Tag Archives: Army

HF Radio-telephone Botswana

It might seem strange that I have included this with my military experiences (it is posted elsewhere too). The reason for doing so is that this anecdote would not have been possible without the training and experience I received in the Rhodesian army. That includes being innovative and a bit of a “McGyver” type of person.

In 1985 I worked for a small radio communications company in Johannesburg.

The owner of the company was something of a wheeler-dealer in the radio industry at the time and he had managed to get in with the owners of the then Tuli Safari Lodge in Botswana (I think it still exists – the pictures are from a google search of the name). It was situated a couple of kilometres inside the most eastern corner of Botswana and, by road from South Africa, was reached by crossing at a tiny police station/combined border post called Pont Drift.

I think it may have been late winter or mid spring in South Africa. On this occasion his advice damned nearly got my wife, Margaret, and I locked up in Botswana. 

When I lived in South Africa I carried a Browning 9mm Hi-Power that I had bought and carried in my Rhodesia days and my boss’ advice was just chuck it under the seat or in your toolbox and you will be fine. I should, in fact, have handed it in for safe-keeping with the police at Pont Drift on the South African side but I took the boss’ advice and it was only when I presented myself on the Botswana side that I realised that this had been a BAD IDEA!

The country was, and is, paranoid about private weapons especially if you bring them across the border with you, undocumented. Only if you have completed the reams of paperwork required as a professional hunter can you bring rifles into the country. Handguns were treated as a great sin.

There were signs everywhere warning of the DIRE consequences of bringing undeclared weapons into the country and I had heard one or two chilling stories of incidents involving weapons and these were brought to front of mind in no uncertain terms.

Too late now, so I brazened it out and we were allowed in and drove up to the lodge.

Why were we there…of course…well a radio tech had been sent up a couple of months previously to sort out the HF radio. This was very important to the operations of the lodge because, in those days, before the advent of cell phones the only telephone link to remote places in Botswana was radio-telephone. It had been thus for many years – if you received a call an operator established communications with you then – using acoustic coupling (basically connecting the telephone to the handset of the radio) – they allowed the call to proceed. Outgoing calls were initiated by radio and the control operator made the phone call and connected the radio subscriber. Callers on phones had to use radio procedure because, unlike a telephone or cell phone, only one person can talk at a time so you HAD TO wait until the other person had stopped speaking before you could take your turn. Of course call quality was variable but if you had a GOOD HF LINK it made a huge difference.

Anyway the technician had gone up there and basically buggered around and made little if any difference to the performance of the radio link. Very shortly after he left call quality dropped off to virtually non-existent other than at some arbitrary times of the day. The owners had paid and they were seriously NOT AMUSED so I had been sent up to sort things out. Because the boss was on good terms with the people at the lodge I was invited to bring my wife up. Margaret took a day or two off and we travelled up – on a Friday I think – arriving very late in the afternoon.

We were allocated a very comfortable room and invited to join the evening game drive which was most enjoyable even though we had been travelling all day. I think we also did the early morning game drive on Saturday.

Meals were taken in a semi-circle, each at your own little table and this worked to get everyone present talking to each other. A great atmosphere and wonderful food (and the worry in the back of my mind about the pistol lying disassembled under a bunch tools and greasy rags in a compartment of my Microbus).

After breakfast I got stuck in and examined the radio. This piece of equipment was located behind the bar which was partly inside and partly under, a large hollow baobab tree.

After I connected my wattmeter to the radio and plugged the antenna lead into it I got the strangest readings. Basically there ought to have been NO COMMUNICATION AT ALL and in fact I felt that it was so badly mismatched that I was surprised that the radio had not blown a final. How strange, I thought, the tech who had been up must have done the same test??

Only thing for it and, getting a ladder, I climbed up into the tree to see where the feeder cable led to thinking that perhaps there was something wrong with the junction of feeder and radiating elements.

Imagine my surprise when I found the radiating elements (made of bare copper wire) had been NAILED TO THE BRANCHES OF THE TREE using metal staples made from wire nails bent into a U shape!!

One of the basic things we were always taught on signals course was that you avoid having any part of the radiating elements touching trees or poles even though our antenna in the army would normally be using insulated wire. I was flabbergasted that someone who was supposedly a radio technician would have done this!!

I had been given the frequencies for the equipment before leaving Johannesburg and had grabbed some petty cash and, using 2.5mm panel wire and some stuff I had lying around, I had made up a two-element HF dipole in my garage at home. I proceeded to erect my antenna – that necessarily had to be spread above the lawn covered beer garden area near the baobab bar.

The owner had been away but when he came back he was rather disconcerted to find the antenna strung above his guest area. He said the previous technician had taken heed of this and made sure that the antenna was unobtrusive to which I retorted that it was so unobtrusive as to be completely ineffective too. Did he want communications that he could rely on or were aesthetics more important? He could not have both. With a bit of a grumble he let me carry on.

By late afternoon I was happy and confident that the equipment would now perform correctly. I had been receiving some flak from the control station in Gaborone because my testing was causing interference on the radio net that served all outlying places in the country. I had apologised for that and explained why and said that if calls came through I would wait for them to be completed. (The duty barman said that was the best comms, while I was still setting up, that he had heard since being there!)

Anyway, after a quick wash I went on the evening game drive. Margaret had already been on the day drive during which they had stopped somewhere to look at a view or while the guide pointed out something of interest.

Margaret had seen some colourful rocks and picked up three or four pieces thinking the pretty colours would look nice with a pot-plant or in a rockery at home. Probably agate (in picture) or quartz which is plentiful in the area.

Sunday morning was spent on another game drive followed by a pleasant breakfast-in-the-round and later we set off back to Johannesburg.

At the Botswana border post we were asked if we had anything to declare. Now I must comment here that the brightest people are probably not going to end up in a backwater like this but that did not make them NOT THOROUGH. So thorough, in fact, that some of the things we were asked were frankly ludicrous but they were asked in absolute seriousness. What plants were we taking out if any, did we have any minerals or diamonds that we had collected and so on and then the dreaded question – “May we look through your vehicle, sir?” as if I was in any position to refuse.

Heart pounding and dry-mouthed I walked out and opened the sliding door and the first thing they noticed on the floor was Margaret’s innocent bits of prettily coloured stones. I could have held the stones in one hand but these boys lit up and all of a sudden they wanted to know if we had any diamonds? What else did we have? Would I open the back? Take out the stuff in the back, open the engine compartment please?

They were poking into everything looking in our bags, in my toolbox and Margaret was nearly in tears explaining about the pieces of stone saying she would throw them out to prove that they were just something she liked and picked up off the ground. To their unsophisticated but officious and suspicious minds no-one just picked up some stones because they were prettily coloured – we had to be up to something.

I suppose the whole episode did not last much longer than what seem like a full day but was probably thirty minutes in reality. The worst bit was the homemade bins I had between the front seats of the bus.

“What is in here?” “Oh my rubbish bag and rags that I use when I work on greasy stuff and probably a couple more tools” I said as nonchalantly as I could.

He was trying to open it as if it was hinged and I slid the lids open one at a time. He poked round in the smaller one that had some grubby stuff in it (I can’t remember where I got it from but it had not come with us). Sliding open the next one I gingerly put two fingers in and picked up a particularly dirty, greasy rag.

“What else is in there?”  “I think there is a spare oil cap (there was) this water pressure cap,” as I fished them out and waved my hand at the bundle of greasy rags now lying in the bin. He looked on as I gingerly started to put my hand in again, as if I did not want to get any dirtier, then said “OK, you can go” and proceeded to lecture us on the sovereignty of Botswana and how they do not appreciate diamond smugglers etc etc. (the nearest diamond mine is about 450 kilometres away in the middle of the country in a very barren area – there are NO DIAMONDS in the Tuli area but I was not going to argue that point).

We went in and got our passports stamped, thanked the officials, got into the car and drove off as sedately as we could – barely breathing and expecting to be called back at any second. Margaret’s stones…did we get to keep them? After all this time I can’t remember.

We crossed back into South Africa – taking several deep, shuddering breaths of relief as we arrived. I told the policeman on duty about our adventure as he stamped our passports and he told us we were very lucky indeed because they could be quite savage on anyone breaking the weapons rules in Botswana.

About a week went by before I got feedback that the radio communications were now the best they had ever been in roughly the twenty years the lodge operators had been there. They thanked us and told my employer that I was welcome there at any time. We never took them up on it though we did discuss it. The remains of the copper antenna wire are probably still there, embedded in the tree I imagine.

That good old Rhodesian Army Corps of Signals training and experience had struck again!

For some information on HF antenna go to my earlier post
http://eriktheready.com/about-antennas/

HF Antenna Lesotho

It might seem strange that I have included this with my military experiences (it is posted elsewhere too). The reason for doing so is that this anecdote would not have been possible without the training and experience I received in the Rhodesian army. That includes being innovative and a bit of a “McGyver” type of person.

In the late 1980s I worked for a company called RF Marketing (RFM). My friend Rick Borrett also worked there and was one of the top salesmen (he may have been sales manager by then).

