The Rhodesian army has been called the world’s finest counterinsurgency
force. Although branded as an outlaw nation and constricted by United
Nations-imposed trade sanctions, the Rhodesians have responded to the threat of
a Marxist-directed terrorist war with determined resiliency and astounding
nation’s eclectic applications of the principles of war are embedded in the
training system and reflected in tactical operations. Rhodesia’s
improvisations include the use of a horse-mounted infantry unit, the deployment
of austere bush wise, long-range tracking teams, insertions of quick-reaction
forces in operational jumps, protected movement afforded by hideous looking,
mine-protected armored vehicles and an assortment of locally manufactured
counterinsurgency doctrine has been influenced specifically by the army’s
experience as part of the British Commonwealth forces in Malaya and, in general,
by the study of revolutionary movements in Africa. This doctrine can be broken
down into six points:
Popular support or fighting a war for people, not for terrain. This is
sought through the maintenance of government services administered by the
Internal Affairs branch.
Protection of the populace from terrorist harassment through the establishment
of protected villages guarded by special guard troops.
Predominant reliance on local police intelligence and operations as the
means of maintaining civil order.
• Coordination of combined
operations between civilian and military services at district
Continuous small unit tactical operations using observation posts,
patrolling, ambushes and tracking conducted by highly mobile forces who spend
extended periods in the bush.
Surprise cross-border raids on terrorist training camps within their
sanctuary areas of Zambia and Mozambique.
significant in instilling the tactical applications derived from the doctrine is
the Rhodesian training system. This system generates a steady flow of officers,
noncommissioned officers (NCOs) and soldiers into the force structure while continually
advancing their professional development. A proficient leadership cadre is seen
as an essential requirement in any counterinsurgency effort.
who see the Rhodesian war as a racial struggle are often surprised upon
discovering that three-quarters of the Security Forces are African, with blacks
and whites fighting side by side, and that most businesses, restaurants, hotels,
discotheques and the national university are multiracial as well.(1)
majority of Rhodesia’s African population of six to seven million are farmers
and craftsmen living in the Tribal Trust Lands. The towns and cities support a
growing African middle class.
This group and the 265,000 Europeans, who have held key positions in the government, in the military and police units and in the commercial sector, have the capability of providing the social and political leadership needed to administer the country.
March 1978, Prime Minister Ian Smith, representing the strongest party of the
European population, the Rhodesian Front Party, concluded a settlement with
three of the moderate African nationalist leaders. These are Bishop Abel T.
Muzorewa, the Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole and Senator Chief Jeremiah Chirau who,
with Prime Minister Smith, form the provisional Executive Council. An interim
government filled by both African and European officials is preparing for
national elections scheduled in December. On 31 December 1978, power will be
transferred to a black parliamentary majority government. Rhodesia then will
officially become Zimbabwe (the traditional African name).
