I galloped through this tale of an Operator’s perspective of multiple external missions in Zambia and Mozambique. Like a handful of other servicemen who served in both the Rhodesian SAS and the Selous Scouts, the author was also in another small group of foreign fighters most of whom had previous military service, and in his case with 21 SAS in the United Kingdom. It was interesting to read about the what seemed to be a significant number of desertions from the Rhodesian army by many of these foreign fighters. A large number of them disappeared with regularity or “took the gap" as Rhodesians called it, including five who had previous service in Australian SAS. Those who stayed, did the job and they thrived in that environment. After serving with the Rhodesian SAS from 1974 to 1976, Paul French fought with the Selous Scouts for a few years before switching back to the SAS for the final three years of the war.
He begins his tale with a comparison of all of the selection courses that he had been on, concluding that the operational approach taken by the Selous Scouts had been the most appropriate. He describes his first kill, and of the death of Clive Mason who had fought with the Australian SAS in Vietnam. His story is very much a personal tale with descriptions of Fire Force operations, life in a Pseudo Troop, many parachute insertions, successful and unsuccessful missions, and amusing anecdotes. I was not aware that bonuses were paid for kills based upon the weapons that they collected.
I particularly liked his accounts of the vehicle mounted, cross-border and urban raid into the town Lusaka in April 1979, and the river borne raid to interdict two trade-strategic bridges some 750 kilometres deep into Zambia in October 1979 as the end of war talks were underway in London. In the latter raid he was in a freefall pathfinder team that inserted by civilian aircraft, that was then followed up by a raid force with a huge amount of explosives and super glue and who static lined from an unmarked South African Air Force C130. Paul French went to a library to photocopy a map from an atlas that he could use for evasion if it had come to that. Luckily for the raid force they stopped a large truck and drove back to a helicopter rendezvous, much closer to Rhodesia. Crikey! The Rhodesian SAS re-wrote the text book with this daunting mission profile. I wish that I had known about this classic evolution when I was teaching raiding to Australian commandos, thirty years ago.
As a sideline he describes the fascinating story of a fellow Portuguese SAS Operator who went AWOL after most missions and his equally interesting multi-lingual wife who pioneered Signals Intelligence. Paul French also describes his protracted time working with the resistance inside Mozambique, and their eventual handover over of these guerrillas to South African Special Forces.
There was little that this Operator did not experience, including the workup for the planned coup in Salisbury at the end of the war. He was then one of the 50 SAS Operators who joined 6 Recce Commando in the South African army before moving onto contractor work in Somalia, Angola and Iraq. Just as I got to the end of the book, I felt like I wanted to read more. The imagery is great as well. Who dares does not always win wars, but daring-do makes for enjoyable arm chair soldiering.