Arms For Rhodesia including the amazing Douglas A-1 Skyraider by JB Campbell

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[I was delighted to hear from JB Campbell. I had heard that he'd been very ill. He tells some interesting stories from his time in Rhodesia. The story about helping to procure arms for the Rhodesian military, especially the airforce is fascinating. Until now I'd never heard of the Sky Raider. I've looked into it and it's an amazingly successful American plane that was used in Vietnam. This prop plane, with it's heavy armament would have been perfect for the Rhodesian war in the bush. You can get an idea of how deadly it was by looking at this short video from Vietnam: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mv_T4Zw3-8s In that video it seems to be dropping napalm which was a real killer. Rhodesia also used it. JB ends his article by saying he doesn't know if Rhodesia got the Sky Raiders. I can assure you we never got the Sky Raiders. In a comprehensive airforce book I was reading, I can assure you, we never got those planes. Unfortunately, I can't remember what planes we did get. I know a shipment of planes was flown secretly, from Europe to Rhodesia. I would have to dig more into it. But those planes were nothing as good as the Sky Raider. JB's comments about the South Africans going down without a fight is something I understand, and I agree with him. The secret to that is the bloodless coup against President PW Botha. If he had been around, the Whites would have fought. Jan]

Here’s JB’s article:-

In April or May of 1974 an unusual character flew into Salisbury to interview me. Robert K. Brown was a retired major of the US Army Special Forces. Since retiring he’d been the colorful publisher of military books and declassified army field manuals with his company in Boulder called Paladin Press. I’d learned of his company a couple of years before and had spoken with him on the phone regarding a Sten gun somebody was manufacturing. I mentioned that I was getting set to start the Rhodesian Army’s officer training program, which was a year-long course beginning every January. He asked me to keep in touch.

I dropped him a note a year later and described what I was doing, which was working for the British South Africa Police in their anti-terror squad – Support Unit. My deal with the army hadn’t worked out due to their age limit of twenty-five for officer candidates. I’d turned twenty-six in December and was thus too far over the hill to lead kids who had just finished high school. The recruiter hadn’t noticed this glitch until it was too late for me to change plans and I went anyway. The police were glad to have me and allowed me to join Support Unit after six months in Uniform Branch of getting used to Africans.

This was because Support Unit was made up of African constables and sergeants and a sergeant major arranged in troops led by a few White section officers and inspectors. Since I was a lowly one-bar patrol officer an arrangement made me an acting section officer since there were no patrol officers in Support Unit. Section officers became acting inspectors. There were about forty of us and maybe three hundred blacks in four troops. I was in the fourth – D Troop. Inspector John Arkley, an ex-cop from England, was our troop commander. Support Unit’s traditional duty was to serve as the president’s personal security force. The president was Clifford DuPont and if you drove by his colonial mansion at any time of the day or night you saw two Support Unit constables at attention at the entrance in crisp starched khakis and black fezzes with their FN rifles. All Support unit leather, from cap straps to Sam Browne belts to boots was black, which distinguished us from Uniform Branch’s brown leather. Captured terrorists referred to us as the Black Boots.

My problem was having spent six weeks in charge of ZAPU terrorist leader Joshua Nkomo and two of his deputies and forty-five senior commanders at the secret prison camp at Vila Salazar on the Mozambique frontier down in Matabeleland. This was where I finally understood the treachery of the prime minister, Ian Smith, and his Rhodesian Front party. The sadistic Soviet-backed Communist monsters were being trained and groomed for leadership in the long-planned black takeover of Rhodesia, the second-most successful country in all of Africa. The same thing was going on in Salisbury Prison, where the leaders of Chinese-trained and supplied ZANU were being prepared to take over pretty soon. I never heard of Robert Mugabe while I was there. Ndabaningi Sithole was generally considered the ZANU leader at the time. It made no difference who was in charge of either gang.

Brown sent word that he’d be arriving in Salisbury from Lisbon when I’d be on my week off from a six-week patrol. I picked him up and took him to the Meikles Hotel where he said he intended to write about the Rhodesian terror war for Esquire and Guns Magazine. He brought with him an M1A – a clone of the M-14 rifle – a Leatherwood rangefinder 3×9 scope and a .44 Magnum AutoMag pistol.

He rented a Nissan 510 the next day and I drove us up to Mt Darwin to meet some of my farmer friends who lived in the sharp end. Ralph and Cynthia Edwards were attacked the previous year and I had taken a half dozen soldiers to the farm. Next was Gerry Arnott, who had narrowly missed being killed by my boss Dave Parry, the member-in-charge of police in Mt Darwin, also in ’73.

Three men from Internal Affairs – Bob Bland, Denis Sanderson and Gerry Hawksworth – had been holed up in Darwin for a week since Parry had ordered them to leave their tents and gear at their camp in the deadly dangerous Chesa tribal trust land and get the hell out of there. Terrorists had taken over much of that TTL and Parry’s order was proper. What he did next was deliberate murder.
Pat Hyde-Smith had been a successful tobacco and maize farmer five or so miles out of town. Virtually all the farms in the Mt Darwin – Centenary – Bindura areas which were now the targets of China’s proxies, the ZANU killers, had been well-managed and prosperous. I never heard that anyone had sold out and left. Of course, no professional farmer would likely buy into such a murderous neighborhood anyway. Nevertheless all these people were determined to defend themselves and their way of life.

