A Handful of Hard Men: The SAS and the Battle for Rhodesia, Hannes Wessels

A Handful of Hard Men: The SAS and the Battle for Rhodesia, Hannes Wessels


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A Handful of Hard Men: The SAS and the Battle for Rhodesia, Hannes Wessels

A Handful of Hard Men: The SAS and the Battle for Rhodesia, Hannes Wessels

This is quite a difficult conflict to write about. Neither side comes across as particularly sympathetic. The white Rhodesians had been left behind by the tide of events all around them, as the European empires collapsed and more and more African states gained their independence, but their response was to ‘circle the wagons’ and try and impose white rule by violence. Later in the war there was an attempt to find an ‘acceptable’ black leader, but they never seem to have come to grips with the idea that the leaders of the independence struggle were genuinely popular within the black population. The attempt to maintain white minority rule was no more acceptable in Rhodesia than it was in South Africa. On the other side the various nationalist groups had a valid cause, but often tainted it by killing innocent civilians - killing missionaries and farmers on the ground or shooting down civilian airliners.

There is a similar problem with this book. On the one hand we have an interesting account of the activities of a very successful Special Forces unit, which took part in a series of operations outside Rhodesia, striking at their opponent’s bases. On the other hand its sometimes quite hard to see what they were hoping to achieve - a constant theme is that things could have ended up differently, if only the SAS had been allowed to operate freely, but it isn’t clear what that different fate for Rhodesia would have been. One also gets the impression that many in the SAS didn’t see their opponents as entirely human, talking about following ‘spoor’ as if they were hunting animals, or describing their foes as ‘terrs’ or ‘gooks’. At best their attitude is remarkably patronising to the black population of Rhodesia. They also come across as rather paranoid - the author even includes an example of that affecting the internal unity of the SAS. Although many of these SAS operations were entirely legitimate, there are also examples of where they crossed the line - in particular the booby trapping of bodies or of food (a war crime since 1980 and unacceptable long before that).

What we get here is a clear example of how a military unit can be almost entirely successful within its own terms, hardly ever suffering any setbacks on the battlefield, while at the same time have little impact on the overall course of the war they were fighting in, at least in part because so many of their operations took place outside Rhodesia, while at the same time large parts of the country were becoming safe zones for the various nationalist groups. The book is interesting for its study of what the Rhodesian SAS did, but perhaps less effective on explaining why, or what they hoped to achieve.

18 untitled chapters

Author: Hannes Wessels
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 304
Publisher: Casemate
Year: 2015



A Handful of Hard Men: the SAS and the Battle For Rhodesia Part II


A Handful of Hard Men

The Attack

By Hannes Wessels, Author A Handful of Hard Men

Approaching the target paratroopers were pleased to look out of the windows and see Hunters and Vampires racing past them.

‘Red One’ initially flew at low level, with the pilot navigating to his IP before setting course for the target. At the designated pull-up point, he pulled the stick back until reaching his perch height, when the desperate search for the target began. Through a break in the clouds, Richard Brand was relieved to see the barracks at the western-most side of the camp, called ‘target visual’ and screamed in out of the sun, his four 30mm cannons blazing, before launching two fifty-gallon napalm bombs that cascaded like a blanket of fire over the buildings housing troops convalescing after forays into Rhodesia.

Behind Brand, the second Hunter deposited two 450kg Golf bombs[iii] on the headquarters and a third bombed Chitepo College, where 250 Zanla recruits and staff were about to immerse themselves in a lecture on why Marxism would dominate the world. None would live to learn the truth Brand and his Hunters had found their mark.

At H-hour, Norman Walsh looked nervously at his watch. Unable to bear the tension, desperate to know if the Hunters had indeed been successful, he broke radio silence.

“Red One, are you on target?” he asked. He waited nervously, then smiled and sighed with relief. “What a question,” replied Richard Brand in a languid air force drawl.

Following the Hunters, the Canberra pilots were overjoyed when they emerged from the clouds into clear sky below. Banking slightly in a shallow dive at low level, they saw a mass of dark faces looking up at them as their bomb-doors cranked open and thousands of pounds of high explosive home-made Alpha bouncing bombs thundered down on the terrorists.

The lead bomber carpeted the smoking remains of the convalescent camp and the second did the same on the administrative complex. The third Canberra hit Chaminuka, Mugabe’s billet on his visits and also home to 500 Chinese-trained terrorists. A fourth obliterated Parirenyetwa Camp, with approximately 1,200 trainees in residence.

Waiting quietly Watt was ready. “I couldn’t wait to get out the door, it was a very exciting time.” Ten minutes out, the ‘Prepare for action!’ command was given by the dispatchers, seatbelts were unfastened and it was time to ‘Stand up! Hook up!’ and everyone came to their feet. The jump-master gave the order to ‘tell off’ for equipment checks, starting with ‘20 OK’ then all eyes were fixed on the red and green lights above the door. Two bells rang for action stations.

“I was hanging on the static line looking out the door, and it was quite spectacular watching the leading aircraft drop their troops into the battle below.”

Finally out the door at just over 500 feet Watt looked down. The picture that unfolded before his eyes was “like nothing I had seen before. There were terrorists running in every possible direction and plenty of smoke from the bombs. The ‘K-Car’ cannons were hammering on, blowing buildings and people away. The place was strewn with bodies before we hit the ground, and no sooner had we got out of our chutes, than we were in the middle of a very heavy engagement.”

For Smash, the high-spirited troubadour, the action got off to a rollicking start. “I hit the ground hard and off balance. A gook running at the speed of light smacked straight into me, sending me sprawling, arse over kettle. My rifle was still strapped in behind my shoulder and I couldn’t get to it fast enough. I was fumbling behind my reserve chute for my 9mm pistol to shoot him, when Merv Jelliman let fly and ‘smoked’ him. Merv just looked at me and smiled – gave me that ‘you owe me one’ look. I felt a real prick. I quickly dusted myself off and tried to look like I knew what I was doing.”

For Watt, the scene in the camp was a revelation. “My orders were to cut off part of the camp then assault the position. Bruce Fraser was next to me. We just ran into one contact after another. Most of them just ran blindly in complete panic and we could hardly change magazines fast enough to cope with the numbers coming at us. There was no command and control. With thousands of them and less than 200 of us, all they had to do was take up their defensive positions and fight, and we would have been in very serious trouble, but they just ran in a confused panic. The assault groups included one machine-gunner for every two rifles, so the Rhodesian fire-power was hugely enhanced. With bodies fleeing everywhere our firing had to be disciplined and controlled. I have no idea how many we missed in the long grass and how many more we wounded, but our weapons were boiling hot.”

Captain Colin Willis had landed in a tree. While trying to extricate himself from his parachute entangled in the branches, ten Zanla cadres ran past him on the ground. Grabbing his 9mm pistol, he fired on the group. One man went down with a bullet in his head. The rest were milling around, trying to make some sense of it, when Willis’ sergeant shot them.

