Walking into the Air New Zealand Koru Club lounge ahead of a flight to Wellington, Michael Graham saw Wilbur Smith.

Graham walked over to the best-selling novelist and told him his mother had filled his medical prescriptions at a pharmacy back in the UK in the 1950s.

They sat together on the plane and Graham spoke of his time in the Special Air Service in the British Army before he left, at the rank of Major, and emigrated to New Zealand in 1980.

Smith told him to write a book.

Graham, 72, and now working full time as the head of security at Foodstuffs HQ in Mt Roskill, has since written Secret SAS Missions in Africa. It is thought to be the first to tell the story of the little known C Squadron.

Much of the SAS' actions are highly classified, and not commented on by the British government or the Ministry of Defence.

Operating in eastern and southern Africa, the squadron was involved in counter-terrorist operations in the 1960s and 1970s.

This is is an abridged extract of an ambush by kayak in the remote part of Mozambique in May 1977.

I knew full well that with the limited resources we had there was no way we were going to raze the place to the ground as we had done with other camps like this, but then we didn't need to.

Sure, we wanted to inflict as much damage as possible, but the extent of it didn't matter in the context of what else we had done.

We had destroyed all the boats used to resupply the base and bring through new terrorist cadres, and we had destroyed the base camp that organised and provisioned it all and had inflicted casualties in the process.

Michael Graham's SAS colleagues prepare for a raid in Africa. Photo / Supplied
Michael Graham's SAS colleagues prepare for a raid in Africa. Photo / Supplied

We had killed five of their men in an ambush on a track that was the only other way into this remote part of Africa.

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And now we were going to kill a few more of them and put the fear of God into the survivors.

They didn't know who we were, or where we had come from, and we would again show them we could strike anywhere.

Altogether, it could be enough to close down this supply line.

Late afternoon, I called everyone together and went over my plans for the attack.

I finished by saying that while taking on a 14.5-millimetre anti-aircraft gun emplacement sounded scary, the fact was the guns were pointing towards the sky. They could not be depressed sufficiently to be fired at us on the slope beneath them.

"Business as usual?" questioned Horse with a raised eyebrow.

So far we had paddled 353 kilometres.

Day 19: Wednesday, May 25 1977

We left camp at twilight time. There was just enough light to give us a horizon and help with direction as we paddled in towards the Mague base.

Simmo and Mack had drawn the short straws and were to remain at the beachhead to look after the boats.

A skinny looking author after over 300kms of paddling. Photo / Supplied
A skinny looking author after over 300kms of paddling. Photo / Supplied

The pictures showed what looked like a mortar emplacement on the north side of the camp. Rex, with Horse carrying an RPD and Fish with his RPG7, would take care of this target. I suggested the bazooka might be a good way of introducing themselves.

That left five of us to take on the main part of the camp. To do this we would firstly take the high ground with the guns and mortar positions. From that vantage point we would then pour fire into the camp complex below.

The going was easy and as we reached the edge of the gun emplacement, we could hear voices above us.

Covering the next 120 metres was the most dangerous part of the mission. I did not want to get involved in an uphill firefight.

We paused for a brief rest and a swig of water before the final assault. I took a deep breath to try and calm my nerves then started the slow advance.

"Take your time, Michael," I whispered, trying to reassure myself. "We have to get this right."

The voices on top of the hill were getting louder.

When we were no more than 25 metres away from the top, I paused for a minute or two to get my breath and steel myself for what was to come. They had cleared away the bush to get a clear view from the guns and between where I crouched and the top there was about as much cover as you'd get on a bowling green. I could see the 14.5-millimetre gun barrels ominously silhouetted against the night sky. Our next move could not be missed by the guards.

Frelimo terrorists pose with one of the KPV 14.5 mm anti-aircraft gun. Photo / Supplied
Frelimo terrorists pose with one of the KPV 14.5 mm anti-aircraft gun. Photo / Supplied

Another deep breath and I doubled forward, crouched and weaving, waiting for the burst of fire I knew could come.

Nothing happened. The boys were alongside.

One last move. I stood up cautiously, listened to the voices. They were off to one side of our position and at least 20 metres away. A guard at the guns would have seen us by now.

It was looking good.

