Zororai Zvakanaka. Tichazo Sangana Varume”
“Lest We Forget” 03 June, 1979 –
– KOAS – Friendly fire –
Dennison Joined the newly-raised 2nd Battalion, Rhodesian African Rifles on 1 October 1975, as the commander of ‘A’ Company, which was divided into three platoons, or ‘call-signs’. The war against guerrilla incursions by the communist-backed Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) and the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA), operating from bases in Mozambique, Zambia, and Botswana, was three years’ old, and was far from being a conflict between blacks and whites.
Black volunteers accounted for about 80% of the Rhodesian Government Security Forces, and 2 RAR was a black battalion officered by whites. Generally the night belonged to the guerillas. During the day the Rhodesian forces usually had the upper hand, especially after the organisation of Fire Force units, air-mobile troops, which could be alerted by ground patrols and swiftly deployed to cut off and wipe out specific terrorist gangs.
It was as a Fire Force commander between September 1976 and June 1979 that Dennison was to excel. The potency of Dennison’s Fire Force, which initially consisted of a command helicopter, the ‘K-Car’, and three others, ‘G-Cars’, carrying sticks of four men each, supported by a fixed wing ground attack aircraft carrying napalm or the dreaded ‘Golf bomb’, was increased after March 1977 with the addition of a Dakota, or Paradak’, carrying, in ‘A’ Company’s case, sixteen African paratroopers who specialised in Jumping into the battle zone from dangerously low altitudes.
Many of the Dakotas dated from the Second World War, and when Dennison parachuted, which seemingly He did at every opportunity, He liked to be the first man into action. With the collapse of the Portuguese in neighbouring Mozambique in 1974, the war really began to escalate along the east and south-east border, and it was here that Dennison’s company made its first contact with CT’s (Communist Terrorists) on 4 February 1976 On that occasion Dennison and a small party of trackers were following the spoor of two terrorists through the bush when they suddenly walked into close-range automatic fire from eight CT’s.
Miraculously only one of Dennison’s men was hit. The accompanying call-sign returned fire and the CT’s broke and fled across the border. During the ensuing period of R & R, Dennison, or ‘Sunray’, as He sometimes referred to himself, married for the second time.
On 18 March, during ‘A’ Company’s second deployment (17 March – 20 April 1976 in the south cast operational area, ‘Thrasher’, Call-Sign One One (1 Platoon), contacted four terrs’ and killed two. The other two ran. The Alouette helicopter gunship, or ‘K-Car’, from which Dennison was co-ordinating the follow-up, opened up on them with cannon fire. The terrorists returned fired with more success and brought down a troop-carrying ‘G-Car’.
Two days later ‘A’ Company’s War diary, written up by Dennison in his unique style, records an interesting border incident: ‘Elements of 2 Platoon were dozing happily at the Zona Border Post when they came under heavy fire from about a company’s worth of FPLM [Army of Mozambique] some 500 metres over the border. The Fire Force helicopters assisting in the deployment of the stops took Major Dennison to the scene of the shoot-out and the K-Car took out two huts from which RPD [light machine gun] fire was issuing. Just as OC ‘A’ Company [Dennison] was being dropped at the post, FPLM fired an unidentified missile at the helicopters who promptly lost interest … salvoes of badly directed 82 mm mortar bombs were coming our way and we engaged and probably hit two people who we subsequently decided were probably medics checking the burning huts for survivors. After an hour or so both sides lost interest and went home leaving 2 Platoon in possession of the ‘Field of Honour’.’ A few days later Dennison was travelling at night in a 4.5 tonne truck when it was blown up by a landmine. Eight men were hospitalized, including Dennison’s batman. Dennison himself was uninjured.
Such was to be the pace for the next three years. Dennison’s company usually spent six weeks on deployment followed by ten days at base camp – the numbers of Contact s’ and ‘Kills’ being the factors by which the success of a deployment was measured.
In August 1976, during the fifth deployment, Dennison discovered an FPLM/ZANU camp during an unauthorised night patrol across the border. He afterwards wrote: ‘A hot pursuit was authorized … and on 31 August the whole company crossed the border and moved in on the camp. The OC’s [Dennison’s] final close recce was compromised by a herd-boy who raised the alarm and Major Dennison initiated the attack by shooting dead the FPLM sentry.
