could be seen.


I was not concerned as we were travelling through areas which I knew well. I knew the tributaries, was familiar with the left and right hand bends, the bush and savannah areas, and we were making good time towards the scene.


As we rounded a bend there was an almighty explosion. The seven ton armoured patrol trolley shook as it leapt up in the air and sparks flew in every direction. It seemed to fly some distance then landed back on the rails. With this the driver slammed on brakes. The metal bogie wheels locked, causing the trolley to skid on the rails. Sparks flew off the wheels as if four angle grinders were working on the rails.


As we were all strapped in, our firearms were nearly wrenched out of our hands, and it took a mighty effort to hold on to them. The four of us then peered forward over the driver’s shoulder and we could see that the moon had risen and was about a metre and half above the horizon, and appeared to be about 70 metres directly ahead of us.


As the trolley skidded and screeched forward much cursing and swearing took place as we appeared to be heading directly for the moon.


What had actually happened was that the train, which was a diesel engine, had detonated the land mine and a number of trucks had been derailed. The engine had run next to the tracks then fallen over onto the tracks. As the generators were no longer working, the batteries were getting flat and as a result the head light became dimmer and dimmer, until eventually it looked like a full moon from a distance.


When the trolley was approximately a metre away from the Diesel Engine head light “The Moon” it came to a stop.


           With the blast, the driver had become totally disorientated and had given his “loc” position as 5 kilometres south of the Bubye River Bridge whereas he was actually 5 kilometres north. This meant that he was out by a total of 10 kilometres.


           As I climbed out of the trolley I realized that we had only just stopped in time as the Diesel Engine was right in front of us, arm’s length away, I could lean forward and touch the engine. “WOW” Shots were fired from both sides but as it was so dark nobody was hit. Shots were then fired into the area from which the tracers were seen. Eventually the firing subsided and the whole area became extremely quiet.


           The Train Driver was in such a state of shock he merely stood there firing shots into the sky. I immediately took his FN weapon away from him, and also noticed that he could not hear when I spoke to him. I grabbed a small pencil light torch and shone it on him and saw that both of his ears were full of blood as a result of the explosion. I told him to sit down and drink some of my water, while I went to look for the train guard. He was found hiding amongst some shrubs. With both the guard and driver in reasonable condition, I instructed them to follow me, and led them both back to safety amongst some trees. On my return to the trolley my cousin informed me that he was heading in the direction from which the last shots had been fired and he would see if he could make contact with the terrorists. He also said that at first light they would follow the terrorist trail. It was now approaching midnight.


I then contacted JOC Rutenga and requested that a trolley be sent to the scene to collect the driver and guard as the driver required medical treatment.


My cousin then disappeared in a South Easterly direction towards Villa Salazar/Malvernia on the South East Border. With the arrival of the second armoured patrol trolley we departed for Rutenga. The injured were treated at Rutenga before being sent home.




Chapter 56 - Anti Personnel Mine - GODS LOVE  -  1979


(He is always faithful – are WE?)


This is a true story and I am not ashamed of telling it to show how God loves and protects us.  (10th May 1979)


I have also come to realize that in my situation He has been very patient with me. I can only assume that this is as a result of the influence of my Granny “Ouma Van Heerden”.  She was very religious and a committed Christian who devoted her life to the Lord, and prayed for our protection while she was alive.


During my youth I could not really recall if any of my cousins, including myself, were “real” Christians. However we all said we were Christians and belonged to some church.


As a result of the Rhodesian war years, and the many deaths experienced within our families, we had become extremely hard and bitter towards the Communists or so-called “Freedom Fighters” who also butchered their own people for the “cause”.


One of my tasks in May 1979, while stationed at Rutenga Railway Junction was to protect and ensure the safety of Railway Personnel and Rail Traffic leading to the main centers of Rhodesia. Rutenga Railway Junction was about 100 miles north east of Beit Bridge on the main railway line from Beit Bridge to Gwelo.


For this task we had a number of specially built armoured Security Trolleys, designed and adapted to run on the rail tracks, and these would set off any explosives or attract enemy fire. The trolleys were used extensively at night to patrol in front of the moving trains and also used for guarding and protecting railway installations and bridges.


To give you an idea, these particular trolleys were built on Land Rover chassis with Land Rover engines but had a floating Diff, which was belt driven to the axle of a normal bogie  (rail) wagon. Most of them had a seating capacity of four plus the driver.


The men that travelled in them were extremely brave men. Every night, patrols were carried out and this was known as a “suicide joll”, with many of them blown up or ambushed with serious consequences. Many of the crew, after having been caught in an explosion, lost the use of their hearing, or their limbs, and some lost their lives. Others, who managed to get out of their damaged trolleys, stepped on limpet mines placed in the area of ambush.


