Cheetah Magazine: June 2012
Welcome to the mid-year edition of the Cheetah, which I hope you will all enjoy.

Unashamedly, this edition is focussed almost exclusively on the new book ‘Africa’s commandos’ edited by Mark Adams and Chris Cocks. Commissioned by the RLIRA, and available in August, it promises to be a seminal work; significantly different from anything else you would have seen or read.

I have had the great fortune of spending quite a bit of time with Bill Wiggill and Mark over the last few weeks where we have discussed, debated and assessed the publication. I have attempted to provide you with a flavour of the book’s content, by reproducing, in this Cheetah, three of the articles that will feature in the book. I am sure you find them, informative, refreshing and enjoyable.

Hopefully, this small taste will induce you to purchase a copy; I can promise you, you will not be disappointed, for two reasons:
  • It is quality publication, focussed on people and their stories. A treasure trove, with significant intrinsic value; a must have publication for you and your families to enjoy.
  • A significant portion of the sale proceeds will go to the Combined Forces Welfare Trust, used for the direct benefit of ex-servicemen and women (including ex-RLI members) who are struggling. It is your and the RLIRA’s contribution to ensure people’s hardships are alleviated.
Please take the time to read the interview with Bill Wiggill, which focuses on the reasons for the RLIRA commissioning the work, the Association’s revenue goals and the benefit disbursal.

There seem to have been an extra-ordinary number of celebrations and get-togethers over the last few months where we have celebrated our Battalion’s birthday and where many have caught-up with old friends. A number of these events are reported in this edition.

It was disgust that I heard of the defacing of the plinth of The Trooper statue. It is a pity that perpetrators don’t recognise their lack of respect; perhaps they should rather follow the lead of Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to Australia. As you will read later, she made a wonderful gesture by going over and chatting to the RLI ‘squad’ who attended the ANZAC day parade in Canberra. That would have taken some courage and certainly conveyed the same sentiment of reconciliation evidenced on the plinth.
I hope you enjoy the magazine and as always, if you have any comments and feedback please let me know

Best regards

Africa’s commandos: a review

Opening remarks
Without doubting the prospect of a high quality publication, when I first heard of this project, I was somewhat sceptical; there seemed to be so many books being published and I thought the material would go over ground already covered (sometimes well and sometimes with not-so-well). I was also concerned as to whether there was a sufficiently new perspective or approach to keep people interested.

Of course, for those who know my old mate Mark Adams, I shouldn’t have worried; the passage of time has not changed his attention to detail, rigorousness in seeking the best, his passion for the RLI and its people and of course his eloquence and command of the subject matter.

As I saw more of the material, my scepticism evaporated. I have always been captivated by well-told personal stories whether it is on Discovery or National Geographic channels or in books and magazines; the articles in the book sit well within this genre and are at that standard.

Unlike other books, which often take the view of a single person or follow the consistent style of the writer throughout the material; this book is a compilation of over 80 short stories, each told in the specific writer’s own style, in their own words and with their own emphasis.

At Mark’s insistence, editing has focussed almost entirely on grammar and readability and not on tone, manner and content.

Whilst the nature and approach ranges from the sophisticated to raw, the sincerity and reflection of the writers is both honest and appealing. By taking personal stories and aligning them with well-chosen photographs, many of which have resided in personal collections, the editors have managed to capture the values, spirit, concerns, apprehensions, and emotional aftermath of people’s lives in the RLI.

Through these stories, the reader gains a full understanding of the meaning of being an RLI commando.

Collating, and compiling this book has been a huge task and to get some understanding of the project I interviewed Mark Adams; I trust that the answers he gave to my questions will give you better insight into the book itself:

As he is; 2012

Interview with Mark Adams: May 2012

  1. There have been a number of books published about the RLI and by people who served in the RLI; what do you think, are the key differences between this book and any others you have reviewed or seen?

    I think there are two key differences:
    • The book is 50 per cent pictorial, giving it a rich visual appeal. We have selected photographs not only to complement the stories but also to provide the emotional context of the moments.

    • The book has been written entirely by the people who served with or in the RLI. No use has been made of third party intermediaries (authors and writers) and as a consequence the text is authentic and undiluted.
    These two factors have fused to deliver a book with an extensive story range. There are articles to be found from containing all ranks and all units, including support units and personnel.

    The book’s enriched experience comes from articles one would not have expected to see; from padres’ signallers, training staff, medics and the like.

    We hope we have delivered the soldiers story of our Battalion’s character, its values, and its personality.

  2. What were the challenges you faced in compiling and editing this book?

    In collating a body of work such as this, one relies on the goodwill of others, many of whom have, understandably priorities of their own.

    Responses to requests were unpredictable, some responded with alacrity, others had to be asked twice, a few had to be begged and some whose contribution I would have welcomed failed to respond at all.

    Sadly the situation in Zimbabwe remains such that we have a few articles from those still resident there who have asked to remain anonymous.

    Whilst I was dreading the editing, having heard horror stories; I must say our editor, Carole Wood with her pragmatic approach, has been a delight; making what could have been the most challenging part of the process, the most enjoyable,

  3. Give me an example of an article or articles, which enhanced your understanding of the RLI and its values?

    There is a thread running through the articles where it is apparent there remains a great sadness felt by the ouens over the loss of mates.

    It is obvious that this loss is still acutely felt after 30 odd years and underlines that strong bond that developed between those who served together in the RLI.

    There has been a tendency to focus on the final years of the war where most of the action took place but happily we have been able receive articles from the earlier days and interesting times, for example stories relating to the operations with the Portuguese in Mozambique when so much of the tactics, like Fire Force, were conceived.

  4. Of all the articles that will be published, which are the ones that best reflect defining moments in the Battalion’s history?

    Each commando had its ‘bad day’ where it took a knock in terms of casualties. These were milestones in the development of the RLI where we were forced to refocus on the fundamentals, up our game and move forward albeit with heavy hearts.

    Then in mid 1976 with Intake 150 we became a 50% regular/NS battalion at the operational level. The NS contributed more than just numbers they were quality contributors at the very young age of 18/19.

    Finally, the big operational step-up happened in late 1977 with Op Dingo – Chimoio and Tembue, which the RLI took in its stride.

    What is true is that whatever circumstances or the war threw at us the RLI rose to the occasion; a battalion in which those who served or served with can be justifiably proud.

  5. There are obviously a number of stories, which describe combat and tactics; are there any that describe the human emotion and character of the people, if so, please tell us about those stories.
    Importantly I noted that the stories about various combat situations do not glorify killing or body counts but rather record the events for historical record or relate to the relationships between the participants at an inter-personal level.

    I did not influence this at all; in my original discussions with potential contributors I had asked for material to focus on what they felt strongly about. Given I was expecting them to contribute some time and effort, I felt it only right that there was little interference, from either my or the editors side.
    I believe this unencumbered environment, resulted in individuals’ naturally expressing their passion for the regiment and their comrades. This has undoubtedly added a distinctive character to the book.

    Clearly, the majority of stories reflect strong feelings one way or another but contrary to what one would expect, there is a far greater focus on the collective rather than the individuals

    It seems to me that the collective value system and respect for each other is a common theme throughout,

  6. What were the personal highlights for you in undertaking such a mammoth task?

    Firstly, it was the honour of being asked to be part of this project by Bill Wiggill and the RLIRA.

    Secondly, it was re-establishing contacts with those with whom I served personally after so many years and also making new friends within the RLI family; with people I hitherto knew only by name or reputation.

    This was capped by the realization of what a wonderful ‘family’ the RLI remains. Even the loveable skates from way back then who at times were headaches remain ‘loveable’ today in their roguish way.

    It’s hard not to feel emotional about the RLI and those who wore the green and silver. Personally I feel that after so many years out there in the ‘wilderness’ I have finally come home again.

    These are perhaps feelings those have not served in the military or have not served in a fine regiment at war will understand or comprehend.

  7. You are now probably the authority on the RLI’s history is there anything still left to do in articulating the story?

    This exercise has exposed an Aladdin’s Cave of stories, anecdotes and memories that exists among those who served in the RLI at all levels.

    This book has only scraped the surface of that veritable treasure trove of history, which we must make every effort to record and preserve.

