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COL. BOB MACKENZIE’S LAST TOUR IN BOSNIA – Soldier of Fortune Magazine

COL. BOB MACKENZIE’S LAST TOUR IN BOSNIA – Soldier of Fortune Magazine
Main Bob MacKenzie (beret) when he was commander of a recon workforce in Bosnia. Photograph courtesy of Sibyl MacKenzie.

By Robert MacKenzie

Introduction Vann Spencer for I Am Soldier Of Fortune 
From the September 1995 situation of SOF

I first met Bob MacKenzie on an extended flight to China. We have been on our method to meet with the Chinese language Military which needed to take a look at a bit of the huge information that SOF weapons professional Peter Kokalis had. They hosted us of their lodge and army base and owned us for a number of weeks. I had discovered sufficient Mandarin Chinese language in Hong Kong College courses and was to assist in interpretation as clumsy as that could be. Kokalis was the weapons professional, MacKenzie was the skilled soldier who had examined scores of weaponry, and RKB was the chief of the pack as typical.

 

MacKenzie

 The tall, skinny craggy confronted soldier, Col. Bob MacKenzie, with the observant, piercing eyes that had an unsettling distant gaze gave an occasional cautious half smile on the countless and ceaselessly journey to the opposite aspect of the planet. To this man, everybody he met was a stranger and most stayed that approach. Till that stranger had confirmed himself to this cautious warrior, that’s, and that, I sensed, didn’t happen fairly often, and doubtless by no means did off of the battlefield.  His gentlemanly pretense of friendship was simply that, relying on the place he was and what his objective and technique was on the time.

     I nodded briefly once we have been launched, not letting on how curious I used to be to get to know this warrior that RKB positioned on the highest of his listing of mercenary giants. I observed the unmoved masks of a face whilst weapons skilled Peter Kokalis would unexpectedly, as was his fashion, let loose what I assumed have been some of the funniest statements I’ve ever heard. I had hung out with the seemingly by no means critical Kokalis over the prior few years. His Greek wit got here on like sudden assaults as piercing and sharp as his use of the weaponry that he had gained such an obsessive information of.      On that journey particularly, Kokalis was at his greatest as he was going to be the middle of the Chinese language Military consideration. He was the rationale we had been invited. I keep in mind the moments when Kokalis’ antics had my aspect almost busting.  

     Mac didn’t discover a lot humor within the antics, however we principally ignored the silent merc, till one night time once we have been all sitting round in RKBs lodge room listening to Kokalis’ one-man present.

     RKB talked about one thing about our hosts, the Chinese language Army officers. Peter and RKB, very deep into their cups of Chinese language white tasteless moonshine made of who is aware of what however might knock an elephant off his ft, flipped the chook, appeared up on the ceiling the place all of us knew the cameras have been, and stated, “Fuck the Chinese”

     Mac, discovering no humor in the truth that we have been hosts of army officers reputed to be probably the most ruthless on the planet, ordered Kokalis to close up after RKB handed out and shut up on his personal. Kokalis, to not be managed,  until he was knocked out, simply cursed all “Communist Chinamen” all over the place even louder. I assumed the 2 have been going to return to blows, however all I might do was double over with laughter, tears streaming down my face, imagining that the Chinese language watching us on their movies have been doing the identical. I used to be the one sober one, having had one expertise with some white Greek moonshine a couple of years again that was so head-throbbingly painful that I decided to by no means contact the stuff once more. Each nation has their model of the white killer brew. RKB was lifeless to the world regardless that I had seen him ditch most of the white concoction into the close by crops on the feasts the overly indulgent Chinese language Generals introduced.

    

Squadron Commander Capt. Robert C. MacKenzie receives the Silver Cross of Rhodesia in 1979, “for conspicuous gallantry and leadership in action.”

I feel Peter handed out with out incident. I used to be amazed at how Mac stored his sober face, by no means discovering for a second any humor within the scene like one out of a half star Chilly Warfare film with the primary protagonists a tough core merc and one of the world’s famend weapons specialists, every a legend in his personal thoughts.