Terry Roach’s jump into battle had also proved complicated. “We were loaded down with all the ammo we could carry. In our stick of four, we had two RPDs and two FNs. It all happened so fast. As we neared the target, the aircraft descended rapidly and the next thing, the lights were flashing, I was in the door, then I was airborne and before I knew it, I was hanging from a tree while below me the other blokes were on the ground and getting busy. I eventually released myself but I came out at an angle and almost went head-first into the dirt. I fell hard on my shoulder and the side of my head hit the ground, but I managed to get up. The enemy was everywhere I looked, running in all directions at a furious pace. We fired at them for all we were worth. They were dropping like flies. If they had known how few of us there were, they could have taken us on and won, but they were panicking and there seemed to be no leadership at all to speak of’’

Jimmy Swan a ‘stick commander’ from 2 Commando 1 RLI describes a typical encounter “we went to ground and watched in absolute silence facing the camps we had clearly seen prior to landing.

“Then it happened as predicted – the bush in front of us opened up and they were running in the crouch. All hell let loose as we fired into them from approximately 30 – 50 metres and they reeled back, shouting and screaming in shock and panic, some firing at us without effect . as we took them out with volleys of fire from the gunners and riflemen on both sides of me. All riflemen used the economical but effective ‘double-tap’ which is accurate and always kills. They started dropping like flies and the bush was alive with movement and screams. The sounds of automatic fire from the MAG gunners and those methodical ‘double-taps’ from the riflemen filled the air. They tried to run back but they were being annihilated. We threw HE[iv] and white phosphorous grenades and it was a massacre.

“We ran through their position and then went to ground awaiting the next wave. Other ‘gooks’ hearing their comrades making contact, headed off in another direction and straight into the 2 Commando sticks on the left flank. It was full on killing.[v]”

In desperation, some of the enemy shed their Zanla uniforms and fled stark naked, hoping that their lack of identification through Rhodesian gun sights would spare them, but they were wrong. All adult males were to be dispatched, no matter how they presented themselves. Mrs Teurai Ropa (Spillblood) Nhongo[vi] jumped into a pit latrine and submerged herself in human faeces. Quite correctly, she surmised it was one place in the camp the soldiers would not want to investigate too closely. Other terrorists were less creative, and paid the price.

Bob MacKenzie, the irrepressible American, led his men through innumerable engagements to a point on the edge of a tree-line. Seeing a trench complex ahead, they charged and overran it, killing those within. They relieved the dead of their ammunition and recharged their belts and magazines before Robinson ordered them to push on and wipe out the remaining resistance. Moving up a dry river bed, they found Zanla men hiding in hastily dug holes. They were flushed out and killed. Then MacKenzie resorted to stealth as he and his men crawled through the long grass towards an anti-aircraft position. The gunners, engrossed with the task at hand, heard and saw nothing until MacKenzie’s men opened fire, killing them all. The guns they could not use or plunder they blew up. Then they found the support party, and killed them too.

Moving on to the Intelligence Centre, they found it devoid of life but not loot, and the troops were happy with their bonus of cameras and watches. In one of the lecture rooms lay more than sixty dead terrorists, some under the blackboard they had been facing on which Mao’s teachings were scrawled. Inside the old farmhouse, they found four prisoners, their hands tied behind their backs, who had been executed earlier that morning. It was a chilling reminder of the type of justice Mugabe’s followers would dispense if and when they acquired the power they sought in Rhodesia. Finding a Peugeot Station-Wagon MacKenzie and men started the car up and jumped aboard to increase their mobility.[vii]

Rhodesian troops, on patrol, developed new counter-insurgency tactics
out of necessity. RkB and mercs cased the Rhodesian National Art Museum with intent of “liberating” valuable art works if Salisbury went up in smoke after the March 1980 elections. Problem was, they didn’t know what was valuable and what wasn’t.

Within five minutes of the battle being joined, every aircraft had been holed by ground fire. The command chopper flown by Norman Walsh and carrying Brian Robinson was shot down when a 12.7mm round hit the main rotor. Walsh nursed the stricken craft skilfully to the ground and no one was hurt, but the battle lost direction while he and Robinson were incapacitated. Another helicopter was hastily detailed to recover them and take them back up into the air to continue managing the proceedings.

“This was a very bad planning error on our behalf,” Robinson acknowledged. “The ground forces were leaderless for about thirty minutes. That was the last time we made that mistake. From then on, as many as three alternative command aircraft were designated for major operations. It was imperative that the sweep-lines be controlled from the air, but fortunately, the stop-lines held their positions by coordinating movement using A63 radios and waited for us to get airborne again. It was the longest thirty minutes of my life, during which I cursed myself for making an error that could have had serious consequences.”

Choppers landed regularly for fuel and repairs at the admin base, where technicians worked feverishly, and all damaged aircraft were soon back in action again. At one point, an engine hit by a missile was rendered irreparable. Technicians from 7 Squadron effected a complete engine change in the middle of the bush, using two fuel drums as a stepladder. For the enemy, there was to be no relief. Aging aircraft manned by remarkable pilots and crews, working with some of the most aggressive and best trained bush-fighters in the world, wreaked havoc on an enemy bereft of the will to stand and fight. The terrorists were paying the supreme price in their thousands, but the Rhodesian victory was not without cost.

In his old Vampire, Steve Kesby’s weather worries had dissipated as he closed in on the camp. “We left our IP on time and on pull-up, I searched frantically for my target and experienced a huge feeling of relief at finding it exactly as depicted in the photographs. On turning into the attack, I saw vast numbers of ‘swastikas’ (terrorists on the run) bomb-shelling in all directions. I called to my number two to concentrate on the parade square.

“We had been briefed to re-attack from different positions so as to confuse the anti-aircraft gunners. As soon as I had fired my rockets and positioned for a re-attack with the front gun, I heard Phil Haigh report that his aircraft had been hit. I formatted on him climbing through the cloud. Phil said he had a very high jet-pipe temperature. I did a close formation evaluation of his aircraft but couldn’t see anything untoward, so we continued to Salisbury. I crossed back into Rhodesia and informed them we were ‘feet dry’ but Phil did not check in.”

A worried Kesby went down to a lower altitude to look for Haigh and found a pall of smoke where his wingman, trapped in the cockpit, had crashed. The Englishman who had left the Royal Air Force and the relative safety of his homeland to fight in an unpopular war for Rhodesia, had flown his last mission.

For Roach and his fellow soldiers, the battle continued at a relentless pace. “Trying to conserve ammunition, we fixed bayonets and went at them with steel. As we swept inwards we barely took a step without flushing someone. The firing was constant. There were children in the camp and it was not a pleasant sight. We were careful to let the kids run to whatever safety they could find through our lines and beyond.”

After clearing the trenches, his group entered an old barn to clear it of possible hidden dangers. Against one wall, there was a large clay pot. It looked pretty innocuous to Roach and he gave it little thought, but another soldier to his left had a hunch and banged off a round into it.

“I shat myself when up popped a female terrorist like a Jack in the Box,” said Roach. “Her eyes were like white saucers and her mouth was open, but she made no sound. Another round was pumped into her head and she dropped back into the pot, gone again as if she had never appeared. I had to shake my head to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Not a very glamorous place to die, I suppose. I sure as hell would never have seen that if I’d stayed on a farm in New Zealand!”

