Shame on those white liberals who paint white Rhodesians as oppressors while supporting murdering maniacs like Mugabe.
Just as American race relations are unravelling, with the odious New York Times running editorials just about excusing the murders of five white police officers in Dallas by a black hoodlum, let’s take it from the top where the battle for Rhodesia is concerned. As I write, public anger has brought Zimbabwe to a standstill. Ninety-two-year-old Mugabe’s 36-year rule has been celebrated at a cost of $1 million while the country is totally broke and unable to pay its civil servants.
Evelyn Waugh had it right. In 1932 he wrote that the unthinkable had come to pass. Europeans were departing Africa, leaving the benighted natives to fend for themselves. How prescient was Waugh? Here’s our own Theodore Dalrymple writing about his arrival in Rhodesia in about 1975. ‘Rhodesia was being condemned loudly and insistently as if it were the greatest threat to world peace and the security of the planet …I expected to find on my arrival, therefore, a country in crisis and decay. Instead, I found a country that was, to all appearances, thriving: its roads were well maintained, its transport system functioning, its towns and cities clean and manifesting a municipal pride long gone from England …The large hospital in which I was to work was extremely clean and ran with exemplary efficiency.’
Many African countries are poorer now than when they received their independence, despite the billions they received from a guilt-ridden Europe, yet it’s Europeans who turn a blind eye to the war and genocide practised by African leaders, and to this day condemn the whites of Rhodesia and South Africa for no other reason than the colour of their skin.
Hannes Wessels was born in 1956 in Salisbury and grew up on the Mozambique border. He left school to become a combat soldier and saw lots of action. His book is a paean to the greatest soldier he got to know well, Captain Darrell Watt, of the Rhodesian SAS and Special Forces. Watt won all his battles but eventually, thanks to Lord Carrington and gang, lost the war. For 12 long years in the cauldron of war Captain Watt never lost a battle, exhibiting Spartan-like bravery and better than Spartan-like ingenuity in combating far, far superior forces. The Rhodesian SAS amounted to just an incredible-to-believe 250 men. In the book Wessels recounts harrowing incidents perpetrated by Zanu and Zapu (Mugabe and Nkomo forces) soldiers on black and white civilians, and even on their own recruits.
Which brings me to the big lie. The pro-black propagandist Christopher Hitchens once made fun of Ian Smith’s facial scars, scars acquired when he was shot down while serving in the RAF against the Luftwaffe. Smith had left Salisbury and volunteered to fight for kith and kin. The BBC never mentioned the fact that Smith volunteered — it wouldn’t, would it? — and Hitchens made fun of it. Such are the joys of siding with the politically correct.
Darrell Watt and his brave band of 250 were a fluid and volatile unit that performed every imaginable fighting role: airborne shock troops, sniper duty, sabotage, seek and strike, you name it, Watt performed it. And managed also to survive. Like the great man that he is, he is now saving wild life on a continent that is being plundered for profit. Hannes Wessels studied and practised law briefly, then became a professional big-game hunter for 20 years. He is now a conservationist and lives with his wife and two daughters north of Cape Town in South Africa.
Although I might sound like some ghastly celebrity phony who declares pride in knowing a scumbag like Russell Brand, I am very proud to be a friend of Hannes Wessels, and to praise a work about brave men who we, the West, betrayed so cruelly. We definitely wish our disintegration as we continue to support rapacious, vicious, corrupt and murdering maniacs such as Mugabe and others of his ilk in Africa, while continuing to paint civilised white men like Watt and Smith as the unacceptable past. Shame on us in general and shame on white liberals in particular.”
“What we saw on the BBC TV news while all this was going on was the various meetings between Harold Wilson, his ministers and Ian Smith, who had declared independence for Rhodesia. We were unaware of what was actually taking place in the country… Hannes Wessels redresses the balance with an amazing tale of daring and courage.”Books Monthly UK
“The story of a virtuoso fighter and the brave men who stood with him against impossible odds. Hannes Wessels has achieved a literary grand slam with A Handful of Hard Men, published in the United States and Britain late 2015. A classic expose of the role of Rhodesia’s Special Air Service during a twelve-year conflict that involved half-a-dozen African states. Public acclaim for the book among military buffs was so enthusiastic that within months it went into a second edition. Readers’ comments on websites (both UK and US) have echoed these sentiments: it achieved more 5-star reviews than any other recent work of Southern African military history.”Author Al. J. Venter.