     The times handed and we obtained to check the Chinese language weapons and rocket launchers. We had all turn into extra acquainted and extra snug, guards have been let down, and we have been just about in awe of the good wall and the opposite Chinese language architectural wonders. Mac turned particularly animated once we visited the websites of former battles, army museums or landmarks of the place warriors died.

     I had met rather a lot of mercs around the globe by means of Roberts contacts they usually have been all so totally different however fascinating. So in contrast to the profiles of the predictable whacks and quacks and mal adjusts described within the Psychology books within the programs I took for a Psychology main earlier than I made a decision the Psychology professors have been shams and altered majors to one thing saner like worldwide safety or felony justice.

       Mac loosened up, sensing that I had no ulterior motive, simply occupied with what had made him the exhausting, seemingly unemotional soldier that he was. He figured I had no cause to inform his story till the right time, and I by no means did till now. It took some time to understand that he was a stone confronted killer of the “enemy” that he had discovered to dislike in Vietnam. I acquired the sense that he dismissed most of humanity until he admired them as troopers extraordinaire.

      His childhood was, modest and he spoke with little feeling about his mother and father or household. He had married younger and had a boy and a woman in a really depressing marriage that broke up with nice animosity. The small print are usually not value mentioning and he harbored bitterness even fifteen years later, having solely unkind phrases to say about his ex. The one time he appears to melt considerably was when he talked about his son, who though beneath the spell of the ex, thought-about his father as his hero. Mac’s anger at his daughter who he thought was brainwashed by the mom died apruptly when the unlucky teenage woman died in a tragic accident a couple of years later. There have been no tears when he informed me about it, however his eyes have been unhappy. He had seen demise all his life however for this one he was unprepared and had he recognized that her life would have ended so premature, he would have completed issues in a different way. However he both dismissed the grief or hid it away in that secret place in his thoughts.

    

Squadron Commander Capt. Robert C. MacKenzie receives the Silver Cross of Rhodesia in 1979, “for conspicuous gallantry and leadership in action.” Photograph courtesy of Rhodesian Ministry of Protection.

His descriptions of his life have been with out a lot emotion, as if he have been speaking a few full stranger. He had gone to Vietnam, whether or not he was drafted or enlisted I can’t fairly keep in mind, nevertheless it doesn’t matter. He was gravely wounded and spent months in a hospital, rising a bodily wreck. He needed to complete the job that he had began within the army however was rejected as a cripple who had been so shot up within the chest that he had misplaced most of the use of his set off arm and finger.

     “They used me and were going to throw me away like a broken piece of garbage, tossing some pittance pension on me,” he stated. That was not going to occur. He needed no pity, ever. He refused the supply of an schooling that may result in some sit down, senseless life of boredom worse than dying. He had all the time needed to be a warrior and was going to discover a means. He drove himself mercilessly, training together with his robust, unhurt arm and hand till he turned a acknowledged marksman. He came upon that the Rhodesian Military was recruiting skilled troopers to struggle the insurgency. He joined up and his profession as a mercenary all through Africa and within the former Yugoslavia started and lasted till his demise.     

      He had a seething anger beneath his stony exterior, however nobody would guess as he had perfected the quiet allure of a gentleman in Africa with the British expats in his safari like gown, actions and his approach of talking. Nobody would guess that he was a tough, chilly killer who had shot nicely over 100 males. It was his job and that’s what he needed to do. He had misplaced rely and I can’t keep in mind what he advised me as a result of he did it as if he was counting how many individuals have been driving on a bus to hell at some point.

      I discovered to not like him however to respect him as a soldier and that’s what he needed from everybody, I feel. He didn’t give a lot however one way or the other demanded a lot in return. I discovered quick that his world was a world of conquest, it gave him energy, and people who turned the conquered he by no means gave one other look to. 

