The use of anti-tank mines and anti-personnel mines by the enemy was prolific throughout the country. Such weapons were widely used by both the enemy and own forces. The enemy planted anti-tank mines on almost all the main roads in Rhodesia at one time or another. Anti-personnel mines were planted by terrorists inside and along the fences of the Protected Villages on a regular basis as well as on footpaths likely to be used by the security forces. Members of Intaf were constantly travelling in the operational areas during the course of their duties and therefore were prime targets for the terrorist who favoured the use of mines. Anti-tank and anti-personnel mines were readily available, being supplied by Soviet bloc countries as well as European countries. There were also a surplus of mines made in the United Kingdom that were in the possession of its former colonies and these were also supplied to ZANLA and ZIPRA. Many came from Zambia specifically.
Anti-tank mines are convenient weapons of war in that they can be clandestinely buried in a convenient place and then be left until an unsuspecting person drives a vehicle over it. This is equally true of anti-personnel mines. Anti-tank mines detonate when a weight of between 350 to 500 pounds is applied. They are intended to blow off the tracks of a tank and to penetrate the soft underbelly, killing or maiming the crew inside. They are equally if not more effective when a civilian vehicle detonates one. Civilian vehicles are generally not protected by metal plates or specially designed metal shaped chassis. When such a vehicle detonates an anti-tank mine it is inclined to be blown apart and disintegrates. The occupants have very little chance of survival, if any.
Anti-tank and anti-personnel mines are unable to choose their targets. Whoever drives over them or steps on them will cause them to detonate. They are indiscriminate killers. The Rhodesian security forces planted mines in easily recognised clearly marked minefields along the border with Mozambique in what was referred to as the “Cordon Sanitaire”.
ZANLA and ZIPRA quite often planted an anti-tank mine in a gravel road and then placed an anti-personnel mine on top of it. The reason for this was to ensure that the mine detonated when the least amount of pressure was placed on it. Sometimes two or three anti-tank mines were placed on top of each other to ensure as much destruction as possible.
Cattle detonated some mines with devastating effect. Civilian busses and private cars and vans often detonated mines in the rural areas. Most people in the rural areas had a need to go to the towns for business or work purposes and the only way they had of getting there was to use public transport. The public transport system was largely owned by Shona or Ndebele businessmen and women. Bus companies such as Farai Uzumba, Matambanadzo and others provided an essential means of getting people to and from the rural areas to town and back. They often detonated mines and many innocent people were killed in this manner.
Security force patrols also deployed by vehicle from time to time, covering vast distances. They detonated mines regularly, but Intaf personnel who lived and worked on a full time basis in the operational areas were the most susceptible. Some roads were mined so often that they became known as “Landmine Alley”. The Rhodesian Corps of Engineers swept roads regularly. In the areas most prone to mine warfare, roads were swept on a daily basis before patrols ventured onto the roads. Many mines were lifted. Some were fitted with standard anti lift devices and others were fitted with booby traps to try and prevent the security forces from disposing of them.
Often Protected Villages and Keeps came under attack. The terrorists knew that there would be a “follow-up” at first light so the booby-trapped the gates and likely footpaths with anti personnel mines. Soviet made Pom Z mines with a trip wire across a gate or pathway were a favourite. On occasion other booby traps were left along the way. On one occasion the author found a Rhodesian made government distributed FM transistor radio on the side of the road at a land mine site. Inside connected to the on – off switch was a block of Soviet explosive. The idea was that an unsuspecting security force member would want to see if it worked and would blow himself up in the process. The radio felt heavier than usual and thanks to good basic training was more closely examined without tampering!! It was rendered safe by the Engineers.
Every security force member was trained to look for mines. Once a mine was found, it was marked and the Engineers were called in to dispose of it. The Engineers used standard mine detectors and dogs to detect mines. The Pookie was a vehicle designed to detect mines and was an innovative way of finding mines on roads. The Pookie became the standard lead vehicle on any convoy and using electronic detectors would be able to detect mines very effectively. When a mine was detected the driver would then get out of the vehicle, lift the mine and make it safe.
Intaf members were taught the following:
The enemy wants to kill you. If you are not alert and careful he will do so.
If a mine is discovered, look all around it before working on it.
Handle mines with great care!
Never pull or cut a trip wire. Check both ends before tampering with the wire.
Call in the Engineers to neutralise any mine if it is felt that it is booby trapped.
If a mine is left un-lifted, always mark it and guard it until the Engineers arrive.
On average three anti-tank mines were detonated by vehicles every day throughout the Rhodesian war. They claimed hundreds of lives, both security forces and civilians.
The effects of mine warfare on the security forces was immense. The psychological effect was tremendous as one never knew when they would detonate a mine and whether the occupants of the vehicle would survive, despite innovative ways to protect vehicles. Land Rovers were fitted with special plates between the wheels and the cab as well as roll bars, should the force of the mine upturn the vehicle. Mine protected vehicles such as the Leopard, Kudu and Puma were issued throughout and assisted greatly to reduce casualties.
From a tactical point of view the enemy planted mines in places where they thought that they would have best effect. The Rhodesian Corps of Engineers brought out a pamphlet indicating the most likely place that mines were planted. These were distributed throughout Intaf and its members then had a better idea of the likely whereabouts of mines during their travels. See the illustrations.
The most commonly used mines in Rhodesia were as follows - TM46, TM57, TMN46, TMD44, TMA3, PT-Mi-Ba III, British Mk 5 AT mine, POMZ-2M, PMN, PMD-6, British No 5 AP mine.
“The first time a person is blown up in a mine incident, it is a surprise and a shock and before you know it, it is over. The second time it happens, it is extremely frightening because one knows exactly what is happening and what the results are likely to be. The third time it happens, one begins to get a bit used to it, but it is never-the-less frightening. The fourth time it happens, you live with it!” A personal recollection!