Opposed to the evolvement of such moderate leadership with concomitant support
of the whites, the Marxist-directed Patriotic Front (PF), under the doctrines of
revolutionary warfare, has been
conducting a campaign of terrorism and subversion to gain ascendancy within
Rhodesia. Recent targets of the
terrorists have been the moderate black party leaders and their supporters.(2)
importance of Rhodesia to the West is both moral and strategic. Morally, the
realization of a multiracial government based on British parliamentary procedure
and English common law, and committed to a liberal capitalist society, can serve
as a needed model of stability and growth on a continent suffering from a
shortage of democracies and an excess of repressive oneparty states
administering stagnant economies.(3)
Strategically, Rhodesia is a minerally rich area contiguous to an even richer
area. It is a leading supplier of asbestos, beryllium, chromium, copper,
lithium, magnesium and nickel. It is a dagger pointed at the Republic of South
Africa, with its strategic
geographic significance, as well as its resources of platinum, chrome ore, gold,
diamonds, uranium and copper. Furthermore, both countries have vast food
has become the prime target within the Soviet Union’s strategy of
“liberating” Southern Africa through the use of surrogate forces—namely,
indigenous terrorist organizations such as the Patriotic Front and the
South-West Africa People’s Organization, trained and supported by advisers and
technicians from Soviet bloc nations and Cuba.(4) Intelligence
reports link the planning and orchestration for the Patriotic Front to an
African veteran and top KGB (Committee
of State Security) man, Soviet Ambassador Solodnovnikov, who is stationed in
was founded in 1890 as a British colony by a minerals magnate, Cecil Rhodes. It
was administered under a Royal Charter granted to the British South Africa
early period saw longstanding hostility erupt into war between the warlike
Matabele and the more peaceful Mashona tribal groups, followed by a rebellion of
the Matabeles and then the Mashonas against the white settlers. Upon completion
of peace negotiations between the settlers and the tribesmen, the administrative
and economic foundations were established for the development of modern-day
Rhodesia. When the Royal Charter expired in 1923, Rhodesia became a
self-governing colony of Great Britain. In both world wars, Rhodesia contributed
its share of men, both black and white, to the imperial British forces.(6)
the 1960s, Britain began
retaliated with a trade embargo, and, in 1968, it persuaded the United Nations
to impose mandatory economic sanctions to bring an end to the “rebellion”
against the Crown.(8) Subsequent talks between British and Rhodesian
representatives to resolve the matter have been unsuccessful.
of the current terrorist organization go back to legal African nationalist
movements in the 1950s. Civil disturbances by militant elements of some African
nationalist parties broke out in several African townships in 1961. Because of
political violence, two parties, the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU)
and the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), were banned, their leaders
arrested and their remnants scattered in exile in neighboring countries.
this period, ZANU and ZAPU cadre began to receive military and political
training in Tanzania from the Chinese. Small teams conducted incursions into the
northeast from Mozambique and the northwest from Zambia from 1966 to 1972.
terrorists, in groups of six to 10 men, attacked mainly farmhouses, abducted
black workers, ambushed lone vehicles or planted mines. Rhodesian Security
Forces encountered little difficulty in tracking down and killing or capturing
most of these terrorists.
As a briefing officer of the Cornbined
Operations Headquarters in Salisbury described the situation:
1970 onwards ZAPU played no part in the terrorist war. They were in a state of
disarray following their decisive defeats within Rhodesia, and they took the
opportunity of consolidating their position by sending their terrorists,
outside the country, on extended courses to Russia, Cuba, and North Korea. This
situation as regards ZAPU continued until 1976. ZANU took time out to re-think
the tactical lessons that they had learnt. At this time, we saw increasing
Chinese Communist influence with ZANU.... The most significant development was
that ZANU learnt the lessons of Mao Tse Tung, namely, that it was pointless to
operate in remote areas without the support of the local population.(9)
ZANU guerrilla attacks intensified toward the end of 1972. A coup in Lisbon,
Portugal, in April 1974, brought about a change for the better for the ZANU. The
new Portuguese government negotiated with the Marxist guerrilla movement in
Mozambique (FRELIMO (Mozambique
Liberation Front)) to give independence to its former colony. The FRELIMO
not only gave complete sanctuary to the Rhodesian terrorists and permitted
establishment of training camps, but also placed vehicles, railways and ships at
Rhodesia, which is about the size of California, now faced what was to become a
four-front war: ZANU incursions in the northeast and eastern highlands from
Mozambique, terrorist attacks in the northwest by the ZAPU and limited terrorism
and recruiting mainly by the ZAPU along the western border with Botswana. Only
225 miles of border, that with South
Africa, remained that could be called friendly toward Rhodesia.
ZANU, under the titular leadership of Robert Mugabe, a declared Marxist, allied
itself in 1976 with the ZAPU faction under Joshua Nkomo to form the Patriotic
Front. Chinese advisory and logistical support appears to have been withdrawn
from Mozambique camps, if not from Tanzania. Soviet, Cuban and, reportedly, East
German support remains. ZANU camps are based in Mozambique, while the ZAPU
continues to operate out of Zambia and sometimes Botswana.”