There were piles of thatching grass in the barn and, having been told to destroy everything they could not take with them, Roach and the other men torched the structure.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes! Terrorists came scurrying out of the barn like rats from a sewer. Behind the smoke they looked like grey ghosts in the wind. We shot them through a fiery haze and left them to burn.”

Continuing their sweep, Roach went into a larder filled with foodstuffs, the likes of which had not been seen in Rhodesia for a long time. “It was a blow to see dairy products from New Zealand. I had to come to terms with the fact that my country was supporting the people I was fighting against. I knew that Garfield Todd[viii] and his daughter Judith were very much involved in supporting Mugabe and his people, as was Chris Laidlaw. Nevertheless, it was a disappointment to see the proof before me, and I wondered if they really knew what they were doing. I still wonder about that,” said Roach.

Watt shot

Watt’s sweep-line moved with determined aggression as they charged, skirmished, ran, stopped, fired, all the while wielding their weapons with lethal precision and leaving piles of bodies in their wake. They swept up to and over the trenches in their path and with a combination of small-arms fire, grenades, bunker bombs and bayonets, cleared them of all life. Swift progress was being made towards their objective when Watt went down.

“We were clearing a series of trenches and I came over a small rise when a bullet slammed into my leg. I tried to move, but couldn’t. I told the blokes I was hit. They went into the trench and cleaned it out, then a medic came, put a pressure bandage on and a ‘casevac’ was called,”

Sgt Phil Cripps was leading a ‘call-sign’ under the command of Lt Ken Roberts which landed atop a gentle ridge.

“ ‘Terrs’ were running through us and seemed to have little desire to fight. We settled in and then started to fire away from the standing position because of the long grass. Not much passed us and if they did they got nailed by the other stop-groups. We retained this position for about four hours before we were ordered to advance into the centre of the camp.

“We were going well through open ground when we approached a ‘donga’ and there was a long burst of automatic fire. We went to ground and I heard on the radio that Trooper Cranswick to my right had been wounded. Later it transpired he had been shot in the chest by a ‘terr’ in the donga but saved by his chest-webbing.

“Lt Roberts ordered me and my section into the ‘donga’ to flush and kill the enemy. It was narrow so we were in single file but we cleaned it out and killed eight ‘terrs’ in the process. We then returned to our position and awaited the ‘casevac’ of Stewart Cranswick, then continued our advance.

“Coming upon an open ‘vlei’ Lt Roberts instructed me to take my four men across while the rest covered us. Frans Nel was on my immediate right with an RPD.

We were about half way across and I could see a rise in the ground again about 200 meters away. Suddenly a single shot rang out and out of the corner of my eye I saw Frans clutch at his right elbow and fall down. We all went to ground and one of the guys crawled to Frans who was slightly to the rear of me. Single accurate shots continued to be fired at us which pinned us down but I could not determine the direction. I thought Frans had been hit in the arm but when I crawled over I saw he had a wound to the head and was only being kept alive through mouth to mouth resuscitation. We just had to lie there with accurate incoming fire laying us low but we had to stay with Frans. I then remembered we had been briefed about a sniper-training facility in the camp and concluded these guys firing at us were probably from there.

“I realized I would have to sort things out as Lt Roberts informed me he could not see where we were and what was going on. I got on the radio and asked for a ‘casevac’ but I was informed there were none available right then but one would come as soon as possible. I then asked for a ‘K-Car’ as by now I was certain the enemy had moved to the rear of us as they continued firing at us. It wasn’t long before a ‘K-car’ appeared overhead. I was lying on my stomach facing our axis of advance with my map on the ground in front of my face. The map was mainly to indicate to the ‘K- car’ pilot and gunner where we were. When he had us visual I told him to ‘stonk’ the thickly wooded area about 200 meters to our rear. I remember the pilot questioning this action but I told him to just do it as we were still taking fire from that area. He opened up with a long burst right on target and with that all firing stopped. The ‘casevac’ took about twenty minutes to come and pick up Frans. We loaded him on but he died soon afterwards.

“Lt Roberts then ordered me to take my section and assault a tented camp in amongst a clump of trees. We charged forward and put down heavy fire. In amongst the tents I was peering into one looking for the enemy when a shot blasted my ear-drums and I thought one of my blokes had loosed off a round at my head but that was not the case. I am certain a sniper was at work and I was narrowly missed.”

Meanwhile a stricken Watt waited patiently until a helicopter flown by Mark McLean landed in a hail of fire. “All hell was still breaking loose when the chopper landed and I was tossed inside. We were barely airborne when the chopper seemed to lurch, I heard an explosion and I saw that the pilot was hit. A round went through the Perspex and through his helmet above his eye, leaving a hole. I didn’t know if the hole extended into his brain or not. If it did, we were obviously done for.

“Fortunately, he was merely stunned and I watched him closely as he fought to regain his senses and control of the aircraft. For a brief while, I was convinced we were going in, but he did a great job of landing. Another helicopter came to pick me up and we managed to make it back to Rhodesia, where the doctors were waiting. For me the war was over for the moment, but I knew we had won the day and that was a great relief.”

At dusk, an SAS trooper scaled a tree and raised the ‘Green and White,’ the flag of Rhodesia, amid cheers from tired soldiers. The day was theirs the biggest battle in the history of the bush war had been won in spectacular style. Their loved ones at home could breathe easier and their country had been spared an invasion by thousands of terrorists with orders to savage the people of Rhodesia into total submission. With darkness upon them, some troops were assigned to lay ambushes and others to move gingerly through the night in search of stragglers. Sporadic contacts took place and tracer regularly lit up the sky.

Radio intercepts indicated 3,500 dead and approximately the same number wounded. The Rhodesians had lost one soldier and one pilot. It was a feat of epic military proportions, possibly unequalled in history. Never before had so few battled so many. On the ground, less than 200 had taken on 10,000, and scored a decisive victory. When news of the routing of Chimoio reached Mugabe, he reportedly came close to throwing in the towel. Commiserating with his close confidant Edgar Tekere, he confessed he was “…beginning to wonder if this armed struggle is worth pursuing.[ix]

In a letter to The Times following the raid retired British General Sir Walter Walker wrote of the Rhodesian army: “Their army cannot be defeated in the field either by terrorists or even a much more sophisticated enemy. In my professional judgement based on more than twenty years experience from lieutenant to general, of counter-insurgency and guerrilla type operations, there is no doubt that Rhodesia now has the most professional and battle-worthy army in the world for this particular type of warfare[x].”

Author

A 14 th generation white African Hannes Wessels was born in 1956 in what was then Salisbury in Southern Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe) but grew up in Umtali on the Mozambique border. As a young boy school holidays were spent with Rangers in the Rhodesia Game department but time in his early teens on safari in Mozambique with the late Wally Johnson were a big influence. During this time Wessels met Robert Ruark whose love of Africa, its people, politics and the written word left a lasting impression.

After leaving school he saw action in the bush- war waged against the forces of Robert Mugabe’s Patriotic Front before acquiring a law degree which he chose not to use. He hunted big game professionally in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania in a twenty year career. In 1994 he was severely gored by a wounded buffalo which almost cost him his life.

