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Bush War Rhodesia 1966-1980, Peter Baxter


Bush War Rhodesia 1966-1980, Peter Baxter

Bush War Rhodesia 1966-1980, Peter Baxter

[email protected] Volume 17

I must admit I approached this book with a certain amount of dread, not being entirely sure what sort of tone to expect. A discussion of the formation of Rhodesia in which the unprovoked invasion of the area was justified on the grounds that the local African power was too militaristic didn’t do much to reassure me, but my worries were unjustified. Although the author has some sympathy with the plight of the White population of Rhodesia, which found itself isolated by the changing world, he also acknowledges that the cause of White minority rule was unjustifiable at the time, and the war essentially unwinnable.

One minor quibble - the author ends by claiming that the Rhodesian military was undefeated, but his own text makes it clear that they quickly lost control of much of the country and were unable to prevent rebel attacks hitting just about anywhere. Their failure to protect the White population resulted in large scale emigration, which then reduced the manpower available to the Rhodesian armed services. The Rhodesian forces may well have won almost all of their direct clashes with the various rebel forces, both inside and outside Rhodesia, but that didn't change the overall course of events. In some ways this war was thus similar to the almost contemporary struggle in Vietnam, where the US military won just about every major clash, but still lost the war itself.

I must admit it is often hard to have much sympathy for either side in this conflict - the Rhodesian government was trying to retain an unsupportable form of minority rule, while the rebels committed repeated atrocities against both populations and the recent history of Zimbabwe is rather uninspiring.

There is some fascinating material on the political background. The author is rather hostile to Ian Smith, the leader of Rhodesian during much of this period. The Unilateral Declaration of Independence is portrayed as a total disaster, leaving Rhodesia isolated from the rest of the world (not even South Africa recognised Rhodesia independence), and ensuring that the Rhodesian armed services would have to fight alone. Smith also seems to have based his plans on wishful thinking and the idea that he had support in the majority population, who in his mind preferred stable White rule to the sort of chaos emerging in some of their newly independent neighbours.

The coverage of the military aspects of the campaign is excellent, with detailed examination of key Rhodesian campaigns, and the successful rebel strategy. The text is supported by excellent maps, and a wide selection of photos.

This is a valuable examination of how a well trained military can win most, if not all, direct encounters in a conflict, but still lose the war.

Chapters
1 - The Players
2 - The First Shot
3 - The Politics of Rebellion
4 - A New Paradigm
5 - A New War and a New Strategy
6 - The Politics of Survival
7 - The Rhodesian Way of War
8 - An Attempt to Settle Matters Internally
9 - Operation Dingo
10 - The Closing Stages
11 - Strategies and Command Structures
12 - Revenge Attacks and Compromises
13 - Closing Operations and the Politics of Defeat
14 - The Unbearable Truth

Author: Peter Baxter
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 72
Publisher: Helion
Year: 2014



Rhodesian Bush War

The Rhodesian Bush War—also called the Second Chimurenga as well as the Zimbabwe War of Liberation [18] —was a civil conflict from July 1964 to December 1979 [n 1] in the unrecognised country of Rhodesia (later Zimbabwe-Rhodesia). [n 2] [29] The conflict pitted three forces against one another: the Rhodesian white minority-led government of Ian Smith (later the Zimbabwe-Rhodesian government of Bishop Abel Muzorewa) the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army, the military wing of Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union and the Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army of Joshua Nkomo's Zimbabwe African People's Union.

  • Bulgaria
  • Cuba[4]
  • East Germany[4]
  • Romania[9]
  • Soviet Union[4]
  • Yugoslavia
  • Zambia[7]
  • Israel(until 1967)

The war and its subsequent Internal Settlement, signed in 1978 by Smith and Muzorewa, led to the implementation of universal suffrage in June 1979 and the end of white minority rule in Rhodesia, which was renamed Zimbabwe Rhodesia under a black majority government. However, this new order failed to win international recognition and the war continued. Neither side achieved a military victory and a compromise was later reached. [30]

Negotiations between the government of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, the UK Government and Mugabe and Nkomo's united "Patriotic Front" took place at Lancaster House, London in December 1979, and the Lancaster House Agreement was signed. The country returned temporarily to British control and new elections were held under British and Commonwealth supervision in March 1980. ZANU won the election and Mugabe became the first Prime Minister of Zimbabwe on 18 April 1980, when the country achieved internationally recognised independence.


Bush War Rhodesia 1966 1980

Unravelling the mysteries and complexities of post-1945 African conflict Bush. the
ostensible control of a British governor, meaning that war thereafter would not be
with white Rhodesia, but with Britain. However it has been stated by a brigade .

Publisher: Helion and Company

It has been over three decades since the Union Jack was lowered on the colony of Rhodesia, but the bitter and divisive civil war that preceded it has continued to endure as a textbook counterinsurgency campaign fought between a mobile, motivated and highly trained Rhodesian security establishment and two constituted liberations movements motivated, resourced and inspired by the ideals of communist revolution in the third world. A complicated historical process of occupation and colonization set the tone as early as the late 1890s for what would at some point be an inevitable struggle for domination of this small, landlocked nation set in the southern tropics of Africa. The story of the Rhodesian War, or the Zimbabwean Liberation Struggle, is not only an epic of superb military achievement, and revolutionary zeal and fervor, but is the tale of the incompatibility of the races in southern Africa, a clash of politics and ideals and, perhaps more importantly, the ongoing ramifications of the past upon the present, and the social and political scars that a war of such emotional underpinnings as the Rhodesian conflict has had on the modern psyche of Zimbabwe. The Rhodesian War was fought with finely tuned intelligence-gathering and -analysis techniques combined with a fluid and mobile armed response. The practitioners of both have justifiably been celebrated in countless histories, memoirs and campaign analyses, but what has never been attempted has been a concise, balanced and explanatory overview of the war, the military mechanisms and the social and political foundations that defined the crisis. This book does all of that. The Rhodesian War is explained in digestible detail and in a manner that will allow enthusiasts of the elements of that struggle - the iconic exploits of the Rhodesian Light Infantry, the SAS, the Selous Scouts, the Rhodesian African Rifles, the Rhodesia Regiment, among other well-known fighting units - to embrace the wider picture in order to place the various episodes in context


Community Reviews

This book required extensive research and that alone was impressive and thorough. A book of this nature will get dry from time to time but for the most part held my interest!

"From a bathroom window he looked out over shantytowns that had grown up in all directions. There, but for the tenacity of a handful of brave white men would go Rhodesia."

Rhodesia is the forgotten black sheep of the Anglo family and is quite unknown to the general public. Peter Baxter tells the story from the Bantu migration and the establishment of the tribes in the area all the way until the creation of Zimbabwe in 1980. This work must have required a mountain of research and Baxter manages to "From a bathroom window he looked out over shantytowns that had grown up in all directions. There, but for the tenacity of a handful of brave white men would go Rhodesia."

Rhodesia is the forgotten black sheep of the Anglo family and is quite unknown to the general public. Peter Baxter tells the story from the Bantu migration and the establishment of the tribes in the area all the way until the creation of Zimbabwe in 1980. This work must have required a mountain of research and Baxter manages to weave it all together in a flawed yet adequate way. Despite the pure quantity of information that is need to be conveyed, Baxter still finds a way to write artfully and the are several absolutely beautifully written passages throughout.