Unfortunately only a skeleton staff was present but we killed four FPLM and destroyed a dozen tents, a Land-Rover and water-trailer and large quantities of medical supplies clothing, rations and ammunition … ”We returned to Rhodesia unscathed and moved our base-camp a few kilometres south-west as a precautionary measure.”
‘A’ Company’s eleventh deployment of July August 1977 saw Dennison’s capture of the terrorist holed-up in a cave which resulted in his award of a Military Legion of Merit. On 7 August a Police Anti- Terrorist Unit call-sign reported the presence of mixed group of thirty CT’s and civilians near St Killian’s Mission Dennison’s Fire Force was deployed and after a series of contacts, four terrorists were killed. One of Dennison’s subalterns was shot through the shoulder by a CT who then took up his post in the hillside cave.
That evening the brigade commander at Grand Reef ordered Dennison to take the cornered man alive and next day He returned to the hillside accompanied by policemen and dogs. The War Diary runs: ‘One of the dogs which was running loose promptly rushed to the cave-mouth and began sniffing round the body of a half-roasted CT which lay there. As no reaction came … a search of the area revealed the entrance to another cave some fifteen yards up the hillside. One of the police dogs was sent in and immediately indicated some kind of presence. The handler, Inspector Tudor-Jones, considered that whatever it was it was not alive, so Major Dennison ‘snivelled’ into the cave [armed with his Smith Wesson.44 Magnum] followed unbidden by Inspector Wilkins from Rusape and the dog handler.
As the handler reached the entrance He was shot from within through the hand, thigh and arm. Major Dennison decided against killing whoever fired in favour of gassing him out and bent his mind to extracting himself and Inspector Wilkins with the wholest of possible skins. some thirty metres across the cave more daylight was visible so the intrepid OC snaked across the floor and shot through yet another opening like a flushing pheasant … Insp. Wilkins was shot at as he exited, but this time the CT missed.
A protracted scene with tear-gas followed and eventually a bedraggled but virtually unmarked CT emerged, complete with girlfriend.’ In November 1976 Dennison made the aquaintance of two British ex-Sas officers turned TV reporters, Nick Downie and Lord Richard Cecil, the second son of the Marquess of Salisbury.
On 10 April 1978 they Joined ‘A’ Company for the purpose of obtaining action footage for their Thames Television film Frontline Rhodesia, which in its more sedate moments includes scenes of Dennison being decorated with the M.L.M. by President John Wrathall, and later, attending the funeral of one of his young para officers.
At midnight on 11 April Dennison received word that three groups of CT’s were planning to meet up on the 12th near Mrewa. The Fire Force took off at first light, but the given map reference proved to be inaccurate, and the G-Cars received some heavy fire, or ‘rev’ in local parlance, from the ground. The K-Car had some difficulty in locating the terrorists hide out, but at length Dennison and several sticks were put down by helicopters under cover of an air strike from a supporting Lynx, prior to a sweep.
Spectacularly, Downie was filming when Lance Corporal Marhova’s stick walked into two CT’s. at the distance of a few metres. Marhova killed one with his Mag before it jammed. The other CT returned fire and wounded him in the head, chest and leg. In the next fraught scene, Downie’s film shows Cecil helping to lift the mortally wounded black machine-gunner into a helicopter. In contrast to Downie’s powerful images, Dennison’s War Diary concludes somewhat mundanely: ‘ … thus we lost another good young NCO. We captured seven recruits and then high-tailed it back to Mtoko in time to deploy to a Mantle sighting. This proved to be a lemon [abortive mission], but an AMA [African Male Adult] was killed in the sweep.’
A week later, Dennison was directed towards twenty CT’s observed by Selous Scouts in the European farming area Just south of the Weya Tribal Trust Lands: ‘We got over the camp with no hassle and gooks and civilians started breaking in all directions. The Lynx put in two strikes and the K-Car gunner began his usual inept performance.’
The K-Car pilot, in disagreement with Dennison, then put down three stops, to the north, south and west causing some confusion. Dennison, who presumably jumped with the par as on this occasion, began to sweep towards the camp. Cecil was moving forward with an advanced section when a CT rose from the grass seven metres away and fired. Cecil was hit in the thigh and through the lower chest and died within ten minutes.
