Updated: Jul 12
Rhodesian Air Force pilot's and Tech/gunner's log books played an important part in authenticating airborne (Fire Force) deployments and events in my diaries. On 24 November 1978, a SAS callsign made contact with ZIPRA insurgents in the Doro Region of the Hurungwe Tribal Trust Land. After the contact the callsign radioed the FF (via their HQ), based at the Karoi Country Club and requested uplift and that Special Branch (SB) attend the scene. Two helicopters deployed, one with the SB man and a UANC party political intelligence officer onboard. The full details of the battle including details of the SB man and UANC party political intelligence officer, intelligence leading up to, during and after the deployment, and results of the contact are in Battle For Hurungwe.
In order to authenticate my diary entries and triangulate evidence, I realised the importance of Rhodesian Air Force Pilot's and Tech/gunner's log books. Entries made in these log books included the type of aircraft, those onboard (pax), the location, dates, type of operation (relay, trooping, recce etc.), flying time, and so on. Generally details of specific operations were not recorded; there were so many and each event was "another day in the office". Fortunately, there were exceptions when details were recorded, marked-up or, for specific reasons, remembered.
I started locating former pilots and Tech/gunners and developed a good network that confirmed various events in my diaries but not the SAS battle. During the war, pilots and Tech/gunners were merely faces doing a dangerous, highly skilled and professional job. This all changed as I met these men and started putting names to faces during my research. When chatting to my friend and colleague Sandy Irvine about the matter he said, "Why don't you ask the pilot Air Lt. Mike Gardner"? Sandy and Mike were family friends. I tracked down Mike Gardner and bingo, he was the pilot involved in the uplift of the SAS callsign on 24 November 1978. Mike's log book and recollections allowed me to track down the other pilot and Tech/gunners involved in the incident. Of interest, the Fire Force deployed to the Karoi Country Club on 22 November 1978.
On 26 November 1978, I deployed the Fire Force on another successful battle (see Wire Strike - Battle For Hurungwe, pp 305-9). The Fire Force had moved from the Karoi Country Club to Montesuma Farm airfield. In order to track down the movement of the FF I found Tech/gunner Sgt. Mark Jackson in Cape Town, South Africa. Mark's log book confirmed relocation of the Fire Force from Karoi to Montesuma Farm on 25 November 1978. These fine details were significant and important to me in the triangulation of evidence process.
I located several helicopter pilots and Tech/gunners involved in the Wire Strike battle. An important find was Air Lt. Chris Tucker who flew the Lynx (Cessna 337 aircraft adapted and armed for air-to-ground combat), and confirmed the events. Shortly after dawn on 26 November 1978, Chris flew from Kariba airport and landed at Montesuma farm airstrip. He then flew the FF commander, a resistance operator and myself on indications in order to pinpoint a ZIPRA base camp we had identified and wanted to attack with the FF. On the return flight, having located the base camp, and on approaching Montesuma airstrip, landing into sun, the FF Officer shouted “wires”. The details of this incident and the subsequent FF action are explained in Battle For Hurungwe.
Where possible, I have authenticated incidents and battles including Force Force actions using pilot's and Tech/gunner's logbooks throughout Battle for Hurungwe .
As an aside, during the war, at least eight wire strikes were recorded: One Canberra; two Dakotas and five helicopters, resulting in 12 deaths, six air force and six military personnel.
Photos: (L-R) Squadron Leader Eddy Wilkinson's wire strike crash site. Eddy survived. Air Lt. Mike Gardner's logbook; Air Lt. Chris Tucker; Sgt. Mark Jackson and author; Air Lt. Dick Paxton (late).
Lynx - a Cessna 337 aircraft adapted and armed for air-to-ground combat.
Photo courtesy Chris Tucker.