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Go Back   Armchair General and HistoryNet >> The Best Forums in History > Current Events > Africa

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Africa Issues of modern Africa.

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  #1  
Old 05 Jan 12, 12:09
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Crossing crocodile infested rivers

A question for those knowledgeable of SADF or Rhodesian Forces doctrine: What was the standing operating procedure for crossing rivers by small patrols in regards to crocodiles? I assume, perhaps naively, that larger forces could rely upon grenades or mortars to clear crocs from any crossing point. But patrols have to operate more clandestinely.

I read of a Recce operation to blow the Cuito river bridge that involved a croc attack on one of the SCUBA team members. It strikes me that there must have been some anti-croc measures included in Recce training and infantry patrol training at the platoon and below. Does anyone here know of any such methods used, or doctrinal methods taught by the SANDF today?

We never had any such doctrine regarding Alligators in Florida, perhaps due to a lower level of aggressiveness than the African croc.
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  #2  
Old 05 Jan 12, 12:13
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What a fantastic question I'm going to hit the books for it! Thanks for asking, Lirelou, piqued my interest.

Edit: found some stuff on Lions in WWI, but nothing yet on crocodiles. I emailed a chap I talked to some years ago who I used a source on a paper, he knows a fair bit about the Koveoet in SWA and was writing about their operations and the Ovambo trackers IRRC. If anyone I think he'll know.
Will keep you posted
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Old 05 Jan 12, 13:26
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I'm interested in hearing about this too. African crocs can be quite nasty so I'm sure some measures had to be taken. Just finding a different place to cross obviously isn't always a viable option due to time constraints and what not. So there much have been some interesting tricks used.
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Old 05 Jan 12, 13:36
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Not directly responsive to lou's post, but you might find this article in the Palm Beach Post from 1944 interesting. Its called "Crocodiles Help Allies Win Battle In New Guinea Swamp".

http://news.google.com/newspapers?ni...pg=948,2558032
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Old 05 Jan 12, 19:15
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Probably just had to take their chances? The river crossing gets obstacle crossing drill and just hope the water isnt deep and dirty enough for a big hungry croc to get lucky. I read about a Rhodesian SAS soldier who got snatched by a Hippo during a night water crossing using canoes, he somehow managed to survive.

Peter McAleese (Rhodesian SAS)

Quote:
On command, we all slipped down the muddy bank into the slow-moving dark brown water and paddled silently to the black line of the opposite shore. As Mo Taylor was on his way back to the Rhodesian bank by himself, a great shape suddenly burst through the glistening surface under his canoe and dumped him in the water. A vast hippo opened its mouth angrily, wallowed and disappeared. Mo Taylor was gone, and there was no time to look for him in the dark.

Mo Taylor turned up the next day, half-drowned but in one piece. Unfortunately Mo was killed later on another operation.

Last edited by eddie3rar; 05 Jan 12 at 20:53..
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Old 05 Jan 12, 20:54
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Hi Fellas,
On the Society for the Military Horse forum I did find a reference from a couple of old Hands of the Greys Scouts, Roy Elderkin and Tom Muller.

Aparently over there crocs were known as 'Flat Dogs' so you might look up that reference.

http://www.militaryhorse.org/forum/v...codiles#p87962

The thread is about Horse transport in southern africa......


"-There were two major rivers to cross on the way to Mazoe, with large sand bars, they had to have a lot of pulling power to cross them.Plus there was no road to speak of, and a number hills to traverse it was a pretty ruged area.

-Some of those mules look kind of flanky!

-Perhaps they had just been chased by lions, not Jesse James.

-nice photos! What about flat dogs? Were there any attacks?

-You are correct "Flat Dogs" are crocodiles, and on ocassion's meet up with hippo in some of the deeper pools, but they did give any problems as the crossing points were away from these pools, but you did need to keep an eye on them."



I have had a wee little bit experience with crocs living in the Northern territory, from fishing and as a surf lifesaving guard, and can vouch that generally the locals have a good knowlege of where crocs are and are not. We did a lot of camping around rivers and rock pools and these spots were in spots that were less likely to be infested. Best thing is to take a dog with you, and throw in the dog first......