    Perhaps with the passage of some time, and being 30 or so years older, we should perhaps start to look into the deeper aspects of the war including the psychological impact on the young men who were in the thick of it; the effect on their families, who themselves were under severe emotional stress waiting for their husband or son to come home, all the while dreading a visit from the padre. I suggest our greatest challenge now, is in how we present our experiences and history in such a way that it is relevant to non-military people from around the world and also in a manner that can be easily understood and appreciated.

    It will be a tough ask.

  8. I know we have spoken about this briefly, but is the book at all open to criticism of having a bias toward the ‘front line’?

    The book contains stories about what the ouens felt deeply enough about to commit to paper. I did not specifically canvas for stories on specific subjects as I wanted the articles to be spontaneous.

    Reading the contributions one realises that they reflect the attitude that it was always more about the unit as a whole and less about any individual. Perhaps this represents a growing realisation with the passing of time just how interdependent we were on each other, being between those in the commandos and between the front line troops and those whose function it was to provide support or supporting services.

    The medics were the most obvious in this regard but I hope that with time we will all appreciate that there were not too many armies in the world where 30 years ago, or even today, you could spend the day out in Fire Force action returning in the afternoon for a hot shower and a plate of steak, egg and chips washed down by a few cold beers.

    The often invisible ‘Q’ people and the logistic chain reaching right back to Army HQ was sadly often taken for granted. I hope that their efforts will be recognised and honoured, if not in this book, then elsewhere.

    We have still so much to do with so little time available.

  9. With the passage of time, as Gary Player (I think) once said ’the older I get the better I was’. Do you think the book may suffer from such notions or is it authentic?

    The articles for this book have been written in the full knowledge that they will be read by their mates and others who have served in the RLI.

    I detect no attempt by anybody to create a reputation for them or inflate their personal contribution or indeed any instances of wild exaggeration.

    If anything, I believe much of what has been written borders on understatement. I truly believe that through the blend of photos and text those who read this book will be left with a good understanding and real understanding of the RLI

Excerpts: 3 stories

An appetiser of 3 stories, from the book, is presented below for your enjoyment. The selection shows the diversity of material contained in the book and hopefully what is presented whets the appetite for more!

Article 1: FIRE FORCE

By Nigel Henson

This article has been edited for the Cheetah – you didn’t think you would get to see it all, did you?

The excellent diagrams, which accompany the article, have also been removed. – They all are available in the book – editor


Fire Force for any raconteur is a difficult subject. It involves the interplay of personalities, weapons, tactics, circumstances and history across a landscape of perhaps 1,000 call-outs, 500 actions and the elimination of thousands of enemy during a seven-year period in an operational area of about 390,000 sq km.

Mindful of the above, it is beyond the scope of this work to do full justice to the subject, for much has already been said and written in both academic and anecdotal studies. This presentation makes no apologies for ignoring the anecdotal.

Nor does this work touch on the unspoken heroism of the young Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI) soldier; for him the wail of the siren, the smell of burned avtur in the air; the snap-snap of enemy fire were fears to be overcome, to be conquered and managed each in its own way. It was life in a dirty little war that really seemed to have no end.

The men of the RLI were outstanding military material. They made excellent soldiers. They were truly wonderful.


In counter-insurgency warfare, Fire Force action is the elimination of an enemy gang or gangs by an infantry air-borne assault team.


Rhodesia’s struggle with the insurgency that crippled the country from early 1965 in various forms and guises until the termination of the conflict in 1980 has been the subject of much analysis and comment spanning more than 30 years. For the men involved, to those with a passing interest, to military men, to the academics who have clinically dissected every morsel, every scrap of evidence and anecdote, the story of this conflict has been one of enduring and intense interest. Were any of these persona asked to describe in one word the part of the conflict that made their pulses quicken, that held a magnetic fascination for them, their answer would inevitably be Fire Force. And were one to probe further, to enquire of them the three catchphrases that encapsulated and epitomized Fire Force, inevitably the words Alouette III, the RLI and Observation Posts (OPs) would be the words on their lips – and quite rightly so, for they are synonymous with the term Fire Force and often said in the same breath. No doubt they would also observe that ‘The RLI was the Fire Force, and the Fire Force was the RLI’.

Early days: 1965

1965 saw the first of many insurgent forays into Rhodesia. Of note for this narrative was the action (well-documented in many accounts) of the Battle of Sinoia when seven insurgents (offshoots of a gang of 20) were engaged by the British South Africa Police (BSAP) supported by four Alouette helicopters, one armed with a machine-gun (MAG) with a conventional open sight.

Whilst the gang was eventually accounted for, the following emerged as some of the lessons learned. Inter-service radio communications were virtually non-existent. The police had no means of communicating with the Air Force. The Army were not called upon in this action. The police and their reservists were hopelessly inadequately trained and equipped. Even if the Army had been involved, they had no means of communicating with the police. Poor planning lead to an inflexible plan, which was difficult to change as the circumstances dictated. Lack of command experience in the police resulted in the senior Air Force pilot really commanding the battle. Under the circumstances he performed admirably and with great initiative.


During these years, whilst there were numerous operations, the Fire Force concept was not used although moving troops by helicopter to contact scenes as reinforcements or their use as stop groups was frequently employed. Helicopters were used extensively to gain time on moving enemy groups by leap-frogging troops forward on an anticipated enemy line of march. On some operations, helicopters fitted with MAGs engaged enemy groups, sometimes in self-defence, in others providing covering fire to troops advancing on the ground. Also during this period, many RLI commanders and their Air Force counterparts were exposed in some way to the 20mm cannon fit on the Alouette III when they began operations in support of the Portuguese Army in Mozambique.

Operation Hurricane: 1973

The invasion by a number of terrorist groups into northeast Rhodesia (Centenary and Mount Darwin) and their ability to merge with the local population made the security force (SF) tactics of ‘track, follow up, engage’ dysfunctional, along with other well-tried and previously successful counter-insurgency (COIN) techniques such as patrolling and ambushing. Traditional sources of information (Special Branch/Ground Coverage operations) dried up significantly.

It came as a nasty shock (though many commanders were in denial in their McGyver-like belief that something would turn up) to accept that security forces were really neutralized by these new developments and there was no conventional teaching, no case study, no known methodology that would point a way out of the dilemma in which they had found themselves. The strategic initiative had passed to the enemy.

During the early part of Operation Hurricane, two Joint Operations Centres (JOCs) were established, one in Mount Darwin and the other in Centenary, and to support ground operations six helicopters were deployed, two at each locality and a further two at Sipolilo. These aircraft were primarily responsible for positioning troops, casevac (casualty evacuation), the maintenance of radio relay stations and other general duties to support the ongoing ground effort. Such was the situation that prevailed through most of 1973 save that at last the lone initiative of the Air Force in commencing trials of the 20mm Alouette cannon fit was the development that was to change the conduct of the war.

FIRE FORCE MILESTONES - 1974 (See Figure 1)

Development of the helicopter gunship.

In late 1973 the Air Force began evaluating the 20mm cannon fit on the Alouette and this development continued until July 1974 when for the first time these aircraft were deployed operationally. This was probably the most significant development in the war, for all air and infantry tactics in the Fire Force for evermore were essentially based upon the pivotal role this gunship played.

Selous Scouts pseudo operations

The deployment of pseudo terrorists in an information gathering role (rather than hunter/killer) in early 1974 began to pay immediate dividends; whereas in 1973 only a handful of enemy had been killed by all SF committed, pseudo operations immediately yielded the necessary ‘real time’ information. It was said that by the end of 1974 the Selous Scouts had indicated to SF the presence of some 1,000 terrorists (SF had killed 221), the fact remains that at the commencement of the ceasefire in late 1974, terrorists in the country numbered less than 100.

Tactical re-think.

