A Handful of Hard Men

The SAS and the Battle for Rhodesia

Hannes Wessels

During the West's great transition into the post-Colonial age, the country of Rhodesia refused to succumb quietly. During this long war many heroes emerged, but none more skillful and courageous than Captain Darrell Watt of the Rhodesian SAS. It is difficult to find another soldier's story to equal Watt's in terms of time spent on the field of batt
Date Published :
October 2015
Publisher :
Illustration :
32pp photos
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Binding. : Hardback
ISBN : 9781612003450
Pages : 304
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
Stock Status : In stock
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During the West’s great transition into the post-Colonial age, the country of Rhodesia refused to succumb quietly, and throughout the 1970s fought back almost alone against Communist-supported elements that it did not believe would deliver proper governance.

During this long war many heroes emerged, but none more skillful and courageous than Captain Darrell Watt of the Rhodesian SAS, who placed himself at the tip of the spear in the deadly battle to resist the forces of Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo.

It is difficult to find another soldier’s story to equal Watt’s in terms of time spent on the field of battle and challenges faced. Even by the lofty standards of the SAS and Special Forces, one has to look far to find anyone who can match his record of resilience and valor in the face of such daunting odds and with resources so paltry. In the fight he showed himself to be a military maestro. A bush-lore genius, blessed with uncanny instincts and an unbridled determination to close with the enemy, he had no peers as a combat-tracker (and there was plenty of competition). But the Rhodesian theater was a fluid and volatile one in which he performed in almost every imaginable fighting role; as an airborne shock-trooper leading camp attacks, long range reconnaissance operator, covert urban operator, sniper, saboteur, seek-and-strike expert, and in the final stages as a key figure in mobilizing an allied army in neighboring Mozambique.

After 12 years in the cauldron of war his cause slipped from beneath him, however, and Rhodesia gave way to Zimbabwe. When the guns went quiet Watt had won all his battles but lost the war. In this fascinating work we learn that in his twilight years he is now concerned with saving wildlife on a continent where they are in continued danger, devoting himself to both the fauna and African people he has cared so deeply about.

About The Author

Hannes Wessels was born in 1956 in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe) but grew up in Umtali on the Mozambican border. As a boy, holidays were spent with Game Department rangers; time on safari in Mozambique with the late Wally Johnson was a big influence on him. Wessels also grew to know Robert Ruark whose love of Africa, its people, politics and the written word left a lasting impression. He saw action in the Rhodesian bush war before acquiring a law degree which he chose not to use. He has hunted big game in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania in a 20-year career. In 1994 he was severely gored by a wounded buffalo which almost cost him his life. While no longer directly involved in hunting, he is part-owner of a lodge and game ranch in Zambia on the Zambezi and remains keenly interested in all matters relating to African wildlife and conservation. He has published Strange Tales from Africa in the USA, a collection of anecdotes from his hunting days. He is also a syndicated writer for Outdoor Life in the United States and is currently writing a history on the Rhodesian SAS. He is married to Mandy and has two daughters, Hope and Jana, and lives in Darling in the Western Cape of South Africa.


Author’s Note
A Brief History of Rhodesia

Rebellion • Darrell Watt • The wind of change 19

Formation of the SAS • Harold Wilson and the Soviets • The first farm attack • Recruit Watt •Robinson on SAS selection

First blood • The two-toed tribe • Watt’s first action • Operation Cauldron • Hadebe • Into Mozambique •Into Zambia • Smith settles • Mbuya Nehanda

The end of the beginning • Hawkesworth • Macombe • Andy Chait • Rhodesians on top • Coup in Portugal •Détente • Herbert Chitepo

The Victoria Falls débâcle • Exodus from the SAS • Machipanda • Life on the ‘front’ • A ‘Kiwi’ entry •The ‘Winged Stagger’

Mozambique declares war • Enter Henry Kissinger •Water warriors

Rude awakenings • Renamo is born • The south-east heats up • Shooting the messenger • Operation Mardon • Carter wins, Rhodesia loses • Frustration •Mine everything • Walking on water

Going for broke • Do or die • The attack • Watt shot

The madness continues • Watt to Botswana • Domestic problems • Camp on the Zambezi • Internal settlement • Renamo rises • Murder most foul • Back to Tembué • The stay-behind party

Monkey business • ‘Tiny’ Rowland • Viscount Hunyani • The deafening silence

Chris Dixon • Para attack • Ambush

Privateers • Richard Stannard • Innocents die • Lights out

Another Viscount downed • Watt finds the killers • Stannard back to Chimoio • Recce on a ZIPRA camp • Bishop Muzorewa wins power

Combat tracking at speed • More farmers murdered • The ‘Iron Lady’ folds • Scheepers back in the fray

Chopper down • Yankee Section • Operation Bumper • Monte Xiluvo • The Russians are coming

A leader dies • Life with Luke • A mystery death at Lancaster House

Bust the bridges • A big surprise • Time to say goodbye

Ceasefire • More attempts to kill Mugabe • Walls folds • The order that never came • A farewell to arms

Appendix A The Unilateral Declaration of Independence
Appendix B SAS Roll of Honour



"What we saw on the BBC TV news while all this was going on was the various meetings between Harold Wilson, his ministers and Ian Smith, who had declared independence for Rhodesia. We were unaware of what was actually taking place in the country... Hannes Wessels redresses the balance with an amazing tale of daring and courage."

- Books Monthly

"A Handful of Hard Men is, first and foremost, an account of the actions of Rhodesian SAS throughout the brief life of that republic; Wessels has a talent for bringing the lengthy list of battles and skirmishes to life. However, his account regularly connects the events in southern Africa to the larger context, and the perceptive reader understands that the war was not lost on the battlefield: iIs end was the result of treachery in Washington, D.C. and London, as well as in New York at the United Nations and even within the halls of government in Salisbury, Rhodesia, where (it is alleged) agents of influence played a role in undermining the nation. The account of the SAS ends with a fading away; deprived of the opportunity to assassinate Robert Mugabe before he could assume control of the nation and transform it into the horrific slaughterhouse called Zimbabwe, the brave men of the SAS stood down. They did their duty; the loss of Rhodesia was a tragedy willed by forces beyond their control. Wessels’ book is a worthy tribute to their sacrifice, and will be of benefit to all readers who desire a better comprehension of this aspect of the worldwide war against the forces of Marxism-Leninism."

- New American Magazine

"Focusing on the story of Captain Darrell Watt of the Rhodesian SAS, A Handful Of Hard Men recounts the trials and tribulations he and his team endured while resisting the forces of Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo. Their story is nothing short of mind blowing - drinking their own urine and eating used teabags to survive when resupply missions failed. It's Impossible not to marvel at the bravery and determination of these soldiers – the term 'hard men' fails to do them justice.. –"

- History of War

"Hannes Wessels was born in 1956 in Salisbury and grew up on the Mozambique border. He left school to become a combat soldier and saw lots of action. His book is a paean to the greatest soldier he got to know well, Captain Darrell Watt, of the Rhodesian SAS and Special Forces. Watt won all his battles but eventually, thanks to Lord Carrington and gang, lost the war. For 12 long years in the cauldron of war Captain Watt never lost a battle, exhibiting Spartan-like bravery and better than Spartan-like ingenuity in combating far, far superior forces. The Rhodesian SAS amounted to just an incredible-to-believe 250 men. In the book Wessels recounts harrowing incidents perpetrated by Zanu and Zapu (Mugabe and Nkomo forces) soldiers on black and white civilians, and even on their own recruits..."

- The Spectator

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