But not for long. The patrol which had been sent for arrived to find the Kraalhead's body carrying handwritten notes threatening death to tribesmen who became police informers. The notes and a number of expended shells of Russian origin indicated that the cold-blooded murder was the work of a terrorist gang. Three pairs of footprints led away from the bushes from which attack had so unexpectedly come.
Operation Jackal Hunt One was on.
Police detachments were brought in from all over Matabeleland, together with units of the Army and Air Force. They arrived in the area early in the morning of September 22, the day after the murder, and at first light experienced African trackers supported by Police and Army personnel moved off on the spoor of the three retreating terrorists.
Intensive examination of the area from which the tribesmen had been fired upon brought to light more expended shells, an expended bullet lodged in a tree and the tracks of the murderers which indicated that they had crawled up on the tribesmen gathered around the hole and had ambushed them from the thick undergrowth. A base camp was set up near the scene of the murder and patrols were dispatched in an effort to contain the retreating terrorists in the north and south of the immediate area.
The tracking team had initially moved in a westerly direction before the spoor swung in an arc of some fifteen miles radius before taking a southerly direction. It was apparent that the fugitives were taking steps to cover their tracks and the crumbling sand of the terrain assisted them in that clear imprints were not retained. After a day and a half on the trail- estimated to be only about 24 hours old - there were indications that a fourth person had joined the original three and soon after, this number was increased by another two. At midday on September 24, having painstakingly followed the terrorists for over 30 miles in the desolate country, the spoor was lost and the rest of the day spent trying to regain the trail but without success. In the three days of almost impossible tracking and relentless pursuit, the team had been supplied and supported from the air by the RRAF, evidence of the intensive co-operation between the three elements of the Security Forces which was to typify the whole operation.
The loss of the spoor brought the focus of the exercise back to the base camp and the activities of the many CID teams who were probing into kraals and villages over a wide area in an attempt to obtain further information on the gang. These efforts were rewarded when, on September 25, a tribesman admitted that he had visited the terrorists' camp and on the same afternoon, he led a patrol to the site.
The camp consisted of seven holes in the ground. All but two of them had been filled in. To ensure that the holes which had been destroyed contained no secrets, they were excavated in the broiling sun. The two intact holes were extremely well camouflaged. One was a round hole about 2 ft. 6 in. deep with a diameter of some 6 ft., and the other was rectangular, 2 ft. deep, 4 ft. wide and about 6 ft. Iong. Both were covered with thin branches and thatch and such was the degree of concealment that one of the holes was discovered before the informant's indication when one of the police details actually standing on the roof remarked that the ground beneath him was more resistant than the surrounding soil.
The only items of equipment left at the camp were a few cooking pots. The area was photographed and the camp destroyed.
The local who had led the Security Forces to the camp indicated that a gang of six terrorists had been active in the area. They had initiated a programme of indoctrination of the local people, had extracted food and supplies from them, and had made efforts to increase the size of the gang with local recruits.
On the same afternoon, September 25, information was received that there was a possibility that two of the gang were in the vicinity of a kraal some fifty miles from the original area. A CID team, with Army support, left immediately. An hour or so before dawn on the following morning, the party had not reached their objective and increased their pace to a trot. They arrived at the kraal at first light to find it deserted. Within minutes of the team's arrival, fortunately after they had gone to ground, into the kraal walked two terrorists, one of them carrying a PPSH submachine gun. On being challenged, the armed terrorist surrendered immediately, but the other made off in a desperate bid for freedom despite a number of warnings to halt. With no alternative, he was fired at and wounded low in the body. When searched he was found to have a primed grenade in his pocket. His companion was likewise found to be carrying two grenades and two magazines of ammunition for his weapon. The injured man's weapon, a SKS Siminov carbine, was retrieved from the bush on the indication of his companion. Two more grenades were found in the same place.
Following the capture of these two terrorists and information gathered from local tribesmen, some pattern of the gang's activities emerged.
The group had originally numbered eight men who had been trained in Algeria, had infiltrated the country from the north and who had been in the area for some time. Their mission had been to carry out a recruiting and training role among the locals before moving to bigger things.
The original leader of the gang and another member had been arrested after the latter accidentally shot himself through the shoulder and they had travelled to Bulawayo where one of them had been captured. The other was arrested in Salisbury. The leadership had been assumed by another member of the remaining six and two locals had successfully been recruited to restore the gang to its original strength of eight. The two newcomers had been armed with the weapons left behind by the two that had been captured.
The two terrorists arrested entering the kraal at dawn were original members who had been operating apart from the remainder. This accounted for the distance between the two spheres of activity.
The new leader had decided that the group should be further split into two groups of three. Each trio consisted of two founder members with a new recruit. It was deduced that it was the leader's team which had been responsible for the murder of the Kraalhead following the herdsman's report that he had seen an African (the leader, as it transpired) digging the new hole- the first stages in the construction of another underground camp.
The amount of information obtained by the arrest of the two terrorists was considerable due to the fact that, after the murder, the gang leader had picked up the other three members of the splinter group and had then trekked with them to the kraal where he had explained the latest developments to the remaining two. He had warned them to lie low where they were but also gave them some indications of his own future plans.
His idea was that the other six should travel south far beyond the present area of suspicion where they would attack an isolated farm to obtain food and money. As the Security Forces switched to the area of the proposed attack and were withdrawn from the gang's original base area, the group would backtrack to their former well-prepared and well-equipped hunting ground. There they would lie up- for months if need be - until the heat was off.
