Happy to report that Kevin Graham made a successful bid for the Troopie replica statue presented to Lt. Col Charlie Aust at the disbandment of the unit. On behalf of the RLIRA UK exco we thank you for successfully bidding on this valuable artefact.
We regret to announce the passing of Craig Van Niekerk (1 Commando) on Sunday 10 September 2023 and WO2 Kenneth Seiler
Greetings to all. A number of events have taken place since our last newsletter. These are elaborated upon below, and we trust that you will find them of interest.
The first weekend of September 2023 was a time for the worldwide RLI brotherhood to pause, to remember, to honour and to reflect on the lives of our comrades who perished when Puma 164 was shot down during Op Uric, in Mozambique in 1979.In the UK, a group of us, 35 strong, met at the Dunkeswell Airfield, Honiton on Saturday 2nd September.
The following reconstruction is based mostly on Richard Wood's B2 intercepts, sitreps, intreps and debrief notes which he passed on to David Heppenstall in 1992. Information on Uric is not exhaustive, apart from a few minutes of video tape. I have also consulted Barbara Cole's classic 'The Elite' pp 328-338 and Cowderoy and Nesbit's excellent 'War In The Air'. In his covering letter Richard suggests to readers of this article that "This is just an assembly of material" If any reader can explain more clearly what was happening at any particular stage please send your comments in.
Reeling from the highly effective Selous Scouts raids and SAS-trained National Resistance (the M.N.R) Mozambique was military and economically in tatters. Samora Machel, Mozambique's volatile and excitable leader, dissatisfied with Zanla's progress, took matters into his own hands. Sitting down with his Frelimo commander Sebastiao Mabote and Robert Mugabe, the trio came to a Political/ Military agreemenl whereby Zanla forces in Gaza were to be totally integrated and deployed with Frelimo troops into Rhodesia in a bid to end the War. To this end Machel would supplement Zanla with a thousand Frelimo then being trained by the Russians. From this, it may well be that, given the numbers involved, a Frelimo/Zanla invasion was contemplated wilh the object of giving Zanla an occupied area in S.E. Rhodesia. All forces, in consultation with Mugabe, were to be under Frelimo command and the whole was to controlled from Mapai, the Frelimo 2 Brigade HQ and control centre for Zanla - a very heavily defended forward base 50 kilometres from the Rhodesian border. It is important to note here that Rhodesian COMOPS (Combined Operations HQ) was well aware that, in addition to air support, to try and take Mapai ordinarily would have required 2 infantry battalions conventionally supported by artillery and tanks.
Rhodesian Intelligence were first alerted to this build-up and the new situation in Gaza when a F.P.L.M. (Frelimo) soldier was captured near Kezi in Matabeleland; from this it transpired that over 200 F.P.L.M. were in Rhodesia which caused the Rhodesian political and military hierarchy to sit bolt upright because, apart from anything else the rail link to South Africa (Rutenga-Beitbridge) over which Rhodesia's fuel and ammunition travelled was now under threat. Accordingly, the Rhodesians in an attempt to take the fight into the enemy camp and thus take the pressure off the Repulse and Tangent (Matabeleland) op. areas devised operation Uric which had as its aim the complete destruction/disruption of the Frelimo/Zanla lines of communication as far back as the economically important Aldeia De Barragem (Lit. village of the dam) 93 miles N.W. of Maputo and 200 miles from Rhodesia. At Barragem the road and rail bridges over the dam, along with its vital irrigation canal feeding a major agricultural complex which produced 80% of Mozambique's cash crop, were to be demolished along with 4 lesser bridges. Air strikes would be made on Barragem, Mapai and Maxaila in an effort to so demoralise the occupants that they would abandon their bases because with their road, rail and bridge links destroyed behind them and with communications, supplies and water cut off, the enemy, especially at Mapai, would be in a very vulnerable position. Once the defenders left the situation would be exploited by heli-borne Rhodesian troops who would take and destroy what was left of Mapai. Zanla and Frelimo operating from Gaza would be without a rear base and forced to revert to the Northern routes where they could be more easily contained.
Uric would be executed by 360 ground troops drawn from the Rhodesian SAS and RLI and engineers - arguably the finest troops of their day. The superbly manned Rhodesian Air Force would deploy every available aircraft - 8 hunters, 12 Dakotas, 6 Canberras, 6 Lynx and 28 helicopters - among these last were newly arrived Rhodesian AB 205 A Cheetahs (Hueys) along with a few South African-crewed Pumas and Super Frelons on loan to the air force. (Note: something not generally known is that the South African Air Force allowed some of its aircrews to complete a tour of duty with the Rhodesians - a number ot these brave men died fighting for Rhodesia with whose cause they had identified.) The OP Uric area was close to the South African border and the South Atricans were of course interested. In fact OP Uric had the largest single South African involvement of the Rhodesian war.
Aerial surveillance was to be provided by a remarkable aircraft - a Dakota named Warthog, so called because it bristled with antennae and radomes. This aircraft was fitted out with monitoring equipment mounted on a large board clipped to the fuselage. This provided UHF, VHF and HF coverage with F.M. and A.M., along with a sensor system capable of picking up any radar station/system which the enemy might use to guide missiles, and the ability to identify enemy surveillance radar. Teleprinters were on board with the remarkable facility of encrypting messages typed in clear automatically and immediately. Warthog carried an intelligence officer and four signallers all skilled in identifying the 'handwriting' of operators in Zambia and Mozambique. Unarmed and confined to intelligence-gathering the Warthog was vital to cross- border operations. Richard Wood's B2 notes are littered with Warthog intreps.
Also taking part would be the Command Dak, a converted Dakota carrying the Commander of Combined Operations, General Walls, and Air Commodore Norrnan Walsh, Rhodesian Air Force Director-General of Operations. The commanders would orbit the operational area at a distance and would control both ground forces and aircraft using a Lynx for liaison. Politically, a successful operation would hopefully force Zanla to the negotiating table at the conference being set up at Lancaster House. Furthermore international outcry at the raid would not be as strident as before because, now in its Zimbabwe - Rhodesia transition, the country had a black Prime Minister and President.
D-Day was scheduled for 0700 hrs, Sunday, 2nd September 1979. 200 troops had been placed in an admin box 160 kilometres inside Mozambique East-South-East of Chigubu (see map). This was known as admin base Oscar Bravo (O.B.). The helicopters were at Chipinda Pools airstrip which was also an army base in Rhodesia. This was to be admin base Oscar Alpha (O.A.). Due to guti (a Rhodesian weather peculiarity in the form of soft rain which, as it descends, resembles heavy mist) the operation was postponed for 3 tense days to Wednesday 5th September 1979.
This, then is the background to Uric, what follows is the operation itself, including the intercepts which gives us an idea of the enemy reaction reports.
1 September 1979 (D-Day -4) At 1200 the Frelimo operator at Maxaila reported helicopter movements in his area and requested reinforcements. In reply, Mapai (the controlling centre) ordered Maxaila to search the area and troops from Chigubo were also ordered to investigate the area of the enemy noise. From these intercepts the Rhodesians were aware that the enemy at Maxaila had picked up the transit movement of aircraft to the admin box. Although ready to react, the base was not compromised.
2 September 1979 (D-Day -3) The RLI minelaying teams began their tasks. Air movement from Rhodesia to the admin box consisted of transportation of water, rations, food, ammunition and fuel. 4 vehicles were seen heading for Maxaila. The most signiticant event of the day was electronic jamming experienced on H.F. and the command and control net at about 17.30 hrs.
3 September 1979 ( D- Day -2) In an intercept Maxaila informed Mapai that the reinforcements had arrived (the Rhodesians understood this to refer to the 4 vehicles observed on the previous day) and that once again helicopter movement was observed in the direction of Chipimbi. The enemy at Pafuri had reported air movement in the Rio Wenezi area. During the morning an RLI minelaying team in a helicopter from Mabalauta forward base was fired on by a Pafuri detachment near Salane. An air strike by Lynx was requested and the 'Pafurians' were silenced. The Rhodesian mine planting efforts appeared to be bearing results as the enemy reported an explosion on the Maxaila/Domasse road in the Mapungane area. At 1615 hrs the following joint intrep was received from Warthog/Eland:
Height finder on freq 2608 hAHZ identified on 5 fixes as being 2ks west of Mapai or immediate area. Also a radar operating on 9377 MHZ PAF 398, P/width 2 dec 4. This is in low blow SAM 3 missile radar overflying Mozambique because of changing bearings on signals. Low range radar lost contact with us 40kms west of Buffalo Range F1 10 and we finally lost signal overhead Fort Vic. No flatface radar on 855 dec 5 from Mapai picked up.With their vulnerable aircraft at stake, news of radar at Malvernia and possibly Mapai caused a few furrowed brows among the airmen. All mining tasks were completed by nightfall, and it still appeared that admin base Oscar Bravo was uncompromised as, clearly confused and unaware of the enemy's intentions, Mapai ordered all stations to be on the alert and ready to react.