In early 1974 the Commanding Officer (CO) of the RLI, Lt Col David Parker, together with Squadron Leader (Sqn Ldr) Peter (‘PB’) Petter-Bowyer undertook a successful strike and envelopment exercise using fixed-wing aircraft as well as troop-carrying helicopters. The success of this operation (information supplied by air reconnaissance) and further development of this technique prior to and after gunships became available, lead to the formation of Fire Force and an effective modus operandi. Lt Col Parker, his commando commanders Lockley, Lambert and Aust with Sqn Ldrs Petter-Bowyer, and Janeke, and gunship pilots McGregor, Wrigley, Annan and Law, fashioned through trial, experience and experiment during the period January-July 1974 the technique which came to be known as Fire Force. This blueprint became the template for countless successful air-borne COIN deployments both inside and outside the country from that point until cessation of hostilities. …


Taking shape

Early Fire Force developments and their impact in the operational area (Operation Hurricane at the time) resulted in a fundamental change in the way Rhodesian Security Forces now approached the insurgency, which was inexorably gaining in momentum. It was at last realized that intelligence gathering by the well-worn methods of informers, ground coverage and conventional patrolling yielded mediocre results: what successes were achieved tended to be sporadic and short lived. The new way forward using a combination of OPs (conventional and pseudo), air surveillance using experienced pilots and the use of devices such as ‘road runners ’ began to pay dividends and high quality, ‘real time’ information became readily available. Critical to the ability to respond effectively to the ‘real time’ information was the Fire Force concept which began in 1975/6 to have a devastating effect on enemy progress.

This combination of intelligence gatherers working with an air-mobile strike force became in short time effective and standard in the operational area and soon the formation of a number of Fire Forces at various locations based on the infrastructure of an infantry battalion’s headquarters. Thus, in Operation Hurricane, three locations were host at various times to Fire Force: Centenary, Mount Darwin and Mtoko with either Bn HQ IRLI or Bn HQ 1st Battalion Rhodesian African Rifles (1RAR) together with Selous Scouts and Fire Force elements becoming a feature of daily life. As the concept matured in 1975/6, a further six localities would be used as Fire Force locations in Operation Hurricane. Operation Thrasher had as its main Fire Force base Grand Reef near Umtali and other locations such as Inyanga, Rusape, Chipinga, Dorowa and Hot Springs would be used from time to time. There were three main locations for Fire Force in Operation Repulse: Chiredzi (Buffalo Range), Fort Victoria and Shabani with a further eight locations being used on occasion. Similarly, as the conflict spread, locations in both operations Grapple and Tangent were home at some stage to elements of Fire Force.

All of these locations (over 30 in number) were not necessarily sited on the infrastructure of a JOC or battalion headquarters. The Fire Force (infantry company/commando) and up to six
1 The ‘road runner’ was a bugged portable commercial transistor radio receiver which contained a homing device activated by the radio being switched off and could be picked up by an aircraft’s homing equipment. The sound of an aircraft would prompt the insurgents to switch off the radio, ironically, therefore transmitting their position to the aircraft. – JRT Wood

helicopters, including a light piston attack aircraft, were able, and frequently did, operate independently from nothing more than a grassed airfield in remote parts of the country. Tented camps were set up on the airfield with the only requirement being that of a fresh water source close at hand.

The Alouette helicopter was an ideal machine for these bush circumstances. Although it was maintenance heavy, this maintenance could easily be done by the aircraft’s engineer and sophisticated workshops were not required. Spares were flown in at short notice when needed. Fuel was a challenge, but drums and bladder tanks trucked in frequently ensuring that there was an adequate supply.

During the conflict, and in common with conventional infantry deployment rosters at the time, the deployment period for a Fire Force detachment was generally a six-week operational deployment, followed by a ten-day stint of rest and relaxation (R&R). This schedule was possible as deployment areas were seldom more than a day’s travel by road from home base.

This deployment regime could not be (when compared to conventional conflicts) considered to be onerous, but when viewed over a continuous period two to three years they made for some considerable disruption of personal lives and relationships, which added to anxiety levels of all involved...


Following an extensive review of all aspects of Fire Force deployments, in mid-1978 revised operating procedures were instituted, with notable success. (See figure 4).

The following formed the basis of deployment going forward:

Planning: Far greater emphasis was placed on a detailed map appreciation before arrival at the target. A far more detailed interrogation of the OP relating to the ground, escape routes, wind direction and other target detail was instituted. Far more attention was paid to methods of concealing the approach of the Fire Force by the use of ground, wind direction, and masking agents or diversions. The interval between the K-Car and G-Cars en route to the target was increased to minimize noise. Slicker talk on procedures was adopted.

Execution: The racetrack orbit of the G-Cars was abandoned. The most likely escape routes were identified and each was assigned to a G-Car with responsibility to prevent egress along that route, the G-Car having full authority to take whatever action it considered necessary, such as firing its weapons, carrying out dummy drops or dropping its stick in an area of its own choosing if the enemy was sighted.

Each G-Car was instructed on arrival at the target area to adopt one of the following: Plan A: Drop your stick at the pre-arranged location. Plan B: Drop your stick at a place of your choosing where you believe you can contain the enemy. Hold. Do not drop your stick; continue to orbit in the area you have been instructed. Similarly, the deployment of parachutists was speeded up.

Pre-planning had identified a number of possibilities: Plan A: Drop the parachutists as arranged. Plan B: Drop the parachutists as close to the target as you can but beyond G-Car orbit. Hold. Do not drop; continue to orbit in the area you have been instructed.

When contact was joined by any stop or aircraft, the Paradak (without instruction) was to drop the parachutists as soon as practical. The first aircraft to land would have broadcast the QNH (altimeter setting).

The light attack aircraft (Lynx) was encouraged at its own discretion to attack with small- arms any potential escape route not already receiving attention from other aircraft.

In all cases where enemy were either sighted or encountered by troops or aircraft, orange smoke grenades were immediately thrown, alerting all to enemy activity.

Problems arising: Naturally, these changes brought about a number of problems of their own. Decentralising the decision-making resulted in increased radio traffic on the command frequency. Alternative frequencies were used frequently for such occurrences as casevac, para matters, internal air force deployment and the land tail. Aircraft refuelling schedules needed to be closely managed. Frequently fuel was ferried by G-Car right into the target area so that time away from the target was reduced to a minimum. Sweep lines took longer to position and the search time increased.

Other considerations: All of this revision is no way negated the need for the use of sound infantry minor tactics: the use of ground, the use of cover and covering fire (including aircraft fire) were criteria for a successful action. Certain commanders were advocates of stay behind parties after a Fire Force action: their roles might include ambushing and following up. Whilst in some instances, this might be desirable, it needed to be balanced against the fact that Fire Force troops were left in another unit’s operational area. This unit might be a pseudo unit which brought all manner of additional problems. In addition there was a recovery necessary probably the next day which watered down the availability of troops and aircraft for a short while.

Summary: The adoption of these revised tactics signalled the start of a new era for Fire Force operations in the RLI. Gone was the ‘charge and sort it out when we get there’ kind of approach; a more measured, more deliberate and focused strategy without increasing reaction time to close off all the escape routes and contain the enemy within a given area was now the emphasis. This was followed by a meticulous search of the target area.

The benefits of this approach immediately became apparent as the percentage kill rate climbed again and the percentage of unproductive call-outs (‘lemons’) fell dramatically.

This philosophy called for some patience; it was not unusual for contact to be made two or even three hours after the Fire Force had first put troops on the ground. Clearly, however, the commander of the Fire Force had to take into account the amount of available light remaining in deciding on his deployment strategy.

Jumbo Fire Force

Background: The acquisition in August 1978 by the Air Force of eleven Bell 205 helicopters (code-named Cheetahs) gave the Rhodesian military at last the heavier lift capability they had so desperately sought. These helicopters operated both in Mozambique and Zambia, enabling Alouette III capacity to be released to internal operations, primarily Fire Force.

Enemy tactics: The arrival of the Cheetahs coincided with another development that became apparent in late 1978; large-scale enemy reinforcement resulted in a doubling of insurgent numbers inside the country. Whilst enemy groups did not really increase in size, the population of such gangs in any given area rose from one, to three or four groups, all based within a few kilometres of each other. This enabled the enemy to concentrate or disperse at short notice, dependent on the operational situation and gave rise to the impression that enemy groups had increased in size from nine to eleven to 27-35. There were of course occasions when all enemy groups in an area might occupy the same spot for a short space of time, thus the observation that group size had increased was a natural one.

