Basil Preston continues with his brilliant recollections…….a fantastic addition to a blog that is slowly becoming a definitive part of the Rhodesian Corps of Engineers history.

Rhodesian Navy: Boats on Kariba Binga stint (Oct 1973)

Intake 132 did their boat-training at Binga.  We made camp at the back harbour. Corporal Hydes was our instructor at the time.  We trained in the 1945 Hercules and a South African Sail Fish boat. See pics below: 1974 NS - Trackers 5 of 8 1975 10 Binga 4 of 7 1975 10 Binga 5 of 7 1975 10 Binga 6 of 7 1975 10 Binga 7 of 7 Kariba stint (Oct 1973-Feb 1974)

Doug ******* and I were attached to the Selous Scouts based at Kariba Heights. Sergeant Ant White was in charge of us.  I was a banker by profession and Doug was; I don’t really know, as he was a jack of all trades, but master of none, except womanizing.  He was engaged to two women at the same time, one was a Wankie mine disaster widow and the other was a sweet young lady he met in Salisbury.  At Kariba, he picked up another potential fiancé, I suppose this was his strategy of getting laid… Our first job was to retrieve our Hercules boat from below the Kariba Dam wall, where it was used by the previous operators, don’t know who they were. Apparently, at full throttle, both Johnsons kept the boat at a standstill.  And this was against the water current from the dam turbines’ out-let only.  Also, apparently, when the Sappers who operated this boat originally, went down to the boat, the Zambians would come down and try to intimidate them, by pointing their weapons at them and shouting abuse. The Sappers responded by giving them a full bare-butt salute. See pics below: 1974  XX Guard 1 of 5 1974  XX Guard 2 of 5 1974  XX Guard 3 of 5 1974  XX Guard 4 of 5 1974  XX Guard 5 of 5 1974 01 - 03 Boats 1 of 6 1974 01 - 03 Boats 2 of 6 Our second job on the boat was basically to service our 2 x 40hp Johnsons, which Doug did exceptionally well.  During our training, no one told us that whilst in a harbour, we were not allowed to do speed-tests, which was just messing around really.  But when we were called in front of Col Ron Reid-Daly, we realized that we had caused major upsets with the other civilian boat people, as their tools etc could have been donated to Andora harbour’s murky waters.  We both were made to feel like “you know what” and we both were taught a valuable life-lesson that day.

Early January 1974, during our service with Ant White, we (Ant, myself and Doug) were choppered out to a land-mine blast at “D” Camp, at Chirundu.  These camps were hunting lodges alongside the Zambezi.  A South African Police team were returning to their base camp when they bummed a lift from the National Parks guys; they were using two Rhino vehicles and both were over flowing with SAP and National Parks rangers, Kevin Woods, who was with the National Parks and travelling in the second vehicle, was sitting over the step-up of the Rhino vehicle. As they were leaving “D” camp, the second Rhino hit a land-mine. Kevin’s feet were badly injured, he lost one foot.  And the SAP in the vehicle were all injured, one having a broken back. As our chopper dropped us, so it took the first bunch of casualties to Wankie hospital and had to return for more.  We started our mine clearance immediately and the three of us were off.  I noticed elephant footprints and they were fresh, so I prodded them too, and was rewarded with my first land-mine discovery.  The terrs had laid one and disguised it in a footprint.  Shit, I started to shake and then we realised that the laying had been done very recently, as when the Rhino vehicles had gone into “D” camp, they would have popped one as the vehicle tracks went right over the mine.  So the terrs were close by. We disarmed the mine and then were told that we had to sleep over as the chopper could not return to collect us as it was too dark.  I don’t think the three of us got any sleep that night.  As when we were choppered in, we just had our webbing and prodders with us, no food etc.  Again I had visions of the Kariba spider doing its worst to me.  Another lesson was learnt here; be prepared for the unknown, as your lift back may be delayed.

On another mission we attempted to take one stick of (1 x 4) Selous Scouts to Fothergill Island in our Hercules boat, but right from the start into the trip we started to take on water as the waves got progressively bigger as the day grew older, and we set off late in the morning; rushed idea by someone at the top. Luckily we were assisted by the “Janet” launch, (sister ship to the Armenal; Janet, was Ian Smith’s wife’s name, and the Armanel was President Du Pont’s wife’s name, the wives were sisters too if I recall correctly).  We were thankful for this as we were following instruction only and still had a lot to learn about actual mission work. For example the thumb tip of an open hand to the tip of the “bird” finger equaled 2 x full tanks of juice.  And our boats could only take 4 x passengers and two Sappers only, and 2 x fuel tanks only, so our mission was aborted.  We could have been the first boat crew to go down (not only been sunk) in history but with the Selous Scouts not being too happy either.

Ops from here on were better planned and were not so ambitious.  Another op was very secretive, in that no one, not even Doug was allowed to know of.  I had to take two Selous Scouts to a destination beyond Chirara, and help set up a terr base camp.  This included everything one would expect to find in a base camp, even dirty woman’s clothing, cooking pots, food, fire places, uniforms etc.  We even had to build make-shift lean-to’s.  Plus dig shell-scrapes and some trenches.  This was for training purposes.  Ant White’s trainees were to find this base and then, who knows what?  Interesting out-door work to say the least.

At about the same time, Ant was training up the first Territorial tracker unit, which also had to undergo a form of Selous Scout training.  One such op related to survival training.  After an intensive 6 weeks of training, these chaps were then told that they are off to go see the snake park, and they were to come as they were dressed; PT shorts, camo shirt and takkies only.  They were taken to the harbour, and before boarding “The Janet”, they were searched.  The search was to find anything that these guys could use to help survive.  As they had to survive by using what skills they had been taught during their training.  Sometime during their training, someone lets a few tricks of the trade out of the bag, and these trainees were told to expect the unknown and to hide things like match-heads, short pieces of wire, in the seam of the shirt-pockets and PT shorts. But Ant White was wise to this.  Each guy was thoroughly searched and I doubt anything got passed him.  We dropped a group off on each Island.  One island was called “189”, it’s the biggest island you can see from Kariba Heights, and then there are two smaller islands to its right. (The very small island on the extreme right, I was told, is where Andre Rabe, the first Selous Scout killed is buried.) See pics of the two teams, one guy is holding the shell of a tortoise he found and ate: 1974 NS - Trackers 6 of 8 1974 NS - Trackers 7 of 8 1974 NS - Trackers 8 of 8 Our function as the boat crew was to be on stand-by during the week these trainee trackers spent on the islands.  We speared fished daily and generally had a good time.  We smoked the fish over a fire etc.  The only problem we had was with mother-natures hippo, as we set up our camp right on a hippo path, because it was clear of vegetation and the dreaded Kariba Spider, these spiders caught birds in their webs etc, and innocent Sappers too.  However we made sure our fire was kept burning, especially at night.  Not my idea of an ideal camp site…..see pics: 1974 NS  - Trackers 4 of 8 1974 NS - Trackers  1 of 8 1974 NS - Trackers 2 of 8 1974 NS - Trackers 3 of 8 If anything was wrong with the trainees, they were to build a fire and we would come boating.  Yes, we had a couple of night fires that we had to attend to.  One was a snake bite, and another was a scorpion bite.  Also one guy’s venereal disease played a role of him being boated off the island and off the course.  Good thing that the trainees knew how to make fire.  Our biggest problem on Kariba, especially at night is navigating the boat through the dead forest of Mopani trees.  We destroyed a few share-pins, and changing these at night was a nightmare (also see https://fatfox9.wordpress.com/2015/04/02/on-the-boatsup-the-creek-with-the-sas-part-5-also-known-as-eight-men-in-a-leaky-boat/).  When it was my turn to change one, I could always see a dam crock in my mind, so I did this job very quickly while Doug watched with his FN at the ready.  Perhaps if a crock did show, would Doug know what to do?  I am still here, so no crock fancied me. I also had the pleasure of spear-fishing with Sergeant Stretch Franklin, of the Pioneer experimental pseudo group.  We and some others took the boat out for a fun day, i.e. spear-fishing.

2nd Binga stint (1975)

(The Binga stint was during the period we were building Causeways through out the roads off the main Binga road, towards the dam area between Mlibizi and Binga.  Keith Bing was with us and what a character he was; he was the grader operator.  It was our luck that the RAR needed boat operators, and they were camped at Binga), Dave Stewart, he was from Fort Victoria, was my partner on the boat when we were attached to Major Drake of 1RAR at Binga.  We also undertook combat engineer duties too.  We operated from the front harbour of Binga, left to Mlibizi, and right to Sinamawenda, (sp) the research station past Chete gorge and all the little islands between these two points. RAR soldiers on a boat is a nightmare, as they have a fear of the water.  By this time, we had learnt that being on the lake, ones mission had to start at 04h00, this was when the lake was at its calmest.  Kariba’s progressive waves can get as big as 3 metres or more, this is the radius height, so in actual fact, the progressive wave’s diametre is 3 metres in size. I.e. imagine an “S”, from the top of the S to its middle, is what is above the water, this will be 1.5 metres and the bottom is under the water, another 1.5 metres, and is moving in whichever direction the wind was blowing.  And popping these waves head-on, sends shudders through the whole body.  It was a wonder that our little boat survived the thrashing.  The RAR guys turn white/grey and just hang onto their dog chains and pray to their ancestors, all their weapons and kit is also secured to the chain.  We also had a Machine gun mounted on the front deck, which also took a beating.  We were a Mercedes crew travelling in a Mini. I have often had a stand-up shouting match with Sergeant Majors who want to move around on the boat.  As before we start our mission, we balance out the weight, and any movement upsets the plane etc.  We explain all this shit to them, but having a fear of water is very strong.  Major Drake would tell these guys that we are in charge, no matter what, but we still had plenty of verbal punch-ups. We took sticks of RAR soldiers to the islands, dropped them off on one side, and then tiger-fished all the way round to the meet-up point.  Great fun, but nothing went to waste.  The RAR cooks got most of the tiger we caught.  And we also threw some tigers to the beloved fish-eagle, the one with the white head and brown body.  A true african beauty, especially its cry. I have a 5kg Tiger from my RAR stint on my wall to-day (1975). Plus one from Mtetsi Mouth caught whilst doing the Deka mine-field in 1978.

