A Handful of Hard Men

//A Handful of Hard Men

A Handful of Hard Men

R275.00

During the Wests great transition into the post-Colonial age, the country of Rhodesia refused to succumb quietly, and throughout the 1980s fought back almost alone against Communist-supported elements that it did not believe would deliver proper governance.

During this long war many heroes emerged, but none more skillful and courageous than Captain Darrell Watt of the Rhodesian SAS, who placed himself at the tip of the spear in the deadly battle to resist the forces of the various factions of communism as per different political factions.

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Description

With the collapse of colonialism and the European retreat from Africa the then colony of Southern Rhodesia refused to follow the political fashion of the time and succumb quietly. They decided to take on the world, believing that an immediate transfer of power would lead to tragedy.

War followed and on the killing fields of southern Africa Special Air Service Captain Darrell Watt placed himself at the tip of the spear in the deadly battle to defeat the Sino/Soviet backed forces of Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo.

It is difficult to find another soldier’s story to equal his in terms of time spent on the field of battle and challenges faced. Even by the lofty standards of the SAS and Special Forces in general one has to look very hard and far to find anyone who served in any of these regiments who can match his record of resilience, fortitude and valour in the face of such daunting odds and with resources so paltry.

In the fight he showed himself to be a military maestro. A bush-lore genius, he had no peers as a combat-tracker. Blessed with uncanny instincts and an unbridled determination to close with the enemy and kill he performed in almost every imaginable fighting role; as an airborne shock-trooper leading camp attacks, long range reconnaissance expert, covert urban operator, sniper and saboteur. In all roles he executed his tasks with extraordinary skill inflicting incalculable damage and heavy casualties on the enemy.

After 12 years in the cauldron of war he was at the top of his game leading a rebel army on a rampage that was close to snapping the strategic spine of a hostile country when men in suits in far off places stopped him in his tracks and history changed. A soldier’s soldier he did his duty quietly and confidently and sought no glory. Unfortunately some of his political and military peers did not always follow his example.

When the guns went quiet he had won all his battles and lost the war. There was no ticker-tape parade for him, no laurels, no medals and no thanks for death daring commitment to a cause. With only one skill to sell he bade his homeland a sad farewell and went off to fight another war.

In his twilight years, accompanied by his loyal askaris, he has built schools and clinics for poor rural Africans and devoted himself with equal courage and sense of purpose to wildlife conservation. With elephant being slaughtered in unprecedented numbers he is fighting a lonely battle to save the last herds and the wilderness that is their final refuge.

Background to the book

I started writing this book over ten years ago and could probably write a book about writing this book. Suffice to say, if I had known what problems lay ahead I’m not sure I would have done it but it’s been a rocky and the journey is not over however I’m happy to say a measure of success may have been achieved. The original book was too long for the publishers so much of the original material has been excised to be used upon another day maybe.

Along the research road I bumped, almost unwittingly, into some rude awakenings as facts emerged that suggested all was not as it seemed in the Rhodesian security forces. I have touched carefully on some of these issues and left answers hanging because I don’t have them but sometimes history reveals itself quickly and this inquiry is a work in progress which I will attend to in another book at another time.

For a long time I wanted to try and tell the story of Rhodesia through the eyes of soldiers. I knew a political history on its own would not get much attention so I decided to try and blend the two. The book is therefore primarily the story of exemplary fighters but I have tried to keep the reader aware of what was happening in the various corridors of power in the capitals of the countries that played a role in this drama. In this sense I have used the protagonists as a platform to tell a bigger story that I hope will both give the reader some enjoyment along with a better understanding of what actually happened off the battlefield.

The book focuses on Darrell Watt who must surely rate as one of the great SAS operators since the inception of this regiment in 1941. For 12 years he found himself in the thick of the action and always able to get the better of the foe. It was not easy working with him. A man of extreme humility he was very reluctant to talk about himself initially and because he had done so much and seen so much his memory was often hazy which meant I had to do considerable research from other sources to clarify his recollections. In some cases events he could barely recall turned out to have been life-changing experiences for some of the men he led and invariably the seed of a story blossomed forth into an extraordinary event.