Security Force response: The increase in enemy per square kilometre was met by a doubling of the troops and aircraft allocated to the Fire Forces, moving from one K-Car and four G-Cars to two K-Cars and eight G-Cars allocated to each of three Fire Forces and making it possible to attack two small gangs simultaneously or to more than adequately deal with a concentration of 20-25 enemy with an enlarged assault force. The Cheetah was seldom used in the Fire Force role as the following became apparent: the Cheetah lacked the agility and flexibility of the Alouette; the American machine was too clumsy for use in the fast ebb and flow of a Fire Force action; troop deployments from the Cheetah took too long. It was seldom (unless forming a sweep-line) that twelve troops were required on one spot. The deployment of parachutists sometimes took a secondary role: the use of the Paradak in a fuel supply role assumed an equal priority as the supply of additional manpower. When enemy concentration had taken place, a jet attack with rockets, cannon and frantan became a common feature. Generally this preparatory attack gave the K-Cars cover into the area by creating and sowing confusion in enemy ranks, and denying them an orderly exfiltration.

Planning and execution: Jumbo Fire Force (Figure 5)

Problems arising

Noise: The approach of ten Alouettes was a very noisy exercise. The two K-Cars would leave the G-Cars en route to the target and pull up a considerable distance ahead, relying on the fixed-wing strike to drive the enemy down prior to their arrival.

Escape Routes: It was seldom that a target had more than four or five escape routes. The allocation of one G-Car per escape route left three G-Cars without an immediate task; they would hold in orbit in an area close by for quick deployment as the situation developed.

Fuel: A Jumbo Fire Force consumed in excess of 2,500 litres of Jet A1 fuel per hour. More remote refuelling sites did not carry fuel for more than one refuel. Frequently the Paradak would carry fuel on its first sortie and drop it close to the contact area, then return for either parachutists or more fuel.

Command and control: The problems naturally mounted for not only was radio airtime on the command channel at a premium but it was not uncommon that two or even three contacts could be underway simultaneously, calling for careful allocation of priority resources.

Collision: The danger of mid-air collision was ever present and called for extraordinary vigilance by all aircrew. Vertical separation discipline was strictly enforced. Frequently, the K-Cars would not pull up when reaching the target, but immediately engage the enemy with heavy cannon fire, resulting in a barrage of small-arms fire and missiles in return. K-Cars involved in many actions were subjected to an extraordinary amount of enemy fire.

Other Targets: With the clustering of enemy groups in close proximity to each other, an action against one gang inevitably produced agitation amongst the others, with OPs regularly requesting Fire Force deployment on enemy only a few kilometres from the original target. These requests had to be balanced and an overall view taken. Frequently the available forces became split as one action wound down and another commenced. Two or even three targets were commonly engaged at one time. Generally speaking, the second and third actions in a series resulted in the deployment of the paras, giving rise to two or three drops by individuals in one day within a few hours of each other.



Reflections and legacy

The gain: The evolution of Fire Force as an infantry air-borne assault method and its widespread study by military academics and students in military learning institutions throughout the world bears testimony to its efficacy. However, the main lesson of Fire Force still probably has to be learned. Fire Force was the end product of a philosophy – a philosophy that ignored the inter-service rivalry, vested interests, convention, rank, petty rule books and personal agendas so prevalent in the behaviour of the modern military. Fire Force was a manifestation of an ethos that like-minded commanders of all ranks and of all arms needed to combine their considerate talents in a collective effort to constantly evaluate the battlefield, to be self-critical in all analyses, and to strive to work for the greater good.

The pain: The years 1975-1979 were the years of the RLI Fire Forces. Whilst much is made of the valour and achievements and of course the casualties, one thing was certain: no combatant of either side exposed to Fire Force action was left unscarred by the experience. Those who were left physically unscathed did not escape varying degrees of trauma which still stalks those veterans today. After 30 years, perhaps this is yet to be acknowledged. In 1978 Rhodesian society, which was overwhelmingly masculine in orientation, little was known of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and even if its presence had been acknowledged, it cannot be said that its recognition would have found universal acceptance then. Commanders, however, remained sensitive. RLI soldiers subjected to sustained bouts of conflict and battle stress often displayed classic symptoms: irrational behaviour, fits of temper, depression and moodiness, and sensitivity was needed in their handling. There were many such young men in the RLI who were managed with great skill by young troop NCOs and officers. PTSD then was simply another problem for leaders who had a great capacity for problem solving. A casualty list compiled today would include many of those who served in the Fire Forces, an experience that would determine the behavioural pattern of many young lives from that time onwards for the rest of their lives.

A final word

The years 1975-1979 were momentous – only five years, a short span in the telling of things military. They were the years when a bushfire insurgency became a vicious regional conflict. The years when a fine fighting regiment and wonderful aircrew revolutionized counter–insurgency air assault doctrine. The years when RLI Fire Forces brought a nation to the cusp of victory. The years to which men would later return and say: “Yes, who could forget those stirring times - the RLI Fire Force years - when the ‘Saints’ found immortality; the years when ‘The Saints went marching in ....’”

N D Henson
September 2010
Copyright vested in the Regimental Association of the Rhodesian Light Infantry.


By Clive Dredge

On Thursday, 29 September 1977, I was scheduled for an early break from the bush back to Salisbury for my engagement announcement and party. It was the only day the family could get together and Major N Henson, Officer Commanding (OC) Support Commando, kindly gave me leave. I was due to leave at 0900 hrs with a scheduled run to Salisbury but was called into the Operations Room before I could leave. The boss said he needed me desperately and please could I do this one call-out and he would ensure that I was in Salisbury that night. We were really short of guys as we only had three four-man sticks. Fire Force sticks were a maximum of four guys with kit as in those days that was a full load for an Alouette. We had no para backup but in the ops briefing the boss was quite happy as there was a full company of Rhodesian African Rifles (RAR) on the ground already.

All of our officers were on another op and Dog section (Mortar troop – Dog section tag is another story) and only a few other sticks were available. I was the senior sergeant on the ground and was I in for a crazy day.

The op briefing was short and sweet.
RAR are pinned down by a section of gooks and are in the shit. Get there asap and sort it out.

I must digress slightly here as I will try to explain communication from the ground to K- Car (gunship with OC directing ops). K-Car had a 20mm cannon and generally was the up-rated Alouette which could stay airborne for a lot longer than the G-Cars (troop carriers mounting a single or pair of .303 Browning machine-guns). The OC generally circled the contact scene and assessed the ground and then deployed his troops as either stop groups or assault groups. Generally this was passed on to the stick leader in the chopper so that he and his stick could hit the ground and know what to do and not jam up the airwaves with explanations.

The radios we had were excellent but you had to literally glue the phone-type handset to your ear to hear anything. With the K-Car circling above you it was often near impossible to hear what was going on. A few months before we did user trials on a single earpiece, throat mike and the press-to-talk button located in the pistol grip of the FN rifle connected to the radio by a cable. Fantastic idea except a throat mike is next to useless and no one can hear what you say. So I stripped the headset with a boom mike from the TR48 radio and adapted it to the headset. Hey presto, you could hear and be heard. With this modification I could hear exactly what was going on down on the ground even from inside the chopper. I had listened to the coms (communications) from the RAR as we were flying in and they really sounded down and out. The boss was battling to understand the guys on the ground and you could hear the frustration growing in his voice as were flying in.

Back to the contact.