Dave and I had to go to Sinamawenda (sp) Research station as the terrs had crossed over and took some of the staff hostage.  This trip with a stick of RAR soldiers was worth a medal in itself as it was a fairly far trip with non swimmers.  The terrs also ransacked the place.  However, months later it came out that a certain RR company were there and had also ransacked the place as well as Sijarera Fishing camp (sp), which is on the same route.  This came about when an Engineer Lieutenant  ******* acquired a pistol and tried to license it.  During the license process it was discovered that this weapon was reported stolen from Sinamawenda (sp) Research station. This discovery was bad news for Senior Military personnel as a few officers were “cashiered” from the army.  A sad day indeed.

Van der Riet’s hunting camp 1975

During Dave’s and my camp with the RAR, the District Commissioner of Kariba was flying to Wankie, and was overhead Van der Riet’s hunting camp when he spotted a Land Cruiser which had detonated a land-mine. A chopper was dispatched to collect the injured, and Dave and I spent nearly 12 hours in a 4.5 getting there to look for more mines.  Peter Parnell had started the up-grade of this escarpment road, but was ambushed a couple of months earlier and killed at Crocroft Bridge (sp).  We arrived late at night and started to clear the area.  But being so dark etc we were not doing justice.  So we slept a crap night and resumed our search in the morning.  The road had a “Y” intersection, and the mine was placed on the hunting camps road.  We did a 2 kilometre length search on the other section of the “Y” to no avail.  It was the norm for the terrs to lay 2 mines in tandem, so after doing 2 kilometres we decided that it was clear and also no antii-personal mines were planted on the verges.  We were thorough Combat Engineers back then.  We then were treated to a breakfast at the hunting lodge, where a group of Americans were visiting.  They wanted to take pictures of all of us.  But Dave and I refused.  We had one RAR machine gunner with us, and when the yanks wanted to take pictures, the other RAR guys nearly killed themselves, all diving for the machine-gun.  This is a prestigious weapon to be photographed with. Dave and I lost respect with the Yanks, they showed us their bragging photo albums.  There were pictures of taxidermied squirrels holding ashtrays, etc , and when David saw the Yanks posing with a Sable bull which they had shot, he lost it. He was very vociferous about this.  Van der Riet took us aside and tried to calm us down.  He said that Rhodesia needed the foreign currency etc, and each guy was paying $1,000.00 USA a day, (1975) plus each animal shot had its own price tag above the daily rate, and they had already over-stayed by a week and were threatening to leave soon if they had not got their quota elephant. Van der Riet went on to explain, that his trackers would strategically place elephant dung in the opposite direction of where the elephant was, just to get more days out of the yanks.  But at the end of it, the elephant had to be sacrificed for the good of the Rhodesian economy. The people injured by the mine blast had shit for luck.  As on their way to Wankie, their chopper developed mechanical problems, and Kariba having the forest of dead Mopani trees and Kariba weed etc the pilot wanted to crash-land his chopper without damaging the rotors, as we were told that SA was selling them to us at a hugely inflated price.  Being dusk, he took the Kariba weed as being solid ground and seemed to be clear of dead wood, he was able to put his chopper down, but it sank, and the rotors were also damaged. So, instead of us heading back to Binga from the hunting camp, we were directed to go and assist with the recovery of the sunken chopper, just short of Mlibizi Also, on a follow-up call-up to Binga, Peter Parnell’s team were still busy with the road to the hunting camp, when his grader operator unearthed the tandem mine. This time we were choppered there, and were thankful that the mine was not found in the section of road we had cleared, we were about 500 metres short of finding it the first time.  So we learnt that a tandem mine has no set distance.

What a camp?

Basil Preston.

Please also have a look at my website dedicated to Rhodesian and South African Military Engineers.  Please join us on the forums by using the following link:

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© Mark Richard Craig and Fatfox9’s Blog, 2009-2015. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Another great contribution by Basil Preston to my blog.  Many thanks Basil.

Reading through this account, those of you that have been in the bush and taken part on ops will really get the feeling of having had similar experiences.  I also worked with Don Price while at 1 Indep in Wankie and always found him to be a professional soldier although he did call me a “dude” one day while we doing stopper group ops for fire-force.  Good times and I can really relate to Basils input which follows:

Boats at Binga and Sundry Combat Engineer’s duty 1978/79 (thereabouts)

We were doing a camp with 2RR?, at Binga and Major Don Price was the officer-in-charge.  The Engineers were Stan Brazer, Graham Malone and myself and we were operating the boat in between doing mine-road clearance etc.  We were to have a Pookie with us, but unfortunately it had been damaged in a mine blast before we arrived.

Major Don Price is well-known for his bush savvy and his company had many kills to their credit. But it was not always in their favour.  Major Price was very strict; in that he would not allow any of his guys to catch a lift when their stint on patrol in the bush was complete.  However, a stick of four guys had just completed their patrol and had stopped over at the police camp at Siabuwa, to wait for their pick up.  (Siabuwa, is a small relatively unknown area and one would only know about it if one travelled to Karoi from Binga through the bush, along the southern edges of Kariba driving a 4×4.  Nnear Binga, Matabeleland North, its geographical coordinates are 17° 28′ 0″ South, 28° 3′ 0″ East ).  And the police camp was on top of a gomo.

(Inserted by Mark Craig: Below is a map showing Siyabuwa…….those following the blog will see how close it is to my area of boat operations).

Siyabuwa

Instead of the stick waiting for their pick-up at the pre-arranged position, they hitched a ride with the police in a landrover.  However, the terrs had laid a mine in the tracks.  And just before the police track entered the main dirt road, they hit the mine.  Richard (?) Kashula and one/two other/s sitting in the back of the landy, where there is no mine protection were killed. John Sholts lost a leg.  The one chap sitting in front of the landy plus the cop had minor injuries. The other guy was badly burnt from a white phosphorous grenade which had gone off in his back-pack at the time of the explosion.  Kashula was an up and coming Rhodesian cricketer.  My recollection of this is a bit hazy as far as the names go.  But it was a sad day indeed for all of us.

We were all given a lambasting as to why the Major had rules and now we could all see what happens when ignored.  We all felt shit….But then we all celebrated with the Major the good things they had done.

But life goes on.  An Air Force chap, who was based at Binga at the same time had his private boat moored at the back harbour.  Stan convinced him to take us fishing, which he gladly did. We tied the boat to a tree overhanging the water’s edge.  This was at the mouth/entrance from the lake to the back harbour, as this guy said you catch “monsters” here.  All we had to do was let the line out for a while, straight down; no casting, and then jiggle the line up and down. Stan had a strike which broke the rod where the reel is connected, but after recovering the line, all the tackle was gone.  We all became very excited now, hoping to catch a “monster”.

But this was not to be.  We had all been told to be on the look out for a Romanian chap, who supposedly ferried terrs across Kariba, and also that he had a 20mm cannon on his boat.  Also, the odd police boat had been hijacked from its moorings and taken to the Zambian side from the front harbour.  Hence why we now used the back harbour.  {This was about the time the Janet was being used as the mother ship, with two strike boats operating from her. She had radar etc and were hoping to catch up with the Romanian.  An Engineer, surname Tailor did his whole camp with one contact lens as the other had been blown out by the wind during a boat patrol.}

All of a sudden, bullets were zapping over our heads.  We all shat ourselves, as we thought that the Romanian had seen us and was giving us a go.  But the bullets stopped; then resumed again, and again.  But the bullets were cracking rather high above us.  Then we saw what was going on.  The cops had floated a 44 gallon drum, and were doing “drive-by” firing practice at the drum, and the bullets were ricocheted off the water and ending up above us.  We departed in a hurry and returned to the back harbour and safety (by road to the back harbour from Binga is about 15ks, and from the front harbour to the back harbour by boat, was about 30ks.)

We became rather friendly with the Air Force chap, based at Binga at the time, who loaned us his boat whenever we wanted a bit of R and R.  But this soon came to a stop.  We were going out on another R and R trip.  And on arriving at the back harbour, we could not see the boat. But on closer inspection, we noticed the tie-up rope, and it was taught.  We went closer and saw that it was still attached to the boat.  It had sunk by itself.  We were lost for any logical reason.  Perhaps one of the cop’s bullets had done it an injury, but we will never know.