By now meteorological indications were that by Wednesday (5th) the weather would clear. If so that day was to be D-Day. With this in mind the revised attack plans would be as follows: First, 4 hunters would golf-bomb Barragem (N.B. golf bombs were a Rhodesian invention with the appearance of a gas cylinder one and a half meters high and weighing 460 kilos; this percussion bomb contained amatol which was detonated by a tube one metre long at the nose of the cylinder which struck the ground first. On detonation the casing burst into over 80,000 fragments lethal at 60 meters with an accompanying stun effect for a further 60. A Hunter could carry 2 golf bombs. There was also a mini golf bomb of 80 kilos for light aircraft such as Lynx). A top cover of 2 Hunters and 2 Lynx would be overhead minutes later while the helicopters (12 Pumas and 6 Cheetahs) deployed the demolition teams. At this time also, 2 Dakotas with troops would be in reserve. Hopefully all tasks would be completed by 15.30 hrs and all troops back by 17.00 hrs.
The following day would be devoted to the destruction of Mapai - 6 Hunters would golf bomb the target at 0630 hrs followed by 6 Canberras with 1000/500 bombs. At the same time 2 Hunters and 2 Lynx, both armed, would maintain air reconnaissance in the target area to cause maximum disruption/harassment. 3 hours later the hunters, re-fuelled and re-armed, would re-strike the target. By now the defenders' nerve would be broken and they would begin to abandon the base and scatter. In this expectation the Rhodesians were to set up a ring of ambushes on all access routes around the base in the hope that the fleeing enemy would run into them, thereby achieving a good kill rate. For this, 192 ground troops (SAS and RLI) would be deployed in 12 Pumas and 6 Cheetahs. With the benefit of hindsight, had this plan been retained this is exactly what would have happened. However, the decision to change the ambushing force into an attacking force was made later, for a number of different reasons, and, without plunging pen into dispute, I must record here that it is around this decision that controversy over Uric is centred.
4 September 1979 (D-Day - 1) Admin Box Oscar Bravo continued to be supplied by para drops. The RLI mine laying teams were again deployed on the crossroads area (Chigumane/Chigubo) and on the Southern power lines, as air recce indicated that these areas were possibly used by vehicles. An intercept from Barragem reported a faulty SAM 7 missile at Chibuto followed by a request for a replacement; as this was near the bridge targets, all Rhodesian air crews were alerted and briefed. Mapai ordered the commander at Mabalane to load 21 trucks and to search for and be ready to attack the enemy. Obviously not trying too hard, this special group later reported lack of success along with a request tor fuel and food - by now it was obvious to the planners that the enemy was searching for the Rhodesians.
5 September 1979 (D-Day) Blowing the Bridges. The day dawned clear, the cloud base having lifted. Uric was on. At Oscar Alpha the air was filled with suppressed excitement, along with the familiar low pitched whine of the helicopters as the air crews checked their machines in preparation to uplift the demolition teams from the admin box. At that precise time, heading for the well-camouflaged admin box , unfortunately for them, was a platoon of 25 F.P.L.M. whose commander ( it later transpired) had been doing his best to avoid the Rhodesians. Fate, however, marched him straight on to the position from where a suitably deployed RLI call sign under Major Pete Farndell had been watching them for some time. As the doomed men approached the killing ground, SAS major Paul Simmonds quickly radiod base (O.A.) to hold back the choppers. Then, with deadly Rhodesian accuracy the call sign opened fire and, in what must have been an incredibly brief and bloody firefight, and in which the totally surprised F.P.L.M. never stood a chance, 23 were killed outright and one wounded and captured - one however, miraculously escaped to raise the alarm. Major Farndell, the only Rhodesian casualty, was wounded in the leg and casevaced.
Though this unexpected contact delayed the uplift of the demolitions teams the airstrike on Barragem was dead on time. Shrieking in, the 4 hunters heading the attack struck the enemy defensive positions with direct hits on weapons, buildings (2 barrack blocks) and all transport, in the face of an intense enemy anti-aircraft barrage. 2 Lynxes then arrived over the target and began to direct the 48 SAS troops who had been dropped off a kilometre from Barragem, their helicopters heading back to a safer holding area. Rapidly the SAS then began to fight forward through the enemy defences and in the face of heavy machine gun fire; luckily they managed to capture two 23 mm A.A. guns and turned one on the enemy on both sides of the river and began quelling pockets of enemy resistance. During the initial fight through, one SAS man sustained a leg wound and a casevac was requested. In the heat of battle the incoming chopper, a Huey, piloted by Fl.Lt. Dick Paxton was misdirected and found itself hovering above a Frelimo position. Suddenly aware of the error Paxton pulled away but it was too late. There was a whoosh and an explosion above his head as an RPG7 rocket struck and severed the main rotor below the blades and with a sickening lurch the chopper fell to earth in a cloud of dust, killing the technician Alexander Wesson on impact. With a broken arm, the stunned Paxton was trapped in the cabin as the Huey now erupted into flames. Seeing this, SAS sergeant 'Flash' Smythe immediately raced up and pulled Paxton out, thereby saving his life. Smythe never received official recognition for the heroic act.
On the Barragem bridges 20 Kg charges were being set up and placed in position, a task that took 5 hours. During that time a call sign under Joey du Ploy had a good time taking the town itself, shooting up vehicles, blowing up 2 power stations and making the interesting capture of a Bulgarian water engineer from Sofia who expressed extreme displeasure at being caught! At the other 4 targets, the demolitions teams, unopposed, completed their tasks and destroyed their bridges by 16.30 hrs. As these went up the reliable Warthog now gave the following disturbing intrep:
At 1627 radar on Freq 2618 MHZ (height finder) identified a D/F position indicated between Mapai and Malvernia. It is now locked on us. Our position 55ks west of Mapai. This could be the one we found on 3 September but Freqs apart.With radar at Mapai the next day's actions would have to be carefully co-ordinated.
Meanwhile at Mapai bad news was pouring in from all sides and one can only guess at the chaos in the enemy communications centre. Consternation first began when Mabalane reported two jets over their location flying North South then Vice Versa. Minutes later the operator at Xai-Xai informed Mapai that the enemy was attacking Chibuto by the bridge on the road to Canicado and had burnt out a truck. The bridge was also reported destroyed. (The Gaza brigade commander was in Xai-Xai at this time. One wonders how this individual managed to absent himself from his HQ at Mapai at such a vital time and place himself as far away from conflict as possible. Many Rhodesians will remember Xai-Xai as a very picturesque coastal resort.) Referring to the Mazimuchape demolitions team, Moamba reported that the area was still being overflown and that the enemy was spread out in the zone 40 ks from Magude. Mapai then ordered Mabalane to deploy a company/section against the enemy in the Chihibuto area then, surely confused, it ordered Barragem to assist Chibuto though how this could be done was baffling as at about this time the garrison at Barragem was fighting for its life!
Once Barragem was taken the charges were set and Rhodesia's foremost demolition expert Captain Charlie Small blew the bridge - both Du Ploy and Small were tragically killed on the following day. In the fast fading light the demolition team was uplifted before being able to ascertain the damage. In the event, while the rail line was cut, 2 spans having gone down and a sluice gate damaged, the road bridge itself, with 2 spans sagging, was not completely destroyed and light vehicles were able to use it. This was not the fault of the demolition team as it was later revealed that the builders of the bridge had, at the time of construction, doubled the amount of building mix on this section. By 18.00 hrs all demolition teams were back at the admin base, not dissatisfied with the days work, though subdued by the death of Alexander Wesson. The Air Force was of course concerned about the next day's ops with regard to the enemy radar.
At 20.00 hrs the survivors at Barragem sent a formal message to the Bde commander at Xai-Xai informing him of the attack and that the bridge was destroyed. Unable to cope, they requested reinforcements. Minutes later they contacted Maputo with the same story and asked for infantry and A.A.guns. At about 20.50 hrs they gave out that they had suffered 6 dead and a number of undisclosed wounded. They also reported shooting down a helicopter and killing two of the enemy. Two hours earlier Maxaila reported bombing by 4 Rhodesian jets and requested medical supplies for 4 casualties. At about this time Pafuri came on the air informing all stations that the enemy had mined the road and that seven mines had been discovered.
