Our speaker on 12 July was Sgt Major Dennis Croukamp BCR, one of the heroes of the War in Rhodesia during the years 1965 to 1980. He is the author of the book "Only my friends call me Crouks", which is now in its third printing and is an account of his personal experiences during that long and hard-fought war. He served with the Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI), then with the Selous Scouts and finally back with the RLI.
He was born in Umtali and grew up in Rhodesia. Brought up by his grand parents, who lived a somewhat nomadic sort of life, he spent a considerable amount of time in the bush and grew to love the wildness and beauty of the Rhodesian bushveld and the wildlife which, in those days, could be found everywhere.
His ambition was to become a soldier and his military career commenced in 1964 when he was called up for National Service, which in those peaceful times was for a period of 41/2 months. He was then allocated to a Territorial Army unit and, after a call up in the following year, he joined the Regular Army for service in the Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI), an elite unit.
This at the time was employed largely on border control duties. As time passed, the border control duties became counter-terrorist operations. Mr Croukamp described these early border control duties as a sponsored safari of note as all of their time was spent in the bush, largely in the North-east of the country near Kariba. He illustrated his talk throughout with photographs taken while in the bush. Some of these were "legal", taken when he had become the semi-official photographer of the RLI; others were non-official!
In the course of these operations, weapons were recovered from the insurgents. Many of the early weapons captured were of World War 2 vintage - rifles, Thompson sub-machine guns and all sorts of obsolete small arms. According to official records, these had been "destroyed" in the Mediterranean War Zone at the end of World War 2 but, mysteriously, had become resurrected and supplied to the liberation movements in Southern Africa. As the months passed, these were replaced by modern Eastern Bloc weapons - Simonov rifles, AK47s and RPG7 rocket launchers among others until the insurgents were very well armed indeed.
Pseudo operations or counter gangs had been used very effectively by the British army in Malaya and Kenya and, as the Rhodesians had served in the former with the British, it was only a matter of time before the Rhodesian army started using these tactics. Mr Croukamp considered that the Rhodesian forces had used these tactics even more successfully than had the British. White soldiers would blacken themselves and, with the black soldiers disguised as insurgents or guerrillas, arrange meetings with the genuine article! They would go through the whole process of identification and this was not a simple task as the routines changed regularly. They would then either kill or capture them. The Rhodesian forces (usually the Selous Scouts) would then attempt to "turn" the prisoners and many of them in fact joined the Selous Scouts who had captured them!
Few betrayed their new masters and they played an important part in the counter insurgency war.
The Rhodesians were always short of helicopters and perforce had to parachute-train their troops from the Selous Scouts, RLI and the Rhodesian African Rifles (RAR) as well as the Special Air Services (SAS). The Selous Scouts used parachutes to infiltrate into Mocambique and Zambia, the RLI and RAR, as airborne light infantry, used parachutes to get troops into action on "fire force" operations and the SAS almost always used para-dropping to get their people into the area of operations.
Many RLI operations required jumping from heights which were often dangerously low or then from heights where oxygen had to be used.
Sgt Major Croukamp transferred to the Selous Scouts and spent 41/2 years with that unit before retyurning to the RLI. He served with legendary figures in that unit including Lt Col Ron Reid-Daly and Maj Chris Schulenberg. By 1976, ZANLA were using the Mocambique railways to move men and supplies from Barragem to Mapai and then to Malvernia, close to the Rhodesian border. The Selous Scouts had destroyed or captured. Mr Croukamp described these operations which were completely successful although not free of incident.
He described the excellent radio communication systems developed by the Rhodesians which enabled troops in the field to contact their base and arrange for air support or helicopter pick-ups. Where helicopters were unable to land, a system of extraction by harness (which could lift four men at a time) was developed. This was also used if the troops had been spotted by the enemy. This was an extremely hazardous means of extraction! Malaria was another hazard and he described his own experiences in this regard.
The Rhodesians became very skilled improvisers and developed their own armoured and mine-proofed vehicles, e g the Pig. They also armed vehicles with 20mm cannon taken from obsolete Vampire jet fighters - the motto being don't waste! Ammunition was controlled strictly and never ran out.
Another highly successful development was a sort of space buggy-like vehicle invented by the Transport Officer of the Selous Scouts. This could be dismantled and para-dropped in three parts. It could be assembled in 30 minutes and was used to transport explosives during bridge destruction operations.
For the remainder of his service, Sgt Maj Croucamp returned to the RLI. He described his last contact before the cease fire and his meeting with Rex Nhongo, the ZAPLA leader who became a Lt General in the Zimbabwe National Army afterwards.
Maj Tony Gordon thanked the speaker for an enthralling talk and presented him with the customary gift from the Society.
The committee has elected Johan van den Berg as Vice-Chairman at its last meeting, as a Vice Chairman was not elected at the AGM. Best of luck in your new post Johan.
We welcome the following new members who joined in 2007 and look forward to seeing them at our meetings - Messrs B L Young and N Thomas.
Thank you to those members who have paid their subscriptions. If you have not paid your subs, please do so as soon as possible either at our meetings or by post or deposit to our bank account At Nedbank, Foreshore Branch, branch code 108309, account number 108 333 2058. Please note your name in the "Remarks" column. Thank you.
Thursday 16 Aug - INDONESIAN CONFRONTATION -- 1962 TO 1966
Bob Buser (Secretary/Treasurer)
Phone - Home - Evenings 021 689 1639, Office -- Mornings Only 021 689 9771