Patriotic Front is a marriage of convenience. The ZAPU derives most of its
support from the Matabele tribal groups in the west; the ZANU from the Mashona
groups in the east. Both factions are wracked with internecine power struggles.
the time of this writing, the ZAPU is trying to expand its influence to the
east, and the ZANU is pushing to the west. Armed clashes between the two
organizations have been reported.(12)
terrorist leaders thus far have declined invitation to participate in the
December elections. Nkomo and Mugabe are not interested in power-sharing nor in
black majority rule in and of itself, but, rather, in total power with which to
affect the revolutionary transformation of society under their aegis. In free
elections, many doubt whether Nkomo and Mugabe together could win 15 percent of
the vote, hence the resort to gun-barrel politics.
international pressures cause the current governmental structure of white and
moderate black administration to collapse and the
PF strategy is to undermine government control over the population in three
ways. First is disruption of internal administration and governmental services.
In the vast Tribal Trust Lands and African townships, health clinics, medical
stations, local council offices, cattle dips and schools, as well as
missionaries, have been prime targets.(13) Government spokesmen
acknowledge that while no part of Rhodesia has been given up, there are areas
where the government has difficulty maintaining its presence.
second part of PF strategy is complete intimidation of the populace through the
use of murder, mayhem and savage barbarism. The terrorists seek to hide among
the people to recruit support and to resupply themselves. They attempt to
neutralize government intelligence and anti-PF sentiment. The terrorist strikes,
therefore, focus on “soft” civilian targets. One objective is to break down
the traditional tribal authority, with its implied replacement, ultimately by
some new form of social organization. The other objective is to demonstrate
government inability to provide security.
insurgent attacks on white civilian establishments, including International Red
Cross teams, missionaries and commercial airliners, receive most of the
attention in the world press, around 90 percent of the terrorist victims are
Reports document mass killings of African workers, abduction of school children,
incidents of enforced cannibalism, the public torture and execution of village
headmen and others randomly selected as “sellouts to the Smith regime,”
mining of civilian road traffic and urban terrorism. While an overwhelming
majority of Africans resent terrorist intrusions, many remain cowed by the
third part of PF strategy is to render the entire counterinsurgency effort of
government cost-ineffective. Attacks on farmers have caused approximately 10
percent to abandon their farms.
services, affecting the sales volume of many manufacturing industries, have been
severely curtailed as a result of guerrilla activity....
has collapsed completely in much of the former sales area, causing a severe
cutback in turnover and profit margins.(14)
decline in farming and commercial activity has reduced the government tax base,
while the cost of fueling the military machine is increasing. The war effort,
along with the economic sanctions, is costing Rhodesia over one million dollars
The war against soft civilian targets has mobilized Rhodesia into an armed camp. Security alarm fences guard farmhouses, police convoys protect vehicular movement in the countryside, women become adept at handling pistols and Uzi submachine guns and many camouflage-uniformed soldiers remain armed while in the otherwise normal-looking cities of Salisbury, Bulawayo and Umtali. Most men of the European population from 18 to 50 are subject to varying lengths of military or police commitments.
Security Forces conducting the counterinsurgency include roughly 40,000 persons
in the air force, the police and the army, whose total strength approximates
that of a full division. The army is composed of regular units and Territorial
backbone of the counterinsurgency effort is represented by battalions from two
regular infantry regiments: the Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI) and the Rhodesian
African Rifles (RAR). The entire RLI and most of the RAR are airborne qualified.
