I must admit I normally find it quite hard to sympathise with the Rhodesian side in books on the Rhodesian Bush War, but this is something of an exception - we start with a deliberate terrorist attack on a known civilian target and the massacre of just over half of the survivors of the resulting crash, and then move onto the Rhodesian military response, a series of raids against the ZIPRA group that had carried out the attacks, and its bases in Zambia.
One question that is never really properly addressed is exactly what Air Rhodesia thought it was doing flying civilian airlines into a warzone. Flight RH825 wasn’t the first Viscount to be fired at, and both the Rhodesia military and the airline knew that anti-aircraft missiles were being fired on airliners flying on this route. Even worse, they didn’t stop flying after RH825 was shot down, leading to the destruction of a second airliner, Flight RH827, in the following year. It’s all very well to talk about not giving in to violence, but frankly this comes across as at best deliberately reckless.
I’m not entirely convinced by the argument that these attacks significantly undermined Joshua Nkomo’s position in Zimbabwe, making Robert Mugabe’s election victory more likely. Nkomo ended up winning over 80% of the vote in his heartland in Matabeleland, Mugabe a similar percentage of the vote in his areas, suggesting that Nkomo’s supporters remained loyal to him despite the attacks on the airlines. One gets the impression that Mugabe was always going to win a free election in Rhodesia/ Zimbabwe, and that was exactly what happened.
The strongest part of the book is the account of the Rhodesian attacks on the ZIPRA bases in Zambia, some of which were positioned on the edge of the Zambian capital and others deep inside the country. These were daring attacks, carried out by a military with very limited resources, using outdated aircraft, and show what can be achieved with the right mix of skill and daring. They are followed in great detail, with some of the eyewitness accounts coming from the ZIPRA side, to give an idea of what the attacks were like on the ground.
Part 1: The Viscount Tragedy
1 - Britain takes sides
2 - Unholy grail
3 - Flame Lily
4 - Nyaminyami
5 - Noah's bounty
6 - Flight RH825
7 - Raising the alarm
8 - The aftermath
9 - Murdered twice
10 - White-hot anger
11 - The silence is deafening
Part 2: Operation Gatling
12 - Gatling revenge
13 - The Gatling plan
14 - Fylde airfield: D minus one
15 - D-Day: Thursday 19 October 1978
16 - The Canberra: A lady and a bitch
17 - Green Leader
18 - Phase one: Attack on Freedom Camp
19 - Phase two: SAS attack on Mkushi
20 - Phase three: RLI attack on the Central Guerrilla Training complexes
21 - Chaos in Lusaka
22 - Another tragedy and Green Leader strikes Angola
Author: Ian Pringle