Rick had sold a lot of radio equipment into Lesotho and I was to accompany him on several of his trips to that little country to sort out radio problems. On one trip I had to squat in a small snowbank on a mountaintop while I worked on a VHF repeater and its solar panels. Just to make things more pleasant it was gently snowing.

We had been flown up in a Lesotho Defence Force helicopter (they rented them out for commercial use) and while the pilot sat in the warm aircraft we trudged over to the job and I got stuck in. Of course our clothing was quite inadequate for the cold but, in order to use my tools, I had to remove my gloves. Quite soon Rick remarked that I could not use my gloves, could I? Rhetorical question that it was I grunted in the negative to which he replied “Please can I use them?” and I handed over my nice leather, fur-lined gloves so that he could keep his hands warm.

After about forty minutes I had finished the work and I was so cold that I seriously, just for a moment, thought of abandoning my tools there on the mountaintop and scrambling into the warm helicopter waiting fifty metres away. They were my personal tools and Rick had the good grace to help me chuck them into my toolbox and then take one side of the toolbox to carry it to the helo.

We scrambled in and Rick asked the pilot to get us off the mountain as quickly as possible. He gave me back my gloves. The aircraft heater warmed the cabin and I warmed up a bit as we descended. Twenty minutes later after getting out of the chopper we were removing layers of clothing.

It was on one of these trips that I had the most sincere, if back-handed, compliment from Rick. He was muttering about some bloke approaching us as we waited for a light aircraft at some bush airstrip. In reply to my question he said, “He is a bloody idiot – his pockets are always full of bits of string and stuff and Swiss-army knives and shit like that.”

Somewhat disconcerted I replied “Well that sounds a bit like me with all my McGyver-type stuff.” Rick’s reply was something like “Yeah, but you know what to do with all that fucking shit.” A compliment is a compliment, I suppose! …and I still do – carry a lot of shit with me per the illustration!

Oh, HF, that is what I started with! Lesotho is a tiny land-locked country completely surrounded by South Africa and only measures about 210 x 162 kilometres in extent – about 34,000 square – kilometres and VERY mountainous.

A donor country had decided to build a micro hydroelectric station to provide power to an area way up in the mountains near the area that is the highest point of the famous Roof of Africa rally.

They found a steep mountain stream that made a short hairpin bend and doubled back to flow about 20-30 metres lower down but probably 30 metres or so from the uphill section if measured horizontally. The photo shows an area in Lesotho where the river doubles back on itself similar to what I have described. By diverting the upper part of the river they tunnelled down and through the dividing piece of mountain, installed a small hydro generator and then allowed the river to flow again after partially damming it BELOW the upper entrance to the tunnel. This now became the race for the head of water that would drive the generator. Very clever but not a short-duration project. The company had an HQ in Maseru, the capital, but very poor communications to the construction site.

Rick had sold them HF radios that had been installed by one of the technicians but the radios were not working at all – well the communication was non-existent while there was nothing wrong with the radios. The antenna of course, were another matter and we set off with poles, ropes, pegs, cables, connectors and some HF antennas I had made up in my garage at home.

On arrival I installed an end-fed long wire antenna at the base station because there was no room for any other kind of antenna and next day we got a light aircraft from the airport and were flown in to this VERY high landing strip on top of a mountain. It was a bit windy but early in the day so the air was relatively still. The landing – for the uninitiated – was quite hair-raising on this dirt strip that ended at a cliff drop-off. I think the picture is of that actual airstrip in Lesotho.

Taken up to the camp I proceeded to erect my poles – with help from Rick and a couple of men assigned to help us. I then erected a conventional HF dipole, connected it to the radio and then had to trim it by keying the transmitter, checking my antenna meter, adjust the length of each element of the antenna (calculating the antenna length is not an exact science in the field and it is necessary to let out or take in the ends until the correct reading is obtained). While we were doing this we had to keep telling the people at base to shut up while we worked – they were so chuffed that they could hear us and that we could obviously hear them!!

When this was done I tied off the ends of the antenna, checked the stays on the poles and told them they were set to go. “That antenna is not high enough” one of the local old hands had observed when I started and I had assured him it was. The finished job left the radiating elements of the antenna about three or four metres above the ground (depending on where you stood) but a car or pickup could drive under it. I told them in no uncertain terms, that apart from ensuring that the antenna was safe and secure, to NOT be tempted to move it or change its height from the ground.

“Why is it so low?”, I was asked and I explained about needing to get the signal up and down quickly because, although driving through the mountains took hours the base was only about 50-60 kilometres away in a straight line. The fact that it worked was irrefutable but they were confused and pointed out that the International Red Cross (IRC) down the road (about a couple of hours drive away) had these very precisely arrayed antennas and that they were at least thirty metres off the ground.

I enquired if they knew who they talked to and it turned out that they had wonderful HF communications with Switzerland. And in Lesotho? Oh those radios could not talk to anyone in Lesotho. I surmised that those antennas had probably been professionally erected with the express purpose of very long range communications. (We passed the IRC buildings next day and the antennas were indeed erected with Germanic precision on lattice masts that towered over the place).

Now that we had communications at the site the first message we got was that there would be no aircraft coming for us because the wind had come up and aircraft could not land or take off from the mountaintop!!

Our hosts rounded up some beers, coke and brandy, gave us a good feed and we sat around chatting, drinking and listening to Billy Connolly tapes in the cookhouse. I had chosen to sleep in the manager’s caravan (he was away) and the wind kept me awake most of the night, fearful that it would lift the caravan and chuck it off the mountain with me inside! Rick had chosen to sleep in one of the accommodation containers – it was heavy, dark and quiet and he slept well.

Rick looked rather rough in the morning though, having consumed the best part of a bottle of brandy with coke the previous evening!

Still no aircraft, we learned after a hearty breakfast, so they arranged a four-wheel drive pickup for us with a driver. Rick, who is an excellent driver, had their man in the back seat within the first couple of kilometres – I did not blame him because the driver did NOT instil confidence. There were stretches that were a bit like those horror roads you see in the video clips from South America and, narrow as the roads were, Rick was on the inside closest to the mountain while I looked fearfully at the horrendous drop-offs on my left. After FIVE LONG HOURS we got down on the level and merely had to contend with some rioters throwing stuff at us as we zipped past. My Microbus was still safely standing at the airport – untouched. We handed the pickup over to the company driver, went to our hotel for a shower and a meal and next day started back to Johannesburg.

It was most satisfying to get feedback from the client that they were very happy with their NEW communications – having been ready to box everything up and send it back to us.

For some information on HF antenna go to my earlier post
http://eriktheready.com/about-antennas/

Antenna – it ain’t broke!

Rhodesia is – was, if you prefer to use the name Zimbabwe – a small country measuring roughly 750 kilometres (or 466 miles) north to south and 850 kilometres (529 miles) west to east.

HF (High Frequency) radio is normally accepted as being for long range communications beyond the reach of conventional VHF (Very High Frequency) radio. Long range can be anything from a few hundred kilometres to halfway round the world and the construction, and type, of antenna plays a big part in HF communications.

The most common HF antenna in use – and that was used in the Rhodesian Army – is the half-wave dipole that can be erected either a T or an inverted (upside down) V configuration.

In the early 70s, probably around 1972/1973, JOC Hurricane, the operational field headquarters of Operation Hurricane and HQ 2 Brigade, moved from Centenary to the small town of Bindura.

The camp was just on the edge of the town and there were several very large trees around the grounds that provided shade to mainly the middle of the camp where the ops rooms – and officer’s messes – were located.

The radio room and other communications were housed in a long corrugated iron building just inside the boom-guarded entrance to the camp. The back of the building was towards the road and we erected our antennae on three poles in a T configuration between the building and the road.

The centre pole supported the centre point of four antennas (we used four frequencies as a rule – night frequency, day frequency and two intermediate frequencies). The outer poles were where the ends of the dipoles were supported by their halyards. The longest antenna, for the lowest frequency, was highest on the pole and the shortest, for the highest frequency, on the bottom.

The antenna each had their own feeder that ran into the radio room. Instead of having a common feed or some way of combining the feeders we marked the ends of the feeders, near the radio connector, with the relevant frequency number on a piece of tape and when we changed frequency we removed and connected the cables accordingly. 

This unsophisticated, simple but effective, setup gave us excellent communications coverage of our operational area and, had we wanted to, we could have communicated with any part of the country.

One day, probably around the 20th of the month, we had a visit from a warrant officer who was

stationed with the signals technical squadron and;
was a radio amateur and;
was a very self-important and self-opinionated person – and also a genuinely, very clever electronics/radio technician.

Our OC at the time was also a keen radio amateur and this warrant officer swamped the OC with jargon and theory to the point that he gained permission to REORGANISE our antennas to OPTIMISE our communications. He maintained that the antennas were too close to each other – although only one was in use at any one time, not high enough and that they ought to be more spread out and not parallel to each other.

Our interfering warrant officer, having obtained carte blanche from the OC, against my ultimately ineffectual protestations, proceeded to have my men climbing trees and stringing the antennas anything from one and a half to two times as high as our little behind-the-radio-room masts. We now had this spider-web of antennas, feeder cables and halyards in the trees over the headquarters.

