B Troop ARU
In September 1977 the government decided that as the war was deteriorating it was necessary to establish more specialist units within Intaf to deal with the situation. The best men from the various D.Cs stations were put through a selection process and these few good men formed the eight ARUs to be trained up and deployed in the more remote areas where the administration of the country had been totally taken over by the guerrillas. A truly voluntary system that was necessary in view of the intended and somewhat dangerous application of the Troops in the future. One could imagine that the deployment in such areas was not going to be easy. Once the troops had been selected and appointed a rigorous training program was designed and conducted at Chikurubi Training Centre.
The new concept had been planned for INTAF in its paramilitary role and got off the ground with speed. The powers that be decided to establish Administration Restoration / Re-enforcement Units (ARUs) for each of the provinces. The implication of this was that eight units were to be established. Each unit was to be stationed in the central area of the province and operate from there. However the units were to be able to operate anywhere in the country if needed. A specific base was to be identified for each and then the establishment process would begin. Each unit was to be known as a Troop. Dudley Wall was appointed as the commander of B Troop ARU. B Troop was the Mashonaland East province Troop and was given their own base on the outskirts of Mtoko at the old vacated Mutemwa Leper Colony clinic. It was a great place despite the fact that the leper colony was still in existence. From a security point of view one had to drive through the leper colony to get to the base and nobody would really want to do that. The base had its own parade ground and there were well-constructed quarters for the single chaps as well as a limited amount of accommodation for married men. An ops room was established and the Unit Commander had his own sleeping quarters in the main building. The Troop was allocated its own vehicles. The Unit Commander was fortunate enough to have a troop sergeant major as a second in command to begin with. He had been in the RAR prior to joining Intaf at Mtoko and was a soldier of the highest calibre. An officer was allocated later as more national servicemen were trained.
The training process started by way of each of the commanders of the ARU Troops attending further training at Llewellin Barracks in Bulawayo. The course was a combined army and INTAF course run by an ex British army officer who was now a major in the RLI. Field craft, battle drills, weapon craft and how to set up intensive and practical infantry training programs was taught.
On return to Chikurubi the Troops conducted an intensive high standard training course for the Das who were to join the ARUs. To keep the men of B Troop in trim the Unit Commander took them on route marches in and around Chikurubi (literally!). To develop esprit de corps a Troop flag was developed. It had the letters VARUME in black on a red background. The letters when put together meant “men” in Shona. The letters stood for Volunteer Admin Reinforcement Unit Mashonaland East. B Troop often route marched with D Troop. Once training was completed the Troops deployed to their respective provinces. A deployment pattern of six full weeks patrol and one week off was introduced. The one-week off period allowed the men to go home to families and to rest. Retraining also took place during every week off for a day or two to ensure a high standard of combat readiness.
On returning from leave B Troop did some pre deployment training and was deployed along the main Salisbury Nyamapanda road to Mozambique to conduct roadblocks. A recce of the road was conducted and priorities were determined. The Troop started in the vicinity of Mrewa and many busses and cars were searched. Emphasis was now shifted further to the northeast and then B Troop redeployed to Mrewa. B Troop’s Tac H Q was set up on an open field near the country club. Across the way was the local Guard Force Base and the BSAP station. The positions of the roadblocks were often moved to maintain surprise.
On an afternoon in November 1977 a drunken villager sped through one of the roadblocks in Peugeot pick up van. He had his wife or girlfriend sitting next to him. He blatantly ignored the waving and yelling of the men manning the roadblock and nearly knocked them over. The DA who had nearly been run over fired a
warning shot with his rifle that was also ignored. He then fired one round into the vehicle and it came to a halt.
As this happened the roadblock commander radioed the Unit Commander who arrived on the scene to find that the woman passenger had been hit in the upper back. The round had gone right through her body and had exited through her breast. The driver was slapping her about in a vain effort to try and get her to respond. He was so drunk that he did not realise that she was badly injured. The woman was removed from the van and was placed on the ground where first aid was rendered. She was in a bad way and was gently lifted into the back of the Troop Land Rover and driven quickly to the nearby clinic. On arrival the clinic staff came to her assistance but it was too late and she died.
