Monday, July 27, 2009

Chapter 37: Into the Bush

As I took my first few steps, I found that I was back into the rhythm. Once it has been pounded into you by instructors and experience, you never forget it. Eyes flick from right in front of your feet to check your footing, up and to the right, scan right to left, close to far, and back again in a never-ending cycle. Walking slowly and stepping high so that you clear any obstacles; checking every few steps that your spacing is correct to avoid the natural tendency to gravitate inwards towards your comrades; checking back at the section-leader; checking up in the trees to break the cycle and avoid getting into a rut that allows your concentration to drift from what you’re doing. Breathing deeply to counter the effects of adrenaline; using the butterflies in your stomach to help keep you sharp. As your eyes scan, remembering to look for shape, silhouette and movement. Checking, checking, and checking constantly.

As I settled into it, the conscious drills faded into the background. I kept doing them, but I didn’t have to think about doing them, just move, slowly and steadily. I had calculated that if Dimitri’s men had followed the predictable pattern, they would have taken about twenty minutes to recover from the fear of ambush as they advanced slowly and found that the way was clear of booby-traps and soldiers, and started to pick up confidence again.

We reached the stopper group that Cpl. Maseka had left behind, and they got up and retreated once we were past.

As we moved further along, the undergrowth thinned out a little, and we spread out a bit further.

I spared a few seconds to search the bush behind me, and saw that Daise was walking with her rifle butt tucked into her shoulder, and a fixed serious expression on her face. I didn't seriously expect her to be engaged, but I felt it was her right to be a part of what was going on. Johnny noticed my inattention, and gestured furiously at me to indicate that I should concentrate on what we were supposed to be doing. I smiled at him and focused back towards our axis of advance.


We had moved more than five hundred meters through the bush in the last twenty minutes, and passed the scene of Cpl. Maseka's last ambush, with no sign of any of Dimitri's men. I wasn't too concerned because I guessed that they had retreated back to the house and probably to their vehicles.

We couldn't move too quickly though, because that was just asking for trouble. We needed to spot any possible ambush before we triggered it, and our extended V-formation was designed to foil any such attempts.

Just as I was about to suggest to Johnny that they had bugged out, everything went to hell in a hand-basket.

It started with the distinctive snap-crack of an incoming round. That gave us the warning, and we all went to ground instantly, just before the hailstorm of fire started lashing the foliage of the trees around us.

The old drills kicked in without thought, 'dive-down-roll-observe-sights-fire'. Without any conscious thought, I found myself in a prone firing position looking over the iron sights of my rifle. I was orientated at about fifty degrees left of our line of  advance, as the fire was coming from our left front.

We had been moving up the right side of a stream, and the muzzle flashes showed that the enemy were on the other side of the stream, about two hundred meters in front of us to the left.

I was firing single shots into the base of the bushes in the general area that the muzzle flashes appeared; one shot to the left, one to the right and one in the center, then moving to the next bush.

Once we were fully engaged, I took a look around, because Johnny should have been taking control of the fire-fight by then, issuing fire-control orders, getting us ready to maneuver.

When  I looked back, I was horrified to see that Johnny was down. The first shots must have got him.

I did a quick appreciation, shifting mental gears back to being a Section Leader (small team commander). Moose and Spyker weren't engaged; they were on the right, and sufficiently far over to be obscured from sight both by the vegetation and by the fact that the slight curve of the side of the hill we were moving up, put them into dead-ground. Bird, on point, was pretty much pinned down, and Rasta and I, while in direct line of sight from the ambushers, had both found good cover behind trees.

At this point there was fairly  sporadic fire from across the stream. I guessed that our immediate response to the ambush had caught them by surprise, and our disciplined return fire had been very effective in keeping their heads down.

Time was compressed, as usual, and the whole process took no more than a minute or so. I hadn't even finished my first magazine, when I started issuing orders.

I shouted, in Afrikaans to avoid having my words understood by Dimitri's men.

"Moose, Spyker. Right around flank attack. Move now." (Regsom kantaanval. Beweeg nou) Bird, break contact. Individual fire and movement left on my command.(Breek kontak. Onderlinge vuur en beweeging links op my bevel.) Rasta, covering fire for Bird, then fire and move to the left into the dead ground. (Dekkingsvuur vir Bird, daarna vuur en beweeg na links tot in dooie grond.)"

I paused between each command for the 'battle talk' process, basically everyone shouted the commands back to me, so I could be sure they had all heard and that there were no misunderstandings.

I couldn't see Moose and Spyker moving, but I got a shouted report, "On the way (Op pad)" so I put them out of my mind.

"Swapping magazine (Wissel magasein)" I shouted, to alert Rasta. I pressed the magazine release catch and shoved the empty magazine down the front of my shirt, grabbed a new one, clicked it into place and was firing again within a few seconds.

As soon as I was done, Rasta did the same.

"Move Bird", I shouted, as Rasta started firing again.

Bird came running past behind me, and a few seconds later he started firing.

As soon as I heard Bird firing, I rolled back then ran, crouched over, behind Rasta and Bird, and took up a firing position (Vuurstelling) on his left flank. Rasta followed suit once he heard me firing, and then Bird did the same.

When it was my turn to move again, I was finally able to jump into the stream-bed and get some decent cover against the far bank. Rasta and Bird were soon in the same position, and I could finally take some time, in relative safety, to think about our situation.


I would really appreciate comments on this chapter, especially from Vets, about how true the combat sequence rings.

1 comment:

Jelo said...

Section attack commands should be shorter:
"Spyker,Regsom aanval. Beweeg nou.
Bird, Breek af. Vuur en beweeging, links, op my bevel. Rasta, Dekkingsvuur vir Bird"

Long shouted commands with all the noise are impossible, you have to break everything into one-shout staccato groups. Complex commands are difficult to communicate and difficult to remember by the section member.

Just my humble opinion.