On questioning my exhausted operators over the next day or two after the visitor had departed, I determined that the only noticeable difference was that communications were not as good as before the rearranging of the antennas. Also more frequency changes had to be made to maintain communications.

At the end of every month we were issued a list of new frequencies to use and all antennas had to be trimmed to the new dimensions and tuned up. This involved physically changing the length of the antenna elements but now our antennas were tangled in the treetops and endangering the men trying to work with them.

I approached the OC and asked if I might speak frankly. He agreed and I asked him (probably a bit sarcastically – which he took in good part I seem to remember) if he could get Sergeant Major XX from 12 Squadron out with a team to change our antennas for us because, as he was aware, it was changeover time. I also reiterated what I had already told him – that there had been zero HF communication improvement in relation to the effort that had been required to create the spider web above our heads.

With a rueful smile the OC conceded that he had allowed the silver-haired, smooth-tongued warrant officer to mislead him, against his better judgement, in respect of our practical and functional antenna set-up. “Put it back as it was, Staff,” he told me “and apologise to the men for all the trouble”. “Thank you Sir, I replied”.

He was a really decent man, Henton Jaaback, destined to become our last Corps Commander and one of the finest I ever served with. He became a friend after our service – he was lost to us a few years ago.

The men almost cheered with gratitude and, with renewed enthusiasm, they got the antennas back to the good, practical setup we had been using. Afterwards we had rolls and rolls of co-axial feeder cable left over from the loooonnng feeder cables that had been necessary to reach the antennas in the tree canopy over the HQ. A real waste in those troubled times but I think they were recycled and eventually put to good use.

There is always a balance between theory and practical experience and the lesson taken from this is – if it ain’t broke, don’t go FIXING it.

For some information on HF antenna go to my earlier post
http://eriktheready.com/about-antennas/

About HF antennas

This article will, of necessity, be VERY basic…

One of my favourite subjects has always been HF (High Frequency) radio communications. Because it can be fairly demanding I have found, over the years, that people do not want to be bothered with it. The antennas require knowledge to erect and maintain, some knowledge of how frequencies react at certain times of the day and, particularly in the case of mobile installations, some knowledge of the principles of earthing and potential differences. Very few people have believed in HF and if they did not have someone on hand who could look after it the installations that were put in would be neglected and the equipment blamed for all manner of reasons.

I talk about HF in several of my articles and I thought perhaps I should devote a short post to outlining some of the basics of how HF radio works – this is very basic so, all you technical types, please don’t confuse the issue with complex discussion around the subject.

HF (High Frequency) radio is normally accepted as being intended for long range communications beyond the reach of conventional VHF (Very High Frequency) radio. Long range can be anything from a few hundred kilometres to halfway round the world and the construction, and type, of antenna plays a big part in HF communications.

The most common HF antenna in use – and that was used in the Rhodesian Army – is the half-wave dipole that was normally erected in a T configuration (an inverted, upside down, V configuration can be used where a space for a normal dipole is constrained) (see graphics). I know that these antenna work exceptionally well for short and medium distance HF communication – and in some cases, properly erected, around the world.

 

 

One of the VERY BASIC antenna fundamentals we were taught on our operators’ courses was – the greater the distance you want to cover on HF the higher the antenna needs to be. Conversely an antenna that was comparatively low to the ground (as ours generally were), would tend to have a much SHORTER skip distance (bearing in mind that the area covered when the signals came back to earth was not a SPOT but actually a very large (almost) omni-directional footprint. Remember – Rhodesia has a comparatively small land area less than 900 kilometres at its widest point.

So, although with our VHF communications we were always trying to get high ground for our relay stations, the rationale in respect of HF was a bit different.

Skip distance is the distance from where the effective ground coverage (the area of direct communication over the ground from the base to an outlying station) ends and the first radio waves refracted from the ionosphere return to earth (see graphic). This is because a dipole antenna is primarily designed for long range communication and makes use of sending the signal to the ionosphere where it is refracted (bounced if you like) back to earth. The sharper the angle at which the signal reaches the ionosphere the closer to the base station it will return to earth. The reverse is true and is achieved by adjusting the height of the antenna from the ground to control the angle of the radio wave.

Think of looking into a mirror. If two people stand a metre apart in front of a mirror the angle at which they see each other is very small. If they move away from each other so as to still be able to see each other in the mirror, the angle at which they are looking into the mirror becomes greater and greater as they move further apart.

Besides the height of the antenna two other main factors affect how the radio waves react to the ionosphere. The frequency in use and the power of the transmitter. Too much power can be as bad as too little and the wrong frequency for the time of day will result in poor, or no, communications. I will resist going into too much detail and, for those who are interested, much information is available on the web. I know what I was taught by very good instructors a lifetime ago and what I have learned because I so enjoyed the subject – but it is practical stuff that I will post about in other ANTENNA articles – about my experience of the use and misuse of antenna in both the military and as a civilian!

Lost!

In 1968, when you travelled towards the Chirundu border post in the Zambezi valley you took the Lomagundi road out of Salisbury (Harare). After passing through Sinoia (Chinhoyi) and Karoi you arrived at Makuti, 290 kilometres from Salisbury (Harare) which is where the road split and by turning left you would drive down to Kariba. Take out the old names and the exact same directions apply!

Up to 1980 the Makuti motel used to do a roaring trade out of the almost never-ending stream of service people traveling through the area. A great place where many a frosty has been gratefully downed. I gather it is still a welcome watering hole for travellers in the region.

Proceeding on from Makuti towards the Valley one arrived at the Marongora Parks and Wildlife offices.

The start of the section of OLD ROAD into the Valley was near Marongora. This piece of road is a narrow, steep tar/strip road off the new road and it reaches the Valley floor nearly 1000 feet below Marongora at a small stream (usually dry) where there is, or used to be, a large wild fig or similar tree. A lot of army patrols would base up near here and it was about two kilometres distant from where the new road reached the valley floor.

The old road then meanders along for a while but, if you don’t turn off west towards the hunting camps or Nyamoumba, where the Kariba gorge ends, then the old road takes you back onto the new main road twelve kilometres or so further on.

The area described above is roughly diamond shaped, twelve kilometres long by three to four kilometres wide at the widest point. The long sides of the diamond are bounded by the old road to the west and the new road – that still carried a lot of traffic in 1968 – to the east. On a quiet morning you could hear the trucks on the new road as they traversed the escarpment about two kilometres away.

A large stream bisects the area from north to south.

In 1968 I was a L Cpl and attached, from just before Easter to about mid-July, to the first company of SAP (South African Police) to be based at Chirundu. (That is 21 year old me in the picture, posing next to the helicopter).

At one point they had a small patrol base, as described above, at the foot of the escarpment on the old road. 

As already mentioned, the area was about twelve kilometres long with the two roads about one and a half to two kilometres apart at the base of the escarpment and at no point did the two roads diverge more than, at most, four kilometres from each other.

Anyway, one of the SAP’s first patrols in the area got lost, well and truly lost, BETWEEN these two roads. They ran out of communications or, most probably had not taken radios (excuse: they are heavy) so when they had not returned from what was to have been a twenty-four hour patrol there was some consternation and eventually we (the Rhodesian Army) were asked to get trackers in.

The trackers quickly found the somewhat wide-eyed, thirsty, and slightly panicky, patrol.

They reported that the patrol had walked to within a few metres of the main road a couple or more times and had actually CROSSED the old road at one or two places. Mostly, though, they had walked in circles although deliberately changing direction sometimes.  All within an area less than nine square kilometres in extent. I think the patrol members reported that they had fired shots a couple of times to attract attention but I cannot remember if that was so. The trackers also reported – again I am uncertain – that the patrol had walked past elephant and, at one point, perhaps either lion or hyena – entirely possible as there were, and are, plenty of these, and other, wild animals in the Valley.

The trackers also felt that the patrol had approached the main road so closely that they should have seen the road and heard, even seen, traffic on it. Presumably so bewildered at being lost they did not register these otherwise plainly noticeable things.

There was considerable teasing and quite a bit of sneering about this but the point is…

These young men were POLICEMEN who had been taken from the beat and been given a short, sharp, paramilitary course. Some (perhaps all) had received some training from the South African Army prior to coming to Rhodesia. Based on the attitude displayed to us Rhodesians, when we did further pre-deployment training with them at Inkomo Garrison, it would be fair to say that the same disdainful attitude to the training would have pertained among many of them and few, if any, lessons had been absorbed or taken seriously by many of the men. (More on this in another post sometime).

It is my opinion that policemen are trained to have a different attitude by virtue of often working alone or in pairs – the army way must have been a bit stifling and bewildering to them. This in charge, almost disdainful-of-authority, attitude really did not work in anti-terrorism patrolling when pretty much each individual felt HE should be in charge making the patrol leader’s task difficult. I am sure there are many other dynamics that could be brought into a discussion around this – that is not my intention.

So, with little training in the way of soldiering and very few of the various skills that a soldier is taught, this patrol was shambling around – lost – and it illustrates how easily one CAN get lost if the basics of navigation and map reading are not learned and observed. It also illustrates how the anxiety of being lost can affect a group’s powers of observation. They came so close to being able to follow a road and they just failed to register what was in front of them.