The incident report was completed and by late afternoon the unit returned to the Tac HQ situated in the grounds of the local country club. The rest of the chaps returned and as they did not work that night; settled down to a meal around a campfire. The DA who had shot the woman at the roadblock was sitting next to the Unit Commander. The communal pot of sadza was slowly being emptied. As the Unit Commander was about to take a bit out of the pot the sharp shooter next to him suddenly collapsed on the ground and started to writhe around in an uncontrollable manner. The Troop sergeant major told the Unit Commander that he had gone into trance and suggested that he reach over and take his rifle away, which the Unit Commander did. Some of the other men then gathered around him and attempted to calm him down. He eventually came to and was put into his sleeping bag. The sergeant major then explained that he had been affected by the shooting of the woman. It appeared that his ancestors were hunters and the incident triggered off some long forgotten skills of marksmanship. The ancestral spirit had now possessed him and it was necessary for the chap to go off on leave to conduct a special ceremony at his home in order to appease the spirit and allow it to become an accepted part of him as it had now indicated that this was the surviving relative where he wanted to live! The Unit Commander arranged for him to take two weeks leave and that he did.
On return he reported that the ceremony had been completed and that all was well. As a result on return from the deployment this man’s marksmanship abilities on the range had improved no end! The roadblock stint ended two weeks later.
Out of necessity B Troop deployed to the Belingwe district with C, D and E troops as there had been several incidents and the security situation was deteriorating. B Troop stopped for a break at Fort Victoria at the forces canteen. Fort Victoria was a military town and was home to the 2nd Battalion RAR and the forces canteen was run by ladies of the Women’s Association. It made a big difference to know that a member of the forces could stop and get good food cheap when moving on redeployment.
The last leg of the journey was via Shabani and onto Belingwe. Belingwe is a mining village situated south of Shabani between Bulawayo and Fort Victoria. B Troop reported to the D.Cs station and joined up with D Troop. C Troop arrived two days later. A briefing was given and maps of the area were issued and studied. The commander of D Troop, Charles Hosking, and his men were deployed with one of the Matabeleland Troops. Unit Commander Bryn Price of C Troop and B Troop were to operate together.
It was the rainy season in Rhodesia the high rainfall hampered operations. B Troop was deployed to Buchwa Mine and patrolled in that area. A few days later B Troop redeployed to Mataga base camp; another mine several kilometres to the west. Here B Troop patrolled in conjunction with a company of 9th Bn Rhodesia Regt (9RR). They had been quite successful just before B Troop arrived and had killed five guerrillas in a contact. B Troop was ordered to conduct a “body display” patrol. This entailed taking the bodies of the terrorists around and showing them off to the local villagers to show the successes of the security forces and more importantly, to try and get a reaction from them. Those who reacted would be questioned and any new information followed up.
B Troop continued its patrols and the rain never stopped. On one day alone B Troop had to dig their vehicles out of the mud five or six times just on the main gravel roads! The very next day the digging procedure took place eight times. Shortly afterwards a BSAP patrol got ambushed twice in one day. One of their members was wounded. 9 RR followed up and killed two of the ambushers and wounded another one.
Belingwe temporary base. After a rain storm. George Mupambwa in red vest.
Another contact with a guerrilla gang resulted in the death of one of them. The individual concerned had his identity document on him. From this document the Unit Commander now knew precisely who he was (David) and where he came from. When B Troop arrived at the terrorists’ village the Unit Commander stopped a hundred metres away and having completed an all-round defence of the place, approached the huts. The Unit Commander asked the people of the village when last they had seen David. His mother was present and told the Unit Commander that David was working at the nearby school as a tractor driver. She had seen him only that morning. Obviously this was a lie because David had been shot in the ambush the day before. The Unit Commander told David’s mother to go to the Land Rover and check in the back. She looked at David’s face as she opened the body bag and without any emotion whatsoever stated that the body was of her son. The villagers then knew that terrorism did not pay!
The 9RR company B Troop were operating with, shot another guerrilla, and hung his body up in a tree on top of a kopje situated on a very active infiltration route just as a reminder of what they could expect. It is unknown if it had an effect but the fact of the matter was that all of a sudden the area quietened down. The Unit Commander informed the major in charge of the 9 RR Company that B Troop was to redeploy the outskirts of Buchwa. A redeployment to a farm being guarded by an Australian civilian mercenary type and a few troops of the RAR was conducted in order to gain better coverage of the area. During the period of a week three army patrols were ambushed and one civvie detonated a landmine and was killed. Another contact took place with 9 RR a few days later and five guerrillas were killed. Eventually B Troop was withdrawn and returned to Mtoko.