Although I think this is altogether a well written and useful work, it is quite flawed. Most of this criticism is directed towards the coverage of the Bush War as it is closest to memory and it seems to be where it is the most apparent. The writing style is prose-like which can be elegant but comes to fault in the sense that events are not described with great enough precision or depth as I would prefer. Often shocking and heinous events are brought up in simply a page or paragraph and are never talked about again. This would not be quite as much of an issue if there were at all any in-text citations or footnotes, of which there are none. This, compounded with the most poorly formatted bibliography I have ever seen make it neigh impossible to follow up on any of the interesting events or shocking claims, or at least to have the peace of mind that it is backed up in some source. The book is generally unreflective and quite light on analysis. Adding to this issue is the fact that most events seem to be spoken about with the same amount of importance leaving the reader with the task of keeping track of everything and ascertaining which events are the most significant.

The author's focus and strengths are laid bare in the Rhodesian Bush War sections as the number and complexity of events becomes far greater. Operations are usually described by setting out it's goals and then describing the outcome without telling how they were conducted. The conduct of the war itself is almost neglected in favor of negotiations, summits, and inter-party politics. This is all interesting and important but as sections about earlier colonial wars do not have this issue and since the context of the negotiations are directly effected by the war, it leaves the reader wanting more. Some chapters should have been set aside to lay out the organization of the Rhodesian armed forces and their guerilla counterparts along with the equipment and tactics used, as these are all but absent or explained with broad and general statements.

In conclusion, this is a densly researched and often elegantly written work that will give those unfamiliar with the story of Rhodesia and colonialism in southern Africa a moderately detailed and comprehensive overview of the topic. My issues generally stem for the poor organizational decisions and lack of precision towards the end. Some of this can be forgiven due to the sheer amount of information that was need to be synthesized which I had admittedly underestimated. It's lack of citations and overreliance on secondary sources is also an issue. There are also a plethora of typos and printing errors although this probably has to do with the fact that it is a first edition and I'd expect many of the book's problems to be fixed with later editions. . more


Bush War Rhodesia 1966-1980

It has been over three decades since the Union Jack was lowered on the colony of Rhodesia, but the bitter and divisive civil war that preceded it has continued to endure as a textbook counterinsurgency campaign fought between a mobile, motivated and highly trained Rhodesian security establishment and two constituted liberations movements motivated, resourced and inspired by the ideals of communist revolution in the third world. A complicated historical process of occupation and colonization set the tone as early as the late 1890s for what would at some point be an inevitable struggle for domination of this small, landlocked nation set in the southern tropics of Africa. The story of the Rhodesian War, or the Zimbabwean Liberation Struggle, is not only an epic of superb military achievement, and revolutionary zeal and fervor, but is the tale of the incompatibility of the races in southern Africa, a clash of politics and ideals and, perhaps more importantly, the ongoing ramifications of the past upon the present, and the social and political scars that a war of such emotional underpinnings as the Rhodesian conflict has had on the modern psyche of Zimbabwe. The Rhodesian War was fought with finely tuned intelligence-gathering and -analysis techniques combined with a fluid and mobile armed response. The practitioners of both have justifiably been celebrated in countless histories, memoirs and campaign analyses, but what has never been attempted has been a concise, balanced and explanatory overview of the war, the military mechanisms and the social and political foundations that defined the crisis. This book does all of that. The Rhodesian War is explained in digestible detail and in a manner that will allow enthusiasts of the elements of that struggle - the iconic exploits of the Rhodesian Light Infantry, the SAS, the Selous Scouts, the Rhodesian African Rifles, the Rhodesia Regiment, among other well-known fighting units - to embrace the wider picture in order to place the various episodes in context


Bush War Rhodesia 1966-1980

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It has been over four decades since the Union Jack was lowered on the colony of Rhodesia, but the bitter and divisive civil war that preceded it has continued to endure as a textbook counter-insurgency campaign fought between a mobile, motivated and highly trained Rhodesian security establishment and two constituted liberations movements motivated, resourced and inspired by the ideals of communist revolution in the third world. A complicated historical process of occupation and colonization set the tone as early as the late 1890s for what would at some point be an inevitable struggle for domination of this small, landlocked nation set in the southern tropics of Africa. The story of the Rhodesian War, or the Zimbabwean Liberation Struggle, is not only an epic of superb military achievement, and revolutionary zeal and fervour, but is the tale of the incompatibility of the races in southern Africa, a clash of politics and ideals and, perhaps more importantly, the ongoing ramifications of the past upon the present, and the social and political scars that a war of such emotional underpinnings as the Rhodesian conflict has had on the modern psyche of Zimbabwe. The Rhodesian War was fought with finely tuned intelligence-gathering and -analysis techniques combined with a fluid and mobile armed response. The practitioners of both have justifiably been celebrated in countless histories, memoirs and campaign analyses, but what has never been attempted has been a concise, balanced and explanatory overview of the war, the military mechanisms and the social and political foundations that defined the crisis. This book does all of that. The Rhodesian War is explained in digestible detail and in a manner that will allow enthusiasts of the elements of that struggle - the iconic exploits of the Rhodesian Light Infantry, the SAS, the Selous Scouts, the Rhodesian African Rifles, the Rhodesia Regiment, among other well-known fighting units - to embrace the wider picture in order to place the various episodes in context.


A Quick Sketch of the Zimbabwe/Rhodesia Bush War

I have noticed a lot of search traffic on this site pertaining to the Zimbabwe/Rhodesian War. Aside from the Wikipedia entry covering the period, there is very little on the world wide web dealing with the subject. What follows is a thumbnail sketch drawn from my own reading of the episode which is not intended to be an accurate historical synopsis.

The political background to the Rhodesian Civil War

The Rhodesian War of the 1970s was a civil war. It was fought for the preservation of the Anglo/Saxon values and culture that had been grafted onto the landscape as a consequence of British imperialism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The territory of Rhodesia comprised Mashonaland, Manicaland and Matabeleland, acquired by the British South Africa Company during the 1890s and occupied by a white, mainly British settler community over the course of the 90-years that followed.

World War I broke the back of the British Empire, as it did imperial Europe as a whole, after which World War II effectively killed it. One of the first key triggers of eventual war in Rhodesia was the contribution made by Southern Rhodesia to the British war effort of 1939/45. All the colonies and dominions in one form or another contributed, but Southern Rhodesia is recognised as having made the most comprehensive per capita manpower contribution. Others included Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India and South Africa.

Why this is important is because Rhodesia was at that time classed as a Self Governing Colony, while the other participants, with the exception of India, where classed a Dominions. A Dominion, by definition, was a colonial possession earmarked for independence within the Commonwealth. There was very little difficulty with this because in none of these territories did there exist a sufficiently large native population to warrant political attention. This was very different in the case of South Africa and Southern Rhodesia, both of which did.

In recognition of her contribution to the war effort, meanwhile, Southern Rhodesia was promised by the Imperial Government, although this was never officially committed to treaty, that she would also be granted independence within the Commonwealth once hostilities had ceased, this in gratitude for her service to the Crown in war. The assumption here was that independence would be granted under the terms of an existing constitutional status that limited the black franchise under property and educational qualifications to almost zero.

To grant Southern Rhodesia minority rule independence may very well have been the British intention during WWII and in the immediate aftermath, and certainly much of the British political establishment would have preferred to have been able to honor this commitment, however, the new global political reality in a post-war world simply did not permit it. The independence of India introduced a powerful new voice into the Commonwealth that wholly changed the complexion of the global order. Indian independence was quickly followed by Egypt and the Suez Crisis, Malaysia, Burma, Ghana, Nigeria and a host of smaller entities. This was accompanied by increasing independence on the part of the principal white dominions of the Empire, namely Canada, Australia and new Zealand, all three of which made strong petition to the Crown to grant Southern Rhodesia independence only under a majority rule constitution.

