Chimoio attack: Rhodies bomb each other


THIS weekend we are remembering the Rhodesian attack on ZANLA’s Chimoio Main Camp on November 23 1977, which many believe was one of the major turning points during Zimbabwe’s liberation war.
The Rhodies, displaying their usual racist arrogance, always describe their attack on ZANLA’s Chimoio Camp as one which went like clockwork.
Yes, that they had; a real catwalk where they enjoyed something akin to a leisurely Sunday stroll!
However, the truth is far from the above Rhodesian fiction.
Recently some Rhodesian soldiers who took part in the actual fighting at Chimoio have come out to say no, things were not as simple and straightforward as the Rhodesian propaganda machine always claimed.
Rhodies suffered a number of reverses at Chimoio.
One of the most interesting revelation is a confession by one Rhodesian soldier that some units of the Rhodesian soldiers suffered disastrous ‘friendly fire’ during the Chimoio attack itself.
But before we go any further, let us briefly explain what ‘friendly fire’ is.
This is an incident that takes place during a battle where a group of soldiers belonging to one side fire upon another group of soldiers from their own side thinking they are firing on their enemy.
During the illegal invasion of Iraq by American and British soldiers which eventually led to the demise of that once prosperous country, there were many ‘friendly fires’ where the Americans and the Brits shot at each other thinking they were firing at Saddam Hussein’s forces.
For some reason, the Brits appeared to end up at the receiving end of those ‘friendly fires’ which led to one British father trying to sue the Americans after the war for the loss of his son.
Coming back to the Chimoio attack, the very first step was the bombing of the camp itself by Rhodesian planes.
The planes used were hawker hunter bombers, Canberra bombers and Vampire jets.
Once the bombers had offloaded their loads, the troop-carrying helicopters and Dakotas full of soldiers came on the scene to drop their soldiers all round the camp so that these soldiers would set up waiting ambushes that would ‘box in’ the fleeing freedom fighters.
This was the plan, but things did not always go according to plan as one of the Rhodesian commanders who took part in that battle tells us.
“During the Dakotas’ short descend to ground, the (Rhodesian) paratroopers were surprised to see many CTS (freedom fighters) running towards them with some already passing directly below.
“Their drop line had been planned to be far enough from the camps to ensure that all ZANLA within the primary target area would be contained before the paratroopers landed.
“As it happened, many paratroopers landed among fleeing ZANLA.”
This resulted in the mother of all confusions.
One of the Vampire jets pilot still bent on bombing the fleeing ZANLA freedom fighters, but not noticing that they were mixed with the landed paratroopers went ahead with his bombing plan only to end up bombing his own men.
A Rhodesian soldier who ended up at the receiving end of that pilot’s ‘friendly fire’ tells us the full story.
“Our commander radioed through our position and marked the target with orange smoke.
“The bush was thick and I wondered if the pilot could see his target.
“And could our commander see the whole sweep line from end to end?
“In came the old Vampire, slow, but aggressive and it kept coming, the two nostril-like vents in the front.
“She dived and released her rockets.
“We all lay flat on the ground with our mouths open, an old trick to save our ears bursting from the pressure.
“Pull out! Pull out! was the scream from the stick commanders, but too late, we appeared to become the target as two 60 pound snebs came into our lines.
“During this time we lost control and were disoriented, putting us in great danger.”
Yes, Rhodies were now bombing each other.
Besides suffering ‘friendly fire’ the Rhodies also suffered from ZANLA freedom fighters who hit back with a vengeance here and there.
One of the soldiers who was at the receiving end of a ZANLA counter attack during the Chimoio attack tells us the story.
“We moved through the tree line towards the first training camp.
“Enemy mortars started up as we approached a ravine followed by small-arms fire.
“We took cover behind some high ground and called for an air strike.
“We estimated there were 100 plus gooks (freedom fighters) to our front and they appeared well armed.
“These gooks (freedom fighters) were very aggressive and I was sure we would take casualties.”
And the Rhodies did take casualties as the following confession about fighting that took place in one part of the huge Chimoio camp called ‘Garage’ reveals.
“At 12:32 hours, an unidentified call sign came on air ‘request immediate casevac (immediate evacuation of a heavily injured soldier) with Stop 3 serious.
“The reason for the request was later revealed
“A Special Air Service (SAS) call sign, a call sign from one Captain Colin Wills Stop 3 advancing on the ZANLA ‘Garage’ area had come under fire.
“Corporal Trevor Kershaw saw the man next to him, trooper Frans Nel, sustain a fatal hit and fall.
“Two others were wounded.”
Then other units fighting in various parts of the camp also called for help to have their soldiers airlifted after suffering heavy injuries or deaths.
“At 13:30 hours, Stop 1 (a unit) requested a casevac for one wounded.”
This was followed by an urgent casevac from SAS call sign 5 (another unit) for two soldiers, one of whom was in a serious condition. However, Stop 5 was in a heavy fire fight and the casevac was finally only uplifted at 15:30 hours. The Rhodies were being paid in kind big time.
By the way, the Vampire jet which had earlier on been involved in the ‘friendly fire’ incident was eventually shot down by ZANLA and crashed at the Mozambique/Zimbabwe border killing its pilot.
“The Vampire was crippled by ground fire.
“Air Lt Phil Haigh was flying it.
“It ran into a deep donga that wrecked the aircraft and killed Phil.”
It is important therefore to always remember that despite having fewer military resources compared to the Rhodesians, during the Chimoio attack, ZANLA put up a sterling performance against the enemy which led to many Rhodie casualties, the Rhodies themselves being thrown in total confusion that at one time they ended up bombing one another.


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