Much guerrilla activity had been taking place in Mudzi and B Troop deployed to Shinga. A Protected Village had been constructed there but had been attacked a number of times. Consequently many of the local people had fled and were living in the bush. B Troop was tasked to ensure their safe return. The Unit Commander conducted a recce of the area and picked up twelve villagers. A plan was drawn up and for a few days B Troop patrolled on foot in the vicinity of Tirihumwe village. Once this area had been covered the Unit Commander then deployed sticks of four men in various places in the area of Chota village. B Troop patrolled Chota area in the hopes of making contact with the enemy and this hope was eventually fulfilled. Contact was made with a group of approximately ten guerrillas. They returned fire with mortars, machine gun and small arms fire. The contact was broken off as the guerrillas decided that discretion was the better part of valour. They bombshelled in various directions and disappeared, making efforts to follow them up more difficult. On the same day an ADF vehicle detonated a landmine and two men were injured.
B Troop was then given orders to deploy to Mrewa for a few days to conduct roadblocks. From there a re-deployment found B Troop in Makaya on another guerrilla hunting trip. An off duty Guard Force lad was shot and badly wounded by the gang of guerrillas operating in the vicinity. B Troop got to him in time and the Troop medic, an ex KAR soldier bandaged him up and got a drip going but to no avail and he died. B Troop was then withdrawn. The Unit Commander gave the Troop a weekend pass and B Troop returned to Shinga in Mudzi district on orders to round up the people who had not yet moved into the local Protected village.
The policy may have been harsh but it worked. When patrols of B Troop found people they were brought back to the protected village and their huts burned down. This irritated the guerrillas as they were now being deprived of their logistics. This exercise lasted for a few days and then the Unit Commander decided to operate in a different sector of Shinga. The local villagers under close supervision of the gang of guerrillas had blocked off the main Shinga road with tree trunks, branches and furrows dug in the road. B Troop cleared the road.
B Troop set off on another patrol, setting off by vehicle and proceeded on a winding track flanked by granite kopjes and thick bush. The Unit Commander was driving the lead armoured Puma truck when he was forced to slow down to get over a flat granite rock outcrop on the surface of the road. As the lead vehicle passed an anti-tank landmine was detonated electrically right in front of it by a terrorist laying in the thick bush next to the road. The enemy then opened fire with sixty millimetre mortars and an RPG anti-tank launcher and several small arms.
The vehicle could not go forward as there was now a big hole in the middle of the road created by the exploded anti-tank land mine and could not reverse because the rear truck was standing stationary right behind them and everybody had debussed. The men returned fire. As the contact progressed several rounds hit the side of the lead vehicle’s cab but did not penetrate the metal due to the angle of the armour plating. The Troop Sergeant Major ensured that the men in the back of the vehicle were placing well-aimed rounds into the immediate undergrowth. The terrorist who had detonated the mine electrically was dispatched quickly, taking five or six rounds to the lower abdomen and legs.
The ambush was dragging on and most men were running out of ammunition. The Troop Sergeant Major had always made sure that there was an extra crate of 7,62 ammo on board and he dished it out. The men who had debussed had suffered two casualties. Reuben Moyo was shot in the head and upper body and was in a very bad way. He had lost consciousness and the evidence of his plight was due to the fact that the one round had hit him squarely in the forehead. The other DA had a bullet wound to the foot. Lance Corporal William sprang up from his concealed defensive position, ran to the truck, picked up a spare box of ammo and started dishing it out too. One enemy round made a hole in the side of his shirt and another damaged the peak of his camouflaged cap.
Eventually the guerrillas withdrew. Once the fire died down chaps reloaded with ammo and a sweep was done of the immediate area. A casevac for the two wounded was radioed in. An Allouette III helicopter arrived with a medic and a British journalist on board by the name of Lord Cecil. Unfortunately he was shot and killed a few weeks later while deploying with an RAR company. He was making a video of the war in Rhodesia. The Greys Scouts followed up. They reported finding another three bodies who had been wounded in the first punch up and had died later.
On one patrol a B Troop section took in an OP on a good sized kopje to observe the area and sighted a group of guerrillas holding a meeting with some of the villagers who had not yet moved in to the Protected Village. They were approximately a thousand five hundred metres away. The Unit’s best marksman fired a few rounds at the guerrillas and the meeting stopped abruptly and everybody scattered in all directions. That put an end to meetings for a while!
The Troop then withdrew and B Troop all went to Chikurubi Training Depot for four days to receive training on the newly issued Browning machine guns and Bren guns. The Browning machine guns were ex air force aircraft weapons. Once training was completed B Troop was issued with the weapons and returned to the base at Mtoko. Within a day of returning Reuben Moyo died of his wounds while in hospital in Salisbury. It was now time for a scheduled R and R. The Unit Commander obtained permission for a number of the Troop and himself to go to Essexvale to attend his funeral. On return the Unit Commander discovered that he had contracted malaria and this put a spanner in the works for the next deployment.
