I have made a commitment to start writing articles on compelling people and events on the lesser known wars and warriors. My articles should be free to read. I hope you will enjoy this and upcoming articles and books.
We must be careful when studying conflict. There are so many things that influence the totality of war. I found this excerpt from a book that is on my ‘to read list’
Three general rules of study must therefore be borne in mind by the
officer who studies military history as a guide to his profession and who
wishes to avoid pitfalls. First, he must study in width. He must observe the
way in which warfare has developed over a long historical period. Only
by seeing what does change can one deduce what does not; and as much
as can be learnt from the great discontinuities of military history as from
the apparent similarities of the techniques employed by the great captains
through the ages….Next he must study in depth. He should take a single
campaign and explore it thoroughly, not simply from official histories,
but from memoirs, letters, diaries. . . until the tidy outlines dissolve and
he catches a glimpse of the confusion and horror of real experience…
and, lastly, he must study in context. Campaigns and battles are not like
games of chess or football matches, conducted in total detachment from
their environment according to strictly defined rules. Wars are not tactical
exercises writ large. They are…conflicts of societies, and they can be
fully understood only if one understands the nature of the society fighting
them. The roots of victory and defeat often have to be sought far from the
battlefield, in political, social, and economic factors which explain why
armies are constituted as they are, and why their leaders conduct them in
the way they do…. It must not be forgotten that the true use of history,
military or civil… is not to make men clever for the next time; it is to make
them wise forever.
My awareness of the Rhodesian Bush War goes back to my impressionable years of puberty. On trips to Walmart, I would immediately go to the magazine section where they sold Soldier of Fortune magazine. ( oh how times have changed and dates me ). Some months there would be articles on the wars being fought in Southern Africa, usually concentrating on American ‘mercenaries’ who made the trip and joined the Armies of Rhodesia and South Africa.
One major contributor was a Captain Bob Mackenzie of the Rhodesian SAS. I didn’t know what that was but the stories were extremely scary and interesting to a 12 year old. I also remember the old recruiting poster of Be a Mann among Men with a Troopie and his trusted FN FAL and distinctive head gear. Though I can’t say that I remember the content of the articles, I knew how they made me feel as described above. Rambo was in the movie theaters and I imagined this guy was similar to him. The truth was not far off.
I eventually joined the US Navy at 17 and tried out for UDT/BUDS but failed the physical. The dreams faltered but I served my time on board the storied USS Enterprise which still retained the graffiti from the Vietnam Air War and learned the lessons that all young men should learn during their stint and after 25 years+, if I heard Attention On Deck, I would pop up out of my chair wondering what Officer graced us with his presence and often, what I had done to deserve a visit. 🙂
Fast forward a BA degree in Ancient History and some attempts to write a historical novel centered around the Jewish Revolt of 66 AD and the Romans consequently crushing it and destroying the Second Temple and the city of Jerusalem. It had started with my Senior Thesis on the subject. During this time, Band of Brothers was raging and I loved it and spent a few years studying WW2 and my Grandfathers war and discovered facts about his job as a Reconnaissance ‘Shore Party’ during the Solomon Islands Campaign. I then became interested in studying the Vietnam War. I grew up with a father and uncle who served in the Marine Corps during that time. My uncle became a member of 3rd Marine Recon Battalion Company A.
My mind drifted back to the Soldier of Fortune magazine and at the time, it was still published in paper form and was on news racks. I came across a story about an American and his experience in Rhodesia, a country I had not heard of in years. My curious mind began to research this topic. The internet was in it’s infancy and little to nothing came of my hard work. Over the years, more internet material became available and as memoirs and histories became available I gorged as much as was available. I found a book seller in South Africa who had a library on the subject. I spent alot of time and money to learn about the war.
I had taken up writing and was 100k words into a WW2 novel when an opportunity to write about the Rhodesian war randomly came up through a contact with the editor of a new website. SOFREP.com…It was a website written by ‘Operators’ for Operators and curious onlookers. I told the editor that I wanted to submit an article to him on FIRE FORCE tactics and techniques used in Rhodesia. He broke his rule, in that I was not a veteran of any special operations force. He loved the article, admitting that he didn’t expect it to make the cut and I ended up writing close to 20 articles for them as well as publishing a book with MacMillan called Africa Lost-Rhodesia’s COIN Killing Machine.
