Extracts from The Captain's Journey

The Mapai Episode

Dale Collett was an Officer in the Selous Scouts and decorated with the Silver Cross for ‘Conspicuous Gallantry and Leadership in Action.’ This was Rhodesia’s second highest award for bravery.

In June 1976 the Scouts raided the FRELIMO base in Mapai, Mozambique. Collett single-handedly charged up a staircase of an enemy building to attack the barricaded occupants. He was shot in the spine and paralysed from the chest down. A couple of minutes later Tim Bax, Bruce Fitzsimmons and Jannie Nel hurtled up the same stairs to finish the job.


Dale Collett - his epic journey from Gaborone to Cape Town

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.


The Character Within

Come the end of the war in Zimbabwe, elements of the Selous Scouts were silently filtered through the border into South Africa. Arriving at an unmarked dirt road a few kilometres from the outskirts of Phalaborwa, we were shown to our newly constructed Recce base.

A couple of weeks later a number of prominent locals invited us to the Golf Club, probably as much to view these mysterious aliens as to welcome us to the little mining town. A young lady struck up a conversation with me. Her first words, “So, what car do you drive?”


The Zambezi Valley Convoy Run...


Dave Parker, the Commanding Officer of the RLI was based at the Joint Operational Command (JOC) at Mount Darwin in 1975. The fire-force base was across the road and we had just returned from a battle with some dissidents. It had been a long dehydrating fight, so I decided to have a couple of drinks at the JOC with Gawie Venter. He was a South African helicopter pilot in the Rhodesian Air Force and a wonderful character.

Anyway we consumed a fair amount and very late in the evening, became exceptionally rowdy. The senior Air Force man, a Wing Commander, came to remonstrate. There was a tree just outside the pub and Venter, at this juncture was hanging from one of its branches going “Ba-hoo, ba-hoo” at his superior, rather like a baboon protecting his mielie cob.


Focus on the Lift-Off

I was the airborne controller during a battle in a densely wooded and mountainous area. Directing from a helicopter, my job was to deploy and then guide my troops into various positions enabling them to cut off and eliminate enemy forces. Owing to the very thick terrain, visibility was limited, so my effectiveness in this particular case was diminished. Rather than senselessly circling the area, I decided to join my troops on the ground. Arranging to meet one of my call-signs a short, but safe, distance from the contact, John “Plank” Blythewood, the pilot flew to a rather tight LZ nearby and landed. He was going to stay there to conserve fuel.

As the rotors were slowing down I prepared to disembark. Suddenly a deafening explosion a few metres away! Shrapnel splinters the Perspex canopy. I decide not to disembark.


The Dirty Tricks Brigade


Lieutenant Edward Piringondo was my neighbour in the Selous Scouts barracks and one of the first Black Officers in the Rhodesian Army. Awarded the Silver Cross for his numerous exploits, he took professionalism to another level. He didn’t just watch a camp – he went right in. It’s one thing observing a base, but to go in alone requires a special touch.

On one occasion in Zambia he spent five days in a series of camps conversing with the inhabitants. He visited their command points, radio shacks, sleeping areas and defences. Such was his assertion no-one vaguely suspected who he actually was.