On another short patrol, this time in our Hercules, Graham Malone and I explored a part of the back harbour, which was off the beaten track so to speak (the army has given us plenty of opportunities of seeing “virgin” Rhodesia, which under normal circumstances one would never ever travel to and fishing sprees where no one has fished in years due to the terr activities.  So this may sound like bullshit, but it is not).  We were told that the tiger fish in the back harbour were a sub-species of the lake tiger; and were a smaller version and had a more snub head which was blueish in colour.  But were just as sporty as the river tiger [the lake tiger is shorter and its girth bigger; is sluggish and basically only jumps once to rid itself of the hook.] (the record for a tiger in the lake is 42 lbs caught in a net, this is old information….1972…. and the river tiger is longer and more streamlined as it has to swim against currents etc and gives a better fight).  We were able to confirm this sub species as we caught a few.

However, on a more humorous note, we were speeding along, and as we were rounding a bend, we surprised a hippo, which normally are not on land during day time, but this area was human-free and I doubt whether the hippo had ever seen a boat before.  Not only did we surprise this huge animal, it put the shits up us, as we had not seen it.  But all of a sudden, we heard this thrashing sound of something hitting water at speed.  When we saw it, it was a mass of moving, terrified animal pushing water either side of itself, similar to when a Kariba sluice gate is open full.  And it was heading directly towards us, well that’s what we thought.  It was charging along the shortest route to get back into the water and safety.  We were out of there in no time.  It is just a pity that we did not have a camera with us.  But I doubt whether any of us could have taken a picture, as things were happening at a terrific speed.

One night Don Price sent us on a night ambush.  We were to ambush the bottle store (Tolotsho Bottle Store, I think, as intel from BSAP Special Branch had heard that the terrs were going to have a beer drink) about 30ks from Binga, back on the main road towards Kamativi.  It was full moon and we were being driven by Louis Ribero.  A whizz at de-governing the TCVs.  As usual, the old Bedfords always back-fired, but Louis could make this happen as if it was a natural noise of the truck; so just after passing where we were to have the ambush, he induced the Bedford to back-fire, and slowed down so that we could hop off without killing ourselves, and once we were all off, the vehicle suddenly recovered and he continued for a couple of k’s so that the terrs would not know that we had hopped off.  Then he turned and set off back to Binga and a cold chibulie.

About 15 minutes after being dropped off, we heard this tremendous explosion.  Things always sound much louder at night.  We all knew that Louis had hit a mine.  The terrs (obviously on their way to the beer drink) had put one down just after we had passed them.  They could have ambushed us.  Anyway, we were then told to hump it back and ambush the truck.  Also, a Provost was being sent from Wankie to drop a flare in order for us to have a look-see around the truck etc.

But, the timing was out.  Ribero had been going so fast that the Major had incorrectly estimated the time it would take us to get into position and be able to use the light from the flare.  Louis had told the Major that the old Bedford could not speed.  Anyway, the plane flew over head, dropped his flare and we were still miles away.

Our adrenaline was pumping and as one knows, induces plenty of pissing time, and I just stepped off the main road onto the verge; we did not stop, so when I rejoined the line, a Rifleman nearly took me out as he had not seen me step aside.  I learnt another lesson that night.  Make sure everyone knows where every one is at all times.

Anyway, we eventually arrived at the RL, we could see enough to confirm that Louis was speeding; fortunately for him, it was on a straight and it was a right-back wheel detonation and no injuries, other than Louis’s pride.  His truck was airborne for about 50 metres before the back axle touched down again.  Another RL from the camp had already fetched Louis and his escorts before we arrived back at the injured old RL (the terrs had learnt too that when an RL back-fires that we were setting up something and the vehicle had to return, they were not all stupid as one thought and used this opportunity to plant a surprise, this was done on many occasions to other chaps).

We could not see all that good, but good enough to choose a spot for our ambush and then crept into our fart-sacks and did guard, by touching the guy next to you when your stint was over.  However, my fear of Kariba spiders was with me again.  After I crept into my sleeping bag, and just above my head, I saw this huge spider.  The type that eats innocent Sappers.  I did not move much for fear that this spider would make me his nightly snack.

I did eventually fall asleep, and when my eyes opened, the first thing I did was to see where the spider was (it’s funny how the mind works; bushes start moving, all shapes become the enemy, etc.).  Well, I had been stressed for nothing, as the huge spider was in fact the head of a grass seed, the size of a semi-closed hand.  I was thankful that I had not shared this with anyone that night, as I would not have heard the end of it.  But perhaps they also had their own spiders to contend with.

And Louis Ribero continued to drive like Speedy Gonsalas.  And survived, I hope, as he was a pleasant character.

Sapper B.R.Preston (RhE); 72860

Please also have a look at my website dedicated to Rhodesian and South African Military Engineers.  Please join us on the forums by using the following link:

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© Mark Richard Craig and Fatfox9’s Blog, 2009-2015. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

ZAMBEZI RIVER DOWNRIVER FROM MAPETA ISLAND: EN-ROUTE TO THE SAS DROP-OFF POINT

The boat was heavy and she laboured through the water and it felt as if invisible claws were trying to hold her back…..not wanting to let us go.  An omen perhaps?

Tony was doing the best he could but try as he might he could not get us up on the plane even though we had moved as much kit to the back of the boat as possible to lift the bows.  This in turn caused the stern to dip dangerously low towards the waterline and it was a little unsettling to say the least.  Port and starboard trim was good though and we remained straight and level, not tilted to one side.  We settled on a half-throttle pace, and taking our direction from the SAS Operator on the front bench the twin Evinrudes burbled us slowly back down the river.

We travelled within Rhodesian territory for quite some time, and for youngsters that had no previous experience of this type of operation this took away some of the tension of what may be ahead of us.  It was somehow reassuring to know Rhodesia, our safe haven, was not too far away if the shit hit the fan.  The SAS Operators were as always the ultimate professionals and I was proud to be working with them.  They instilled a sense of security.  You knew instinctively that if things turned nasty they would know exactly what to do.  They were good men.

We had passed the Maungwa River mouth to the north, and then our second home the British South Africa Police (BSAP) camp at Sibankwazi.  Msuna Mouth glided by in the darkness to our right and I craved for the ice-cold beers and battered barbel snacks I had consumed there on many a visit to the friendly owners of the fishing resort.  It was easy to let ones mind roam and that was dangerous.  We meandered on down the river, passing two large islands……both pitch-black and foreboding.

I was jerked back to the present, my mind having begun to wander off.  Tony had swung us hard a-port and I lost my balance slightly while at the same time keeping a beady eye on the bow wave.  The SAS man at the front had given a silent direction change to Tony.  In a few minutes we would be crossing the invisible line that marked the international border between Rhodesia and Zambia.  It was an eerie feeling, crossing into another country without permission, no passports, no questions.  I began to warm to the idea of doing something I had never done before, and indeed I had crossed that point where fear no longer exists.  You were committed to the mission, personal weakness or doubts could no longer be a consideration and there was no turning back.  On every high-risk mission I have taken part in there was always a short period when I was afraid, sometimes very afraid.  With me this is usually at the start and moving into the advance-to contact-phase, but once time crosses that indefinable moment that I cannot explain, a wonderful warm feeling washes over me….a feeling of being in control of my own emotions and destiny.  The dye had been cast and there was no return.

It was that time for me now……approaching enemy shores on a dark and lonely river.

40

(Reservoir by StrongSteve)

The atmosphere on the boat had changed in a very subtle way.  No one said anything but you could feel it.  The SAS men began to check small details on their kit.  Weapons were moved into more convenient positions, the smell of gun-oil permeating the air, masculine and comforting.  Webbing was tightened over shoulders, shifting the weight of equipment onto the hips.  Legs were stretched in the cramped confines of the boat.

A small red light came on as one of the Operators checked a plastic covered map with a small torch…….looking up at me he nodded his head, managing a white-toothed smile that shone through the darkness of the night and his camouflage cream.  We were now well into Zambian waters and heading towards the Mulola River, one of the biggest rivers that emptied from that country into the Zambezi.  We could see its gaping mouth ahead of us……a huge dark maw of emptiness seemingly waiting to swallow its victim.  As we exited the Zambezi and entered the Mulola it became claustrophobic…….or so it seemed to me.  After having vast expanses of water between the boat and land previously, we were now being enclosed by the high, almost invisible banks of the Mulola.  The feeling of vulnerability returned to me, this would be the perfect place for an ambush and a mans imagination can run amok.  This is good in some ways as it keeps you switched on.  We were trained to always look for cover to move to if attacked.  On land this is great idea but in the middle of a river it means absolutely bugger all.  if the gooks were waiting for us we were well and truly fucked.  Even if we made it to one of the banks, climbing to safe ground would be a challenge in the thick, rich vegetation.  I unconsciously thought of gunfire and green tracers arching through the night sky……..willing them to stay away.

I cannot be sure how far we went up the river but probably about 2 kilometers as far as I can remember.  Tony had the engines throttled right back now and we were just making enough way for the con to respond.  At this speed the engines were almost silent but in the still dark night sounded to me like a pair of screaming banshees.  it seemed to me that any gook within 100 clicks would hear us.