6 September 1979 (D-Day +1) - The fight at Mapai. Despite the previous day's lesson at Barragem the defenders at Mapai were, unbelievably, caught completely by surprise when the hunters hit at 06.35. Many were on muster, others were eating or washing. 22 were killed outright and 32 wounded. The strike demolished the communications and command centre and blew up a small armoury. Racing up to their defensive positions the enemy were ready when the jets struck again, destroying the main fuel dump and, thankfully, the main radar station along with an A.A. gun position. In return they were welcomed by intense ground fire from a ring of some 20 medium-calibre A.A. guns but got away unscathed. The destruction of the radar station was of immediate relief to the airmen who were now maintaining air surveillance over Mapai which is in an area of Mozambique where, apart from the odd isolated Kopie, the ground is almost flat , with thick Jesse Bush. With the temperature in the nineties the helicopter-borne troops were on their way to the target area. From now on bad luck dogged the operations.
En route one Huey was forced to put down in a pan due to severe engine vibrations. The remainder, continuing on to Mapai, suddenly overflew a big enemy camp spread over a large area, and one of the Pumas, Hotel Four, was hit by an RPG-7 as it headed for its dropping zone. The result was the worst single disaster of the Rhodesian war. The rocket struck the aircraft behind the pilot's seat and exploded, killing all 14 people aboard. Forced into a downward spin the helicopter hit the ground and burst into flames. Army call signs dispatched to the crash site found the aircraft totally destroyed, the largest pieces being the turbines; they also found the 14 bodies of their comrades and arranged for their recovery when safe to do so after the taking of Mapai. Sadly this proved impossible.
The troops were put down on their planned LZs with the choppers returning immediately to admin base to refuel. The nine Russian advisors in Mapai whose unoccupied bunker had been demolished by the Hunter strike now took the opportunity to take the proverbial gap as it was no part of their brief to get involved in any fighting. The ground forces now moving on Mapai were making slow progress due to mortar and A.A. fire. 4 Hunters then put in a strike on 3 A.A. gun positions and appeared to score hits, but A.A. fire was now coming up all round the area.
Advancing on Mapai, the Rhodesians began to notice a trench complex with shelters and cooking positions. Crossing the road before the complex they shook out into extended line for the assault. As they went into a sandal wood, 'A' Sqn walked past a FPLM in a tree platform acting as early warning. A member of 'B' Sqn made no such error and shot him out of the tree. As he toppled down it was noticed that everything he wore was brand new, even down to his pistol and binoculars. It was the first of a few such devices. Through the sandal wood the troops now came up against 2 kilometres of Russian-designed interconnecting zig-zag trenches. Call sign 11 noticed heads bobbing up and down along the trench line and movement from left to right. Heavy firing now broke out and the contact started.
The surprised Rhodesians now found that, contrary to all plans and expectations, the enemy had not evacuated the base and fled as anticipated. Instead they were here and, from a very good defensive position, were offering battle as never before. Even the hardened veterans amongst the troops admitted later that they had never been under such intense fire from small arms, mortars and recoilless rifles. Having previously set the grass alight 30 FPLM now had call signs 14,13, 19 and 11 pinned down along with 'A' Sqn's mortars. 'A' Sqn itself was being engaged by two machine guns and were pinned down for 5 to 10 minutes. Then, moving away, the enemy occupied a large trench system on the Rhodesian left flank. 'A' Sqn's mortars, now free, began to fire their 60mm's, mortaring the enemy position as call sign 14 was still pinned down. This merely drew more fire. Indicating the enemy position by 60mm smoke bomb the Rhodesians called in a Hunter strike. Using their 30mm cannon the Hunters duly 'Stoncked' the FPLM position, drawing a terrific amount of A.A. fire from at least 6 to 8 gun positions. The strike had no effect.
The local commander of Mapai, using a mobile means, was speaking urgently with Maputo and his Bde commander at Xai-Xai:
General, chief of staff ground forces, and all command commanders. From 06.30 hrs until now there is combat at Bde HQ both by air and airborne troops. There are dead and wounded. Up till now the same situation continues. The same as in Chocue and Aldeia de Barragem.In the orbiting command Dak a no less anxious General Walls was assessing the unexpected turn of events following on the tragic loss of 17 of his very fine troops and an irreplaceable helicopter.
On the ground, his lightly armed men now began the dirty and deadly business of trench clearing. Call sign 11 moved into the trench line to the immediate front of the sweep line, while 'C' Sqn occupied the left side. 2 members of 'A' Sqn already in the trench could see 7 FPLM firing at them from across a zig-zag line of trenches; when they returned fire the enemy moved away in the Northward direction where they were seen by call sign 19. The 2 'A' Sqn men now heard A A fire to their front while 3 other members of the Sqn moved along the trench line, observing and firing as they went along. This sort of fighting was being experienced by all the attackers and contacts now began to occur at point blank range. Clearing sorne 200 metres of zig-zag to the front the troops saw firing positions which had all been used, judging by the blankets, boots, clothing, water bottles and empty magazines Iying about. They also saw 2 cooking positions and an O P.
A very alarming development now occurred! The troops, having cleared an area, would suddenly find the enemy popping up behind them due to the intricate criss-cross pattern of the trenches. This caused the attack to falter and come to a virtual standstill as the troops were now having to contend with enemy to the front and rear. In the exhausting heat the SAS, faces caked with filth and pouring sweat called out to the FPLM to surrender, but in reply were sworn at in Portuguese. Then, hearing voices to the North they made ready to attack. 3 FPLM now crept up on call sign 11 and showed themselves, then ducked down only to pop up again complete with RPG 7 with which they rocketed the call sign, but fortunately missed.
As this was going on General Walls was coming to a swift and unenviable decision. Though outnumbered his troops outmatched the enemy and he knew they could take Mapai through sheer infantry skill and fighting spirit. What he was not prepared to accept were the inevitable casualties victory would cost. Accordingly he gave the order for the troops to withdraw back to the LZs for uplift back to base. In a Lynx above the battle, directing the troops, was Lt Dave Padbury, who relayed the general's orders with mixed feelings.
Richard Wood's B2 file P16 - In an interview on 18 February 1988, Padbury told Wood: The reason for the pull-out was that it was getting late and the troops on the ground did not want to stay through the night if the position was not taken. There was, he says, acute sensitivity to the amount of recent casualties and Comops did not want to damage public morale. That day the Puma Hotel 4 had been shot down and there was no desire to lose men unnecessarily. General Walls in the command dak took the decision against the feelings of Padbury who was in a Lynx above the battle and taking 'on the spot' decisions. Padbury was right, as it turned out, because a high level Canberra attack, using the resources allocated for target 19, broke the FPLM nerve. A defector from Malvernia a few weeks later would reveal that the FPLM in the trench network were prepared to stay and fight it out until the Canberra airstrike. They pulled out en masse from the trenches and ran to a pre-arranged R.V. on the railway line and did not return until 2 days later.
The troops now pulled out of Mapai and began a weary walk through the thick bush back to the LZs some eight kilometres North West of Mapai, and aithough there was no F.P.L.M. patrolling activity the helicopters, having uplifted all the call signs and speeding back to base at tree-top level, were, to their horror, met by a hail of harrowing fire from an FPLM reception committee awaiting them with RPG7, small arms and 23mm and 12.7mm machine guns as they burst into the open over the Maxaila Road. Only their speed saved them. Meanwhile the remains of the wrecked helicopter was golf-bombed in a vain effort to destroy any S.A. Markings.
Six Canberras, at high bombing level (over 20,000ft), dropped the final bomb load on Mapai, turned about and headed for base, totally unaware that they were the 'final straw' that broke the enemy at Mapai.
With the withdrawal from Mapai and the compromise of the admin box OP URIC was terminated.
... we had never imagined that we could ever match the size of the arsenals possessed by the Arab states. But we believed we could bridge the gap by the superior fighting capacity of our troops, so long as we could match the quality of their weapons. In modern warfare, however, the elements of range, speed and fire power in technologically advanced aircraft, naval vessels and armour can be so superior that inferior weapons are simply unable to stand up to them. For every rise in standards of an enemy's arms, there must be a minimum means of reply. Without it no amount of courage can get the better of objective technical superiority. A brilliant pilot in a propeller aircraft has no chance against mediocrity in a jet...By any analysis the Rhodesian performance during URIC was nothing short of heroic. Here, some 400 men, deep in hostile enemy territory and under-armed, 'knocked hell' out of the enemy economically (Barragem) and militarily (Mapai etc) and in the process killed over 25 of the enemy for each one of their own who fell. Politically it was also a success because Samora Machel had taken enough and, grabbing Robert Mugabe in a political armlock, he steered the unwilling and protesting Zanu leader to the conference table at Lancaster House.
Thank you to RSM Ken Reed for the below images. Image 1: on the left is the 1st RSM of the battalion Ron Reid Daly with Ken Reed.
Image 2: Ken Reed, Robin Tarr and Harry Springer
Reflections on Early Days in The RLI: By Peter van Win (C Coy and HQ Coy RLI)
I left England to join
the Rhodesian army in 1961, having missed the British conscription by six
months or so. I joined for two reasons: 1. because at that time I suffered
quite badly from sinus problems and was told that the only way to overcome them
was to move to a warmer climate, and 2., because of an advert in a National
newspaper that offered
(and this was paramount) “A life of adventure in the sun”.