Rhodesia, however, then under the leadership of Sir Godfrey Huggins, held the British to their original commitment to grant independence under a minority rule constitution, which established a political stalemate between the two governments that would in one way or another endure until 1980.

The Federation of Rhodesia & Nyasaland

The Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, meanwhile, was established in 1953 as an effort to find a workable formula that would allow for a continuation in the medium to long term of white rule in the region. Against a backdrop of determined black resistance a federal constitution was negotiated between the three territorial governments of Northern and Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland and the Imperial Government. The emergent black leader of this period was future Malawian president Hastings Banda.

By the 1960s the Federation was in the grip of sustained and organized black civil unrest that in due course resulted first in the independence of Nyasaland as Malawi, and then Northern Rhodesia as Zambia. This precipitated the collapse of the Federation itself and the withdrawal of white Southern Rhodesia behind powerful defenses, and an even more powerful determination that the colony, thereafter known simply as Rhodesia, would not go the same way as the rest of Africa.

It must be remembered at this point that 1960 had seen the handover to black rule of the Belgian Congo amid scenes of typical anarchy and slaughter, all of which did nothing to mollify white Rhodesia facing similar demands from blacks within its own borders. Likewise the events of the Mau Mau Uprising and the separatist war in Biafra all tended to strike fear in the hearts of whites at the prospect of black rule in Rhodesia. Britain, in the meanwhile, morally weakened and clearly no longer a global power, found herself in a difficult quandary. She could do nothing but fall in line with the mood of the global forums which all demanded that she grant independence to Rhodesia only under terms of majority rule constitution. No matter how much white Rhodesia might seek to remind her of promises made during WWII, there was nothing by then that Whitehall could effectively do.

UDI and the rise of the Rhodesian right

The second key trigger that pitched the colony in the direction of war was an abrupt swing to the right of the white Rhodesian electorate in the face of such change and uncertainty. From this emerged the Rhodesian Front, a powerful, white nationalist political front headed in the first instance by a somewhat (British) collaborationist Winston Field, and then later by the hawkish, uncompromising and highly charismatic Ian Douglas Smith.

Smith took over the premiership of Rhodesia in 1964 on a wave of approval for his hard-line, no-nonsense approach to the problem of independence. (Read brief biography of Smith here) He recognized very early in his premiership that the 20-years or so of appeal and negotiation with Whitehall that had preceded his office had achieved absolutely nothing, and moreover never would. He therefore adopted the strategy of picking a fight with the British in the hope that he could bring the matter one way or another to a head. His principal weapon was the implied threat of a unilateral declaration of independence.

Smith, as with most white Rhodesians, was unable or unwilling to embrace the current reality of global politics, preferring to view the steady advance of black political independence down the length of Africa as part of a wider communist assault against the western, Christian values that he purported to represent. It must be said here that Ian Smith, a trenchant and somewhat deluded character, was nonetheless a man of unshakable moral rectitude and a clear believer in the sanctity of his mission. He was not an ogre or a monster as he is often portrayed under a contemporary light. It may now be said that he was wrong in the broader objective he sought to achieve, but he was neither corrupt nor sociopathic as his successor had proved himself to be.

Inevitably, however, Ian Smith failed in his efforts to negotiate independence for white Rhodesia, as he possibly both knew and hoped that he would. Therefore, on 11 November 1965, a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) was issued that effectively recast Rhodesia as a rebel republic, a status it remained subject to until the advent of majority rule in 1980.

Shooting war in Rhodesia

The ramifications of UDI were immediate. One the one hand Rhodesia became subject to a broad range of international sanctions that included both an arms and fuel embargo, and on the other hand the rebel colony was removed from any hope of direct British military support, and nor, indeed, any overt political support. The black population of the territory, meanwhile, were served by UDI with effective notice that white Rhodesia was not going to collapse quite as easily as the British Empire had elsewhere on the continent. One of the first actions of the new ‘independent’ Rhodesian government was to ban the two principal nationalist organisations – Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU) and Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) – and to imprison or restrict their political leadership.

Both organisations then turned to what had become known as the Frontline States – in this case primarily Tanzania and Zambia – and the new Organisation of African Unity for guidance and support. Both movements set up governments in exile in Zambia and commenced planning an armed insurgency to topple white rule in Rhodesia.

The Rhodesian military machine at that time consisted of a large territorial formation comprising the eight battalions of the Rhodesia Regiment and associated independent companies a single Rhodesian African Rifles battalion a newly formed, all-white regular battalion of the Rhodesia Light Infantry (RLI) the C Squadron Rhodesia SAS the Rhodesian Air Force and the various paramilitary arms of the British South Africa Police. National Service and ongoing territorial commitments were mandatory and affected all able-bodied white males in the country. A police reserve existed as a support element of the civil force, but ultimately it became a civil defence unit that included the highly effective Police Ant-Terrorist Unit.

Initial hostile incursions deployed by both nationalist organisations began along the northern frontier of Rhodesia bordering newly independent Zambia. These were initially disorganised, amateurish and experimental, and were dealt with without difficulty by the Rhodesian army. This phase of the war culminated in what became known as the Battle of Sinoia, a combined police and air force operation that ran to ground a group of seven ZANU militants just outside the town of Sinoia, now known as Chinoyi, ending with the comprehensive annihilation of the entire group.

By the end of the 1960s it had become clear to the leadership of both liberation factions that attempting to directly challenge a motivated, well trained and highly efficient Rhodesian army in a contest of wits and fire would be suicidal. The Rhodesian security and intelligences services combined very effectively throughout the 1960s to locate and deal with one insurgent group after another. Perhaps the most effective tool in the Rhodesian arsenal was the rural black population itself, which was seldom remiss at that time in passing back information to the authorities regarding the movement of unknown groups armed men through their areas.

By then, however, there were a number of key members of both nationalist organisations arriving back in Zambia from periods of military and political training overseas, particularly in China and the Soviet Union. These men returned with a much clearer and more detailed sense of revolutionary strategy. It was now understood that before an effective insurrection could take place the people needed to know and understand precisely what was taking place. Therefore a process of education began in the countryside, carried out by political commissars who, with a combination of indigenous/cultural and Marxist type re-education strategies and extreme violence introduced the population of the northeast of Rhodesia to the reality of peoples’ war.

The end of the ‘Phoney War’

Soon afterwards, in 1972, a second and more determined phase of the war began with a series of hit-and-run attacks mounted against farms and homesteads in the Centenary area. This time the customary Rhodesian military response was met with somewhat less success that hitherto. Guerrilla groups retreated into the heavily populated Tribal Trust Lands and the pre-prepared support system that had been carefully put in place for this moment. Intelligence sources dried up while the insurgent groups simply disappeared.

The Rhodesian security establishment itself then retreated in order to ponder a response to this new situation. In the first instance an operational area, Operation Hurricane, was established in the northeast, the first of what would ultimately be six ongoing operations countrywide. Thereafter experiments began to take place using pseudo tactics developed by the British in Malaya and Kenya during the uprisings in those countries. From this was born the Selous Scouts Regiment, a unit configured to utilized turned guerrillas for the purpose of infiltrating authentic guerrilla groups either to acquire intelligence or set the enemy up for a more conventional infantry attack.

The pseudo strategy worked extremely well once it had been properly organised and resourced. A key fact in its success, however, was the parallel development of Fireforce, a vertical envelopment strategy using heliborne infantry and paratroopers in combination with fixed wing air support to act quickly and decisively on intelligence delivered by the Selous Scouts. Fireforce units were placed on permanent standby at various Forward Air Fields scattered across the country in order to react immediately to fresh intelligence regarding the movement or presence of guerrilla groups.

There is a considerable amount of technical material out there regarding Fireforce. The definitive study of the strategy was written by Professor Richard Wood in his book Fireforce.

