Green Leader: Operation Gatling, the Rhodesian Miltary’s Response to the Viscount Tragedy
By: Ian Pringle
The Rhodesian Bush War, which lasted from July of 1964 to December of 1979, was a pivotal event in the establishment of today’s independent state of Zimbabwe in Africa.
Like many of the conflicts that took place in Africa during the latter part of the 20th century, key factors that touched off the Rhodesian Bush War included: racial tensions, the desire for independence from colonial rule and arguments over what political ideologies the newly emergent self-governing nations should embrace. In addition to the internal factors, there was also external interests shown by the both the eastern and western sides of the Cold War in influencing the various sides in the conflict.
The Rhodesian Bush War was a drawn out affair with many complexities for which volumes could be written. The chapter of the conflict that this book highlights was known as Operation Gatling, a three stage retaliatory strike campaign against insurgent bases in Zambia carried out by the Rhodesian air force and army that took place in late October of 1978.
The catlyst for Operation Gatling was the shooting down of a Vickers Viscount airliner operated by Air Rhodesia in early September of 1978 by insurgent forces of the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA). The insurgents used a Russian supplied surface to air missile to shoot down the airliner. Of the over 50 people on board the airliner, 18 survived the crash, Ten of those survivors were brutally gunned down by the ZIPRA insurgents shortly after the crash.
The attack sparked outrage amongst most Rhodesian citizens regardless of race and retaliatory action was demanded.
This book tells the story of that retaliation.
Getting into the Book
I know very little about the the Rhodesian Bush War, or most other African colonial confilcts for that matter, so I wasn’t sure what to expect of the book. However, it had an airplane on the cover and was well reviewed, so I decided to give it a read. I’m quite glad I gave it the chance.
The book starts off a bit slow, painting something of a picture of what life was like in Rhodesia at the time and giving some background to the key players and the reasons behind Operation Gatling.
Once the background information is out of the way, the book moves forth at a good pace and stays engaging throughout. The writing style is easy to follow and not bogged down with any unexplained jargon.
The heart of the story is the men and machines of the Rhodesian air force. To carry out the strikes, the Rhodesian air force had a handful of obsolete English Electric Canberra bombers and Hawker Hunter fighters of British origins along with a small fleet of Cessna 337 aircraft locally modified for close air support and a fleet of French made Alouette helicopters in both troop transport and gunship variations. All of this was controlled from modified Douglas DC-3 Dakotas acting as airborne command posts.
Lacking in manpower and in modern equipment, the Rhodesian military overcame logistical hurdles that a more modern equiped force would have problems dealing with to stage a series of daring counter strikes against ZIPRA bases in neighbouring Zambia.
The book takes its title from the “Green Leader” pseudonym used by Canberra pilot, Squadron Leader Christopher Dixon (1943-2011) used to identify himself to air traffic controllers at the airport in Lusaka, Zambia. As his bomber formation approached the area of Lusaka he transmitted a message to them that all Zambian air force aircraft were to remain on the ground, or risk being shot down, while Rhodesian military aircraft were operating in the area.
The message was broadcast on radio and television in Rhodesia and became part of the national conscience. Dixon was considered a hero and many Rhodesians refered to Operation Gatling as the “Green Leader Raids”.
Beyond the retaliatory strikes, the book also covers the political goings on in Rhodesia and the major players on all sides of the conflict at the time.
It all makes for a very enjoyable, informative and absorbing read on a chapter of a conflict not widely known about outside of the region it was fought in or well known by those who were not directly involved in it.
About the Author
Ian Pringle is well versed in both aviation and the Rhodesian Bush War. Being a veteran of the conflict, witness to the transition of Rhodesia to Zimbabwe and a pilot; Mr. Pringle is definitely a very qualified voice to speak on this subject.