Published in 2013, it still sells and has close to 150 reviews at 4.5 stars. I ventured into writing novels. My first, Task Force Intrepid: The Gold of Katanga earned some nice reviews and initially sold well. It follows an American run PMC who is contracted to take back a newly discovered vein of Gold in the Copper belt of Katanga. The villains are taken from the headlines, history and conjecture. I quickly followed with a novella called Highway to Hell. It was hurried but it provided some back story to my main Protagonist- Willem Kruger. His background may seem impossible to people but he is based on a composite of many many men, alot of which are still in the warfighting business all over the world.
Willem Kruger, of South African Boer heritage although his father went north for opportunity to farm, began his military career in 1979 by joining the elite Rhodesian Light Infantry after his farm had been destroyed and his mother, father and siblings had been killed by ‘freedom fighters’. He missed the execution through sheer providence as he visited his uncle and cousin who were professional hunters in South Africa. He excelled as a soldier in some of the most vicious battles and camp attacks towards the coming end of the nation.
His adventures take him on to South Africa’s Para’s for a short time and 5 Recce Commando which specialized in psuedo operations in Zimbabwe and Mozambique. After the end of Apartheid and the closing down of many Special Force elements, opportunities came about to work as a private contractor. Forthcoming books will examine his experiences as well as a planned series on an American who came to Rhodesia and fought in a war he believed, rightly so, against communist expansion.
He now leads a multinational team of specialists in Africa on missions of importance to Governments and Industry.
Back to the title of this article, if you have no knowledge of the war or very little, you can pick up my guidebook for a primer on Amazon- Africa Lost-Rhodesia’s COIN Killing Machine.
For more in depth stories a man of immense talent has put out three books and a series of YouTube interviews which are spell binding and which I consider a Magnum Opus over anything put out currently. His name is Hannes Wessels.
The titles of his books are ‘A Handful of Hard men’, ‘We Dared to Win’ with Andre Scheepers and ‘The Fighting Men of Rhodesia’. For video interviews that helped inform his books, simply type in You Tube’s search bar, The Fighting Men of Rhodesia and sit back and be prepared to gain an understanding not just of the history and tactics of a counter insurgency war but an insight into men who often spent a decade or more DEPLOYED six weeks in the bush and 10 days home, year after year.
His material is simply the finest material out on Rhodesia’s war.
As for me, after several years of parenting and consuming work, I am about halfway through my sequel to The Gold of Katanga. It’s title is Task Force Intrepid: Kivu Crisis. It is much broader in plot and action. I have learned alot over the years and decided it’s now or never. With the books and articles mentioned here, you have at least a couple of months worth of reading.
Look for more updates as things progress. As I stated, I attempt to take the readers on journeys into the past and present and potential future. I hope you will join me.
Recently SOFREP has reprinted many many of my articles on Rhodesia. One that is missing is a story of a young idealistic American who made his way to Rhodesia to fight world Communism instead of going ahead of his commission with the USMC as he saw the war winding down and felt that fighting the wicked ideology was more viscera in Rhodesia. Enjoy
To all, this is one of my most interesting interviews of all time since I started wrtiting for sofrep.com If you have the slightest bit of interest in Mercenaries, Private Military Companies, Africa or simply Military subjects in general, you must read this interview and buy the book by Colonel Van Heerden.
It comes in paperback and then in an affordable Kindle edition. You will not regret it and you will get the real story of Executive Outcomes.
I recently published a fascinating interview with a South African Recce Veteran of the South African Border War for SOFREP. I would like to repost it here.
The Greater Share of Honour and the South African Recces
My writing on SOFREP has been limited to Rhodesia and its Special Operations Units during the Bush War. Trying to understand the conflicts in Southern Africa require a historical setting and an understanding of the history and culture of those nations. Most Americans see the end of the Vietnam War as a détente of sorts with the Soviet Union. In essence, the Cold War went cold.
For the people of South Africa, the combined efforts of the Soviets, East Germans, North Korea, China and Cuba extended the Cold War into a very hot fight for the expansionist ideals of Communism. In Rhodesia, Communism took on the mask of Black Nationalism. The Soviets and Chinese sought to exploit the West’s decision to withdraw from Colonialism and absentee governance of nations on a far off continent.
