Follow My Tracks
Updated: 12 hours ago
The Foreword to my latest book Follow My Tracks, was written by Major Nigel Henson who served as my Group OC in the Selous Scouts throughout 1974. Henson returned to his parent unit the Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI) where he became the longerst serving Fire Force Commander of that formidable unit. His Foreword is printed below;
A few months ago, the author contacted me, and asked if I would write a foreword for his latest book, Follow My Tracks. He attached a PDF in rough to give me an idea of the scope and nature of his work. I thank him for his faith, for indeed I am much honoured.
After I had read his work, I was somewhat nonplussed.-Was it a memoir? A war story? Perhaps an account of various techniques of hide and seek? The dark art of stalking? Perhaps a harking back, a recall of times when life was so much more than the drudge and sludge of old age?
Yet, upon reflection, it is all of these.
In these pages, you will experience childhood innocence in a land much beloved, the dappled light and shade of adolescence, and inevitably the twilight of maturation that comes with a happy life terminated by the vagaries of civil war. Sixty years ago, warfare held a simple definition-one either conducted an armed conflict in a regular way- or in an irregular way; one could become the other, for regular warfare could degenerate into irregular warfare, or an irregular armed conflict could become a regular one as it escalated.
A regular war is one where the adversary is in plain view and where various forces are manoeuvred in a conventional and defined theatre. Identification of one’s enemy is easy; his destruction is the difficult and messy part. God is on the side of the big battalions.
In irregular warfare, the killing is perfunctory. Much difficulty lies in the search for one’s enemy and his identification and indication. Great patience and innovation are the hallmarks of successful implementation. Cunning is paramount.
I have known Kevin Thomas for almost fifty years. I was once his commanding officer. Likewise, for a time I commanded his companions of 2 Troop of the Selous Scouts- Kevin was a member of a wonderful trio that included Bruce Fitzsimmons and Russell Jenkins, and many others. I am greatly honoured to have been associated with them. Through sheer hard work, consummate skill, and execution of their craft, in a two-month period in Operation Hurricane towards the end of 1974, 2 Troop reduced enemy ranks from the hundreds to a handful. Victory was a heartbeat away.
Vorster’s détente changed all of that.
So, in part this is what this book is about - a mixture of experience and technique in the dark art of enemy identification in irregular warfare. Personal recollection is of a higher standard than one has a right to expect, given the passage of time.
I greatly enjoyed this book, and the author is to be congratulated on producing a work that covers ground that few before have done. It is unique, compelling, and a very good read.
A consummate naturalist, Kevin Thomas and Brenda, his wife of many years live in the countryside on their narrowboat, moored near Devizes, in Wiltshire.
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My latest book, Follow My Tracks – Combat Tracking and Pseudo Operations: Recollections, is finally complete. All 630 pages. It’s been a two-year journey involving a huge amount of research and stop, start, work. Most days saw me at my laptop for 7-to-8-hour periods with short breaks in between. Bren also got used to periodically hearing muttered threats emanating from my workspace on the boat that I’d bin the entire project. What I have learnt is the easy part is writing a book, as in the old adage, ‘There’s a book in everyone.’ I believe this to be a truism. Particularly so in this day and age where we have such easy online access to self-publishing, and Publish on Demand (POD). There’s a whole new publishing world out there peopled by ‘Indie’ authors as they’re called, which in laymen’s terms means folk who do their own book writing and publishing.
This latest work will be my sixth non-fiction book, but due to budgetary constraints I veered away from the norm. The norm being to outsource the completed manuscript for final formatting and editing. With a book containing images, maps etc and running to more than 600 pages, formatting quotes given to me here in the UK varied from £350 to £700 so I decided to do it myself. It didn’t take me long to realise DIY when it comes to book manuscript formatting and editing isn’t exactly a walk in the park. Enjoying the challenge, I turned to YouTube and Google to learn the ropes. More importantly though, while using Google, I searched for and then downloaded onto my Kindle Reader numerous eBooks on manuscript formatting. Some were good, and others of little value although I certainly learnt a lot about publishing.
Conservatively speaking it took about two months of a 5-day week, and at times, weekends for me to work out the formatting conundrum. Standard paperback book size, known as a trade book in the US is 6” x 9” and in the UK 5” x 8”. There are a whole lot of other sizes in between and after fiddling around with the page size I settled for 6.14” x 9.21.” Normal page size on a computer in Word is A4, or 8.27” x 11.69”. Setting the correct page size is quite easy, but then come margins with top, bottom, outside and inside or ‘gutter,’ not forgetting ‘bleed’ as it is called in publishing speak. It didn’t take too long to learn how to do all of that which was the simple part, but then it became more complicated, however, I persevered despite the frustrations.
