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John 'Nungale' Nagle
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While I was in Rhodesia I was involved in a couple of operations in which the Rhodesian Army unit I was attached to ambushed and surrounded a large group of heavily armed communists. They were then disarmed and escorted to one or another of the Assembly Places which were set up as "safe areas", where the communists were supposed to have remained.

While I was in-country, I worked with several Rhodesian Units, including the Rhodesian African Rifles, and the Special Branch of the BSAP (British South African Police). Naturally enough with all of the various surrenders of guerrilla sticks, and their disarming by us, there were lots of captured communist weapons held locally. From memory, these included AK47's, and several other versions of that ubiquitous assault rifle such as AKM50 and AKM65. There were also World War II vintage Russian "Burp Guns" with round drum mags and wooden butts, SKS carbines, PPSH43 sub-machine guns, light machine guns RPK and RPD, and three versions of the Rocket Propelled Grenade, the RPG2, RPG7 and RPG9 (the RPG9 had an optical sight, I believe). There were two types of pistols, the Tokorov which was carried by junior officers, and the Makorov which was carried by senior officers. The Makorov had a safety catch. We also captured several "Dragonov" sniper rifles which were in pristine condition, and a 12.7mm machine gun on a wheeled mount.

I was pretty much on my own most of the time, apart from the grunt (infantry) lieutenant that I worked with, and so had got on quite well with local members of the Special Branch. One day I was invited to a Brai (Rhodesian for Beer and Bar-B-Que), and since the local members of Special Branch now had a vast amount of captured hardware of all shapes and sizes, it was decided that we would have a range shoot as well and try out all of this captured "commie shit".

Until I served in Rhodesia I had only ever seen photographs of most of this stuff; and, being a soldier, I was very interested in seeing just how good these Eastern Bloc weapons actually were. Just about every second Vietnam Veteran had sworn by the AK47, and many guys had regarded them with legendary awe ... they could be dumped in a swamp, thrown in sand, driven over by a truck, and when you "pulled the tit" they always went bang. I was looking forward to trying my hand at all these weapons.

We duly arrived at the rifle range and laid out the entire assortment of communist hardware. We then spent most of the afternoon trying out all the various weapons in the ZIPRA and ZANLA arsenal. It was a great day out and I enjoyed every minute of it, especially knowing that all of my old mates in 161 Battery would be green with envy when I got back to New Zealand and showed them the photographs ... Pete the Pom, Skin Frances and Grant Hays would be spitting tacks when they saw the pics.

Near the end of the day I was shown a Rhodesian FN rifle mounted with an Energa grenade launcher. These grenades were of South African manufacture and were very popular amongst the Rhodesian Army. They were often carried by the Lead Scout in an infantry stick, and were used to initiate any contact. The Rhodesians also had a mounted unit called the "Greys Scouts" which actually patrolled the veldt on horseback and they also made good use of these grenades. The grenade was designed to fit on the end of the rifle and was originally designed for use against light skinned vehicles and personnel. They were the Rhodesian answer to the RPG.

Well they showed me what to do as one of the Rhodesians slipped the tail of the grenade over the business end of the FN, cocked the weapon, inserted a ballistite cartridge and pulled the trigger ... "Bang". The ballistite cartridge launched the weapon, and the grenade went down-range for about 30 to 50 metres. The rifle was then handed to me and it was my turn. I picked up the weapon as shown, fitted the grenade to the muzzle, cocked the action and inserted the ballistite cartridge; then after placing the FN to my shoulder as I had seen the previous firer do, I operated the trigger ... there was a resounding "Crack" and the grenade went down-range for more than 250 metres. I was knocked backwards and my shoulder felt like it had been kicked by a mule.

I struggled to hand the weapon back and not show that I was in grave pain, trying my best not to yell or cry out. At that moment everyone else in our group was killing themselves with laughter, tears were rolling down their faces with glee, while I was trying very hard not to do the opposite.

I was told later there were two types of ballistite cartridges, one for short range (which my Rhodesian host had fired from his shoulder), and the other cartridge was for long range. When firing the grenade with the long range cartridge it was recommended that the firer places the butt of the weapon into a bank or onto the ground ... IT WAS NEVER TO BE FIRED FROM THE SHOULDER! So much for mateship!

After the shoot was over we drove to the local pub where we checked our personal weapons onto the rifle racks provided at one end of the bar, and I was given plenty of local anaesthetic by the good natured Rhodesians in the shape of some cold bottles of Shumba (Lion), and Anchor beers.

It was a great day off.

John Nagle, November 2000

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