The nation of South Africa watched Rhodesia closely and offered assistance in aircraft, material and personnel to an extent but as early as 1966, encroachment on and within their borders began with terroristic activities of a whole host of insurgent groups. South West Africa / Namibia’s border with Angola started to produce similar activity as in Rhodesia. SWAPO (South West Africa People’s Organization) began attacking white farms and civilian targets. All of this festered along with a long running civil war in Angola against the colonial rule of Portugal until in 1975. That nation packed up and left. While warring groups sought control, the Communist powerhouses used the opportunity to strike against the South Africans.
SWA/Namibia was given to South Africa to administer after WW1 and many settlers farmed the territory. As the United Nations came into being, disputes over who would run the country arose and were not settled until the late 1980’s. In the meantime, South Africa believed that should the country be ruled by Russian and Chinese military powers, the next domino to fall would be South Africa itself. It was a fight against Communism.
The western media chose to ignore the issue of a massive military buildup around South Africa and turned the issue to a single but important issue. Apartheid. This institution was dying a slow death as the generation who brought it into being were losing its grip. Rather than viewing the Border War in its proper context, South Africa was isolated and became a pariah to the world over this. A proper view would see the massive Communist intent on invading South Africa and Communism/Marxism as an issue of stopping a machine that would destroy any freedom or hope thereof for all peoples in South Africa. Apartheid was an internal issue that was being dealt with and would resolve itself in time. In the meantime, South Africa would go it alone in its fight to preserve its borders and security.
The rough and unforgiving terrain of Africa, combined with the ultra violent nature of the insurgents backed by legitimate conventional military force would naturally produce a rare breed of soldier to fight back, especially ones who would take on unconventional roles in Reconnaissance and Direct Action duty. Among those groups that rose to legendary status was the South African Recce. In an age before drones and sophisticated ISR military technology, men required to take the battle to the enemy would have to be a breed apart. Men who could ruck 150 pounds of equipment on their back across the rugged, parched African terrain in two or three man teams, undetected and self-reliant. Men who could operate beyond the reach of air support and quick extracts. Should they be detected or encounter the enemy, they might be required to Escape and Evade for 150-200 kilometers back to safe territory. Their story, which I will be presenting in upcoming articles, is nothing less than astonishing and almost hard to believe.
To say that these men were elite is an understatement.
There are few books written by ex Recce’s themselves. Major Jack Greeff has penned a book that covers his life in the Recces in the hottest part of the Border War. What unfolds is an incredible adventure that reads like a great novel but there is nothing imaginary here. After joining the South African Army at 16 years of age, he learns his craft as an infantryman and then after spending time observing these unflappable and brave men, he sets to become one of them. In his journey, he not only becomes one of them but one whose reputation has lived long after his service. He is still a bushman at heart, working to train Game Rangers in the fight against poachers in Africa. It is often hard to contact him as he is usually in the Bush using the skills for war in another just cause to save Africa’s wildlife.
Major Greeff was generous enough with his time to do an interview for SOFREP. I felt it best to introduce our readers to this world with a good book recommendation and an actual interview with these extraordinary but often elusive men.
Hello Major, thank you for taking the time to speak with the readers of SOFREP. Many of our readers have become familiar with the Bush War in Rhodesia but most are unfamiliar with the Border War in South Africa. Most westerners understanding of South Africa revolves solely around Apartheid, unfortunately. The South African Defense Force, like Rhodesia was fighting a war against Communism. Communist forces from Angola, Mozambique.
As professional soldiers we served the government of the day, as do all armies around the world. I cannot recall one incident in my 16 years military career where somebody said we are “protecting apartheid”. I do recall that we were informed of a growing threat on our borders as Mozambique and Angola collapsed in 1975 and the bush war in Rhodesia was becoming more intense. I also recall clearly the buildup of Soviet military material such as T34 tanks at first, then the more modern T55 etc. The same goes for other military hardware such as Mig 17, then 19s then eventually the Mig 23. Small arms and other communist weapons were injected into the area in the hundreds of thousands. If that was not a military buildup, then I do not know what is. There is also a lot of literature by respected authors, one of which is Chester Crocker, ( Asst. Secretary of State on African Affaris ) which sets out the buildup and threat posed by communism to South Africa. I can go on and on but the fact is that there was a massive buildup of communist hardware and Cuban forces including Russians, right on our doorstep. Many operators served in the new SANDF after 1994 for several years loyal to the new government as required from a professional soldier. The war in Iraq and Afghanistan however drained most of the bush war experience
In your book, we find out that you were part of 5 SAI for a number of years. It appears that you joined very young and held the record for the youngest instructor in the school of infantry and became proficient with the Mortar at 16 years old? At what age were men able to join the Army?
