For the latest radio interview with the Author on the story of “Viscount Down” – click on http://chairbornecommandos.com/blog/2012/08/viscount-down-keith-nell-sas/
I have just read ‘Viscount Down’ and want to congratulate you on probably the finest book to have come out about the Rhodesian War. I have read most of them and this has to be the best! Alistair.
Your book has been a great success with our family. My father was absolutely riveted for hours, and he pinched my second copy for my brother in Australia. Please may I order 3 hard cover books and 2 DVD’s. Many thanks, and well done on a fascinating book. I’m so pleased that you have documented this history. A.H.
This true story tells of the atrocious acts committed against innocent civilians and the heroic actions and words that took place during the Rhodesian war!!! It is a book, that brings great emotion, great pride and catapults the British, their Allies during this time, to a place of great shame!!!! It is a story that must never be forgotten and is written by a humble, ‘ordinary’ soldier with objectivity, integrity and honor!!! Through this amazing truth, the Author, Keith Nell has been able to create a permanent memorial for all the families and a people affected, so that we shall never forget! I have no doubt that the day will come soon, when it will become one of the greatest true movies the world will see. Rita DP
Viscount Down is one of the most impressive accounts of Counter Terrorism and COIN warfare I’ve ever read. The book is about the true life story of how one Rhodesian SAS guy turned 100 Terrorists into an Anti-Terrorist Hit Squad, and hunted down and executed a group that shot down a civilian airliner. This is the beginning of using the in-air destruction of Airliners for political purposes (ala 911). A fascinating book about a true story rarely heard about. The full color illustrations and photos are beautiful as well. Jason
I hardly ever read a book without putting it down, this was one of the very few. Fantastic read, and highly recommended. Keiths personal account of his experiences as a covert SAS operator at a very dangerous and treacherous time during the Rhodesian Bush War era. How he survived and indeed thrived, is amazing and the stuff of legend. A Man of Men, “as their fathers before them,faces of boys who fight like lions, and make us appear as women”. The Matabele were not wrong about Rhodesian soldiers, the proof is here again, and cannot be denied. If this story is not made into a movie, it will be because an ignorant, and uncaring world, is still not ready to understand that only the truth will set them free. Mike Watson. Nice one Keith Nell I gave it five stars *****
As an old Viscount skipper, the story is very close to my heart and to the hearts of many Rhodesians, black and white.
Under-cover operative, Keith Nell writes it down with the precision of a professional soldier and with a tracker’s eye for detail. He has an intimate knowledge of the African bush and an amazing understanding of nature (including human nature) all of which he brings to bear in tracking down the perpetrators of the heinous crime of blasting a civilian airliner out the sky with a Russian manufactured Grail missile. An ‘Unholy Grail’, as someone said.We are given a first-hand account of the tragedy of Air Rhodesia Viscount ‘Hunyani’ on 3 September 1978. Keith writes sensitivity and modestly in his own individual way and as the story unfolds, we are filled once again with the horror of it all. He gives it to us… from both ends of the barrel… as a shooter and as a weapons instructor. In the end we are left in no doubt about the complicity of the leaders of the Free world in this Crime against Humanity. Keith Nell, SAS Rhodesia, I salute you. Pamberi Rhodesia! – Mitch Stirling
Last year I bought two copies of the book, one for my husband and the other was sent to my son-in-law in Australia. I could hardly wait for my husband to finish reading it as he was so engrossed and awed by it, as was I when my turn came. We both thought it incredibly well written and extremely informative about the country that was our home until 10 years ago. To quote my son-in-law, “It’s the best present I’ve ever had (that’s saying something!)”. We all thought Viscount Down is the best book EVER to have been written by a Rhodesian or Zimbabwean author and ranks our favourite book of all books. Thank you for that. (shortened) M.H.
I have just this minute finished reading Keith Nell’s Viscount Down www.viscountdown.com and it is an absolutely fantastic read, the story is gripping and a real inside into the SAS and Special Forces Auxiliaries.
His style of story telling in a factual manner is truly masterful. This book will become the book about the Rhodesian war and I have no doubt it will be snapped up by Hollywood and made into a epic movie. Keith understands cultures and the meaning of leadership, I laughed, cried was anxious and was inspired. If there is only one book you read this year then I recommend this is the book. B.B.