As a surf lifeguard, we always did a few runs in the Rubber boat to scare crocs away, and the crocs generally disliked
a. Noise
B. People in large groups.
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Old 07 Jan 12, 15:57
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Reminds me of the Battle of Ramree Island
Quote:
"That night [of the 19 February 1945] was the most horrible that any member of the M.L. [motor launch] crews ever experienced. The scattered rifle shots in the pitch black swamp punctured by the screams of wounded men crushed in the jaws of huge reptiles, and the blurred worrying sound of spinning crocodiles made a cacophony of hell that has rarely been duplicated on earth. At dawn the vultures arrived to clean up what the crocodiles had left...Of about 1,000 Japanese soldiers that entered the swamps of Ramree, only about 20 were found alive."
I get shivers when i read that story. It's just hellish.
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Old 10 Jan 12, 08:26
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I got a reply from the policeman I emailed, his name is Leon Bezuidenhout.
He sent me the following account

Quote:
Operation Coolidge: Dropping of Cuito bridge: 25-26 August 1987

In May 1987 4-Recce received orders to conduct a study into the feasibility of dropping the Cuito River bridge at Cuito Cuanavale. The bridge was considered a vital element in the logistical support of FAPLA’s forces east of the river.

A two-man team conducted a close-in reconnaissance and after their report was studied, it was agreed an operation was feasible. At the planning stage, however, it was decided more damage would be done to the enemy if the bridge was destroyed after FAPLA’s offensive forces had moved east of the bridge and begun their new offensive.

A combat swimming team of twelve operators from 4-Recce moved to Fort Foot at Rundu to rehearse and make preparations. They were Major Fred Wilke, Staff Sergeants Antonie Beukman and Gerhardus Heydenrych, Sergeants Richard Brent Burt, Jacobus de Wet, Phillipus Herbst, Henk Liebenberg, Adriano Manuel, Johannes Oettle, Johannes van der Merwe, Leslie Wessels and Corporal Pieter van Niekerk.

On the night of 25-26 August 1987 the group, equipped with two-man Klepper canoes and frogman gear, were dropped by Puma helicopters 70-km north of Cuito Cuanavale on the banks of the crocodile-infested and swollen Cuito River. A substantial distance from the target was necessary to ensure the outlying FAPLA outposts did not hear helicopter sounds. After paddling for three hours, they cached the canoes and laid-up during the hours of daylight. When darkness fell, they continued south, swimming in buddy pairs with the current.

Major Fred Wilke and his buddy came across unforeseen underwater obstacles placed by the enemy in the area leading up to the target. Ignoring the dangers, they continued swimming toward the bridge. They were spotted by enemy patrols when in the shallows and targeted with small arms fire and showered with grenades. Fred, wounded in his right upper arm, was saved from almost certain death by his buddy who dragged him beneath the surface and swam him past the bridge to safety.

Sergeants van der Merwe and Manuel also bumped the underwater obstacles and became aware the enemy had been alerted to the presence of raiders by the rattle of small arms fire and the explosion of grenades ahead. They managed to avoid the alerted enemy outposts by swimming deep in the river’s main current. They ignored the pregnant danger of their sensitive charges being activated by the shock waves of exploding grenades, calmly arming and placing them, then continued downstream without being seen.

Antonie Beukman, Leslie Wessels, Henk Liebenberg, Johannes Oettle and Jacobus de Wet all managed to avoid the enemy, lay their charges and get clear.

The enemy spotted Sergeants Heydenrych and Pieter van Niekerk, when the latter’s backpack broke surface in the shallows. This attracted a heavy concentration of enemy fire and they dived for deeper water. Flares bursting overhead ad illuminating the river were clearly visible from under the water, as they swam deep in the mainstream towards the bridge. Pausing briefly, they armed their charges, tied them to a tree stump near a supporting pillar and swam on downstream.

When sergeants Burt and Herbst arrived at the bridge, the enemy was aroused and lively. To make matters worse, Sergeant Herbst got tangled in the barbed wire of the underwater obstacles. Sergeant Burt, working calmly and efficiently, managed to free him. They swam on to the target area, which the enemy was making unbearable with exploding grenades. Placing their charges precisely on target was too dangerous, as the shock waves of exploding grenades would likely have set them off. Instead they armed them, deposited them as close to the bridge as possible, then dived deep and swam until they were clear.

The teams gradually drifted into the rendezvous, an hour’s swim downstream from the bridge. Sergeant Herbst administered first aid to Major Wilke. Finally, everyone was there except Staff Sergeant Beukman and Sergeant Leslie Wessels.