I was part of 5 South African Infantry Battalion for 5 years doing infantry operations on the border areas. At that time we could leave school at age 16 and a lot of males did join the government sectors such as Police, Railways and Military at young ages. I completed my high school doing a correspondence course and later became an officer. I was 16 years old when I did the Instructors course for permanent force soldiers. The mortar training came later.
Early in the Border War, most of the action was taking place on the Angolan and South West African border. This consisted of a cut line straight across the length of Angola. How often were troops in the early 70’s allowed to go across and pursue SWAPO and other enemy groups? As the war intensified, you struck deeper into Angola, correct?
In the early 70s our operations were mainly south of the border cutline but the occasional logistic support was given to the Portuguese army across the border. The odd Intelligence operation was also carried out but I have not much knowledge of that.
You mention that you were assigned a mission consisting of advising FNLA due to your skill with the Mortar? Was this normal for non-Special Forces to Advise foreign troops?
With the start of the Angolan Civil War in 1995, the Recces were still a very small unit and they were quickly deployed with the first group of FNLA guerrillas to train them. The army then needed more training teams and set out recruiting volunteers from Infantry Units such as 5 SAI. That is where I ended up as a mortar instructor training a faction of the FNLA under Daniel Chipenda at that time. This force then set forth, joined other task forces and advanced towards Luanda.
You begin to mention being around a different sort of soldier , the men of the Reconnaissance Regiment, or Recces. As a young soldier, what was it that drew you to want to be among these men?
They were professional, casual in their ways in the unit and very brave and aggressive, I thought. It appealed to me and I wanted to become a Recce Commando.
Jan Breytenbach, the father of 3 Special Operations units in South Africa- 32 Battalion, The Recces, and the 44th Parabats / Pathfinders was often present. It isn’t often a full Colonel is in the thick of battle leading his men from the front lines. Most men are back in HQ receiving information through the communications systems. Did he continue to have a presence and voice over the course of the war?
Colonel Jan Breytenbach was and still is a soldier’s man. He was not a career officer but a professional soldier. He knew what his men needed on the ground and knew the enemy. He was always in the thick of things and was not interested to become a general. Many of our fighting generals did not see eye to eye with him. He had an influence throughout the war. Our best combat commanding officer of the war, no doubt. Because he knew the terrain and the enemy well, he could influence any form of combat mission from airborne parachute assaults, ground foot attacks, Guerrilla operations, motorized attacks and even conventional army mechanized operations.
Alot of people argue over who has the toughest selection process to gain entry into the Operational Training pipeline of Tier One units. The Rhodesian SAS, Selous Scouts and the Recce’s selection seems to be the harshest that I have read about. What do you think differentiates these selections from others? ( I would guess that the constant food deprivation is one. SEALS are fed 4-6000 calories a day ) Can you describe the depths of hardship that they put you through that modern Armies would consider inhumane?
The nature of operations on the Southern African continent requires tough and fit soldiers. The terrain dictates the nature of the operations and the chances of success or failure. The African is a tough human being and the African Guerrilla is a breed of their own. They can survive under extreme conditions and is extremely mobile on foot. In order for Special Forces to be able to operate under these conditions our selection process had to be aimed at selecting soldiers that can endure in these battle conditions. Our external Recon operations seldom lasted under seven days during which the team had to carry all their water and food for the period. Many of our operations stretched over 14 to 21 days before resupply was received. During our winters water is very scarce and the few water sources are used by the enemy as well and in most cases in Angola, dominated by the enemy. Any attempt to collect water can lead to the spoor of the team being detected and the team then tracked down by large enemy forces resulting in follow up operations lasting days during which teams are chased and hunted down.
I agree, probably the worst thing of our selection courses was the food deprivation. It is difficult to describe the hunger and weakness caused by poor nutrition for extended periods.
