Having put together a 75mm RCL and a HMG on trail support weapons for ZIPRA / ZANLA in my last post I thought I would look at the equipment being made ready in 1979 by ZIPRA. This was for the invasion of Rhodesia.
Although ZIPRA had only 2500 men operating in Matabeleland by Easter 1979, eight ZIPRA battalions had been regrouped at Mulungushi training camp in Zambia while a ninth, a motorised battalion, equipped with SAM-7 missiles and 14,5 A/A guns was said to be held in Livingstone in readiness to storm Victoria Falls bridge.
The military statistics were somewhat alarming. The Rhodesian Forces knew that ZIPRA planned to infiltrate 9000 men to occupy Victoria Falls, Pandamatenga and Plumtree. Of ZIPRA’s 20,000 trained men biding their time in Zambia, 4000 were conventionally trained.
A great deal of equipment was provided to equip ZIPRA in the conventional roll. Vehicles such as ten T34s, BTR 152s, BRDM2s, GSP Bridging Equipment, PTS-M amphibious cargo carriers, D 30 artillery, various trucks and support equipment. What is not sure is if ZIPRA had more tanks in Zambia. The mechanized battalion could have anything up to 60 BTR152s and an attached company of 10 T34 tanks, going by Soviet ORBATs of the period.
ZIPRA with the aid of the Soviet Union was building its own air force of a squadron of Mig 21s which were not quite ready by the Cease Fire of 1979.
Even though large amounts of this ZIPRA equipment was left in Zambia with Zimbabwe independence, large amounts of vehicles and equipment did enter Zimbabwe. Much of this equipment was placed in camps at Gwaai River Mine, and the 10 T34s and numbers of BTR152s and other vehicles were based at Essexvale Battle School. About 2000 ZIPRA men were housed in Entumbane township, alongside 2000 ZANLA men.There were more ZIPRA troops encamped at Conemara. At this stage the Zimbabwe Government wanted the RAR Battalions to disband. The 1st Bn Rhodesian African Rifles effectively ignored the Zimbabwe Government and realised that the RAR could not disband as the threat from fractional fighting between ZIPRA and ZANLA in the Bulawayo area was inevitable.
In February 1981 sometime after the independence of Zimbabwe, factional fighting between ZIPRA and ZANLA broke out for the second time in the Entumbane area on the outskirts of Bulawayo. This was the second battle of Entumbane, but this time it was the returning terrorist forces which were to come short, and not innocent Matabele civilians, who had been slaughtered by Robert Mugabes returning ZANLA fighters. In the first Entumbane battle 179 innocent Matabele African civilians were killed by ZANLA, before the RAR could deploy and stop the slaughter.
In February 1981 when fighting broke out again between ZIPRA and ZANLA the RAR was waiting. C Coy 1RAR was holding the Beer Hall Hill and came under sustained attack. ZIPRA had taken the initiative and assaulted the ZANLA cadres in the various camps driving them out of the camps in a bid to take Matabeleland.
1 RAR then deployed 4 Eland 90 armoured cars to block the main road from Essexvale which was the main armoured threat. Troops from Support Company and 1 Pl A Coy supported the armoured cars. In a night action 3 BTR 152s were destroyed (60 ZIPRA dead) and a further BTR 152 which escaped down the side roads was hit by a BSAP police vehicle, and disabled. On the other road into Bulawayo 3 Pl A Coy ambushed a ZIPRA command vehicle, destroying it with machinegun fire and capturing 8 ZIPRA officers. B Coy 1 RAR cordoned off the Western edge of Bulawayo as the Zimbabwe National Army newly formed units deployed there had just up sticks and run away. D Coy 1RAR took ‘lurkers’ Ridge and once relieved by A Coy advanced with the armoured cars into the township to relieve the surrounded C Coy.
During this period elements of the BSAP police, Support Unit, various RR reservists took, and others took up positions in strategic positions to protect Bulawayo.
Looking at these series of photos, I would say 0-60 and 0-120 were hit in the front of the vehicle by the Eland 90s, 0-7- was hit in the rear by an Eland 90, I believe 0-110 was the BTR 152 hit by a police vehicle?
In conclusion it can be seen that without air superiority or at least parity, ZIPRA and its conventionally trained men would have been dealt a severe blow by the Rhodesian Air Force, Rhodesian Army units, Rhodesian Armoured Cars, Rhodesian Anti Tank Weapons, Rhodesian T54s, and Rhodesian Artillery.
I RAR Battle Group was held at Brady airfield waiting to deal with Gwaai River Mine assembly Point where other elements of 1st ZIPRA Armoured Infantry Brigade was liking it wounds and was ensconced. ZIPRA had the intention to carry on the fight and refused orders to surrender. Dug in Soviet style it was seen as a tough target for the Rhodesia African Rifles to crack and deal with, so x4 T 54/55s of E Sqn RACR were brought up from Salisbury on low loaders. Also a troop (x3 guns) of Rhodesian Artillery were also brought up to support the coming operation.
The briefing before the operation by Lt Col Mick McKenna was an eye opener as ZIPRA still had sizable forces holding Gwaai River Mine which included numbers of BRDM2 Armoured Cars, BTR 152 APCs, D30 artillery, PT-SM Amphibious Cargo Carriers, GSP Bridging Equipment, Various and assorted Anti Aircraft weapons which could be used in the ground role, including various trucks and equipment. ZIPRA had dug in Soviet style and the area was well defended in depth.
If my memory serves me correctly the operation would start with a preliminary bombardment by the artillery, with the T54s moving in from the South with supporting RAR troops as the main thrust to clear the position. Other elements would take up stop positions to block any withdrawal. Word was soon received of a ZIPRA surrender. The ZIPRA 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade had already had a good experience of RAR capability and had taken sizable casualties (400 killed and hundreds wounded at Entumbane) and decided to call it a day.