Ops Mulola 2

The map above shows our general route from the pick-up point to the drop-off point.  Places of note along the way are also shown.  The Mulola was, to the best of my recollection dry in some areas at that time and we navigated up river via quite narrow channels.

The boat rocked as the SAS Operator at the front stood up.  He was studying the bank on the western side of the river.  Understandably there had been no pre-recce of a drop-off point for security reasons and getting these lads off safely was now our top priority.  It was past midnight and we also needed to get back before first light.  We kept moving further into Zambia.  The SAS navigator indicated to Tony that we should get closer to the bank and stop.  He took out his map, again a little red torch was used, the only sound the two idling engines.  The navigator moved us forward again…….one, two, three minutes passed and then just before the river took a sharp turn to the left he had Tony pull us into a wide hippo-track that led up the river bank.  We had arrived at the drop-off point.

These men were well-trained.  There was no need for chatter or briefings.  That was all done before we left Rhodesia.  And they were so silent….no clanking or scraping of metal.  Preparation was perfect in all respects.   Everyone knew what he had to do and what kit he needed to carry.  They disembarked fast and before we knew it all except one had disappeared up the hippo-track to the top of the river bank.  The boat seemed to breathe a huge sigh as the weight was lifted from her trusty old frame and she rose proudly up and out of the water, rocking gently to and fro.  The Operator that remained with us spoke in low tones.  He thanked us on behalf of the others and added that the plan had changed.  We no longer needed to go back to the old farm at Mapeta, nor would we need to pick them up.  We were to go straight back to Sibankwazi.

And then he was gone…….a grey ghost vanishing into the night.  I was a little sad really and I would miss those guys.

There was a lot of water in the boat, all pooled at the stern under my booted feet.  This was not as bad as it seemed and it would drain through a manually operated ball-cock on the way back when we got up on the plane.  It was time for Tony and I to change over.  The first thing to be done was to connect the reserve fuel tanks without killing the motors.  We wanted to keep them running to avoid any type of technical failure on a restart.  This was not too much of a challenge and we managed to bring the new fuel on-line without incident.

Tony took his place at the stern and I got behind the wheel…………it was time for the lonely journey back.  Thats when my imagination started working overtime again.  What if the evil gooks had planned it this way?  Let us in and then shoot the shit out of us on the way out?  it seemed plausible to me and something I might try if I were in their position.  Just one of those things though and we needed to get moving.

Both engines were gurgling sweetly on idle and Tony gave me a thumbs-up to start moving astern.  I took a sip of Coke from a can I had opened and shifted both engines into reverse……..and heard the sickening crack of a propeller shear-pin snapping.  I had somehow manged to break the golden rule…….too many revs when changing gear normally equals shear-pin failure.  I had just screwed-up fifty percent of our motive power and possibly placed us in harm’s way.

We were now two clicks up a Zambian Creek in a leaky boat with a dead engine………and the possibility we were being watched by bad guys was very real.

This mission was far from over………….

Please also have a look at my website dedicated to Rhodesian and South African Military Engineers.  Please join us on the forums by using the following link:

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

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© Mark Richard Craig and Fatfox9’s Blog, 2009-2015. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DEKA ARMY BASE: LATE AFTERNOON

Conversation between Camp OC and ourselves:

“I want you two wasters to get your boat ready for a night operation.  You are to take your boat to this grid reference (him indicating on the map) and wait there for someone to make contact with you.  You will need spare fuel tanks, 24 hours rations and full ammo.  I cannot tell you anything else but make sure you get there just as last light falls and don’t fuck up on the position I just gave you”

That was it.  Short and to the point.

It quickly became time to go.  As Tony and I climbed into the back of the Mercedes 25 Troop Carrying Vehicle (TCV) we looked at each other and wondered what the hell this was all about.  We didn’t even know who we were supposed to meet and more importantly, what for.  The driver fired the Unimog up and with a characteristic torque-induced jerk we were off, easing through the camp entrance, and then turning sharp left onto the road to Sibankwazi.  To our boat……..and the Zambezi River.

I had looked at the Ops Room map as the Captain briefed us and taken down the grid reference we were headed for.  As far as my memory serves me it was at the position marked SAS pick-up position on the map shown below, near to Mapeta Island:

Ops Mulola

Tony and I had worked the time and distance calculation to get us to the Rendezvous Point (RV) just as last light was coming on.  We were both edgy and rather subdued on the journey down to the boat, each of us respecting one another’s silence.  Travelling the Zambezi River during the day was a challenge at the best of times, always having to ensure that we never strayed across the international boundary (Rhodesia/Zambia), which was an invisible line running up and down the river, but not necessarily in the middle.  We were now going to be travelling on the water towards dusk and more than likely in darkness if our suspicions were right.  Logic told us that no one would want us to meet them with a boat if they were not going to use it.  We were spot on!

We had trained to work on the Zambezi River at night and knew that the landmarks that we used for daytime navigation, could also be used at night.  We always chose high features that would silhouette easily against the sky or stars for navigation.  Simply put we would know what feature to point our bows at and which feature our stern should be pointing at to stay safe.  Quite an easy task in daylight but in darkness a mans eyes play games, confusing the mind as to what feature is what, what is true and what is false.  Making you doubt your own judgement, possibly leading you into a bad place.  No GPS in those days…….maps, compass, eyes and dead reckoning.  I loved that kind of navigating though.  Seat of the pants stuff and a small victory when you arrived at the right location.

We debussed at Sibankwazi, close to our boat.  First on the agenda was to check in with the British South African Police (BSAP) personnel at the camp and let them know we were going out on the water.  There was nothing to tell really, just that we were going up river and would stay in comms with them.  We took comfort in knowing they would come out and help us if the shit hit the fan.  They were good lads and always watched our backs.  And they had nice, shiny fast boats with big guns on.

Tony and I finished our preparations, cleaning the inside of the boat, filling fuel tanks (2 per engine), checking our small supply of boat spares, running up the engines (which had no covers), checking radio comms with the police and Deka Base, and checking our personal weapons and kit.  I would take us on the outward leg and Tony would bring us back.  What happened in between we would share.

The picture below shows Sappers carrying out typical boat preparation activities.  This is the exact same type of boat we were using on this mission (Basil Preston):

Typical boat preps

It was time to move out.  I moved the throttles to the start position and made sure the engines were in neutral.  Tony pumped the primer balls to get juice into the carbs, wound the starting rope around the first engine and pulled it.  The engine fired and I adjusted the throttle to a gentle idle.  He started the second engine and we were ready.  I let the two engines idle for a minute or two while Tony made sure water was being expelled from the cooling system outlets.

I gave Tony a thumbs up and he slipped the mooring line.  I moved both engines to reverse and we began gently edging astern and away from land.  Once far enough out I put the engines in forward gear, pushed up the revs and pointed our bows north-west…..into the gathering gloom……we were on our way.

The picture below gives an idea of the Zambezi River at night……..a very dodgy place to be, especially if there was no moon:

DSC01634

Please also have a look at my website dedicated to Rhodesian and South African Military Engineers.  Please join us on the forums by using the following link:

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I watched the snake slither along the wooden rafter of the hut, its black tongue flicking ahead, feeling the way.  Lying on my bed and looking up at the bright green reptile I wondered what my escape plan was.  It was the first time a mamba had come into our billet but I always knew our luck would run out one day.  We were after all in the middle of the bush, working out of Deka Army Base and snakes were quite commonplace.  I didn’t like snakes then and I don’t like snakes now.  Just one of those things.  Anything else I can handle.

Here is a picture of a Green Mamba (greenmambasnake.com)…..a very dodgy visitor indeed:

img0002

There were two of us.  Both Sappers from 1 Engineer Squadron and attached to the infantry unit at the camp.  I think it was 1 Independent Company from Wankie based there most of the time on Border Control operations.  Tony Carinus and I were tasked with operating a Hercules Assault Boat within our area of responsibility on the Zambezi River, and our boat was moored with the British South Africa Police (BSAP) boats at the Sibankwazi Police post.  We had approximately 60 kilometres of river to patrol which was quite a stretch and we tried to cover this as often as we could.

Our boats were shite-looking and the police boats were all shiny and painted in cute pastel colours with lots of aerials on them so they could listen to Sally Donaldson and Forces Requests on Sundays.  Papa5 was a particularly nice police boat that I would have given my left testicle to take onto the river but big John Arkley, the Member-In-Charge of the Sibankwazi BSAP would not allow it.  We never had any aerials as we had no one in particular to talk to and the boats were painted a matt dark green, or at least they were green when they were new which must have been in 1945 or earlier.

Here is a picture of one of our boats (Basil Preston):

Hercules and Basil

Please note the warped wooden seats  made for extreme anal comfort, and the generally dodgy state of seaworthiness.  I must say that this boat at least has engine covers on the twin 40 ponypower Evinrude outboards so is probably a VIP version.  A close look at the red fuel tank also indicates it was probably “borrowed” from a civvy fisherman on a long-term basis as ours were a dull drab brown colour.  Either that or the QM ran out of camo paint or brushes, or both.

Here is a picture of the area of the Sibankwazi Police Post (www.bsap.org) where we moored up.