We had operators from all the major Special Forces around the world ie Brit SAS, Aussie SAS, Rhodesian SAS, Selous Scouts, French Foreign Legion, US Green Beret (No SEAL during my time) you name it. And I heard them all say that our selection course is the toughest they have encountered
Besides small unit tactics, how much do you think that the African theater of War, the land itself required an extra measure of harshness to become a Recce?
Most of our operations were extended of nature lasting from a week long Recon mission across the border to several months with guerrilla forces. The harsh terrain and high mobility of the African Guerrilla forces pushed our physical capabilities to the limits. This is in contrast with most other countries which execute “short raids” or what was called Long Range Recon Patrols in Vietnam. In contrast with jungle operations which is less demanding due to the availability of water and wild foods. Our distances into enemy territory can be as far as 20 to 1000 kilometers behind enemy lines with NO support. Yes I repeat, NO support. A two man team is on their own and if one is injured or falls ill he can face a lonely death. There was no immediate air support when operating 500 to 1000 kilometers in the enemy’s back yard. Most of the times our backpacks weighed not under 60 kilograms loaded with HF radio communications gear, food, water, explosives, recon kit, etc. Any emergency will set in motion a series of rescue attempts by either aircraft or naval vessels visiting pre-determined RVs. This will require that the team have to evade the enemy for an extended period of time, surviving as they go and living off the land so to speak.
In Africa most rural people are natural trackers. This made patrol movement in enemy areas extremely hazardous especially in the winter months when most grass was burnt and the sandy soil made anti tracking extremely difficult. Patrol tactics had to be adjusted and adapted to accommodate this threat. The land was dry, rugged and covered in thorn bush. Water was always a limiting factor and to endure in these conditions the operators had to be fit and well acclimatized.
It is a known fact that early on, the Americans wanted to back UNITA, however there is much debate over the actual presence of American troops on the ground to help train troops. One popular rumor is that a Black Green Beret ‘ A’ Team was once deployed to work with UNITA and assess things and report back the overall situation and the worthiness of supporting UNITA.
I have personally never seen an American Green Beret A Team or any USA operator while working with UNITA although there were rumors of US Operators escorting Stinger Missiles etc. I never saw any.
South Africa was a lifeline for Rhodesia throughout the course of their war. Few people realize that South Africa sent troops north to help with their manpower shortage and for Special Forces Units to gain experience. You were a part of ‘D’ Squadron, a South African contingent that helped fight FRELIMO and ZANU in Mozambique. That information remained classified well into the 80’s due to politics. Do you feel that it was important for the Unit to work with the SAS or did you have enough business of your own that it was really just a favor?
The Recce Units went to Rhodesia to assist the SAS with their operations in Mozambique and Zambia. These operations were a great learning school and the units quickly got up to standard as far as long distance HF Radio communications and minor tactics were concerned. The enemy (FRELIMO) was aggressive and many of these cross border operations ended up in a run for safety after being compromised or after an ambush, with a large follow up force on our tracks. These “runs” were referred to as “Gunston 500 Rallys”. We did a lot of anti-tracking, automatic ambushes and booby traps to shake them off. It was a great learning school that prepared us for our operations in Angola. Not a waste of time.
Your life now is dedicated to training wildlife Rangers and providing security against poachers. Are any of these poachers an opponent to be feared by trained soldiers? Has their level of sophistication risen to that level? Do you believe that the war against the wildlife of South Africa can be won or is the corruption at a level that makes it all but impossible to stamp out?
I am now using my military expertise in small team tactics to teach Wildlife Rangers tactics which they can use in the war against rhino poachers. The rhino poachers vary in their makeup from a totally untrained person to some who are well trained in firearms and military skills. Many are ex Mozambique Army or Zimbabwe Army troops selling their expertise. So called “imports”. To date we have not yet lost a ranger in an armed contact with poachers in SA. But, it takes only one bullet from even a rusted old bolt action rifle to kill a person. The training is therefore focused on small team tactics by two man patrols. These patrols are taught to shoot quick and accurate, referred to as “Quick Kill” shooting techniques. The rangers are also taught how to act during armed contacts during day and night operations. Bush craft is a must for these rangers and most of them are highly skilled trackers gathering all their field intelligence from tracking and ground coverage. Poachers are glorified by the press. They are nothing but criminals driven by greed. The war against poaching can be won but it will need a political and a military victory to achieve. We as Rangers can only stem the tide while the politicians try and get the demand and the price of rhino horn down.