    We understood one another and maintained that aloof, awkward acquaintance till I left the USA. We misplaced contact and it didn’t matter. I revered the precept he adopted that stored him alive so long as it did—take care of your self, watch your again, and if anybody is a casualty within the meantime, good friend or foe, that was their drawback for being too weak or incompetent to do the identical.

     He fought many battles and died doing what he had accomplished for his whole grownup life, for almost 4 many years. The natives in Sierra Leone killed and ate him as a result of they needed to by some means style and feed off of his famed braveness, grit, capturing talent and experience as a army officer who led his males into battle after battle and emerged the victor till that fateful time.

    I speak about Mac in nice element as a result of of the influence that he had on RKB. I got here again from Europe a month after Mac was killed after a a number of yr absence. RKB was in an excellent state of melancholy. The invincible man I actually consider was his primary hero outdoors of the historical past books had been taken down. It shook his world and the world of all of those that knew him. I felt nothing, simply as I knew Mac felt nothing a lot throughout his lifetime and that’s what he would have needed. No grief, no tears, for a real man of metal who dismissed any pretense if morality, which had so many various interpretations he wouldn’t be bothered with, who orchestrated his life like he needed to, and gone out in battle. No physique, no bones, simply hard-core reminiscences.

    Any story of RKB wouldn’t be full with out listening to the voice, though from the lifeless, of the person he held to be the icon of a merc.

    The next is a narrative of his final battle, ready posthumously from the final front-line dispatch from Colonel Robert Mackenzie because it appeared in Soldier of Fortune in 1995. Col. Mackenzie was KIA in Sierra  February, 2005, by “Revolutionary United Front” terrorists.

MacKenzie’s recon staff deployed nicely ahead of strains, utilizing .50 sniper rifles and Yugo 82mm M79 recoilless gun to harass Serbs. It drew their consideration, and an orchestrated shelling on their place.

 

The state of affairs at Bihac, the embattled city 100 miles to our north, bore closely on the minds of all ranks within the First Guards Brigade of the HVO (the nascent Bosnian Croat military in Bosnia that Mac was coaching, beneath Brigadier Zelko Glasnovic in Bosnia). One within the Byzantine array of combatants and allegiances on this most Balkan of wars, the HVO is stationed in central Bosnia. They’re allied with the predominantly Muslim Bosnian authorities military (BiH).

Setting apart historic variations, these allies have carried out profitable joint operations towards the  widespread enemy, the Bosnian Serb forces.

 

On the opposite aspect, the Bosnian Serbs have proclaimed a Serb Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which they want to increase and consolidate. Till fairly just lately they’ve gotten a lot logistical and different help from Serbia. These Serbs in Bosnia, generally referred to as “Chetnicks,” are robust in heavy weapons; the BiH is robust in infantry, and the’ HVO strongest in phrases of management.

Lt. Col. en:Robert C. MacKenzie (standing, wings on hat) with some of the Sierra Leone Commando Unit he was coaching with the Gurkha Safety Guards. Lt Andy Myers is 2nd from left, kneeling. Photograph courtesy of Sibyl MacKenzie.

We have been all involved with the implications of the heavy preventing round Bihac, and whether or not we might be drawn into it. On 28 October our commander, Brigadier Zelko Glasnovic, answered that query with a warning order for an assault on the Serbs’ southern strains, which had been left weak by their focus of forces to the north.

First Guards’ barracks turned the location of frantic exercise as we shifted from “peacetime” coaching to preparation for fight operations. The infantry corporations drew small arms, ammunition and grenades, crammed magazines, inspected particular person gear and speculated on what for many can be their first expertise in actual fight. Our armor contingent loaded their T-55s and BMPs; artillery males checked their weapons and our anti-tank firm examined their Saggers, Faggots (referred to as Spiggots within the U.S. Military) and different wire guided missiles.