The calibre of these men was to improve as time passed and lessons were learned. However, they were to suffer a number of casualties before the reality sank in that this was actually a serious situation. It was not, as one South African journalist around that time commented, “…only a bunch of disgruntled cookboys running around in the bush with a few guns…” (or words to that effect), belittling the very real terrorist war that was just getting started.

This satellite image from Google Earth shows the area under discussion.

If you go to Google Earth and enter Rukomeshe research it will find it as Rukomeshe Research Station, Hurungwe, Mashonaland West Province, Zimbabwe. By zooming OUT and scrolling LEFT (or West) from Rukomeshe you will find the area of the attached map. Then, by zooming in you can actually see the old road fairly clearly. The faint blue triangular area is the area that was to be patrolled. The patrol got lost somewhere between the old road and the new main road, a bit west of the prominent river feature I believe.

If anyone reading this remembers the incident or can add more insight I would be glad to hear from them.

ORDERS! ORDERS, SHUN!

In 1979 I was posted to 2(Brigade) Signal Squadron (2(Bde)Sig Sqn) as the Squadron Sergeant Major (SSM). 

Among the duties carried out by SSMs and CSMs is bringing members of the unit up on disciplinary charges. (This is the only picture I have of myself as a WO2 – or Sergeant Major – taken on a course in late 1978)

I had carried out this task a few times over the years as SSgt and WO2 and it was not a particularly difficult thing to do. You just had to make sure that your facts were right and that you framed the charges correctly, using the correct sections of the Defence Act (Military Discipline).

On this occasion though, the accused was a member of the RWS (Rhodesian Womens’ Service) who was posted to the squadron in an administrative post.

She had been late for duty on a few occasions, been absent without leave and been insubordinate. Because she was married and had young children (her husband was also an NCO in Signals), she had been verbally cautioned by myself and the admin officer but now the warnings had run out and if nothing had been done it would have set a very bad precedent in the unit.

Accordingly, charges had been framed and I was to march in the orders party to appear in front of Maj George Galbraith, who was OC of the squadron.

Army readers will probably be familiar with the procedure – the accused has an escort and, if there are witnesses who are equal, or junior in rank, to the accused they too are “marched in”. I think there was one witness and they formed up, standing at ease, in the passage outside the OC’s office facing me – escort on the left, accused and then witness.

In my best (and it used to be quite impressive) SSM voice I called them to attention, turned them to their right and marched them in – this is done, as mentioned, in the stentorian tones of the parade ground and FAST…so:

AWWDUUHZ, AWWDUUHZ, SHUN!
ORDERS…RIGHT TURN-BY THE FRONT-QUICK MARCH –
LEFT-RIGHT-LEFT-RIGHT—RIGHT-WHEEYUL (into the office),
RIGHT WHEEL (around the door),
LEFT-RIGHT-LEFT-RIGHT-MARK TIME! LEF, RI, LEF, RI, LEF, RI….
AWWDUUHZ, HALT. ORDERS LEFT TURN. (This last to get them facing the OC’s desk).

As I saluted and opened my mouth to announce the orders party and read the charges to the OC, he held up his hand to stop me – and the office filled with sniffles and snot-swallowing and howling and crying…CRYING! ON ORDERS!

“Sar’ major, I think you had better march them out again and let the accused compose herself” he said drily. As my mouth opened to start the reversal of the process the OC signalled for less volume. I almost choked trying to keep the tradition up at less than half volume but I got them out into the passage. After ordering the escort to take the accused to sort herself out and get back in five minutes, I reported back to the OC.

As I closed the door he was chuckling, obviously trying hard NOT to guffaw out loud and be heard in the passage. “Now what, Erik?” he said to me. “Jesus, Sir,” I replied, “I don’t know. How do we deal with this?” (Actually I may have said FORNICATE and not Jesus…!)

After a couple of minutes’ discussion, we came to the conclusion that the relatively mild-mannered SSM she thought she knew, had given her such a fright with the parade voice that she had almost wet herself.

I was compelled to complete the orders parade using what could only be described as a hoarse stage whisper. Expecting the earlier grand performance she cringed at first! There were still some tears and I don’t remember what the OC’s sentence was (probably a fine) but I had to make a point of not catching his eye (or he mine) as we were both trying REALLY HARD not to laugh out loud at the absurdity of it.

I think the only deterrent that worked that day though, was the accused’s fear of being subjected to full volume on orders parade – again!!

If George Galbraith ever reads this, I would be interested in his recollection of it.

UDI – The day it all happened

11 November 1965 

Many people have over the years asked the question “What were you doing on the day UDI was declared?”

For those of tender years and those ignorant of the affairs of the world some 52 years ago this refers to the Unilateral Declaration of Independence declared by the tiny country of Rhodesia in the face of the intractability and dissembling of the western powers and in particular the British government of the day. See the following links…

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhodesia%27s_Unilateral_Declaration_of_Independence

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f6fof-8r0kM

I had been in the Rhodesian Regular Army since the beginning of March 1965, having already completed national service between October 64 and end February 65. After an initial posting to Army Comcen I had been posted to K Troop, the signals unit for HQ 2 Brigade. The day had started as a normal warm early summer day in Africa. Another beautiful day.

In those days the concept of the brigade signals squadrons had not yet been discussed – certainly none of us in the rank and file had any idea of what was to come as far as our Corps was concerned or even how the composition of the Army itself was to change and grow.

We, the operators in K Troop, had been sent out in detachments to carry out a local signals exercise – sending and receiving messages and generally practicing our Corps of Signals role.

The exercise proceeded in desultory fashion for most of the morning. My detachment was at the balancing rocks about five or six kilometres from camp while others were variously spread around the suburbs – probably about six detachments in all I think.

At around 1100 we all received a message recalling us to base with immediate effect. We packed up and were back in camp by 1200 hours where we were told to immediately prepare our vehicles for possible deployment with the Brigade Headquarters. We were also told that there would be an important announcement made at 1300 hours and that we were ALL to attend in the Troop lecture room.

On entering the lecture room, we found a commercial radio had been set up and we were told to take our seats and be quiet for the Prime Minister’s announcement. At 1300 hours the Prime Minister, Ian Douglas Smith, came on the radio and the Unilateral Declaration of Independence was made.

I have often wondered about the timing of the declaration that coincided with armistice day in 1918 as at 1300 hours in Rhodesia it would have been 1100 in the morning in Britain. This is significant for those not familiar with the WHY of this…

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/0/what-is-armistice-day-why-do-we-wear-poppies-and-when-is-remembr/

There was a sense of relief mixed with foreboding – how would this now play out? Would we be invaded by the British forces or the United Nations. Would there be war, fighting in the streets?

Everyone in the Army was put on immediate alert and confined to barracks. HQ 2 Brigade only had single and married quarters for the African soldiers and the rest of us had to go home or to our barracks at KGVI and collect kit including our webbing and bush gear.

Accommodation was wherever you could find it and I think I ended up bunking down in the lecture room with several others. A field kitchen was set up to feed us and we were regularly briefed by our Officers – not that there was much to tell us of course. It was a sort of phoney war, this twilight period of uncertainty about what was to happen in the immediate future.

We soldiers – whether infantry, quartermaster, signals, engineers or whatever – grumbled at the confinement and inactivity, chafing for something, anything, to happen to relieve the tension.

After about ten days the emergency status was brought down a notch and we were allowed to go home or back to our normal accommodation barracks at night but still no leave was permitted.

The entire situation eventually sort of fizzled out and we got on with the day-to-day activities of a peace-time army although border patrol was under way and there were stirrings that, with hindsight, were portents of the dramatic events to come.

Our brave defiance was to end when our allies left us – the Portuguese capitulated in 1975 in both Angola and Mozambique leaving us totally dependent on South Africa for materiel and trade. When that country was driven to the wall financially they were forced (it is claimed) to withdraw all assistance from Rhodesia. The terrorists never won – financial interests and political expediency saw the country handed over to black majority rule and we all know how that turned out (if you do not then just google Zimbabwe economic history and Zimbabwe, atrocities).

The Medal

I was not in the infantry or special forces – I was in the Corps of Signals but this is a bit of fiction that occurred to me after meeting, reading about and hearing some stories. You could not make up some of that stuff. Like when I was on attachment to RLI on the Moz border and one of the guys (he has a bravery decoration) described having to run for their lives up a sandy rise with rounds striking at their heels. He said, laughing about the ludicrous insanity of it “…we just ran up that hill with the rounds hitting everywhere behind us, just like a fucking movie….!” (The quote may not be EXACT but close enough).

So I created this bit of fiction – because my own basic training probably saved my life once or twice and I certainly used my signals training all my working life after leaving the army. Often the question that was asked, “Where did you learn that?”, was answered “In the Rhodesian Army, starting in 1964!” and got me some odd looks!

So here is my fiction…no reference to any person, living or dead…


“What did you get the medal for?” asked the trainee.

“I got if for paying attention” the instructor replied.

The squad were sitting around with the instructor near the end of their training – out in the sticks, mission completed and awaiting transport back to base.

“I was a recruit once,” he said “just like you guys”.

I had to learn drill, and drill and drill and drill.