He has published ‘Strange Tales from Africa’ in America which is a collection of stories about people and places encountered by him in the course of his hunting days. His biography of PK van der Byl (former Rhodesian Defense Minister) includes a revised history of the Rhodesian political imbroglio. He has recently completed a book about the Rhodesian SAS titled ‘A Handful of Hard Men’ which covers some of Darrell Watt’s exploits as a soldier.

He is married to Mandy and has two daughters Hope 16 and Jana 13 and lives in Darling in the Cape Province of South Africa. While no longer directly involved in hunting he retains business interests in this sector and remains keenly interested in all matters relating to African wildlife and conservation. HIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE ON AMAZON HERE FOR PART I SEE BELOW

[i] Combined Operations. The supreme security organ consisting of heads of all the services and headed by General Walls

[ii] Beryl Salt. ‘A Pride of Eagles’. Covos Day. 2001.

[iii] A Rhodesian invention, these percussion bombs contained amatol. On detonation the casing burst into more than 80 000 fragments that were lethal at sixty metres, with an accompanying stun effect over another sixty metres. A Hunter could carry two Golf bombs

[v] Alexandre Binda: “The Saints”. 30º South Publishers.

[vi] Appointed Vice-President of Zimbabwe in 2004

[vii] It was later discovered this vehicle had been stolen from Elim Mission in the Vumba

[viii] Garfield Todd, a New Zealand-born missionary, was a former prime minister of Southern Rhodesia.


In 1890, the country of Rhodesia/Zimbabwe did not exist. What did exist were two regions dominated by the Ndebele tribe, a tribe who broke off from the battle-hardened Zulu. The area of modern-day Zimbabwe was called Matabeleland and Mashonaland. The Ndebele ruled over the Shona like Spartans over Helots. In the early 1890s, British settlers infiltrated Mashonaland and a bloody conflict erupted – a conflict that would ultimately last more than a hundred years.

This is the story of that conflict.

Image from Blake (1978)

The Rise and fall of the British Empire by Lawrence James

Cry Zimbabwe: Independence 20 years on by Peter Stiff

Mugabe: Power and plunder in Zimbabwe by Martin Meredith

The fate of Africa by Martin Meredith

The Rhodesian War: A military history by Paul Moorecraft and Peter McLaughlin

Bush War operator: Memoirs of the Rhodesian Light Infantry, Selous Scouts and beyond by Andrew Balaam

Fire Force: A trooper’s war In The Rhodesian Light Infantry by Chris Cocks

Survival course: Rhodesian denouement and the war of self by Chris Cocks

The Saints: The Rhodesian Light Infantry edited by by Chris Cocks, Craig Bone, and Alexandre Binda

Masodja: The history of the Rhodesian African Rifles and its forerunner, The Rhodesia Native Regiment by John Wynne Hopkins, Brig David Heppenstal, and Alexandre Binda

Pamwe Chete: The Legend of the Selous Scouts by Ron Ried-Daly

Rhodesia: Last outpost of the British Empire 1890-1980 by Peter Baxter

A history of Rhodesia by Robert Blake

Taming the land mine by Peter Stiff

Black fire: accounts of the guerilla war in Rhodesia by Michael Raeburn

Rhodes: the race for Africa by Antony Thomas

A Handful of hard men: The SAS and the battle for Rhodesia by Hannes Wessels

Dingo firestorm: The greatest battle of the Rhodesian Bush War by Ian Pringle

Sunshine and storm in Rhodesia by Frederick Selous

Selous scouts: Rhodesian counter-insurgency specialists by Peter Baxter

Rhodesian light infantryman 1961–80 by Neil Grant

White liberals, moderates, and radicals in Rhodesia, 1953-1980 by Ian Hancock

The iron lady : Margaret Thatcher, from grocer’s daughter to prime minister by John Campbell and David Freeman

The struggle for Zimbabwe: Battle in the Bush by Lewis Gann

The struggle for Zimbabwe : The Chimurenga war by David Martin and Phyllis Johnson

A history of Zimbabwe, 1890-2000 by Chengetai Zvobgo

From Rhodesia to Zimbabwe by Lawrence Vambe

Origins of Rhodesia by Stanlake Samkange

The Zulu aftermath by J.D. Omer-Cooper

The washing of the spears by Donald Morris

At the going down of the sun by Charlie Warren

Native policy in Southern Rhodesia, 1890-1923. By DUIGNAN, PETER JAMES. Stanford University Doctoral Dissertation. 1961.

‘“It was Difficult in Zimbabwe”: A History of Imprisonment, Detention and Confinement during Zimbabwe’s Liberation Struggle, 1960-1980’ by Munyaradzi Bryn Munochiveyi. University of Minnesota Doctoral Dissertation. 2008.

History of Africa by Kevin Shillington

Cecil Rhodes: Flawed colossus by Brian Roberts

The founder: Cecil Rhodes and the pursuit of power by Robert Rotberg

“After Two Decades of Rot, Zimbabwe Is Coming Apart at the Seams” by Antony Sguazzin, Ray Ndlovu, and Brian Latham. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-09-14/after-two-decades-of-rot-zimbabwe-is-coming-apart-at-the-seams

The rise and fall of the British Empire. 36 Lectures by Patrick Allitt. Produced by the Great Courses.

Rhodes and Rhodesia: the white conquest of Zimbabwe 1884-1902 by A. Keppel-Jones


A Handful of Hard Men: The SAS and the Battle for Rhodesia, Hannes Wessels - History

A HANDFUL OF HARD MEN &ndash The SAS and the Battle for Rhodesia

By Hannes Wessels (Casegate, 2015 pp.277)

This new book by the Rhodesia-born writer Hannes Wessels will not win any prizes from South Africa&rsquos politically correct lobby. It&rsquos his third book about Africa and nostalgia rules. False memory, too. The author makes no pretence about where&rsquos he&rsquos coming from, or where his sympathies lie.

Born in 1956, he describes himself as a 14th generation African.

After leaving school in Rhodesia, he became a combat-soldier in the bush-war waged against the forces of Robert Mugabe&rsquos ZANLA and Joshua Nkomo&rsquos ZIPRA.

Married with two children, he lives in the Western Cape where he remembers and writes.

This book is a brave Rhodesian&rsquos attempt to make sense of his past, as well as that of the &ldquohard men&rdquo of the SAS who he so openly admires &ndasheven worships.

Wessels is still more than a little in love with the men he describes as being, in their days of Rhodesian military glory, covert urban operators, snipers, saboteurs and seek-and-strike experts, who engaged themselves so effectively in hot-pursuit- across-border raids into Angola, Mozambique and Zambia against guerrilla camps, and sometimes civilian targets, during a seven year war (1972-1979) that ended in Robert Mugabe emerging as prime minister of Zimbabwe in April 1980.

Wessels notes &ndash with hardly hidden bitterness- that so many of the Rhodesia military men who egged the young and the naive towards the path of pain, death, isolation and sometimes penury, went on to serve the other side, the &ldquocommies, gooks and terrs&rdquo spoken about so often by soldiers in pubs in this book.

