January, 1979. The Op
:Thrasher warzone in eastern Rhodesia, near the Mozambique border.
In preperation for an offensive designed to disrupt the scheduled general election in Feb. ZANLA had begun to stockpile large amounts of weapons and supplies near the border in the Shona Tribal Trust lands. Early on the morning of the 20th a young villager turned up at a local police station and reported that two days prior a large group of armed men had entered his village. After murdering the villiage headman (who had been reluctant to cooperate) the invaders took control over the village, mandating that no one was to leave and over the next two days large amounts of war material was brought to be stored in the villiage.
Joint Operations Command for the OP
:Thrasher region would normally assign a detailed sighting like this one to one of the local "Fireforce" units. However, both of the Fireforces within strking range of the villiage were already engaged in seperate call outs. Therefore the JOC assigned the investigation of the iccident and possible capture of the ZANLA supply cache to elements of the British South African Police. The forces allocated to the operation were a troop of the BSAP's "Police Anti-Terrorism Unit" led by Patrol Officer Dunne.
Dunne's Troop consisted of four five man "Sticks" as well as his command section. Each Stick consisted of a Sergeant armed with an Uzi or Sterling sub machinegun and three constables armed with South African R1 rifles. In addition for the occasion the police armory had been opened up and each Stick was given an elderly Bren gun and a handful of mills bomb hand grenades of dubious origin. The one FN-MAG light machinegun available was issued to a 5th Stick designated as the "Support Stick". In addition one of constables in the Support Stick (a former British Army NCO and veteran of the Malayan Emergency) had brought along his personal scoped hunting rifle to act as a sharp shooter.
Although the regular army was unavailable for this operation, Grand Reef airbase loaned the BSAP a single Alouette III "G-Car" helicopter to help transport troops and to provide some fire support with it's twin .303 door guns. "Make damned sure you bring the thing back in one piece, ouen!" had been the dire warning of the Airforce officer to Dunne.
By mid-afternoon Dunne's tiny force had been moved by truck to a jump off position less than half a mile from the villiage. The aproach to the village consisted of a number of open fields, broken by several areas of woods and brush. A shallow stream snaked it's way along the edge of the villiage. Dunne's orders were to enter the villiage and secure any enemy weapons and supplies he might find there and elimnate or capture any terrorist personel he could find. With dark aproaching and the enemy's known tendency to "bombshell" (that is to say break contact and run away with each man running in a seperate direction to twart attempts at following up) Dunne had a sense of impatience and urgency in acomplishing his mission.
The BSAP's plan was a simple one. The Support Stick set up it's machinegun in a clump of woods on the left overlooking most of the villiage and much of the open area to the front. Dunne's command section would direct the action and provide additional fire support from another stand of woods to the right of the Support Stick. A single Stick would be ferried by the Alouette (one of the unfortunate Constables had to sit on the floor of the helicopter as the Alouette was only designed to carry four troops) behind the villiage to provide a "stop group" to cut off that avenue of retreat. The remaining three Sticks were to attack the villiage through the more or less open ground to the right of the line rather than pick their way through the brush, trees, and rocky areas that dominated the left. The old Malayan veteran expressed his concern about this decision and advised that the bulk of the force should keep to the cover offered by the left hand aproach, but this opinion was dismissed by Dunne who wanted his attack to be quick and not slowed down by bad terrain lest the enemy slip away.
Inside the villiage the ZANLA commander and the cell's political commisar deployed their forces to resist the attack. They had been warned of the aproach of the police by some of the villiagers they had press ganged into watching for aproaching security forces. The ZANLA commander knew he did not have much time to prepare, but he was under very strict instructions not to alloow the weapons cache to fall into Rhodesian hands. At his disposal were four eight man bands as well as his personal unit of four cadres plus the Commisar and himself. His men were armed with a mixture of SKS
and AK-47 rifles and he also had two RPD light machineguns and two RPG
-7 rocket lauchers at his disposal. The ZANLA commander deployed his men along the edge of the woods facing the direction of the Rhodesian advance with two of the units actually in the buildings of the villiage itself. The Commander placed his own postion in a building on the edge of the villiage were he could observe and direct the action. Although he had been given instructions not to open any of the crates he was guarding, the ZANLA commander gave orders for some of his men to set up a DsHK 12.7mm heavy machinegun on an anti-aircraft tripod to help in the defence of the villiage. The untrained ZANLA cadres had just figured out how to attach the gun to the tripod and were loading a belt of ammunition when the first shots of the day rang out.