Sibankwazi

Our boat was not allowed under the shelter because there were too many shiny police boats in there.  We normally tied up to the left of the shelter near the launching area (see above).  Having said that the bobbies were always very good to Tony and I and we had many good piss-ups and braais with them.  They were also destined to get me out of some fairly serious shit in the years to come.

Tony and I normally planned our own activities and it seemed in retrospect that the infantry Sunray (OC) at the camp never had much interest in what we got up to all day.  Only occasionally would we drop-off or pick-up infantry sticks along the Rhodesian side of the river.  This resulted in a lot of tiger fishing, game viewing, stopping off at Msuna Mouth or Deka Drum resorts for beers and a meal, or simply patrolling up and down the river looking for gook crossing points or even better still, some gooks.

This is the Deka Drum area of the Zambezi (Craig Haskins)………

Deka Drum

A pretty enjoyable time for me and Tony in general and I have fond memories of my days on the boats.  We did however have some dodgy experiences and these will part of the next few posts.

Please also have a look at my website dedicated to Rhodesian and South African Military Engineers.  Please join us on the forums by using the following link:

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The response to my request for personal experiences on Cordon Sanitaire has resulted in a number of submissions from people who clearly want to see our history recorded and celebrated.  Long forgotten names are being mentioned, sparking the grey matter into life once again and there is so much to be gained by reading about other people’s experiences on the Cordon.  I for one feel enriched by all of this.

The following is from Basil Preston, a Rhodesian Sapper who I am sure has many more stories to share with us and I really hope that he does.  I have slightly redacted Basils submission, however it is mostly exactly the way he sent it to me.

Hi Mark,

My name is Basil Preston army number was 72860 and I became an Engineer after I did my basics at Llewellyn starting 07/06/1972, Intake 132.

I have just read your blog about the Cordon Sanitare (sp) mine-field starting at Mukumbura.

We were the first Engineers to start this field, in either February/March or April 1973, can’t remember the exact date, (but ABBA, the Swedish group had just announced that they were in support of the freedom fighters at that time, we all dropped them from our favourites after this announcement).

We were tasked with the clearing of the bush etc with bulldozers and graders. Our main chap who loved the grader work was Gordon Paterson, who was black by the end of his shift from all the dust and sweat.

We were broken up into 3 groups; clearing party, guarding the workers and the clearance party comprising 3 sappers, who did a 360 around the whole group. Tetse workers were busy with the fencing.

Corporal Gleson was in charge of us, and Corporal Charlie Mcquillan and Sergeant Hitchins/Hutchuns (sp) were there too, but did nothing special as they were imports from the UK who joined the army as regulars and were being bushed trained. These chaps were electricians by trade, but knew nothing much about our conditions or bush. We were about 20 sappers all told, and were looking forward to our demobbing in June.  We were due to pass out on the 13/05/1973.  Melvin Hein, Tommy Dickinson, Basil Kirby, Mike Travaglini, Gordon Paterson, Gumbie Dixon are just a few names I remember.

We were told that if we saw anyone foreign to our people, we were to first contact base camp to confirm, as they could be Tetse workers.

On our first outing, I was part of the 360 group, comprising Tommy (Dicky) Dickinson, Gumbie Dixon and myself, and we had just collected Marula fruit and were busy eating them when I noticed movement about 400 metres away from us. As I passed a huge palm leaf, the 2 images I saw went to ground. I shouted “ters” and we took cover, made contact with base camp, who told us to wait one, and they would come and assist. (contact via our radio was a laugh, as Dicky’s hand was shaking so much, the coms was interrupted going out, as the hand press-switch was also being pushed on and off as the shakes continued)

We were high on adrenalin and got impatient waiting for back-up, and started to leopard crawl through a dried out mealie field, which was cutting our knees to pieces. We then ran to where we saw the 2 images go down, all the grass was laid flat.

Back-up arrived nearly an hour late, and off we went. By this time, the Cts were back in Mocambique. But we still did a follow up. Crossing our own freshly graded mine field was hectic. Crossing by running across the open one at a time The Sergeant got stuck on the fence as the strain of wire wedged between his back-pack and his back, I ran forward to help the guy,who did not appreciate it as we were now both sitting targets.

Nevertheless, we were the first group of sappers to have a “contact” be it visual only. We were not impressed with the time it took the back-up to arrive and we voiced our views on this.

But to cut a long story short. After weeks doing the same thing, day in and day out, and nightly ambushes along the field, we started to get gut-vol.

On our return from the field one day, Charlie Mcquillan, wanted to put my group on extras as he had found a tin of jam in our bivy area, full of stinkbugs and ants eating the left-overs. One of our group had acquired the tin of jam from the kitchen. We were short on every thing by this time.  We lost it and asked him why he was snooping around; and threatened him with his life. Dicky was going to see that he never left the country, as he was “customs” back in civy life, I was a banker and told him that he would never get foreign exchange when he left Rhodesia and Melvin just wanted to hit him with a pick-handle. The rest of the guys just wanted to bury him in our trench. Corporal Gleson saved Charlie that day.

I also went onto doing the Dekka mine-field, and the one at Villers. Did boats in Kariba with Ant White, at the time they were forming the Selous Scouts and served with RAR, 2RR for almost the whole of the continuous period at Malapati and various other RR Companies. Looking back, I had a tough 8 years of army life as a sapper. My son was 3 weeks old when I was called up for the “Continuous” period and was 13 months old when I saw him proper again. All told, the guys I served with were a great bunch indeed. Mick (Chum) Jones was in my intake too. He was killed with Leroy Duberly, Charles Small, Peter Fox and one other during the second Chimoi external. They were with a bunch of RLI all in a Puma which was shot down, all 17 in the chopper were killed.

Thats all for now.

Regards, Basil Preston

Photos of Basil are shown below:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Please also have a look at my website dedicated to Rhodesian and South African Military Engineers.  Please join us on the forums by using the following link:

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As mentioned in my previous post we will continue with the personal recollections of some of those that worked on Cordon Sanitaire.  In this post we have accounts from Vic Thackwray, another former Commanding Officer of mine.  I had the pleasure to work with Vic in the Rhodesian Army (RhE), the South African Defence Force (SADF (SAEC)), and also in the private sector after we had both ended our military careers.  Vic and I remain close friends and I wish to thank him here publicly for all of the help and sage advice he has given me over the years, and will probably also need to do in the future.  I am bound to ask him something and he always responds rapidly and with a genuine willingness.  Thanks for everything Vic…..you are one of a kind.

The picture below shows Vic (left, saluting with the sword) as Parade Commander at the Last Official Parade of the Rhodesia Corps of Engineers in 1979……..a sad day indeed and the end of an era but how proud he must have been!!

Doc1

Vic takes up the post from here…………starting with an interesting and sobering Cordon Sanitaire Fact Sheet:

‘CORDON SANITAIRE’ FACT SHEET

The following illustrates my involvement with the Rhodesian Cordon Sanitaire.

  • My initial deployment to Cordon Sanitaire was to take over from Terry Griffin (see previous post) who had trained the first mine laying teams in Mukumbura.
  • My second in command was a Corporal Charlie MacQuillan who had recently attested into the Rhodesian Corps of Engineers from the British Army.
  • We commenced laying the Portuguese M969 mine.  This was followed by the South African R2M1 mine, the South African R2M2 mine, the Rhodesian Engineer manufactured RAP mine (commonly referred to as the ‘Carrot Mine’), and the Italian VS50 mine.
  • The Cordon concept was based on the Israeli Defence Force minefield which separates Lebanon from Israel and is called the ‘Blue Line’, the electronics used in Israel were used for the first 50 km or so in Rhodesia but was soon ‘binned’ for financial reasons coupled with the constant triggering of the system by wild animals.
  • The total length of the combined minefields is 696 km
  • The density of mines was 3,000 mines per kilometer with 300 ploughshares per kilometer for approx 500 kilometers.
  • A committee was inaugurated comprising the SADF, the Rhodesian Army, and elements of CSIR in SA and was called the ‘Geisha Committee’.  It was formed to discuss, workshop and plan all mine action activities between the two countries.
  • One of the senior CSIR members, (name removed) was instrumental in the design and manufacture of the R2M1 and R2M2 AP mines. I was tasked to assist on the ground in the Mukumbura area and established a ‘Seed Minefield’ within our minefield. In this area we laid many mines at predetermined depths and other technical data. On frequent occasions the Professor would travel to the field and I would be instructed to remove selected mines for observation and assessment.
  • Accidents involving own troops during laying, maintenance and some clearance numbered 97, of which the majority were traumatic amputations of one leg, and 1 member both legs, (1 above and 1 below the knee) (Sgt. Willem Snyder). Several of the 96 members lost hands, fingers and eyes, 1 unfortunate member Spr Ndlovu lost both hands and blinded in both eyes during the arming of a plough share.  The deaths of members numbered 30, however, this figure is not confirmed but estimated by me and several other officers of the Corps.  he majority of accidents and ALL the deaths are attributable to the Maintenance phase of the Cordon. I am aware of members being killed when the point Sapper walking down a safe lane was confronted by a snake, normally a Black Mamba or Cobra and he just ran blindly into the minefield and subsequently triggered the trip wire of a plough share instantly dying and often a few of the maintenance team were injured by shrapnel.  Additionally other members were killed or severely injured when replacing plough shares during which the 30 metre trip wire was hit by Doves, guinea fowl, small antelope, and turkey buzzards.  In the Umtali forest areas where I spent considerable time, several members were injured or killed when the plough share was triggered by falling bark from Gum trees as the Cordon went through many Gum Tree plantations.  Again in the Umtali area some 5 accidents were attributed to terrain problems, whilst maintaining the minefield the 15-20 cm. thick soggy/wet leaf mould caused the members to slip/slide and subsequently hit a mine on their rapid descent.  One young Sapper lost his leg when he foolishly attempted to retrieve a set of Kudu trophy Horns in the Northern minefield.
  • The Cordon, in 99% of cases employed the International Border as the Enemy fence, for obvious political reasons.
  • When the terrain dictated that the Cordon could not follow the Border, the proposed route of the field was assessed and this information subjected to a high level detailed Military Appreciation.  Changing the minefield routing obviously required high level Political input as it involved, Private land, farms, forestry, National parks, Police, Internal Affairs, and Tribal burial grounds, to mention a few.  This appreciation and request was forwarded to Parliament via Engineer Directorate to Army Commander to COMOPS for approval.  The agreed rerouting on the Rhodesian side of the border together with detailed maps of the new routing was then subsequently issued from Engineer Directorate.
  • The Cordon including all maps, diagrams, drawings, mine stocks and all reports etc., was officially handed over to the New ZANU Commander of the Zimbabwe Corps of Engineers over period April 1980 to December 1980.