It was survival for some (the survival of the fattest?) who today live in rose-leafed cottages at the edge of medieval university towns, drawing fat British pensions in the process.

&ldquoA Handful of Hard Men&rdquo is a labour of love that will earn a place on the bookshelves of men and women who belong to another age, another country.

It will also be useful to a new generation of African historians who will either enjoy or be repulsed by the language of Rhodesian racists, the wit, the sheer indifference to black lives that dominated nearly all white soldiers during a war that cost at least 35,000 African lives and which left a country still unresolved by a racial confrontation that shook the Commonwealth and much of central and southern Africa.

Take away Wessel&rsquos number one hero, Captain Darrell Watt and what we would have here is little more than Hamlet without the Prince. He writes:

&ldquoDuring the long war many heroes emerged but none more skilful and courageous than Captain Darrell Watt of the Rhodesian SAS who placed himself at the tip of the spear in the deadly battle to resist the forces of Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo.

It is difficult to find another soldier&rsquos story to equal Watt&rsquos in terms of time spent on the field of battle and challenges faced. Even by the standards of the SAS and Special Forces, one has to look far to find anyone who can match his record of resilience and valour in the face of such daunting odds and with resources so paltry.&rdquo

But already this book, and one written by Keith Nell who is a former SAS member and trainer of Bishop Muzorewa&rsquos sorry band of military misfits called Pfumo re Vanhu (formed by the Rhodesian white military in the last days of the war) has caused huge upset in the SAS community.

Controversy rages around Nell&rsquos claims in a book called &ldquoViscount Down&rdquo that he, Watt and several other SAS crack soldiers located and then slaughtered the five guerrillas who destroyed two Viscount planes flying over Rhodesia &ndashthe first in September 1978, the second in the following February.

Wessels has already publicly apologised for repeating stories put out by Nell concerning the dates of the encounters with the so-called Strela Group and for that reason alone, &ldquoA Handful of Hard Men&rdquo should come with a health warning.

Hopefully, all these problems about timing, dates and diaries (memories both genuine and false) will be cleared up in a second edition, if there is one.

* It was Zapu, not Zanu, who accompanied the SAANC into Rhodesia in 1967.

* At the time of Herbert Chitepo&rsquos murder in Lusaka (March 18, 1975)

James Chikerema was president of FROLIZI, not a senior member of ZAPU.

In terms of background to the Ian Smith&rsquos illegal declaration of independence on November 11, 1965 or to the escalation of the Rhodesian war in general, Hannes Wessels has little to say that&rsquos new.

I find it surprising, (considering the time lapse) that the best book so far written on these two subjects is &ldquoThe Struggle for Zimbabwe&ldquo by David Martin and Phyllis Johnson (Faber & Faber, 1981). Odd that there&rsquos no mention of this important book in Wessel&rsquos bibliography.

Towards the end of &ldquoA Handful of Hard Men&rdquo, Wessels leads the reader to London and the Lancaster House Conference that turned Rhodesia.

Again, little here that&rsquos new.

There&rsquos much Wessels could have included. For example &ndash

&bull In 2002 the British journalist Fergal Keane revealed in a TV documentary (BBC One) that the British government knew all about Mugabe&rsquos worst crimes during the Gukuruhundi that saw the deaths of an estimated 25,000 people in Matabeleland and the Midlands between 1982-1987.

&bull In April 2008 Robin Renwick, one of the key advisers to Lord (Christopher)Soames when he was the last governor of Rhodesia, told BBC Scotland that he was aware Mugabe ordered ZANLA guerrillas to execute in public village headmen who did not support him during the election. &ldquoHis forces would execute publicly any headman, or local person, who had the courage to oppose him,&rdquo Renwick said in an interview with BBC Scotland.

&bull On April 5, 2008 Peter Carrington &ndash many say he was mastermind behind the settlement at Lancaster House &ndash wrote an article for &ldquoThe Times&rdquo headlined: &ldquoDid we help bring a tyrant to power?&rdquo

&bull Also in April that year, a report in Wilf Mbanga&rsquos &ldquoThe Zimbabwean&rdquo quoted Carrington saying that Julius Nyerere of Tanzania made it crystal clear that he would not accept the result of any post-settlement election unless Mugabe won it.

Surely these additions should have been included in a new work about the Rhodesian War and its aftermath. Echoing the words of Ian Smith has its moments but . . .

At the end of his short life, Cecil Rhodes (subject of so much controversy in South Africa) is supposed to have said &ndash &ldquoSo little done. So much to do.&rdquo


Reader: Reviewing ‘A Handful of Hard Men’ – The day Zim’s spine snapped.

The traditional view on those that tend to ignore history is that they’re set to repeat it. But in Simon Reader’s assessment of Hannes Wessels’ book – A Handful of Hard Men – one of the conclusions is that history is unkind to those who insult it by attempting to defend indefensible errors of judgment. Wessels is a Rhodesian-born writer and this is his third book about Africa. The book looks into Zimbabwe’s history during the transition, which is topical at the moment given the citizen’s discontent with the leadership that was put in place all those years ago. As Cathy Buckle said a lost generation under Mugabe. Reader reviews the book below, a must read for those with an interest in the country’s future. – Stuart Lowman

By Simon Lincoln Reader*

Simon Lincoln Reader

Hannes Wessels’ third book documents the counter insurgency of the Rhodesian Special Air Service (SAS) between the unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) from Britain in 1965 to the transition to Zimbabwe in 1980. It is an anthem between soldiers once abandoned, now almost forgotten, from a country bent beyond recognition.

Central to A Handful of Hard Men is the ruthlessly objective narrative of Captain Darrell Watt, revealed as one of many extraordinary fighters who survived the harrowing SAS selection process. At the height of its strength in June 1978, the Rhodesian SAS consisted of just 250 men but the damage inflicted upon the vastly superior numbers of Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU and Robert Mugabe’s ZANU, supported by Samora Machel’s FRELIMO in Mozambique and to a lesser extent, the ANC in South Africa, is comparable perhaps only to the first weeks of the initial Boer War, when groups of farmers subjected the armies of the British Empire to successive, humiliating defeats.

Wessels has produced an intimate study of rugged war that surpasses other publications of this era in its detail of the well-trodden path from Rhodesian schoolboy to soldier. Alongside Watt stood men of near identical aggression, loyalty and skill Richard Stannard, who would later become involved in a failed coup d’état of the Seychelles the American Bob McKenzie, a man determined to fill as many body bags as possible and the fearless Andy Chait, schooled in Johannesburg’s tough south, killed in action in March 1977.

Of all the skirmishes Wessels’ recites between the belligerents, none express the SAS’ tactical superiority quite like ‘Operation Dingo’, which reads like Herman Labuschagne’s account of The Battle of Blood River, minus the spiritual paraphernalia. What became known as the Chimoio Raid occurred at the ZANLA training base in central Mozambique and witnessed the felling and wounding of thousands of operatives. The Rhodesian SAS and Rhodesian Light Infantry numbered no more than 200. From the smouldering ruins of the camp the SAS retrieved communist propaganda used to indoctrinate men and women who wouldn’t live to see its unconscionable practices or how it would be violated by nationalist elites across the African continent in the pursuit of wealth and status in the traditional central committee model.