The Rhodesian's lead Stick crossed the open ground without incident and entered a small area of woods on the outskirts of the villiage when the ZANLA unit that had concealed themselves there opened fire. At a range of just a few yards half a dozen AK-47s cut down the suprised policemen. Within a few seconds all five were lying on the ground dead or wounded. None had managed to even fire a single shot in response. About the same time another ZANLA unit in an area of dense brush near the stream fired upon the two police Sticks moving across the open ground to their front, hitting two of them. The exposed Rhodesian policemen went to ground and began to return fire. Seeing this and hearing the radioed calls for help from the men on the ground, the Alouette pilot slowed his aircraft an the door gunner began to spray the area were the intial fire had come from. The fire from woods near the villiage began to slacken almost imediately.
To his horror the Alouette pilot saw a line of green tracers arching from a position near the the rear of the villiage. He pulled the control stick hard in an attempt to evade the fire, but the helicopter shuddered under the impact of the 12.7 bullets. The BSAP Stick leader screamed into his headset "Put this thing on the ground, now!!". Happily complying with this request, the Alouette pilot landed the chopper a few meters from the stream and the police Stick bailed out of the aircraft with almost indecent haste. Amazingly no one had been hit in the stricken helicopter and aside from half a dozen large bullet holes, there was no serious damage. Unfortunately for the Policemen at this moment a lone ZANLA cadre that had concealed himself in the brush along the bank of the stream popped up from his cover and sprayed wildly at them with his AK-47.
The police Stick members were horrified to see a man wearing an East German camouflage jacket apear out of nowere and fire upon them at very close range. One of the policement fell to the ground dead and another was badly wounded. The ZANLA gunman, his assault rifle now fired dry turned to run but was caught by a fuisilade of 7.62mm bullets and fell with a splash into the stream.
On the other side of the villiage the Support Stick found to their frustration that they had been poorly positioned. They could not engage any of the enemy that were firing on the rest of the Troop and the helicopter. In fact their field of fire into the villiage itself was extremely limited. The Support Stick could only watch with helpless frustration untill the Maylan veteran spotted a movement in one of the huts on the edge of the villiage through the scope of his rifle. "There's floppies in that building!" he shouted. The FN-MAG came alive and began to spray down every visible window or doorway. Inside the villiage the ZANLA commander was suprised by this incoming volley of fire and he and his men found themselves completely pinned down.
At the same time yet another lone terrorist opened fire on the police command section at close range. Dunne's radio operator fell wounded and his radio smashed beyond repair. But he dispatched the terrorist with a long burst from his Uzi.
Out in the open killing ground in front of the villiage the Rhodesians gradually began to gain the upper hand. The two exposed police Sticks began to leap frog forward covering each other's advance and gradually the fire from the woods across the stream began to die away. In the trees to their front the policemen could see figures running away. The enemy was begining to bombshell! The surviving Policemen jumped to their feet and splashed across the stream in pursuit. Seeing this, Dunne ordered his command setion foward to support the advance.
Searching for targets through his scope the Malayan veteran caught site of a man in a khaki "Chairman Mau" cap shouting and wildly gesticulating as if trying to stop some of the fleeing ZANLA men. "I've got you, you bastard!" the Constable whispered as he squeezed the trigger. The Commissar collapsed with the sniper's bullet through his forehead. Seeing this, the ZANLA commander and his two remaining bodyguards ran from the hut in which they had been sheltering only to be cut down by fire from the MAG.
The BSAP men began to sweep through the villiage firing double taps at fleeing terrorists and putting additional rounds into the bodies of downed enemies. They had learned the hard lesson that the enemy had a nasty tendency to feign death and then fire upon them at close range after they had move past. One of the sticks took fire from a hut near the front of the villiage. This was quickly supressed by fire from the unit's Bren gun, a grenade was thrown through the window, and the door kicked in. Inside they found several enemy bodies as well as a dazed terrorist cowering in the corner. Looking down the barrel Stick leader's Uzi, the man rasied his hands in surrender.
The sweep through the villiage complete it was clear that all the enemy had been killed or had bombshelled. A quick search found eight crates of brand new Chinese Type 56 assault rifles, several thousand rounds of 7.62x39 bullets, about 50 82mm mortar bombs (but no mortars to fire them), and two more DsHK machineguns. In the center of the villiage the Rhodesians found he DsHK that had forced the Alouette down, disassembled with the dead crew around it. Apparently they were in the process of moving it to a new firing position when they had been caught by fire and killed. The policemen shuddered to think of what might have occured had the 12.7 been better placed at the begining of the fight.