Then drill with a rifle – also over and over and over.

They only taught us ONE THING about rifle handling at first – how to make safe. …and we had to clear the rifle EVERY TIME we got it from the armoury even though we KNEW the armourer would never issue a loaded rifle and we had to show it was clear on handing it back. EVERY TIME.

Then we started learning to FIRE THE RIFLE and the drills around safety and handling became more painfully repetitive. There was a chuckle from the men.

Then we had combat training and learned to use hand grenades. That was interesting – preparing the grenades, carrying them and throwing them. And learning, as you have, that they do NOT make a bang and explosion of flame and debris like a 500-pound bomb. Another chuckle.

Skirmishing and patrolling and leading and walking tail end. Setting and initiating ambushes and all those boring things called training, training, TRAINING.

The tedium and the repetitiveness, the punishments. And why did they put so much emphasis on CLEANING YOUR KIT. Why did knives and forks and mess tins have to gleam?

And then I was told I was a qualified soldier.

I reported to my unit and was treated like shit! I was treated like a recruit – like an untrained useless add-on.

After a while I was gradually accepted and given certain responsibilities – responsibilities that I still thought were a bit beneath me.

One day though, I realised I was one of the team and that I had been accepted and that I belonged.

Then we were deployed on operations and I was shit-scared. Realising that nobody was free of their private fears made mine manageable.

And when the shit hit the fan on one deployment and I had to perform – it was no longer me, it was the training. All that instinctive rifle handling and obedience to shouted commands – THAT kept me alive.

And one day they presented me with this medal and I was a bit bewildered and even vaguely embarrassed. I was not the only one on the scene and I felt that, like everyone else, I had just done what I had been trained to do.

The citation that came with the medal seemed to be about someone else and I understand why people laugh and joke about these things – it is how you deal with it.

But, you asked how I got the medal? I got it because I paid attention and when I was caught NOT paying attention I was pulled up short – punished if you will. But I DID get trained – tediously, repetitively until I could handle the weapons in the dark, understand instructions and react to commands instinctively but still use my own brains.

I became a trained soldier.

The TRAINING got the medal. The instructors earned the medal for me.

No one goes into this to be a hero and when they get called HERO they are generally confused and bewildered – because they did what they had been trained to do.

If your intention is to be a hero and get a medal you are in the wrong place – you need to be a functioning soldier first.

No matter what you do in the army – pay attention to the training and you will do it well. That is all that is required. You do your best and you do it well.

Oh, and keeping your kit clean means you do not get sick – it is as simple as that.

FLOT

FLOT –
The acronym stands for Front Line Own Troops and quite literally means the point at which one’s OWN troops are closest to the enemy in an engagement. It is important information for air support so that they do not hit the friendly forces they are trying to help. It is one of the reasons coloured smoke grenades are carried.

This is another of those stories that are legend and there is some doubt around the ACTUAL events but, in the craziness that is war and the characters that emerge, I have no doubt that it is solidly founded in fact (with a smidgeon of embellishment perhaps?).

Anyway the story is that some of our coloured troops were caught up in a contact with terrorists. As mentioned in another story these men were some of the most quick-witted humorists one could ever meet – even in moments of high stress.

While they were pretty much holding their own, the situation was not good and the group of terrorists looked set to get the upper hand.

The patrol called in for assistance and an armed aircraft was diverted to see what could be done.

  • Shortly the pilot’s ever-laconic voice was heard calling the patrol: 
  • “47 this is Cyclone 4 how can we assist over”. (it may have been one of the other squadrons of course…)
  • “Where you ouens?” comes the reply from the ground in a slightly surprised, almost defensive, tone.
  • “Approaching your position from the South, over”
  • “Roger, this gooks is in front of us and we can’t move”
  • “Roger that – can you mark your FLOT, over”
  • Something of a pregnant pause…then “What?”
  • “I need you to mark your FLOT, over”
  • Live mic for a few moments with obvious whispering in background, then…”What do you mean? over”
  • “I can’t see you – can you throw smoke, over”

Another longish pause then… “Madison or Kingsgate? over”

Kingsgate and Madison cigarettes (smokes)

 

 

 

 

COMBAT !

From 1965 to about 1967 while I was stationed at HQ 2 Bde, Old Cranborne Barracks, we did a lot of Brigade exercises.

The entire Brigade Headquarters would deploy to the bush for up to a week at a time to practice everyone in the duties of a conventional war scenario – with an African twist of course.

We would generally deploy to an area within a reasonable distance of Salisbury although on a few occasions we did exercises a few hundred kilometres into the bush.

We would get into the area and form either a circular (irreverently called a dog’s ball) configuration or a linear HQ configuration. We would set up communications, workshops, messes and kitchens even a bush bar.

On occasion we would have been settled in nicely for about two days when we would be told to move and the entire setup had to be taken down, all the vehicles formed up in convoy and off we would go to a new location to set up again.

After a few of these exercises they became rather boring and, apart from a couple of memorable BIG exercises against 1 Bde, the routine was frankly irritating because we felt we were playing soldiers and nothing was going to happen.

A few years later of course all the brigades would have headquarters elements deployed in the field – none of them remotely like the ones we had sweated at practicing!

After one exercise, having been playing conventional warfare for a week with brigade headquarters, I was walking home wearing bush kit with my webbing on and with my pack on my back. Attached to the pack was my steel NATO pattern helmet.

It was a bit of a hike to where I lived and I was on the last stretch across a little park where some small boys were playing. As I passed the children one of them stopped to look at me. He grabbed his friends and, pointing at me, he said to his mates, “Look, look, just like COMBAT !

I was tired but not too tired to smile at this rather flattering comment!

Check this out….https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Combat!_(TV_series) …and this http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0055666/

Bravo Tango Oscar

This story is the stuff of legend and I must confess to having heard it from someone else. If it is not perfectly true then it is certainly EXTREMELY LIKELY to have happened, knowing the nature of the persons involved and their incredibly quick, inventive wit…

If you had ever been in an ops room on a really quiet day – perhaps a weekend – you would remember the desultory reports coming in from the OPs and remote relay stations…

  • “OscarAlphaone, NTR over…”
  • “OscarAlhpathree, NTR over…”

…and so the boring NOTHING TO REPORT, nothing to report, nothing to report communications would roll in.

Typical newly established (day 1) temporary relay on a high, remote point near Kanyemba, Zambezi Valley.

Apart from the occasional observation of traffic on a dirt road or some kraal dwellers ambling across a field there would be very little to break the boredom on days such as this. It should also be remembered that many of these RADIO RELAY stations were purely that – REMOTE – and their remoteness meant that there really was bugger all for them to see – or do – most of the time.

One such relay was being manned by a contingent of RDR (a coloured Regiment) and they were obviously seriously bored…until this exchange of calls took place…

  • “Zero this is Xray Zulu over…”
  • “Zero go…”
  • “XZ Bravo Tango Oscar over…”
  • “Zero say again? over…”
  • “…Bravo Tango Oscar over…”

…..looooong pause, then:

“Xray Zulu this is Zero, we do not have code Bravo Tango Oscar –  explain? over…”

“…Like er, Bachman Turner Overdrive, ek se, us ouens Ain’t seen Nothing Yet, over…”

Check this out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7miRCLeFSJo

 

 

Flat Dog

Some explanation of terms used is probably a good thing here:

  • ouens – (oh-wins) blokes, men, lads etc
  • Callsign – (Context 1 – original) The numbers or letters allocated to identify a unit on the radio network
  • Callsign – (context 2) slang reference to a unit or sub-unit by using their radio callsign
  • Sitrep – Situation Report
  • RLI – Rhodesian Light Infantry
  • Net – A radio NETwork
  • Ops room – Operations Room
  • OP – Observation post (sometimes in the context of OBSERVED)
  • NTR – Nothing to report
  • “…roger so far?” – have you received up to this point?

To the story…

I have a theory that this is when the term flat dog escaped from in-house use by the ouens of 1RLI and into the general population of Rhodesia and, ultimately, into the world at large. 

I was a young signalman, probably some time in 1965/66(?) and on ops room radio duty at HQ 2 Brigade. (The term used for deployed troops then was BORDER CONTROL.)

Although the war at that time was pretty low key with relatively few incidents it was to hot up considerably in a fairly short time. This however was a quiet, lazy weekend and everything was pretty routine and everyone – in HQ and in the bush – was suitably bored but doing their duty.

I am not sure who the duty ops officer was – I suspect it may even have been one Capt John Peirson?

In any event the callsigns were sending in their sitreps. The RLI callsign in the bush was on the net as callsign 5C (Five Charlie) and the duty RLI signaller at Chirundu, in the Zambezi valley, was Terry Miller.

Terry, who was in the RLI signals troop, spoke the callsign as FIIIIVE Charlie (drawing out the five) so you always knew when he was on duty! 

He was sending his sitrep and it was the usual boring stuff:

“…patrol here, patrol there, patrol this or that river and OP on that position…” and so on. It was all NTR or, maybe, “…observed movement at XYZ…” – pretty mundane stuff. From time to time an exciting report would come in on a callsign that was scattered by elephant or some other incident involving wild animals.

