History – Fireforce

Featured Image: Rhodesian Soldiers move to an Alouette III helicopter during a fireforce raid (Courtesy of Pinterest).

Fireforce was one of the primary tactics used to combat communist forces threatening Rhodesia’s internal security, and came into use during the Bush War. It centers around the seamless integration of airmobile infantry with fast resupply, and relied heavily on personal and team initiative, as well as a depth of knowledge about fighting an asymmetric enemy such as the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA).

The first of the elements of fireforce is the K and G-Cars. The K-Car (Kill / Command) is the ‘quarterback’ of the whole patrol. Upon an OP (Observation Post) or a local farmer calling in an insurgent sighting, the K-Car would be the first to arrive on the scene. Carrying the patrol commander with a VHF radio, it was armed with a 20mm cannon (waist-mounted) as well as a door gunner and an experienced pilot. The second flight of helicopters would be called the G-Cars, and within each was a 4-man ‘stick’ of infantry. The G-Cars normally had some defensive armament (FN MAG), and their role was to insert these soldiers and remain nearby on station to resupply ground troops or ferry the wounded to a field hospital. The final elements were a C-47 Dakota (transport aircraft) as well as the ‘Landtail’. The C-47, known as the ‘Paradaks’ would drop the additional paratrooper sticks to support the G-Car dismounts.

A ‘stick’ was a 4-man team of infantry and the primary tactical element for fireforce operations. The control and placement of sticks was denoted by the K-Car, which would constantly circle them adjusting their positions and communicating via radio as to the tactical situation. A stick would contain a machinegun, usually an FN MAG (400 rds), as well as 3 riflemen (FN FALs, 100rds apiece). One of the riflemen would carry a VHF radio, as well as be well versed in radio voice procedure, a system for quickly relaying information. Each of the soldiers also carried a saline drip and first aid supplies to support the stick’s medic, as well as smoke, white phosphorus, and fragmentation grenades.

Below is a fireforce mission described, using images taken from Wargame: Red Dragon.

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In this picture, the Area of Operations is detailed. OP331 sights a patrol of 10-15 suspected ZANLA insurgents moving East to West along a small game trail known to have frequent insurgent traffic.

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Back at Deerborne Airfield , the G-Cars and the First Wave sticks wait and relax. Pictured here at the forefront is the K-Car. In the background is 3 sticks of infantry and their G-Cars.

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In the foreground, ZANLA are sighted attempting to cross the road by OP332, which radios the Headquarters Troop at Deerborne Airfield to warn of a fireforce mission needed.

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Sticks 1-3, callsigns Stop 1-3 respectively, sprint to their G-Cars as the K-Car with the patrol commander inside takes off overhead.

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Stops 1 and 2 mount their G-Cars.

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Coming on station, the K-Car shortly thereafter is engaged by ground fires from within the suspected enemy area, and radios in the position to the following G-Cars a few kilometers behind.

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Left of frame, Green-1 and Green-2 carrying their heliborne infantry sticks approach the LZ assigned to them by the K-Car, which has now begun to circle the area to watch for further insurgent movement.

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Stop-1 and Stop-2 dismount and begin to move South-East away from Henderson’s Farm towards the forest the ZANLA¬†engaged the patrol commander, callsign 29, from.

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Green-3 departs after Stop-3 disembarks practically on the front porch of Henderson’s Farm.

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Damaged by ground fires, 29, the patrol commander, begins to maneuver his ground elements in the form of the Stops. Their job will be to contain and prevent the ZANLA from moving further, acting as a net in which they will be caught.

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The battlefield as it begins to shape up. 29 has told Stops 1-3 to begin to take up blocking positions to halt the advance of the ZANLA patrol, and they quickly bushwhack to get to their new positions.

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The G-Cars have arrived back at the airfield, this time to pick up 3 sticks of paratrooper infantry. Due to the close proximity to the target and the thickness of the jungle, 29 made a call to have the ‘Banana’ callsigns (1-3) inserted by G-Car.