Incidents that portray ZANU and ZAPU cruelty toward civilians are particularly harrowing, but when directed toward their own recruits, they venture into the disturbing precedent set by early man. Racial solidarity reigned independent thought or nonconformity of combatants was resolved by torture – those suspected of treason were brutally punished. It prompts sympathy for the idealists within the Nkomo and Mugabe camps, some of who genuinely believed in the prospect of a land liberated from white ‘settlers’.

Testimonies of courage sometimes expose extreme political cowardice – the most recent example being Gen (Rtd) Stanley McChrystal’s unflattering comments about Washington liberals – which stripped him of his Afghanistan command. Robert Mugabe’s treachery is well documented, but what is less so is the role of the British government, something amply confirmed by the conduct of David (now Lord) Owen, former Foreign Secretary and his successor, The Lord (now Baron) Carrington.

Wessels’ neatly observes the nothing both men knew of Africa. But whereas Owen could be partially excused in that he was a victim of his own fashionable but retarded delusions, Carrington is revealed as morally vacuous, scheming and duplicitous. I knew and admired the late Baroness Thatcher but her inability to untwist herself from Carrington’s forked tongue was a failure.

Perhaps the greatest example of British hypocrisy toward the country lies in an event that occurred outside the book. In 1986 the British granted one Perence Shiri a place at The Royal College of Defense Studies in London. Nicknamed Black Jesus, this was a man who, under Mugabe’s instruction, personally orchestrated the slaughter of over 20,000 civilians in Matabeleland between 1983 and 1984. It was precisely this foul habit of running with hares whilst hunting with hounds that concluded in Mugabe’s disastrous land reform policies of the late nineties. Under Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Secretary of State for International Development Clare Short, Zimbabwe’s already brittle spine was decisively snapped.

Within Wessels’ analysis lies evidence of the contempt toward white Rhodesians from quarters of the west which reveals itself as nothing more than a hacking of tall white poppies: Rhodesia’s ascent had been charted by the uncompromising spirit of black and white Africans who worked the land, shot accurately, drank happily, played rugby and enjoyed harmonious relationships with each other. Unwilling to pledge allegiance to anything but the soil, they were accused of illegal occupation – seized near and afar by opportunistic diktats and attacked in a manner eerily similar to enraged supporters of Cecil the Lion. Prime amongst these claims was that Africa belonged to Africans – that land was everything. White Rhodesians jeered. They knew too well that it was only something when you understood it.

The rational expectation that current circumstances should vindicate white Rhodesians has been dashed as politicians and apologists scramble for excuses in the rush to explain why Zimbabwe can no longer feed itself, or is now considering issuing what are essentially IOUs as substitutes for currency. The spirit of the Rhodesian SAS has long been eviscerated from the country today it exists only in faint traces in places like Simonstown and villages along South Africa’s Garden Route. In African countries where those illegally dispossessed of land started afresh. In Perth. In the words of those courageous enough to speak truth to authorities determined to misrepresent history.

But history is unkind to those who insult it by attempting to defend indefensible errors of judgment. This is perhaps Wessels’ chief accomplishment in describing a world seeking to abandon and isolate Ian Smith’s government, he leaves space between the lines for the reader to link a past to a political present – including evidence that suggests John Giles, an advisor to President Abel Muzorewa at the Lancaster House talks, was in fact murdered. Stamping his feet against the abuse of power did not prevent the self-righteous Lord Owen graduating to work for a company owned by Alisher Usmanov – a Russian oligarch. Tony Blair has assumed the title of being the most unpopular Premier in modern British history. Jimmy Carter was once referred to as ‘the political equivalent of the house wine in a suburban Indian restaurant’. And in the twilight of his years, Baron Carrington is haunted by his complicity in bringing to Zimbabwe, and indeed the world, a rapacious, divisive, dictator who plunged an ambitious, educated black population into persecution, poverty and hunger.


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During the West’s great transition into the post-Colonial age, the country of Rhodesia refused to succumb quietly, and throughout the 1970s fought back almost alone against Communist-supported elements that it did not believe would deliver proper governance.

During this long war many heroes emerged, but none more skillful and courageous than Captain Darrell Watt of the Rhodesian SAS, who placed himself at the tip of the spear in the deadly battle to resist the forces of Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo.

It is difficult to find another soldier’s story to equal Watt’s in terms of time spent on the field of battle and challenges faced. Even by the lofty standards of the SAS and Special Forces, one has to look far to find anyone who can match his record of resilience and valor in the face of such daunting odds and with resources so paltry. In the fight he showed himself to be a military maestro. A bush-lore genius, blessed with uncanny instincts and an unbridled determination to close with the enemy, he had no peers as a combat-tracker (and there was plenty of competition). But the Rhodesian theater was a fluid and volatile one in which he performed in almost every imaginable fighting role as an airborne shock-trooper leading camp attacks, long range reconnaissance operator, covert urban operator, sniper, saboteur, seek-and-strike expert, and in the final stages as a key figure in mobilizing an allied army in neighboring Mozambique.

After 12 years in the cauldron of war his cause slipped from beneath him, however, and Rhodesia gave way to Zimbabwe. When the guns went quiet Watt had won all his battles but lost the war. In this fascinating biography we learn that in his twilight years he is now concerned with saving wildlife on a continent where they are in continued danger, devoting himself to both the fauna and African people he has cared so deeply about.

  • Sales Rank: #87721 in eBooks
  • Published on: 2015-10-19
  • Released on: 2015-11-02
  • Format: Kindle eBook

Review
What we saw on the BBC TV news while all this was going on was the various meetings between Harold Wilson, his ministers and Ian Smith, who had declared independence for Rhodesia. We were unaware of what was actually taking place in the country. Hannes Wessels redresses the balance with an amazing tale of daring and courage. (Books Monthly UK)

A Handful of Hard Men is, first and foremost, an account of the actions of Rhodesian SAS throughout the brief life of that republic Wessels has a talent for bringing the lengthy list of battles and skirmishes to life. However, his account regularly connects the events in southern Africa to the larger context, and the perceptive reader understands that the war was not lost on the battlefield: iIs end was the result of treachery in Washington, D.C. and London, as well as in New York at the United Nations and even within the halls of government in Salisbury, Rhodesia, where (it is alleged) agents of influence played a role in undermining the nation. The account of the SAS ends with a fading away deprived of the opportunity to assassinate Robert Mugabe before he could assume control of the nation and transform it into the horrific slaughterhouse called Zimbabwe, the brave men of the SAS stood down. They did their duty the loss of Rhodesia was a tragedy willed by forces beyond their control. Wessels’ book is a worthy tribute to their sacrifice, and will be of benefit to all readers who desire a better comprehension of this aspect of the worldwide war against the forces of Marxism-Leninism. (New American Magazine)