The area was flat and open with rocky ‘gomos’ (granite outcrops or koppies). The RAR had surrounded the area and when we landed the RAR Company Sergeant Major (CSM) told us their officer had been shot and they couldn’t get to him. Russell Phillips and I with our respective sticks immediately ran up to the side of the outcrop. We came under heavy fire, and when I say heavy fire it was accurate and was intense. My guys just pumped the fire back into the cleft in the granite koppie with the MAG machine-gun barking a full belt at a time. We battled but eventually made the bottom of the koppie and climbed up to the cleft. We found Lt Jeremy Fisher in a really bad way outside of the cleft. He had a serious chest wound and was visibly fading. Russell and I grabbed him and hauled him back and down slightly about 10m behind a small ledge, while our sticks carried on pumping fire into the cleft/cave entrance. At this stage the boss was screaming for info and trying to find out what was going on. As I was the only one that could hear and see what was going on I had to try to co-ordinate what was happening on the ground as well as trying to prevent my head getting shot off. I organized the medic and tried to calm the RAR guys down. It was absolute mayhem with everybody trying to talk at the same time. The boss kept on shitting on us for not answering the radio – how the hell you talk on a radio when you are getting the shit shot out of you I never found out. Russell said to me “stuff this”, dropped his webbing and rifle and grabbed his 9mm Browning pistol and dived into the cave, shooting like an absolute master. That was the only time I heard a 9mm Browning sound like an Uzi submachine-gun on automatic. It seemed like every few seconds he called for another magazine which I had collected from my guys and tossed to him as needed. It sounds quick but we were in and out of that cave for over three hours trying to duck shots and ricochets. We ran out of 9mm ammo until the RAR guys came up with some. The gooks were below us in a cave below the main cave and shooting up a crevice which meant that most of the rounds were ricocheting all over the place. How we were never hit was unknown. I couldn’t go in with Russell as if I disconnected my FN from the radio there would be no coms and there was no way to swing an FN in that tight space. I stayed at the mouth of the cave and learned just how Jeremy got shot as when I stood there my shirt and webbing were drilled three times. Russell went deeper into the cave and after his eyes became accustomed to the dim light he dropped two gooks in the top cave and then we set about trying to get the others out from the cave below. We angled our rifles and shot down the cleft and then we tried to drop a grenade but it jammed halfway down the cleft and nearly took our heads off. This Mexican Stand-off went on for ages and as someone passed in front of the cleft the gooks shot at us. Things quietened down in the late afternoon and we suspected the gooks were running low on ammo or were wounded or hurting. An RAR sergeant was with us trying to talk the gooks out during the quiet phases but that didn’t work either.

Corporal Sandro Mazella, the troop medic, had been working on Jeremy for all this time with bullets and shrapnel flying all over the place. For the civvies reading this you must appreciate that the noise in a contact is unbelievable. You have three to four choppers circling overhead and with the firing and grenades you do not hear too well. We managed to cassevac Jeremy and continued into the late afternoon trying to winkle out the gooks but they were well ensconced in the caves.

It was getting close to last light and the boss told me that I would be picked up with the few RAR casualties and flown back to our base at Fort Victoria. I organized with the RAR CSM and my guys to pull back slightly and put in stop groups around the ‘gomo’ and to sit tight. We were trying to arrange some bunker bombs for the morning to ‘drop’ the cave. I left my stick with Russell and flew back to base where Maj Henson debriefed me on the situation and outlined the problems. He then seemed to appreciate the problems we had on the ground and what was involved. I drew him plans of the cave system as we could see it and what we needed to get the gooks out. The boss thanked me and we chatted for a bit (by now I had resigned myself to missing my engagement party).

To my surprise, I was taken as I stood to an Air Rhodesia Viscount at the main terminal and put on board by a lovely stewardess. (I had just spent seven hours in a contact – my face was smeared with camo cream, I was filthy and probably stank). The first thing she did was put an ice-cold Castle beer in my hand, this before even taking off. The looks I got from the other passengers were priceless. I was picked up at Salisbury Airport by the duty driver and was home and bathing by 1900 hrs.

When I got back to Fire Force three days later we had the opportunity of sitting down and discussing the contact. I think there were a total of five gooks dead, with at least two escaping that night through a crevice at the back of the koppie. Russell Phillips was put forward for a GCV and Sandro Mazella, the medic, for a BCR. The high-ups declined the GCV and awarded Russell an SCR. We found out why at the medal parade where Chris Schulenburg was awarded his GCV. All other acts of gallantry paled when compared to Schulie’s exploits. A living legend of a man.

Sadly –

Lt Jeremy Fisher passed away on the way to hospital.
Two gooks escaped that night and wounded an RAR rifleman.

Happily - I got engaged that night.

By Pete Cordyre

East Germans, Americans, Portuguese, English, Scots, French, South Africans, Red Indians, Poles, Swedes, and many other nationalities joined the ranks of The Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI) in Rhodesia. Spike Powell, a long serving RLI officer, suggested that there were as many as 38 different nationalities active in late 1978. Fewer perhaps than the Foreign Legion, however, the French had many years on the RLI to recruit from around the world, and in a contrastingly very short period many different brands of foreigner were recruited to, and fought in the ranks of the RLI side by side with Rhodesian nationals.

In the mid-70s recruiting documents for the Rhodesian Army were circulating among various units of the British forces, and probably considerably further afield. In Northern Ireland at the time, company and troop officers in the Marines were instructed to confiscate all and any application forms. The sympathies of a significant proportion of the British forces was with Rhodesia, and the government presumably felt that it was inappropriate for individuals to be in a position to make their own decisions to either stay in the service of HMG (Her Majesty’s Government), or to join the rebels in Rhodesia. Confiscate the forms, gentlemen, that’ll stop any revolutionary tendencies!
As a result a number of serving British officers found themselves with a recruiting form to hand. Believing that HMG was over thinking the issues involved and taking some liberties with freedom of choice, some of those serving personnel even filled in and sent off the application forms on their own behalf, risking careers in various British Government-sponsored occupations in the future. All sorts of doors were apparently firmly closed against participants who mostly couldn’t care less. Not a particularly difficult decision.
The pressure of sanctions and travel restrictions on Rhodesian citizens meant that the interview process was truncated to a point where recruitment could be a hit and miss affair, as was clear from the fact that Army HQ in Salisbury offered me a job by return. I think the system was that if you worked out, that was good, and if not you could just as easily be invited to leave. Not the most efficient method under normal circumstances, but the circumstances under which Rhodesia was striving to survive were far from ordinary. Recruits were needed, and some wastage was accepted as inevitable.
This meant that not everyone who turned up at Cranborne Barracks was necessarily a desirable character, and there was always a period of adjustment while the RLI decided whether or not the latest arrival was a good or a bad foreigner, judged on a scale of whether they were sane, whether they appeared to know what they were doing, and whether or not they got stuck in. The RLI was extraordinarily accepting of all the oddballs who turned up, and as long as the job got done, were broadminded about who they welcomed into the unit. As Spike Powell commented, once you were accepted that was it, you were on board. Acceptance was the critical issue.
There is a framework within operational units in the military, regular or irregular, which has a strict hierarchy, and it has little to do with social standing, accent, education, or who your father might have worked for. It has more to do with confidence that the man next to you will do what is necessary at the time things start to go wrong, and is unlikely to turn down the opportunity to share a bitterly-cold beer with you after the event. These are basic survival tendencies, and the judgment of the ouens tended to come down to whether or not the guys (and Dawn if you happened to find yourself in 1 Commando) you were working with felt you were OK or not. Subjective judgments rule, and have generally proved enduring, with graduates from the RLI encountered as friends and comrades in many interesting theatres of operations for years after Rhodesia was rebranded as Zimbabwe. That said, there were divisions within the RLI which were kept away from the field, but which were there nonetheless.
There were some significant differences between the native born Rhodesians in the Army, and the foreign imports, no matter the similarities of language, attitude, alcohol tolerance, military training, and general military skills, and these were based, at least partly, in a compassion evident in the dealings of the Rhodesians with the insurgents and terrorists who were being combated.
This was a war in which one group of Rhodesians, one group of Africans, fought another. And in a situation where the foreign elements would take a pragmatic view in a contact situation and operate on the principle that the only good terrorist was a dead one, on many occasions Rhodesians put their own lives at risk in order to offer quarter to the terrorists who were encountered. This cultural curiosity was evident from top to bottom of the rank structure, certainly in the RLI, and probably throughout the army.
From the top of RLI, from comments made by Colonel Rich about the approach of the foreigners to the terrorists, to the corporal who repeatedly risked his life to persuade a terrorist trapped in a hole in a river bank to surrender, to the troopie who expressed outrage at what he regarded as an unnecessarily ruthless approach to clearing the contact area, it was apparent that the Rhodesians were not embarked upon a cleansing of their country, but were reluctantly pursuing a war against people they regarded as fellow Africans. This conflicted with what the foreigners had arrived for. They were mainly in Rhodesia because there was a good punch-up to be had, and it was David against Goliath. To hell with Goliath!
The conflict presented in that light appears as a civil war for the Rhodesians, while for the foreigners it was just another war. So for us as foreigners it was rarely as painful to be involved in a contact with terrorists, as it may have been for the Rhodesians, who, as well as seeing their homes threatened, and in many cases damaged and destroyed, were seeing this inflicted by their fellow Africans, and were in their turn inflicting and receiving casualties in the course of a war within and against their own communities. So a sense of place and justice motivated many Rhodesians in RLI, while a sense of adventure, occasional irresponsibility, and a belief that contacts were the most fun you could have with your clothes on tended to be the driver for the foreigners.
Full credit to the Rhodesians for putting up with us. We came and went because we could, while they were trapped in a conflict over which they had little control. And in large numbers they stayed on after the war closed its doors, and worked hard to make a go of their lives in the new Zimbabwe.
For us outsiders, Rhodesia was a good war, and RLI a great environment. The regiment deployed excellent innovative and flexible small unit tactics in the K-Car and para concepts, with small battles at close quarters, and decisive contacts, with good friends and companions at hand when the day finished. Then at the end of the war we mostly moved on. Some stayed behind either dead or alive, but mostly we moved on. The Rhodesians, having fought a tough civil war, mostly stayed put and made new lives in their own country. Some had the taste for either conflict or the pay and moved occasionally to other operational areas around the world, but most maintained a base at home in Zim.
Ultimately the war was lost by the UDI government, and lives were lost, as in any conflict, which may not have been sacrificed if the war had been avoided. There’s not a lot wrong with dying young, the dead certainly don’t have the opportunity to regret it, only those left behind do that. But the enduring lesson might be that a sense of place and belonging in any conflict can lead to some extraordinarily brave and humane actions on the part of the, allegedly brutal, home-grown soldiery. Whereas the outsiders just fought as required and had few connections with a country on which they left few marks, there was a clear commitment and humanity in the approach of the natives.
Making up the numbers with externally sourced troops, fighting for money or adventure, has been a traditional military tactic through the ages, and in Rhodesia it may have helped briefly, but it failed to stave off the inevitable. History was against that particular fight.
Those of us foreigners privileged to work with the Rhodesians in their war left with a great respect for our companions, and with memories both good and bad. We can be imprinted on to any conflict anywhere, so we are a common commodity. The Rhodesians were different, they belonged. The most effective weapons deployed by the Rhodesians were their humour, their compassion, and their sense of belonging to Africa. Wherever they are now they still belong to Africa in general, and to Rhodesia in particular. Should I say Zimbabwe? What’s in a name.

