The Struggle For Land in Zimbabwe (1890 – 2010)…alpha bombs as Rhodies attack Chimoio

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Landmine victims dominated the Percy Ntini Base which had a total population of over 1 000, the majority of them refugees who had stepped on landmines while trying to cross the Rhodesian border into Mozambique, writes Dr Felix Muchemwa in his book The Struggle For Land in Zimbabwe (1890 – 2010) that The Patriot is serialisng.
The Target
CHIMOIO ZANLA HQ Rear Base Camp, was a collection of bases under the command of Comrade Bathune.
On Friday November 18 1977, before the attack, all members of the ZANU PF National Executive, Central Committee and ZANLA High Command had been called to Maputo for an urgent meeting with President Samora Machel.
Comrade Edgar Tekere, the Secretary-General, had remained behind to address a general meeting of all Chimoio Camp residents on Sunday, November 20 1977 before also departing for the urgent Maputo meeting.
ZANLA HQ Base
ZANLA HQ base was situated at the southern most part of a huge agricultural field and was nothing more than a residence of just a few camp commanders who included Cde Rex Nhongo and Cde Josiah Tongogara, both of whom rarely stayed at Chimoio.
They were always in the operations bases.
At any particular time, there were no more than 30-to-40 ZANLA comrades stationed at the HQ Base.
Logistical Base
At the northernmost end of the field was the Logistica l Base, made up of the food, medicines and clothing stores and a fuel and mechanical depot for the servicing of vehicles.
It was a big base with a total population of 500 – 750 comrades, almost half of them being refugees from Doiroi and Chibawawa.
Parirenyatwa Rear Base Hospital
To the eastern part of the agricultural field was the Parirenyatwa Rear Base Hospital with a population of nearly 2 000 comrades, mainly patients from Tembwe, Chibawawa and Doiroi refugee camps.
Other patients were also from the operation zones inside Rhodesia and from the ZANLA training camps of Takawira I in Chimoio and Tembwe in Tete.
The operations bases in the Manica and Tete provinces also sent their patients to the Parirenyatwa Rear Base Hospital.
The largest group of patients passing through Parirenyatwa Hospital were comrades with landmine injuries and the majority of them were amputees. Parirenyatwa Rear Base Hospital was commanded by Cde Mahefu, a member of the General Staff, with Dr Felix Muchemwa as the Doctor-in-Charge.
Nehanda Base
Close to Parirenyatwa Base Hospital was the Nehanda Base for women comrades.
It was the largest base with a total population of nearly 2 500 young girls and women, most of them without military training.
Percy Ntini Base
The Percy Ntini Base was situated to the east of HQ Base.
Landmine victims dominated the Percy Ntini Base which had a total population of over 1 000, the majority of them refugees who had stepped on landmines while trying to cross the Rhodesian border into Mozambique.
Chindunduma Temporary (Vatoto) Base
To the north-east of Parirenyatwa Base was Chindunduma Temporary (Vatoto) Base for children.
Temporarily domiciled here, on transit to Mavudzi School in Tete, most of the over 1 500 children had come from Gondola, Chibawawa and Doiroi refugee camps.
The number would have been more if, thank God, a few weeks before the Chimoio attack, Cde Rex Nhongo (Solomon Mujuru) had not ordered 750 women with children or those pregnant to be evacuated to Osibisa Base situated between Gondola and Inchope.
Cde Fay Chung and her daughter Chipo had numbered among them.
The Rhodesians believed it was ZANLA commandos who were accommodated in the small military tents housing the children.
Chaminuka Security Base
The Security Base Chaminuka and the Commissariat and Chitepo bases had insignificant numbers of trained military personnel, about 100 in each Base.
There were also other very small Chimoio sub-bases, such as the Production Base at Mudzingadzi and the Vanasekuru Base for spirit mediums who included Sekuru Chidyamauyu from the Chiweshe Tribal Trust Land.
It was situated near the National Stores, Logistics Base and Garage.
The Rhodesians targeted the base as Complex Q. (Cocks, 2011: p.267)
ZANLA forces deployment
There were about 20 12,7mm single barrel anti-aircraft gun positions, strategically deployed in an all round defence over the whole Chimoio HQ Base Camp.
Then, there was also a brand new 37mm two-barrel gun at the Chaminuka Security Base. (Cole, 1984: p.184)
The gunners were still undergoing training in China and the gun was therefore never fired during the Chimoio attack.
Apart from that, out of the 8 222 Chimoio Camp inmates on that day, less than 1 000 comrades were trained and armed.
This was because the ZANLA High Command, in particular Cde Tongogara, was not keen on pinning down trained ZANLA personnel, at such institutions in the rear.
This means on that fateful day, trained and armed comrades inside Chimoio Camp were outnumbered by those who were untrained and unarmed by one to 10.
The tragedy was therefore that the unarmed comrades who included patients from the Parirenyatwa Rear Base Hospital, the disabled from Percy Ntini Base, the Vatoto or children from Chindunduma Base and the young girls and women refugees from the Nehanda Base formed a panicked group of people who were virtually indefensible since they were constantly running in between the defenders and the attackers in the middle of the thick tropical forest.
In that scenario, the ZANLA defenders were most of the time unable to fire at the encroaching enemy, fearing they would kill more of their frightened civilian comrades than the enemy.
Battle Highlights
At 7:41am hours Wednesday November 23 1977, a DC-8 civilian cargo carrier airliner flew over Chimoio Camp from the south-west across to the north-east and as expected, many comrades believed it was a civilian plane and not a decoy designed to make them lose their guard by masking the sound of the approaching fighter aircraft.
At 7: 45am, the fighter jets arrived and simultaneously assaulted the camp bases using alpha bombs, frantan bombs, 1 000lbs and HEI cannons and 68mm rockets.
At this point, it must be emphasised the use of incendiary napalm or phosphorus bombs had already been internationally banned.
Within the first five minutes, every aircraft which flew over the Chimoio Camp was hit, including the command chopper and Brian Robinson and Norman Walsh was hit by a 12,7mm anti-air bullet forcing them to retire from the battlefield to the forward admin area (for repairs). (Cole, 1984: p.183)
The Command G-Car incident disrupted command and there was confusion among the ground and airborne forces (Wood 1977: p.43) because Robinson’s deputy commander could not be picked up easily in the heat of battle.
Walsh handed over to someone in a Lynx, but the Lynx was also hit and retired. (Wood 1977: p.41)
To make matters worse, the ground forces were still not firm on the ground.
Some had their parachutes caught in trees and remained hanging precariously.
The pilots awaited further orders.
At 8:26am, Robinson halted advance for a whole hour; the stoppage allowed many comrades to escape.
At 9:30am, Walsh and Robinson resumed command at very high altitude, and gave orders for the ground forces to advance and capture the Chimoio sub-bases and for the bombers to resume bombing, but heavy ZANLA anti-aircraft fire forced the Mirage III and the Canberra bombers to fly well above 15 000 feet above the ground to deliver, alpha bombs. (Wood 1977: p.43)

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