Eventually, after yet another “…..roger so far” duly acknowledged by me “Roger, over”…

“Fiiive Charlie callsign 15 – incident – shot one flat dog at grid 123456 over”

“Seven, Roger out” (I can’t for some reason remember our callsign at HQ but Seven comes to mind!)

I passed the report to the duty officer – I think the Bde Comd was there as well as another person so there were about four of us in the ops room.

The duty officer had heard the last transmission and been checking code word and nickname lists and came over to me and asked me if I had any idea what this code “Flat Dog” meant.

 I did not and was asked to get 5C to clarify.

“Hello 5c this is 7 over”

“Fiiive Charlie go!”

“Seven, we don’t have a code Flat Dog are you able to use plain over?”

“Fiiive Charlie, FLAT DOG is a crocodile, over” comes Miller’s voice.

For a moment, in the ops room, you could have heard a pin drop then the laughter started.

The rest, as we all know, is history but I wonder if anyone else from that era in Rhodesia has a comment around this?

A BIG DEAL softy

In 1976 I was posted to the Rhodesian Armoured Car Regiment (RhACR) as their Regimental Signals Instructor (RSI) where I stayed until the end of 1977. For about half my stay with the regiment I was the Acting Regimental Signals Officer/Troop Commander.

One day my instructors were giving their signals course PRACTICE TIME on some VHF radios to get them used to the radio procedures, sending and receiving messages and generally getting used to just TALKING on a radio net (network).

They had been given a sheaf of small practice messages to use and a couple of scenarios to get VOICE TRAFFIC going on the practice net.

We had a monitor radio at the Troop HQ and were listening in to the traffic and realised that one of the call signs was not rotating the radio operators. Each detachment consisted of two or three trainees meaning we could reasonably expect to hear different voices at different times.

The course instructor and I decided to take a walk around and came up behind the two-man detachment that only seemed to have ONE voice. We stood and watched and this rather large young man was sitting back letting all the work be done by the other young trainee.

After checking the other detachments, we returned to the offending group. They were reminded that they needed to BOTH use the radio and get practice in. The one doing the operating seemed to squirm as he gave the big lad an apprehensive look.

We strolled off and monitored for another ten minutes then we went back. Asking why only one person was doing the work we got a mumbled thing about “…I like the operating…” from the one and “…he just wants to do all the talking…” or something like that from the other.

Realising that the more timid youngster was being bullied just a bit we told him to go back to the lecture room and stay there and then told the other fellow to start sending messages.

Big boy looked at us, now pale-faced and rather like a rabbit in the headlights, “Uh, me, Staff?” he quavered.

“Yes you, now get on with it.”

Picking up the hand microphone in his huge fist he seemed intent on squeezing it to death. Then he started to shake and stammer/gurgle and I think he had tears in his eyes. He was angry, embarrassed and scared among other things and I reckon he HATED us just then. He was totally mic-shy (this happens when people are literally so scared of talking on the radio that they freeze up with anxiety). Every member of an Armoured Fighting Vehicle HAD to be able to use the radios installed in the vehicles and this young man was no exception if he wanted to pass out as a crewman.

It took some tact and persuasion but we got him over his fright after a while. Within a day or two he was as blasé about using the radio as the rest of the men.

I think his peers knew or suspected what had happened but, he being a rather large, strong young man, I don’t think many people tried to tease him.

While on the subject…another stand-out mic-shy incident I remember happened when a reserve officer, at a brigade HQ in the bush, had to talk on the radio and he froze. He grabbed the hand mic in a DEATH GRIP and squeezed the press-to-talk (PTT) switch so that we thought it would disappear into the mic.

After saying his bit, he held the mic up to his ear without releasing the PTT, shaking all the while. My operator had to grab his hand and prise the mic out of it so that the reply could be heard on the loudspeaker –we only heard the last couple of words and had to ask the other party to say again.

By this time the officer was sweating and shaking and we had to help him by telling him what to say and intervening once or twice. His plight was not made the easier by the fact that he was talking to a particularly blunt (and unpopular) staff officer at base. Realising that the caller was a novice this officer made some derogatory comment about the radio not biting/stop being an idiot.

He was a well-liked, if inexperience officer and I remember squirming with embarrassment for him at the time. After a few days he loosened up although – in the same way some people will not talk to answering machines – he did not enjoy using the radio.

It was a very real thing that happened (happens?) to people and quite puzzling to us operators to whom it was second nature to talk on the radio.

First kill

My friend, John Peirson, with whom I served at HQ 2 Brigade in 1965/66-ish –when I was a Signalman and he a Captain – tells this true story. 


In the early days of Operation Hurricane in the 2 Brigade area (that would probably have been in the early 70s) members of C Squadron, Rhodesian SAS captured a GOOK after a contact (firefight) in the Zambezi Valley.

Looking north over the valley floor that is 1000 feet (440m) below.

The captured man was painfully thin and rather obviously starving and it was decided he should be given some food before they tried to interrogate him.

Accordingly, they gave him a tin of meat from a ration pack and he proceeded to wolf it down greedily, so ravenous was he. So ravenous, in fact, that he proceeded to choke on the food and, in spite of their best efforts to revive him, he died…

Afterwards Major Brian Robinson, the SAS Commanding Officer, sent an official message, through the correct channels, to the Central Ordnance and Supply Depot. The message read: “Congratulations on your first kill!”. 

Actual sign in KGVI barracks, Rhodesia

The Major’s efforts were rewarded with an official rebuke from some humourless cardboard replica of a senior soldier at Army Headquarters.

Antenna – again

I first learned about antennas on my National Service signals course in the period December 1964 to February 1965 (that I mentioned in another post). I then did two further courses – my Regular Army Class 3 course followed by a Class 2 upgrade course some years later. In addition, I not only had to USE this knowledge in practical applications in the field but I also had to instruct on communications.

In order for people to understand that antenna size is dictated by the frequency that is being used we would do a lecture titled THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN FREQUENCY AND WAVELENGTH.

As part of this course we would do simple calculations at different frequencies. This was so that the class could have some basic understanding of why different antennas would be found in use with different types of radio according the frequency band in which that radio operated.

Without belabouring the point, the basic calculation for a WAVELENGTH is 300 divided by the frequency in MEGAHERTZ (MHz) that would give a measurement in METRES.

Very simply at a frequency of 10 MHz the full wavelength would be 30 metres.

Very simple diagram of an open dipole for HF use

At those low High Frequencies* (HF) we used what are termed HALF WAVE DIPOLES and we calculated a quarter wavelength because the radiating element of the antenna would be a half wavelength overall with a quarter wavelength on either side of the feed cable (see the simple diagram).

*(Sounds like a contradiction in terms but is correct and quite a long subject to address)

Now, in about 2005 t0 2010 I found myself regularly doing orientation lectures, where I worked in South Africa, for new staff so that they might gain SOME degree of understanding of two-way radio industry equipment.

I was doing my calculation (which we in Rhodesia had shortened somewhat) and I told the class that to calculate a quarter wavelength they needed to use the standard of 75 over the frequency in MHz – writing it out and showing the result for 10MHz as 7.5 metres. Before I could finish a radio technician (should I use that term advisedly?) who was sitting in “just for interest” interjected that that formula was WRONG.

I invited him to call out what I should do and he said that I needed to use 300 over the frequency and then divide by 4 and as I followed his instruction and it became obvious that this longer method was going to give the same result I noticed the man heading for the door – while the people in the class started to smile.

“Where did you learn that?”, about all manner of communications-related matters was a question I was quite used to and always delighted in replying “In the Army, in Rhodesia, in 1964” which by then was 40-plus years previously.

Antenna – the mid-60s

In my recent post about Exercise Long Drag I made mention of the G5RV dipole antenna.

A simple dipole in the field. The earth stake would to earth the RADIO

This antenna was invented by Louis Varney in 1942. He was a British amateur and his call sign was G5RV. There is a brief resume here  http://www.msars.org.uk/fa1.html and a Google search will find more of the same. (take care not to get confused by the composer with the same name!)

There are several variants of the antenna and with some variants it is suggested that an antenna tuner should/can be used.

Without getting too technical – I will leave that to the boffins – the variant that we used had the standard 51 foot (15.5m) radiating elements and the feeder was a 34 foot (10.3m) 300 ohm TV tape tail with a further 5m x 72 ohm tail to the radio equipment. Because the 72 ohm was usually twin ripcord with no connector one had to be fairly creative to make the connection to the radio equipment. We did not use a balun at the junction of feeder and radiating elements.

We never used the G5RV with an antenna tuner and only used it for a while with the C14 radios. I believe some units used the antenna for quite a while though because it was fairly broad band. I can’t help thinking we should have learned more about the antenna and persevered with it.

How it came about was that (then WO2) Bob Jones, Tp SM of K Troop, 2 Brigade, was a radio amateur (Callsign ZE1BF) and he learned about the antenna through his radio amateur contacts and the radio amateur literature of the day. (I seem to recall that originally the story fed to us was that it was a Zambian amateur who invented it but it may have been that the Zambian connection was merely a member of the amateur radio fraternity).

Bob suggested to our Troop Comd, who was a WO1, that we try the antenna as a quick and convenient ready-made solution to deploying our new C14 radios. The idea was put forward to Army HQ (Signals) who gave them the nod.

