During the period 1964 to 1980 the Rhodesian Air Force was engaged on a number of Operations. The following accounts give a brief overview of early operations and the part played by the Air Force in each. Some accounts are incomplete and the later years have yet to be written.
The start of the Rhodesian War
28th April 1966 saw the opening shots of what was to become the Rhodesian War fired. 47 heavily armed men members of ZANLA (Zimbabwe National Liberation Army) crossed from Zambia into Rhodesia north –east of Sinoia some time before this date. The group split into two. One group of seven named Armageddon attempted to blow up power lines 7 miles south-west of Sinoia. By the end of the day following an operation carried out by the police and police reserve and assisted by the Air Force saw all 7 members of this group dead.
The second group led by Gumbashumba made their way to the Hartley district where on the 17th May 1996 the carried out an attack on Nevada Farm. They killed the farmer Johannes Viljoen and his wife when he opened the door to a knock at one o’clock in the morning. The two Viljoen children, Tommy (aged 3) and Yolanda (aged nine months) who were asleep at the time survived. The Viljoen's were the first civilian casualties of the war. All of this group were either killed, captured or returned to Zambia.
In July 1967 a group of 94 insurgents crossed from Zambia into Rhodesia between Victoria Falls and Kazungula, sing rubber boats. The area they chose where the Chobe River meets the Zambezi River was sparsely populated.
The group was composed of members of the South African African National Congress (SAANC), and the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU), supporters of Joshua Nkomo.
The aim of the SAANC was to penetrate Rhodesia and Botswana and infiltrate the Republic of South Africa.
Having crossed the river successfully with their supplies the group moved in a south-westerly direction to the Wankie/Dett area where they constructed several camps which included dugouts, weapons pits and observation posts.
In the 1st August 1967 one member of the group was captured by security forces in the Wankie National Park near Shapie Pan. This triggered a full-scale anti-terrorist operation.
Further tracks were discovered by game scouts on anti poaching patrol as the infiltrators continued their march towards the Bulowayo to Victoria Falls road.
The First Battalion of the Rhodesian African Rifles and members of the British South Africa Police were deployed and a Forward Airfield 1 (FAF 1) was established at Wankie on the 12th August 1967. Two Provost aircraft of 4 Squadron flown by Flying Officer Prop Geldenhuis and Flight Lieutenant Chris Weinman and an Allouette II of 7squadron flown by Fight Lieutenant Mick Grier were established at FAF 1 to support the Army and Police.
Contact was made between the terrorists and a BSAP patrol led by Section Officer Barry Tiffin at first light on 13th August near Inyantue Siding. The BASP patrol was pinned down and reinforcements were called for. Prop Geldenhuis was flying top cover in a Provost and Mick Grier and Bob Whyte arrived in the Allouette III to provide more support. . During the encounter five ZIPRA terrorists were killed and SO Tiffin was seriously wounded. Private Simon Chikafu (of the RAR) crawled forward forward to the wounded policemen and dragged him to cover before carrying him to the waiting helicopter. Two members of the RAR Acting Corporal Davison and Private Karoni were killed., three European and one African security force members were wounded. Squadron Leader Mick Grier and Sergeant Bob White were awarded the Military Forces Commendation for the part they played in this engagement.
On the 18th August contact was again made with the terrorist gang in the Angwa Vlei. During this contact three terrorists were killed and five burned to death when there was an explosion in their hide.
In order to be nearer the area of operation, FAF 1 was moved to Wankie Main Camp.
Two days later (20th August) another terrorist was captured. On the 22nd August 1967 part of the original group was encountered in the Nata river area. Prop Geldenhuis was flying top cover when the army call sign came under fire. Warrant Officer Timitiya advised that Lieutenant Nick Smith had been shot and the radio went quiet. During this time the Provost was hit by ground fire and Prop returned to the FAF. Chris Weinman arrived over the contact area in another Provost to replace Prop.
During this contact Lieutenant Nick Smith and Warrant Officer Timitiya were killed. Five terrorists were killed and two wounded in the fire fight. Their bodies were found the next day.