Focusing on the story of Captain Darrell Watt of the Rhodesian SAS, A Handful Of Hard Men recounts the trials and tribulations he and his team endured while resisting the forces of Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo. Their story is nothing short of mind blowing - drinking their own urine and eating used teabags to survive when resupply missions failed. It's Impossible not to marvel at the bravery and determination of these soldiers – the term 'hard men' fails to do them justice.. – (History of War)

Hannes Wessels was born in 1956 in Salisbury and grew up on the Mozambique border. He left school to become a combat soldier and saw lots of action. His book is a paean to the greatest soldier he got to know well, Captain Darrell Watt, of the Rhodesian SAS and Special Forces. Watt won all his battles but eventually, thanks to Lord Carrington and gang, lost the war. For 12 long years in the cauldron of war Captain Watt never lost a battle, exhibiting Spartan-like bravery and better than Spartan-like ingenuity in combating far, far superior forces. The Rhodesian SAS amounted to just an incredible-to-believe 250 men. In the book Wessels recounts harrowing incidents perpetrated by Zanu and Zapu (Mugabe and Nkomo forces) soldiers on black and white civilians, and even on their own recruits. (Taki, Spectator UK)

About the Author
Hannes Wessels was born in 1956 in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe) but grew up in Umtali on the Mozambican border. As a boy, holidays were spent with Game Department rangers time on safari in Mozambique with the late Wally Johnson was a big influence on him. Wessels also grew to know Robert Ruark whose love of Africa, its people, politics and the written word left a lasting impression. He saw action in the Rhodesian bush war before acquiring a law degree which he chose not to use. He has hunted big game in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania in a 20-year career. In 1994 he was severely gored by a wounded buffalo which almost cost him his life. While no longer directly involved in hunting, he is part-owner of a lodge and game ranch in Zambia on the Zambezi and remains keenly interested in all matters relating to African wildlife and conservation. He has published Strange Tales from Africa in the USA, a collection of anecdotes from his hunting days. He is also a syndicated writer for Outdoor Life in the United States and is currently writing a history on the Rhodesian SAS. He is married to Mandy and has two daughters, Hope and Jana, and lives in Darling in the Western Cape of South Africa.

Most helpful customer reviews

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful.
this book was recommended to me and I could not put it down
By Janet S. Goss
As an elderly American woman I am not usually into military stories. At the time the SAS was trying to save Rhodesia, I knew nothing about what was going on in Africa. However, this book was recommended to me and I could not put it down. How an accomplished and dedicated group of men could accomplish so much with so little still amazes me. Not only did they have to be watching their backs for military enemies, but often fighting in the African bush they also had to watch their backs, fronts and sides watching for dangerous African wildlife that could kill them. The author did bring up the fact that prior to joining the military Darell Watt had grown up in the bush and was accustomed to wildlife. He is still helping to save wildlife today at Mushingashi Conservancy in Zambia.

The thing that bothered me while reading the book, and still bothers me today, is that the UK and US didn't support the SAS as they should have, and as a result a corrupt dictator Robert Mugabe has been in charge of the country ever since. Had the UK and US been more supportive of the SAS, the entire continent of Africa might have been much better off today without all their corrupt leaders. Those in the SAS who fought so hard for their country are true heroes.

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful.
Lekker ek se
By Amazon Customer
Very interesting reading, brings some little known facts out into the light. Leaves one with a bad taste in the mouth when it comes to politicians in general, and those of perfidious Albion in particular.

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful.
it is an excellent read, not to mention being a tour de .
By believer
A most interesting book for those interested in serious special forces operations. It covers what is now a barely-known 1970s war in which a tiny force of Rhodesian Special Air Service soldiers took on, and trounced, tens of thousands of insurgents trained and armed by the Soviet Union, China and Cuba and supported by virtually the entire Western world. Setting aside any feelings a reader might have about the rights and wrongs of a colonial remnant fighting to retain an unsustainable way of life, this book recounts a military epic. It is also a welcome change from the customary diet of special forces accounts of actions in Vietnam and the Middle East. Well written and structured, it is an excellent read, not to mention being a tour de force of what can be achieved in the face of terrible odds by a tiny number of highly skilled and totally committed soldiers.

See all 87 customer reviews.

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A Handful of Hard Men : The SAS and the Battle for Rhodesia (Hardcover)

During this long war many heroes emerged, but none more skillful and courageous than Captain Darrell Watt of the Rhodesian SAS, who placed himself at the tip of the spear in the deadly battle to resist the forces of Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo.

It is difficult to find another soldier's story to equal Watt's in terms of time spent on the field of battle and challenges faced. Even by the lofty standards of the SAS and Special Forces, one has to look far to find anyone who can match his record of resilience and valor in the face of such daunting odds and with resources so paltry. In the fight he showed himself to be a military maestro. A bush-lore genius, blessed with uncanny instincts and an unbridled determination to close with the enemy, he had no peers as a combat-tracker (and there was plenty of competition). But the Rhodesian theater was a fluid and volatile one in which he performed in almost every imaginable fighting role as an airborne shock-trooper leading camp attacks, long range reconnaissance operator, covert urban operator, sniper, saboteur, seek-and-strike expert, and in the final stages as a key figure in mobilizing an allied army in neighboring Mozambique.

After 12 years in the cauldron of war his cause slipped from beneath him, however, and Rhodesia gave way to Zimbabwe. When the guns went quiet Watt had won all his battles but lost the war. In this fascinating work we learn that in his twilight years he is now concerned with saving wildlife on a continent where they are in continued danger, devoting himself to both the fauna and African people he has cared so deeply about.• Author: Hannes Wessels • ISBN:9781612003450 • Format:Hardcover • Publication Date:2015-10-19


Product Description

During the West's great transition into the post-Colonial age, the country of Rhodesia refused to succumb quietly, and throughout the 1970s fought back almost alone against Communist-supported elements that it did not believe would deliver proper governance.During this long war many heroes emerged, but none more skillful and courageous than Captain Darrell Watt of the Rhodesian SAS, who placed himself at the tip of the spear in the deadly battle to resist the forces of Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo.It is difficult to find another soldier's story to equal Watt's in terms of time spent on the field of battle and challenges faced. Even by the lofty standards of the SAS and Special Forces, one has to look far to find anyone who can match his record of resilience and valor in the face of such daunting odds and with resources so paltry. In the fight he showed himself to be a military maestro. A bush-lore genius, blessed with uncanny instincts and an unbridled determination to close with the enemy, he had no peers as a combat-tracker (and there was plenty of competition). But the Rhodesian theater was a fluid and volatile one in which he performed in almost every imaginable fighting role as an airborne shock-trooper leading camp attacks, long range reconnaissance operator, covert urban operator, sniper, saboteur, seek-and-strike expert, and in the final stages as a key figure in mobilizing an allied army in neighboring Mozambique. After 12 years in the cauldron of war his cause slipped from beneath him, however, and Rhodesia gave way to Zimbabwe. When the guns went quiet Watt had won all his battles but lost the war. In this fascinating work we learn that in his twilight years he is now concerned with saving wildlife on a continent where they are in continued danger, devoting himself to both the fauna and African people he has cared so deeply about.