Thus, by 1974, Rhodesia had for all intents and purposes re-established its domination of the battlefield. At this point it still appeared that a military solution to the crisis was possible. The Rhodesian Government remained in ongoing negotiations with Britain although a formula for independence remained elusive. If the reasons for this can be put in a nutshell it could perhaps be said that Ian Smith sought on behalf of white Rhodesia a means to retain all the principal instruments of power in white hands while at the same time allowing for at least the appearance of meaningful black political development. This was, however, practically impossible because by then the black nationalists had begun to demand absolute power immediately while Smith and his government insisted on substantive white control into the foreseeable future.

A new future

April 1974 saw a quantum shift in the geo-political landscape of southern Africa. A military coup in Lisbon resulted in the ouster of the right wing dictatorship of Marcello Caetano and the installation of a military government. One of the principal catalysts of this action had been the long and bleeding wars that had been ongoing in both Angola and Mozambique. The new government therefore promised to end these wars, which in effect meant that Portugal was now willing to countenance the independence of her overseas provinces. To Rhodesia this meant the potential for a radical widening of the war front down the entire eastern quadrant of Rhodesia.

Indeed, on June 25 1975 Mozambique achieved independence. By the beginning of 1976 attacks by ZANLA (Zimbabwe African Liberation Army), the military wing of ZANU, were beginning to be felt down the length of the eastern border regions adjacent to Mozambique. By the middle of 1976 the war was being fought in earnest more or less throughout the country. Rhodesia was now wholly reliant on South Africa for survival, and South Africa frequently proved herself to be less than the friend-in-need that white Rhodesia might have hoped she would be. In the meanwhile white Rhodesian society became intensely militarised with national services and territorial commitment cutting deeply into the economic viability of the country, and the army itself increasingly less able to effectively garrison the country.

External Operations

In October 1976 the Selous Scouts regiment conducted a daring cross-border raid into Mozambique that annihilated a ZANLA staging camp on the Nyadzonia River in the Manica Province of Mozambique, killing upwards of 1000 ZANLA combatants who had been poised for deployment into Rhodesia. This marked a turning point in the Rhodesian war strategy. Increasingly now the territorial and rear echelon elements of the army would deal with the situation internally while on a large scale the war would be taken into Mozambique and Zambia in order to neutralize enemy build-ups at their source. A corollary of these attacks would be the significant damage inflicted on Zambian and Mozambican infrastructure which served to illustrate to both governments the high cost of war with Rhodesia.

These external raids were more or less ongoing from 1976 onwards. They were conducted in the main by either the SAS or the Selous Scouts with active assistance from the RLI, now a commando battalion, and various other specialist branches of the army. These raids have been exhaustively covered as individual actions in many biographies and histories since, and need not be dealt with in any detail here. For further reading see Prof. Richard Wood’s Operation Dingo, Pamwe Chete by Col. Ron Ried Daly and The Elite by Barbara Cole.

None of this, however, served to alter much the general trajectory of the war, and increasingly it became clear that a political solution would be required. By then, however, Ian Smith could fairly be accused of having squandered many viable proposals and was left at this late stage with very few options. The shooting down of Air Rhodesia Flight 825 en-route from Kariba to Salisbury, resulting in the death of all but eight of the 56 passengers on board, ten of whom were murdered on the ground by a ZIPRA (Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army) group, shocked an increasingly demoralised white Rhodesia to the core. A series of attempts on the life of ZAPU leader Joshua Nkomo failed, although one of these, Operation Bastille, despite its failure, is recognised as one of the most brilliant and daring SAS raids of the war.

The role of the Rhodesian Security Forces now became one of containment while a political solution was sought. External raids continued while internal operations and the country’s general security needs continued to make unsustainable demands on the white population of the country. Plans were made for the raising of a third battalion of the Rhodesia African Rifles while a system of Security Force Auxiliaries made use of supposed supporters of the moderate internal black parties as an adjunct to the hopelessly overstretched core of the Rhodesian army. White emigration was perhaps the single most direct threat posed to the short or medium term survival of the country.

Negotiated defeat

The political solution when it was found amounted to comprehensive capitulation even though the Rhodesian army had suffered not one significant tactical defeat at any time during the period of war. A ceasefire was declared as a consequence of the Lancaster House Agreement that saw a return to Rhodesia of all of the exiled black leaders and a general election held to determine the future political face of Zimbabwe. The process had been exhausting and came as a bitter shock to a war weary and fearful white population. The closing actions of the Rhodesian Army were three operations. These were Uric, Miracle and Cheese which all witnessed intensive attacks delivered against insurgent facilities and the transport infrastructure of both Mozambique and Zambia. All the key arms of the Security Forces were involved, and arguably these last acts were among the most daring and brilliant of some 15-years of accelerating war.

The disintegration of the Rhodesian armed forces when it came was quick and quiet. The Selous Scouts, a unit configured on maverick terms, aimed a few swift and bloody punches at the undeserving victors, but for the rest the forces of Rhodesia died with dignity and due process under the protection of a negotiated treaty. Britain could at last wash her hands of her errant child while Zimbabwe settled uneasily into existence.

Very little on the whole has been written to chronicle the history of either of the liberation movements, and certainly no attempt has been made to locate and commemorate gravesites and to assemble a roll of honour. The forces of liberation in Zimbabwe have not deported themselves with a great deal of dignity, and certainly cannot claim to have upheld of their traditions with integrity. This, at the very least, cannot be said for white Rhodesia. Whatever political standpoint one might view this episode of history, the Rhodesian armed forces retain a highly respected placed in British and general military history and have been studied and chronicled perhaps more than any other.


A brief history of Rhodesia

The colony of Rhodesia was born on 13 September 1890 with the arrival in the vicinity of present day Harare, then Fort Salisbury, of some 500 hand-picked volunteers who made up the British South Africa Company Pioneer Column. This represented the culmination of several years of political manoeuvre and capital adventure in the great game known at the time as the Scramble for Africa.

A brief background to the occupation of Mashonaland

In 1885 all the major powers of Europe met in Berlin to discuss, among other issues, how best to partition Africa between them with a minimum of conflict and according to a series of predefined rules. The Berlin Conference decreed, in very simple terms, that effective occupation and administration would represent acceptable proof of annexation. A basic prerequisite for this would be some sort of treaty of friendship or an official appeal for protection on the part of whatever tribal leadership held sway over any particular area.

Very often, in fact almost universally, the initial thrust of occupation was undertaken by a commercial company. The terms of reference of these companies was usually very wide, and defined by a Royal Charter awarded ostensibly by the Crown for the purposes of the administration and exploitation of new territory. The most widely appreciated example of this was the British East India Company that administered and defended India during the colonial period, but there were many others.

The main British power broker in southern Africa during this period was an individual by the name of Cecil John Rhodes. Rhodes was in the first instance a diamond magnate of considerable worth, but also an influential politician in the Cape Assembly and one of the most determined and ambitious of the imperial lobby at the time. A considerable amount of interest in the unclaimed territory north of the Limpopo River had been expressed by all the major European powers influential in Africa at the time – mainly Portugal and Germany – and something of a mini-scramble took place to secure this strategic territory that would open the way north into the vast interior of Africa.

The Rudd Concession

This document was the bedrock upon which white occupation of the territory that would later become Rhodesia was built. In order for Rhodes to secure a Royal Charter that would empower his British South Africa Company to move to occupy Mashonaland it was necessary for him to secure a treaty from the powerful local amaNdebele monarch Lobengula.