Viscount Down is an amazing book written by the man who lived the events he depicts. This book should be mandatory reading for all Special Forces soldiers. The unconventional warfare campaign that Keith Nell waged against the terrorists in his Area of Operations is like nothing else I’ve heard or read of, much less seen myself in Iraq or Afghanistan. It’s a textbook case study on how to get it done working by, with, and through indigenous fighters to counter an insurgency and flush out High Value Targets. Keith’s story is uncanny and heartbreaking all at the same time. You will have to read it for yourself to understand.The end of the book is packed full of reference material that is much appreciated for the historian and others trying to understand the senseless and tragic Viscount disasters (there were two before the SA-7 gang was sorted out) as well as the Bush War in general. The book itself is beautiful, fully illustrated with photographs, drawings, and maps. The front and back cover was illustrated by the talented Craig Bone, really making this a high quality production that I know Keith must have agonized over every step of the way. I can tell you that it was worth it. Viscount Down is very well done. J.M. (shortened)Read more: http://sofrep.com/7306/book-review-viscount-down-by-former-rhodesian-sas-operator-keith-nell/#ixzz1wlv2rkCh
I ordered your book for our College library and have just finished reading it. Well done indeed on a work that documents so well an important aspect of the history of the war in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe. Besides your narrative/autobiographical component, an significantly important part of the book is your appendix of documents which future historians can also study as aspects of the history of this war continues to be re-interpreted and written about. Of course the Viscount atrocities have been rather forgotten over in the popular historical accounts of Zimbabwe written the past three decades. R.W.(PhD)(MA) (UCT) (Historical Studies)
A close friend in Durban sent me an autographed copy of Viscount Down & I just finisihed reading it. I was dumbfounded, astonished and amazed at it’s contents. After 13 hunting trips to what is now Zimbabwe, I honestly thought that I had read most of the printed material on the war. Was I ever wrong on that account! This is an amazing and humbling book that you should be complimented on heartily. You have filled an honorable and needed void on this particular sequence of time during the war. You have my gratititude and my appreciation for your work. D.C. (Alaska)
The book is riveting and made for very good Easter weekend reading, making me rather an unsociable character for those around me as my nose was buried in the book. On a personal level, the book holds great foundation, as I am sure it does with a great many Rhodesians. I was based at 4 Indep. and did the bulk of my National service up at Vic Falls and the surrounding areas. During my territorial call-ups I was with a reconnaissance unit and on one occasion we did some work with Pfumo re Vanhu (Auxillaries), at the time everything was very hush, hush and though we worked with them, we were virtually told that what we did and who they were was none of our business – “just do what you are told”. The follow-up service for victims of the second Viscount (Umnioati) was held at Warren Hills crematorium, a heart rending occasion that will live with me for the rest of my life. Everything in Keith’s book is very real for me. D.G. (shortened)
So easy to become part of the story they way its been written. I am enjoying every page, as hard as some of them are. So well written. A.G-K.
My copy of Viscount Down came this week. When I opened it, I was blown away. What a masterfully executed work and how superbly you have told this important story. I regret not buying the book earlier – I kept putting it off because I didn’t relish the thoughts and memories (good and bad) of that time. Now, its different. I salute you for what you have accomplished. What an incredible achievement – you have my deepest respect. Your book reminds me of the pride I have always had of having been Rhodesian. T.T. (shortened)
OK you ouens (guys), beg, borrow or steal a copy of this book – Keith has nailed the story! If this book is not made into a Hollywood movie within the next year, then I’ll be Mugabe’s Uncle..D.H. (shortened)
Commenting on the horror and sadness of the Airplane crash……”Keep reading! It gets more and more hopeful, and when it ends, you wish it hadn’t! I felt quite lost for a couple of days after I’d read it, I wanted to still be in that world.” SvS.
I have read and re-read Viscount Down and cannot fully express my admiration for you and your achievements during the war and in telling your story, which I found simply enthralling. I had absolutely no idea just how dangerous the Urungwe area was. Had I even had the slightest inkling, I would certainly not have made the second visit to the Hunyani site by road. I might have flown in but am not even so sure of that. I can fully understand your disquiet when you realized that the ‘Viscount Gang’ was back in the area. If only your fear of impending doom could have been conveyed to our management, perhaps, and it is a big perhaps, the need for our crews to take greater precautions would have been emphasized. R.D. Air crash Investigator (shortened)
Extremely eye-weary (“cross eyed”) this morning from reading through your well-written, very interesting book Keith .. couldn’t put it down!!! Well done .. accolades! As we’d say back home, MAKOROKOTO!!! I’m another one of the growing many recommending it to others! Your sacrifices at personal cost which couldn’t have been understood by many, well documented and commendable! THANK YOU. A.D.
