NAME OF OPERATION: NOT ALLOCATED OR UNKNOWN

TYPE OF OPERATION: RECONNAISSANCE

DATE OF OPERATION: MID 1970’s

AREA OF OPERATION: SEE MAP 1 BELOW

PURPOSE OF OPERATION: CONFIRM OR DISPROVE PRESENCE OF COMMUNIST TERRORISTS (CHARLIE TANGO’s OR CT’s) WITHIN AREA IN QUESTION (AIQ)

Op_1_Khami

MAP 1

MAP 1 LEGEND:

  • Red Track: Insertion Route (1 RhE HQ to Khami Prison (approx 35 kilometers))
  • Green Track: Sweep Route (Khami Prison to AIQ (approx 10 kilometers))
  • Blue Polygon: AIQ

We had been ordered to report to 1 Squadron RhE the following afternoon in civilian dress and told that our final mission briefing would take place at 16:00 hours.  We were also to bring our personal weapons and ammunition, together with our combat kit.  There was still no indication as to what the mission was as we were told very little at the briefing the previous evening except that we would be doing a reconnaissance for a possible CT presence.

The smelly little red and white Rixi Taxi dropped me off at the main gate to Brady Barracks.  I hoisted my kit bag onto my shoulder after putting on my webbing and picked up my rifle.  A grim-looking, red-sashed Colour Sergeant Duty NCO glared down at me as I passed the steps of the Brigade guard-room on the right.  Bracing-up to pay him respect the best I could under my load, I made my way to our Squadron HQ. He smiled and gave an exaggerated brace-up in return.

I was surprised to see a Rhodesian Prison Service 65-seater bus parked next to the traffic circle adjacent to our modest Squadron parade ground.  Some of the other S-Troop members had already arrived and were leaning against it smoking, talking crap amid loud bursts of laughter and a bunch of howzits greeted me as I arrived and some derogatory remark was thrown in for good measure.  We were always taking the piss out of one another and the camaraderie within the Troop was infectious.

There were about a dozen of us on this mission and once we had all arrived we were told to go to one of the lecture rooms behind our HQ and wait for the ops brief.  Terry Griffin came into the room and we all stood up and he saluted us, motioning for us to sit with a cursory wave of his hand.  He wasted no time in getting to the point.  In short there had been a report from one of our local African sources who also looked after our training camp at Khami Dam, that CT’s were visiting the camp at night asking for information with regards to Rhodesian Security Forces.  Apparently they had indicated that they would return this specific evening.  We could not be certain the source was on the level of course but we needed to either disprove or prove his information.  It had been decided at Brigade level that as this was a RhE facility and other resources were unavailable that we should do the reconnaissance ourselves. And rightly so too.

We were to be infiltrated by bus to the general area posing as prisoners being transported to Khami Prison, a large penal facility outside Bulawayo.  The map above shows the entire area of the operation as well as the route taken from 1 RhE HQ for infiltration to the Area In Question (AIQ).  Prison issued clothing would be worn on the bus to avoid any suspicion that security forces were moving into the area.  CT’s had eyes everywhere and the Mujiba system was well-developed throughout Rhodesia.  Mujibas were unarmed African children/youths who idolised the CT’s and often acted as useful intelligence sources for the gooks, indicating movement and the location of Rhodesian Forces.

Our mission was purely reconnaissance and we were not to make contact with the enemy unless compromised and our lives put at risk.  We wanted the big fish and not the plebeians feeding at the at the bottom of the pond.

With the briefing over all that remained was for us to change into prison garb, load up our kit and weapons into the bus and get ourselves seated comfortably.  It would be about a two-hour drive to Khami Prison and rush hour was upon us.  The gooks apparently always arrived after midnight and we needed to be in position long before then.

The journey took a little less than planned, the driver taking us through the western suburbs of Bulawayo including Luveve, one of the African townships.  On arrival at the prison the large wooden gates were opened and the driver stopped just inside the courtyard of the complex.  This can clearly be seen in the photo above when zoomed.  We did not enter the prison itself and we were hidden from any eyes looking out from inside.  We debussed with our kit and moved to a position along the prison wall where we could square things away.  The bus moved into the main prison area belching blue diesel fumes as it did so, leaving us in a smoky silence.

The plan was to wait until last light and then change into our camo-kit, blacken-up and move out to the planned target approach start-point.  Our civilian kit was taken to a secure area by a prison official for collection on our way out.  Up to now I had a feeling things were going to plan and we had a chance to sit back against the wall once we were prepared and just relax.  Most of us lit-up and I could smell gun-oil mixed with the cigarette smoke.