 

Virtually unbelievably, the brigade was prepared on time and we deployed to our meeting areas. As commander of the brigade commander’s reconnaissance staff, I used to be main six different foreigners, all of whom had a terrific deal of army expertise. As well as we had two English-speaking HVO troopers as interpreters. We have been all wanting ahead to seeing some motion. The brigade additionally had a recon platoon comprised of native troops, however they have been assigned to different duties within the opening phases of the operation.

H-hour was presupposed to be 0430 on 1 November. A number of different HVO formations have been additionally concerned within the assault, and for numerous causes H-hour was delayed a number of hours.

In the meantime, within the freezing darkness, First Guards Brigade moved to the beginning line with two battalions up and one in reserve. Our anti-tank detachments have been shifting with the infantry corporations and our T-55s have been in overwatch. Our artillery hearth plan referred to as for preliminary preparatory bombardment to start simply previous to H-hour, with targets on name thereafter. Lastly at 0730 our main corporations crossed the beginning line.

Amazingly, we caught the Serbs abruptly and resistance was mild, with the Serbs fleeing within the face of our artillery and tank hearth. A number of pockets of resistance have been neutralized by a mixture of 120mm mortars, 107mm and 122mm rockets, and the 100mm weapons on our T-55s. By 1430 enemy resistance was crumbling all alongside our entrance and three Serbian tanks on the correct flank have been noticed pulling out of their positions and rushing away from the entrance line. A Faggot wire-guided missile accounted for one of them. For the remaining of the afternoon our infantry superior via the thickly wooded hills, and simply earlier than night the Serbian forces on our proper broke and the reserve battalion was dedicated to take advantage of the breach. By dusk all of our models have been nicely previous their preliminary goals. Since neither aspect does a lot preventing at night time, we stopped and dug in whereas the Serbs continued to withdraw.

 

On the second day of the operation my group, which had been at brigade HQ in reserve, was tasked with reconnaissance of a street on our proper flank. The 9 of us set out into thick fog shortly after first mild. Shifting slowly via the fog throughout a pair of kilometers of open floor, we paused typically to pay attention for enemy exercise and have been relieved to enter the forest earlier than the fog lifted. Continuing cautiously by way of the woods parallel to the street, we reached the place the place a Serbian tank had been hit by a missile the day earlier than. A number of items of metallic, an excellent deal of blackened earth and the physique of a Serbian tanker have been all that remained -the tank had apparently been recovered through the night time.

 

Persevering with our reconnaissance up the street we began coming upon well-built Serbian log bunkers. Fortuitously they have been empty. Once we have been about 7 kilometers in entrance of our strains we have been informed to cease and watch for the infantry to catch up. By the point they reached us it was after lunch and since their directions have been to proceed no farther, we went ahead one other kilometer and located a small ridge from which we might watch Serbs abandoning their positions in entrance of us. We watched for the remaining of the afternoon after which returned to HQ. Alongside the remaining of the brigade entrance the advance was disappointingly sluggish within the face of mild or no opposition aside from a couple of land mines. D+2 noticed us in reconnaissance once more, this time shifting by means of forested hills making an attempt to get across the enemy’s flanks and into place the place we might observe their HQ in a village referred to as Rilic. The remaining of the battlefield echoed with the sounds of artillery hearth as Serbian positions have been shelled.

 

About 1100 my staff acquired into place overlooking Rilic. HVO intelligence sources had advised us that Rilic can be closely defended by lots of of troops with armor and artillery help, so we have been stunned when our first glimpse indicated no exercise.

Creeping by way of the woods into the outskirts of city, we confirmed that Rilic had the truth is been evacuated. There was not a soldier to be seen, however there have been mess tins, fuel masks, overcoats and blankets strewn far and wide. Radioing the information again to HQ, we moved right into a safe wreck and waited impatiently for the brigade to catch up, since 9 males are a bit sparse to carry a whole city. The lead parts lastly arrived at about 1330, and brigade HQ and the remaining of the brigade adopted, in order that by dusk we have been firmly in possession.