Vic continues with anecdotes he recalls from the time:

During the maintenance of the Cordon Sanitaire, we frequently had to deal with wounded terrorists in the field, on one occasion near the Mazoe river bridge on the Northern border with Mocambique  we were informed of four terrorists injured in the field, I proceeded with my team, ably protected by “Dads Army” , (the over 50-year-old soldiers)!

On arrival I deployed the protection troops to give me covering fire, gave them strict orders on the rules of engagement and proceeded to clear into the field.

Of the four terrorists, one dead, one youth (more a porter of equipment than a combatant), and two combatants, one had lost both feet and the other, one foot. Both with AK rifles close by and  lying with their injuries slightly elevated on packs to reduce pain and bleeding. I gave them the usual warning that if they moved during my clearance in to save them, the troops would not hesitate to take them out.

All prepared, focused and fully hyped, I commenced clearance, when suddenly out of the blue, one of the “old soldiers”, a bank manager,  called out to me in a loud and very posh voice:

 Quote
“ I say sir, there is no threat here, it appears that all these chaps have been defe(e)ated”
unquote .

That just cracked me up, I needed a few minutes to regain my composure, and focus before resuming clearance.

And another…………………….

First Version of the Ploughshare

Based with Major Henk Meyer 1st. Battalion RLI at Mukumbura,

I had been tasked by Colonel Parker (affectionately called the ‘King’) who was based at Mount Darwin to strengthen the minefield over a certain area as they were expecting a thrust from Mocambique.

I installed 30 trip wire operated devices (First version of the ploughshare, using old pull switch devices.

Major Henk Meyer instructed me to show and explain the procedure to Captain Keith Sampson RhE., and a Selous Scouts Officer Major John Murphy (ex American Military), with parting words from Major Henk, ‘be careful Thackwray’.

I was dressed in Veldskoens, no socks, camo shorts, camo shirt, chest webbing, Camo floppy hat, water bottles and rifle .

We walked about 2 km along the fence with army protection on our left hand side, crossed the minefield at my clearance lane into Mocambique and walked 400 metres along the minefield fence to the position of the devices.

At a safe distance from the devices, I instructed them to wait at the fence whilst I made the device safe, I went in, removed 2 of the 3 ‘keeper mines’ from the base of the device and removed the detonator from the trip wire device, placing the detonator  below my lower legs .

I commenced describing the device when (according to the protection force members) a bird some 20 metres down, flew into the trip wire, the detonator blew and I received detonator shrapnel, mainly to face, head, arms, legs and lost an eardrum, fortunately I had my prescription glasses on.

The two very agitated visitors were trying to come through the fence to assist me, I calmed them down stating that I was OK just a little blood, Major John Murphy then said words to the effect that ‘Rhodesians had big balls’. With ringing in my ears I only remember hearing the word balls, to which I immediately and instinctively checked my 6 o’ clock position, all was found to be good and this reaction was enjoyed by my visitors.

I relaid the 2 mines around the base and we walked back the 400 metres and along the 2 km road to base, it was amusing because all the supporting troops were staring at this walking bloodied apparition.

We finally arrived back at RLI base and my shoes were swimming in blood I was an apparition to behold, Major Henk Meyer was not amused and taking off his beret swiped me with it, saying “I told you to be careful Thackwray and what am I going to tell the King (Colonel Parker)”?.

I was casevaced to salisbury two days later.

Below I have included pictures from Vics contributions showing the types of mines he mentions :

Portuguese M969

M969

South African R2M2 (R2M1 was very similar in overall design but had a different ignitor)

r2inhand

Rhodesian Carrot Mine (RAP)

rap1_001

Some of the items may vary in colour from what the Cordon Sanitaire veterans remember but the general shape and design are spot on.

I would like to thank Vic once again for his input here

………..and just before I sign off this post:

Cheers Vic

CHEERS VIC!!!!!!

 

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I have received significant help from a number of individuals with regards to various aspects of Cordon Sanitaire.  It is only fair that their experiences are also shared with my readers and this seems a good time to do it.

This is my way of thanking them and acknowledging their contribution to the Rhodesian Corps of Engineers own private war within the Rhodesian Bush War.

Cordon Sanitaire was indeed our very own personal, deadly war.  I am not saying that our supporting units did not contribute to this war………what I am saying is that we were the guys pulling the pins.

I would like to start off with contributions from Terry Griffin, one of my former Commanding Officers at 1 Engineer Squadron.  I am posting this exactly as he sent his recollection to me…….if I done it any other way it would lose the impact of the era.  I have seperated his submissions by a dotted line.

Terry takes up the post from here:

I was quite bemused, when attending an “early” mine warfare committee meeting, held at Army HQ prior to deployment of the first team to Mukkers – as previously detailed. At the meeting, were all sorts of folk who had an “interest” in what was to become the Cordon – as in Tsetse and various Army people etc. These meetings were held on a regular basis to discuss improvements , change of tactics etc, etc. However, at this “first” meeting the aspect of the Geneva Convention was discussed at length where correct signage, fenced on both sides etc, etc was laid down as pretty much a non-negotiable aspect. This was just in case we offended anyone and were then leaving ourselves open to be charged with war crimes. Can you believe it !! I recall very clearly being opposed to this “requirement” (as were a few other folk present) – for many reasons. Not least our “Coin” war aspect where camouflage and concealment etc was a “local” criteria and why should we “advertise” the minefield thereby nullifying its concealment etc and above all – who was going to arrest us and take us to court – in Geneva? We were overruled and the “first” minefield complied with the Geneva Convention – to ensure no comeback !! After completing my ERE attachment to RLI and being posted all over the country I (several years later) became involved with the Cordon again and was delighted to find that the Geneva Convention had been dispensed with. A classic example was in the Deka area where (as I am sure you recall) no North side fence was ever erected. Gooks just had to find out when they entered the minefield – more by when the first explosion went off.  

Going back to the original / first field, am sure you recall, we had not developed the ploughshare (on a stake) yet so, all mines were AP’s laid as per original design. Due to the costly clearing (and stupid) of bush etc it was very difficult to camouflage all and even days later, unless rain (which did not fall often) or strong winds, concealed the placement – most laid mines positions were very/fairly visible. The open bare earth aspect (as per my pics you have) made the field look like a dirt landing strip – for light aircraft – in the middle of the bush. This is pretty much what it became as hordes of Ground Hornbills (Turkey Buzzards) descended into the field and inevitably sourced their daily food by pecking around the obvious digging areas. This resulted in many birds, either exposing the AP’s or occasionally blowing themselves up as they (obviously) pecked with sufficient force to detonate the mine. This resulted in the most hazardous aspect of the Cordon (to my mind) being re-entry to re- lay  mines. We did try shooting these birds, to prevent their damage, but they arrived in their 100’s from all over the NE when the cleared bare earth, easy meal, word got out.  Large animals as in Kudu, Elephant, Buffalo etc were not a problem here as there was no vegetation (between fences) for them to eat. Only the occasional one that took offence, to the fence, being in its way – as it were. This was to change in years to come as without bush clearing, the vegetation between fences had limited predation hence many of these herbivorous animals now saw the pristine vegetation growing between fences and broke through to eat from the protected larder – as it were.  Again, the hazardous task of re-laying took place and I eventually (when OC 1 Sqn) banned all re-laying due to the casualties already sustained. However, the later aspect resulted in another bird being a danger. When an animal had been killed in the field, we now had hordes of vultures descending on the carcase. Empty and light, a vulture just came straight down to feed. After engorging (and now heavy / overloaded) it needed a running take off which often resulted in it activating a tripwire from the now laid ploughshares !! Many occasions I/we came round a corner either on foot or in a vehicle, next to the fence and surprised vultures on a carcase. As they started their running take off we would duck behind any available cover to avoid the inevitable shrapnel emanating for the ploughshare – as I am sure you recall ? I am aware of a dozen or so Sprs (not me thank goodness) who suffered “minor” injuries from this shrapnel as obviously we were at some distance from the detonation.