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Green-3 inserts Banana-3 on the South-East side of the suspected enemy patrol.

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Bottom of frame, Banana-1 and Banana-2 are dropped off in the jungle. Visible centre of frame at the left edge of the clearing is the roof of Oswald’s Farm.

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Green-1 and Green-2 soar overtop Stop-1 as they hide in the jungle waiting for ZANLA forces to either bump into them or reveal themselves for ambush.

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Bottom of frame, Banana-3 moves quickly through the shadows after being inserted on the South side of the suspected enemy patrol’s location.

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Usually, the ‘sweep’, or offensive portion of a fireforce patrol is undertaken by the parachute-inserted sticks. However, part of the advantage of fireforce is how flexible it is. 29 makes a decision that the Stops have a better lay of the land, and will shepherd the ZANLA towards the Bananas, who will create a defensive screen, and once they see the ZANLA will destroy them in a killbox. Pictured here is 29’s course of action, with the sweep done by the G-Car sticks and the stopping force actually being the paratroopers.

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The men of Stop-2 begin to move through the jungle, hunting for ZANLA.

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But the jungle instead lights up in the South, as the men of Stop-3 pushed up, they heard crackling branches and a cough, and then saw through the dense foliage their opponents. They open up with their FN FALs and FN MAG, communicating to 29 that they have made contact and providing a rough grid of their location as well as where they think the enemy is.

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Background, muzzle flashes of ZANLA irregulars can be seen as the insurgents return fire.

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With Oswald’s Farm nearby, Stop-3 and the ZANLA are engaged in fierce fighting. As Stop-3 goes through their drills, they begin suppressing the insurgents with accurate fire. Outnumbered, they communicate with Stop-2, asking them to flank and relieve some of the pressure, using their superior communication and numbers to their advantage.

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The view out the side of 29’s K-Car as it passes by the Southern end of the firefight, with Oswald’s Farm obscured, top right of frame. 29 begins ordering Bananas 1-3 forward, trying to usher them closer and get them in the fight, as they are more heavily armed and better able to deal with it. Acknowledging, the Bananas begin the offensive sweep, now that the Stops have done their job, inverting 29’s revised plan from earlier.

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Within a few minutes Banana-3 comes into contact as they spot the ZANLA in front of them. They engage, again relaying information constantly through their signaler to give Banana-2 as well as 29 better situational awareness through SITREPs (Situation Reports). It appears that the communists began to perform a withdrawal under fire away from Stop-3, right into them.

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An aerial shot, showing the battle. Bottom of frame Banana-3 engages and puts FN MAG fires into the clearing. The muzzle flash centre of frame comes from Banana-2, and where the tracer streams intersect is roughly the position of ZANLA forces.

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29’s view of the battle from the North, passing near Henderson’s Farm, as tracer fire kicks up in the jungle.

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Now enveloped on 3 sides by Stop-3, Banana-2, and Banana-3 the ZANLA forces begin to panic as they are quickly losing the firefight and are caught in enfilading fire.

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The battle ends shortly thereafter. The aftermath of the ZANLA patrol caught in the clearing. Banana-2 and Banana-3 consolidate, searching the bodies for intelligence and seizing weapons from the corpses, whilst Banana-1 conducts a clearance patrol to the East to ensure there is no escaped enemy fighters. All Stop callsigns are picked up by G-Cars and taken back to Deerborne Airfield.

The result of the operation is 15 communists killed, to 0 losses by the Rhodesian infantry. With the Stop and Sweep executed perfectly, the insurgents were trapped and destroyed by superior firepower and communication. The flexibility of fireforce, as well as the commander’s quick thinking and informed decision making meant that the decisive victory went to the Rhodesians. Not seen was the fixed-wing air support available to 29, in the form of a pair of light attack aircraft with machineguns and napalm.

-Wolfe

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