Africa’s commandos: insights into a massive project


I trust that the preceding articles, a good representation of what is in book, provide you an awareness of the scope and nature of the publication.

The content is however, only one good reason for purchasing the book. As I indicated earlier, by acquiring a copy each purchaser will directly contribute to the welfare of ex-service men and women.

Over a number of years now, many ex-RLI members have individually and collectively taken care, as far as they could and can, of their own. These efforts are clearly welcome and laudable.

As years go by, more and more of colleagues are entering phases in their lives where hardship is becoming the norm. Whilst it is important to reflect on the past, it is also important to look to the future and put in place support structures for our aging friends.

Whilst some of us live in countries where there are social welfare systems in place, many of our colleagues are not in such a fortunate position. Having chatted to Bill

Wiggill many times on this topic, it is clear that the RLIRA takes the welfare of its members very seriously, and sees this as its most pressing and most important project. .

This section of the magazine is devoted to explaining the book’s rationale and by that hopefully, outlining the sentiment of the RLIRA’s welfare goals.

Interview with Bill Wiggill

Circa 1975

In May I had the opportunity, whilst on a business trip, to spend a few hours with Bill Wiggill in Johannesburg.

The following notes, illustrate his and the RLIRA’s commitment, not only to the book project but to the cause of enhancing the lives and well-being of our colleagues.

By publishing this interview I hope it illustrates that by purchasing the book you will be helping significantly in achieving this aim.

  1. It would be great if you could give our readers some idea as to why the RLIRA has commissioned this book.

    The Association has traveled some distance since 1980, especially in the last five years. Branches are firmly established now in Europe, Australasia and in Africa.

    A magnificent museum is in place in the United Kingdom; our place in history is very well recorded in “The Saints” publication by Alex Binda and Chris Cocks.

    A review of the published material, however, showed that there was a ‘gap’. Whilst factually correct and with a number of anecdotes the range of materials, in our view, lacked what may best be described as the soldier’s voice.

    There was definite opportunity to follow on ‘the Saints’ with another book. This time with the men from the Regiment actually being the authors and people directly involved submitting their own photographs. In such an endeavor, we hoped to covey the character of the unit, which was potentially, not self-evident in other publications.

    The book titled ‘Africa’s Commandos would also appeal to a wider base of readers and to military historians. With Chris Cocks vast experience in publishing military books and being a member of the Regiment we knew we were in good hands.

    Mark Adams, ex 3 Commando, readily took up the challenge to drive the project and has done an incredible job. The members of the Association and other readers of this book will not be disappointed and will in the fullness of time owe these men a debt of gratitude.
  2. Whilst being self funded, which in itself has challenges, hopefully it will be a profitable venture. Could you provide some detail on the objectives and an indication of what will be done with the proceeds?

    The main aim in publishing the Africa’s Commandos was twofold: I would like to ask that everyone who can:
    • In the first instance I felt that the history of the RLI should be reinforced by what the men themselves have to say, and secondly
    • That we needed, urgently, to make provision for those of our own who fall and have fallen on hard times.

    As to the second aim, specifically, not only is there a clear commitment in the RLIRA’s constitution to help fellow members but also our members feel strongly that we have moral obligation to help wherever we can. Over time, many have expressed the concern that whilst they can contribute, the quantum they could provide was so small as to make it somewhat irrelevant.

    It became very clear that we needed was a vehicle to channel, what amounts to relatively small individual contributions of money, into a collective ‘pool’ which could used efficiently and effectively. We were also very keen to ensure that any endeavor was not a charity but that people who contributed would receive a direct benefit for their contribution.

    The publication of a book met all these criteria but of course, it needed to have compelling, not seen before, well presented content.

    Whilst our major concern is the African contingent of ex RLI members, given they do not have the advantage of a national health system and livable unemployment benefits, we have in our distribution cost structure provided for a sizable ‘commission’ for our branches in the UK and Australia, which they can utilise for their own members’ benefit, as they see fit.

    To orchestrate the most appropriate use of the funds raised the RLIRA will channel the proceeds to the Combined Forces Welfare Trust; a trust specifically and legally constituted to undertake this task.
  3. Could you tell us about the ‘Trust’ and how it benefits the RLI community?

    We realised that if we were to provide meaningful assistance to our comrades any benefit we could provide would need to be sustained over an extended period.

    As we all know there is strength in numbers and in our assessment the best way to ensure a sustained benefit flow was to partner with the other ex Rhodesian military regimental associations. Inevitably this would allow for efficient management resource utilization.

    There is also the issue of legal standing and by joining a trust, we are part of a body legally constituted to provide for disbursement of funds and entitled a preferential tax status

    To this end we have now achieved this goal save for the legalisation which will soon be completed. The associations of the BSAP, RhAF, RLI, SAS and the Selous Scouts are now represented and each has a member on the Board of Trustees.

    The chairmanship of the Trust governing board will rotate each year. The members of the RLI community now have a structure in place whereby they can seek relief from their plight and will be afforded equal support as will any member from the representative membership of the associations. It is envisaged that support can take many forms from helping in seeking employment, housing, counseling, debt management to financial assistance.
  4. Everyday we hear about a number of our colleagues who are suffering and or struggling. At the end of this project, how much do you think the RLIRA will contribute and how will the money be used to help those most in need?

    Our planning shows that, depending on sales and after all costs, we will raise between (Z A) R 350 000.00 to R 500,000. To do this we will need to sell 2000 books.

    As far as benefits are concerned, the Board of Trustees will assess all applications and determine the degree and nature of aid that the individual or family should receive.