“I have read every book on the subject and this is, in my opinion, without doubt the best.”Author Jerry Buirski
“For those, black or white, who were born after World War II into the country that used to be Rhodesia the prospect of having to face some sort of extended military conflict was, if not quite inevitable, at least extremely likely. For some of us (me included) who might have had the luxury of being able to choose whether to join this coming war or not, they were fortunate; for most living there then the choice was made for them. Reflecting the tectonic shifts that were unleashed on the world in the post-war period, the power clash that was building in Rhodesia between the supposedly immovable object of white political and economic privilege and control, and the irresistible force of black-nationalism and the struggle for African civil rights was plain for all to see. It was neither sudden nor hidden. Like the elements in a Shakespearian or Greek tragedy events evolved, first into then out of an honest attempt at multiracialism in a Federation that was soon scuttled by its British overseers, then into a proud but dangerous Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) by Ian Smith, PM of Rhodesia, which set in place the pieces of the chessboard in a way which made war, at that stage, more or less inevitable.
Once the die had been cast, each side did what it thought it had to do to pursue its goals. The Bush War was launched around 1972 by two competing forces: Zanla (Robert Mugabe) and Zipra (Joshua Nkomo) These were acting separately with incursions from Zambia and Mozambique. The book written by Hannes Wessels: A Handful of Hard Men, tells the story of how a small core group of Rhodesia’s SAS Squadron, centered on an extraordinary soldier named Darrell Watt, as a key part of Ian Smith’s overall Rhodesian armed forces, responded to this war. Using proactive, highly mobile special operations which were made famous by the original (British) SAS, the Rhodesian equivalent showed how disproportionately valuable such tactics can be in this type of warfare. Without choosing sides nor casting moral judgments, two things can be said with great certainty about this book: First, the military engagements, in terms of their conception, their planning, their audacity, their economy of resources, the bush craftsmanship involved and the strategic accomplishments, are nothing short of phenomenal. Told in the words of those who took part, these accounts are factual (if also well embellished by the soldierly vernacular expected of men in the bush), and are a massive tribute to Watt and his team. Second, and this is more a tribute to the author, the book does a masterful job of integrating the history of the military events with the unfolding story of the political developments regarding the pace and nature of the transition from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe. It contains multiple accusations of perfidy, including, but not confined to external actors (the South Africans, the Americans -Jimmy Carter and Andrew Young – (less so Henry Kissinger), David Owen, Lord Carrington, Margaret Thatcher and no less than the Queen herself), but a finger is pointed also at local players on Smith’s team, including General Peter Walls and the Intelligence Chief Ken Flower, among others.
This commentator is not equipped with the knowledge to sift through the rights and wrongs of these accusations, but it seems to me the author deserves considerable credit for his courage in making them. History should, after all, be about getting the facts straight. Moral judgments can follow.”