Dennison recorded: ‘Rhodesia and ‘A’ Company lost a very good friend in Richard Cecil and his death was badly felt by all. He had been in five contacts with the Company and at all times had worked his way to the front, despite theoretically hanging back with Nick Downie. Nick went back to Salisbury to sort out Richard’s affairs, but stated his intention of returning to finish the incidental shots of ‘A’ Company. ‘
As might be imagined Dennison had several narrow escapes during the course of his hundred or so contacts with the enemy:
In May 1978 his Rhino armoured personnel carrier was ambushed by sixteen CT’s who ‘attempted to do what numerous Egyptians, Cypriots, Irishmen Indonesians and Angry Husbands had failed to do – i.e. scribble OC ‘A’.
Two months later his pack was shot through during a firefight. Dennison also had an astonishing capacity for making enemies. One such run-in occurred shortly after Cecil’s death. Selous Scouts had ‘frozen’ an area, which is to say they were operating undercover inside it and therefore required other Rhodesian units to stay away.
In this case a Guard Force unit had not acted on the Scouts’ signal and had set up a battle camp inside the area. On 26 April the Scouts’ observation post inside reported ‘eleven CT’s wearing FRELIMO [Mozambique] uniform’ and called in Dennison’s Fire Force.
Flying over the area Dennison spotted Guard Force vehicles 250 yards south west of the Scouts’ Op and realised that the Scout’s report was erroneous. Guard Force, who carried out the military role of the internal administration department, had recently changed their uniform to one closely resembling that worn by the French Foreign Legion.
The Scouts’ call-sign, an all African one, was unaware of the change and assumed that the strangely dressed and armed men must be FRELIMO. At length, a belated Guard Force patrol stumbled into the Scouts’ Op and a brief fire fight took place in which fortunately no one was hit.
No amount of persuasion by Dennison could persuade the African Selous Scouts commander that the men they had fired on were not FRELIMO, and He ‘took great pleasure in sending a long and explicit signal’ to Combined Operations headquarters.
On the 27th ‘A’ Company and Selous Scouts call-sign One One Zulu successfully accounted for twelve ZANLA terrorists, but next day the strained relations between Dennison and the Scout’s commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Run Reid-Daly, were exacerbated, and ‘nearly resulted in Andre Dennison being taken off Fire Force duties, because the black Scouts, who stuck their necks out daily, wanted nothing more to do with him’.
At 1605 hours the Selous Scouts controller at Mtoko asked Dennison’s Fire Force to react to a positive target of nine terrorists, who, in accordance with standard ZANLA drill, were due to move out that night and escape the attentions of any OP’s and aircraft.
Dennison made a quick time and space appreciation and calculated that with seventy minutes flying time there would not be sufficient daylight for a Fire Force action. The Scouts’ controller refused to accept this and harsh words were exchanged’. Dennison commented: ‘This then developed to the stage where Major Dennison was informed by Lt Col Reid-Daly that disciplinary action would be taken against him. W..k! W..k!’
A period of sharp fighting followed. The company was ordered to Buffalo Range to cover a ‘road-runner scene’. A road-runner was a portable transistor radio which was left lying about in a suitable spot for the terrorists to find. Inside was a homing device which could be picked up by a helicopter’s homing equipment.
On the 19th, after getting a weak road runner fix, the Fire Force deployed: one of the G Cars saw the CT’s, and a series of air-strikes was put in as the gooks lobbed RPG7’s at the choppers.
The Golf bomb malfunctioned and went off on the ground directly under the Lynx. The Lynx killed a gook with a spot-on fran [napalm] strike as the paras were dropped in the thick stuff to the south. None was hurt, and the final tally was six CT’s and one AFA killed and a highly suspect AMA captured unhurt .. Today’s kills brought us to the 250 mark.’
On 9 October Dennison was ‘severely wounded’ in his 78th contact, where his ‘bravery and dedication’ to the task in hand won him the Bronze Cross.
The deployment was the result of a Scouts’ report of ‘ten’ CT’s on the Lundi River, and was proceeded by Hunter strikes. The use of Hunters indicates that the target was considerably greater than the Scouts’ records show. The War Diary says the Scouts’ call-sign originally reported fifty CT’s, and states that on the ground at the end of the day there were ’38 bodies and one prisoner’. Most of these AMA’s were wearing webbing, but Special Branch who decided such matters, credited ‘A’ Company with only sixteen terrorist kills plus one prisoner.