Countering A Counterattack

Morning got here with rumors of a Serb counterattack. To preempt any such motion the brigade commander ordered artillery hearth on doubtless enemy meeting areas and no assault materialized. In reality that day the Serb resistance was utterly shattered, and our tanks and troops quickly superior 11 kilometers to the city of Kupres, which the Chetnicks had hurriedly deserted. Once we arrived in Kupres we discovered that the predominantly Muslim Bosnian military was additionally urgent the Serbs, and we linked up with them on our proper flank. At this stage our advance stalled, and we solely managed one other 2 kilometers earlier than encountering critical resistance from entrenched enemy infantry and armor.

One more reason for the slowdown of our advance was the truth that each of our flanks have been dominated by Serb held mountains, and efforts to dislodge them weren’t going properly.  HVO commanders determined to safe Kupres, a city previously of some eight,000 Croatian residents, which had been fought over a number of occasions prior to now and eventually taken by the Serbs in 1992. The recapture of Kupres by the HVO was of appreciable emotional significance, and lots of vows have been sworn by no means to let it fall into enemy palms once more.

 

FinalFirefights_Page_4  Each side then continued consolidating their positions and for the subsequent a number of weeks trench methods reminiscent of World Warfare I have been dug, making a no-man’s land various from 1 to four kilometers in depth. Half of this space was comprised of a abandoned city and buildings from which my group carried out quite a few operations to harass the Serbs. Since no-man’s land consisted of open fields interspersed with ruined buildings, and the enemy had positions on excessive floor overlooking the complete space, we often needed to sneak out at zero300 beneath cowl of darkness, occupy our positions, and stay there till dusk allowed us to creep again to our personal strains. Typically we have been sniping with .50 caliber or .300 Winchester Magnum sniping rifles, different occasions we had a 90mm recoilless rifle and 60mm or 82mm mortars. From ranges of 6001,500 meters, we used these weapons to harass the Serbian bunkers and trench strains. On these operations I additionally had a radio hyperlink to brigade artillery and did some good hearth management, scoring direct hits with 120mm mortars.

 

Our effectiveness was confirmed by Serbian radio visitors and their repeated, however luckily futile, makes an attempt to kill us.

On one such event, the brigade commander turned conscious of an impending assault by armor and infantry on the cluster of homes from which we have been firing the recoilless rifle. He warned me on the radio that enemy motion was imminent, however as a result of the clump of buildings was surrounded by a number of hundred meters of flat, open floor, we couldn’t withdraw. Glasnovic ordered a pair of our personal tanks into overwatch place and arranged a salvo of 130mm artillery rounds onto the possible enemy strategy route. We decreased our actions and waited till darkish earlier than sneaking away.

 

On one other mission, we have been in the identical basic space with an 82mm mortar to enrich our sniping rifles when, in an clearly organized counter, Chetnicks from extensively disparate positions opened hearth on us. Within the area of a couple of minutes we took a dozen rounds of 82mm mortar hearth -many of which have been shut sufficient to rain shrapnel on us; somebody from a unique half of the battlefield flew a wire-guided Sagger missile at us, and a T-84 tank popped out of cowl, fired two fast rounds and disappeared once more. After recovering from our preliminary alarm, and making observe of the peculiar clattering noise a wire guided missile makes because it flies by, we resumed hearth with our personal mortar and sniping rifles. In fact, all of our missions in no-man’s land included gathering fight intelligence, and we have been in a position so as to add some helpful info to the commander’s maps.

 

Because the weeks dragged on, neither aspect confirmed critical inclination to advance, so we different the sort and site of our missions in order to not set a sample. Different brigade actions in the course of the interval principally consisted of utilizing our artillery towards Chetnicks rear areas. There was additionally some patrol exercise on our half, probing their defenses. From the enemy’s aspect got here some return artillery and tank hearth, however no patrols. As Christmas approached, hostilities diminished whereas the snowstorm elevated. As of this writing it’s unsure whether or not anything will occur through the winter months, particularly since yet one more cease-fire, main little question to peace in our time, has been signed in Bosnia.

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