————————————————————————————————————-

Some light humour – wrt the Cordon, as opposed to all the “damage” it caused to humans and wildlife.

One of the highly intelligent Dr’s working for Tsetse, who had several degrees in Entomology etc  was a rather dour individual. His name escapes me but am sure Vic will recall him if not remember his name. He was present at most Mine warfare committee meetings.

Anyway, one hot and boring day at Mukkers I had been bitten dozens of times by Tsetse flies and in desperation made my way to the cab of a 45 shutting doors and windows to complete (hopefully in some peace- from the flies) my report.

I noticed several flies were shut inside the cab so, in absolute glee commenced with my “payback” as in catching every one, and with my finger nails, removing their proboscis and then releasing in the cab – alive. I  carried on (in peace) with writing my report. Sometime later this Dr who was at Mukkers and seldom ventured into the field joined me in the cab of the 45 as he was also fed up with being bitten. We discussed many things not least where / how he obtained his PhD and that it was sacrilege to refer to a Tsetse employee (especially a Dr) as just a plain entomologist. They were in fact called Glossinologist’s – as in specialist (entomologists) Tsetse fly folk. There is much on the web about this. After some minutes he let out a yell that resulted in me grabbing my rifle and commencing a one man assault on an enemy as yet unseen. Before I could de bus he insisted on the cab remaining closed and in a high pitched voice asked for help in catching the flies (in the cab) as he had just noticed non had a proboscis. They must be some sort of Tsetse “morph “ or anomaly in nature, that he would now investigate and maybe be able to breed, release into the wild and potentially eradicate the Tsetse scourge as there were obviously some flies that could exist without sucking blood.

When we had caught most and carefully placed in a container he had, he enquired as to my persistent giggling as this was an entomologist “dream” but he would assure me of a mention in his research. I then in stiches of laughter told him about my “payback” which did not amuse him. On pain of death he asked me never to divulge this incident as it would make him out to be a bit of a fool – amongst his peers etc. I have never mentioned it until now but still have a quiet chuckle whenever I think about it.

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Basically I was tasked with doing the defoliation on Chete Island after the gooks wacked the civvy ferry. I called up S Tp from 1 Sqn albeit I was OC Boats at the time and then we sailed plus Tsetse in the Army ferry (Ubique) from Kariba to Chete. Had strike craft as back up and positioned one at each entry to the gorge as it had been declared a frozen area for all craft during the OP. Went ashore (after anchoring on the island – invading enemy territory !! – to clear it of gooks – if any. There were none. Tsetse also provided back up (Jack Kerr plus another) with ,458 rifles in case elephants had a go at us. They did not. After positioning the guys in a defensive role we cleared the area where the gooks had fired from – onto the ferry – which still had much kit lying around from the firing point. Tsetse folk then used a defoliant called Hivar (as I recall) and by hand distributed like it was fertiliser along the entire bank facing the gorge and inland a short way. This would (as it did) clear that sector of all foliage and thereby (hopefully) deny natural cover. After the first rains it was evident all was dying off and it did clear all fairly quickly creating a rather bare scar along that section of the island. Some 10 years later it was still very visible but on my last fishing trip there + – 4 years ago all had now regrown. The gooks never did use the original firing position again.

Chete Gorge

Kariba-Ferries-Chete-GorgeAfricamemories.com

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The very first minefield laying etc (again) I was OC of that – starting at Mukambura. Lt Col Horne actually came up with the team I had trained – for a look see.

Tsetse were (as per normal) responsible for erecting fences but we also had plant tp folk with bulldozers and graders clearing all so we had bare earth in and outside the minefield to work on. This was also to prevent gooks taking cover in the bush. At that stage the minefield was approx. 25m wide. In no time I realised this method was an absolute waste of time money etc, etc as we also provided armed protection for the dozer drivers etc way ahead of laying teams. To keep a definitive 25m width etc was patently stupid so I wrote a paper and suggested fences meander to create doubt as to depth of field – albeit still 3 rows – and do NOT clear vegetation as it then aided in camouflaging all. I sent you some pics of the first gook breach and just look at the nice clear earth with fences visible at exactly 25m. Boy did we have a lot to learn – and quickly. This is the only defoliation that I am aware of??

RhE_First_Mfield (2)

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The foregoing was not in any particular order and I am sure this is the very first time Terry has shared anything like this publicly.  I thank him sincerely for giving us all the privelidge of sharing some of his experiences.

Amazing stuff from a true RhE veteran Officer.

I will be posting the recollections of Vic Thackwray in my next post.  Look out for it as it is going to be a good one.

Please also have a look at my website dedicated to Rhodesian and South African Military Engineers.  Please join us on the forums by using the following link:

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

Copyright

© Mark Richard Craig and Fatfox9’s Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

If I thought that getting historical background to Cordon Sanitaire defoliation efforts (see previous post) was challenging, I was wrong!

Trying to find anyone who has in-depth information on the electronic early warning systems installed on the fences was an even more daunting task. To be very honest I am not in any way convinced that what I have managed to find holds too much water and this is once again where I will be hoping that someone, somewhere reads this post, tells me I have written complete rubbish and puts things right. I can take it and no offence will be taken I assure you. We simply need to get this as factual as we can. There has to be Rhodesian Army veterans that actually installed and monitored the electronic side of things that can help here.

The following redaction comes from more than one source, the reliability of which has not been confirmed to me. From an intelligence source and reliability perspective I therefore have no option but to rate it as F/6 (Insufficient information to evaluate reliability. May or may not be reliable/The validity of the information cannot be determined) and should therefore by no means be quoted as being the way things actually were. Read on………..

For the sake of simplicity we will consider the Cordon to be 25 metres wide, fenced on both sides, and containing anti-personnel blast mines.

On the home side a system of electronic sensors divided into monitored sectors and wired to sector control boxes formed the basis of the early warning system. I have not been able to find any information as to what type of sensors (movement, vibration, broken electrical circuit, audio, etc.) were used, nor who was responsible for installing them (possibly the Rhodesian Corps of Signals (8 Signal Squadron)).  According to one source these control boxes were placed in bunkers close to the home side fence and manned full-time by troops waiting for an alarm to be set off.

Logic makes me think that a combination of activation triggers may have been used. Apparently the idea was that any penetration of the Cordon would be detected by detonations or some form of electronic sensor. My information claims that reaction to these events was primarily by vehicle and took place within 10 minutes of a signal being received. In addition to the vehicular response, artillery fire was also used to put down fire on ranged, pre-selected targets. I imagine this would be from 25 pounder howitzers or possibly 120mm mortars.

It is my understanding that the only parts of Cordon Sanitaire to be fitted with an electronic early warning system were the Musengezi/Mukumbura, and Nyamapanda to Ruenya minefield. Soon after these areas were completed a significant amount of false alarms were being recorded. This resulted in finding no enemy presence at the alarm trigger point. Due to the significant cost of ammunition being expended on these false-positive events, it was decided to curtail the rapid response on these areas in 1975. An ongoing Cordon Sanitaire review shelved the whole idea of an early warning system shortly thereafter.

And so ended the Cordon Sanitaire early warning system.

I do not know how effective these measures were as I never encountered them during my time serving in the Rhodesian Corps of Engineers. Personally I do not think the electronic system was as successful as the planners initially thought it would be and with the Rhodesian economy heavily burdened by sanctions and an ever-increasing defence budget there was little chance of any project surviving unless it showed significant success indicators (body count, infiltration mitigation, etc.).

I located the following on the issafrica.org website.  They seem to confirm in some ways parts of the foregoing:

EWS 1EWS 2EWS 3

I will continue to seek further sources to help unravel this interesting and little known subject.

Please also have a look at my website dedicated to Rhodesian and South African Military Engineers.  Please join us on the forums by using the following link:

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

Copyright

© Mark Richard Craig and Fatfox9’s Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

I never realised how challenging it would be to get information on Rhodesian Army defoliation efforts on Cordon Sanitaire or anywhere else for that matter.  One of the main reasons for this is that these activities took place, and were more or less completed by the time I joined the army.  It is disappointing that so little is known of these activities and I apologise in advance for the scant information at hand.  This is definitely one of those posts where I could do with all the help I can get.

However I have managed to cobble some data together thanks to Terry Griffin and Vic Thackwray (a big thanks to both of them who incidentally were also both my Commanding Officers, at different times of course), and also a number of publications. It would however seem that very little information on this aspect is available.

As a starter to this post it is probably useful for some readers to have a better understanding of what defoliation is all about, why it is used during military operations, the main methodologies used, and historical results both positive and negative. Without question the use of defoliant by the US military during the Vietnam War (and Korea before that) is the best example of these activities and they are well documented, mainly for all the wrong reasons.

A short preamble will therefore follow and we will then look at Rhodesian Army efforts according to my understanding of things.

agent-orange-H

Chemical Defoliation

Probably the most well-known chemical defoliant used to date is Agent Orange.