The Territorial Force Sergeant who would lead the mission was a good friend of mine and still is to this day.  He knew that for some of us, including me that this would be the first time we would be carrying out a task of this nature.  He talked to us and encouraged us, went over the plan again and made sure we all knew what we had to do and the Immediate Action Drills in the event of being ambushed on the way in.  All the last-minute confirmations……radio frequencies, where the medic would be, and general march discipline. Orders were given to check the Night Vision kit and I heard the high-pitched whine they made when warming –up.

We rechecked our weapons and cocked them; ensuring change levers were on safe, and prepared to move out.  Last light had come and gone……..it was now pitch black and there was a sharp, cool wind about.  There would be no moon until after midnight and this would help us on the way in.

As the high wooden gates swung open the prison perimeter floodlights were switched off.  Our departure was being coordinated from somewhere inside the prison.  We filed through one by one, out into the darkness.  As if on cue, the incarcerated prisoners began to sing one of their mournful songs. It was if they were bidding us a final farewell and a slight shiver ran down my back.

We walked parallel and close to the prison north wall until we reached the main road to the west.  We crossed this individually and quickly, headed off into the bush for 15 minutes and then stopped to regroup.  Once we were all accounted for we moved off to the start position which was adjacent to a wide stretch of water and began the march to the AIQ.  It had been decided that we would move into our Observation Post (OP) position in single file and this should only take a few hours with breaks in between.  As it was the approach was uneventful save for the odd curse when someone tripped on a root or got a thorn in the face from a low-hanging acacia.  The cool wind made it easy to keep up a good pace and we made it to the AIQ before we had planned, went into an all-round defence, and settled into silence.

The training camp itself was flat but surrounded on two sides by steep rocky kopjes. We had chosen one of these as our OP and it gave us a good view of the target area as well as good cover in case of attack. All was quiet. The moon had come up and we could see quite clearly without night vision equipment. There was no movement at all. It was so still that anyone approaching would be heard and we relied on this to give us an early heads-up of visitors. It struck me then that we would also have been heard moving into position on the kopje.

We had arranged that we would do 2-man watches for 30 minutes at a time. No one slept but it was nice to just lie down on the uncomfortable ground and stare up at the stars in the crystal clear sky above. The night wore on and when it came to my second watch the first golden slivers of a typical Rhodesian sunrise were visible low in the sky. Dogs barked in competition with children’s shouts in the distance and the sad sound of a cow-bell rang in the air. The smell of wood fires filtered through the air…….the smell and sounds of Africa, and a new day had dawned.

We had planned a first-light sweep through the camp to see if we could pick-up any sign that the gooks had been in the area previously. They definitely had not visited while we were there. The Sergeant gave us the signal to move back down the kopje, the same way we had gone up. We would wind our way around the kopje and then form a north/south extended line and sweep through the camp from west to east. We would be exposed now as the camp was on cleared ground with 5 or six rondavel arrangements as accommodation. Although we were fairly sure no gooks were around, first light attacks were common and we needed to remain switched on. This was not the time for complacency. As we swept through, each and every one of us knew that there was no cover except for the rondavels and most of us were a fair distance from them. If the gooks had somehow managed to get into a good position on the high ground last night without us knowing we would be in harm’s way. This was improbable but a man thinks strange thoughts in such situations. It also keeps a man alert. We were in a perfect killing ground for them, literally challenging them to have a crack at us. As it happened, there were no gooks to be found here today. We ended the sweep and moved back around to the back of the kopje, set up a secure temporary base and got the hot water on. It was time for coffee and doggos (dog biscuits) and soon the air was filled with the familiar fragrance of Esbit heating tablets and at that stage it was the sweetest smell of all.

We were to be collected by Squadron troop carriers close to the start position from the previous evening. Hopefully they would have remembered to load our left-over kit at the prison. On the walk back to the pick-up point we moved in extended line and had not relaxed our vigilance. Suddenly one of my mates on the flank called a halt and we stopped and got into a kneeling position. Ever observant he had located a chevron pattern boot print on the ground and the Sergeant confirmed this was gook spoor for sure. Sadly it was old and probably not worth following but we decided we would do so anyway, at least for a little way just to see if they led anywhere interesting. They didn’t and we lost them soon after. At least we now knew there was clear evidence that gooks, or at the minimum, someone wearing a gook boot had been in the area recently. Even though we never got any kills this was useful information for Special Branch and they deployed Ground Coverage assets into the area to sniff things out. I never heard any more of the gooks that came to visit us.

I learnt a lesson on this operation. Rhodesia has an approximate area of 391,000 square kilometres. It was not saturated with gooks. The odds of bumping into gooks every day was fairly remote unless you were on Fire-Force or just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

The wheel of chance was turning though…….and soon I would also learn that those 391,000 square kilometres were not so big after all.

Please also visit my website dedicated to Rhodesian and South African Military Engineers.  Join us on the forums by using the following link:

http://www.sasappers.net/forum/index.php

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