As the operational area was moving further south the Forward Airfield (FAF) was moved to Tjolotjo about 100 km north of the town of Plumtree.
On the 23rd August a base camp for about 50 men was discovered on the Tegwani River. It was well camouflaged and fortified. An air strike by Canberra and Hunter aircraft was carried out, but was not successful.
At 17.15 hours contact was made with the terrorists who were waiting in ambush for the security forces. The security forces were pinned down. A fierce battle at close quarters continued for the next hour before the terrorists pulled back. During this battle radio communications with the Joint Operations Command centre was lost. On the 24th August at 01.30 hours the JOC received an urgent request for an immediate evacuation of a battle casualty. Flight Lieutenant Chris Dixon carried out this task, making a night flight over inhospitable country to land at a poorly lit landing zone to uplift two casualties to hospital.
Meanwhile on the 14th August the leader of the ANC group George Driver had stolen a car in Dett wounding a security guard in the process and headed off in the direction of Bulawayo. On the 18th August he reached Figtree, south of Bulawayo where he took a farmer’s wife and her six year old son hostage. The woman and child managed to escape and the security forces were called in. The house was surrounded by the security forces and Driver was killed.
By early September 30 terrorists had been killed, and 47 captured in Rhodesia and Botswana. One member of the original group managed to reach South Africa. He was caught later.
The final casualty figures for the Rhodesian forces was 7 dead and 12 wounded.
The captured men were tried for murder and carrying arms of war, an offence punishable by death. Seven of them were convicted of these charges and sentenced to death.
The success of Operation Nickel caused the African Nationalists to try another attempt to infiltrate the country using a route further to the east, along the Chewore river
For a period of six months before the incursion men trained in Cuba, Algeria and Russia were assembled in Zambia to await instruction to infiltrate. Their plan was to cross the Zambezi river and to follow the Chewore river to the escarpment and into the farming areas of Sipolilo, Centenary and Mount Darwin where they were to set up bases and build alliances among the local people. From these areas it would be a simple matter to strike at the capital city, Salisbury.
In December 1967 a reconnaissance party crossed the Zambezi river and built a base camp some nine miles south of the river. By the middle of December the terrorists were moving across the river in large numbers. Because of the heavy rain they experienced difficulties in bringing up supplies.
A second camp was established further south and was well fortified and large enough to accommodate 100 men. During the next three months three more camps were set up further south . Their presence in what was a National Park went unnoticed until they started shooting game for food.
Because the area was virtually uninhabited the game was free to move as they wished and was not harassed by hunters. The local game warden noticed that the game distribution had changed when he carried out his regular patrols. Being alert to this change he noticed an unusual footprints which he and his game scouts tracked for six hours. The amount of human traffic increased until he estimated that in excess of 40 men had passed through the are during the previous couple of days. This information was radioed back to base and within a day the police and army were on the scene.
In January 1968 two further group of terrorists crossed into Rhodesia. One near Kamativi 60 kilometers east of Wankie and the other at Makuti 40 kilometers east of Kariba. Both were soon mopped up by the security forces.
On the 15th March 1968 the Rhodesian Air Force were placed on standby. On the 16th March Flight Lieutenant Cyril White and Flying Officer Brian Penton (4 Squadron) flew a tracking team of SAS to Karoi and later that day a Forward Airfield was established at Karoi. By 18.30 hours two armed Provost aircraft flown by Flight Lieutenant Tony Smit and Flight Lieutenant Chris Weinman arrived at Karoi. On the 17th a reconnaissance flight were carried out.
On the morning of the 18th March the first contact was made with the terrorists in the Mana Pools area. A small patrol of 13 troopers of 1st Battalion Rhodesia Light Infantry (RLI) and members of 1st Battalion Rhodesia African Rifles (RAR) were following tracks when they ran into a group of 14 ZAPU terrorists During the engagement that ensued 11 terrorists and one security force member ( Trooper Ridge) were killed.
During the follow-up operation members of the security forces came under fire at close range from a well armed group of over 60 terrorists. Unbeknown to them they had stumbled onto Camp 5. The small army unit was pinned down in open ground, Second Lieutenant Dumpy Pearce, the commander of the army unit requested air support so he could pull his men back to cover.