Aside from this, Dennison recorded: ‘ it was an excellent contact from all points of view. The initiaton worked like clockwork, aircrew and ground call-signs really got stuck in and supported each other and the Vultures [paras] in particular showed aggression to the nth degree. There is no doubt that we killed over thirty CT’s, and Special Branch Superintendent John Leese of Chredzi got himself crossed off our Xmas card list for this one… there was a long party at Buffalo that night and the mob all wound up round the OC’s bed at about 2000 hrs. The bullet had hit the end of the femur, but must have been an AP[armour piercing] as it did not make too much mess.’ Four days later Dennison, with Sarah Barrell in the self-appointed role of nurse, was shipped out to Salisbury in a Dakota. Also on board were two friends from Selous Scouts who between them ‘flattened’ a neat litre of Black Label betwixt take off and landing, and ‘The OC finally found himself bedded down by another Selous Scout Pete Waite, so a second party was barely averted when the booze smuggler was intercepted by the duty nurse and driven off after a brief fire-fight.’
On the weekend of 27/29 October, Dennison and Sarah, taking a break from their flat in Mazoe Street, went to Fort Victoria to celebrate the Company’s 300th kill and third birthday. As of 1 November 1978 ‘A’ Company had accounted for 271 terrorists killed; 25 terrorists captured; 16 FLPM killed; 82 ZANLA recruits killed; 54 recruits captured; and 139 civilians ‘running with’ the terrorists: all for the cost of seven of his own men killed and 57 wounded.
They also recovered over three hundred weapons originating from the Communist countries in the Far East and from behind the Iron Curtain. Dennison rejoined ‘A’ Company in January 1979, having spent part of his convalescence in the Uk. Fire Force contacts and ambushes continued apace through the Company’s twenty-second deployment and, on 6 April Dennison was presumed ‘parachute fit’ after a shaky free-fall from a visiting Cessna. In February 1979 Rhodesia held its majority rule elections, which Dennison celebrated uniquely by blacking up with camouflage cream for a Vulture operation.
The unwinnable war, however, continued unabated as did white emigration and the slow strangulation of the country through sanctions. In April Dennison led ‘A’ Company back into the field for the last time. Fire Force operations from 30 April to 24 May saw only three contacts, four captures, and Dennison’s rifle stopping a bullet which otherwise would have taken out the ankle of his remaining good leg.
At midnight on 31 May the Ian Smith era ended and the interim government of National Unity of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia came into being, though, of course, this did nothing to pacify the Patriotic Front alliance of Mugabe and Nkomo.
On Sunday 3 June Dennison and his company arrived at Fort Victoria for redeployment. At lunchtime Andre repaired with his second in command, Lieutenant Brand, for a drink at the Zimbabwe Ruins Hotel, and in the afternoon ‘staggered back to collect the Company’ and set up camp. That evening he and Brand and the new medical officer returned to the Ruins Hotel, and were in the bar when a large group of guerillas launched a well planned attacked on the Hotel.
Dennison and his officers rushed outside to lead a counter-attack, but as Dennison emerged He was accidently shot by a police officer and died almost immediately.
He was buried with full military honours at Fort Victoria on 11 June 1979, the service being conducted by the Chaplain-General to the Forces.
The men of ‘A’ Company paid their respects in the newspaper death columns with the notice:
‘Dennison M.L.M., B.C.R. Maj Andre To our father and Commander, farewell K car. You lived as a soldier and died like one. We shall never forget and will carry on with your memory to guide us. ” Sambai. Zvakanaka, Ishe ” – From all your children of “The Big Red”.’
The group is sold with a copy of The War Diaries of Andre Dennison edited by Dr J. R. T. Wood, a video tape titled Frontline Rhodesia featuring Dennison including the parade when He was awarded the B.C.R., and cap badges for York & Lanes. Regt., Rhodesian African Rifles, Malawi Rifles and Parachute Regiment, the last hallmarked silver. According to Dennison’s widow, He lost his original campaign medals when serving with the Malawi Rifles in the late 1960’s. At this time replacement medals were marked with a small ‘R’ rather than ‘Replacement’ in full as is the practise today.
Please note that Major Dennison’s medals were sold in 1997.
Inga zvakaoma nhai