    We will be advising members of the access process, in due course.
  5. We understand that you wish to give Lord Salisbury the first copy of the limited edition, could you tell the readers of the relationship between his family and the RLI.

    Yes, Lord Salisbury is an uncle of Lord Richard Cecil who was covering the Rhodesian war as a photo journalist and was killed while with a RLI Fireforce stick during a contact with guerillas on 20th April 1978.

    Lord Richard was a Sandhurst graduate and a soldier before branching into journalism.

    The Salisbury family have very strong ties to old Rhodesia and the then capital city bears their name. Lord Salisbury himself is a longstanding supporter of the RLI Association.

    The Troopie statue stands in its glory on his premises; by his good grace, our original consecrated Colours are preserved in Lord Salisbury’s private chapel at Hatfield House. I feel it is only fitting that we give him a suitable gift for his kindnesses towards us.
  6. As you indicated previously, in distributing the book there is a healthy margin for overseas branches in selling the book. What would the RLIRA like to see the branches do with their profits?
    As I see it, there remain two permanent RLI Association structures that branches need to support.
    • Firstly we need to assist as far as we can, in meeting of the needs of our own, and
    • The preservation of the museum, or at least the RLI part of what has grown into an extensive military collection representing most of the arms of the ex-Rhodesian forces.

    There are costs involved in the upkeep of the museum and Martyn Hudson and Shaun Ryan have dipped deep into their own pockets to develop the collection and this cannot be sustainable for any foreseeable future.

    So branches need to be wise with the profits they make from the publication. Perhaps in the future there will be a link between the Combined Forces Welfare Trust and the RLI and other Forces Military Collection (museum)?

    Of course we would like to see the branches continuing to hold an annual RLI reunion close to the Regimental birthday date as possible and some financial provision needs to be made for this.
  7. Does the RLIRA intend to sell the book to other ex Rhodesians and other interested parties? When do you see the book going to this wider audience?

    To meet the goal of selling 2,000 copies, which ensures a healthy contribution to the trust, the book will need to be sold to a wide audience.

    Clearly, there is a big financial upside if we can extend the book into a second print run.

    In my view, the book is a must for serious military history buffs so with some good-targeted marketing we hope to secure sales in as many other groups as possible
  8. Bill, could you explain the reason for pre-sales and pre-payments.

    As everyone will be aware, this is a self-funded project and the project itself needs to pay its way.

    Whilst printers and the like have given us very generous discounts and payment terms, we still need to make up-front payments for important services and materials. We have the added pressure that we cannot use and do not have overdraft facilities.

    Our pre-order and payment strategy ensures this project does fall into a negative cash flow position.
  9. Aside from the obvious (purchase the book!) is there anything our members could do to help?
    I would like to ask that everyone who can:
    • Purchases a copy and registers their orders as soon as they can
    • That when, in August, the books are delivered to their cities of residence that they help one another to collect (as you can appreciate postal costs are significant)
    • Promote the book to their friends and to people who they know who would be interested. Please assist them in placing orders

    In other words, please help with the PPCP plan:
    • Purchase
    • Pay
    • Collect
    • Promote

Acquiring the book ‘Africa’s Commandos’


We have taken the advice of others, who have published recently, and have elected to sell directly the first run of 2000 copies. As a consequence the book, initially anyway, will not be available via bookshops and on-line.

Once sales have broken even and carry no debt, we may in a position to develop these other avenues

The person responsible for sales and distribution is Mark Adams and the text below will provide you with the necessary detail on how to acquire the book, make payment and when you can expect your copy to arrive.

Cover options
We have taken the advice of others, who have published recently, and have elected to sell directly the first run of 2000 copies. As a consequence the book, initially anyway, will not be available via bookshops and on-line.

Once sales have broken even and carry no debt, we may in a position to develop these other avenues

The person responsible for sales and distribution is Mark Adams and the text below will provide you with the necessary detail on how to acquire the book, make payment and when you can expect your copy to arrive.

Cover options
There are three options available, each with identical content; soft and hard paper cover options and leather bound version, numbered with RLI badge embossing. There are only 120 copies of the latter version and there will be no re-runs of this option


Please send an email either to: Mark Adams directly (preferable option) at  or to the RLIRA at 


Mark will advise you of bank account detail to which payment can be made and you will be advised of the receipt of the funds.


For all orders received and payments made before end July

The soft and hard copy editions will be forwarded for collection by mid August, with the leather bound versions being available at the end of August 2012.

For people ordering and paying thereafter books will be forwarded with 5 days of funds being received.

Branch administration

Chairmen please make contact with Mark, at email above, to discuss commissions, delivery and payment arrangements.
There are three options available, each with identical content; soft and hard paper cover options and leather bound version, numbered with RLI badge embossing. There are only 120 copies of the latter version and there will be no re-runs of this option


Please send an email either to: Mark Adams directly (preferable option) at or to the RLIRA at


Mark will advise you of bank account detail to which payment can be made and you will be advised of the receipt of the funds.


For all orders received and payments made before end July

The soft and hard copy editions will be forwarded for collection by mid August, with the leather bound versions being available at the end of August 2012.

For people ordering and paying thereafter books will be forwarded with 5 days of funds being received.

Branch administration

Chairmen please make contact with Mark, at email above, to discuss commissions, delivery and payment arrangements.


Regional Round-up


Following the 49th Birthday reunion in Durban and the 50th Jubilee celebration in Johannesburg last year it became Cape Town’s turn to sound the ‘fall in’ and ‘march on the Colours’ in honour of the Battalion .

With support from Bill Wiggill and his SA Branch Committee the Cape members formed a Planning Team to arrange several functions to take place over the weekend of 2/3/4 March 2012 – which was the closest date to 1 February (RLI Birthday) that could be arranged.

Timour Hall Villa – a 200 year old Cape Heritage Site - was chosen as the venue for an informal evening on Friday, and the Drumhead Service followed by a formal dinner on Saturday late afternoon into evening.

This is also the site of the BSAP Association and the bar prides itself in having (amongst many others) all the RLI plaques.

The Cape Field Artillery Band provided a piper – in full ceremonial kit – to pipe the ouens in at 17h30 on Friday night. A CD of the Rhodesian Corp of Signals Band and RAR Regimental Band provided military marches in the background while RLI memorabilia and Boerie Rolls were available for the manne.

About 80 folk attended at various times throughout the night and amongst them were guests from the BSAP, the RhAF, SAS, Scouts, SA Para Bn, Cape Town Rifles and the MOTHS.

Really pleasing was the fact that there were RLI members from all over SA in attendance plus ouens from Botswana and, several, from the UK – which is one heck of a long way to come for a glass of red wine – but we truly appreciated the effort, the expenditure and most of all, the spirit of the tartan green .

Padre Bill Dodgen and RSM Robin Tarr, together with three former Adjutants – Leon Jacobs, Dick Lockley and Rick van Malsen were seen to be imbibing but they were kept in good order and military discipline by all the OR’s in attendance.

A Drumhead Service to honor the Regiments KIA and those who died in service (a total of 134 RLI soldiers) was held at Timour Hall Gardens on Saturday afternoon.

The Colours were “trooped” though the congregation (62 attendees) and were draped over the drums which were provided by the Cape Field Artillery Band. To their credit they had volunteered their entire band of 25 members to honour the RLI fallen but, in the event, we requested that only four bandsmen attend – a piper, two drummers and a bugler. The bugler played “Fall In”, “Last Post” and “Reveille”. The Pipe and Drums played the Colour Party on and off parade to the Regimental March “The Saints” and “Auld Lang Synge”.

Padre Bill Dodgen gave a sincere, meaningful and heartfelt address based on the message “look after the man in front of you (in the Para–Dak ) and the man behind you will look after you” signifying how we should continue to try to stay in contact with one another even though it is 51 years hence.

John Norman (1 Cdo/3 Cdo) gave the “Reflection” during the Service and John van Zyl (3 Cdo) gave the Scripture Reading.

Tom Bickford from the Male Welsh Choir (and member of PATU) sang a solo of the hauntingly beautiful ”RLI Lament” and the piper played bagpipe laments throughout the reading of the RLI Roll of Honour by Robin Tarr (1 Cdo CSM / 1RLI RSM).