Thanks Keith! An AMAZING read … I remain angry at the senseless massacre of the Hunyani survivors! You need to be commended for the outstanding person you were, and obviously still are! Well done, and thank you for sharing those moments in our history with us. BRAVO! W.V. (shortened)
A very big thank you Keith. It’s everything I was hoping and more. I immediately took the day off work and read it before passing it on. You have written this book with such sensitivity and honesty that it also has brought a certain peace and closure that they (victims) are remembered forever, and through your work will always be long after we have gone. Thank you for such a beautiful tribute!! Y.F. (shortened)
Keith Nell what a book you have written. Viscount Down. Anyone giving this book a miss is being silly. It is so absolutely well written you want to read one more page then one more……refreshingly written as a story and not just a clot of mundane facts all squeezed together, it takes you there, to the creation of a terrorist, to the creation of a soldier and into the ops. Fantastic Keith, its a masterpiece. Y.T.
May I congratulate you on your book ‘Viscount Down’. I have enjoyed reading the raving reviews & accolades & wish you continued success!! On behalf of many fellow Rhodies our thanks & appreciation for your effort & dedication… the truth does prevail!! Y.P.
• Many, many thanks for the most beautiful book – it is something you can be very proud of….. (P.U-H)
• My beautiful hard covered book arrived yesterday – thank you so much – it is wonderful and I very much look forward to reading it. (J.W.)
• I have just received your Viscount Down Book thank you very much and it looks marvellous. I am so looking forward to reading it. I have had a quick glance and I think you have done a tremendous job on finding the truth of what actually happened. (M.D.)
Nigel Slade: – I thoroughly enjoyed the book…it was rip-roaring, but easy read, giving one of the best insights into the Rhodesian war that I have ever read. I believe it will make an excellent movie one day (hopefully). I particularly liked the slightly larger than normal typeface that was used…great for us “old toppies” who battle to read the finer print.
Alf Hutchison – There have been many great books out of Rhodesia …one that sticks in my mind is ‘Hold my hand I’m dying’ and I unashamedly place “Viscount Down” on the same shelf…it is destined to go down in history as an all time classic. Just wait and see…
Major-General Gert Opperman, Managing Director – The Heritage Foundation
Thank you very much for the personal copy of your book. Having already paged through it, I am convinced it is due to become a best seller!
FROM Major Don Price – BCR,GSM. – copied from FaceBook 22/11/2011
Viscount Down – What a read and I must say I salute you Keith on a magnificent job – well done!
There are so many things to consider and appreciate when reading this book. Firstly and by no means to be sneered at, is the fact that Keith completed and passed his SAS Selection at the ripe old age of 37! This is unbelievable as most of us were out of the Army by that age. As you read on you cannot help but further admire Keith for all that he achieved, especially under such conditions and restraints! He took over a mutinous bunch of ex gooks and molded them into a crack fighting force, a force that never received any praise or recognition for the work they did, and until the release of the book nobody even knew of their existence!
Now some 30 some years after the event Keith’s story has at last been told. It is amazing to find out that all the gooks that took the Viscounts down were systematically sought out and dispatched and that each and every evil son of a bitch that was involved was accounted for! It certainly made my day to hear that…big time!
The other great thing for me as an ex 3 Cdo Lover is that the art work was done by one of our guys, Craig Bone! Well done Craig, you are a legend brother! Your drawings are so real and add such a depth to and compliment this great story.
I would strongly urge each and every one of you to make a plan to obtain this book. Keith can be contacted on wwviscountdown.com or through Face Book…..3 Commando. Ouens, believe me, this is a must read for all ex Rhodies, so please don’t miss out on this one if you can help it.
‘Viscount Down’ has attracted excellent book reviews as a gripping read and hard to put down. The first section of the book (386 pages) begins at Kariba with detail of the tragic and fatal flights of the Viscounts Hunyani and Umniati from beginning to end. Every detail of the crashes are covered, from during the crash landing to the extraction of survivors from the burning fuselage and the murder of survivors, as well as the search and rescue operations. Most interesting are personal accounts by the SAS team that parachuted into the crash site the following morning.