On 1st April 1961 (Fools’ Day), I arrived in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia and was transported (along with the other volunteers) to KG6 barracks where several things occurred; one was receiving advice that all the ladies of the night were diseased whilst another was, we were attested into the 1st Battalion Rhodesian Light Infantry.
Age being what it is, and doing what it does, means that my recollections, although accurate may not be in the correct chronological order, so if I am in error, I apologise. After attesting we were sent to Bulawayo for basic training - how we got there I cannot remember, but probably by train. I do remember that some of the camp was not fenced and feeling this was not right. Another memory is of red soil and paths everywhere, demarcated by whitewashed stones.
As a result of a minor infraction one day, I found myself on “jankers” where the MP (Sgt Jimmy van Rooyen), a keen gardener, sent us out to a municipal park with instructions to bring back flowers for the area in front of the guardhouse. “Don't Get Caught” being his advice, “because the army knows nothing about this.”
Training was hard, for both instructors and recruits. Turning a bunch of civvies into “proto-soldiers” was essential because soon we were to be deployed to the border with what was then the Belgian Congo. We were flown to Ndola in Northern Rhodesia, from where we were split up and taken to various towns on, or near, the border.
1L/Cpl Peter van Win
Some chaps were sent to Chingola, some to Mufulira, others to Kasumbalesa and me to a town called Bancroft, that is now called Chililabombwe. Cpl Frank Hartry, CSM McCulloch and Sgt Doug Balfe are names that are remembered from our time on the Congo border.
We were based at a disused mine from where we were sent out patrolling the border that was intermittently marked by white-painted rocks or trees. At this time, things were getting nasty in the Congo with stories of civilians being murdered, nuns being raped, and I think part of what we were doing up there was to assist those people who were trying to get to safety by coming south. One particular memory is of a tragic accident that resulted in the death of a young soldier when, having cleaned his Bren gun, put a magazine on to keep the dust out, slammed the butt mechanism home, resulting in a discharge with the bullet killing his comrade, Pte Ronald de Haas. Ronald was the first fatality of the RLI. On another occasion at another base, a guard on duty at night heard a noise and, when receiving no response to his challenge, opened fire with others joining in. At daylight, it transpired that the noise was made by a cow that was now shot to pieces. The owner complained and I imagine that compensation was paid. A third recollection was, someone suggested taking a Land Rover over the border, for reasons I never discovered, but I was one of the squaddies in the back, heading north. At some point we thought we were seen by a UN pilot, so we turned back, as this could have had very serious consequences if the Congolese authorities mistakenly thought it was the start of operations by the Federation.
I honestly do not know what was accomplished by us being sent to the border. We certainly didn't see any refugees or, in fact, anybody related to a war situation. It was very much a case of, “Shut up, obey orders, hurry up and wait!” The only “liberation” I heard of was when Capt Dave Parker (2IC A Coy) “liberated” a trophy from a Katangese sports club that later became the regiment’s annual rugby prize. Within three weeks of returning to Brady we were on our way to Cranborne, our home for the next few years.
Barracks, like Brady, was built on the site of an old airfield (lots of open
space) and this fact dominated the first few months of life there. For many
weeks, life revolved around what we called “rock sessions” because
Rhodesians (like South Africans, Australians and New Zealanders) have a strong affinity for sports - something that I have never understood, being totally non-competitive. “Rock sessions”, however, had nothing to do with music because they entailed dressing in fatigues, arming ourselves with picks and shovels, and breaking up the Tarmac runways in order to prepare playing fields. Working as a “chain-gang” we dug up large chunks of Tarmac, making way for grass. The exercise continued day after day, making piles of tarmac before calling in the trucks to dispose of the rubble. In addition, we continued with the normal soldiering stuff of drill and weapon, inspections, and “hurry up and wait”.
Such drudgery hardly fulfilled the promise of “a life of adventure in the sun” and, consequently, I became quite disillusioned with the whole concept of being a soldier. I had learned from somewhere that court-martials, for desertion, had risen to approximately 200 per annum and I felt that, if the army was not going to provide the adventure it offered, it seemed reasonable that I might find myself amongst those statistics. Accordingly, in early 1962, I (along with another disillusioned soldier, Ian Thompson) went over the wire very early one morning. We took a taxi to Salisbury railway station and boarded a train for Beira, PEA ( Portuguese East Africa, now Mozambique) with the intention of hitchhiking back to the UK.
This was Ian Thompson’s second attempt at desertion; the previous one had led to him having a Katangese stamp in his passport. Had I known this, I might not have chosen Ian for company because the stamp was bound to raise concerns with various customs officials. I might also have reconsidered my actions if I had known that, previously, there had been an incident where another member of the RLI had decided to run away. The story was that he had taken a Land Rover and, when stopped by police in Umtali, attempted to run down the arresting officers. It was also mentioned that this soldier had concealed weapons in the vehicle.
When we arrived in Beira, we met up with another two AWOLs, Ben Lyons (from Brigg in Lincolnshire) and Johnny Rose (from Birmingham) who were being evicted from their hotel. Now we were four. Our homeward journey continued by hitching a lift to Dondo, 25km back towards Umtali. Unknown to us, however, “The Powers That Be” had concluded that, given the story (I was unaware of), the political turmoil of the time, and the fact that four white males were hitchhiking through PEA, there were four (possibly dangerous) desperados supplying the PEA resistance movement with weapons. Our progress, therefore, was being monitored without our knowledge.
We soon hitched a lift with a Portuguese farmer who took us about 120km north, towards Inhaminga, before he turned east to his farm. There we were, in the middle of nowhere, walking along a dirt road, heading north. Night time comes very quickly in this part of the world, and so we moved off the road into the bush, flattened the vegetation and went to sleep. The following morning, covered in insect bites, and after one swig of water a-piece, we continued the trek. Another lift took us to Marramau, on the banks of the Zambezi River. It was here we learned that our overnight stop in the bush was, in fact, within the bounds (in those days) of the Gorangoza Game Reserve. I wonder whether the Portuguese farmer knew that?
Along this part of the Zambesi were large sugar estates owned by the Sena Sugar company. Most had rest camps to give the managers and others a break from their work. We were put up in one of these camps and the following morning, in very much “Sanders of the River” fashion, we climbed into a dugout canoe, fashioned from a single large tree, and crossed the river to the northern bank. This is where the sugar cane was piled before transportation down-river to the mouth at a town called Chinde. Again, we were put up in the rest camp to await the ship that would to take us to Luabo.
The ships used for the cane transportation were of the old Mississippi River type with a large paddle wheel at the rear. The cane was loaded onto barges and these were fixed to the sides of the ship, up to three barges strapped on both starboard and port sides to be moved slowly downstream. This was more like “adventure”.
When we left Luabo, early in the morning, Ian mistakenly left some 9mm rounds under his pillow. These rounds had been stolen from the armoury where he worked. When the rounds were discovered (and given the fact that Ian had a dodgy Katangese stamp in his passport) there was a justifiable reason to believe that we were selling weapons to the freedom movement. The Luabo police contacted Chinde and, when we arrived in Chinde, we were arrested. From Chinde we were flown further north to the provincial capital of Quelimane where we were locked in jail. Even more evidence of our danger to the authorities was produced when, the pistol that Ian had thrown into the bush on our way into town, was found and handed in. It was produced when we were questioned by the police. I think by this time, the police were beginning to believe that we were not the desperados they originally thought. It was more likely we were insurgents, fuelling the resistance groups. Eventually, the police decided to just get rid of us and we were put on a train. along with a heavily armed escort, and sent to Nyasaland. We arrived at a place called Milange, on the border and handed over to the Nyasaland authorities.
Milange is a really beautiful place, mountains are very green with lots of rain and tea estates. The Nyasa customs official said that he did not have the authority to allow us in, so he let us use his house while he drove into Blantyre for clarification. He returned with more armed officials and we were placed in jail in Zomba with a warning that we would be shot if we attempted to escape. I don't know how long we were there, but it was long enough for the police to arrange transport from Salisbury to take us back to Cranborne.
The return to Southern Rhodesia was accomplished with the four of us handcuffed in the back of a Land Rover without a canopy. We crossed into Rhodesia via Tete and then placed in detention in Cranborne whilst preparations were made for our Court Martial. It was during our detention that I met my future brother-in-law. Corporal Cocky Bruce was one of the RPs (not an MP, I think) who was one of our wardens, along with Lou Millard, Lofty Cawthorne, Ian Tilly and others. From Cocky, I learnt a life lesson. Most guards would say, 'If this is not done, you lose your cigarette' (we were allowed one cigarette at mealtimes). Cocky, on the other hand, would say, 'Get this done on time and you will receive an extra cigarette'. An excellent example of good man-management, leadership and superiority.