Major Wilke waited for as long as possible, but finally gave a reluctant order to move on. They had to put as much distance between themselves and the bridge as they could before first light. The helicopter pick-up point was a seven-hour swim and 20-km on foot away. If the missing two survived, they would head for an alternative rendezvous for a later pick-up.

Major Wilke, unable to dive because of his wounds, was forced to swim on the surface for most of the time. Dawn came but there was no respite and they continued swimming, conscious they had to increase the distance between themselves and the enemy. Worse, they had become more vulnerable, as the need to conserve oxygen for emergencies had also dictated they mostly had to swim on the surface.

They were expecting the enemy to deploy foot and helicopter patrols along the river line at first light in attempts to track them down. They were right. Two hours after daybreak a FAPLA patrol sighted them and opened fire.

Sergeants Heydenrych, Burt, Liebenberg and Van der Merwe returned fire with pistols and drove them off, giving the wounded Major Wilke time to escape. They dived to evade further contact.

This was not the end of their troubles because while the rest were covering him, Major Wilke was attacked by a crocodile. The reptile clamped its jaws around a fin and ripped it off. But despite his wounds and the shock of the crocodile attack, Major Wilke continued to the pick-up where he received proper medical assistance for the first time.

Henk Liebenberg and his buddy lost contact during the confusion of the short battle and they were forced by enemy activity to seek cover in the reeds for the remainder of the day. When darkness fell, they continued and eventually caught up with the others.

Sergeants Beukman and Wessels, meanwhile, had to go past the bridge and they swam as far as they could downstream before first light. Daylight brought a hive of enemy activity along the river banks, so they also laid-up in a reed patch for the rest of the day. When darkness fell, they continued to swim, but when they reached the first rendezvous the others had left.

It was too late to head straight for the primary pick-up point, because by the time they had finished their swim and marched the 20-km to get there, they would have missed the helicopter anyway. Instead, they set off for the emergency rendezvous where it had been arranged a Puma would pick up stragglers. The abundance of enemy patrols dictated they remain in the river and drift with the current until the enemy were outdistanced. When they deemed they were safe, they would cut inland and head for the emergency rendezvous.

They were swimming on the surface to conserve oxygen, when a huge crocodile slid up unseen from the depths, clamped its great jaws on Sergeant Beukman and dragged him beneath the surface.

Gripping him in its terrible jaws, the reptile began threshing him backwards and forwards under water to drown him, which is the way of the crocodile. Keeping his head in what was a truly terrifying circumstance, Beukman held his breath, ignored the pain and groped for and put on his oxygen mask so he could breathe.

With the prospect of drowning no longer a certainty, he unsheathed his fighting knife and stabbed the fearsome creature again and again in its eyes and in the soft area under its neck until it suddenly let go and swam away. Sergeant Wessels who had dived to locate his leader, found him, brought him to the surface and manhandled him to the bank.

Sergeant Beukman, despite a severe savaging from the saurian, managed to make it to the pick-up point where they were both collected by a helicopter.

The Recces had severely damaged the Cuito bridge, but had not dropped it. Nevertheless, pending emergency repairs, FAPLA was reduced to moving supplies across the river by helicopter and by a ferry. It remained closed to tanks and heavy vehicular traffic for most of the campaign that followed. The effectiveness of the raid was also reduced by the Soviets rushing in TMM bridging equipment, which in the main, overcame FAPLA’s problems of negotiating rivers.

President P.W. Botha, when the raid’s success was brought to his attention, expressed amazement at the professionalism of the operators. He thought their actions were so fantastic that it verged on the unbelievable and ordered the immediate award of the Honoris Crux for bravery to all members of the assault group.

The raid triggered an urgent research programme to find a crocodile repellent, later extended to discover something effective against sharks. Special Forces worked with the CSIR – Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, the Natal Parks Board and other bodies.

Underwater cages were built and used for experiments with crocodiles in the Kruger National Park. Others were utilised off the Natal coast in a quest for shark repellents. Research centred mainly on the use of high intensity light and high intensity sound and laser beams, for which there were high hopes. Eventually the programme was curtailed because of lack of funds before any solution were found.

No efforts were apparently made to draw on the extensive, although inconclusive, research into shark repellents conducted by Britain’s Royal Air Force, the United States Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force during World War-2.
The rest of his email I'll send you by PM, Lirelou.
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