DISCLOSURE: Ian Hume served as an officer in the Federal Army of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (1957-63), before leaving Rhodesia to study and join the World Bank. His family, also from the city of Mutare (previously Umtali) are long standing friends of the Wessels family.Ian Hume
“A Handful of Hard Men” is an extremely well researched book on the Rhodesian SAS with an emphasis on the exploits of one of their best known and loved operators, Darrell Watt. But it is much, much more. It is, perhaps, one of the best books ever to come out of latter-day Rhodesia and her struggle for survival against unimaginable odds. It’s a must read for anyone interested in that brave little corner of the world.”Former Selous Scouts officer and author of ‘Three Sips of Gin’ Tim Bax
“One of the best SAS stories I have ever read”.W.D. Tennant
“This is the most unbelievable story about an incredible soldier and his other comrades in arms. If you had not recorded this, this story would have never been told.”Former SAS Sergeant
“The book was just magnificent. One of the best reads about incredible men (and friends) I have ever read.”Intelligence Officer Brian Hayes
“This is the first time in my life that I have read a 350 page book in a weekend, and I didn’t skip a single line. What an unbelievable story of toughness, courage, professionalism and sheer grit. For good or bad, what an era that was, and the nostalgia one gets from reading it is immense.”Paul Connolly
“The greatest hero I have ever heard of in Darrell Watt. What an incredible man! I know of some of the actions of our great soldiers, but, never to the extent, consistency of purpose, courage and valour beyond any reasonable expectation of a human being. I sincerely congratulate the author on an excellently written book. It captivates one from the beginning to the end and the depth of that time rises up again. Many are saying, as I am, this is possibly the very best book to come out in all the books on the Rhodesian War.”Trevor Knoesen
“I am in absolute awe of the courage and bravery shown by the men of the RLI and SAS. I just did not realise, until reading the book, how close we came to defeating the bastards. I have read quite a few of the books written about the bush war and this one is clearly the best.”Barrie Hocking
Chas Lotter – An apology
“The poem by Chas Lotter that appears in Chapter 1 of my book ‘A Handful of Hard Men’ opens with the line;
‘My country right or wrong’
This is a mistake as a result of a suggested title to the chapter somehow being absorbed into the poem at some point in the editing, production and printing process.
My sincere apologies to Chas, this was a mistake and no harm was intended.
I will take the necessary steps to make sure this error is corrected in future editions.”
“Your recent book, A Handful of Hard Men is an important contribution to understanding the Rhodesian Bush War. We receive requests for it from Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base, Combined Arms Research Library at Fort Leavenworth and the Marine Corps senior command courses and special operations courses. They use your book as part of their teaching lessons learned in fighting terrorism and in counterinsurgency techniques and practices.”US Military
Simon Lincoln Reader – JULY 13, 2016
“Hannes Wessels’ third book documents the counter insurgency of the Rhodesian Special Air Service (SAS) between the unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) from Britain in 1965 to the transition to Zimbabwe in 1980. It is an anthem between soldiers once abandoned, now almost forgotten, from a country bent beyond recognition.
Central to A Handful of Hard Men is the ruthlessly objective narrative of Captain Darrell Watt, revealed as one of many extraordinary fighters who survived the harrowing SAS selection process. At the height of its strength in June 1978, the Rhodesian SAS consisted of just 250 men but the damage inflicted upon the vastly superior numbers of Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU and Robert Mugabe’s ZANU, supported by Samora Machel’s FRELIMO in Mozambique and to a lesser extent, the ANC in South Africa, is comparable perhaps only to the first weeks of the initial Boer War, when groups of farmers subjected the armies of the British Empire to successive, humiliating defeats.
Wessels has produced an intimate study of rugged war that surpasses other publications of this era in its detail of the well-trodden path from Rhodesian schoolboy to soldier. Alongside Watt stood men of near identical aggression, loyalty and skill; Richard Stannard, who would later become involved in a failed coup d’état of the Seychelles; the American Bob McKenzie, a man determined to fill as many body bags as possible and the fearless Andy Chait, schooled in Johannesburg’s tough south, killed in action in March 1977.
Of all the skirmishes Wessels’ recites between the belligerents, none express the SAS’ tactical superiority quite like ‘Operation Dingo’, which reads like Herman Labuschagne’s account of The Battle of Blood River, minus the spiritual paraphernalia. What became known as the Chimoio Raid occurred at the ZANLA training base in central Mozambique and witnessed the felling and wounding of thousands of operatives. The Rhodesian SAS and Rhodesian Light Infantry numbered no more than 200. From the smouldering ruins of the camp the SAS retrieved communist propaganda used to indoctrinate men and women who wouldn’t live to see its unconscionable practices or how it would be violated by nationalist elites across the African continent in the pursuit of wealth and status in the traditional central committee model.
Incidents that portray ZANU and ZAPU cruelty toward civilians are particularly harrowing, but when directed toward their own recruits, they venture into the disturbing precedent set by early man. Racial solidarity reigned; independent thought or nonconformity of combatants was resolved by torture – those suspected of treason were brutally punished. It prompts sympathy for the idealists within the Nkomo and Mugabe camps, some of who genuinely believed in the prospect of a land liberated from white ‘settlers’.