Accused of desertion, we were unsure what the maximum penalty might be, if found guilty. The Rhodesian military was based on the lines of the traditional British model, where (during WWI) cowards and deserters had either been shot on the battlefield, or shot at dawn. It was up to the prosecution, however, to prove that we were, indeed, deserters. This meant that it had to be proved that we had absolutely no intention of returning to the country and the army. Yet, here we were, in Rhodesia, in military uniform, under a military court-martial. How could we be deemed “deserters” when we had returned to the army without objection or any further attempt to escape?
In the end, we were sent to the DB block at Brady Barracks for 28 days. Years later, the dreaded place was named “Durban Beach” and “Locke’s Hotel” (after Maj Dave Locke RhMP). The staff were strict but fair, overseen by Sgt E. Thornton. Days were filled with drill, more drill and digging a bloody great hole with the idea (as I was told) of a matchbox being buried there. With the hole filled in, and in the fullness of time, others were to re-dig the hole to see if the matchbox was still there! Some mothers do have them.
At the end of all this nonsense we were sent back to
Cranborne. We were placed on OC's orders and asked if we wanted to leave or stay. Leaving would mean we
would be required to repay the cost of recruitment travel, that we could not
afford. We deemed it to be completely unfair because there was a weekly flight
to and from the UK that took mail (and other items) as well as staff, to the
Rhodesian Embassy in London, at Government’s expense. Eventually, we were
returned to our respective companies with a “sentence” of mundane life. Perhaps
that should have been “mundane for life”? Shortly after, there was a call for members
to join the military band that later became the “Corp of Drums”, headed by a
Scot, Drum Major Colquhoun. I volunteered because I played the bugle during my
schooldays in the Sea Cadets, accepted and was transferred to HQ Coy for the
rest of my military life.
Being amongst other musos, it didn't take long before several of us formed a rock group, comprising myself, Doug Sissons, Cocky Bruce, Vic Robery (a part-time singer) and a pianist who could only play in “C”! We had some good times (and made some money) playing at weddings and events including Kariba and the Umtali MOTHS club. We were also “ordered” to play (as a military band) at Officers’ dining in nights. These were not particularly welcome because we gained nothing from them, but there was one that is memorable. We had done our party piece (marching around the tables) and having a beer-break in the room next door when there was a tremendous bang. “Drummie” put his head around the door and said, “Stay there!”. I think the guest of honour was Sir Roy Welensky, the then Prime Minister. What had happened was, one of the junior subalterns had placed a thunder-flash under the table and set it off. Peeking through the door we saw our CO, Col John Salt, with one of his trouser legs blown away. He was shaking hands and saying goodbye to the PM. Col Salt had, at best, only black threads hanging below his right knee and, being a very tall man, exhibited a generous amount of one naked leg!
Image 3: 2L/Cpl Cocky Bruce
During this time (1962/3) the political situation was deteriorating, causing us to be intermittently out in the field, keeping the peace. That really was the only distraction from “mundane” until the dissolution of the Federation when I opted to leave the army and return to civvy street.
Although that was the end of my military life it was not the end of my Rhodesian connections. Cocky was dating a Rhodesian girl and, when he got married, we played at the reception. One of the bridesmaids was the bride’s sister, whom I later married in 1965 before returning to the UK in December of that year.
Guard of Honour at L/Cpl Bruce’s wedding L-R Doug Sissons, Roy Roelefse, Cecil Sequiera, Peter van Win, Unknown and William Pietens.
In 1980, my family and I left the UK for South Africa where, again, I met up with Cocky and his wife, Shirley. As a result of my Rhodesian connections, I obtained a job with the company “The Security Scouts” that was formed by former members of the Selous Scouts. Here, I was reunited with Col Alastair Boyd-Sutherland, Capt Ant White, and met Group Captain Graham Cronshaw, all members of the security company and ex-members of the Rhodesian forces. The business closed, eventually, and I returned to the UK in 1995. Wonderful days!
Here's a photo of course 137 (Training Troop) supplied by Anthony Rausch
The Souvenir Edition
It has been a busy period whilst some of you have been supping beer and loafing on the sofa. Ha, ha.
Members have received a comprehensive update via email on the Chairs visit to South Africa and the UK.
Bonds forged in battle may stretch and strain, they may suffer the interruptions of time and distance and seem tenuous amidst the multifarious activities and obligations that constitute a life. But they never break - they were forged in heat and fire, founded on a shared higher purpose and tempered by sense of duty and obligation gladly borne. And, more often than not, they were seasoned with much humour and high jinks. Such was the nature of Skydde Rowe – named as such by then Capt Peter Rich in 1963 – membership of which was restricted to RLI subalterns who lived in the Officer’s Mess. Skydde Rowe existed for some 17 years during which 110 members were inducted. 38 of those 110 last met in Durban in 2015.
And so it was that, in late March 2023 - some 40-plus years after the 1st Battalion, Rhodesia Light Infantry had marched their colours off the Cranborne parade ground and into history, a greying, creaking, group of former subalterns, denizens of the notorious Skydde Rowe, gathered once more in the Zambezi Valley - the scene of so much of the green and silver’s legend - to renew those bonds.
This group, now renamed “The Band of Buggered Brothers” due to encroaching senility and decrepitude, had begun meeting virtually (as the “Zoomers”) during COVID - thanks to previously unsuspected organisational capabilities of that well known shrapnel-magnet Simon Willar.
After a couple of years of chirping at each other’s 2-dimensional images and with COVID now in the rear view mirror someone suggested that we take the Zoomers to the next level and have some face-to-face banter and revelry. Operation Band of Buggered Brothers was set in motion with a combined vertical envelopment and vehicular assault on Victoria Falls. Lokuthula Lodges to be precise (which is not something that could ever be said of our map reading).
On Friday 24th March 2023, we converged from various points of the compass (an instrument best kept out of a subaltern’s hands) - UK, Hong Kong, Botswana, Ghana, SA, Zambia and Zimbabwe - largely due to the organisational efforts of Rick Passaportis and Simon Willar - staff officers who clearly missed their vocations back in the day.
And what a couple of days it was; lubricated with enough alcohol to make a dipsomaniac blush we reminisced, golfed, braaied, cruised the mighty Zambezi - taking the opportunity to scatter Dave Greenhalgh’s ashes (all credit to Mike Rich) and toasted absent friends and our fallen comrades. Fines were levied for losing passports before leaving the airport and the wearing of entirely spurious medals. Laughter prevailed. Some were even moved to reprise the aerial antics of our youth with gorge swings, zip lines and one bold, “who dares wins” member flinging himself off the bridge attached with little more than Suzie Matwetwe’s knicker elastic.
A formal dining-in night had the civilian tourists scratching their heads pondering the significance of our sartorial splendour (picture will be uploaded to the website during the course of this week)
Article written by AL. J. Venter. Click on the button below to read and download the full article.
latest news from the Western Cape. Click on the link below to download.
St Patrick’s Day luncheon
The RLI Association members were again invited to attend the Royal Irish Rangers early St Patrick’s Day luncheon at the Conservative Club in Warminster this last weekend. Unfortunately, only 6 of us finally made it. Click here to view photos.
Lt Col Jimmy Beggs, our link man, was there to host us and ensure we all had our quota of Guinness! The Irish stew went down well, and we enjoyed two sessions of the local pipe band. Our small party won a couple of raffle prizes unlike at the Christmas dinner last December where we predominated.
The original plan was to have a golf challenge on the Friday and the lunch on the Saturday, but the best laid plans of mice and men did not materialise, and Jimmy had to accept that the RIR had chickened out. The challenge is still out there though for the summer.
The advantage of the RLIRA joining the RIRA in the Southwest is that we have a central venue for a get together with meals and drinks available at reasonable prices and we can have some banter with other ex-soldiers as our regiments have much in common over a similar time period. It also adds to the atmosphere having more people and enhances the spirit that we try to nurture in our membership.
Next time we will try to advertise the event better and where necessary assist people who may need a bit of help with transport or accommodation.
Our thanks go to Tom O’Brien and his committee for the open invitation and the enjoyable luncheon.
Faugh A Ballagh and March on the Saints!
B Coy Rhodesian Light Infantry (circa 1962)
by A. Ghost-Writer
Napoleon is cited as saying, “History is a set of lies, agreed upon” and unless we help each other with personal experiences, eye-witness reports and verified accounts, Napoleon’s claim is likely to be correct. Accordingly, what follows here is not guaranteed to be definitive, but close to the truth, perhaps? It requires reaction, commentary and correction. The memories are taken from 1872 (service number, not year) Cpl Jim Lake (B Coy RLI) who is now an octogenarian, living in Australia, and who (by his own admission) is not sure where he left his teeth, let alone his “housewife”! Reflections of his early RLI days are reproduced here for interest’s sake.