Leon Jacobs (Adjt/OC 2 Cdo) laid a wreath in honour of the Rh Army fallen; Dick Lockley (Adjt/OC 1 Cdo) laid a wreath in honour of the RLI fallen; Martyn Hudson (2 Cdo/Combined Services Assoc) laid a wreath in honour of the Combined Services fallen.

Pic – of Martyn Hudson laying wreath

Sandy Miller (1 Cdo/2 Cdo CSM) was MC for the Service and coordinator of ‘things various’ and the Colour Party comprised Don Price
(3 Cdo), Trevor DesFountain (1 Cdo/ 3 Cdo) and Robin Tarr (1 Cdo/Bn HQ)

The Drumhead Service was followed by drinks at Timour Hall and the formal dinner in the Function Room adjacent to the BSAP club.

68 RLI members and 4 guests were seated at the Formal Dinner and were ‘piped’ to their seats by Andrew Imrie of the Cape Field Artillery Band.

Mark Adams (3 Cdo) who has undertaken the enormous task of compiling the new RLI Book gave the Toast to the Regiment and with the seemingly inexhaustible fund of knowledge that he has amassed about the Regiment he was able to deliver an address that went to the very core of the Battalion – the fibre of its being.

Mark started with the old guard, who laid the foundation of the RLI spirit in the early to mid sixties, then the middle years of ’66-’74, then the latter years of ’75 onwards. His address reminded us all of how the battalion was formed – changed – matured, and ended.

Tom Bickford sang a very moving solo rendition of “The Tartan Green” and after dinner Robin Tarr showed a film of the 1970 “Trooping the Colour Parade” with the entire Battalion on parade which clearly displayed that the ouens could drill as magnificently as they could fight.

Maurice Gabriel (2 Cdo) had designed a wine bottle label depicting all the RLI Commando badges together with a magnificent pewter RLI crest which was affixed to a bottle of Merlot wine. Sales of this collector’s item were generated in Cpt, Jhb and Dbn with proceeds going to the RLI RA funds.

At the formal dinner each attendee was provided with a wine glass (with the RLI crest superimposed on it), a mini T–shirt with each members Cdo badge printed on it , a dinner place mat depicting a variety of RLI images (including a Fire Force and Contact Report Aide-Memoir) and a Menu Card which had the RLI crest inside a map of Rhodesia on the front and the Regimental Colours on the back.

The dinner ended with a raffle draw comprising eight, significant, prizes which had been generously donated by various members.

The piper piped the last call signs out in the very early hours of the morning - Steve Cary (2Cdo/Sp Cdo) carried out a clearance patrol and reported that all tracks had bomb shelled and no casualties were found ……..

Sunday morning saw 44 members gather at The Dukes Officers Mess inside the Cape of Good Hope Military Castle for drinks (at Mess prices) and lunch which was a Dennis Croukamp (1 Cdo/3 Cdo) “special” comprising his nationally renowned Oxtail and Sadza with red wine sauce .

The venue was historically and militarily magnificent! With Table Bay on the port side, and Table Mountain on the sherry side, we settled down to our sadza amidst the glittering Mess Silver - whilst tasting the finest ‘grape’ products the Cape can offer!

A fitting and memorable way to end our 51st Reunion weekend .

Steve Ingram (2 Cdo) and John van Zyl (3 Cdo) were the major photographic contributors and we are grateful to them for their time, skill and efforts.

A final word - every person, company or organization that the Planning Committee came into contact with, ALL said the same or similar words: “It is a privilege to support the RLI- it has a reputation second to none!”

It was the Cape’s privilege to host the SA Branch 51st Reunion and we thank those who were able to join us in continuing the ésprit de corps and for creating new memories.

May the Saints go marching on! Trevor Des Fountain


ANZAC day Parade: April 25th : Canberra

We had a wonderful ANZAC meeting of the RLI. We deeply missed our other members and our friends who had the parade in Coolum and hope they had a great success.

I have attached Diggers letter to us below and can only say we are eternally grateful to him and Sue for their commitment to this success.

Aside from the participating the in march the Australia branch had a great dinner with march General Clunies Ross as our guest speaker. He gave a most interesting talk and enhanced our understanding and relevance of the ANZAC spirit.

We would like to thank Shaun and Annette Ryan who kindly donated us our own unconsecrated colours, which will now be with us on all official occasions.

Our colleagues overseas maybe interested to know that directly after the parade, the Zimbabwe Ambassador, to Australia Jacqueline Zwambila came up and chatted to us for quite a while. She is a member of the MDC and it was great to chat to her. I am sure the prospect of her meeting up with us must have been daunting for her; we are glad she did as we all got on remarkably well.

Branch news

By the time you read this we would have elected our new Chairman and Secretary and we all remain committed to achieving unity in the Australian group.

This branch grows steadily in numbers. Of interest, within our membership, we now have the 3 Swan brothers, all who served in the RLI from 1976 to the final parade, being Jimmy, Reg and Mark.(marched in the final)

Letter from Brig Digger Essex - Clark.

“Dear Jimmy and Richard, and all our stalwarts who were together in Canberra.

I hope you all got home safely after those two splendid days that Susan and I spent with The RLIRA Australian stalwarts.

I don’t think you’ll ever realise or understand to what a fabulous extent my morale was lifted by those two emotive days.

As a stale retired old military curmudgeon, you Jimmy and you Richard, and your magnificent team of stalwarts who came to our reunion made 2012 a significant and very special year in my life. For this I warmly thank you both, and also those incredible stalwarts for their heart-warming friendship, generosity, and moving spirit of the Old RLI and ‘Old Rhodesia’. I must also thank Shaun and Annette for being here and bringing those superb Colours. Jimmy and Richard, mates, what an unforgettable reunion you organised for us!

Susan and I thoroughly enjoyed our Reunion Dinner as did our guest Adrian Clunies-Ross who was most impressed by you all. I apologise for showing a little too much emotion in my ‘tribute’ to the RLI and its KIA and those who died on operations, to which I always also add the best junior officer I ever had: David Parker. (Who was not serving in the battalion at the time).

Susan, again saw with warmth the emotional spirit of the best of those who served in our battalion whom could afford the time and costs to make it to our Canberra reunion. She, as were all those who knew my soul relationship with the RLI praised highly our contingent that marched past them to represent, not only the RLI, but subliminally, the spirit of ‘Old Rhodesia’. There were many tears from those that knew ‘Old Rhodesia’ as you marched so proudly by them.

All those of the RAR Association who hosted us at the Mercure following the March; commented about what a ‘great and energising bunch’ you were. Their President Brigadier Damien Roche said he spoke for the whole Royal Australian Regiment (RAR) Association throughout every state, city, and town in Australia when he also told me that the legal RLIRA or the RLIANZ are always welcome at any time, for any event in which the RAR Association as involved. They see us simply as well-blooded and most capable fellow Infantrymen who fought with distinction and courage for a great and worthy cause: 'Brothers in Arms'.

By becoming a distinct sub-branch of the ACT Branch of the RSL of Australia, we also cemented our relationship with the spirit of all Australian Ex-servicemen and women and now become part of the Australian Culture and Anzac lore.. The more members who can afford to join us, the stronger that bond will become. While saying this I must also praise Mickey Michaelis for his work to involve us with the RSL and presenting us with that splendid and proud banner, and in addition, for his entertaining and useful talk and card tricks at the dinner,.

I also think that the spirited welcome given to us by an excited Ndebele Zimbabwe Ambassador, and supporter of Morgan Tsvangarai ,as you came off the bleachers ,was the icing on the cake for us all.

Well done, you Incredible Stalwarts, what a grand example you set for all of us, and:

Take care, all of you and I give Susan's and my warmest and very best wishes and hopes for good health for all of you and your loved ones”

'The Saints go marching on!'

In Memoriam

It is with regret and sadness that we said goodbye to a number of colleagues and friends over the last 6 months. Our sympathies go their families

Terry Kotze

Mervyn Kluckow

Pete de Villiers

Pieter Opperman

Leon Du Rand

Roger Blain

John Ventouris

Cliff Griffiths