Having recovered sufficiently we returned to Shinga. By now Damien Marshall had joined as Troop second in command. One night the guerrillas launched an attack on Shinga Protected Village (PV). At about 0300 the Keep awoke to the sound of exploding mortar bombs and small arms fire. Everybody stood to at the parapets to join the sentries who were returning fire. The guerrillas withdrew after several hundred rounds had been exchanged by both sides. A follow up the next morning proved partly successful. The guerrillas had planted a POM Z anti-personnel mine booby trap at the main gate in the hopes that when somebody followed up it would have been detonated. The trip wire stretched across the entrance and was disarmed. A patrol was deployed to sweep the road for landmines. After about one kilometre, one was found. It had been well laid; the only problem was that it had only one single footprint on it in an amateurish effort to camouflage it. There were no other footprints anywhere near. It was a home-made mine consisting of a wooden Coca Cola crate filled with a plough shear and blocks of TNT. It also featured a crude anti lift device that did not work. The sappers were called in and the landmine was safely lifted.
Later on an OP was inserted in the vicinity of Dendera village to observe the lay of the land and was witness to an unknown person detonating a landmine while travelling in a civilian vehicle. At about two kilometres a column of dust and smoke billowed into the air and the explosion rumbled through the kopjes. Not much could be done about it anyway but it did indicate that the guerrillas were still in the area. B Troop continued with patrols to bring in the villagers. Most of the villagers were quite happy to be returning and many did so out of their own. Shortly afterwards another mine was detonated. This time the guerrilla who was planting it made a bit of a blunder and blew himself up. This six-week period went by fast and it was time for another period of R and R.
ANOTHER MTOKO DEPLOYMENT
B Troop deployed in the south east of Mtoko district in the area of Bondamakara and Kawere P Vs where a group of approximately twenty guerrillas were operating in the area. While over-nighting at Kawere PV the guerrillas decided to try and get all the civilians to leave the PV by launching an attack. They cut through the security fence and were busy setting fire to the thatched huts in the PV. At the same time to provide the raiding party with cover an element of the guerrillas opened fire with mortars, rocket launchers and small arms.
This was the opportunity to try out the Browning machine gun. George Mupambwa who was the most experienced Troop machine gunner set the weapon on its tripod on the wall of the keep. Several hundred rounds were fired and the guerrillas stopped firing for a while.
Shortly afterwards more huts were being set alight. A stick of four men deployed into the PV to try and intervene, using the slightly high ground in the PV to observe the situation. The guerrillas did not realise that they were about to be attacked themselves. Using a pair of binoculars using the light of the burning thatch of the huts that were already on fire the guerrillas could be seen setting the next lot of huts alight. The order to fire was given and the guerrillas were taken completely by surprise. One fell down and then the rest disappeared into the dark. The four men followed up and got to the perimeter fence where they had broken in. The Browning provided covering fire from the Keep. The guerrillas left with some three hundred civvies with them. The task to get them back into the PV started all over again!
After this incident, deployment took B Troop back to the Budya Purchase Area on a specific task to dominate the area. A temporary base was set up and the sections were deployed to do a recce of the area. A guerrilla base camp was discovered and reported. Thereafter the Troop returned to Kapondoro as the Rhodesian Intelligence Corps wanted to work in the Budya area. Kawere PV and Kapondoro PV saw B Troop for a few days. The sections conducting patrols in the area made contact with the local guerrillas. Two scouts, one male and one female (Mujibas) were noticed acting suspiciously and were approached by one section of B Troop. As they came nearer the Mujibas pulled out F1 hand grenades and threw them. Both went off. A minor skirmish resulted in the death of both with no loss to own forces. Others were arrested later and handed over to the BSAP at Mtoko.
On return from R and R, B Troop deployed in the Budya Purchase Area to clear the main access road so that the bus service and the farmers could use it. The guerrillas had chopped down hundreds of trees and laid them in the road. Every now and then B Troop came upon a trench dug across the road that would have stopped any vehicle from crossing. The locals were rounded up (who admitted to having assisted the guerrillas to block the road) and were made to clear away the trees and fill in the trenches. After about a week of hard work the road was clear and B Troop resumed patrols in the area.
