Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Killer of Everything

This week I start with a warning, a lot of the material in this article is drawn from sources that seem to be distinctly biased one way or another. Yet the results of the battles point to the likelihood that these reports hold, if not the total truth, then at least some degree of accuracy. With that in mind let us look at an African mass killer.

In 1965 Nigeria held an election, however the election was widely corrupt and shortly afterwards a coup was held by a group of military officers. This coup didn't seem to have many aims other than "get rid of the corrupt politicians", and the plotters quickly stood down. This left the presidency in the hands of the senior surviving member of the government, whom was also the senior army officer. By coincidence or design all the senior members of the coup and the new president were from a single tribe, the Igbo. This led to a counter coup within a few months and the persecution of the Igbos, as it was seen that they were striving to control the country.

This persecution led to most of the Igbo's retreating to their native home lands in the east of the country and caused a serious political upheaval and crisis. On the 6th of July 1967 the eastern region split from Nigera, declaring itself as the independent state of Biafra.
Flag of Biafra
The Biafra army wasn't the best equipped. A battalion had about ten to fifteen Second World War vintage Tommy guns, a couple of LMG's, HMG's and mortars of varying calibres. Later on, a platoons worth of assault rifles which had been captured from the Nigerian troops might be added for a shock platoon, if the unit was lucky. Otherwise the normal soldiers were armed with antique bolt action rifles, typically K98 Mausers.
The air force was in an equally bad state, having a single B-26, with this the Biafraian air force quickly started to launch air attacks on Nigerian targets, and actually could claim air superiority. The B-26 was based at Enugu air field and protected by a single Bofors AA gun. At about 0630 one morning in August or September 1967 the B-26 was being prepared for its days mission, when a Russian advisor flying a MIG-17 streaked across the airfield and strafed the bomber, damaging it.
The Biafraian B-26
It was clear from this moment that the AA gun used as the airfields defence would be insufficient, and a new defence was needed. This task was handed to the Science and Technology group based at the airfield. These were students and scientists from the University of Biafra (now University of Nigeria Nsukka). There was a second Science and Technology group based at Port Harcourt formed around the core of engineers from a Shell-BP facility. Later on both S&T groups would join together to for the Research and Production (RAP) organisation.

The answer to the MIG's was drawn up by the Enugu S&T group. Their solution was similar to anti-helicopter mines or somewhat similar to the British parachute and cable system used, briefly, during the Battle of Britain. This mine would be triggered to throw dust and debris up in front of the jet. Hopefully the jet would be hit, however as a consolation the dust might be ingested by the engine and wreck it. A metal bucket like device was constructed and several loads of debris were loaded and test fired. These gave ranges for the heaviest materials of about thirty feet, and the lightest up to 1000ft. This device was named a Dust Mine.
The "Dust mine"... I think. One massive problem with identifying items involved with this subject is pretty much every piece of ordnance is called an "Ogbunigwe" (see later for why). There is no clear distinct designation system, and invariably the device listed as an Ogbunigwe is just a simple metal tube. So this has partly clouded the subject matter.
Due to the shape and design several people have claimed the weapon used the Munroe effect, others reading this have suggested it was a HEAT warhead. A key point to the Munroe effect is that the cavity of the warhead is clear, the dust mines were filled. However, the shape of the weapon would indicate that a Munroe like effect is possible. Until someone dissects a dust mine then there is no way to say if it would act as a HEAT warhead.

By late September the Nigerian Army had gotten itself organised and was pushing on Enugu, causing the S&T group to flee and join up with its sister unit. By the 4th of October Enugu had fallen, and the exhausted Biafraian troops were retreating pursued by the Federal Army. At Ugwuoba Bridge a Biafraian officer attempted to rally a delaying force. Seeing a group of soldiers carrying some Dust Mines he ordered them to emplace the mines facing towards the other side of the bridge, he promised the troops that they could flee after the mines were detonated, just to see what their effect was. As well as hammering the advancing troops with blast waves and debris there is a report that a wave in the river was thrown onto the advancing government troops when the mines were detonated. Described by another account as "A tornado of dust, stones, fire and water" causing massive loss of life and destruction. The next morning a local man viewing the devastation called the dust mine 'Ogbunigwe', which is most often translated as 'Mass Killer' although there are other translations in a similar vein (such as the one used in the title to this page).

Meanwhile the RAP had been busy, they had decided to build a rocket. At first they attempted to build several full sized rockets, but they all failed. Then starting on small models of about six inches they built larger and larger rockets that worked. But the range was limited to some 200 yards. One of the scientists involved on the project said a man with a degree in economics gave them a tip that enabled them to reach a range of some two miles, although he fails to state what this tip was.

Whatever the result of the research, crude rockets which were simply tubes were soon being deployed. They were possibly tipped with Ogbunigwe. These crude rockets with no streamlining or thrust control were horribly inaccurate and unpredictable. The flight path was so erratic that sometimes the launchers found the rockets coming back towards them.
One of the rockets in its launch cradle, with room for a second rocket.
One such incident was in mid-October 1967 when a rocket was fired towards a pair patrol boats. A thick heavy smoke trail was drawn though the air, about halfway to the target the rocket veered to the right twice and was heading back. Then without warning it turned again, through 180 degrees and arced towards the second boat, which was 200m away from the boat that the rocket had been aimed at. The rocket hit the boat setting it on fire, and after a short time the fire reached the ships ammunition with deadly effect.

The famous author Frederick Forsyth was a war correspondent during the Biafra war, and witnessed a rocket attack when it was fitted with an Ogbunigwe. His account read "It spread death and destruction over a large area, and as usual the first division (...) were advancing in solid phalanxes of packed soldiery. An American who examined the scene afterwards estimated that, out of 6000 men who took part in the attack, 4000 failed to return."
Google suggests this is an Ogbunigwe barrage. I can't prove it one way or another.
The most famous use of these rockets was at an ambush at Abagana. The Nigerians were mounted in about 100 vehicles. One source says there were only 500 government troops, more claim there were some 6,000. The Biafraian troops set up their kill zone and saw the first of the Nigerian troops enter it, the young troops wanted to open fire immediately and were panicking from nerves. The Biafraian commander kept his troops calm and let the forward elements pass awaiting the main body of the column. His troops looked at him like he was committing treachery allowing the enemy to penetrate their lines. Whilst issuing the rocket operator with instructions, the soldier in his nervous mental state pressed the launch button. The rocket wobbled through the air and then impacted as luck would have it, on fuel tanker, filled with petrol for the convoy. The resulting explosion caused massive amounts of damage, and the rest of the battalion then opened fire. Accounts of the ambush often list Nigerian casualties around the 5800-5900 mark.
The aftermath of the Abagana ambush. A lot of accounts as shown above talk of single rockets being used. However from the wreckage shown, it appears that salvo's of rockets are normally fired, and the 'remarkable', or rather very lucky hits of single rockets described are down to volume of fire.
All the luck and homemade weapons couldn't save the Biafraian state and in 1970 the last pocket of resistance surrendered. It is to the last Biafraian commanders credit he refused to move to a guerrilla war and plunge the area into decades of conflict like so often has happened elsewhere in the world.

Image credits:
napoleon130.tripod.com and www.thescoopng.com