The antenna were a great success although, of course, some puritans disdained them. Bob Jones (and Louis Varney) never got any recognition from Army HQ…someone did – but not them!

I will touch on antenna – which we learned about in considerable detail on our signals operators courses – in other posts.

 

Exercise Long Drag

In August 1965 less than a year after my basic training as a national serviceman and now a regular soldier I was deployed on Exercise Long Drag. I was, by this time, posted to K Troop, HQ 2 Brigade.

This exercise was the culmination of the retraining of the RLI from a light infantry role to a commando role and was to be probably the biggest exercise that the Rhodesian Army would hold before things became VERY REAL.

I was supplied with a C14 HF SSB radio and tasked with providing communications for the exercise’ umpire net. Mounted in a Land Rover this was the latest piece of kit in Rhodesian Signals and was a powerful, 100 watts PEP, 4 channel radio (8 channels effectively if you take the sidebands into account). I was attached to the SAS headquarters detachment who were to represent the ENEMY for this exercise. Major Dudley Coventry was the CO of the SAS and for this exercise he was provided with a new Toyota Land Cruiser pickup and the alias of FUNGAYI SING, leader of the infiltrating forces.

Major Coventry (picture from internet)

Major Coventry, an experienced veteran of Malaya and other conflicts, was one of those LARGER THAN LIFE characters with a flamboyant grey moustache and was respected and very well-liked by everyone who ever served with him. To suit the persona of his dodgy terrorist character he had fitted himself out with a headscarf similar to what one would have imagined Lawrence of Arabia wearing.

One of our earlier stops, at the beginning of the exercise was in the Lion’s Den area on a remote farm where we were visited by the Prime Minister, Ian Smith, who flew in on an Alouette helicopter. After a chat with the officers he went around to everyone in the camp and greeted us all, asking for a name here and there. A thorough gentleman completely without pretension.

Another memorable thing about that layup was that I shared a bivvy with one of the SAS men. I think his name was something like Erasmus (??) and that he was from a Rhodesian Afrikaner family. He was about my own age (19 at the time) and he made us one of the best rice puddings I have ever eaten – using only the ingredients of our 24-hour ration packs with the addition of some raisins that he said he never went to the bush without.

In those days I think our rat packs were the best ever (not that they were ever NOT good) and we got big tubes of condensed milk in them. Youngsters who had never been camping or in the bush would sometimes pack their rations badly and end up with condensed-milk flavoured clothing when the tubes ruptured in their pack! No fun if you were going to be in the bush for a while.

We moved on and proceeded along back roads, and sometimes the main road, making our way to the Karoi area where we drove off down a dirt road leading west and north in the general direction of Lake Kariba. After some time, we went completely off road and laid up in an area of bush that was pretty remote.

The exercise now being in full swing I found that the G5RV dipole antenna I had been given to use had no PL259 connector for the antenna socket. I used some matches to jam the ends of the antenna into the socket and rim of the connector and established communications strength five.

Contrary to some stories I have heard, the G5RV amateur antenna had actually been suggested by our Troop SM, Bob Jones, who was a radio amateur with the call sign ZE1-BF. I believe Bob had used the antenna himself with great success. G5RV was the British amateur call sign of Louis Varney the man who invented the antenna in 1942.  

I am not sure how long we stayed based-up in that location but, by probably the morning of the third day (having been there now for at least two nights), I recall that C Sgts Jock Hutton and Geordie Wright (both already legendary figures in the Rhodesian Army) were constantly on the Major’s case to move or we would be compromised. Major Coventry was supremely confident that we had arrived where we were without being noted by anyone and that we would not be found before we could move on and continue to elude the searchers.

About mid-afternoon that day I answered the call of nature with shovel in hand (I think I was unarmed because of being with the umpires). Casting around for a few minutes I reckoned no one could see me from camp, dug a scrape and relieved myself. After covering the evidence, I walked back into the camp.

An hour or so passed and shortly before last light BANG, FLASH, RRRRAATTATATA and much yelling heralded our camp being overrun without the slightest retaliation. I think Maj Coventry and his men were suitably embarrassed and it must have been hard for his senior NCOs not to play the I told you so game. Not so the RLI sticks that had overrun us so easily. They were absolutely jubilant. A rather chagrined, but always magnanimous, Major Coventry congratulated the RLI chaps on a job well done.

As part of the exercise pseudo TERRORIST FLYERS had been distributed in the area. A farmer had seen the Major and his distinctive vehicle and reported the sighting. This had given the SECURITY FORCES (read RLI) the general direction in which to patrol and search.

That evening we were all friends and all on the same side again and there was much chat and laughter around the fires (no longer a need to remain clandestine). It turned out that I had nearly been captured to silence me – which would also have meant the RLI springing their assault somewhat earlier. I squirmed with embarrassment when told, amid gales of laughter, of being observed only a couple of metres from the RLI forward scouts, having a shit!

The exercise was continuing down in the valley and along the shores of the lake. The SAS detachment and Maj Coventry were now tasked with carrying out ENEMY PATROLS to try to infiltrate the RLI protected area. I took part in one such patrol and was well and truly KILLED about two or three times. One memorable occasion was when the borrowed SLR rifle I was using jammed solid – just to embarrass me – on the blanks we had been issued and I was unable to clear it!

The exercise carried on for about another week and was deemed an unqualified success.

Joining the army part four

National service – first phase continued 3

“Does anyone want to join the regular army?” the instructor asked.

Two of us immediately stepped forward.

“Why do you want to join up?” the instructor asked me. I replied that I had always wanted to and I had a number of friends in the regular army. I had been turned down when I applied in 1963 but I now felt that as I was being trained I wanted to try again.

I due course I was marched in to see the OC A Coy (I think it was Major Willar). He posed much the same question and put me at my ease by sitting me down to tell him my story.

I explained to him that I had tried to join the army at the end of 1963 but had been turned down because of my eyesight. At his prompt I added that I felt that if I could be shot at as a spectacles-wearing short-sighted territorial or NS soldier then surely it made no difference if I was a regular and besides, my friend Graham in RLI signals troop was equally short-sighted.

“So where do you want to go if you join the regular army?” and I replied that I wanted the RLI signals troop.

I don’t really remember what happened then but a few signals must have gone between Army HQ and DRRR because when the intake was being split up into the various specialty training groups I was in some kind of limbo – not having been allocated anywhere yet. I was called in and told that while a decision was being made I would be temporarily put into the RPs (Regimental Police) – where I was to languish for about ten days.

A new intake arrived during this time and I was with the MEET AND GREET party of RPs at Heany Junction. With great enthusiasm we started cursing and swearing at these new recruits in exactly the way we had been welcomed on OUR arrival – doubling the men here and there (being bloody bullies actually, on the premise that WE had been subject to this shit so….)

Imagine our surprise when we were taken aside and told that we were to moderate our language and not make the men run until they had all had their medicals…WHAT A DOUBLE STANDARD we muttered. As to the swearing we were admonished that there had been complaints from parents…we were gobsmacked that some youngsters could have snivelled to their parents.

I was in the guard room one day and heard a woman shouting outside. Keeping a low profile I looked out and saw that there was a woman BERATING the guard – in fairly robust language – for not saluting her and for not opening the boom – forcing her to stop her car.

C Sgt Gregan who was in charge of the RPs came out and spoke to the woman.

“Madam” he reminded her, “you are not a serving member of the Army nor are you an officer. As such you are NOT entitled to the courtesies accorded to such rank” (or words to that effect, as we used to say when framing a charge sheet). The woman was apopletic but the C Sgt went on and told her that the boom guards were merely doing their duty and following the orders of the CO of the Depot. One such order was that ALL VEHICLES will stop at the boom and the drivers will identify themselves before being allowed to proceed.

With some further rather startling invective the woman drove off vowing to have the RPs, and the C Sgt in particular, sorted out.

It may have been later that day or the next morning an officer came down to the guardhouse and spoke to C Sgt Gregan. He apologised if his wife had been rude (knowing of course that she had been) and assuring the C Sgt that he understood perfectly that the men had acted in accordance with standing orders. We suspected that Colour Gregan having a talk with the RSM about the matter may have had a lot to do with this apology. The clerks in HQ confirmed that it had started with bluster from the officer, a visit to the CO by both the officer and the RSM and a somewhat subdued officer leaving to speak to the NCO in charge of RPs.

A few days later C Sgt Gregan came into our quarters and told me to pack my kit. I was then driven down to Brady Barracks, on the outskirts of Bulawayo, and handed over the the School of Signals where I was to join the Regimental Signals course that the Intake 70 men had started nearly ten days previously.

I did not have too much trouble catching up and enjoyed learning voice procedure, basic electricity and battery charging, radio set handling, line and field telephones and – MORSE CODE and procedure. It was unfortunate that we were taught morse code in a way that some of us found difficult as the speed increased but we managed to pass it anyway.

At the end of the course I think I was in the top three (maybe I came first – I really don’t remember) and while everyone was getting ready to go home I was summoned to the School of Signals offices.

“Do you still want to join the Corps of Signals” asked the adjutant.
“No sir, I want to go to RLI signals”.