The Trojan providing reconnaissance cover was unfortunately not armed. Flight Lieutenant Mark McLean, flying an Allouette III responded to the Trojan’s cal for assistance. He mounted several attacks on the enemy position, each attach was met by heavy ground fire. These attacks enabled Lieutenant Dumpy Pearce to pull his men back to safer positions. An air strike on the position were called for and Bill Jelly and Prop Geldenhuis responded with 3 inch rockets and 20 mm cannon. A Canberra from No 5 Squadron flown by Squadron Leader John Rogers took part in the strike. Unfortunately due to a misunderstanding two members of the security forces were injured by shrapnel from the bombs.
During the battle Mark McLean and his engineer Sergeant Butch Graydon were called in to evacuate five badly wounded men. For this operation Flight Lieutenant Mark McLean was awarded the Bronze Cross of Rhodesia
When the security were finally able to sweep their the enemy positions, no bodies were found . The insurgents appeared to have carried off their dead and wounded. They split into smaller groups. Some headed north to Zambia whilst other headed south into the Sipolilo farming area.
Follow-up operations continued and of the 58 terrorists killed in Operation Cauldron 43 were members of ZAPU and 15 were members of the SAANC.
In July 1968 a group of Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU) terrorists crossed the Zambezi river at the point where the Gwaai river enters the Zambezi river. Troops of Twelve Troop, 1st Battalion Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI) commanded by Second Lieutenant Jeremy Strong became pinned down by heavy fire.
Force was called in to support the army. Squadron Leader Norman Walsh
flying an Allouette III responded. He deployed troops in the
surrounding rough country before engaging the enemy with automatic
fire. Sergeant Tinker Smithdorff directed fire into the enemy positions
in spite of heavy fire coming from the ground at close range. This
allowed the troops pinned down to withdraw to a better position. A
second helicopter flown by Flight Lieutenant Peter Nichols arrived in
support and his engineer Sergeant T. J. van den Berg directed accurate
fire into the terrorist positions. Both helicopters were hit by enemy
The Operation began when tracks were discovered on the north bank of the Gwaai River , where the Gwaai river runs into the Zambezi river. The troop started tracking the spoor (sign).
The troops came under fire in an area strewn with large boulders that offered good cover. The Trojan that was overhead providing radio relay (Telstar), flown by Squadron Leader Peter Cooke, who contacted the FASCO commander and requested a heavy strike. Soon Vampires, Hunters and a Canberra were on the scene. Mark Mc Lean in an Allouette III talked the strike aircraft onto the target and indicated the target with the MAG. After the strikes by all the aircraft the troops swept through the area only to discover that the terrorists had made good their escape. The large boulders had provided them with protection from the guns and bombs.
By the end of August 1968, 38 terrorists had been killed or captured.
Of the total of 91 terrorist that crossed the Zambezi only 11 survived and they returned to Zambia. The morale of the ZANU and ZAPU reached an all time low and no further crossings were made for a period of 18 months.
In 8th January 1970 a group of 22 terrorists crossed the Zambezi River just west of the Chewore river where it runs into the Zambezi river. First tracks were found at the escarpment about 40 miles south of the crossing point on January 16th. The first contact was made on the 18th causing the group to divide into two. The helicopters of No 7 Squadron were of great value in moving troops into the area and for positioning stop lines in the rough terrain. The operation was of relatively short duration and the security forces were successful in killing 7 terrorists and capturing 14. Regrettably one RLI member Trooper Braiding was killed in a contact, two others were wounded, one police dog was shot and 1 terrorist was unaccounted for.
Operation Teak commenced with an attack on the Victoria Falls Airport and the South African Police camp at Spray View.
Tracks were found near the Gwaai river
and a police patrol boat was fired on from the Zambian side of the
Zambezi river. The terrorist’s tracks were lost in the
Kamativi area. On the night of the 16th January the South African
Police camp at Chisuma was attacked and shots were fired at the
Victoria Fall airport building.