Most European regulars— volunteers with contracts of three years or more—are
assigned to the RLI. Most African regulars are posted to the RAR, Rhodesia’s
The 1st Battalion, Rhodesian Light Infantry,
is organized along commando lines. It consists of three company-size units
called “Commandos” and a support group with mortar, reconnaissance and
tracking detachments. Trained to operate either as small teams, as separate
commandos or as an integral battalion, the RLI has the general mission of
following up suspected terrorist presence or of backing up other troops in
for the RLI receive their 16 weeks of recruit training within the regiment and
undergo continuous unit training within their respective Commando. Normally, RLI
units spend a month to six weeks in the bush and 20 days in their camp south of
Salisbury for rest and retraining.
any standard, the Rhodesian
rigid selection system in the RAR produces
candidates for junior and senior NCO training courses. Officer candidates are
likewise selected from among the NCOs. RAR units are farmed out to the
operational commands for security missions, for seek-and-destroy operations or
for area wide reaction force contingencies.
Territorial Army corresponds to the US National Guard or Army Reserves. It is
filled by national servicemen who, as opposed to regulars, enter the army with
an 18-month initial commitment, followed by periodic call ups thereafter.
four and a half months of basic training at Llewellin Barracks, the majority of
these men are assigned to one of the battalions of the Rhodesian Regiment (RR)
or to independent companies where they serve their initial tour. Some are
selected to serve in a specialist unit or a Service Corps unit. Completing their
18-month requirement, the territorials are then assigned to a reserve RR
battalion at a center near their homes where they train and serve during their
constant retraining and the maintenance of unit integrity results in a high
experience level for the Territorial Army. The RR battalions now assume as
active a combat role as do the regular battalions.
Specialist units, those with unique combat
specialties, include the Rhodesian Armored Corps (RAC), the Artillery Regiment,
the Grey’s Scouts, the Selous Scouts and the Special Air Service (SAS).
Formerly known as the Rhodesian
Armored Car Regiment, the RAC fulfills an armored cavalry mission. It possesses
antitank capability and usually functions with its sub elements assigned to
operational commands for task organization. The corps represents a unit
approximately regimental size along with an armored car training center. Armored
car operational techniques are influenced by US, British, German and South
African doctrine and experience.
NCOs and soldiers of the RAC all have had infantry training, followed by armored
car training in the corps depot. Drivers, gunners and vehicle commanders are
cross-trained in others’ skills and in vehicle maintenance as well.
about most of the armored vehicles are classified. Generally, their design
protects the occupants from mine blasts which damage little more than the tire.
with the armored troops, the gunners of the 1st Field Regiment Rhodesian
Artillery are trained first as infantry. Using 88mm gun howitzers and heavier
pieces (which are classified), the batteries are oriented to both the
conventional and counterinsurgency requirements.
Grey’s Scouts are a mounted infantry unit about battalion size that
specializes in tracking and pursuit.( There are few
places in Rhodesia’s highveld and lowveld that horses cannot go, and horses
are more silent than army lorries or land rovers.
The Grey’s are deployed in the operational areas by squadron. A squadron
(roughly equivalent to a company) is made up of three troops (roughly equivalent
to platoons), each with four eight-man sections. The Grey’s Scouts consist of
three “saber” (combat) squadrons and a support squadron containing a 60mm
and 81mm mortar section, a reconnaissance troop and a tracking dog troop using
mostly English foxhounds.
With better visibility and faster mobility, an eight-man section can cover the
same ground as a foot-bound infantry battalion. This section, working in two
teams of four, can advance on a 550-meter front. Sometimes when closing in on
fleeing terrorists, the Grey’s radio for heliborne reinforcement of a “fireforce”
for mopping up operations.
soldiers in Grey’s Scouts are selected from recruits who undergo basic
training with the RU. They then receive 16 additional weeks of training,
including horsemanship, with the Grey’s at Inkomo Barracks, north of
Selous Scouts have become legendary during their short existence.(16)They
basically are a 300-man tracking unit, about half African, half European, who
can travel and survive in the bush for extended periods on limited rations. The
Selous generally work from friendly lines forward. In pursuit of terrorists,
they also radio for reinforcement, if required.