In May 1979, it was my turn to take charge of the Security Personnel and military crew provided at Rutenga and, as such, was made acting Senior Security Inspector, which meant I had three pips.


My crew comprised of 20 Personnel based at Rutenga, operating 4 Security Trolleys, Rutenga to Ingesi,  Rutenga to Beit Bridge or if the need arose Rutenga south to Triangle. The line further south to Villa Salazar was totally destroyed by the Terrs.


At this stage we were having a rather difficult time as we had lost a number of security trolleys and had injuries to a number of personnel. Replacements were also difficult to find.


My main task was to liaise with the Army and Police at the Command Operation post where we discussed our evening strategy and the protection of vital supplies for our country.


Our normal routine was to sleep during the day and work during the night.


On the 10th of May 1979 I received a report via Beit Bridge that a train had hit a land mine and had derailed at Lesanth siding. I was also informed there had been no injuries to the train crew.


Having received this report from Beit Bridge I was reluctant to go for the following reasons:-


1) This incident had occurred in the Beit Bridge Security area, which was not part of my operational area.

2) I did not have the troops or manpower to deal with this incident.

3) This was only about 60km from Beit Bridge but 75 km miles from my Rutenga operation.


However, with there being no other Railway Security Officers to attend to the scene, I took four of my white staff with me but had no real intention of getting involved in a fire fight. I was dressed in a khaki shirt, khaki shorts, long socks, blue tops and shoes which were my daily camp gear. Normally, in my own operational area, I would wear full military gear with the intention of doing “Follow Ups” or to track the enemy if necessary.


On our arrival at the siding I noticed there were Two South African DE6 Engines lying on their sides and they were extensively damaged. There were also a number of railway trucks lying on their sides, also badly damaged.


This whole incident was clearly visible from the main Beit Bridge Road. I then drove into the siding and parked on the Fire Path some distance away as we were wary of any land mines which may have been placed near the scene.

We got out of our vehicle and observed that the terrorists had placed an explosive device 30 metres ahead of the railway points of Lesanth siding at the entrance to the siding. Thus, when the leading engine hit the explosive device, it threw the engine off the tracks causing the derailment. The sheer weight of the engines destroyed the concrete sleepers and buckled the railway line. This meant that the three spare engines and trucks following had no tracks to run on and they started to collide against each other and then jack knifed, causing mayhem.


We approached the engines by walking along the damaged track where they lay on their sides and inspected the damage. We also looked for signs of mines or limpet mines. Not having found any, we moved slowly along the tracks, back in the direction from which the train had come, which was from Beit Bridge.


I told my staff to remain behind while I slowly circled the area where the mine had been laid, to look for tracks. I found seven sets of tracks. I followed these up to a farmer’s fence which ran parallel to the railway line and which was approximately 25 metres from the scene.


I called my staff and indicated where the terrorist guards had sat on guard duty while the other terrorists were busy placing the explosive device on the railway track. I then assured my colleagues that I would leave a marked area so that the army “sparrows” trackers from Beit Bridge could continue with the tracking. This took place at about 10h00 in the morning.


At this stage we were standing behind the train or on the opposite side to where our vehicles had been parked. When the Army Engineers arrived they walked along the train tracks and gave us the All Clear sign.


As a result we approached the train trucks, crawled between the coaches near the scene of the explosion, and looked at the Railway workers who were waiting for my command to commence with their clearing up duties.


There were roughly 80 workers, all sitting in their vehicles and lorries waiting for my signal. Only on my signal could they drive from the main tarred road to the site and begin working. I then gave the all-clear signal and waved all the workers onto the site.


I stood and watched a number of workers climbing off the trucks and then decided that I would take the lead once again by walking next to the trucks heading towards the engines where my Toyota Land Cruiser had been parked.


At this stage I was being followed by an Army Engineer, a Special Forces Officer, a second Army Engineer and an Intelligence Officer. The grass was long and had spikes on it (Common name – Klitsgrass). I walked extremely slowly and carefully, ensuring that I lifted my feet high, so as to prevent grass seeds getting into my socks. For some reason I also placed my hands in my pockets.


Roughly six paces away from where I had met the engineers who had stated that the area was safe, I lifted my left leg over some Klitsgrass that appeared to have been bent down facing the railway line. As my left foot touched the ground, I started to lift my right leg. When my right foot rose to opposite my left ankle I felt something very unusual like wire or metal pulling on the back of my left heel, with this rubbing or touching the front portion of my right ankle.


I immediately froze and looked down to my right where I saw a camouflaged wire protruding from the ballast, passing between my feet and attached to a stake next to my left ankle.