Thank you for your time speaking with the readers of SOFREP
This one is 9.99!! E book.
Amazon has hard copies
Much more expensive. Please include B/N as it is affordable.
Peter Nealen is fast becoming a guaranteed, legitimate writer and analysis on current world conflicts and the ever changing world of the Marine Corps Special Operations endeavors. His hard hitting analysis and history on many Tier One websites is second to none. If he writes it, I know it is reliable. It is a rarity that an author can jump back and forth between HistoJournalism and ball busting fiction with equal effectiveness. But if follows that a man who can conquer the most difficult courses and standards that the Marine Corps has to offer can and will master whatever he chooses to lay his sights on.
I have to admit when first reading the series, I was thrown off by the first person narrative. It’s not often that I have been able to keep my attention or interest in First Person fiction that has a lot of ground to cover. As I kept reading, I unknowingly fell right in as rear security for the Team. This book holds uniqueness among the new wave of military fiction. The flow of the action continues from point to point and ratchets higher and higher.
The operational details, language, down to the dead time an Operator spends fighting an irregular war are second to none. This can only come from a person who has been there and done that more than once. What Nealen is giving us is a glimpse inside the mind of a Tier One Operator under very inhospitable circumstances. No detail is left undone yet it is not in the least cumbersome.
Before you read the American Praetorian Series, you might want to clean the rifle, lace up the boots, check and double check your gear because you will be unsure of where you are after a session of reading. I highly recommend this book and its prequel for people wanting to go to the Sharp End for a new mission. D.R. Tharp Author of Africa Lost: Rhodesia’s COIN Killing Machine and the Task Force Intrepid Series.
Graham Gilmore has given us a very well packaged history of the short lived but highly trained and effective unit in the SADF. The Unit is Legendary among Southern African Wars due to its unique formation and composition. Some of the very top soldiers to ever live, Col.Breytenbach, CSM Peter McAleese, CSM Dennis Croukamp and others concieved, trained and deployed a unique experimental unit to fulfill the need for a specialized troop to recce and coordinate airborne drops of troops. Their selection process in the Drakensburg mountains was as tough as the SAS, SEAL’s, Delta, etc.
One of the most interesting factors of this study is the relationship it had to Rhodesia’s foreign troops from Europe, the UK, Canda, Australia/New Zealand and the US. After the Bush War in Rhodesia was lost through the UK and the US installing Mugabe, the men of Rhodesia’s special forces were disbanded and treated as fugitives. South Africa capitalized on the experienced men and leadership by forming the Pathfinders and funneling others to units in the SADF. However, many traditional Afrikanner staff officers were shocked by the operational methods and discipline of Rhodesia’s soldiers. The foreigners greatly disappointed the rigid culture of officers in the SADF. Col. Breytenbach realized the potential for the unit as he did with the Recce’s and other units.He himself was a Leader. Colonels don’t usually demand they be the vanguard of a unit in the bush seeking contact with the Terrs. Yet this is the type of unit the Pathfinders of Phillistines were.
Like American units in WW2 or Vietnam such as the Marine Corps Raiders, or the LRRP’s, they appeared, shook up traditional doctrine and eventually the bureaucracy won and cut their nose of to spite their face. Yet the stories of the men are stuff of legend and a very unknown unit now is able to be studied from a person who had been there, done that. I highly recommend this book to any person who is interested in Special Operations, whether it be in Africa or Afghanistan. 6 stars . Dan Tharp author of Africa Lost: Rhodesia’s COIN Killing Machine, Task Force Intrepid: The Gold of Katanga- Bravo!
I have come to respect the writings and opinions of Peter Nealen, A former Force Recon man and now novelist/SOFREP author. His fiction rings with authenticity because he has lived the life. His second Novel – Hunting Shadows is now live on Amazon. Do yourself a favor and read his novels and writings at http://www.SOFREP.com
Publishing with St. Martin’s Press under SOFREP.com’s banner, I will release a survey of Rhodesia’s Special Forces and shed some light on a long fogotten subject in Military History. Much more to come in 2013 and 2014!!!