The Ambush! The Incredible Determination of a Wounded Man to Save his Unit
Intaf’s Umtali Reaction Unit – The Ambush by Dudley Wall Umtali Reaction Unit
Euan Kay was tasked to form a Reaction Unit in Umtali in 1977 near Burma Valley. Burma Valley was considered a vital farming area and all measures possible were taken to keep the farmers on the land. The daily convoy had to negotiate the steep Chishakwe pass down to the valley, a drop of almost 2000 feet through thick forest and steep cuttings. (Terrifying when you are climbing in 2nd gear just waiting for an ambush.)
The unit was often picked up by Fire Force choppers and dropped as stop groups in the area during contacts [encounters with terrorist gangs]. The one Euan remembers clearly was immediately after the attack on Leopard Rock Hotel and after the Elim Mission (Eagle School) massacre to which we reacted immediately on receiving the info in the early morning. It is something Euan will never forget. The stop groups consisted of a stick of five Reaction Unit DA’s with a radio and MAG and commanded by an NCO. They earned huge respect for acting to orders from the K car commanders with disciplined radio procedure and were involved in several contacts.
The convoys protected by the Reaction Unit were ambushed on several occasions and numerous mines were lifted by the Pookie [a mine detection vehicle] manned by army Engineers. These would have been devastating to a farmer in a soft skinned vehicle. The Unit also deployed in reaction to many farm attacks at night and sometimes were ambushed on the way in but normally a good blast from the canons made the enemy take off at high speed.
The Unit often had air support either from PRAW pilot Brian van Buuren or RhAF aircraft deployed at Grand Reef during these night deployments. (Brian and his observer Tony Davis would launch off an unlit airstrip in the Burma Valley and orbit overhead wherever the Unit was; which gave them great comfort. The aircraft would then land at Grand Reef for the rest of the night before going home in the morning.) Euan later married Brian’s oldest daughter, Joan, in December 1979.
On several occasions the Unit dropped off Selous Scouts operators who were deploying into Mozambique on ops. This was often in the early hours of the morning and very nerve wracking as it entailed travelling through the farming area into an uninhabited area near the Murare trail which was a main infiltration route for the enemy.
Euan also ran a highly effective Ground Coverage operation with a large network of informers. This resulted in the recovery of several landmines and some successful contacts.
An RPG 7 Attack
Rogers Muganiwa joined Intaf as an ADF driver but was later employed as a DA. He drove our Pumas on convoy duties for a couple of years and was involved in a couple of mine blasts as well. While Euan was on leave the morning convoy to Burma Valley was ambushed just before the crest of the Chishakwe pass. The Pookie was immobilised by an RPG 7 hit to the engine. The following Leopard managed to crest the hill under heavy fire and the engine died from bullet damage just on the other side but managed to free wheel away from the zone.
Douglas* was driving the Puma at the back of the convoy and was hit on the Drivers cab by a RPG 7. Although terribly wounded he continued on, dropped to 2nd gear and pushed the disabled Pookie and the engineer therein over the crest of the hill and out of the killing zone. He then stopped the Puma which had about 16 unit members in the back, applied the handbrake, climbed out and dropped dead from his severe injuries on the road.
It was later established that there were over 30 firing positions and that at least 5 rockets were fired. No unit members were hit except by shrapnel but several rifles and the one MAG took direct hits. By selflessly acting to get both his unit and the Pookie out of the killing zone he is in my book a real hero who saved the life of the engineer in the Pookie and his friends on the Puma.
*Possibly DSA Douglas Mukamere who died of wounds received in action, 23 January 1979. Editor: Sadly many of our records have been lost and destroyed by the “liberators”.
About Intaf In Brief:
The Department of Internal Affairs (Intaf) was formerly known as the Native Department. Intaf was the administrator of the government, seeing that laws were adhered to and that tribal disputes were resolved as well as improving the infrastructure and developing the capabilities of the people of the Tribal Trust Lands and African Purchase Areas. For example, Intaf staff built cattle dips and coordinated the massive task of dipping ALL cattle in the Tribal Trust Lands to protect herds from a myriad of diseases (white farmers had to sort themselves out!).
In 1972 when the bush war started in earnest and the districts in the north east of Rhodesia received information of incursions taking place from Mozambique. District Assistants on patrol in the Zambezi valley received information of armed insurgents crossing the Mozambique border and making contact with the local population. They persuaded the people of the valley to feed and house them and arms caches were established and targets were identified for attack. The insurgents attacked some farms in the Mount Darwin district and Army units were deployed. This was the beginning of a protracted guerrilla war.
In view of the increase of incidents and the intimidation and killing of local tribesmen who resisted the new “ideas” it became necessary for the Ministry to train and arm its members so that they could go about their daily tasks. In this way the Ministry became a para military organisation capable of looking after themselves and also to contribute towards the war effort.
As the war became more intense the role of Intaf became more important and members found themselves responsible for many activities over large areas. District Assistants knew their districts well and provided an effective network of informers. The staffs of the Intaf stations became increasingly valuable as an early warning system and were often called on to provide information on the area, terrain and people as well as acting as guides and interpreters for the various units of the armed forces.
The terrorists had to get rid of Intaf personnel to be seen to be in control of an area. Therefore Intaf personnel were considered a vitally important target for them to eliminate in an effort to demonstrate their control over the land and its people (whether the people wanted them to or not.)
Intaf men were ambushed on innumerable occasions. Land mines were planted in copious quantities and Intaf personnel were killed and wounded by them while travelling around doing their duty. With the formation of Protected Villages (at great expense) Intaf took on the role of aggressive defense. Often the terrorists considered these protected villages as a takeover of ‘conquered’ territory.
Many Intaf District Commissioners established a district reaction force to patrol and to react to incidents. The army were too thin on the ground to be everywhere and this role was seen by one faction of Intaf to be the logical alternative in fulfilling the traditional role. These units complimented Guard Force and often operated in farmland areas adjacent to the Tribal Trust Lands.