Looking at my records he commented on my excellent results as well as the results of my aptitude tests and said, “You can join the Regular Army, Corps of Signals, or you can NOT join the regular army at all.”

I accepted the ultimatum, not realising at the time that THEY wanted ME and that he probably did not have the authority to make that deal – to coerce me really. Anyway, a signal would have been sent to expect me at recruiting in Salisbury.

I attested into the Rhodesian Regular Army, Corps of Signals, on the fifth of March, 1965 – a few days after completing my national service – fourteen months after the dissolution of Federation and a mere eight months before UDI (the Unilateral Declaration of Independence) that was to take place on 11 November 1965.

The Signals badge BEFORE Rhodesia declared itself a republic in 1970

As it was to turn out I think that it was the right thing for me to go to Signals because I suspect I would not have been a particularly successful infantryman.

Glossary of terms

Rhodesian Army

(Please offer corrections if I have made errors?)

Glossary of army terms, ranks and abbreviations – some not covered here will be annotated as they appear in my recollections. Hopefully this will help with reading the anecdotes but also make the reading flow more easily.
Not covered here are the equivalent NCO ranks used in the Artillery.

Ranks
(Non Commissioned Officers (NCOs), Warrant Officers and Officers)

Private soldier

Most admin and some infantry – Private (Pte)
Commando/special forces – Trooper (Tpr)
Corps of Signals – Signalman (Smn)
Corps of Engineers – Sapper (Spr)
Rhodesia Regiment – Rifleman (Rfn)

Lance Corporal (L Cpl)
Corporal (Cpl)
Sergeant (Sgt)
Colour Sergeant/Staff Sergeant (C Sgt / S Sgt – C Sgt only used by infantry/special forces)
Warrant Officer Class Two – (WOII / WO2, Sergeant Major, SM)
Warrant Officer Class One – (WOI / WO1– addressed as Sir or referred to as Mister)
Regimental Sergeant Major – (Almost always a WOI and referred to as RSM)
Second Lieutenant – 2Lt addressed as Lieutenant or Mister (and informally referred to as a subaltern (or subbie))
Lieutenant – Lt (subaltern 2Lt & Lt were also referred to as Mister)
Captain – Capt
Major – Maj
Lieutenant Colonel – Lt Col (addressed as Colonel)
Colonel – Col
Brigadier – Brig
Major General – Maj Genl (addressed/referred to  as General)
Lieutenant General – Lt Genl (addressed/referred to  as General)
General – Genl

Terms of address
All ranks up to C Sgt or S Sgt addressed warrant officers and officers as Sir.
WOs2 addressed WOs1 and officers as Sir.
WOs 1 Addressed officers as Sir.
Officers addressed any officer who was senior to them as Sir.

Appointments
Officer Commanding – OC (would normally be the officer who commanded a sub-unit smaller than a battalion – such as a company or troop commander. He would normally be a Major but could also be a Captain).
Commanding Officer – CO (would normally be the officer who commanded a battalion strength unit and was normally a Lt Col – sometimes a Major).
Commander – Comd – (this appointment was usually the command of a Brigade or similar sized unit and although normally a Brigadier it could also be a Colonel in command.
Various Corps such as Signals and Engineers had a Lt Col Commander based at Army HQ).
The head of the army was the Commander, Rhodesian Army.
Adjutant – a staff officer appointment, the Adjutant would usually be a senior Lt or Capt who worked closely with the CO to ensure the smooth running of a unit

Unit and sub-unit abbreviations
Troop – Tp
Platoon – Pl
Company – Coy
Commando – Cdo
Squadron – Sqn
Battalion – Bn
Brigade – Bde

Joining the army part three

National service – first phase continued 2
(Pictures used were mined from the internet. The butts are somewhere in England and there was no caption on the picture of the range. No harm is intended by the use of these pictures – they will be removed if so requested by copyright holder).

A lot has been written about basic training in the army – the Rhodesian Army as much as perhaps any other army so I will not harp on this aspect too much. Once weapons training had started things became a lot more interesting and serious with weapons safety being a point hammered into us at every turn.

A typical military range see where LOW shots have gouged at the mantlet in front of and below the numbers. The STOP BUTT is the higher mound BEHIND the targets.

Before going onto the range for the first time for live firing A Company was addressed by WO2 “Pinky” Mould, an ex Guardsman who always had a rather red face made worse by the african sun.

The butts, on an army shooting range, is the area below and immediately behind the mantlet (the raised berm from behind which the targets are hoisted). The much higher berm further back is called the STOP butt – for the obvious reason that it is meant to STOP the rounds that have been fired at the target. Every so often a stop butt would be MINED for the astonishing amount of metal from spent rounds that could be recovered from it and sold.

Toward the end of his briefing SM Mould instructed that the butts party must ensure that they patched every target properly. There was plenty of target patching glue, he said, but should one run out he off-handedly suggested semen be used, emphasising this with a well-practised flick from the region of his groin that resulted in a large gobbet of patching glue splatting onto the zeroing target in front of us. Among the ribald laughter one of the men was heard, and seen, vomiting! Poor sensitive soul was teased mercilessly every time we were on the range after that!

Sometimes a shooter would aim too low and the butts party would get a shower of sand and grit as the round ploughed across the top of the mantlet. One day such a round hit the top of a target frame and ricocheted in under the mantlet where I was sitting on butts duty and landed in the crook of my arm. The round was spent but it was still bloody hot! I still have that item among my bits and pieces somewhere.

Typical view of the BUTTS the mantlet on the right protects the butts party. Note the target frames with zeroing targets fitted

We did a lot of live firing with many of those from rural backgrounds showing better results and those of us not used to firearms struggling a bit – but we all became proficient and passed the training.

One day we were being taught to shoot from fire trenches – in front of each firing point there was a roughly four foot deep slit trench and we had to learn to load and fire from this cramped position.

In one of the squads was a young man from Cyprus whose English was not really up to scratch but who had been disdainful of the training with claims that he had been in the fighting in Cyprus as a guerrilla a few years earlier.

DOWN RANGE was the mantra – the rifle must ALWAYS POINT DOWN RANGE.

Our Cypriot had a stoppage while in the trench at the number one firing point and turned to call an instructor. As he did so the loaded rifle was turned to point down the line of foxholes, the instructor screamed at him and nineteen heads disappeared into their foxholes! SM Pinky Mould had been standing behind this man watching him with considerable distrust and he leapt forward, snatched the rifle and stomped the man down into the trench – all the time yelling at him in the choicest language (and he had an impressive vocabulary) about how stupid and careless he was.

The Cypriot was incensed and tried to go for the SM only to get clobbered and marched off to the guardhouse for a week in the RP (Regimental Police) cells.

This was several years before the mandatory issuing of ear defenders for range work and anyone caught with four by two (weapon cleaning rags) in their ears would be teased and vilified implying deficient masculinity. I am sure that some of the problems I have today with hearing higher frequencies stem from those days – especially during zeroing when the number of men on the firing line was doubled and the rifles on either side were about a metre away. Further range exercises and listening to noisy radios while wearing earphones in my first few years of service probably also contributed!

Some very mean, bullying tricks were played occasionally. There was a very slightly built chap (a first class bloke – let’s call him Mike – with whom I was to become friendly a few years later) who had been made pony master (he was in charge of the regimental mascot) but he still had to learn drill and shooting. One day on the range some smartarse turned Mike’s SLR gas regulator to zero while he was not looking.

The gas regulator controls the gasses from the fired round directing some of them to sharply push back a piston to automatically reload the weapon. Normally set to around position five, lower settings meant the recoil became increasingly, and unneccesarily, violent – not good for the weapon nor for the shooter.

Not noticing what had happened Mike took up his prone firing position but when he fired the weapon he let out a yell of agony and laid the rifle down. I think he may have had a cracked collar bone. He was horribly bruised around the shoulder area and in considerable pain – much to the amusement of the bullies behind the trick. (I think Sgt Annandale sorted them out though).

A few weeks later we were to fire the Sterling sub-machine gun and Mike, who probably only weighed about a hundred pounds or so, turned up with a pad of cloth around his shoulder (not knowing or believing that the nine millimetre Sterling had no recoil to speak of). When the SM spotted the padding he humiliated Mike by showing it off to all those on the firing line which I felt was rather unfair and poor Mike was so embarrassed.

Young and overwhelmed by all that was going on – and feeling sorry for Mike – many of us did not say anything but when we were asked why we were not laughing we had to smile weakly in order to BELONG – and not become targets ourselves.

In spite of these unsettling incidents I feel there was nothing particularly special about my initial training.

Grenade training was fun if only for the TERROR shown by some of the men – some of the BIG DEAL bullies at that! Many of the guys wanted to throw the grenade and run and had to be held UP by the scruff of the neck by the instructor and MADE to watch the grenade land. I watched my grenade roll to a stop but did not need the instructor to pull me into cover though! Years later I had to instruct some people on hand grenades and it was odd to observe the “students” from the perspective of the instructor – and have to be ready to grab the runners.

One morning before we were marched off for another round of drill we were asked by the instructor:
“Does anyone want to join the regular army?”….