Jim Lake arrived in Rhodesia on 16 January 1961 and became a founder member of B Coy Rhodesian Light Infantry on 01 February of that same year. The regiment was structured in four main companies (A,B,C and D) before it moved from Brady Barracks (Bulawayo) to Cranborne (Salisbury) where it reformed into a commando unit. Stories about the early days are not in short supply, but facts seem to be few and far between. Reports, however, indicate that A, B and C companies morphed into commandos 1, 2 and 3, whilst D Coy was “essentially” a boy-soldier company where members filtered into the commandos once they became of age.
Some essential ingredients have been omitted here. As with all regiments, “The RLI” needed backup in the form of Support and Base Groups. Accordingly, Support Group mutated intoto Support Cdo whilst Base Group retained command of all other essential services, pay, QM stores, medical, signals, transport, catering, etc. That is a simplified version, at least.
Soon after the formation of the RLI, elements of A and B Coys were sent to the Northern Rhodesia/Congo border as a result of the disturbances in the Katanga Province, also known as the Republic of Katanga, a breakaway state that proclaimed its independence from Congo-Léopoldville on 11 July 1960 under Moise Tshombe, leader of the local Confédération des associations tribales du Katanga (CONAKAT) political party. The new Katangese state did not enjoy full support throughout the province and was constantly plagued by ethnic strife in its northernmost region. It was dissolved in 1963 following an invasion by United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC) forces, and reintegrated with the rest of the country as Katanga Province. The RLI was based in and around Kipushi (in the now DRC) where their only loss was the accidental death of 2634 Pte Ronald de Hass who died as a result of AD from a Bren gun on 21 September 1961.
Not all RLI were deployed to the Congo. Jim said farewell to his mate, Tony Louch, who was destined for a PTI course at the SInf (Gwelo). Others undertook the relief of the RAR at Gwanda where an outbreak of foot-and-mouth needed to be contained. Many “ouens” remained in Bulawayo to protect HQ (Brady) and a surfeit of spinsters clad in mini-skirts – but not necessarily in that order. Besides, there were a number of bars, night-clubs, joints and duck-tails that required serious “fixing” in order to guarantee maximum coverage in the Bulawayo Chronicle and, hence, an automatic transfer to Cranborne. Incidentally, Tom Douglas (current welfare committee member of RLIRA UK), also attended the PTI course with Tony Louch and, therefore, (despite earlier accusations) cannot be held accountable for any of the Bulawayo reparations!
“seen the world, met some wonderful people, and killed them” the men
returned from the Congo to Brady for less combative duties. Jim believes that
this photo was taken at Victoria Falls circa 1962. A close inspection, however,
reveals the faint steel latticework of Birchenough Bridge, underpinning Jim’s
self-confessed “dimming of the lights” but conjuring ideas that “bridge patrol”
must have been an exciting addition to a soldier’s life back in the day.
Bridge deployments served not only to reassure the populace that all was well on the “Eastern Front” (east of Greenwich, that is) but provided ideal locations for general training and retraining exercises, not least of which were navigation skills, classical warfare planning, team-building and camaraderie:
all, of course, returned from the Congo. Some with a thirst for the “insane”
remained behind to fuel the hondo and pave the way for a future “soiree” in the
Seychelles. Messrs Standish-White, Prinsloo, Goatley, et al are advised to keep
a sense of humour here.
all accounts, the move to Cranborne certainly was a culture shock for some.
Indeed, refinements in dress-code, table manners, choice of women, etiquette
and “dickie-bows” became the norm of the capital. Don’t tell Le Coq d’Or ouens
Lastly – a piece of history, dug from the depths of the abyss. The British army had a brigade group of three battalions in around Nairobi, Kenya - Scots Guards, Gordon Highlanders, and Inniskilling Fusiliers. A corporal from each unit was exchanged with a corporal from the RLI during an on-going programme. B Coy had a corporal from the Gordon's who fitted in very well, albeit his uniform (or underneath thereof) was of more interest to the ladies than soldiers. “I think the exchange lasted several months and was quite successful . I also think the political events in both countries brought an end to the scheme........hopefully someone else can elaborate further.”
The End (almost).
The prayer meeting this month had a special meaning to our members, it celebrated the 62nd birthday of the forming of the battalion in February 1961.
Please click on the link below where you will find the newsletter including images.
Major Cliff Webster sent this picture picture of 3 Eland 90s on a flatbed when reinforcements were brought up to our Battle Group at Kotwa Airfield.
2 Commando - Port Stick
2 Commando. Starboard Stick: Front from left: Robbie Robertson, Sgt. Dave Firth, Billy Metcalve, ??, L/Cpl. Brian Watson. Image Doc Webster
Itaken on the Zambezi. We were camped just as the river comes out of the valley gorge into the flat valley itself - an old banana farm - 1980. Sergeant Piet Uys on the left Kim Farmer on the right.
A big shout out once again to John Ashburner for taking the time to clean up the troopie when the majority of the members were celebrating the RLI birthday. Salute. Before and after images shown below.
I came to Prague in 1993 to open a hotel, which was then part of a hotel group called ‘Penta’ which was a subsidiary of the Lufthansa Airline Group.
I was working for this group in Gatwick in their airport hotel as a night manager when I got a call from a Swiss friend of mine who was also working for the same group in Germany, and he’d just been appointed General Manager of the new hotel to be opened in Prague. We had worked together in Joburg at a Southern Sun hotel called the ‘Johannesburg Sun and Towers Hotel (which has now been mothballed for years). Going to Prague was an adventure but it helped that my salary doubled and would be tax free!
I was what is called in the hotel trade a ‘Front Office Manager’ responsible for reception, reservations, Porters, Garage and Fitness etc, with about 40 staff reporting to me. As an Expat Manager I thought I’d be there about 3 years and then move on. I was the only Brit Manager; the rest were mostly German and French. The accountant was French and would always have a bottle of French wine on his desk and when entering his office, if he liked you, he’d pour you a small glass of wine, whatever time of day it was! (You wouldn’t get that in the UK, would you)!
As it is, here I am 30 years later, married to a Czech woman and two adult sons. I was also sent to Moscow for a month to help open a hotel there, that was a scary experience but that’s another story. I could think of worst places to be, it was until recently a cheap place to live, a litre of beer GBP 1, a three-course meal (not in a tourist area) with drinks GBP 6! Prague being the capitol is very cosmopolitan but outside areas are very conservative in their politics and in the personality of the people.
The older generation in some parts of the country loved the Communist system and hated democracy because in the old days, you were taken care of, there was no such thing as unemployment, the State would always find work for you, whether you liked it or not was irrelevant. The Czechoslovak Government was more hard line than other communist states, the church wasn’t tolerated here, whereas in Poland and Hungary because most of the population were Catholics, the authorities worked with the Catholic Church. Most Czechs are atheists and that is thanks to Jan Hus and his reformation in the 14th Century against the corruption of the Catholic Church. When the Communists came to power in 1948 they stripped the church of all it’s assets ( their land and property being considerable) and it’s only a few years ago that parliament gave back the land and paid a considerable amount out due to loss of property.
When I first started working here, I used to go by public transport, bus and metro (underground) and I would be the only person wearing a suit because the Czech approach was that if you were a manager and you had a car, you would use that, as it was a sign of ones status symbol. Also if a Czech had a meeting with you, they would never be on time, it was quite normal for them to be late and would never understand why we foreign managers would be upset. They would often quote to us ‘ do in Rome what the Romans do ‘ !
If you went into any shop, whether book store or supermarket, they would control how many people entered by limiting the amount of baskets available. Of course I wasn’t aware of this and the one day I wanted to buy some pens and pencils from a nearby store and saw this queue outside and walked blithely past, took what I needed and people inside the store were looking at me when i was standing inline waiting for the cashier. I got to the cashier, who started shouting at me, snatched my money and I left. Later when asking one of my staff, why the cashier was upset, she explained not having a basket was really bad and no Czech would ever go into a store without one ! So that was my first lesson of how things were done in this country.
Czechs in general area a conservative bunch, none of the US greetings ( Hi, how are you, my name is Cindy’ when entering a restaurant here, ( the Czechs think it’s completely false), you’re more likely to get "Good morning/afternoon, what do you want’ ! Most tourists complain of Czech people in the service industry being miserable.
When the Communists took over, they encouraged city/town folk to buy a piece of land and build a cottage on it, so that people had something to do or look forward to and not complain about their way of life ! So that is why now, the majority of older Czechs drive out to the countryside to their ‘weekend house’ Friday afternoon and come back Sunday evening when Spring arrives.