In the course of researching this book I did not find one man who had been to war with Darrell who did not hold him in awe. On the field of fire he was obviously a hard act to follow but some of the other operators reported on in this narrative were also exceptional and deserving of a place in history alongside great soldiers. It was a pleasure and a privilege to have the opportunity to work with them on this.

In writing this I tried to build a platform for the men and then let the men themselves talk the reader through what followed. This, I hope will give the book the authenticity and sense of reality that it deserves. At times collective memories were sketchy so some mistakes may have been made and I apologise but the war ended 35 years ago. We did the best we could and all the main protagonists have read this and agreed what is written here with regard to them is as they remember it.

While some insist the politics of the time should not be included in a book of this nature I felt differently. This was a very political war and it was political decisions that nearly always trumped the soldiers’ efforts. To this end I tried to explain to the reader how hard a soldier’s lot can be when he risks all only to be snookered by men in suits in sometimes faraway places. As the reader will learn the political arena was also a dangerous and treacherous place and looking back I don’t believe many of those political players could possibly be proud of what they made happen.

Rhodesia was an extraordinary country and it produced extraordinary people that gave it unusual strength and the capacity to punch above its weight in a variety of ways. As a keen reader of military history I feel confident in saying the men of the Rhodesian SAS took the ethos of the country to the highest level and performed their daunting tasks with courage, fortitude and daring that places them up with the best of the best in that rarefied space occupied by elite soldiers. I can only hope I have done justice to some great men who fought so hard for a great little country that is no more.

Book Reviews

Quite the best book of our times that I have read out of the dozens that I have in my “war library”. I could not put it down and now that I have finished it I am at a loss to read anything anywhere as good as that!

Colonel Dick Lockley

“‘A Handful of Hard Men’ has me shaking with fury at our double standards where whites are concerned, and at the gauzy mythology of ‘political correctness’ that has painted white Rhodesians as oppressors.”

‘Taki’ Theodoracopolus. The Spectator UK.

“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

“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.”

New American Magazine

“‘A Handful of Hard Men’ .. is an absolutely stunning record of the Rhodesian Special Air Service … a soldier’s story told through the weapons’ sights of Rhodesian SAS veterans as they carved through the massed ranks of their enemies – employing ruthless aggression and initiative instead of soft ‘hearts and minds’ COIN policies in a heroic but ultimately doomed bid to stay free from Robert Mugabe’s dictatorship. …. a true story about the death of a brave little nation that went down fighting like demons before impossible odds. Buy it.”

J.H. Farrell. Australian & NZ Defender

“‘A Handful of Hard Men’ must rank as one of the most riveting books on contemporary African military history that I have read. Hannes Wessels has captured the essence of true combat by this handful of very hard men…I was left breathless and it was as though I could smell the cordite and taste the blood in my mouth. I would highly recommend this magnificent book to any serious student of contemporary African warfare and history.”

Lt. Colonel Eeben Barlow. (SADF; 32 Battalion Reconnaissance Wing. Executive Outcomes and STTEP International)

“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.

“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.

Simon Reader. BizNews

“… a highly entertaining, detailed and thorough account of the Bush War and the role played by the Rhodesian SAS. Considering the small size of the unit its accomplishments are outstanding.”

Morgan Haselau. Man Magnum

“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.

“One of the best SAS stories I have ever read”.

W.D. Tennant

“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.”

Former Rhodesian SAS officer.

“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 better or for worse, what an era that was, and the nostalgia one gets from reading it is immense.”

Paul Connolly

“The book was just magnificent. One of the best reads about incredible men (and friends) I have ever read.”

Brian Hayes.

“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

“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 excellent 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 Knoetzen

“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.”

Editor

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