Two years after Chimoio….guerillas wipe out Rhodies at Mavonde

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Trooper views burnt civilian bodies from Air Rhodesia Viscount Hunyani crash after ZIPRA missile attack Francois Darquennes

WHEN the more than 30 Rhodesian Airforce planes and ground forces were done decimating Chimoio Camp in Mozambique, in November 1977, blood flowed freely, everywhere.
But the blood of the fallen did not suffocate or drown the spirit of the freedom fighters.
In fact, it became humus that fed and spurred on the guerillas.
The dead were mourned, while the Chimoio Massacre did not deter, but increased the determination to gain independence from the brutal Ian Smith regime.
Thereafter, there would be no lamentation, but a dogged zeal to dislodge the imperialists from the seat of power.
Training was intensified; security measures and vigilance were upped.
That the guerillas got much better and became a superior force after Chimoio would be seen in 1979, at Mavonde.
The Mavonde Battle, also known as Monte Cassino Battle, was fought during the Lancaster House talks that were ongoing in London.
The Rhodies gathered their elite soldiers and the best of weapons as well as planes and wanted to repeat a Chimoio-like attack that was meant to weaken the Patriotic Front’s bargaining power at the talks.
But Chimoio had been an important lesson; never again would the Rhodesians have their way.
Already the noose was tight on the neck of the Rhodies as the guerillas closed in on them, taking the war to their doorstep.
Their strategic airbase, Grand Reef, a Rhodesian Air Force Forward Air Field known as FAF 8, in Manicaland, had been destroyed by the guerillas soon after the Chimoio Massacre and the freedom fighters had hit the BP Shell fuel tanks in Southerton, Salisbury (Harare) in 1978.
Ian Smith described the destruction as a great disaster and ‘one of our biggest setbacks since the war started’.
The fire was only contained when a Johannesburg City Fire Department fire engine was flown in to help spray protein foam imported from South Africa.
Under this intense pressure and hammering, the Rhodesians sought a repeat of Chimoio.
According to Cde Booker Tichazvipedza; on an afternoon in September 1979, at lunchtime, a Rhodesian Airforce Lynx plane appeared over the camp from the western direction, flying at high altitude.
“It appeared to be directing a fleet of Canberra helicopters, Hawk Hunters and Mirage jet bombers to the position of the camp,” he said.
This time around the freedom fighters were not sitting ducks.
They were ready for the Rhodesians.
As noted by Cde Tichazvipedza:
“The anti-aircraft gunners at their different positions listened to orders from their gun commanders who stated the speed, type and altitude of the approaching planes before giving the order to fire.
The artillery was to be fired at the same time in order to avoid one gun position being exposed to the Lynx command plane circling at high altitude.
As the artillery guns exploded into action, the enemy planes were hit and fell in flames, while others were hit but managed to turn in flames and crashed away from the camp.
The enemy planes continued to come and the ZANLA gunners continued to hit them in trebles or quads and they fell.
Some managed to drop bombs off target because the enemy did not know the exact position of the camp.”
It is important to note that after the Chimoio attack, many guerillas were sent to countries like Romania to receive advanced training in the use of anti-air weaponry.
This was a decisive factor at Mavonde.
“When the Lynx command plane noticed that there was too much anti-aircraft gunfire, it gave an order to the planes below to stop approaching the camp and gain high altitude as a dozen plus planes had been gunned down by the ZANLA artillery,” says Cde Tichazvipedza.
The Rhodesian maneuvers were futile, the guerillas at Mavonde knew what they were doing and their defence of the camp was watertight, the camp was not going to be easily overrun.
“The Rhodesians’ strategy was designed to provoke the ZANLA gunners to fire at the planes flying at high altitude and expose their gun positions for bombing,” noted Tichazvipedza.
“Instead, the ZANLA artillery went silent as soon as the enemy planes took high altitude, but remained alert and ready.”
According to Cde Tichazvipedza, the Rhodesian Airforce planes continued to take turns to circle around the general area of the camp at high altitude as a strategy to frighten the ZANLA gunners below to abandon the camp and run away, but that never happened.
The ZANLA gunners, he said, remained silent and alert in their positions.
The planes flew around at high altitude for two days, but the disciplined artillery unit remained silent and alert, waiting for the enemy to make a move.
“On the third day, the enemy mistook the quietness of the ZANLA anti-aircraft gunfire below to imply that they had fled their camp.
The Lynx command plane instructed the infantry groups deployed around the general area of the camp to move into the camp.”
The Rhodesian ground force approached the camp believing it had been abandoned and as observed by Cde Tichazvipedza: “The enemy’s intention was to capture any documents or weapons left behind by the supposedly fleeing ZANLA guerillas.
On approaching the base to the north and to the east, the Rhodesian infantry came under heavy gunfire from the trenched ZANLA guerillas using AK rifles, RPG-2 bazookas, rifle grenades and Mortar 60 bombs which decimated them in their hundreds.
The disadvantage of the approaching Rhodesian infantry was that the ZANLA fighters in the trenches saw them first from the thick foliage concealing the bases and let them draw near before firing a volley from a variety of guns, killing hundreds.
The Lynx learned that the ZANLA fighters were lying low and had accounted for almost all the infantry below.
Some Rhodesian planes were called in (probably by the communication radio soldier) for hot extraction of the few survivors, but they became easy prey to the alert anti-aircraft gunners who gunned them down.
The mighty Rhodesian Airforce and its infantry had suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of a disciplined and alert ZANLA unit at Mavonde/Monte Cassino Camp.
The casualties on the ZANLA side were negligible.”
It was such a heavy defeat that the British Government summoned Rhodesian Army General Peter Walls to London where he was duly told that Rhodesians were not going to win the war.
Indeed they were defeated.

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