Three pilots carried out reconnaissance and top cover for the Rhodesian African Rifles (RAR) follow-up. Air Lieutenant Ed Paintin carried out a rocket strike on the group of terrorists without apparent success. During this attach his aircraft was hit by ground fire. Later when the terrorists were spotted in a village the troops were slow to get there, resulting in their disappearance.
The operation ended in the middle of February and the result of the operation was 5 terrorists killed, 6 captured. 1 RAR member, Private Anasi, killed, 4 South African Police wounded and the railway line south of Victoria Falls was blown up. Some of the terrorists managed to cross the Botswana border and evade capture.
The terrorists that took part in both Operations Teak and Operation Birch were better organised. They were better trained in anti-tracking measures. They worked in smaller groups of four or five and attacked at various points at the same time causing the security forces to spread their strength.
Operation chestnut started on the 20th February 1970 when a ZIPRA guerrilla was captured at Dett siding in the Wankie area. He was one of a group of 7.
Army patrols were carried out to the south-west of Dahlia to try to locate the remaining 6 terrorists. No 4 Squadron set up a FAF a Dahlia from where Air Lieutenant Ed Paintin carried out armed reconnaissance flights and leaflet drops.
Operation Pluto started on the night of 4th March 1970 after a group of terrorists attacked the Kariba Airport transmitter site, when RPG rockets were fired into the roof of the building. Little damage was done as the projectiles were not fused.
The tacks were followed for several days until they were lost. When no further trace of the terrorists was found and the operation was brought to a close on the 13th March 1970.
On the 10th April 1970 operation Granite started when 2 terrorists were arrested at a store in the Matopos. They were 2 of a group of 7. Arms and ammunition were found in a cave in the Matopos and track were followed south. One terrorist was captured by locals but escaped before the security forces arrived at the scene. The tracks were lost and shortly thereafter the Botswana police reported that they had caught 2. The terrorists again proved that their anti-tracking had improved and managed to elude the security forces.
On the 29th November 1970 Operation Apollo started as ZANLA were establishing bases south of the Zambezi river, in the Tete province of Mozambique.
The air force established itself at Chicoa to the south of the Zambezi river. It was the rainy season and nearly every afternoon the rain would pour down to make our stay just that little bit more enjoyable.
The Portuguese forces consisted mainly of conscripts from Portugal and their main ambition was to see their two years out and return to Portugal intact. They had little heart for fighting.
The Portuguese Allouette III with it’s 20mm cannon was the envy of our 7 Squadron pilots who had to make do with their 7.62 machine gun. The Portuguese engineers had no idea of how to operate this weapon and shortly after our arrival during a crew change-over the Portuguese cook was killed when the 20mm cannon was accidentally discharged in the camp.
First action started when an aerial assault was made on a Frelimo camp. Unfortunately there were no terrorists in the camp. However on their return from the camp a Portuguese vehicle struck a landmine. The Portuguese Colonel came running to tell us about this “Good new”. Troops were sent to the area but the rain had washed away any tracks that might have been left by the terrorists.
Operating with the Portuguese forces was very frustrating for everyone, particularly the Rhodesian Army. On numerous occasions the troops would be following fresh tracks of terrorists and would be within minutes of making contact with them, when the Portuguese officer in charge would decide that it was siesta time. The terrorists would get away and not be found that day. This was of course a good way to make sure, that you did not get yourself or your men killed or wounded.
It was during this operation that one of the helicopters of No 7 Squadron drew an engine cover into the rotor head and beat itself to death on the helport. As a result of this incident Flight Lieutenant Barry Roberts, as pilot in charge of the helicopter, was subsequently brought before a court martial.
No 4 Squadron was kept busy flying top cover for the troops, (Ed Paintin, Trevor Baynham and Roger Watt were the lucky pilots) carrying out re-supply sorties and the odd casualty evacuation.