A comprehensive history of Lobengula the amaNdebele is featured elsewhere in this blog

Unlike a vast majority of local or tribal groups from which treaties and concessions were extracted during the process of African partition, the amaNdebele represented a powerful, widely influential and centralised monarchy very much akin to their distant cousins, the Zulu. A large swath of territory lay under either direct or indirect amaNdebele control, reinforced by a highly organised, disciplined and effective military structure. It required a great deal of coercion and no small amount of dishonesty to coerce Lobengula into signing what was in effect a limited mining concession within his territory – this known as the Rudd Concession after the chief protagonist in the enterprise, Charles Dunell Rudd – upon which was framed an application to the British Government for the granting of a Royal Charter. This application, again requiring some very adroit political lobbying in London in the spring of 1889 by Cecil Rhodes – was successful and was granted in October of that year.

The Pioneer Column

Much of Rhodesian history is the stuff of personalities. Rhodes himself, of course, represented the most larger-than-life of them all, but others included the mercurial and unpredictable Leander Starr Jameson, the brawny and rambunctious Frank Johnston and the rather more thoughtful and enlightened Frederick Courtney Selous. These men, in combination with a corps of volunteers, set out in May 1890 from the settlement of Macloutsie in present-day Botswana at the head of a large and well defended column to carve a road through unmapped territory towards Mashonaland, an amaNdebele vassal territory and the heartland of the Mashona language group.

Included in the force compliment of the Pioneer Column were 200 paramilitary volunteers who were known as the British South Africa Company Police. It must be remembered that Lobengula remained at the head of the powerful and irreconciled amaNdebele army, the leadership of which rejected the terms of the Rudd Concession, as did Lobengula himself, once he came realise what it meant in practical terms, and urged the king to wipe out the intruders with military force. Lobengula, however, recognised that such a radical course of action would not ultimately solve the problem of white interest in his territory, and would in fact simply invite a more massive response from the increasingly white dominated south. A decade earlier the Zulu nation, the model upon which the amaNdebele nation had been founded, had been comprehensively defeated at the hands of the British in the Anglo/Zulu War of 1879.

The Occupation of Mashonaland by the BSA Co.

Lobengula was successful in restraining his belligerent army, and the British South Africa Company Pioneer Column successfully entered Mashonaland and established the capital of the new colony, Fort Salisbury. Fort Charter and Fort Victoria had also been established.

The public subscription that had underwritten the British South Africa Company, and which had largely bankrolled the expedition, had been based on the expectation that large reserves of gold lay within the country. Most of the pioneers and other sundry individuals who followed were primarily interested in the acquisition of quick wealth from mining with few among them entertaining any particular interest in long term settlement. Gold, however, was not found, and as many early pioneers left the territory in poverty as newcomers arrived with fresh capital and enthusiasm. Despite this the settler community increased steadily, and the roots of a permanent white population began to spread into the further reaches of Mashonaland. It is worth noting that the name Rhodesia became de facto upon the publication of the first substantive newspaper, the Rhodesia Herald.

The Matabele War

The first substantive administrator of the new colony was Leander State Jameson. During the process of securing the Rudd Concession, and ratifying its terms, Jameson had developed a personal rapport with Lobengula. It was this diplomatic relationship that helped retain peace between the territory of the British South Africa Company – in effect Mashonaland – and the territory under the direct control and occupation of the amaNdebele – today largely defined by the borders of Matabeleland.

The difficulty in this situation lay in the fact that the amaNdebele continued to exist as a highly mobile and effective, and dangerous, military culture that adhered to rules of diplomacy and military deployment that were at the very least incompatible with the current political reality of white southern Africa. It was inevitable that the amaNdebele would have to be neutralised by one means or another, and bearing in mind the nature of the amaNdebele as a people, this would certainly come in the form of a clash of arms.

The pretext for this came as a consequence of continued efforts by the amaNdebele, not always adhering to the will of the king, to retain its traditional control over the Mashona people, now increasingly seeking, and beginning to take for granted, the protection of the white man.

Continued punitive amaNdebele raids into Mashonaland presented the BSA Company administration with a difficult problem, but also, it must be said, and ideal pretext for war. Matabeleland, in the context of all this, was there for the taking. Who would take it was all that remained to be decided. If Matabeleland was pacified by imperial forces – those paid for and armed by the British Government – then Matabeleland would become, in one form or another, a Crown territory, probably a protectorate, but certainly not an addition to the territory controlled by the British South Africa Company.

In order for Cecil Rhodes and the BSA Company to claim Matabeleland as an addition to Rhodesia, it was essential that the military defeat of Matabeleland be undertaken by Company forces under Company command. It must be remembered that Mashonaland, with its lack of gold, had not provided the anticipated profits. BSA Company shares were plummeting and considerable concern was being expressed among investors. Some new and potentially lucrative addition to the company portfolio was urgently required, and between Jameson and Rhodes, Matabeleland was identified as this.

War began in November 1893. A series of actions were fought by company volunteer units which resulted in the rapid defeat of the amaNdebele impis and the occupation of the amaNdebele capital of Bulawayo. Lobengula fled northwards with a considerable portion of his army. Imperial forces arrived on the scene in the aftermath of this, which effectively allowed Rhodes and Jameson to declare victory.

Lobengula, however, had not capitulated and terms of peace had not been agreed upon. This was no more than a loose end. Matabeleland had been effectively occupied and the amaNdebele dispersed. However Lobengula was at large and as such remained a rallying point. It was necessary to bring him in.

Thus began the iconic Shangani Patrol incident.

The Colony of Southern Rhodesia and the distribution of land

The end of the Matabele War marked the point at which Southern Rhodesia (named specifically Southern Rhodesia thanks to the fact that the British South Africa Company had extended northwards into present day Zambia, a territory then known as Northern Rhodesia) settled into existence as an established British colony under company administration. Leander Starr Jameson retained the role of administrator. It was that this point that a key series of events took place that would ramificate deep into the future of the region.

Under the rules of conquest Jameson assumed the right to distribute the wealth of the amaNdebele nation. This in essence existed as land and livestock. It must also be remembered that Rhodes, on behalf of the British South Africa Company, was beholden to a number of powerful and influential people for what had been achieved thus far, all of whom expected in one way or another to be rewarded from the acquired wealth of the new colony. That land was distributed to the ‘Honourable & Military’ in lavish quantities while the amaNdebele were given limited reserve space in areas not traditional favoured. At the same time the ‘national herd’, many thousands of head of cattle held in trust for the nation by the monarchy, were seized as war booty and distributed with equal generosity to the settler volunteers and the new beneficiaries of the land.

This was a heavy handed and ill-considered action on the part of Jameson. It preceded a general sense on the part of those whites now spreading out in Matabeleland that the amaNdebele had been comprehensively defeated and would in future be supplicant to white authority. The same was believed of the Mashona, the traditional enemies of the amaNdebele. However, neither group welcomed the white man, both resented deeply the alienation of the land and both sought an opportunity to reverse the calamity that had overtaken them.

The Matabele and Mashona Rebellions of 1896

After three years of occupation the amaNdebele rose up in rebellion, quickly followed by the by Mashona. There was, however, no meaningful coordination between these two uprisings although a Mashona prelate is generally regarded as being the instigator of at least the Matabele Rebellion.

Action in Matabeleland began with the overrunning of many isolated white settlements throughout Matabeleland that preceded a general slaughter. The initial response by the citizens of Bulawayo was to form armed groups from what manpower was available to enter the countryside in an effort to rescue the few white settlers who had survived the initial attacks. Thereafter Bulawayo was besieged and something of a stalemate ensued. The amaNdebele impis reformed under their old leadership structure, but were handicapped somewhat by the lack of an overall command to coordinate their response.

