A word on the delegation of tasks and targets
We received intelligence to the effect that a convoy of ZANLA vehicles carrying men, munitions and supplies was making its way from Barragem to a camp at Chicualacuala, a border village in the Gaza Province of Mozambique. Elements of 1 Troop, 1 Commando, RLI were dropped along the convoy route to the north-west of Mapai. We found an ambush site overlooking a dip in the road, set up and waited in eager anticipation. I say eager because ZANLA ration packs were supplied by all manner of agencies who sought the best for their heroes. One of the items provided, amongst other delicacies, were tins of creamy, smooth Swedish cheese. Our 'rat’ packs too, had cheese. It was in a tube and resembled old wood glue. It stuck to the roof of your mouth for days causing a speech impediment. Nevertheless, tinned Swedish cheese – now this was real class! And a consignment was coming up the road for re-distribution to the RLI. I was lying in wait, my mouth drooling like Pavlov’s dog.
Come midnight and the sound of an engine; but not the convoy. It was an Air Force Lynx droning in from our west. As was the standard ‘after hours’ procedure, you would turn your radio on if you heard an aircraft. One of the Majors on the Brigade planning team came over the air, “Call-sign One One. You are to vacate your location and reposition to ........”. The gist of the message was that we were to move twenty kilometres to the north-west, link up with another call-sign at 05h00 and then before first light, attack a communications and tracking station manned by FRELIMO and Russians. The site in question was called the Troposcatter and was surrounded by a complex defensive trench system. They numbered about 50 and their weaponry included 12.7 and 23mm heavy machine guns as well as the infamous ‘Stalin organ’ – 122mm rocket launchers. What a bonus! Counting myself, I had twelve men; three machine guns, nine automatic rifles, an RPG-7 rocket launcher and a box of matches named Herbert. Not great odds.
Another prickly issue was that the Gaza Province, covered in thorn scrub and low trees, was also flatter than a tape worm on diet so there were no hills or other evident landmarks. Therefore, accurate map reading in the day was difficult – in pitch darkness it was nigh impossible. Just move two degrees off course over 20 kilometres and you’d end up in Ethiopia. Therefore, in the limited time available, there was as much possibility of locating the other call-sign as finding a Hottentot in Alaska.
In the still night air, an hour after we had withdrawn, we heard the rumble of trucks passing our recent ambush position. At 03h00 we were skipping with unbounded glee towards the Kremlin when the Lynx reappeared. “Abort the operation.” Oh how disappointing, we get to live for another day. The Major continues, “Get back to the road, word has it that the convoy is on the way.” I reply, “The convoy has passed.” Silence.
We rigged up a couple of booby traps on the track to irritate the returning drivers but there was no point in hanging around – the column was safely in Chicualacuala – together with our Swedish cheese. Uplifted shortly thereafter back to Chiredzi, the Major greets me icily with, “How come you missed the convoy?” I was incredulous. He obviously had a memory shorter than a pygmy’s dork.
The lesson. The column was a difficult target. An attacking force should theoretically outnumber the defence by 3 to 1. We estimated that there would have between 40-50 defenders on those vehicles. We had a quarter of their strength. However, with the element of surprise and a well sighted ambush we were standing on good ground. Because of the odds, mentally we were revved up like Hot-Rods, and were not going to fail. Tough, but achievable. The Troposcatter, however, was way out of sight. Your normal ‘patrol speed’ was between 4-7 kilometres per hour. Not fast to the layman, but bear in mind you were carrying a pack of 30 kilograms, had to move cautiously with regular stops to observe the ground to your front and re-align your compass direction. To cover this kind of ground in the period available was pushing for an Olympic gold.
Further, the fact that there was no time for a recce of the target, no formal attack plan, the formidable defensive network facing us, not to mention being outnumbered, was putting a huge dent in my normally enthusiastic quest for adventure. In this case, go for the smaller prize. At least there is a greater chance of success. Having achieved this objective morale is uplifted; motivation is improved and becomes a stepping stone to greater success.
I’ve seen too many companies where management try and wring every drop of available juice from their employees to attain unrealistic targets. All they are achieving is the draining of their resources and de-motivating their people. Moreover, another point from the example above, be decisive and do not vacillate; if you lack decision making ability, you lose both ground and the respect of your team - and in this case, also Swedish cheese.