This is followed by the hunt for the terrorist gang responsible, and starts with my sudden and totally unexpected assignment to quell a mutiny by 100 heavily armed terrorists who had availed themselves of an amnesty offer of a safe return and were being held in a secret bush camp. The story includes a personal account of living with these undisciplined and gung-ho thugs who had to be turned around and trained in undercover operations before our search for Nkomo’s missile gang could commence. It is a text book case of how opposing forces can work together in highly subverted and extremely hostile territory; of intelligence gathering and winning hearts and minds of the local population. A key component of our success was the ability to suddenly appear and conquer without affording the enemy opportunity to return fire and then to vanish without trace.
The book would be incomplete without some compelling accounts of our previous training and operations as soldier and terrorist alike. Considering the vast differences in our cultural upbringing and reasoning, the imbalance between a single white SAS operator and 100 former terrorists lumped together and anxious to kill each other only three weeks before, could not have been greater. In addition, our close relationship with Special Branch and Special Forces along with sometimes conflicting background and personalities of the main protagonists, balance the story with light hearted and amusing content.
The reference section (108 pages) of the book is essentially a historical record of all criteria associated with the Viscount disasters, which begins with an introduction by Professor JRT Wood. For the readers understanding, events leading up to Rhodesia’s declaration of independence from Britain and causes of the Rhodesian Bush War are briefly summarised.
The content is authenticated with secret documents; official correspondence; photographs; original medical and ballistic reports, including personal accounts by Air Rhodesia pilots and the crash site Investigator. Follow-up operations after missile launches with minute by minute accounts of the contact between the terrorist gang that murdered Hunyani survivors and Rhodesian Security Forces are also incorporated.
Controversial aspects such as the downplaying by Air Rhodesia’s Management of the missile threat; delays to reduce aircraft susceptibility against missile strikes and conflict with Pilots, are exposed in detail. Medical reports by doctors attending the Hunyani crash leave no speculation as to what had occurred. The issue of whether General Walls was the target on-board the doomed Viscount as was claimed by Joshua Nkomo is also covered.
There can be no doubt that this book will remain as the most comprehensive and compelling record of the Viscount disasters and the effect they had on changing the course of history in Africa and far beyond. For the first time, the origins of Nkomo’s missile campaign are presented in detail – something more frequently asked by grieving relatives than by any other. It also provides the reader with an insight not just into the drama of Special Forces Operations but also the social aspects in a country steeped in war with its back against the wall.
The book has many photos not previously released and is superbly illustrated by the renowned artist – Craig Bone.
NEW BOOK REVIEW by Peter Chapman:
© Keith Nell 2011
According to author Keith Nell, Viscount Down is primarily the story of the downing of two Air Rhodesia Viscount airliners by ZIPRA terrorists in late 1978 and early 1979 respectively and his personal involvement in the subsequent events. However, it is much more than this; it is a comprehensive and fascinating tale that blends autobiography with biography, and history with modern day consequence. Written in a detailed, yet at the same time easy style which makes the narrative flow very smoothly, one gets the feeling that you are part of the events as they unfold, and can almost gain a mental picture if closing your eyes. As such, the reader can almost feel the calm of the people in that unfortunate aircraft being replaced by horror, as their aircraft is shot down and crashes, and some of the survivors are subsequently murdered by another gang of terrorists, as was the case at the time.
The book’s tone then changes, to the author’s own autobiography, as well as the story of a young Shona boy, identified only as ‘Martin’, who went on to become a ZANLA terrorist and then an auxilliary in the Tribal Trust Lands. Switching effortlessly between the two stories, the author relates his integration into Police and Army life there. The latter is filled with anecdotes of both a humorous and serious nature, and are a fascinating insight into the socially acceptable behaviours of the time, in a country at war, often with itself. After the break-up of his marriage the author embarks on what most would consider a fool’s errand as he applies for selection into the SAS, at the relatively senior age of 37. Notwithstanding this obvious age disadvantage, he is accepted into the SAS and undergoes and completes successfully extensive and brutal training, which is described in some detail.
Martin’s story is equally well-told, and harrowing for the most part, as he tries to make sense of the world he lives in, and how better to protect his family from the deprivations of the terrorist making regular demands of the local villages in his homeland. He is eventually recruited as a terrorist himself, but his career as such is brief and he is captured following an abortive attack on a farm, and is then turned into an auxilliary and sent to a camp to be retrained to combat terrorist incursions into the Tribal Trust Lands where his village lies. It is at this point that his and the author’s stories intersect, as Keith Nell was recruited by Special Branch to quell a mutiny at the camp and assume the training there, and he and Martin subsequently ran numerous operations, successfully crippling the local network of terrorists and their supporters and sympathisers over the coming months.