During the learning curve I often swore and said ‘Never again’ but pressed on. I also learnt other phrases used in the publishing industry, phrases like ‘widows’ and ‘orphans’ all to do with unwanted words at the very top or bottom of a page. I’m not sure if that is the correct way to explain it but still. Given that it is a non-fiction work which slots into the military historical niche market, will probably mean a relatively low readership. Friends often asked me why I was even attempting a work of this nature, fifty-nine years after the first terrorism act in Rhodesia on 4 July 1964, which was the murder of Petrus Oberholzer by Ndabaningi Sithole’s Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) Crocodile Gang, 40kms from Melsetter on the Umtali Road.
Various historians have considered December 1972 and Operation Hurricane to have been the start of the insurgency war in Rhodesia. The government of Zimbabwe consider the relatively minor skirmish they call the Battle of Chinhoyi (Sinoia) on 28 April 1966, as the official start of their Second Chimurenga, as they call what is also referred to as the Rhodesian Bush War (it all depends on which side you were on). Petrus Oberholzer was murdered by the terrorist Crocodile Gang in 1964, and as eminent historian Professor JRT Wood writes, that was actually the start of the insurgency in Rhodesia. The Oberholzer murder took place three years before the Battle of Sinoia, and eight years before the commencement of Operation Hurricane, although Oberholzer’s murder was initially investigated by the BSAP as a criminal incident.
By 1968 skilled combat tracking had become a recognised Rhodesian Army counterinsurgency tactic, and high emphasis was placed on the use of combat trackers on operations. However, during the early phases of the insurgency the Rhodesian Security Forces were caught on the backfoot and heavy reliance was placed on tribal trackers in the employ of the BSAP, on game scouts, and game rangers, from the Department of National Parks & Wildlife Management, and on the limited use of BSAP tracker dogs. In 1964/5, ex-game ranger turned ecologist, Allan Savory, who as a TA Captain in 4 RR was already an astute student of guerrilla warfare, bushcraft, survival, and tracking, convinced the Rhodesian Army HQ of the need for skilled European combat trackers in an insurgency war which most people believed was on the horizon.
With Army HQ clearance Savory initially formed his Guerilla Anti-Terrorist Unit (GATU) made up in the main of game rangers, game ranchers and hunters. To join, candidates had to undergo a rigorous selection in the Gonarezhou National Park under Savory. Later, he was joined by the then SAS Captain Brian Robinson and with a selection of SAS candidates returned to the remote area in the Sabi and Lundi River confluence and ran the first course for SAS combat trackers. On Operation Hurricane in 1968, and for the first time, European SAS trackers, and RLI trackers tracked ZIPRA insurgents to contact. In 1970 Captain Brian Robinson was tasked with forming the Rhodesian Army’s first School of Bush Warfare & Tracking at Lake Kariba. The school’s name would later revert to Tracking Wing Kariba.
Part One of the book includes contributary chapters by Lt Col Brian Robinson OLM, MCM who became the longest serving CO of the SAS, Allan Savory who also very kindly gave me access to his unpublished autobiography, Major Don Price BCR who was involved with combat tracking virtually throughout his military career, and raised the first RLI Tracking Troop. After Lt Al Tourle’s tragic death to a lion, Price took over as OC Kariba Tracking Wing which in January 1974 was absorbed into the newly raised Selous Scouts. Also included is a chapter on the use of tracker and scent dogs on counterinsurgency operations, including with the BSAP and as a reader interest comparison, with the Royal Australia Regiment in Vietnam. I must emphasise though; this book is not an instructional ‘How To’ about tracking. Rather, it looks at how tracking evolved as a needed counterinsurgency tactic during the Rhodesian Bush War and covers various operations from the beginning, including Operation Nickel and Operation Cauldron. Some ex-combat trackers have also contributed short anecdotal stories of their experiences.
For much of my research I relied heavily on the superb Rhodesian historical writings of Professor JRT Wood, and I have used some of his maps, for which I am grateful. Preller ‘Prop’ Geldenhuys’s detailed book Rhodesian Air Force Operations was another of my research sources, as was Alex Binda’s The Saints, plus various other works. Part Two of the book covers the use of pseudo counter-gangs in Rhodesia from the 1973 experimental phases onwards, including the formation of the Selous Scouts and my own experiences in the field of pseudo-operations. I have dedicated the book to all of those brave men who were combat trackers and pseudo-operators, and I am grateful to Major Nigel Henson OLM, for having written the Foreword. After having served in the Selous Scouts in 1974, he eventually went on to become the longest serving Fire Force OC in the RLI (Support Commando). The cover was designed by Simon Willar, who also came up with the title after input by Nigel Henson and myself. Simon Willar saw service as an officer in both the RLI and the Selous Scouts.
The eBook version of Follow My Tracks – Combat Tracking and Pseudo Operations: Recollections, is already available on Amazon but has less photos than the paperback print version, which is also now live on Amazon as is the plain hardcover edition.