By Chakamwe Chakamwe
ON November 23 1977, the Rhodesia racist regime of Ian Douglas Smith, attacked the ZANLA military headquarters in Mozambique called Chimoio in a big airforce operation they codenamed ‘Dingo’. ZANLA themselves revenged that attack some months later by attacking Grand Reef airbase outside Mutare, bombing the city of Mutare itself and hitting fire forces in the Mtoko area.
In this first part we shall look at the attack itself and then in the second part look at ZANLA’s revenge.
The ZANLA Chimoio camp which was the liberation army’s military headquarters in Mozambique was a massive military complex.
It was situated about 20 kilometres to the north-east of the town of Chimoio, the capital city of the Mozambican province of Manica.
The ZANLA Chimoio camp was a conglomeration of camps.
There was a sub camp called ‘Osibisa’ which was mainly a women’s camp; ‘Chaminuka’ which was the main ZANLA security camp; ‘Chindunduma’ was for young school children; ‘Percy Ntini’ which was a convalescent centre and a logistics base; and the ‘Garage’ camp where ZANLA’s vehicles were serviced and repaired.
There was Takawira Base Two camp about seven kilometres to the North East of the main camp which was the main military training camp for males in Mozambique.
That camp had previously been located at the main Chimoio camp described above under the name Takawira Base One camp or Mapinduzi (revolution) before it was moved to its new site.
No wonder the Rhodesians decided to attack that camp on November 23 1977.
And they did that in a very big way by sending their entire airforce to attack the ZANLA camp.
By the way, the Rhodesian airforce that time was the biggest in Sub-Sahara Africa outside South Africa.
To appreciate how big the Rhodesian airforce arsenal was at Chimoio, let us look at some figures.
There were 40 helicopters that were used solely to carry members of the Rhodesian Light Infantry, to the target, a further 10 armed helicopters with 20mm cannons which were used in the actual fighting itself, 10 hunter fighter bombers, six vampire fighter bombers, four Canberra bombers, Dakotas and other aircraft.
It should be noted that the Rhodesian attack was a surprise attack.
The reasons why the attack turned out to be so were two.
The first was that for some strange reason, there was this wrong belief that while everyone accepted that the Rhodesian racists were pure bastards, however when it came to international boundaries they were expected to respect them.
What this meant was that ZANLA expected Rhodesians to respect Mozambican territory and its territorial integrity.
The second reason arising from the first was that because ZANLA believed Rhodesians would not invade Mozambique, using their entire airforce, the racist’s deception plan on the very first day of the attack itself worked to perfection.
“A Douglas DC-8 airliner was flown over the Chimoio camps 10 minutes before the airstrike as part of a deception plan in which the insurgents (freedom fighters) were dispersed in a false air raid alert, so that when the aircraft participating in the actual airstrike approached, they did not cause alarm, when the first airforce jets arrived the assembled ZANLA forces as planned, did not take cover again as they assumed it was the DC-8” belonging to the Mozambican governor — gavhenadhori’s plane.
And so disaster struck!
First to bomb were the Canberra bombers, hunters and vampire jets. Then when those freedom fighters who had survived were running for their lives, “helicopter gunships engaged opportunistic targets… that together inflicted the majority of the casualties … The paratroopers and heliborne troops were deployed on three sides of the (camp) into various stop groups and sweep lines and were also effective in killing large numbers…”
The Rhodesian salso bombed children at Chindunduma as well as civilians who resided in the camp.
It was simply indiscriminate bombing of devilish proportions.
In the end there was a massacre and the entire Chimoio ZANLA camp was destroyed.
While the Rhodesian racists give the impression that their attack on the ZANLA Chimoio camp was a mere stroll in the park, the truth is far from this false assertion.
P.J.H. Petter — Bowyer who was one of the top Rhodesian commanders of that operation that day tells us that on the contrary the Rhodesians were made to pay as well.
The Rhodesians had just commenced their attack when “One of the trooper helicopters had taken serious hits that rendered it unfit to fly even for a one time flight to Rhodesia.”
He goes on to tell us that as the battle progressed.
“Rhodesian K-car pilots and gunners arriving to refuel and rearm (at a secret base near Chimoio they had constructed for the attack) reported that they were having a rough time with high volumes of small arms, anti-aircraft gunfire than they could handle.”
And describing the reaction on ZANLA freedom fighters he says “in spite of the shock effect of the opening air strikes some anti- aircraft guns took on the six Dakotas (planes).”
We are then told that some of the Rhodesian command aircraft were hit. “Bn to give his orders when the command helicopter was hit forcing him to clear to the (secret base).”
Petter — Bowyer then tells us that Rhodesians suffered casualties when he says, “a little after midday one SAS soldier who had been killed in action, Frans Nel and – casualties were delivered to me.”
He goes on to tell us about the planes that were brought down.
“One of the vampires was crippled by ground fire.
“Air Lt. Phil Haigh was flying the FB9 that sustained damage as it crossed over Vanduzi cross roads on return to base.
“This caused his engine to fail some way short of the border.
“The aircraft fell into a donga killing the Rhodesian pilot.”
Therefore, while the Rhodesians committed a massacre at Chimoio, they did not commit that terrible crime without being made to pay as well.
Next week we look at the ZANLA revenge against the Rhodies for the Chimoio massacre.