Another Episode of the Battle for Victoria Falls: A Fight to the Death

“Cocky and Bruce kept circling above and ZIPRA began doing the Matabele pincer movement (a lethal Zulu tactic) to surround our 16 guys on the ground…. and were going to take them out.”

Taken from a verbal account by Rhodesian Grey Scout Clive Midlane as told to Hannes Wessels in episode 39 of “Fighting Men of Rhodesia” series on the John van Zyl youtube channel: transcribed and edited by Sally-Ann Lowe.

As an involved member positioned as a ‘stop group’, eyewitness Grey Scout Clive Midlane relates the following:

“Another big one was the episode when the two Silver Crosses (and a Bronze) were handed out. This was the first time two Silver Crosses were handed out in one contact. I was in Stop 1 in that contact.

About 100 ZIPRA had successfully crossed the Zambezi River and were coming towards the Victoria Falls Airport to take it. They had a goranov gun on wheels and these guys were well armed, properly uniformed with East German wies flek camouflage, with radios, flags and whistles to communicate with each other. Unlike ZANLA, ZIPRA would take the fight to you. They got intercepted by Grey Scouts call sign, Corporal John Coast and Sergeant Viljoen. Their number was only 16! 

These ZIPRA soldiers were very professional and very brave. They would leave a small group behind – they knew that we were coming. Their intelligence was spot on. They knew how we operated, and they would keep leaving a small group behind to fight so that the main group could continue moving toward their goal unhindered to take the airport. This battle was the first time I ever saw guys fight to the death!

Our guys engaged them just 5 kms from the Vic Falls airport. A big punch up went down there and it is referred to as the Battle for Victoria Falls. It’s frightening how our forces on the ground were stretched to the limit!

Victoria Falls in the north-west of Rhodesia.

Fireforce

Clive: “We were Stop One. Stop Two was an RAR stop group next to us. They took a few casualties. The 4 of us in Stop One were witness to that whole afternoon punch-up. We didn’t have a K-Car commander. Pilot Cocky Benecke was flying the K-Car.

The Lynx Shot Out of the Sky 

Cocky Benecke ran that whole punch-up with choppertech/gunner Bruce Jameson on the 20 mm gun. He used up the 360 rounds. They had to go back and re-arm. The Lynx got shot out of the sky on the first or second run in. Stokes was the pilot’s name. We just saw these hundred gooks open up on that Lynx. It was absolutely horrific. As the Lynx dropped his fran and then he pulled out, they just squirted him again!

Unlike Mugabe’s denim-clad Maoist ZANLA terrorists, Nkomo’s ZIPRA army were USSR trained professionally in conventional warfare.

The Totally Dependable and Endlessly Courageous Cocky Benecke

Then the G-Car got shot out the sky, made it back to the Vic Falls airport but couldn’t return. The Lynx got shot out but managed to land at Vic Falls, out of action. Cocky Benecke’s K-Car took 38 rounds! But Benecke, now as the only air support, flew that K-Car that whole afternoon, like a Borrowdale jockey with his knees around his ears continually circling. His Choppertech Gunner Bruce Jameson should have got the Bronze Cross (he did in fact). 

Cocky and Bruce kept circling above and ZIPRA began doing the Matabele pincer movement (a lethal Zulu tactic) to surround our 16 guys on the ground. ZIPRA were encircling them and were going to take them out.  If it wasn’t for that K-Car, ZIPRA would have encircled and wiped out that whole 16 Grey Scouts. With Cocky Benecke’s bravery, he held ZIPRA at bay. 

Flight Lt. Kevin (Cocky) Benecke SCR DCD: Rhodesia’s Lethal Weapon

Wounded Yet Crazy-Brave John Coast

While Cocky held them at bay, John Coast, a territorial Grey Scout on the ground, got hit behind by an RPG7, where he was peppered with shrapnel on his head and his back. Two guys on the ground went down (not killed but shot). We operate in sticks of 8 but they had been broken up into sticks of 4 which were each fighting in individual contacts as the Ndebele were enclosing in on them. 

John Coast had an RPD – we used to have 2 RPD’s per stick. We could hear Cocky Benecke on the radio talking to the guys on the ground. Cocky (who had a rare eyesight ability to see the enemy through camouflage bush) could see this bunch of ZIPRA, where they were, but his gunner Bruce Jameson couldn’t hit them due to the limitations firing from a K-Car.

All was lost. Or was it?

The wounded John Coast just got up with his RPD and went on a one-man charge. He ran straight at them! Their ZIPRA eyes were like saucers! There were about 8-12 of them putting a lot of fire power down on our guys. From there on, led by John Coast’s brave assaults, our guys were able to sweep onto another group of ZIPRA and then another group – our 4 guys took another position and then assaulted another position. John Coast just assaulted, assaulted, position after position. Cocky saw all this from the air and said “Unbelievable!” Forty-two ZIPRA were killed that afternoon. These ZIPRA guys were brave. If our guys got 2 Silver Crosses that day, how many should their guys have got? They were brave.”

The Spirit of Rhodesia was epitomised by Cocky Benecke and territorial Grey Scout John Coast who received the Silver Cross and Choppertech/gunner Bruce Jameson, the Bronze, all just from one desperate battle to the death in one afternoon. In the true generous Rhodesian spirit, Clive Midlane – who had no time for the unprofessional ZANLA terrs due to their cruelty even to their own rural villagers and Mao-style cowardly tactics – would like to see a simple memorial on the spot where that battle took place, to honour both sides’ bravery. It would read simply, “To Brave Men”. This idea was even put forward by several individuals but to Clive’s regret was ‘shot down very quickly’ by the ZANU (ZANLA) one party ‘bumba zonki’ dictatorship.

A tribute to the Greys Scouts and the brave men and women of Rhodesia.
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