Due to the state of the waterlogged roads in the area it became necessary to re-supplying some of the troops by air. We had no air re-supply boxes so we decided to try re-supply using a free drop method. The ration packs were placed in a grain sack, inside which tree branches were packed to protect the ration packs on impact with the ground. The end of the sacks were then sewn closed with twine to prevent them from coming undone during the operation. These sacks were then dispatched from the rear door of the Trojan at the same height and speed of a normal re-supply box. On impact with the ground, the tree branched seemed to absorb a great deal of the force and although the ration pack boxes were damaged the rations remained within the sack. This primitive system whilst not ideal did the job.
The Operation came to an end on the 15th December 1970. The Rhodesian security forces had over the period of the operation become a little wiser and started to understand some of the reason why the Portuguese forces had so little success during their anti-terrorist operations.
Operation Lobster started on 3rd August 1971 when a train was derailed near Victoria Falls. On the 7th August ZAPU forces claimed responsibility for the action on radio Zambia
Two Provost aircraft of No. 2 Squadron were involved in an air strike on the 5th September, whilst in support of the army who were doing a good job.
The operation came to an end at the end of September by which time 14 terrorists had been killed and the remainder had returned back across the Zambezi to Zambia.
Operation Sable took place during September and October 1972 in north-eastern Rhodesia and Mozambique. No 4 Squadron positioned their aircraft at Nyamapanda.
This operation started on the 30th October 1972 when two territorial force members were blown up by a landmine in the Binga area. A number of insurgents were captured and some arms discovered. The operation ended in the middle of November.
During the period 1970 to 1972, ZANLA cadres had infiltrated and cached armaments and stores in north-eastern Mashonaland, and had solicited the help of local tribesmen.
On the morning of 22nd December 1972, Altena Farm on the Zambezi escarpment near Centenary was attacked by a group of ZANLA terrorists using RPG-7 rockets and AK-47 rifles. The farm was owned by a Mr de Borchgrave but at the time of the attack the farmhouse was occupied by Mrs Biddle and four children. During the 30 second attack 8 year old Jane was wounded in the foot. Mrs Biddle managed to get the children out of the house into a car and drove away with the without headlights. She took shelter at Whistlefield Farm nearby. On leaving the farm the vehicle narrowly missed a land mine which was detonated the following morning by an army vehicle, injuring four soldiers on of whom, Corporal Moore (RLI) died later.
On the night of 23rd December 1972 Whistlefield Farm was attacked with rockets, grenades, and rifle fire. Once again a mine was laid in the road. Mark de Borchgrave and his nine year old daughter Anne were injured in the attack.
A Joint Operations Centre (JOC) was immediately set up at Centenary where the Air Force, Army, BASP and Special Branch could pool their information. The air force squadrons were placed on standby.
During the follow-up action 3 ZANLA terrorists were killed and one wounded. (He was captured on the 27th December 1972). In February 1973, 2 terrorists appeared in court charged with these attacks and the murder of Corporal Moore. They were both sentenced to death in March.1973.
On the 8th January 1973, the District Commissioner’s buildings in Mt Darwin were attacked. The ZIPRA attackers fired 2 rockets, and sprayed the offices and Country Club with automatic rifle and machine gun fire. The damage caused was two holes in the roof of the offices and a few holes in the Country Club. A land mine damaged a bridge on the road into Mt. Darwin.
On the 8th January 1973 Flight Lieutenant Graham Cronshaw and Sergeant Rob Blumeris were called out to Kazungula when a landmine was detonated on the Victoria Falls to Kazungula road. Two South African policemen were killed. The group of terrorists re-crossed the Zambezi river back into Zambia.
On the 9th January 19173 Rhodesia closed the border posts at Victoria Falls, Kariba, and Chirundu. All road and rail traffic between Rhodesia and Zambia came to a halt. Later the copper shipments from the Congo to South Africa were allowed to cross the border.
On 12th January 1973 an Allouette III flown Flight Lieutenant Dick Paxton and Sergeant Rob Cuttler, whilst on a routine patrol from Rushinga spotted an abandoned Land Rover. On inspection the vehicle was found to contain the bodies of two Ministry of Lands Inspectors, Robert Edward Bland and Dennis William Sanderson who had been reported missing earlier. They had been killed by a group of ZANLA terrorists. A third man Gerald Douglas Hawkesworth had been abducted by the terrorists who were heading for Mozambique. The Rhodesian African Rifles (RAR) supported by two helicopters were immediately dispatched to follow the terrorist group. In spite of the security forces efforts Hawkesworth was taken across the border into Mozambique where he was held as a prisoner of war. He was eventually released in December 1973.