The trip wire was well concealed by the grass. While standing on my left leg with my hands in my pockets, I tried to put my right foot down very gently, but at this stage the wire had got caught between the tongue of my right shoe and my foot. When I tried to move my foot forward in a horizontal way the trip wire stretched and ballast started to roll down from the embankment.


At this point in time a Grenade (British), fastened to a stake, was now exposed and I could clearly see the wire leading from the grenade between my legs to the stake on the left hand side, which was next to my left shoe. When I looked to my right side again, I could clearly see the trip wire attached to the split pin of the grenade.


I then tried three times to lower my right foot and each time it appeared that the trip wire just became more taunt; the split pin pulled out a bit further and the ballast just rolled away exposing this “huge” mine.


At this stage I knew I was in big trouble as a number of guys in this particular area had lost their legs when they stood on Anti Personnel Mines.


I screamed at the top of my voice for the workers to “STOP” as there were mines in the area. With my hands still in my pockets, I was standing on my left leg and my right leg was still half in the air with the trip wire stuck in my right shoe. I was trapped.


I could see that the split pin was nearly out of the grenade and I thought to myself that with most grenades you have a 3 – 4 second delay, if the pin comes out. That would enable me to jump forward, land on the ground, take cover, block my ears and I would be alright.


My four colleagues who had walked behind me had seen the grenade and had fallen flat onto the ground.


This whole incident took seconds - and I mean seconds.


I immediately broke out in an unbelievable sweat on my forehead and the lower part of my back. Normally I do not perspire as I was extremely fit and enjoyed the heat of the bush.


At this stage I decided that to save myself I had better jump. As I started to tense myself for the jump, my two daughters (2yrs and 4yrs) came into my sight, one in each eye.


I could see them so clearly, smiling at me and I could not focus on anything else. I had tunnel vision and became blind to the outside world.


With that I hesitated. Because of the incredibly clear vision of my children, I could not concentrate on my jump. They then disappeared out of my sight and I then decided that I should try, just once more, to clear my foot from the trip wire.


I steadied myself on my left leg, pushed my right foot slowly forward, pointed my right foot downward, and then tried to remove the trip wire. With this movement the wire separated from my right shoe, and I then slowly placed my right foot flat on the ground, gave it a wiggle and slowly pulled it back from under the wire.


With both of my feet free from the trip wire, I took one large breath and jumped forward, landing on the ground and just lay very still.


The engineers then removed the grenade. The Army engineer holding the grenade was shaking and pointed out that the split pin was 99% out and less than a millimeter was holding the grenade intact.


To our amazement we found that the Grenade was of British origin, brand new and it was an “Instantaneous Anti Personnel Mine.” This meant that if I had

jumped when I intended to, I would have been killed or maimed immediately.


The joy of that escape was unbelievable. It was a miracle. I immediately told my         

colleagues that I would not be killed in this war.



“I just had that incredible feeling that my life had been spared.”









Thank You Lord.


I did not understand what my Lord

had in store for me. I informed the

guys at the scene that the drinks were on me, and we drank and                          

celebrated my good fortune that

evening through to the following             



 The following day we discussed the whole incident and decided that

“War Stories” were not to be     discussed at home especially as we would only return home every second month. This affected the wives and children, many of whom had nervous breakdowns as a result of hearing of these incidents.    


A year and half later my wife approached me and stated that she had heard an unusual tale where my daughters had saved my life; I then informed Lynne of what had taken place.

                        Now, after many years, and having assessed the whole situation, I have given my life to my Lord and thank Him for being so patient with me because at that time I did not fully understand why He had spared my life.


As a result of this unbelievable escape from death, I received the nick name 4 x 2 from the Railway Security Branch Head Quarters. 


 4 x 2 means:-  A piece of a flannel cloth pulled through a rifle barrel to clean it.

The Police and Military issue flannel cloth and its comes in a roll 28 foot long, 4 inches wide, and every 2 inches has a red line to indicate where the flannel cloth should be  torn off.




Commanders Conference at 1 BN HQ at Rutenga in 1979.
Cmdt. Bill Hart, Coy. Commander E-COY and Cmdt tom Lester, near Nuanetsi River bridge south of Rutenga 1979
Rutenga airstrip PT run 

Snr Comdt Horst Schobesberger holding orders at 1 BN HQ Rutenga, 1979

Nuanetsi River Bridge, south of Rutenga protected by E COY 1 BN, 1979

LINE OF RAIL (Gwelo-Beitbridge)

Snr. Cmdt Schobesberger arrives at C COY HQ at Bannockburn with re-supply. Asst. Cmdt Gordon Fogarty (Coy. Commander) looks on 1979