The fact that the terrorist leader had covered some 90 miles in the three days following the murder in order to warn the detached pair, had picked up the other section of the gang in his travels and had also been involved in the time consuming and finally successful efforts of covering the tracks of the party, gave an indication of the calibre of the opposition to the Security Forces.
This then was the position on the morning of September 26.
In the light of the information gathered, the tactics of the Security Forces were formulated.
Despite the terrorist leader's intentions, as obtained from the captured members, it was felt that it was more than likely that he would change his immediate plans in view of the activities of his pursuers. The isolated farms upon which the attack was envisaged presented a challenge of distance and despite the extensive travels already undertaken by the gang, it might be beyond their already extended capabilities. One school of thought expounded the possibility that the gang, finally convinced of the scale of operation mounted against them, might seek flight over the borders into Botswana. There was another possibility that the terrorists would abandon their immediate plans in favour of returning immediately to their base area where they would go to ground.
The identity of the local recruits had been established and their relatives were questioned about contacts which might be made by these two members of the group should the gang choose any of the three possible routes. Kraals which might be sympathetic to appeals for food from the local pair were watched.
There had been no let-up in the questioning of tribesmen in the immediate area of the murder - the area in which the two bands had so firmly entrenched themselves before September 21. These interrogations were fruitful when, on September 27, a large cache of equipment was discovered. In a large tin, sunk in concrete, were found considerable amounts of ammunition, seven blocks of TNT and a quantity of subversive literature. The cache even contained an inventory of contents, presumably prepared by the terrorist leader.
The following day brought no news of significant nature and plans for the future were prepared by the Security Forces.
The early hours of September 28 brought another breakthrough. The father of one of the local recruits reported that his son had deserted the gang and had returned to his kraal. He was arrested just after dawn in possession of an SKS carbine and ammunition. It was significant that this man made no attempt to evade arrest; on the contrary, he seemed almost eager to end the days of harrowing flight. He indicated the spot at which he had left his companion, a founder member, when he had entered the kraal in search of food. At this spot was found another SKS, two grenades and ammunition.
Unbeknown to the Security Forces, this man's companion had witnessed the recovery of his weapon and the indications made by the local recruit. He remained in hiding for the rest of the day and throughout the night, and the next morning took up a position on the road in which he was found by a passing police vehicle. He surrendered almost thankfully.
The score by now was four down and four to go. The outstanding members of the gang were its leader, two others of the original group, and the remaining local recruit.
The other newcomer was arrested in circumstances similar to those which had resulted in the capture of his fellow local. Tired and hungry - and apparently lacking the stricter discipline of the others - he walked into his father's kraal and into the arms of the waiting patrol. His SKS carbine was quickly located.
It was obvious that the remaining trio were sore pressed and becoming desperate for food. Questioning of the latest captives revealed that the prediction that the gang would discard their plan of attacking a distant farm in favour of an immediate return to their base area with its caches of equipment was correct All points at which the fugitives might be tempted to demand assistance were ambushed and the remainder of the Security Forces made an obvious withdrawal from the area.
The ruse worked. During the night of September 29/30, another of the gang - the leader - walked into an ambush around one of the kraals. He was unarmed and it was discovered that the remaining terrorists had been hidden nearby with the trio's weapons whilst the leader foraged for supplies.
The news of the arrest of the leader reached Control just after dawn on September 30. (For obvious reasons, no direct communication with the watching patrols had been risked.) Tracking parties were sent on a difficult trail in the wake of the leader's companions. Before midday, however, a positive sighting of the pair was received from another patrol and within a very short time the net had been closed on the whole gang.
In the meantime, the terrorist leader had guided a patrol to what turned out to be the only remaining cache. A buried 44 gallon drum contained ammunition, explosives and an assortment of other equipment. An added bonus was the discovery of the leader's weapon, another PPSH submachine gun which he had left with his companions. They had deposited the gun in the cache after their leader had failed to return.
The hunt was over. All members of the gang and their weapons - 4 PPSH submachine guns 5 SKS carbines, 14 grenades and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, as well as explosives - had been accounted for. There remained only the formalities of the murder investigation to be completed.
The notebook from which pages had been torn to provide the warnings found on the Kraalhead's body was recovered in the possession of one of the terrorists, the stubs were matched with the notes and a handwriting comparison inextricably proved his complicity. The murder weapon was identified by ballistics examination and it was found that the same weapon had fired all the shots at the scene of the murder.
The final chapter was enacted in the Bulawayo High Court where three of the gang were sentenced to death. The remainder of the gang received long terms of imprisonment for being accessories after the fact to murder and in possession of offensive weapons and material. In an earlier hearing, 17 tribesmen who had given assistance and received training from the gang were convicted and imprisoned.
At the conclusion of the case, the Judge commended the Security Forces generally and the investigating team for the high standard of conduct of the operation.
Finally, a tribute to all concerned in the many aspects of this exercise. It had been a highly successful operation exemplifying the finest standard of command, control and close co-operation between the three Services throughout all levels of personnel. The Commissioner of Police was pleased to award a Commendation to one member of the team and a number of other Policemen received official notification of the good work performed. Above all these, the appreciation of Rhodesians of all races of an operation about which they must needs know little was the greatest reward.
Outpost, March, 1968.
Reprinted from Outpost, magazine of the British South Africa Police, by permission of the Editor and the Commissioner of Police.
Distributed by the Ministry of Information. Immigration and Tourism, P. O. Box 8232, Causeway, Salisbury, Rhodesia.
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