DCs Office Umtali Reaction Unit
Umtali Reaction Unit
From the early days Umtali was the location of both the district and provincial structures of Intaf, this applied also to the Police.
In the early 1970's Intaf in Umtali was spread over two locations. The "top office" located near the Police complex in the centre of the city, accommodated the Provincial Commissioner Manicaland and his support staff, as well as the District Commissioner Umtali and some of his support staff. Most of the traditional functions and activities of the District Commissioner were carried out at the "bottom office", located at the southern side of Main Street near the old "Customs House".
There was an almost continuous 'Civil Court' run in rotation by one of the DOs. Births & Deaths registration, firearms registration, workers travel documents, deceased estate administration as well as many more of the traditional functions, were carried out here. To cater for expansion, an old school building was taken over behind the "bottom office", this allowed for the transfer of some of the DCs staff from the "top office" to accommodate additional staff at the Provincial Commissioners office. Please read the page on Umtali the town and the role Intaf played which was written by Nick Baalbergen.
The DC was responsible for administrative support to the government and its role in the war expanded quickly. One of the people who played a pivotal role in the war was Cadet Euan Kay who was awarded The MSM for his participation in the war. His citation is on the Medals and Decorations page.
Euan Kay was tasked to form a reaction unit and this is his story.
The Umtali Reaction Unit unit was formed in 1977 under DC Umtali and operated from Chitakatira Base Camp in the Zimunya TTL. Chitakatira was located about 30 kms outside Umtali on the dirt road to Burma Valley. It was probably one of the safest Intaf bases ever built with reinforced concrete mortar resistant roof cover throughout and 27" sand filled block walls which stopped a couple of RPG 7's during attacks. MAG's were mounted in a tower and 60mm mortar pits in a protected area. We never had any injuries during these attacks, some of which were quite effective and frightening. At that time there were in excess of 100 farmers active in the Burma Valley and Vumba areas all of whom lived within 15 kms of the border.
Euan Kay was the unit commander and under the direct control of Col P. Brown at JOC Grand Reef. The unit was also on the Agric Alert radio network which was monitored in the DCs control room 24/7 and by Umtali Rural Police station. The unit carried out daily convoy duties twice a day to Burma Valley (50 kms) using a Pookie which was based at Chitakatira and operated by an army engineer, Leopard MPV and a Puma MPV. Both Leopards and Pumas were fitted with multiple barrel black powder canons and the Puma had 2 MAG's mounted behind the cab. The unit was equipped with 5 or 6 MAG's, 60mm mortars, TR 48 radios etc by JOC Grand Reef. All DA's were issued with FN rifles.
Burma Valley was considered a vital farming area and all measures possible were taken to keep the farmers on the land. The daily convoy had to negotiate the steep Chishakwe pass down to the valley, a drop of almost 2000 feet through thick forest and steep cuttings. (Terrifying when you are climbing in 2nd gear just waiting for an ambush.) The unit was often picked up by Fire Force choppers and dropped as stop groups in the area during contacts. The one Euan remembers clearly was immediately after the attack on Leopard Rock Hotel and after the Elim Mission (Eagle School) massacre to which we reacted immediately on receiving the info in the early morning. It is something Euan will never forget. The stop groups consisted of a stick of five Reaction Unit DA's with a radio and MAG and commanded by an NCO. They earned huge respect for acting to orders from the K car commanders with disciplined radio procedure and were involved in several contacts
The convoys protected by the Reaction Unit were ambushed on several occasions and numerous mines were lifted by the Pookie manned by army Engineers. These would have been devastating to a farmer in a soft skinned vehicle. The Unit also deployed in reaction to many farm attacks at night and sometimes were ambushed on the way in but normally a good blast from the canons made the enemy take off at high speed. The Unit often had air support either from PRAW pilot Brian van Buuren or RhAF aircraft deployed at Grand Reef during these night deployments. (Brian and his observer Tony Davis would launch off an unlit airstrip in the Burma Valley and orbit overhead wherever the Unit was; which gave them great comfort. The aircraft would then land at Grand Reef for the rest of the night before going home in the morning.) Euan later married Brian’s oldest daughter, Joan, in December 1979.
The Burma Valley farmers were a legend and would often leave their farms in a mine protected Land Rover to assist the Unit on the ops. Needless to say they were extremely full of “Dutch courage” on these occasions. The Valley was a hard drinking community and Euan remembers one occasion where farmer Fanie Vorster hit a landmine in his Land Rover early one morning. The Unit reacted to the scene and were immediately summonsed to his house for liqueurs and beer to celebrate the occasion at 6.30am !!! Euan is proud to say that his Unit never lost a Burma Valley farmer during this period and most actions took place in the Zimunya area through which the road passed. The Intaf Reaction Unit under command of Euan Kay was highly respected by other SF units. The Unit retrained continuously to be ready for any incidents.
The Unit also reacted to attacks on CPU who were guarding Roads Dept equipment invarious areas and also provided continual guard services for the 2 water pump stations on the Mpudzi River. These were only about 7 kms from their base but were continually attacked and many vehicles were lost to landmines on changeover days. However there were never any recorded injuries. The Unit became extremely unpopular with Sandy Edwards and Mervyn Bellis at CMED (the vehicle workshops) Mutare as every time the Unit got a new vehicle or had new tires fitted it would hit a mine. As Euan recalls one of their Puma trucks hit a total of four landmines and was repaired and returned to the Unit within a matter of weeks. The pump stations supplied water to Zimunya Township 15kms outside Umtali which was under the protection of ARU Manicaland, namely Larry Snyders and Louis Clark (both now deceased.)
On several occasions the Unit dropped off Selous Scouts operators who were deploying into Mozambique on ops. This was often in the early hours of the morning and very nerve wracking as it entailed travelling through the farming area into an uninhabited area near the Murare trail which was a main infiltration route for the enemy. Euan also ran a highly effective Ground Coverage operation with a large network of informers. This resulted in the recovery of several landmines and some successful contacts.
DA Rogers Muganiwa
Rogers joined Intaf as an ADF driver but was later employed as a DA. He drove our Pumas on convoy duties for a couple of years and was involved in a couple of mine blasts as well. The date escapes me as I was on R&R at the time but the morning convoy to Burma Valley was ambushed just before the crest of the Chishakwe pass. The Pookie was immobilised by an RPG 7 hit to the engine. The following Leopard driven by a Vedette whose name escapes me managed to crest the hill under heavy fire and the engine died from bullet damage just on the other side but managed to free wheel away from the zone.
Douglas was driving the Puma at the back of the convoy and was hit on the Drivers cab by a RPG 7. Although terribly wounded he continued on, dropped to 2nd gear and pushed the disabled Pookie and the engineer therein over the crest of the hill and out of the killing zone. He then stopped the Puma which had about 16 unit members in the back, applied the handbrake, climbed out and dropped dead from his severe injuries on the road.
It was later established that there were over 30 firing positions and that at least 5 rockets were fired. No unit members were hit except by shraphnel but several rifles and the one MAG took direct hits. By selflessly acting to get both his unit and the Pookie out of the killing zone he is in my book a real hero who saved the life of the engineer in the Pookie and his friends on the Puma.
DA Tapfumaneyi Gazva, DA Michael Taranyike, Sgt Nelsom Mazviti (to whom Euan Kay owes his life), Cpl Douglas Dube, Sgt Ephas Gwara, Cpl Chavo Mufarandadya, Cpl Dzvaka , Cpl Ephraim Mashingaidze of the Umtali Rapid Reaction Force