We reached the top and crouched down between the guns. On both sides of us were 60-millimetre mortars, and we could see the boxes of bombs on the ground behind them. Beyond the mortars the terrorists had built a low, thatched hut as a shelter. Seven or eight of them sat in a group, talking and smoking. There was the pungent smell of marijuana – they'd be going out on a high.

Seconds later they lay sprawled on top of each other, torn apart by a hail of bullets from our RPD and the AKs.

In the distance I heard an explosion and more gunfire. That would be Rex introducing himself.

There were shouts on the hill slope below us. Shots came our way. With the advantage of the high ground, we lobbed fragmentation grenades down on top of them, followed by a couple of white phosphorous canisters.

We heard screams as the chemical burned into flesh. Dry grass caught fire. We fired mercilessly at the sounds and movement below.

Mooring the kayaks after the 353km journey. Photo / Supplied
Mooring the kayaks after the 353km journey. Photo / Supplied

From the civilian camp we could hear shouts of confusion and terror. I felt for those poor people. We would do them no harm that night. If we did succeed in driving away the terrorists, they would get back their freedom. They wouldn't know it, but we were their best option.

Only sporadic rifle fire was coming our way from the camp below, but I could hear shouting as they organised some form of retaliation. I left two of the boys to return fire at any flashes they could see while the rest of us turned our attention to the mortars and guns.

We'd use their weapons against them.

The mortars were easy and we got them firing in no time.

Crump! Crump! Crump! The mortar bombs exploded behind the camp. Something caught fire. Karate adjusted the elevation and fired again, and again and again.

The rest of us, meanwhile, were struggling with the two big anti-aircraft guns. The mountings each weighed over 150 kilograms and they were dug in, but we eventually managed to turn one of them around and were in the process of lowering the barrel towards the camp, when suddenly all hell broke out.

On the air photographs, cloud had obscured four other gun positions also on higher ground around the camp. And now they showed themselves. Opposite us and about 1000 metres away was another 14.5-millimetre gun position. Another, closer to Rex, was firing 122-millimetre rockets that whistled through the air. At yet another position we could hear the deeper boom of a 75-millimetre recoilless rifle. The thump and crump of mortars was all around.

But none of them were firing at us. The recoilless rifle actually looked as if it was firing at one of the other gun positions, but mostly the fire went in big, harmless arcs across the empty night sky.

After a few minutes the fireworks show ended and silence returned to the African night. Not for long. We had all stopped to watch the show, but Karate still had plenty of mortar bombs and started firing again. Not to be outdone so did everyone else, moments later the sky was again lit up with speeding tracer bullets.

Karate's mortars were having an effect in the camp area. He'd hit a building that was now well ablaze.

Author Michael Graham. Photo / Supplied
Author Michael Graham. Photo / Supplied

Meanwhile, we had got back on to the 14.5-millimetre. But instead of trying to lower the gun to shoot at the camp, I told Pig Dog to have a crack at the other gun emplacement about a kilometre away on the opposite side of the camp. No problem with range – these guns were effective up to at least 2000 metres. We took a guess with the sights and Pig Dog opened fire. His first salvo was short, but after adjusting the aim the tracer was suddenly on target. "Empty the magazine at them!" I shouted, and the big gun blazed away.

The magazines on the anti-aircraft gun were big, heavy boxes that clipped on the front of the gun mounting. I couldn't see another, and we were starting to outstay our welcome. Small arms and mortar fire at our position was now intensifying and Karate had fired off all the mortar bombs.

It was time to pull out.

We had taken what remained of our explosives and, before leaving, placed charges on the mountings and barrels of the two big guns.

The other gun positions opened fire yet again – the fireworks show was far from over.
We lit the fuse of the explosive charges and left the scene.

It had suddenly gone quiet.

Three minutes later our charges blew and that started everything up again. The screech of a 120-millimetre rocket passed above our heads and it exploded in front of us.

Tracer bullets flashed over us, glowing bright then suddenly dying as the magnesium light was spent.

We increased our pace. Mague was clearly a much bigger base than we had expected. We had done considerable damage but there were still good numbers of terrorists manning the guns. They would not risk coming after us that night, but morning was less than two hours away.

I was pleased to see Rex already back at the boats and Mack had everything ready to roll. We stashed our weapons and headed out of the inlet towards deep water.

It had been a big night out.

Secret SAS Missions in Africa by Michael Graham, published by Pen & Sword UK, available in NZ bookshops, RRP: $34.99