Special Forces Veteran Tells of Raids in South Africa in 1960
This week continues the riveting military encounters of Fairfield Bay resident Doug Abernethy while serving as a member of the U.S. Special Forces (SF) in the years 1958-1962. A previous article told of the chaotic period following WWII as the world was in a death struggle against the twin forces of International Communism, Soviet Russia and Red China.
As nation after nation came under attack by Communist insurgents, supported, manned, and equipped by the communist masters of the Kremlin and Beijing, the free world was burdened to stop or at least interrupt this freedom-crushing surge. The U. S. responded by creating specially trained military personnel to conduct raids on insurgent bases and also to establish U.S. support bases in many of the besieged counties.
Doug, along with the members of three U.S. SF platoons, were assigned to disrupt the Communist insurgency that was threatening the nation of South Africa. While the South African government at that time was a tyrannical and racist sysem, the U.S. chose to support it as the lesser of the two evils, as Communism was viewed as the greater threat. Doug participated in three raids on insurgent camps, seeking to destroy their communication installations and heavy construction equipment. How these raids were conducted is the heart of this story, giving insight to the bravery, skill, and intense training of the SF that made these raids successful.
The first raid hit an insurgent compound manned by 700 South African Communists and cadres of “advisers” from Cuba, Russia, and China. This camp and airstrip, set deep into a jungle, was a radio and radar communications center and a planning site for sabotage raids. Doug’s SF platoon had the support of a local Zulu tribe, who guided the SF through the jungle to the enemy camp. Arrriving at the camp’s perimeter, the Zulu warriors used their spears to hoist up the camps’ protective ring of concertina wire to allow the SF men to slip into the enemy compound. The Zulus remained on the perimeter waiting to lead the SF back out after the raid was completed.
Doug’s platoon had the asignment to destroy the communications center, a building in size of about 20′ by 30′ with two windows and one door. With two sets of five SF guarding the flanks, the other six SF men crept up to the building, stationing one man on each of the two windows, while the other four set up at the door, three to enter and one to face outward to provide protection and warning. At the signal of a whistle peep and with great timing precison, the five men crashed into the room, two from the windows and three from the door. Using combat knives to maintain the necessary silence, the SF quietly dispatched the four insurgents inside the room.
The SF quickly set charges of grenades and C4 on all the equipment inside the room and upon leaving, a stick of dynamite was fixed onto the outside door jamb. After the SF moved back to the perimeter, a SF sharpshooter fired at the dynamite setting it off, which then activated the grenades inside the building causing then the ignition of the C4 explosives. In a flash the building was flattened, engulfed in flames. By the time the enemy camp responded to the attack, the SF were well out of the area as led by their Zulu friends.
This raid took only minutes, a very necessary element for success. The necessary precision of such raids required intense training and innumerable rehearsals of each detail. Many of the practices were done under “live” fire, which served to enforce the rigid discipline these raids required. Some weeks later, a second SF raid on another similar insurgent camp went without a hitch as well.
Doug’s third and final raid with the SF in South Africa hit another insurgent camp about two hundred miles from the first camp. This camp housed over forty pieces of heavy construction equipment, set on huge trailers awaiting transport to build airstrips and other bases. The SF slipped through the camp’s perimeterer, taking out two guards on their way in. The trailers were arranged in two rows, allowing for two SF to creep underneath each row, setting charges on each trailer. A tank of gasolene was then placed at the end of each of the two explosive-wired rows and when these gasolene tanks were hit by the SF sniper’s hot tracer bullets, they exploded, setting off a domino of blasts up each of the two rows of trailers, destroying all the equipment and the trailers. As the SF were making their way out back to the perimeter, they set off a trip wire, arousing the enemy camp to action. After a brief fire fight, the SF made it out with only two men lightly wounded. Once again, the rigourous training and the countless rehearsals by the dedicated men of the SF paid off with another successful raid.
Next Time: Doug Abernethy serves with the SF for 13 grueling months in Viet Nam.