Their selection course is rough. Every
eight months, up to 400 trained soldiers may be screened to select about 100
candidates for the arduous training course. Of these, only one-sixth will
complete a four-week endurance and survival course, with constant deprivation of
food and sleep. Once in the unit, the men are prepared literally to follow
terrorist spoor for weeks on end in all types of Rhodesian terrain while living
off the land.
mission of the Special Air Service is long-range reconnaissance, generally far
in front of and working back toward friendly positions. The SAS has an
additional role as a quick-reaction force and the capability for direct-action
missions such as cross-border operations.
upon the British SAS, the men of this unit experience the most diversified
training of men in any of the units. Initially, this includes static-line
parachuting, light and heavy weapon training, bushcraft, first aid,
communications, watermanship (handling canoes and boats) and minor SAS tactics.
Successful completion of the above just gets the volunteer into the unit!
this point on, he has to undergo a series of specialist courses in such subjects
as advanced medical work, demolitions, free-fall parachuting, tracking,
aqua-lung diving and a course in indigenous language. SAS training can take up
to three years.
support and combat service support is provided by supporting services. These
include the Service Corps, the Medical Corps, the Military Police, the Pay
Corps, the Rhodesian Women’s Service, the Engineers and the Signal Corps.
the army provides the
British South Africa Police have both a regular police role and a paramilitary
function. The Support Units are predominantly African regulars with both police
investigative and bush warfare training. Nicknamed “the Blackboots,” they
operate nationwide. The Police Antiterrorist Units are predominantly European
reservists who operate on call up within their own locales.
command and control of operations are exercised from the Combined Operations
Headquarters in Salisbury under one commander to four major JOCs, each of which
incorporates an army brigade headquarters and controls a major operational area.
Under each major JOC are several “mini-JOCs,”
corresponding with districts.
A JOC is a combined operating center containing representatives of the army, the air force, the police and Internal Affairs. Sometimes present. are the Special Branch personnel, the government’s intelligence service. The army commander is the senior commander of the JOC. The various elements of the Security Forces assigned to each operational command are task-organized for that area’s requirements.
of the major JOCs each controls a quick-reaction force called a “fireforce.”
Described by one officer as “our best killing machine,” the fireforce
(comprising regular or Territorial Army units) is airdropped and/or air-landed
by helicopter to reinforce forward units in contact and to pursue, block and
close with terrorist forces.
government has countered the guerrilla presence by the establishment of
protected villages within the affected areas. The villagers remain in these
fenced-in complexes under a dusk-to-dawn curfew. The villages are protected by a
Guard Force unit and administered by Internal Affairs advisers.
terrorist presence or avenues of approach are known, police or army forces
conduct searches, extensive patrolling and ambushes. Attention is directed
toward the populated areas where terrorist incidents are frequent. Very few fire
fights develop that are of the intensity or duration that US troops encountered
in Vietnam. This is because the terrorists, who usually operate in 10 to 15-man
sticks at the most, try to avoid contact with the Security Forces or, failing
that, simply flee after a brief skirmish. On the whole, the Patriotic Front’s
“freedom fighters” are considered neither a well-trained nor a
well-disciplined military force.
The Rhodesian military training system has three distinct features supporting
continuous evolvement of doctrine and tactical application. First is that the
three major schools are staffed by officers and NCOs who rotate to instructor
positions from their respective parent regiments. Between training cycles, these
instructors visit the operational units. Thus, vital feedback
channels between the combat realities at the “Sharp End” and the
presentation in the classroom are maintained.
second feature is the wealth of experience represented by the instructor cadre
themselves. The instructors’ backgrounds reflect their diverse experience
derived from their parent units like the RLI, the RAR, the SAS and the Selous
Scouts, hence a great amount of cross-fertilization of ideas.
