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September 6, 1979 a lone Puma helicopter flies northward, leaving behind the desolation of the battle for Mapai, in Mozambique's Gaza Province. Huddled in the cabin, two weary soldiers sit silently immersed in their own thoughts, contemplating their difficult duties ahead. WOII Graham Enslin, CSM, Support Commando, is struggling to come to terms with the death in action that morning of his younger brother Brian.

The other, Lt Rick van Malsen BCR, 2IC, 1 Commando, works through the list of names in his hand, names of the 16 men who died with Trooper Brian Enslin when a South African Air Force Puma was shot out of the sky during the assault on the Frelimo and ZANLA stronghold at Mapai.

It will be his job to send out the official death notices and to advise the next of kin that the bodies of the three South African airmen and 14 Rhodesian soldiers were not recovered. Both men vow that night, each for reasons of his own, to one day return to the scene of the crash to pay proper tribute to the fallen men.

And so it was, almost 30 years later, that Rick van Malsen returns to the scene of that horrendous battle, to search for the crash site of the downed Puma, in an effort to achieve closure for the relatives of the dead. This is a story of courage and devotion to duty but, above all, it is a story of comradeship and loyalty undimmed by the passage of time, of a band of brothers bonded together in war, united still in peace.

Neill Jackson was born in Malta in 1953, where his father was stationed with the Royal Marines and his mother the WRENs. The family moved to Rhodesia in 1956. In 1975 he was commissioned as a second lieutenant with 5 (Independent) Company based in Umtali, before serving three years as a Troop Commander with Support Commando, the Rhodesian Light Infantry. In 1978 he was posted as 2IC to 1 (Independent) Company at Victoria Falls and Beitbridge, and then to 1 Brigade HQ in Bulawayo as Intelligence Officer from December 1979 until his retirement a year later, with the rank of captain. Rick van Malsen was born in Kenya in 1954, immigrated to Rhodesia in 1960 and joined the Rhodesian Light Infantry in 1974, being commissioned the following year. In 1978, as a Troop Commander in 1 Commando, 1 RLI, Rick was awarded the Bronze Cross of Rhodesia for valour during combat. At the cessation of hostilities in 1980 he was appointed Battalion Adjutant and attended a staff course at the Staff College at Camberley in the UK. He set up the Army Diving School at Kariba, at the time the most modern facility of its type in southern Africa, before retiring from service in 1984.

 06 Sep 1979: During an external operation in Mozambique, code-named Ops Uric, a SAAF Puma helicopter, Serial No. 164 carrying 14 members of the Rhodesian Armed Forces, was shot down near Mapai in Mocambique. Approximately 5km from the target area, the low-flying helicopter armada overflew a small satellite air-defence base that had been abandoned by most of the defenders as soon as the initial Hunter strikes had attacked the Brigade HQ at Mapai earlier that morning. A lone Frelimo soldier, armed with an RPG-7 rocket launcher who had remained at his post he took aim and fired his rocket towards the massed aircraft just as they drew level with his position. The PH-7 Anti-Tank Rocket struck the right side of the last helicopter in the nearest formation and exploded immediately behind the pilot’s seat and simultaneously igniting the fuel in the tank situated behind the pilot as well as the explosives that were being carried on board. The stricken Puma 164 rolled immediately to the right and plunged into the ground, exploding on impact in a huge ball of flame and oily black smoke. All on board perished in one of the greatest single tragedies of the Rhodesian Bush War. The bodies were never recovered but were located in an expedition into the area on 13 April 2009 and memorial stones and a memorial cross were erected over the graves of all these casualties.

The casualties were:

19 Squadron South African Air Force:

70388152PK Captain (Pilot & A/C Commander) Paul Denzil Velleman. He was 25.
74299181PS Lieutenant (Co-Pilot) Nigel David Osborne. He was 22.
Sergeant (Flight Engineer) Dirk Wilhelmus Marthinus Retief. He was 29.

1 Commando Rhodesian Light Infantry:

780949 Captain Johannes Matheus du Plooy. (South African National)
729689 Corporal Gordon Hugh Fry. (South African National)
124307 Trooper Jacobus Alwyn Briel (South African National)
730092 Trooper Aiden James Coleman. (South African National)
123929 Trooper Jeremy Mark Crow. (South African National)
119928 Trooper Brian Louis Enslin. (South African National)
729937 Trooper Stephen Eric King. (South African National)
123027 Trooper Colin Graham Neasham. (South African National)
730099 Trooper David Rex Prosser. (South African National)

1 Squadron and Directorate Rhodesian Corps of Engineers:

Captain Charles David Small. (South African National)
2/Lieutenant Bruce Fraser Burns. (South African National)
Sergeant Michael Alan Jones. (South African National)
Corporal Leroy William Duberly. (South African National)
Lance Corporal Peter Fox. (South African National)

HARDCOVER 480 PAGES WITH 200 COLOR & B/W PHOTOS, SKETCHES & MAPS

Published June 2011

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