Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Winds of Destruction: The Autobiography of a Rhodesian Combat Pilot - PJH Petter-Bowyer

Title: Winds of Destruction: The Autobiography of a Rhodesian Combat Pilot

Author: PJH Petter-Bowyer
ISBN: 9-780-9-5484-903-0
Pages: 392
Publisher: 30 Degrees South Publishing
Photos/Maps: 305/3 

Rarely does one individual find themselves in a position to have a profound and long-lasting affect upon the history of their Nation. Even more rarely is it that the individual in question is equal to and takes full advantage of the opportunity with which they have been presented. Petter-Bowyer was one such individual and his autobiography reads like something between a 'Q' Bond novel and a Boys Own Adventure book. 

Commencing with his upbringing in the Rhodesian countryside, it follows his early years through introduction to the military and pilot training. The reader is able to get a sense of the atmosphere within which the formative years of P-B were influenced; of note is the sense of professionalism and pride in their country and their growing concern as the world dynamic begins to change. Specifically, the role that Great Britain played in the saga of Rhodesia and the gradual sense of alienation and then deep betrayal towards the country that so many Rhodesians had fought and died for during the war. 

The 1960’s saw the gradual isolation of Rhodesia from the world community as Western Europe pulled back from colonialism and gave indigenous populations freedom to run their own countries. The reluctance of Rhodesia to follow suit resulted in alienation and the imposition of embargo’s on its economy and military. PB speaks repeatedly of the enterprising and independent spirit of Rhodesians and this circumstance further enhanced this trait. 

The book follows a fairly typical path, following PB’s career, highlighting numerous points of achievement and frustration. What is unique is the explanation of the development and implementation of the items within the confines of international embargos imposed by the west. Given the increasing difficulty in obtaining spares and equipment combined with the gradually deteriorating terrorist situation resulting from ZANU and ZANLA operations provided a unique opportunity for an entrepreneur to really shine. 

The ‘Fireforce’ doctrinal strike concept, developed by the army and airforce to provide maximum impact when hitting rebel camps and insurgents, needed as much of a force multiplier as possible to ensure effectiveness. PB was directly responsible for the concept and development of such things as the Alpha bomb (a circular bomb dropped in clusters of 400 that ‘bounced’ on impact to a height of 6 ft before exploding – perfect for strikes without hardstand), Golf bombs that used a fuel air explosive mixture, Flechette bombs, controlling tracking dogs from helicopters thereby significantly increasing tracking speed and distance and developing helicopter door mounts for 7.62 twin machine guns thereby massively increasing the lethality of the aircraft and its role within ‘Fireforce’. 

What was of particular note was the way the author was able to convey the sense of purpose and conviction with which the members of the Rhodesian military conducted themselves. This is noteworthy because, throughout the period following the Universal Declaration of Independence (UDI) from Great Britain in 1964, Rhodesia was consistently struggling against outside agencies using it as a pawn in a much larger game. It is fascinating and sad to watch the trust that Rhodesia had in the Empire, followed on by closer relationships with Portugal (through its colony in Mozambique) and South Africa (as, ultimately, its only access to the world), used and abused (especially it would appear, by South Africa). Regardless of the continual blows to its sense of belonging within the world community, it would appear that, while they did not forget or forgive, the Rhodesians certainly continued to overcome when they should have broken.

The book itself is well written; PB has broken it down into numerous smaller subchapters that enable him to clearly travel from topic to topic without breaking up the flow of the narrative. The numerous photographs and sketches add a great deal to understanding the text with visual cues. The publication size of the book is a bit awkward being significantly larger than a typical softcover; however, this does fall within personal preference as opposed to the quality of the work. What I also found fascinating was the way that he relates the transition to majority rule and the impact that it had upon the military. The military continued to fight against the external rebel forces even after the white government of Ian Smith had transitioned to the first black prime-minister, Bishop Muzorewa. This change was remarkable due to the seamlessness of the transition. This was followed by close interaction/liaison with former ZANLA and ZAMU foes as the country settled into its new black majority role. Given the violence that a significant number of nations had experienced in similar circumstances, the maturity displayed by the white and black communities of Rhodesia was noteworthy. 

That is not to say that it was completely painless or without rancor. PB is very clear on his thoughts regarding the international community's culpability as Robert  Mugabe and his people assumed the reigns of power. This work is a fascinating study of the Rhodesian military and airforce from the perspective of an individual blessed and cursed with the opportunity to "live in interesting times".

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