Younger Czechs like to go and visit their parents/grandparents but don’t want the hassle of looking after a place, as it ties you down most weekends, cutting the grass, weeding etc.
THE LAST OF THE BRADY BUNCH - Nigel Rittey
Chairman Brian Lewis and I (Tom Douglas) thought it would be appropriate to acknowledge and pay tribute to a dying breed - the last of the founder members of our regiment. Such a man is Nigel Rittey. You should be aware of him through his article, ”The RLI Begins to Take Shape”, on page 39 of the 60th Anniversary Cheetah. Service - Feb 1962 to 1964; Pte/L Cpl, Cpl, Sgt A Coy/1 Cdo.1964 to 1966 MT Sgt and RP Sgt. He left the RLI in 1968.
He was a founder member when No1 Training Unit spawned the RLI in February 1961. As a young subaltern I remember Nigel as the OC 1 Cdo, Bruce Campling and then Peter Rich’s driver and the Cdo MT Corporal. We were on Op Yodel together at Makuti when Trevor Desfountain’s patrol had the first RLI contact and kill.
Nigel has unfortunately been very unwell for some time now. In spite of this he reached the impressive age of 80 years on 10 January 2023 and on the same day he and his wife Basia celebrated their 50th “Golden” wedding anniversary. Congratulations on reaching these milestones.
We the Chairman and members of RLIRA UK salute you as one of the last of the Brady Bunch! Hope you have a better year in 2023. Tom Douglas
To War in Tennis Shoes – Rhodesia’s Fire Force
By Richard Cecil
With “Operation Thrasher” in eastern Rhodesia
Narrative reproduced by Ed Allsop from page 5 of The Daily Telegraph UK Edition dated Saturday February 26th, 1977
Rhodesian Light Infantry men are skilled and battle-hardened in counter-insurgency operations and their airborne “fire force” troops are in the front line of the battle against Communist-trained insurgents now creeping into Rhodesia in larger numbers than ever before.
The support commandos were already in action when I arrived soon after dawn at a remote airfield in eastern Rhodesia. They had been sent to kill a group of insurgents holed up on a rocky hillside 30 miles away.
Sheeting rain had turned the airfield into yellow mud. While I waited, I looked over a Douglas Dakota aircraft, a veteran of Orde Wingate’s Burma campaign.
The commandos use the “Dak” to drop on guerrilla positions, jumping from 500 feet.
For the jump they wear their normal battle order of a tee-shirt, shorts, and tennis shoes.
Rifles are strapped to their sides with string and their ammunition pouches are filled.
The commando unit returned at dusk, muddy and weary. They had killed 10 of their enemy and lost one man, a young White soldier of 22 who had just been married.
They were subdued and talked quietly among themselves, their thoughts on the day’s fighting and their dead comrade.
They were young, mostly 18 or 19. The veteran corporals were in their early twenties, and many were scarred by old bullet wounds.
Late the following morning the war began again. A police patrol 40 miles to the south of us ran into another group of guerrillas. Both sides saw each other simultaneously and in the exchange of fire a Black policeman was shot through the thigh.
Within minutes “Stop 1,” the first “stick” of the fire force, was on its way in helicopters, followed swiftly by a tracker team. It soon became clear that a small guerrilla group “bumped” by the police was part of an unusually large concentration.
Helicopter pilots estimated between 30 and 40 men and coolly reported by
radio that they had been missed by a couple of rockets but were taking hits
from small arms fire.
My “stick” was next in. We prepared to sprint down the landing apron as the first helicopter returned from the contact area.
The machines rotor blades had been hit and there was a delay of five minutes while the pilot filed down the rough edges of the bullet holes and covered them with sticky tape. Then we were in and away.
Only Cpl Hennie Du Toit commanding the “stick” had headphones to listen to the briefing from the contact area.
The only order he gave his men was to jab his finger towards a narrow strip of bush between some maize fields as we swooped down to land. Everyone knew what he meant.
The soldiers spread out and began the sweep, moving slowly and firing into denser patches of bush.
The fighting is often a series of duels. I remembered how the soldier had died the day before. A guerrilla had jumped out of the grass two yards in front of him and cut him down with a burst of automatic fire. The soldier had managed to fire one round before the guerrilla fired, but it went wide.
A dark movement in the cornfield on the right: the machine gunner whirls and fires. The rapid rattle of the guerrilla’s automatic fire and the heavy crashing of the soldier’s machine gun are simultaneous.
The soldier stoops and second later his thick brown arm holds up the Russian rifle above the waving corn. The sweep moves on. The bush is so thick that a man can remain hidden only a yard away.
A huge explosion and a black hole appears in the ground on my right. Cpl Du Toit is thrown backwards and at the same time the bush erupts as unseen automatic weapons open up on us.
The blast was a rocket and the insurgents had waited until we were 15 yards away before opening fire. The soggy ground took most of the shrapnel, but the corporal had blood streaming down his face from a splinter in the head. The rest of us were untouched.
The Rhodesians, with their fingers curled lightly round their triggers and their safety catches “off,” fired back instantly, at the same time flinging themselves sideways, forwards and back into the thicket available cover.
30 yards range
The ground was flat, with no solid cover, although we were at least hidden from view. The insurgents had the advantage of a hollow in the ground and some thick trees.
The volume of fire put down in the first minute and a half was intense and the noise deafening. With no more than 30 yards between both sides the bushes were cut to pieces.
The corporal withdrew the “stick” about 15 yards to better positions and we were reinforced by a young officer, Lt Neil Jackson, with four soldiers. He called in an air strike and within 30 seconds one of the circling aircraft came sweeping down.
We were so close to the guerrilla’s positions that the plane had to fire its rockets well behind us. They passed low over our heads before crashing into their targets.
Chinese stick grenades started exploding just in front of us., showing the crouching troops with mud and debris. The Rhodesians replied in kind, hurling the heavy hand bombs, and then flattening themselves to avoid splinters.
I was now on the extreme left of the line, on the edge of cover, and could see the lighter Soviet-made bullets ricochet of the thick undergrowth, while the heavier Rhodesian sliced through everything to their targets.
Now the light was fading, and I edged out of cover to try to get film of the enemy. I saw the muzzle flash of a machine gun some 30 yards in front of me and was looking for the man behind it when the guerrilla saw me and swung his gun on to me.
As the bullets spattering up the mud on my left came towards me, I remembered that some fool had said “Terrorist always shoot high in thick bush.” The burst stopped 12 inches short of me and, as I rolled back into cover, I heard the machine-gunner fitting a new magazine.
The firing continued for about an hour after dark, each burst momentarily silencing the chorus of frogs in the wet maize fields. Two wounded Rhodesians were evacuated to hospital via helicopter while the others moved up to spend a wet night in ambush round the enemy.
The action finished early the next morning. Teams went out to find the wounded and those who had escaped. The dead were loaded into helicopters.
The insurgents had lost six dead and probably some wounded. Three Rhodesians had minor wounds. For them, they said as they climbed into a lorry bound for the nearest pub, it had been “a very ordinary day.”
Notes and Image from Gordon Harland
On Saturday 24th September 2022 members of the Rhodesian Armed forces gathered at the Troopie Statue to remember those that died not only in the Puma 164 but also members of the RLI in & after the war.
I will not go into details about the service I will leave that for others. Only to say it was very moving. More than a few wet eyes & more than a few handkerchiefs were on display.
After the services we were invited into Hatfield House to have a tour including the chapel. I along with a friend, I had brought along were first there. We were met by Dermot the guide, & what a guide.
Byne my friend & I were given a quick tour & ended u in the Chapel. Dermot had popped to the door to let the others in as he did so two ladies came in carrying flowers. I thought they were part of the staff cleaning up. In my normal happy go lucky tome I said “alright girls how are we doing “they both smiled I then said to them that the keep the place nice & clean. They said thank you. Just then Dermot arrived back with the rest of the party. Came smarty to a halt Then the dreaded words came out. “Good afternoon, Lady Salisbury” Lady Salisbury looked at me with a smile, I look up to heaven & said a prayer.
A flash back to Christmas 1977 delivering extra food to kitchen at Independence House for a party they were having. As the catering staff were unloading the trays. A European lady seemed to be in charger. Words came out of my mouth, like all right darling Merry Christmas to you. Vince who was the duty driver just looked at me. Anyway, the lady smiled & gave us two beers each & wish us a Merry Christmas. We got back into the Land Rover with Vince £$%^&*() do you know who she was. No, I reply that was Mrs Smith. The Prime minister’s wife. You $%^& POME.
Spending Time Cleaning The Statue
It’s not, by even the wildest stretch of the imagination, the Zambezi river - in whose valley the RLI earned its reputation as one of the finest protagonists of COIN warfare. But the River Lea in Hatfield Park provides a tranquil and contemplative resting place for The Trooper. A fine setting in which to pause and remember those of our number who have shuffled off this mortal coil to join the ever-growing 2nd Battalion.