Testimonies of courage sometimes expose extreme political cowardice – the most recent example being Gen (Rtd) Stanley McChrystal’s unflattering comments about Washington liberals – which stripped him of his Afghanistan command. Robert Mugabe’s treachery is well documented, but what is less so is the role of the British government, something amply confirmed by the conduct of David (now Lord) Owen, former Foreign Secretary and his successor, The Lord (now Baron) Carrington.
Wessels’ neatly observes the nothing both men knew of Africa. But whereas Owen could be partially excused in that he was a victim of his own fashionable but retarded delusions, Carrington is revealed as morally vacuous, scheming and duplicitous. I knew and admired the late Baroness Thatcher but her inability to untwist herself from Carrington’s forked tongue was a failure.
Perhaps the greatest example of British hypocrisy toward the country lies in an event that occurred outside the book. In 1986 the British granted one Perence Shiri a place at The Royal College of Defense Studies in London. Nicknamed Black Jesus, this was a man who, under Mugabe’s instruction, personally orchestrated the slaughter of over 20,000 civilians in Matabeleland between 1983 and 1984. It was precisely this foul habit of running with hares whilst hunting with hounds that concluded in Mugabe’s disastrous land reform policies of the late nineties. Under Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Secretary of State for International Development Clare Short, Zimbabwe’s already brittle spine was decisively snapped.
Within Wessels’ analysis lies evidence of the contempt toward white Rhodesians from quarters of the west which reveals itself as nothing more than a hacking of tall white poppies: Rhodesia’s ascent had been charted by the uncompromising spirit of black and white Africans who worked the land, shot accurately, drank happily, played rugby and enjoyed harmonious relationships with each other. Unwilling to pledge allegiance to anything but the soil, they were accused of illegal occupation – seized near and afar by opportunistic diktats and attacked in a manner eerily similar to enraged supporters of Cecil the Lion. Prime amongst these claims was that Africa belonged to Africans – that land was everything. White Rhodesians jeered. They knew too well that it was only something when you understood it.
The rational expectation that current circumstances should vindicate white Rhodesians has been dashed as politicians and apologists scramble for excuses in the rush to explain why Zimbabwe can no longer feed itself, or is now considering issuing what are essentially IOUs as substitutes for currency. The spirit of the Rhodesian SAS has long been eviscerated from the country; today it exists only in faint traces in places like Simonstown and villages along South Africa’s Garden Route. In African countries where those illegally dispossessed of land started afresh. In Perth. In the words of those courageous enough to speak truth to authorities determined to misrepresent history.
But history is unkind to those who insult it by attempting to defend indefensible errors of judgment. This is perhaps Wessels’ chief accomplishment; in describing a world seeking to abandon and isolate Ian Smith’s government, he leaves space between the lines for the reader to link a past to a political present – including evidence that suggests John Giles, an advisor to President Abel Muzorewa at the Lancaster House talks, was in fact murdered. Tony Blair has assumed the title of being the most unpopular Premier in modern British history. Jimmy Carter was once referred to as ‘the political equivalent of the house wine in a suburban Indian restaurant’. And in the twilight of his years, Baron Carrington is haunted by his complicity in bringing to Zimbabwe, and indeed the world, a rapacious, divisive, dictator who plunged an ambitious, educated black population into persecution, poverty and hunger.
- Simon Reader is based in London.
“Wessels has a talent for bringing the lengthy list of battles and skirmishes to life. However, his account regularly connects the events in southern Africa to the larger context. Deprived of the opportunity to assassinate Robert Mugabe before he could assume control of the nation and transform it into the horrific slaughterhouse called Zimbabwe, the brave men of the SAS stood down. They did their duty; the loss of Rhodesia was a tragedy willed by forces beyond their control. Wessels’ book is a worthy tribute to their sacrifice, and will be of benefit to all readers who desire a better comprehension of this aspect of the worldwide war against the forces of Marxism-Leninism.”