The Mashona Rebellion, known locally as the first Chimurenga, erupted a few weeks later in June 1896 with attacks against the mining communities of Mazoe north of Salisbury. These attacks were coordinated by two religious figures, Kaguvi and Mbuya Nehanda, both of whom would in later generations emerge as powerful figures of Mashona religion and mythology.

Attention tended, however, to be focused in Matabeleland where matters were much more serious. Militarily the situation resolved itself reasonably quickly with the arrival in Bulawayo of imperial forces under the command of General Sir Frederick Carrington. Politically, however, Rhodes was once again at risk of losing his charter and seeing the territory of Southern Rhodesia revert to imperial administration, which would have represented a catastrophic financial loss for the shareholders of the British South Africa Company and a personal disaster for Rhodes.

With the arrival of such overwhelming reinforcements the amaNdebele fighting units had retreated to the safety of the Matopos where they would be able to remain under siege indefinitely. Carrington’s solution was to effect a siege and starve the remnants out. This would have spilled over into another year at a cost that the British South Africa Company could manifestly not support. Another solution was required.

Here some of the brilliance of Cecil John Rhodes was revealed. He initiated overtures to the amaNdebele leadership, and in a series of meetings, or indabas, negotiate a peace that saw the end of hostilities and the acceptance by the amaNdebele of the inevitable.

No such offer was made to the Mashona, Regarded as an inferior people, and undeserving of diplomatic relief, the hold-outs were dealt with by fire and dynamite and forced into unwilling submission. The cars of this would remain deep and unhealed, and would return in later generations to haunt the heirs of the British South Africa Company.

A Self Governing Colony

The twin rebellions of 1896 sparked a furious debate over the governance of Southern Rhodesia. Blame for the bloodshed of the Rebellions was placed squarely on the shoulders of Leander Starr Jameson who had initiated the harsh treatment of the Matabele, and moreover had sought to use the armed force of the territory in a maverick and self-serving attack on the Transvaal in an effort to ferment a popular uprising against Boer Government. This episode, known as simply The Raid, had depleted the colony of manpower which, it was revealed in later analysis, had been the trigger for the Matabele Rebellion.

It was now clear that government by a private commercial company was incompatible with the aspirations of a large and growing white settler population. Rhodes’ death in March 1902 introduced a debate on the future of the colony. His own preference had always been that Rhodesia enter into a political union with a greater South Africa. South Africa itself achieved union as a British dominion in 1910, but Rhodesia was not included in this. White Rhodesia tended to be suspicious of white South Africa which was thought on the whole to be incompatible with the higher standards of British society that Rhodesia felt it represented.

Three options were presented to the settler community as alternatives to British South Africa Company administration. These were union with South Africa, amalgamation with Northern Rhodesia or self governing status under British imperial supervision. An emotional and divisive debate ensued, with the Company itself pushing for union with South Africa on excellent financial terms. It must be remembered that the enterprise of Rhodesia had to date been a financial disaster, and the Company was desperate to try and recoup some of the massive losses incurred. A referendum was held, however, and the decision returned by a narrow majority to adopt self-governing status. This, on October 1 1923, Rhodesia became a self governing colony under the leadership of first premier Charles Coghlan.

The Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland

By the end of the 1920 a new threat to the white settler communities of Africa was emerging. The first generation of educated blacks was emerging from local education systems and foreign universities with a clearer understanding of modern society and a newly felt desire for some degree of self determination. Alongside this one of the main corollaries of colonisation was beginning to be felt: a massive explosion of the black population thanks to the ordering of society and the widespread availability of modern medicine.

The first white response to this was the enactment of the Land Apportionment Act of 1931which established the rules of land occupation very much in favour of the whites. At the same time industrial development within the colony was creating a black working class within the urban settlements of Rhodesia that had no corresponding provision for black occupation of the towns and cities of the colony. Pivotal to the Land Apportionment Act was the fact that urban areas fell under land reserved for whites, meaning that, despite the necessity to do so, blacks were not permitted to permanently reside in any urban area.

In the aftermath of WWII the merging black educated elite were able to harness a great deal of political enlightenment engendered by war service on a great many blacks, coupled with an increasing incidence of urbanisation among blacks, to generate the first wave of black political activity in the country. A series of strikes in the late 1940s tended to alert whites to the evolution of a black political class, which in turn prompted the settler communities to seek safety in numbers through a general amalgamation of British African territories.

It is also worth noting that in the aftermath of WWII a wave of white immigration into Rhodesia prompted an accelerated demand for land which saw the systematic removal of blacks from land earmarked for white occupation and their concentration into native reserves, or Tribal Trust lands as they would later be known.

Much debate and negotiation was expended on the question of a general amalgamation, and in the end much less was achieved than had been hoped for, for by then it was clear that the Imperial Government at the very least had recognised what complexion the future of Africa would wear, and that complexion was black not white. Whitehall had embarked on a course of disengagement from Africa in favour of ultimate self determination by blacks, a direction that ran at total variance to the settler view of the future. Thus compromise between the two always appeared to favour blacks and militate against whites which had the effect of generating a considerable amount of hostility between local white governments and the imperial government in London.

Nonetheless the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was born in 1953 against powerful opposition from black political groups. The leader of much of this opposition was future Malawian president Hastings Banda who achieved, through his spirited campaign of resistance, an amplified local political stature.

The Federation was led by a partnership of Rhodesian and Federal Prime Minister Godfrey Huggins and his successor Sir Roy Welensky. Both men, but most notably Welensky, fought long and hard for the survival of the Federation, but at best it had been a quixotic adventure and at worst a hopelessly deluded effort to circumvent the inevitable rise of black political aspiration.

The Federation survived for a decade and crumbled upon the succession of Nyasaland, and its emergence soon afterwards as the independent state of Malawi. Northern Rhodesia quickly followed, and upon waves of black civil unrest Zambia was born under the guidance of its first black president, Kenneth Kaunda.

Unilateral Declaration of Independence

Southern Rhodesia now simply became Rhodesia. It was the dawn of the 1960s and the map of Africa was increasingly being painted black. The anarchy and violence that accompanied this process was unfortunate, and can be blamed largely on colonial governments for making little effort during the early part of the century to prepare blacks for power, but nonetheless painted picture for white Rhodesia of the likely result of a to-hasty handover of power in that territory.

White Rhodesian politics had undergone a significant evolution during the period of the Federation. There were few among Rhodesian whites who did not recognise that some sort of political accommodation with the black majority was now inevitable. Although by then it was far too late, the incremental introduction of blacks into power politics was attempted through the development of a black middle class and the offer of increased local political authority to blacks.

This tactic might have worked a generation earlier, but by the 1960s blacks had begun to demand absolute power immediately, and gone were the days of black moderates attempting within the system to work for greater representation. The nationalist movements were now being led by highly educated and motivated men who could see the dominoes of empire falling across Africa and sensed that the fall of white Rhodesia was imminent.

An initial liberal slant evident among whites in the late 1950s and early 1960s, that saw the election to the office of Southern Rhodesian Prime Minister of notable liberal Garfield Todd, reversed itself in the mid 1960s with the formation of the ultra-right wing white Rhodesian Front political party substantively led by firebrand white nationalist Ian Douglas Smith. Smith let it be known to the Imperial Government that independence under white majority rule was his minimum negotiating position, failing which he was prepared on behalf of white Rhodesia to issue a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI).

What followed was months of acrimonious wrangling between Smith, then the Rhodesian Prime Minister, and his British counterpart, the left leaning academic Harold Wilson. In the meanwhile widespread black political unrest within the country was neutralised by the banning of both major nationalist movements – ZAPU (Zimbabwe African Peoples Union) and ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Union) – and the restriction or imprisonment of their leadership. Predictably nothing was achieved, and on November 11 1965 Smith and his cabinet did indeed declare UDI, effectively rendering Rhodesia a rebel republic subject to international sanctions coordinated by the United Nations.

