NZATMC AP Lima
New Zealand is now getting into the Peacekeeping mode in a big way and so I relay this yarn simply to show just how rapidly things can change and you can be placed in a position where the decision you make right then and there can effect the safety of everyone around you.
The elections were scheduled to start on the 28th February, and the three weeks preceding contacts and incidents intensified as all three opposing sides pushed to intimidate as many of the black population as possible. In our area, the Rhodesian's sent two sticks of 'Support Forces' to boost the numbers at the Mhudlambudzi Police fort. Support Force was basically an elite BSAP unit, made up of very fit young Rhodesians who wore camouflage T/shirts, shorts, chest webbing and running shoes. The moment they were contacted they would debus from their vehicles and run straight at the enemy. They were bloody fearless and their shoulder patch was an attacking eagle. Most of them were aged about 18 and had grown up in Rhodesia with their only memories of their country being that of a nation at war.
The Support Force sticks each had a Hyena (a wheeled AFV about half the size of a Crocodile) and they immediately began patrolling throughout our area. At the same time the Communist ZIPRA Battalion began posting their sentries further out from their camp as they feared probing by the Selous Scouts. Lima was located directly between the Police fort and the Communist camp. On the 27 January, Support Force captured one of the ZIPRA sentries and drove into Lima in a show of force in a Croc and a Hyena, all armed to the teeth. The sentry had been carrying an AKM65 and was out of the Assembly Area so he was considered a legitimate target. The Communist officers were terrified at the arrival of the two unannounced Rhodesian AFVs and initially thought it was a trap. Bruce Cantell was in the lead vehicle and eventually the tension eased. Bruce informed the Battalion Commander, and Comrade John (the guerrilla commander) that he was getting concerned that both ZIPRA regulars and guerrillas were leaving the Assembly Place and were committing acts of terror in the TTL (Tribal Trust Land). The meeting ended and the Rhodesians drove off.
Next morning, as a sign of good faith, Comrade John reported that 26 of his men had left the Assembly Area and were hiding in a kraal drinking. That night, as unbelievable as it sounds, John led the two sticks of Support Force to the kraal, which was just across the river and surrounded it, calling on them to surrender. 16 surrendered and the other 10 'gapped it'. The captured weapons were stored in the Q tent at Lima as both the BSAP and the Communists claimed ownership. The weapons were a mixture of SKS and various AK versions, as well as a number of anti-tank grenades.
On the 15 February, a Brit Corporal and myself were sent up to the Police Fort to fill our water buffalo at about 0800. As we drove up to the fort it was immediately obvious that something was wrong as the gates were closed and locked and everyone in the fort was Standing To. We stopped at the gate and remained in the Land Rover.
The fort was a classic, in that it had bunkers at all four corners, interconnected with crawl trenches and blast walls made out of sand bags. It had a barbed wire fence about 20 feet high, and as well the fence was electrified; not with a cattle shock kind of charge, but the kill-you-dead variety. Presently Bruce came out carrying his FN and wearing chest webbing. He wouldn't elaborate but he told us that we had two choices; we could either leave immediately, or enter and remain until it was safe. We needed the water and so the power was switched off and the gates were opened briefly.
Once inside and the gate locked, Bruce informed us that Support Force was in contact just north of our location, and there had been casualties. Comms were very difficult and the whole thing was quite confusing, but it appeared that the Communists had suffered the casualties. I asked if I could use the phone to call Lima but was told in no uncertain terms that nothing was being reported until the patrol returned. The next half an hour was very stressful, and until the patrol returned the Rhodesians remained at Stand To, whilst their phone line was red hot between themselves and Special Branch. Eventually we could hear the drone of an AVF and then a BSAP Croc drove up and the gates were open. Inside of the Croc was a stick of about 10 men most of whom were black. The IC was white and he climbed out and reported to Bruce that they had ambushed a group of three guerrillas crossing a river. One guerrilla was KIA, while another was wounded and escaped, and the third had gotten clean away. The dead guerrilla was in the Croc, and he had been armed with two Russian fragmentation grenades.