A company of Guard Force were then deployed in an infantry role in the area. The company commander was an Australian who was a veteran of the Vietnam War. Information of a guerrilla base camp was given to him and he decided to deal with it that mid-morning. He sent half of his company around the back of the kopje on which the said base was supposed to be. The other half was sent from the front. The troops in front put down mortar fire. The troops at the back were now in range and in fact one soldier was wounded. The base camp was empty anyway. B Troop withdrew and set up camp elsewhere. Orders were received shortly afterwards to re-deploy to the north of the main Mtoko - Mozambique road to conduct what were known as Interface Ops.
Interface Ops involved a bit of daring. The idea was to work mainly at night in those areas where the guerrillas are specifically active using a similar method to gain the support of the villagers. The Unit Commander would deploy at about two am and as quietly as possible get two sections in all round defence without the villagers knowing it. He then walked into the centre of the village armed with a concealed pistol and woke up the villagers. He then made them gather around and cook a meal, eat and sing pro government songs. The villagers were given a message of encouragement. They were told that the security forces were not afraid of the guerrillas. The accusation was made that the guerrillas were far too scared to do this. Sometimes food or even ammunition was left for the villagers to safe keep, giving them the assurance that the Unit Commander would be back to collect the goods at some or other time. Surprise was the key. Eventually the message would get to the guerrillas and often resulted in them making mistakes. Follow-ups were normally always successful! The tactic was repeated many times.
A further big incursion of guerrillas had taken place from Mozambique and they were in the vicinity of Wedza. It was seen fit that forces be deployed to that district. B Troop arrived at Wedza without mishap and reported to the DC for duty. Orders were given and we moved further southwards. The second in command was on study leave at the time so he missed out on the trip. A recce was done and a suitable place was found to set up a Tac HQ and temporary base. The weather was rather rainy but in some respects helped B Troop. On two occasions information of a group of about twenty guerrillas or more was received. One of the sections arrested two of the gang’s scouts (Mujibas). At one instance B Troop were only minutes behind them but rain-washed away tracks and they were lost.
The Unit Commander interrogated the two Mujibas and obtained information that the one large gang was operating to the south in the Purchase Area. He decided that more accurate information was needed and planned to go to the Purchase Area to do a recce. Elements of the BSAP were also in the area and the Unit Commander explained his plan. A two-vehicle convoy was used. The Unit Commander took the lead in a Land Rover with the Troop machine gunner, George Mupambwa, in the co-drivers seat. In a Leopard armoured protected vehicle was the BSAP man, an Intaf colleague and two DAs. The convoy drove southwards and entered the area where the Mujibas said the group was operating. On one farm a group of eight or nine young men were noticed sitting around doing nothing. One never saw any young men, as they were either away working or training to be guerrillas. Five of the most suspicious looking men were loaded into the back of the Land Rover under the canopy so that they would not be seen by the locals and the convoy returned to the camp. The Leopard vehicle was leading this time.
The group of guerrillas laid an ambush for B Troop. They had carefully chosen a long ridge parallel to the road with ample cover and waited for B Troop and BSAP to return. The terrorists opened fire with AK 47s. Several bullet holes appeared in the windscreen. The Unit Commander turned around to give the machine gunner the order to open fire. However, he had been hit approximately eight times in the head and chest and had died instantly. The Unit Commander had also been wounded in the head but managed to drive out of the killing ground, stop the Land Rover, and returned fire. He also suffered minor shrapnel wounds to his arm and side from the splintered glass and metal of the vehicle.
The four men in the Leopard ahead had heard the shooting and returned to render assistance. One of the young INTAF men gave chase on foot but ran out of ammunition and then rejoined the group. The area was cleared and the machine gunner and Unit Commander were taken back to the Tac HQ. From there the Unit Commander was casevacced by Allouette helicopter to the nearest hospital (Umtali) where he was operated on and an army doctor removed the round. After a few days the Unit Commander was transferred to the Andrew Fleming Hospital in Salisbury. A patrol of the Greys Scouts followed up on the incident and made further contact with the terrorists and killed some more of them.
Once out of hospital the Unit Commander was transferred to Marandellas District where he was deployed as a platoon commander with Pfumo re Vanhu. B Troop continued to operate until the end of the bush war.
A short video clip of B Troop ARU in Shinga after an ambush
Sadza is the Shona word for a form of stiff maize meal porridge that was the staple diet of most Rhodesians.
A mujiba is a youth who had volunteered to be the eyes and ears of the guerrillas. They received rudimentary military training and were almost like a militia.