Agent Orange was a powerful mixture of chemical defoliant used by U.S. military forces during the Vietnam War to eliminate forest cover for North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops, as well as crops that might be used to feed them. The U.S. program of defoliation, codenamed Operation Ranch Hand (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Ranch_Hand), sprayed more than 19 million gallons of herbicides over 4.5 million acres of land in Vietnam from 1961 to 1972. Agent Orange, which contained the chemical dioxin, was the most commonly used of the herbicide mixtures, and the most effective. It was later revealed to cause serious health issues–including tumors, birth defects, rashes, psychological symptoms and cancer–among returning U.S. servicemen and their families as well as among the Vietnamese population.

'Ranch_Hand'_run

Above picture shows a four-plane defoliant run, part of Operation Ranch Hand (wikipedia)

Agent Orange was the most commonly used, and most effective, mixture of herbicides and got its name from the orange stripe painted on the 55-gallon drums in which the mixture was stored (see picture below). It was one of several “Rainbow Herbicides” used, along with Agents White, Purple, Pink, Green and Blue. U.S. planes sprayed some 11 million to 13 million gallons of Agent Orange in Vietnam between January 1965 and April 1970. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Agent Orange contained “minute traces” of 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD), more commonly known as dioxin. Through studies done on laboratory animals, dioxin has been shown to be highly toxic even in minute doses; human exposure to the chemical could be associated with serious health issues such as muscular dysfunction, inflammation, birth defects, nervous system disorders and even the development of various cancers.

Photo and parts of the above paragraphs in italics are from http://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war/agent-orange.

Barrel-covers-from-Boi-pres

We should also be clear here that the US were not the only ones using Agent Orange.  This interesting fact is expanded on below:

The British used Agent Orange in Malaya, but for the very British reason of cutting costs…The alternative was employing local labor three times a year to cut the vegetation. British stinginess over this matter in one respect helped to avoid the controversies provoked by the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam. The original intention was to crop spray but even this was deemed too expensive by the protectorate authorities. Eventually someone struck on the idea of simply hosing the jungle from the back of bowser trucks and this is what the British did, in limited areas and to no great effect. This happily amateur effort at chemical warfare undoubtedly saved future British governments from the litigation suffered by post-Vietnam US governments (http://www.psywarrior.com/DefoliationPsyopVietnam.html).

In fact the US were largely inspired to use chemical defoliation from the good old Brits.

Mechanical Defoliation

Mechanical defoliation makes use of heavy earth moving machinery to excavate, bulldoze or scrape vegetation out of the ground.  This cannot be considered as permanent a method as using chemical agents but it has the advantage of being localised to where the machinery is being used.  Crucially it does not spray poisonous herbicides from here to eternity, or cause long-lasting  sickness and disease.

Deduction

So from the above two methodologies we can determine that the main use of defoliation was to:

a.  Deny the enemy cover to attack from

b.  Deny the enemy the ability to grow crops to feed themselves with

c.  For Cordon Sanitaire purposes it also had the added use of allowing us cleared areas in which to lay mines

Rhodesian Army Defoliation Efforts

The Rhodesians used a combination of mechanical and chemical defoliation methods on Cordon Sanitaire and Non-Cordon Sanitaire operations.

So Rhodesia was apparently not squeaky clean as far as using herbicides was concerned although very little is known of their use, or the extent of such use.  There is also no objective evidence that shows what if any residual effect there was on the local population and indeed our own troops.  Perhaps this is an aspect that no one wants to talk about or perhaps it was just one of those activities no one knows much about.  Somehow I have a feeling there is someone out there who knows a lot more about this activity.

I managed to dig up the following and once again I apologise for the lack of real meat for this post:

The Rhodesian Corps of Engineers were responsible for clearing the 25 meter wide strip of land that would eventually become the minefield with bulldozers.  This mechanical defoliation methodology was used primarily to make the job of laying mines easier and to make the terrain more suitable in general for manual, dismounted operations.  Laying mines in vegetated areas is both dodgy and dangerous.  One can very easily become disoriented with disastrous results.

The Tsetse Fly Department (the “Fly-Men”…….see previous posts) were apparently responsible for the Rhodesian chemical warfare effort.  I found this very surprising when I read about this but it appears to be quite true.  Apparently they used back-pack hand-operated sprayers containing HYVAR-X(PRODUCT INFORMATION: DuPont™ HYVAR® X herbicide is a wettable powder to be mixed in water and applied as a spray for non-selective weed and brush control in non-cropland areas and for selective weed control in certain crops. HYVAR® X is an effective general herbicide that controls many annual weeds at lower rates and perennial weeds and brush at the highest rates allowed by this label. It is particularly useful for the control of perennial grasses).  You can read more about HYVAR-X at http://www.afpmb.org/sites/default/files/pubs/standardlists/labels/6840-01-408-9079_label.pdf

It seems that the Cordon Sanitaire planners were not happy with only a 25 meter defoliated corridor and gave orders to chemically remove vegetation 150 meters either side of the Cordon fences (I have to wonder how this was achieved using back-pack hand-operated sprayers).  In a bid to save on costs they substituted HYVAR-X with a different chemical known as TORDON 225.  This would prove to be a costly mistake as this product was ineffective and resulted in Rhodesia instituting court action against the South African manufacturers of TORDON 225.

I found only one record of chemical defoliation usage.  This was apparently on the Musengezi, Mukumbura, and Nyamapanda to Ruenya minefield.  Nothing else is available.

The following two photos were sent to me by Vic Thackwray, a Cordon Sanitaire veteran.  They show the cleared areas between the minefield perimeter fences.  In the first picture the minefield is on the left of the fence.  A parallel minefield maintenance road can be see on the right of the fence.  This specific photo was taken at Mukumbura.

Doc1

Vic1

The second photo is a great shot of Vic Thackwray standing next to the Cordon fence.  Note the thick vegetation inside the mined area.

I also have some interesting input from Terry Griffin which I have added below:

RhE_First_Mfield

The photos above were provided by Terry.  They too show the type of terrain and vegetation of the Cordon at Mukumbura.  I must add the terrain was not always as good as what is shown and from my own experience this was as good as it got (so don’t think we had it easy all the time).

Terry also highlighted some non-Cordon defoliation and I felt it was appropriate to include in this post.  It makes very interesting reading.  Terry takes up the story:

The very first minefield laying etc (again) I was OC of that – starting at Mukambura. Lt Col Horne actually came up with the team I had trained – for a look see.

Tsetse were (as per normal) responsible for erecting fences but we also had plant tp folk with bulldozers and graders clearing all so we had bare earth in and outside the minefield to work on. This was also to prevent gooks taking cover in the bush. At that stage the minefield was approx. 25m wide. In no time I realised this method was an absolute waste of time money etc, etc as we also provided armed protection for the dozer drivers etc way ahead of laying teams. To keep a definitive 25m width etc was patently stupid so I wrote a paper and suggested fences meander to create doubt as to depth of field – albeit still 3 rows – and do NOT clear vegetation as it then aided in camouflaging all. I sent you some pics of the first gook breach and just look at the nice clear earth with fences visible at exactly 25m. Boy did we have a lot to learn – and quickly. This is the only defoliation that I am aware of??

And after I prodded him for more:

Basically I was tasked with doing the defoliation on Chete Island after the gooks wacked the civvy ferry. I called up S Tp from 1 Sqn albeit I was OC Boats at the time and then we sailed plus Tsetse in the Army ferry (Ubique) from Kariba to Chete. Had strike craft as back up and positioned one at each entry to the gorge as it had been declared a frozen area for all craft during the OP. Went ashore (after anchoring on the island – invading enemy territory !! – to clear it of gooks – if any. There were none. Tsetse also provided back up (Jack Kerr plus another) with ,458 rifles in case elephants had a go at us. They did not. After positioning the guys in a defensive role we cleared the area where the gooks had fired from – onto the ferry – which still had much kit lying around from the firing point. Tsetse folk then used a defoliant called Hivar (as I recall) and by hand distributed like it was fertiliser along the entire bank facing the gorge and inland a short way. This would (as it did) clear that sector of all foliage and thereby (hopefully) deny natural cover. After the first rains it was evident all was dying off and it did clear all fairly quickly creating a rather bare scar along that section of the island. Some 10 years later it was still very visible but on my last fishing trip there + – 4 years ago all had now regrown. The gooks never did use the original firing position again.

Looking at this post I realise that although I would have liked to give the reader more on the actual defoliation in Rhodesia, what we have here is real Rhodesian Millitary Engineering history.  The accounts by Terry have probably never been recorded in this format before and the photos from Vic still give me goose-bumps, bringing back a part of my history that must be told or it will be gone forever.  Thanks to both of them once again for all the help and support they provide to me.

I would like to end this post with a cruel irony:

Perhaps no two people embodied the moral complexities and the agony of Agent Orange more graphically than Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr. and his son Elmo R. Zumwalt III. Admiral Zumwalt led American naval forces in Vietnam from 1968 to 1970, before he became chief of naval operations. He ordered the spraying of Agent Orange. The son was in Vietnam at about the same time as the father, commanding a Navy patrol boat. Years later, doctors found that he had lymphoma and Hodgkin’s disease. He died in 1988 at 42. His son, Elmo IV, was born with congenital disorders. 

Perhaps this post has digressed a bit from the title but it does make for interesting reading I hope.

In the next post we will look at Cordon Sanitaire with electronic alarms.

Copyright

© Mark Richard Craig and Fatfox9’s Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.