Pat’s wife drove into Darwin that morning to the police to report their cook boy was missing and likely abducted and murdered. That was a common thing. She turned down the short dirt drive to the charge office. On her right was the army camp with most of them out on operations and on her left was an open space of an acre or so but overgrown with tall grass. We and the Rhodesian Light Infantry were right next to each other so that they could respond very quickly to calls for help which came to the police via an extensive network of single side-band radios. Since I was the one doing the farm patrols it would generally be my job to ride along with the army as a guide to the farm under attack. Farm patrol was visiting several farms a day inspecting the visibility of the three-foot reflective white-lettered ID marker on the roof of the Burley barn (so the helicopter pilots knew they were at the right place), making sure their guns were ready for action, sandbags were stacked high enough under the windows and to hear anything their workers had passed on. The SSB was okay since they called in situation reports two or three times a night. The English farmers had pretty good communication with their workers, who were quite competent and loyal. The Afrikaans-speakers – not so much. They made problems for themselves by verbally abusing the help.

Something in the tall grass caught Mrs Hyde-Smith’s eye and she quickly stopped and backed up to see five Africans lounging. One of them got up and approached her. He removed his slouch hat and said, “Yes Madam?”

“Have you seen my cook boy, Bomas?”

“No, Madam – we do not know this muntu.” She continued down to the charge office and reported Bomas missing. An hour later Denis Sanderson suggested to Dave Parry that he have the tall grass out front mowed, adding, “They could bloody hide in there and you’d never bloody know!”

So Parry told him it was safe to go into Chesa to retrieve their equipment. Just like that.

That evening everyone was in the Mt Darwin pub, which was a big version of an African rondoval with a thatched roof. Sanderson, Bland and Hawksworth had a drink with Gerry Arnott and invited him to go with them to get their gear in the morning. His tobacco grading was finished so he said he’d go along. Just then the Africans in the tall grass emerged with their AKs, a machine gun and an RPG. They sprayed bullets at the charge office, the army camp and the nearby pub, which had thirty or so tightly packed patrons inside. A rocket was fired at the pub but sailed just over the thatched roof, across the road and into the modern and large Internal Affairs building. That was a very lucky miss for if the rocket had hit the pub’s concrete wall most of the patrons would have been killed. Gerry and the IA guys grabbed their rifles and ran out of the pub. There were no casualties except Hawksworth, who hurt his ankle from tripping on a strand of wire fence which he couldn’t see in the dark. The ZANU guys slipped away into the black night and probably dropped in to the African beer hall for a quickie. It was quite a performance, waiting all day till nightfall in the tall grass and then stepping out to do their number.

Gerry was running fifteen minutes behind schedule and got to the village to find them gone. An hour later, the IA men rolled into their camp which was now infested with terrorists who opened fire on the lead Land Rover pickup, riddling Bob and Denis, who died instantly. They were professional agricultural instructors, not fighters, but one of them tried to bring his rifle to bear. Gerry Hawksworth was a mercenary in the Congo in the early ’60s but he wasn’t ready for the ambush. He was captured and force-marched with his injured ankle through northern Mozambique to Dar es Salaam where ZANU forced him to be a typist at party headquarters. He had a British passport and the embassy negotiated for a year and finally got him back to Rhodesia.

Parry did a similar trick to me – twice! (I think I’ve told those stories in other essays.)

My experience at Vila Salazar ruined my morale but I was still riding for the brand. What I’d seen and deduced was so sickening that I couldn’t talk about it with anyone in the police – especially Support Unit since we were secretly in charge of the detention camps at VS. I tried to warn my farmer friends while recovering from cerebral malaria. Gerry took me to a meeting at Hyde-Smith’s and my judgment wasn’t so good. I shot my mouth off about Nkomo but what I was telling them was so bizarre that no one other than Gerry could take me seriously. In 1974 we all assumed we were winning.

I showed Brown around Tomlinson Depot, where African recruits took basic training as constables. Support Unit was headquartered there as well since it was made up of African cops.

Brown brought with him a brochure for patrol boats made by the Phillips Company in Baton Rouge. I was staying with my American ex-pat friends when in Salisbury and I left the brochure on their coffee table. A friend of theirs who was in the ministry of defense came to dinner. He noticed it and asked the source? Igor said it was mine actually. I was doing my week back in Tomlinson and a message was given to me by Superintendent Pat Deasy, the Unit’s executive officer. It was from the MOD telling me to be at the Meikles that afternoon at 1300.