I was then asked if I could have a look at the guerrilla and possibly identify him as coming from Lima. I climbed up into the rear of the Croc to see the body of a very young guerrilla dressed in brown fatigues and wearing Rhodesian Army combat boots (Rhodesian boots were very distinctive as they laced up the centre and then had two leather straps at the top). He looked to be aged about 18. He had been hit through the back and his entrails were hanging over his belt, and as well he was covered in blood, which was running all over the floor of the vehicle. I couldn't see his face clearly as it was covered in blood so we carried him out of the vehicle and laid him down near the tap and then the Stick Commander and I washed him down. In his pocket I found a piece of paper which was actually a ZIPRA light duties chit and it had his name as Comrade Darlington, so he was obviously from Lima. There was something telling me that something was wrong and I could also sense it from the body language of the Rhodesians. I took another look at the wound, and although his entrails were hanging out it didn't look like
enough to kill him. So I said, "Roll him over", and they said, "No, he's okay." I said, "Roll him over", and they did, and they had actually despatched him. They had put a pistol in his mouth and blown the back of his brains out...all his brains were in globules.
We now had a real situation in that I knew that this guy had been culled and was duty bound to report it. The Stick Commander now turned to me and said, "OK Kiwi, now you know the score." "What are you going to do about it?"
I was now caught between a rock and a hard place in that I had to report the incident, and if I relayed the full facts, they would have caused much bitterness with the ZIPRA once they learned that a wounded comrade had been despatched by the Rhodesians. Where as, on the other hand, the Rhodesians made it very clear that they would be less than co-operative in the future if this thing came back to haunt them as basically in any soldiers terms it was quite simply murder. In the end, I simply made my decision based on the safety of the Peacekeepers at Lima. I rang through to Major Hewitt and informed him of the ambush, and the KIA but not the circumstances of his death. The Rhodesians then moved the body and rested it in the corner of a blast wall, resting him against the sand bags so that it was impossible to see the back of his head. I had been ordered by Major Hewitt to remain with the body until such time as he arrived to record the incident. While I waited several of the black troopies came and took the dead guerrillas' fingerprints. These would later be handed over to Special Branch.
Naturally enough for the Kiwis at Lima it was another stress filled day as by mid-morning the bush telegraph began to let the Communists know that an ambush had taken place. I waited beside that dead guerrilla for the rest of the morning and then about 1300, a Land Rover came up from Lima with Major Hewitt, the Battalion Commander, Colonel Zikhali and Comrade John. By that stage the guerrilla had been dead for some few hours and was already starting to smell in the African heat. As well, his whole body was crawling in ants so he was not a pretty sight. The Battalion Commander and Zikhali took one quick look at the body and walked away and I could see the look of relief on the face of the Support Force Stick Commander. The Battalion Commander was by now extremely angry and the next several minutes were very intense with everyone holding their personal weapons. The Battalion Commander wanted the body but the Rhodesians (for obvious reasons) absolutely refused to hand him over simply stating that he was a legitimate target.
In the end the Communist officers stormed off and drove back to Lima with Major Hewitt. They were very angry. Then before anything further could happen, the dead guerrilla was hustled out the back of the Police fort, dumped into a shallow hole and diesel was then poured on him and he was burned. I thought it was pretty callous, but the reason for the diesel was to burn the flesh off him so that his scent couldn't be picked up by wild animals and his body eaten.
That afternoon when I got back to Lima, we had a salad for lunch. I hadn't eaten since breakfast and so was quite hungry. I got my tin plate and waited in line as various bits and pieces were portioned onto my plate by our grunt chefs. As I drew to the end of the line, one of them flicked a spoon full of French dressing onto my plate; it was exactly the same colour as that guerrillas brains and I lost my lunch. That must have happened about 20 years ago and I still am unable to eat any form of mayonnaise. If I see it on a table it instantly reminds me of that young man's death.
That night I listened to the National Sitrep: -
NSR: Many contacts and intimidations are reported during the last 24 hours, four women found by the Rhodesian Army with sexual atrocities committed on them having first been gang raped as 'sell outs', red hot bayonets were then shoved into their vaginas and they were buried alive, 1 woman dead, 3 others critically ill; ZANLA captured 1 GPMG, 1 FN rifle and three kitbags during a battle with Rhodesians; 8 ZANLA KIA in several contacts today; 7 bandits KIA in various contacts, 3 churches bombed, 1 car bomb initiated killing 2 civilians, ambush near Assembly Place Lima 1 ZIPRA guerrilla KIA