From Amazon.com Web Site
“This is the most enthralling military book I have ever read. Knowing little about the war Rhodesia fought, it was recommended to me by an acquaintance who I have been told did indeed serve in the Rhodesian SAS. Whilst the book centres on the exploits of the incredible Capt Darrell Watt, it also offers a history of the incessant 15-year bush war that those plucky Rhodesians fought, and eventually lost – not on the battlefield but in the behind-the-scenes negotiations in London.
It is a book of non-stop action, heroics, professionalism, violence, resourcefulness and incredible military skills. It tells of a rare breed of men who never gave up until ordered to do so. It is also a book of betrayal of a nation that deserved better – and looking at Zimbabwe now, who could dispute that statement?
I am just old enough to remember seeing pictures on TV in the 70s of one of the downed Air Rhodesia Viscount airliners. I served for a short while in the British Army but saw no action. I never experienced the sense of camaraderie and loyalty that these men shared. But I can tell you that I would give 10 years of my life to have served with the men described in this book, to have fought their war with them, against an enemy that outnumbered them hundreds of times over.
The author has interviewed many participants to build a story that probably hasn’t been revealed before. These anecdotes, as well as revealing the incredible feats of one of the world’s greatest ever fighting forces, and the tough life that these incredible soldiers led for many years, also provide humorous moments. It is often the soldier’s humour that enables him to surmount the hardest of situations. So we hear of the baboon who got drunk regularly in the SAS mess. The patrol commander waking up face-to-face with a lion with rotten breath. The puff adder who woke the trooper in his sleeping bag with a flick of its tongue.
We hear many stories of tracking terrorists over many miles via their footprints and other tell-tale signs. And we hear latterly of the tables being turned, when the hunters became the hunted and were literally running for their lives over long distances in a bid to escape certain death. Weeks in the bush on starvation rations were standard fare for this outstanding fighting force. They would return in helicopters, often via a hot LZ, their uniforms in shreds and stinking to high heaven. Young men who by their mid-twenties had lived many lives over.
But it is the stories of the large raids into Zambia and Mozambique that killed thousands of terrorists for the loss of only a few Rhodesians each time that beggar belief, not just in their success but how they were implemented with near obsolete military hardware. Faced with global sanctions that hurt the military effort, time and time again Rhodesian determination and resourcefulness won through where others would have given up.
One finishes the book admiring the incredible people of Rhodesia, who fought a war that, however wrong some might view both then and now, did what they felt was right. One also feels disgusted with the behaviour of the West’s governments over Rhodesia’s UDI, especially that of the UK. Certain individuals such as Lords Carrington and Owen come out of this very badly, as does the then South African government who cynically offered Rhodesia up as a sacrificial lamb in order to extend their vile regime’s life for just a few more pointless years.
We are left with many ‘what ifs?’ to ponder over. What if Rhodesia had taken more seriously the evidence that they were being betrayed from within by people such as the head of the CIO, Ken Flower, and Irish Catholic priests who informed on them to the terrorists and even helped Mugabe escape? What if the redoubtable Ian Smith had had more resilient lieutenants who would not have been waylaid by the predictable ruses and the treachery of the Foreign Office? What if Smith had opted to continue the fight and taken the gloves fully off his military which could have resulted in Marxist-controlled Mozambique imploding, thus freeing Rhodesia to fight ZANLA and ZIPRA who threatened them from Zambia and from within Rhodesia itself? What if the South Africans had not pulled the rug out from under them? What if, indeed.
This is a story of courage and hope that ended in tragedy, not only for the white minority but ultimately the black majority. But above all it is a story of betrayal, by a UK government whose duplicity shames those, like myself, who are proud to call themselves British.”Wellread - Amazon
“The real deal. The pure, special-forces soldiering of Darrell Watt and his men, is to this very day, jaw dropping. I got scared all over again reading about it. Nothing around the world beats it. These guys would be international legends if they had done this in the service of England or America. The author does a brilliant job of weaving the political threads in time to the years of soldiering. Simple and revealing and awful to read about.
The best account you will ever read.”