The first military operation outside the borders of Rhodesia was launched on the 19th January 1973, with the permission of the Portuguese authorities.
A No 3 Squadron Dakota (R7303) flown by Flight Lieutenant Ivan Holtshausen took off from New Sarum at 17.30 hrs in order to drop two pathfinder teams at last light. The two four man teams were to free-fall into the area and select suitable dropping zones for the main force. They would signal information about the landing zone back to the aircraft carrying out the main force. The first team led by Lieutenant Chris Schulenberg was to drop west of the Musengezi river 36 kilometers inside Mozambique. The second team led by Captain Garth Barrett would drop to the east of the river.
The Dakota flew at 11,000feet so as not to alert anyone on the ground and arrived over the dropping zone just after sunset. The first team landed more or less where they had planned. Unfortunately, Frank Wilmot from the second stick was killed when his parachute failed to open. With no time to grieve the pathfinders had to find suitable landing sites for the main force of static line paratroopers. In the time available only one site was found and that was uneven and littered with rocks and small trees. It was midnight when Ivan returned with 20 SAS on board. The pathfinder team directed the Dakota to the drop zone and the troops were dispatched. The only casualty was a trooper with a broken ankle.
A helicopter crewed by Flight Lieutenant John Smart and Flight
Sergeant Steve Stead had been positioned to Musengezi specifically for
casualty evacuation. This aircraft uplifted the trooper with the broken
ankle back to Centenary. Another helicopter was called from Centenary
(FAF 3) to collect the body of Frank Wilmot.
The SAS remained in the area for a month, which caused consternation amongst the terrorists who thought they were safe. During this operation enough solid proof was recovered to persuade the Portuguese authorities that the Rhodesian forces should be allowed to remain in Mozambique. A great deal of equipment was captured including the first RPG-7 rocket launcher.
On the 16th January 1973 a Rhodesia security force patrol had been fired upon at a point near Nyamuomba Island between Kariba and Chirundu. Fire was not returned.
On the 18th January 1973 a Rhodesian police launch was hit by fire from the Zambian bank of the river.
On the 19th January 1973 a South African police boat was fired on while pulling out from moorings on the Rhodesian side of the river at Chirundu. During the same period a security force truck hit a land mine near Mana Pools leaving two men slightly injured.
On the 24th January 1973, Ellan Vannin Farm was attacked in the Centenary area by 9 terrorists using grenades and small arms. Mrs Ida Kleynhans was killed and her husband Chris was wounded. Air Lieutenant Giles Porter and Sergeant Ted Holland uplifted Mrs Kleynhans by helicopter to hospital. A 16year old African appeared in court charged with the murder of Mrs Kleynhans. He told the court that the terrorists had set up camp in the Chiweshe Tribal Trust Land in December.
Later in the day the security forces made contact with the terrorist gang. The battle lasted for two hours and ended with the killing of four terrorists. Another terrorist was wounded and died later.
Toward the end of January 1973 a South African Police post near the Zambezi was attacked at night. Six policemen were wounded, none of them seriously.
In February 1973 the entire population
(50,000 people) of the Chiweshe Tribal Trust Land was moved into
4th February 1973, Choana Farm, 15 kilometers south of Centenary village was attacked. with grenades and rockets. Mr. Leslie Jellicoe (aged 72) from the United Kingdom was killed. The terrorists assaulted the storekeeper and set fire to 8 tractors and a motor cycle. In September 1973, Rivers Peter Chimumondo was sentenced to death, for this attack and for placing a land-mine near a store in the Kendeya Tribal Trust Land on the 5th January 1973. Rivers Chimumondo was handed over to the security forces by his father.
All this before we even got busy. Now all we have to do is find a knowledgable volunteer to write the later years!