Rhodesia At War

The black nationalist movements of Rhodesia where informed by this action that white Rhodesia was prepared to dig in and defend its right to exists. The usual strategy of civil unrest that had brought freedom to the rest of British Africa would not work this time. It was clear that they had a fight on their hands, and against a highly trained and motivated Rhodesian army, this would be a fight indeed.

A synopsis of the Rhodesian Bush War is available elsewhere on this site

The war initially supported a political process that white Rhodesia felt morally and materially favoured them. The war was being fought on a limited front, sanctions had done little to dent economic activity in the country and the evidence of black political lunacy in the free nations of Africa was mounting daily. White Rhodesia felt itself to the spearhead of a moral crusade supported western, Christian in the face of a creeping communist malaise across the continent, and against a spineless inability of other western nations to support it. Britain, in turn, insisted on a policy of No Independence Before Majority Rule, or NIBMAR, which became its minimum negotiating position.

Two important conferences between the British and Rhodesian Prime Ministers were held on board ship off the coast of Gibraltar. These were the HMS Fearless and the HMS Tiger. In both instances Ian Smith was in a position to report back to his white Rhodesian constituency an agreement with Britain for independence under an agreed process of movement towards majority rule, with NIBMAR being whittled down to a simple commitment of intent. Smith, however, true to his philosophy of Never in a Thousand Years, held out for more or less unconditional minority rule independence, and thus lost the opportunity.

Smith, and others within his cabinet, principally the hard-line Officer Administering the Government, Clifford Dupont, seemed genuinely to believe that British unwillingness to grant carte blanche independence to white Rhodesia was based on duplicity and double standards, and seemed to give very little thought to the wider political landscape of the late 1960s within which such a thing was manifestly impossible. There was either a shocking naiveté on the part of the current Rhodesian Government to imply to its electorate that such a thing was possible or some alternative agenda was being sought. The author is of the opinion that the truth veers towards the former, based on the well documented fact that Smith believed absolutely at this point that the average, man-in-the-street black man of Rhodesia stood firmly behind him and his resistance to violent, black extremism.

The war, in the meanwhile, continued to intensify. Alongside Rhodesia, the Portuguese were also fighting a limited insurgency in the north of Mozambique. The Liberation Front of Mozambique (FRELIMO) was gradually gaining ground, costing the Portuguese many military lives and causing increasing concern to Rhodesia at what the possibly of Portuguese defeat might mean to the military situation in Rhodesia.

The Pearce Commission and Detente

In June 1970 Harold Wilson was defeated in a general election by the leader of the conservative party Edward Heath. Heath was known to have no particular interest in the Rhodesia issue and handed responsibility for it over to his Foreign Secretary Alec Douglas-Home. Douglas-Home and Ian Smith were on excellent personal terms which boded well for a final conclusion to the festering Rhodesian issue. Indeed, by November 1971 the British Prime Minister was able to report an agreement between his and the Rhodesian governments on terms that can only be described as a giveaway. The principal stipulation was that black opinion on the matter would be tested by a royal commission of inquiry headed by former Lord of Appeal, Lord Edward Holroyd Pearce The Pearce Commission.

The black response to this was immediate. With most of the substantive nationalist leadership imprisoned or restricted, and the second tier leadership operating governments in exile from where the war was being coordinated, a bi-partisan political front was created under the leadership of Methodist Bishop Abel Muzorewa to coordinate black resistance to the proposals under the flag of the African National Council, or ANC. This campaign was highly successful and the Pearce Commission, to the inexpressible surprise and disappointment of Ian Smith, and indeed Alec Douglas-Home, returned a verdict that the terms of the 1971 agreement were not acceptable to the majority of the Rhodesian population.

From that point onwards the British stepped somewhat off the stage which allowed South African Prime Minister John Vorster to fill the vacuum as the main peace-broker over the Rhodesia issue. Vorster took a very surprising direction in this regard – surprising not least to Ian Smith and the Rhodesian Government. On behalf of South Africa he sought to reach out to the emerging plutocracies of Black Africa in the interests of building a united African commonwealth with the comparatively vast economic ballast of South Africa providing the cornerstone. This policy was to be known as Detente.

Vorster first sought to woo the relatively moderate Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, promising in exchange for his support in achieving this objective that South Africa would engineer a solution to the Rhodesian crisis. Kaunda agreed. Smith was thereafter pressured to release the detained nationalists and entertain a series of fruitless negotiations that culminated in a farcical conference held in a rail carriage on the Victoria Falls railway bridge, mid-way between Zambia and Rhodesia, where a delegation of black leader headed by Bishop Abel Muzorewa put forward a series of demands that would have been political suicide for Smith to even ponder, let alone implement. The Detente initiative achieved nothing, and died a natural death with the effect on Rhodesia now being that the most feared of the nationalist leaders were at liberty to plan a massive escalation of the war. Among these was a young and febrile Robert Mugabe.

The Portuguese Coup and an escalation of the war

April 1974 saw an event that would radically change the geopolitical map of southern Africa and would tilt Rhodesia towards a general guerrilla insurgency affecting the entire country. The right-wing fascist government of Marcelo Caetano in Lisbon was overthrown by a military coup. One of the principal motivations for this had been the ongoing and bleeding wars that Portugal was waging against nationalists in both Mozambique and Angola. The new military government promised to end these wars, which in effect meant that Lisbon had recognised the inevitability of granting independence to both Mozambique and Anglo.

To Rhodesia this event was a catastrophe. A brief glance at a map of the region will reveal instantly the effect that a hostile neighbour in the east would have had on the conduct of the war. A 600 mile front opened up within months of independence being granted to Mozambique on June 25 1975. For white Rhodesia 1976 was the turning point. War reached ever corner of the country with the result that the nation became militarised and a commitment to serve affected every able bodied man. The war ceased to be winnable and became a containment mechanism to retain internal security long enough for a political solution to be sought. Unfortunately by then the best chances of this had been squandered. Rhodesia was fighting for her life, and daily the prospects of survival seemed more and more remote.

Owen, Young, Kissinger and Geneva

The British attempted to re-enter the picture through the offices of a young and rather immature Foreign Secretary by the name of David Own. Alongside Own worked ex-US UN Ambassador under Jimmy Carter, Andrew Young. There was a certain poignant symbolism in the close cooperation between these two men, one black and one white, over the question of Rhodesia, but in reality neither fielded any particular political gravitas. The net result of their partnership was to serve as a gadfly to both Smith and Mugabe, leader of ZANU, who had both by then emerged as the main players on either side of the net. ZAPU, incidentally, was at that time led by Joshua Nkomo who was throughout overshadowed and overawed by Mugabe.

Of more importance was an initiative launched by US super-statesman Henry Kissinger. Kissinger was concerned with events in Angola. Here the presence of Cuban troops and Soviet military advisors in support of the MPLA hinted very strongly at efforts by Moscow to gain a solid foothold in the region. Fresh from a bruising defeat in Vietnam, the United States was unwilling to commit troops to the region, but sought to gain friends among black African governments with the promise of a solution to the Rhodesian crisis.

In September 1975 Smith was summoned to Pretoria by Prime Minister Vorster to meet with Kissinger. It must be emphasised here that with the collapse of Portuguese rule in Mozambique Rhodesia was entirely dependent on South Africa for every aspect of her economic and military survival. At this meeting Kissinger laid out a simple road map to majority rule that gave Rhodesia two years to get its house in order before she would be cast adrift. This new process, not that different from others, culminated in the Geneva Conference of September 1976.