A Handful of Hard Men Hardback edition by Hannes Wessels


A Handful of Hard Men: The SAS and the Battle for Rhodesia, Hannes Wessels - History

A HANDFUL OF HARD MEN &ndash The SAS and the Battle for Rhodesia

By Hannes Wessels (Casegate, 2015 pp.277)

This new book by the Rhodesia-born writer Hannes Wessels will not win any prizes from South Africa&rsquos politically correct lobby. It&rsquos his third book about Africa and nostalgia rules. False memory, too. The author makes no pretence about where&rsquos he&rsquos coming from, or where his sympathies lie.

Born in 1956, he describes himself as a 14th generation African.

After leaving school in Rhodesia, he became a combat-soldier in the bush-war waged against the forces of Robert Mugabe&rsquos ZANLA and Joshua Nkomo&rsquos ZIPRA.

Married with two children, he lives in the Western Cape where he remembers and writes.

This book is a brave Rhodesian&rsquos attempt to make sense of his past, as well as that of the &ldquohard men&rdquo of the SAS who he so openly admires &ndasheven worships.

Wessels is still more than a little in love with the men he describes as being, in their days of Rhodesian military glory, covert urban operators, snipers, saboteurs and seek-and-strike experts, who engaged themselves so effectively in hot-pursuit- across-border raids into Angola, Mozambique and Zambia against guerrilla camps, and sometimes civilian targets, during a seven year war (1972-1979) that ended in Robert Mugabe emerging as prime minister of Zimbabwe in April 1980.

Wessels notes &ndash with hardly hidden bitterness- that so many of the Rhodesia military men who egged the young and the naive towards the path of pain, death, isolation and sometimes penury, went on to serve the other side, the &ldquocommies, gooks and terrs&rdquo spoken about so often by soldiers in pubs in this book.

It was survival for some (the survival of the fattest?) who today live in rose-leafed cottages at the edge of medieval university towns, drawing fat British pensions in the process.

&ldquoA Handful of Hard Men&rdquo is a labour of love that will earn a place on the bookshelves of men and women who belong to another age, another country.

It will also be useful to a new generation of African historians who will either enjoy or be repulsed by the language of Rhodesian racists, the wit, the sheer indifference to black lives that dominated nearly all white soldiers during a war that cost at least 35,000 African lives and which left a country still unresolved by a racial confrontation that shook the Commonwealth and much of central and southern Africa.

Take away Wessel&rsquos number one hero, Captain Darrell Watt and what we would have here is little more than Hamlet without the Prince. He writes:

&ldquoDuring the long war many heroes emerged but none more skilful and courageous than Captain Darrell Watt of the Rhodesian SAS who placed himself at the tip of the spear in the deadly battle to resist the forces of Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo.

It is difficult to find another soldier&rsquos story to equal Watt&rsquos in terms of time spent on the field of battle and challenges faced. Even by the standards of the SAS and Special Forces, one has to look far to find anyone who can match his record of resilience and valour in the face of such daunting odds and with resources so paltry.&rdquo

But already this book, and one written by Keith Nell who is a former SAS member and trainer of Bishop Muzorewa&rsquos sorry band of military misfits called Pfumo re Vanhu (formed by the Rhodesian white military in the last days of the war) has caused huge upset in the SAS community.

Controversy rages around Nell&rsquos claims in a book called &ldquoViscount Down&rdquo that he, Watt and several other SAS crack soldiers located and then slaughtered the five guerrillas who destroyed two Viscount planes flying over Rhodesia &ndashthe first in September 1978, the second in the following February.

Wessels has already publicly apologised for repeating stories put out by Nell concerning the dates of the encounters with the so-called Strela Group and for that reason alone, &ldquoA Handful of Hard Men&rdquo should come with a health warning.

Hopefully, all these problems about timing, dates and diaries (memories both genuine and false) will be cleared up in a second edition, if there is one.

* It was Zapu, not Zanu, who accompanied the SAANC into Rhodesia in 1967.

* At the time of Herbert Chitepo&rsquos murder in Lusaka (March 18, 1975)

James Chikerema was president of FROLIZI, not a senior member of ZAPU.

In terms of background to the Ian Smith&rsquos illegal declaration of independence on November 11, 1965 or to the escalation of the Rhodesian war in general, Hannes Wessels has little to say that&rsquos new.

I find it surprising, (considering the time lapse) that the best book so far written on these two subjects is &ldquoThe Struggle for Zimbabwe&ldquo by David Martin and Phyllis Johnson (Faber & Faber, 1981). Odd that there&rsquos no mention of this important book in Wessel&rsquos bibliography.

Towards the end of &ldquoA Handful of Hard Men&rdquo, Wessels leads the reader to London and the Lancaster House Conference that turned Rhodesia.

Again, little here that&rsquos new.

There&rsquos much Wessels could have included. For example &ndash

&bull In 2002 the British journalist Fergal Keane revealed in a TV documentary (BBC One) that the British government knew all about Mugabe&rsquos worst crimes during the Gukuruhundi that saw the deaths of an estimated 25,000 people in Matabeleland and the Midlands between 1982-1987.

&bull In April 2008 Robin Renwick, one of the key advisers to Lord (Christopher)Soames when he was the last governor of Rhodesia, told BBC Scotland that he was aware Mugabe ordered ZANLA guerrillas to execute in public village headmen who did not support him during the election. &ldquoHis forces would execute publicly any headman, or local person, who had the courage to oppose him,&rdquo Renwick said in an interview with BBC Scotland.

&bull On April 5, 2008 Peter Carrington &ndash many say he was mastermind behind the settlement at Lancaster House &ndash wrote an article for &ldquoThe Times&rdquo headlined: &ldquoDid we help bring a tyrant to power?&rdquo

&bull Also in April that year, a report in Wilf Mbanga&rsquos &ldquoThe Zimbabwean&rdquo quoted Carrington saying that Julius Nyerere of Tanzania made it crystal clear that he would not accept the result of any post-settlement election unless Mugabe won it.

Surely these additions should have been included in a new work about the Rhodesian War and its aftermath. Echoing the words of Ian Smith has its moments but . . .

At the end of his short life, Cecil Rhodes (subject of so much controversy in South Africa) is supposed to have said &ndash &ldquoSo little done. So much to do.&rdquo


A Handful of Hard Men: The SAS and the Battle for Rhodesia

It is difficult to find another soldier's story to equal Captain Darrell Watt's in terms of time spent on the field of battle and challenges faced. Even by the lofty standards of the SAS and Special Forces, one has to look far to find anyone who can match his record of resilience and valor in the face of such daunting odds and with resources so paltry.

In the fight he showed himself to be a military maestro. A bush-lore genius, blessed with uncanny instincts and an unbridled determination to close with the enemy, he had no peers as a combat-tracker (and there was plenty of competition). But the Rhodesian theater was a fluid and volatile one in which he performed in almost every imaginable fighting role.

After twelve years in the cauldron of war his cause slipped from beneath him, however, and Rhodesia gave way to Zimbabwe. When the guns went quiet Watt had won all his battles but lost the war. In this fascinating biography we learn that in his twilight years he is now concerned with saving wildlife on a continent where they are in continued danger, devoting himself to both the fauna and African people he cares so deeply about.


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