The man mentioned the brochure and asked if I were able to obtain certain other items in addition to the river boats? Brown had told me about Phillips, that they were very hi-fi and resourceful. Brown had run machine guns to the Cuban rebels for CIA in 1958, that is, to Castro, and for all I knew was still in the game. I knew about Sam Cummings and Interarms but he would only supply arms with CIA permission, since he was Allen Dulles’ boy. No one in the UK could be trusted and I wouldn’t work with anyone to whom English was a second language. So I told the man I could do it. He nodded and said fine – someone higher up would take it from there. I explained that I would be going back on a six-week patrol in a few days.

By the time I got back to Tomlinson there was another message, this time from the office of the prime minister. It instructed me to be there at 0900 tomorrow and to ask for Major King.

Ian King was Ian Smith’s military attache, his liaison with the army. His office was next to Smith’s office and I noticed the connecting door between them. The major got to it. “You indicated that you can obtain items other than the boats…”

“Yes, sir.”

He pushed a piece of paper my way. “This is a shopping list of the things we would like to have…” The items included the river boats, Red Eye anti-aircraft shoulder-fired missiles, second generation night vision equipment, various spare parts for their current equipment, Browning .50 caliber machine guns, spare parts and ammo, .30 caliber guns, etc for the Ferret scout cars, several million rounds of 7.62 NATO and 9mm, various spare parts for the Dakotas (C-47s) and other items I can’t recall. The one which I do, though, was Douglas A1 Skyraider ground attack airplanes.

“I must tell you that we have been in discussions with another country but we have not had contact for some time… So at this point it is a matter of which of you can deliver first…”

“I see.”

“How would you plan getting the equipment here?”

“I’m thinking about bringing it to the Seychelles and staging it into Rhodesia from there. It might require a deal with them. But the Portuguese won’t object to us overflying Mozambique.”

“Yes – that could be done. I understand you have a six-week patrol to do?”

“Yes, sir, but I can be replaced. We probably don’t want to wait that long to get this going. I wouldn’t want to use the telephone from this country.”

So an arrangement was made to get me into Support Unit and an arrangement was made to get me out. I flew from Salisbury on TAP to Luanda and Lisbon to London and then to Miami to visit my dad on his sailboat in West Palm. My next stop was Baton Rouge. The merry men at the Phillips Company turned out to be real professionals in the arms business. They wanted a week to check on what I wanted. I didn’t disclose the buyer but when I asked for the phony end-user licenses to be for the Seychelles they probably figured it out. There wasn’t much going on in the Seychelles. They told me they would request payment to their bank in Bern if our deal worked out. When payment was received the equipment would be loaded and shipped from New Orleans, which they expected I would want to supervise and accompany to the Seychelles. We shook hands and I headed home to California.

Some might reasonably wonder why I would support Ian Smith’s military after what I’d seen at Vila Salazar? What I’d seen was a shock alright but it was only confirmation of what I’d been told by Ian Smith’s minister of internal affairs, Jack Howman, in a business meeting in Salisbury three years earlier in 1971. I’ve described the nature of that meeting in other essays but the fact was that Howman said to me and my wife, “Change has come to Rhodesia.” He appeared to take some satisfaction in saying that. I was used to being disappointed by supposedly anti-Communist politicians but this bordered on the obscene. I said, “By ‘change’ do you refer to International Socialism?” He glared at me but didn’t respond.

Despite that bad experience I went back thinking that change could go the other way – change for the better. The Rhodesian Front might be voted out. It was the same this time; and it wouldn’t hurt for the security forces to have this equipment.

Phillips called a few days later to confirm that everything was available except the Skyraider airplanes. He suggested I call Douglas, that they would be the best source for locating perhaps twenty of them. Skyraiders were really remarkable airplanes; they were huge, tail-dragging single-seaters that could haul more weight than a B-17. The main thing was that they were slow. What the Rhodesians had to fight terrorists were old jets, namely Hawker Hunters backed up by even older de Havilland Vampires. Way too fast – you can’t fight terrorists in the bush with jets. The Skyraiders were even older but had a usable stall speed of 75 knots and would cruise at around 200 knots. They were the world’s most powerful prop planes with a Wright radial engine that made 2,700 horsepower. They could stay and search or fight for four or five hours. Just what the doctor ordered.

I called Douglas in Long Beach, now McDonnell-Douglas, and told the man what I wanted. “Well, we haven’t made Skyraiders for years…”

“Do you know who might still have some?”

“You know who does – Vice President Ky…”

“ – In Vietnam?”

“They’re his personal air force. He used to fly them.”

“Would he sell them?”

“I think he would.”

I was arranging to fly to Saigon when I read in the paper that the country of Jordan was censured by the UN for sending arms to South Africa. That was a logical route for them to use. I just didn’t trust the South Africans and was proved correct years later when they caved in without a fight. Leftists had taken over in Portugal and I doubted they were pro-Rhodesia, which was why I recommended the Seychelles, whose politicians would respond to friendly persuasion. I wired Igor in Salisbury: DEAL STILL ON? He wired back: DEAL OFF.

I never heard anything about Skyraiders in Rhodesia, so maybe they got something else from King Hussein.

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