Thursday, 3 December 2015
Green Leader Operation Gatling - Ian Pringle
Title: Green Leader Operation Gatling
Author: Ian Pringle
Photographs/maps: 37 b/w//31 colour/7
Operation Gatling was the operation name for the Rhodesian government’s response to the shooting down in September, 1978 of an unarmed civilian Rhodesian Air Viscount by a Strela heat-seeking missile fired by a team of Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) fighters within Rhodesian airspace. They had infiltrated from bases within Zambia and, following the crash in which 18 passengers and crew survived from the 52 on board, an insurgent ZAPU group came across the crash site and proceeded to machine gun 10 of the survivors (the remaining 8 survived by hiding in the bush). This one act had profound repercussions for not only the Rhodesian people but also the fortunes of ZAPU and Nkomo.
Pringle's book is divided into two distinct parts, the first outlines the circumstances of the Viscount shoot down, the international environment within which Rhodesia found itself and a synopsis of the historical relations between Rhodesia and the world community. The second focusses on the conception, planning and audacious execution of the Rhodesian military’s combined arms operation against Nkomo and ZAPU within the sovereign territory of Zambia (including the internationally famous Green Leader transmission to Lusaka tower).
Notwithstanding the tragic rendition of the plight of the survivors, the main takeaway in the first section of the book was the lukewarm reaction of the international community to the attack on Rhodesian civilians. The fact the Nkomo was welcomed into England and overtly admitted his organizations complicity during an interview with the BBC with no ramifications is clear evidence of the attitude of the period and the environment within which Rhodesian operational decisions were reached.
There are a number of lessons that arise from the second portion narrative and the (overall) success of this mission. First among these is the critical necessity of joint operations. Rhodesia had developed an extremely effective doctrine called Fireforce which facilitated seamless inter-arm cooperation between air, ground and logistics forces. This jointness, arrived at well before many of its international contemporaries, resulted from both its unique operating environment as well as economic and political isolation.
Secondly, the complexity of the operation from a planning and execution perspective and the extremely narrow margins for error was testament to the degree of expertise that Rhodesian forces had achieved. This speaks to the high level of training and inter service confidence that the various arms developed and maintained. Further evidence of this professionalism was the lack of micro-management from senior staff and government officials. This was critical to mission success as it pushed decision making authorization to the onsite commander thereby ensuring both timeliness and efficiency of command and control (C2). The uncontrovertible requirement for training and maintenance of skill sets prior to need is evident in these pages; like insurance, it is too late to garner it after the need arises.