third feature is the emphasis in the schools given to producing NCO instructor
cadre. Trained as instructors in specific disciplines, these men return to their
units to help maintain the high level of basic or of continuation training
within the units.
three major schools are the
School of Infantry is organized into three training wings: the tactical, the
cadet and the regimental wing. The tactical wing conducts courses in tactics and
operations from junior NCO level up to battalion/brigade level for captains and
majors.(18) The cadet wing offers training for both
European and African officer candidates who have been selected by a board. Aside
from direct appointment, this school is the only source of army commission. The
regimental wing instructs NCOs in drill and in weapons and has one weapons
course for junior officers.
The school holds that men can actually get rusty in the bush with regard to
weapons handling and training, and require formal retraining. With only 30
officers and 45 NCOs, the School of Infantry is expected
to train up to 3,000 students in
servicemen undergo four and a half months of basic training at Llewellin
Barracks. Those selected by a board the first week can go directly into officer
cadet or NCO cadet training. African regular recruits receive six months of
basic at the Depot RAR, Balla Balla, where junior leader courses also are taught
for privates and corporals to advance.
Rhodesian military training places emphasis in four areas: close-order drill, physical and mental conditioning, marksmanship and immediate-action techniques in conventional and counterinsurgency situations.
the British tradition, the Rhodesians see “square-bashing,” or drill, as the
foundation for discipline, esprit and leadership. The results from the parade
field can be seen in the sharp appearance and impeccable military etiquette
reflected throughout the army.
The training for recruits and for officer and NCO cadets is rigorous physically
and mentally. A number of foreign volunteers
in the Rhodesian army, including some American Vietnam veterans, have failed to
complete their initial training course successfully or have eventually “taken
the gap” (deserted). Night-long land navigation exercises, 15 to 20-kilometer
forced marches over difficult terrain in full
combat kit and negotiation of an assault course of 12 or so obstacles, where
live fire, smoke and simulators add verisimilitude, serve to toughen and to
the rifle range, each recruit fires 800 to 1,000 rounds to perfect his
marksmanship. The FN self-loading
rifle is the standard infantryman’s weapon.
classical, conventional war as their long-term threat, the Rhodesians spend 70
percent of their training time on conventional tactics. Thirty percent goes to
counter-insurgency tactics. Counter-insurgency training includes study of
terrorist tactics, patrolling, ambush, vehicular movement in an operational
area, organization of patrol bases, cordon and search operations, attack on
terrorist camps, and mounted and dismounted counter ambush techniques. Field
training exercises and “tactical exercises without troops” rehearse both
conventional and counter-insurgency techniques within a realistic scenario.
Rhodesia’s is a performance-oriented army. Instructors assess officer and NCO
performance in the schools to recommend their subsequent assignments to troop
leadership or to administrative positions. One may opt to serve indefinitely in
one capacity, maintaining his present rank, or to advance to a different
position for which he is qualified. In Rhodesia’s small army, retention of
expertise and experience at various levels of administration and command is
preferable to the “up-or-out” syndrome known to other armies. However, a
qualified, motivated trooper, African or European, can rise to NCO rank or to
commissioned rank in a relatively short
maintain the link between the people and the government, an increasingly large
cadre of administrators, advisers, policemen, technicians, health workers and
teachers are needed.
counter-insurgency effort is definitely hampered not by any manpower shortage,
but by shortage of funds required to expand training facilities and programs.
The survival of Rhodesia as a free, multiracial society hinges on this economic
factor rather than on the fighting ability of the Security Forces. A strained
economy with a decreasing growth rate curtails the expansion of such programs.
Western nations began lifting sanctions to establish trade and domestic
investment resumed its former level, this broadened base of trade and commercial
activity would enable the government to expand its Internal Affairs activities.
Under these favorable conditions, the insurgency could be overcome within 10 to
have erroneously counted the survival of Rhodesia’s present form of government
in just a matter of months: