"This is my last war," Major Mike Williams wearily told this writer, an old friend, recently. At fifty-two he is the highest ranking American in the Rhodesian Army. Mike Williams has not missed a war since he was eighteen years old and fought in Europe from D-Day to VE-Day. He was a paratrooper in the Korean war and was one of the first twenty men to form the United States Army Special Forces, more familiarly known as the Green Berets. When communist domination of all of Southern Africa started to become a reality he joined the Rhodesian Army.
After WWII Mike spent a year at the Russian language school in Oberammergau, Germany, and became an interpreter at the Soviet Repatriation Commission in Vienna. He hasn't had much chance to use his Russian since then. However, the way things are going in Southern Africa Mike is polishing up on his Russian again. Mike also speaks French and Spanish. With the infusion of Cubans in the ranks of the African Communist guerrilla movements Mike believes that his knowledge of Spanish may yet come in handy.
Williams was out of the army when, in 1964, he and his then wife and daughter went to live in Frankfurt, Germany. In Frankfurt he saw an advertisement that mercenaries were needed in the Congo. He flew to Leopoldville and joined Major 'Mad' Mike Hoare's mercenaries fighting in Katanga. Three months later a representative of the US State Department hustled him out. The United States had just made the announcement that there were no American mercenaries fighting in the Congo. Of all the Americans there Williams was the only one the American attache' could find. During that trip to Africa he visited and liked Salisbury, the capital of Rhodesia. So in 1976 he returned to Salisbury and joined the Army, receiving a direct commission as a captain on March 9th.
Captain Mike Williams, with such a varied and colourful career behind him, was handed one of the toughest jobs in the Rhodesian Army. He was given command of the Fith Protection Company at Rutenga, guarding the railway. The outfit was entirely made up of Coloureds, in many ways outcasts of both Black and White societies. He was told that if he could successfully command the Coloureds he could command any unit in the Army. As Mike puts it, "Discipline in Coloured units has to be very strict because these people are hard cases and unless you are willing, if the occassion demands, to belt one over the head with a pistol if you can't handle them. It's simple. You rule them, don't let them rule you."
"They figure an American couldn't handle the Coloured better?" this reporter asked.
"I think it's a different attitude we have. Most Rhodesian officers are gentlemen primarily." Mike did not mean any self-disparagement here. But he had that certain types of toughness and experience necessary to deal with Coloured troops. "There's nothing wrong with them," he went on, They are damn good troops as long as they are properly led, but you have to lead them. If you set an ambush when you go out on patrol you have to do it yourself. You can't say, OK sergeant, you do it. They respond well to that type of treatment."
The Coloured troops are highly volatile. Liquor and their form of marijuana called 'dagga' can set off instant violence. Mike described how one of his Coloureds who had been drinking went into the mess hall and didn't like the food so he shot the cook in the foot. Mike tried to quick the Coloured trooper down but was oblidged to draw his 9mm Browning automatic and crack him over the head. The gun flew from Mikes grasp and he had to lean over and pick it up. "The 9mm is OK for shooting, but its far too like for cracking heads, give me the U.S. .45 any day," he concluded.
In an effort to increase the morale of his Coloured Fith Protection Company, Mike made an effort to find horses for them to ride on patrol. Mike spent most of his spare time out hustling animals and saddles from farmers in the vicinity of Fort Victoria. Occassionally a friend would bring horses up from South Africa for the unit. The Fith Protection Company became remarkably successful in routing terrorist out of its area of operations, and then came the ambush.
Mike and almost his entire company were on a long mounted patrol in the area of St. Benedict's Catholic Mission where the Weya Tribal Trust Land is located. This is the most hostile TTL in Rhodesia and one of the smallest. Its people are amongst the best educated tribesmen in the country because of the Catholic missions in the area. But even the picaninnies turn their backs on the Security Forces and refuse to make friends or accept candy. This is a prime area for terrorist activity, a base for attacks on White and outside Black settlements.
When Mike was ordered into the area with his company he had a presentment that he was going to be hurt and he frankly admits he was scared to death.
On the day of the ambush in January 1977 he led his company to St. Benedict's where they were given lunch and then continued north. Eight miles out and deep in the bush they turned around and headed back in the hopes of surprising a terrorist gang they were pursuing. They came down a trail that ran between the mission and the Tribal Trust Land border. By now they had been riding all day and it was a bright moonlit night. Mike admits he was tired and didn't pay attention to the telltale balking of his horse. The company started up a small rise and suddenly fire broke out from behind them. The radio operator was hit in the back of the arm and Mikes stirrup shot off and his horse hit in the sit of its head, throwing Mike to the ground. Pain tore through his side and he later discovered he had broken two ribs. All the horses bolted.
Mike rallied his men behind a sparse rock pile and they returned fire. The terrorists poured massive amounts of fire over their position but mike and his men returned carefully aimed shots. The terrorists have unlimited amounts of Russian supplied ammunition while the Rhodesians are careful to conserve their limited war material. Instead of getting up and assaulting the village, which is the usual method of combating an ambush, Mike waited ten minutes behind the rock pile trying to determine if there were other elements of terrorists on their flanks.
Running across a moonlit field when there are enemy lurking all around could be disastrous. Finally, when Mike was convinced there were no enemy on his flanks he and his men jumped up and assaulted the village. There was only sporadic return fire and the terrorists who had ambushed them ran from the village. A group of boys and girls aged between fourteen and seventeen were running with the terrorists from the village, and Mike, on the theory that if they are old enough to pull a trigger they're old enough to shoot, fired at them when they didn't obey the order to halt.
At least one of the boys went down. With all their horses gone, mike and his company trudged out of the TTL carrying their wouded after dispersing the terrorists.
The fighting had so distracted him that Major Mike Williams was not even aware or the two broken ribs. It wasn't until a week later when the horseless company walked into another contact and killed two terrorists in the fire that Mike began to feel severe pain in his side. He was taken to Andrew Flemming hospital in Salisbury, X-rayed, strapped up and given a convalescent leave. But before leaving he went back to his company to try and locate the horses. Police aircraft had been flying over the area but had not spotted the horses. Mike was sure they had been caught and butchered by the tribesmen but two weeks after the ambush the horses began returning and all twenty of them finally pitched up back at the Fith Protection Company headquarters. Only three saddles were missing. However, the company was disbanded and the troopers assigned to other companies. Mike took his convalescent leave back in Miami, Florida ... . about 11 months ago