Two hours later Patrol Officer Dunne watched as an official from Internal Affairs moved among the row of terrorist bodies photographing and fingerprinting each corpse for future indentification. There were 16 in all. In addition blood trails and drag marks indicated that a number of others had been wounded. Who knows how many had gotten away? Dunne estimated (and would later write in his report of the incident) that he had faced as many as 50 guerillas. It was good "bag" and the amount of weapons no longer in enemy hands was sizable. But his excitement at a job well done was tempered by his own losses. Four of his men were dead and another eight had been casevaced by the Alouette to the local civilian hospital with wounds of varying severity. The airforce commander at Grand Reef was not happy with the holes in the returned chopper and Dunne's men were clearly upset at their losses. He had heard them grumbling and distinctly thought he had heard the term "tactical incompitence" used. It would take some very creative writing in his report to justify what was at best a very phyrric victory.
Last Friday, we ran a test game for one of the scenarios designed for the Rhodesian Bush War army lists I wrote for Iron Ivan's "Disposable Heroes" rules. We used the ZANLA figures I had painted, but used some Falklands War Brit figures as stand ins for the Rhodesian side. This will change in the near futue. The game had five players (Two ZANLA and three Rhodesian) and went off without a hitch. The game was six turns long. The Rhodesian players had to find the weapons cache and pull off at least a three to one kill ratio to win. In the end we declared the game a draw as the Rhodesians had pocession of the objective by default as all the ZANLA units had been destroyed or removed from the table via the "bombshell" rule (ie routed off the table after recieving two pin markers) but had not maintianed the three to one kill ratio. All ZANLA units started hidden and they were provided two individual "pop up" figures to place at any time they liked.
Both sides fought fairly well, but as you might deduce from my narative above both sides made some pretty bad tactical blunders. In all honesty the ZANLA team was only able to hold on as long as did due to some fairly amazing "to hit" rolls and their complete inability to fail a pin test in the first half of the game. We are planning on playing the same scenario with some tweeks to the set-up and victory conditions. I'll let you all know how that turns out.
Here are some random thoughts on how the game went:
-The bombshell rule along with their low guts scores makes the ZANLA forces very, very brittle. Sure, they can put out alot of fire, but they melt if they take too much in return fire. This was bad enough when facing police, but it's really going to be a big obstacle when facing elite Rhodesian units. Thus they have to make best use of the rules for hidden units to survive until they are ready to launch their attacks. This is actually a fairly historically accurate result, but it's something that needs to be kept in mind in scenario design.
-Fire from the helicopter was lethal (twin .303 Brownings for the win!) , but the aricraft itself is pretty prone to damage. Rhodesian players re going to have to use their transports with care to avoid them being shot down and the Sticks inside killed. We counted a downed helicopter as five figures when determining the victory conditions.
-At first glance Disposable heroes produces casualty rates that are much higher than one would expect in real world engagements. Our Rhodesians had a whopping 16 figures removed and ZANLA lost something over 30 killed. (granted some of this was caused by freeky dice rolling and poor tactical planning) But in hind sight this is not as bad as it may seem at first glance. As noted in Iron Ivan's design note, figures "killed" in Disposable Heroes are not all KIAs. "Killed" just simply means they are no longer combat capable. They might be wounded to some degree, badly frighted and hiding behind a rock for the remainder of the fight, or otherwise rendered "Hors de
Combat". My own personal (and decidedly unofficial) rule of thumb is refelcted above. About a quarter are actually dead (with a high number amongst the insurgents as the Rhodesians will no doubt shoot many of the wounded terrorists) with the rest wounded or just "refused to fight anymore".
All in all, I'm happy with how the test game went and the local group is looking forward to more Rhodesian games in the future.
Want to see some photos?
The G-Car hovering over the battlefield. You can see two of the BSAP sticks in the woods below. I love this picture!
ZANLA cadres lurking in the woodline.
More baddies in the woods and in the edge of the villiage. Sorry about the Vietnam looking buildings. The player who owns the African terrian left it all at home, so we had to improvise.
The heat of the action at the end of turn three or so. (complete with activated unit markers!) You can see the police sweep line aproaching the stream and to the left is the lone "pop up" figure near the landed chopper. The Rhodesian players found the two pop-up figures to be an unexpected annoyance!