Join Date: Mar 2006
The A76 ate batteries, and they had no means of indicating the power level left in the battery, other than a terse "change your battery you are breaking up," or something ruder, you were never sure if it was fully ok other than a radio check with friends etc. They were also large by todays standards, for what they did - but we are talking about seventies technology. They worked just fine with overhead callsigns, although sometimes they received "flutter" from the helicopters as they turned. I should add that A76`s came with an attachment to plug into the aerial socket called a Sputnik (it looked like one). This basically consisted of a coax cable connected to a small hub with 3 or 4 inverted and flexible aerial blades screwed into it. The idea was to fix the sputnik up a tree, and this increased our comms range by quite a bit. I remember sending sitreps to a relay stick sat on top a large hill about 15 KM`s from my position, where the terrain between us was very hilly and broken up. The relay was placed there to allow a number of sticks to communicate with our base camp some 30 km`s away.
For much longer distance comms we had another beast of a machine that would fill a back pack by our usual light weight standards. I think this was called a B52, if memory serves me correct, and I don`t think any pun on the bomber was intended. I can only remember our stick carrying one of these on one occasion, and that after the war while our Commando was exercising in the Inyanga Mountains by doing the SAS selection course for a laugh (!) The B52 had an elaborate aerial arrangement that had to be laid out in a certain pattern, and were really meant for a base site, rather than a patrol. They were great at picking up Radio 5 in South Africa though, a popular music channel (strictly forbidden of course, just mentioned in passing
Rhodesian Allouettes were all modified to try combat Strelas (SAM7). Basically the airforce engineers designed a shroud that directed the hot air leaving the turbine up into the blades of the chopper, instead of straight out the back as was standard. If you look at pics of Rhodesian Allouettes you will see the mod. For reasons unknown the South Africans didn`t take the design up and it was absent on their Allouettes. Thankfully troopies were generally unaware of the strela threat, but of course we were aware of the danger from RPG7 rockets (etc). Our training had us out of the choppers pretty smartly after the wheels contacted the earth - bump and go. G-cars hugged the tree tops especially on run in, and they used ground features to good effect. I was frequently surprised by Allouettes suddenly appearing as they rose from over behind a small hill very near to our position, and their overall "quietness" when watched on approach was frankly astonishing. The Bells on the other hand could be heard many miles away when inbound, and of course they deafened the hell out of us by the time we got out of them. While they carried 8 troops instead of 4, the noise would have made them awful in the "surprise" department. Dont underestimate the effect of the comparative quietness of the Allouettes on approach, this will have played a huge part in Fire Force`s success.
Why didn`t more K-Cars, Daks, or Lynxs get shot down by Strelas given their relatively higher flying altitude? I have absolutely no idea. It seems to me the terrs could have caused mayhem with our FF if they had applied a few clever traps with those things. They certainly knocked a few Trojans down, and a Canberra went down in Mozambique apparently shot down, and of course we lost two civilian airliners, but to my knowledge we never lost a chopper to a strela. Strange, perhaps they kept the fact quiet? We certainly had choppers shot down by ground fire, a few of which crash landed and were recovered, and we had a South African Puma helicopter and a Dak take RPG7 hits in Mozambique, the former causing the greatest single loss of RLI troops.
As an aside, I always found pictures of the troops on FF ops interesting. Certainly by the end of 1979/1980, the use of short trousers was no longer, and we all wore normal camo long trousers, or one piece camo jumpsuits. This was because a number of troops had taken hits in the legs, so a dress change was instituted, but I don`t know what year this occurred - sounds all rather casual I know, but the use of shorts and light running shoes was originally designed to help increase speed and mobility. People are sometimes surprised by our dress in the bush, however while spit and polish and identical kit was expected in the barracks, out in the bush we were free to make our own choice in webbing, light weight boots or running shoes, etc etc. We wore face veils as bandanas to keep the sweat out of our eyes (who the hell is Rambo anyway?), and no helmets (unless jumping from a Dak) because of their weight (I`m sure you know this anyway). I used to wear a pair of shoes called Veld Skoens, a popular, soft, tan coloured leather shoe sported by officers, but not allowed as normal dress when in barracks for the other ranks (boots only for us). I modified my "Vellies" (pronounced Fellies, or Felt Skoons, an Afrikaans word) by having our cobbler replace the sole with car tyre tread, as car tyres were used by the locals out in the villages to make sandles. It made the shoe a bit heavier, but the tread spoor blended in well when in a TTL. And those vellies gave me 30 000 miles . . .
This exchange reminded me of an important fact, and that was the degree of independent action expected from the troops on the ground. Because Fire Force operations required a very detailed synchronized ballet of air assault support, close air support, observations posts, paratroopers, and sweep and stop groups, independent action was not expected. In fact, it was more likely frowned upon. Much of the coordination was accomplished through the Mk. 1 eyeball, and restricting movement was a simple means of deconflicting the ever so dangerous geometry of fires.