Spending time cleaning the statue and its surrounds feels like time well spent and we urge members to join the occasional cleaning party if they are at all able to do so.
Watch out for future announcements
Across the span of 43 years filled with achievements, tragedies, small and large victories and losses and a myriad of other individual experiences there is one indelible memory carried by those who were there. Mapai on the 6th September 1979.
This was one of the largest external operations carried out by Rhodesian security forces against the communist-backed guerrilla forces of the Zimbabwe nationalist movement.
A combined force of RLI and SAS soldiers conducted operations across the Gaza province, Mozambique, from 1 – 7 September with the aim of destroying infrastructure and disrupting enemy operations and incursions. The finale of the operation was an attack on the well defended Mapai camp containing combined ZANLA / FRELIMO forces with Russian advisers.
On the 6th September, as our combined force of RLI, SAS and Engineers flew low over the scrubland and sandalwood of Gaza province in South African Airforce Pumas, we came under intense small arms and RPG7 fire from satellite camps. Tragedy struck when Puma Hotel Four was hit by an RPG-7 as it headed for its LZ, killing all on board. This was the worst loss of Rhodesian army lives in the entire war.
Today we remember, with reverence and respect our comrades-in-arms:
· Capt Paul Denzel Velleman, SAAF
· Lt Nigel David Osborne, SAAF
· Sgt Dirk Wilhelmus Marthinus (Dick) Retief, SAAF
· Capt Johannes Matheus Du Plooy, 1 RLI
· Capt Charles David Small, Rh Eng
· 2nd Lt Bruce Fraser Burns, Rh Eng
· Sgt Michael Alan Jones, Rh Eng
· Cpl Leroy William Duberley, Rh Eng
· Cpl Gordon Hugh Fry, 1 1 RLI
· L/Cpl Peter Fox, Rh Eng
· Tpr Jacobus Alwyn Briel, 1 RLI
· Tpr Alden James Coleman, 1 RLI
· Tpr Jeremy Mark Crow: 1 RLI
· Tpr Brian Louis Enslin, 1 RLI
· Tpr Stephen Eric King, 1 RLI
· Tpr Colin Graham Neasham, 1 RLI
· Tpr David Rex Prosser, 1 RLI
'They shall not grow old,
As we that are left, grow old
Age shall not weary them, nor do the years condemn,
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them. '
Dedication submitted by Simon Carpenter
All members and friends are invited to attend the
annual wreath laying service which will take place at the Troopie Statue, Hatfield House commencing at 1200 noon.
Please wear blazer, tie and beret, refreshments will be on sale. Can you please advise if attending to enable wreath layers to be nominated. firstname.lastname@example.org
Meeting of the Central/Northern chapter will be held at Bedford RAFA Club commencing at 14.00 hrs on the 12tH November 2022. RAFA club will open from 12.00 noon to 20.00 hrs. Contact email@example.com for more information.
Sunday 13th November 2022 is Remembrance Sunday. The Lord Lieutenant and the Royal British Legion have invited the RLIRA to march with them. Meeting and forming up commences at 10.00 hours next to the suspension bridge, Radhuni restaurant, on the Bedford Embankment.
Following the march, we will be welcomed back to the RAFA club together with RAF, RBL members and other military organisations.
Suggested accommodation is available at Premier inns Priory Marina, Barkers Lane Bedford. Book early for ASAP as Bedford is always busy this weekend. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Report Back from call sign “Delta Lima” 07/2022
Lt Col I R Bate
Greetings one and all. Trusting this letter finds all members, their families, and close ones in good health. It was with very deep regret that we were informed of the passing of Lt Col I R Bate on the 8th June 2022.
As all will know, Lt Col I “Tufty” R Bate served as Commanding Officer, 1st Battalion the Rhodesian Light Infantry from 26th June 1978 until 3rd December 1979.
A big shout out to John Ashburner and the clean up team of Ant and Daphne Hunter, Richard Burton, Isle and Peter De Kock for cleaning up the Troopie and surrounding area on Sunday 31st July 2022.
A by-election was held for the position of secretary of
the UK/EU branch with a call for nominations, followed by an online vote.
Two (2) nominations were received (George Dempster & Gary Huxham). Gary withdrew due to health concerns.
Members were requested to vote for George or AN Other. Forty (40) members voted in favour of George with no opposing votes.
We wish to thank Neill for his commitment over the years while welcoming George as the new branch secretary.
RLIRA UK/EU Branch.
for 2023 only Notification to all RLIRA UK/EU branch Members
Treasury-Amendment 1/ 2022
The Following Rules are instituted with immediate effect:
WITHDRAWALS - RLIRA UK/EU branch – NatWest Bank
The Treasury will henceforth sort out standard bank ‘References’’ for all withdrawal / paid out transactions. Example: Prefix ‘Refund’ Suffix ‘60th Dinner. Therefore, bank reference will read Refund-60 Dinner
DEPOSITS - RLIRA UK/EU branch – NatWest Bank:
Accounts Name: RLIRA
Account Number: 62234145
Sort Code: 60 - 02 - 13
Bic: NWBK GB 2L
IBAN: GB42 NWBK 6002 1362 2341 45
The Membership and Other Depositors will henceforth use the same logic as above for bank ‘Reference’, for all deposits / paid-in transactions. Example: Prefix ‘SUBS’ Suffix 23 (or other such year) 2 only character numeral). In this case, the bank reference for subs paid in advance for 2023 will read SUBS-23 on the bank statement. Likewise, a donation to the Museum, bank reference will read Donation-Museum etc ; a purchase of Merchandise would read QM-Polo shirt etc .
A fixed date for final receipt of RLIRA UK / EU branch annual subscriptions, in advance into the bank has been set for midnight on the 30 November of each year for the next 3 years, commencing 30 November 2022 for 2023 subscriptions, SUBS-23.
· Reminders for subscription due by you will be sent out to all members 30days before due and again 14 days before due.
· In ‘special ’financial’ circumstances only, will a maximum of 2 equal split payments be accepted. The first payment being by 30th November each year SUBS-23/1 and SUBS-23/2 for the second the second being with 60 days of the first.
· Temporary or Permanent exemption from payment of annual subscriptions will be considered for exceptional financial difficulties only. An e-mail application, justifying the required exemption must be made direct to the RLIRA UK/ EU Branch ‘welfare officer’ 90 days before the 30th of November each year.
Amnesty is in effect immediately until 30th November 2022, for the entire RLIRA UK / EU branch membership for the non-payment of past subs. However, we appeal to all members to ‘volunteer’ to pay any arrear subs. There will be no need for explanation, nor any questions asked about the amounts paid or for which years they apply. This information will remain private and confidential; bank reference is SUBS- Arrears
We will accept
multiple subs payments in advance for the next 3 years, based on the 2023 rate
published in Treasury Amendment 2/2022.bank reference to be used is SUBS-23/24/25.
Treasury-Amendment 2/ 2022
The Following Rules are instituted with immediate effect:
request for ‘Refund’ for any and all deposits made by members of RLIRA
worldwide will not be considered for payment after 31st Aug
2022. This rule does not apply to
Treasury-Amendment 3/ 2022
The Following Rules are instituted with immediate effect:
Please direct all financial enquiries, comment and suggestions directly to me, as per details below. You may of course, copy in any committee member of the RLIRA UK/EU branch directly for comment and back-up..
Treasury-Amendment 4/ 2022
The Following subscriptions are increased to cover the overall inflation rate of over 8% in the United Kingdom. We have kept the subs increase to below 6%.
From 1st December 2022 subscriptions for all categories, bar ‘Honorary’ Member’ will be a standard £35.00 per annum per member including the members spouse/partner, children and grandchildren, even family friends at social gatherings. The membership category ‘Family Member’ thus falls away. Included in the £35.00 amount is a welfare levy of £10.00 for 2023 only per annum to be allocated to a the new ‘welfare’ funding project.
Treasury-Amendment 5/ 2022
The following Treasury Amendment 5/2022 is approved for publication/notification by the Chairman.
When any person joins or gets nominated the for membership of the RLIRA UK/EU branch for the first time, the following rules apply immediately.
0044 (0) 78389289275
Open Meeting of the RLIRA UK/Eu Branch held at the RAFA Club Bedford on Saturday 2 July 2022 at 1230hrs
Click below to download as a PDF document
Report Back from call sign “Delta Lima”
Greetings one and all. Trusting this letter finds all members, their families, and close ones in good health.
It is the intention of the newsletters to provide info on any upcoming events/dates etc as well as points of interest and importance, relevant to the Battalion and its members.
Please click below to download the newsletter
Please take a few minutes to download and read the latest newsletter from Neill Storey the secretary.