These auxilliaries, mostly former terrorists, and many of whom served Rhodesia, as well as their families and fellow tribesmen with great courage and at great personal cost in many cases, have received little attention in the media before now. The author has more than redressed the balance in his book. Many of the operations carried out, and the successes obtained by his group are well documented, and give a real and valuable look into the almost unsung efforts of these men. All the pitfalls and bureaucratic meddling is described too, as well as the unorthodox and at time criminal way that the author and his auxilliaries circumvented the former. Eventually, as is related in the book, they were to be the men who discovered the whereabouts of the gang of ZIPRA terrorists who carried out these two airliner atrocities, shortly after the second event in 1979, which led directly to the deaths of the gang at the hands of the security forces.
The book concludes with a comprehensive series of references, including forensic reports and some official documents, all of which are both fascinating and give an excellent historical background to events that the author and his men were caught up in.
The book is very well illustrated, with a number of maps, illustrations and photographs included, many of which are new to this reviewer. A number of first-hand accounts by men who served in the Rhodesian security forces at the time have also been thoughtfully included throughout the book, and give a valuable first-hand background to events surrounding these tragedies and the subsequent follow up operations.
Primarily then, this book is the humble and self-effacing personal account of a former Rhodesian SAS soldier who was witness to some of the pivotal moments in Rhodesian / Zimbabwean history and who played a part, no matter how small in the latter.
I found the book both lively and very entertaining to read, and even harder to put down once I had started reading it. It should appeal to both scholars and general public alike, and I personally have no hesitation is declaring this to be one of the best personal accounts to come out of the Rhodesian Bush War, and a more than fitting tribute to the men, women and children who died so needlessly in the two aircraft shot down.
Very highly recommended.
Author – In All Weather: Memoirs of the Ground Crew – 2 Squadron, SAAF in Korea, 1950-1953. Lulu Press 2006. ISBN 978-1-4116-3879-2
Journal Editor, 1993 to Present – Australian Society of World War One Aero Historians
BOOK REVIEW by Peter Macdonald
Whilst not an experienced writer Keith Nell is a far above average story teller with an unusual wealth of personal experience of a practical nature when it comes to his subject.
In essence this is a story set against the backdrop of the tragic shooting down of two civilian airliners and subsequent massacre of survivors from one of them. These incidents had a significant impact on both the politics (internal and regional) and particularly on the minority white population of Rhodesia. Nell provides an interesting and entertaining insight into the lives of insurgent and counter-insurgent.
The author recounts his early rough and ready pre-Army years in often hilarious detail, and more than occasionally during the course of his story, with disarming honesty. His early military career, one he enters into comparatively late (he successfully completes the Rhodesian SAS selection course at the ripe age of 37 years) is similarly dealt with. Clearly and continually demonstrating a real and deep understanding of the lot and life of the rural black African, Nell also resists the temptation of attempting to avoid pointing a critical finger at whites, farmers and others, where appropriate.
Above all perhaps, Nell’s engaging narrative provides his reader with a top drawer largely personal account of the latter stages of the Rhodesian bush war against Robert Mugabe’s ZANLA and Joshua Nkomo’s ZIPRA guerrillas, and he does so with an unusual degree of balance and indeed wit.
Formerly tutor to and programme supervisor for War Studies at the Centre for Lifelong Learning; and now Honorary Research Fellow in Modern History, University of Birmingham.
- Hi Keith – have just finished reading one great book, congratulations and well done. Firstly my thanks as an ex Rhodesian for you personal input during those tough years, sad to say but we did not know of your stirling efforts. Secondly the book was a thoroughly enjoyable read and brought back so many memories of the lives we were living during the war. Fantastic book well done! Wish you every success. Regards, Phil Kaye
- I have read random chapters to get a feel for the whole story, and everything I read makes me want to read more.
A Writer’s Words, An Editor’s Eye, http://lillieammann.com/blog
- The content captivates me to such an extent that I forget to edit and then I have to go back … It is really gripping stuff and wonderful that someone went to the trouble of putting it all together for future generations to know.
Editor – Head of Professional Languages, SA University
- A brilliant story that ‘jerks the soul’
Author and avid Reader
- I am so engrossed in this book, I cannot put it down. For any Rhodesian from the army days, this book is a MUST HAVE….
Charlie Warren (Author – Stick Leader RLI)