Geneva was attended by the Rhodesian Government and the Patriotic Front, a paper alliance of the nationalist parties led in tandem by Mugabe and Nkomo, but substantively dominated by an aggressive and highly militant Mugabe who at that stage felt that the solution lay on the battlefield.

It is worth mentioning here that Nkomo and Mugabe, heading the main anti-Rhodesia warring factions, were as dependent on Zambia and Mozambique, and indeed the Organisation of African Unity, as Rhodesia was on South Africa. The Rhodesians had been attacking both countries intensively over the months preceding and both Kenneth Kaunda and the new Mozambican President Samora Machel, demanded of their proxies that they reach a negotiated settlement.

The Geneva Conference achieved nothing. All parties involved returned home for the Christmas period 1976/7 after which the conference did not reconvene.

Internal Settlement and Zimbabwe/Rhodesia

In the aftermath of the Geneva Conference Smith sought an alternative strategy. He identified what he deemed to me moderate black leaders – Bishop Abel Muzorewa, Rev. Ndabaningi Sithole, leader of a smaller faction of ZANU, and James Chikerema, ex-vice chairman of ZAPU and something of a political no-hoper – and attempted to forge an internal settlement that excluded the two firebrand leaders of ZANU and ZAPU, Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo. This process played out against an increasingly ferocious prosecution of the war and a gathering pace of white emigration from Rhodesia. It was something of a desperate strategy, but it did result in a rather cumbersome interim structure known as Zimbabwe/Rhodesia that paraded Abel Muzorewa as the first black Prime Minister of Rhodesia, but it did nothing to either end the war or gain for the country the international recognition it so badly needed.

Perhaps the most important achievement of the internal settlement was that it removed Ian Smith from the office of Prime Minister, which, in of itself, at that particular juncture, was a positive fact.

Margaret Thatcher and Lancaster House

White Rhodesia detected a thin ray of light on a dark horizon when in May 1979 when British Labour leader James Callaghan was defeated at the polls by Conservative candidate Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher let it be known that she was inclined to accept the internal agreement brokered by Ian Smith, and might perhaps have done so had she not come under immediate and concentrated pressure from the Afro/Asian block to reverse her position on the matter.

Her first substantive comments were made on the matter at her first Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, to be held in Lusaka in August 1979. There the popular expectation was that she would do battle with the world in support of Rhodesia, but instead she assured her audience that Britain had every intention of recognising Rhodesian independence, but not under the current Constitution, and not within the terms of the internal settlement as it stood. The power that the white minority enjoyed to block any undesirable amendment to the Constitution, was disproportionate to their demographic representation. This rendered the internal settlement defective in the view of the British Government.

So it was. The last straw that white Rhodesia had grasped to save itself from extinction came away in its hands. Thatcher was urged by other Commonwealth leader to convene a conference where the internal settlement could be reworked. This was agreed to, and in the absence of Ian Smith, Bishop Abel Muzorewa was fairly easily persuaded to comply. The two nationalist leaders, Mugabe and Nkomo, were also ordered to Lancaster House in London where the conference was held with orders to find a solution to the crisis or face the removal of substantive support for their guerrilla bases and their supply of money and arms. Thus the stage was set for a final denouement.

The conference opened in London on 10 September 1979 against a backdrop of blistering military action mounted against Mozambique and Zambia. This reinforced the point that neither country could much longer sustain the kind of punishment they were receiving at the hands of a still deadly Rhodesian army. The Lancaster House Agreement, when it was reached, was a patchwork solution brokered by the brilliant British Foreign Secretary Lord Peter Carrington to achieve a result no matter what the long term ramifications might be. A British Governor was despatched to Salisbury to establish constitutional legality, a ceasefire was put in effect and the warring parties separated and confined either to barracks or to pre-positioned Assembly Points. Thereafter an election was scheduled and all parties set about campaigning.

Needless to say dirty tricks were widespread and general. Massive intimidation was recorded in the rural areas by both guerrilla groups in favour of their political candidates – Mugabe and Nkomo – while rouge elements of the Rhodesian army stages a number of attacks and assassination attempts against Mugabe. Muzorewa very quickly sank beneath the surface never to reappear. The election result returned Mugabe and his ZANU party as the outright winners, and a somewhat overawed and humbled revolutionary became the first substantive black Prime Minister of Zimbabwe. The armed forces of Rhodesia disintegrated and dispersed and for all inents and purposes Rhodesia ceased to exist.


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        Rhodesian War Games

        An extremely interesting book by Peter Baxter with some very interesting new information and photographs. Ideal for the war gamers wishing to find out more about this war.

        The Rhodesian African Rifles.

        Yes an old colonial regiment which served with pride in two world wars and in Malaya during the Emergency. It is an interesting fact that the RAR asked to form 8 battalions in 1966 which would have made a great difference to the conduct of the war and the economy of the country, as there would have not been the need to call up excessive numbers of Europeans. This would have curtailed the drain on man power as men left the country due to the call up. It was the Government and certain high ranking officers who did not trust having more African battalions.

        The officers in the RAR wanted equal pay for serving African soldiers and wanted to start introducing African officers into the battalion. Yet again it was the Government and certain high ranking officers with no experience of the RAR who were against this.

        An interesting fact is that Lt Col Kim Rule asked for his sword to be presented to the first African to be commissioned in the RAR. In 1977 his widow Mrs Rule presented his sword to Lt N.M. Tumbare.

        It is a fact that the RAR has an enviable record in Fireforce operations and parachuting, which is recognized in the history of military parachuting and airborne operations.

        The permanent Fireforces were drawn from the ranks of the white regular soldiers of the Rhodesian Light Infantry, who achieved the highest kill rate with relatively small loss to themselves, the black professional soldiers of the Rhodesian African Rifles who also achieved enviable results and, in 1978, the national servicemen of the independent companies. There were occasions when territorials and reservists provided men for Fireforce. (Counter Strike from the Sky, J.R.T. Wood, p117.)

        Even though small packets of helicopters had been used to deploy the RLI and RAR and other units in COIN operations, 1974 was to see the first dedicated Fireforce manned by RLI. For a period I believe there were four standing Fireforces, two manned by the RLI, one by 1RAR and another manned by 2RAR, but in 1979 it expanded to 6 Fireforces and a number of Jumbo Fireforces (A Jumbo Fireforce comprised the air assets for two Fireforces), one of which was deployed manned by the whole of 1RAR in the Wankie area. In late 1979, in the south of Matabeleland, South African, Parabats under Rhodesian command, served clandestinely in the role, using South African aircraft.

        On 21 October 1977, B Company (Chenjera, ‘Beware’) 1 RAR was proud to have the first para-trained troops in the regiment. (Masodja, Alex Binda, ).

        In time every company in 1RAR and 2RAR would have enough paratroopers to provide each deploying company with paratroopers as they rotated Fireforce duties with ground coverage deployments. To this day the British Parachute Regiment knows of the achievements of the RAR in the history of military airborne operations.

        By 1977 the amount of whites of call up age, were leaving in great numbers and thus denuding the Rhodesia Regiment of fresh recruits.

        In 1977 the idea of mixing white territorial battalions of the Rhodesia Regiment with trained African soldiers of the RAR was formulated. This was very successful in the white national service independent companies. On passing out from depot, the Rhodesian Regiment, after basic training, white conscripts usually completed their 18 month service with an independent company of the Rhodesia Regiment: such as 1 (Indep) Company RR at Wankie, 2 (Indep) Company RR at Kariba, 3 (Indep) Company RR at Inyanga etc. These companies now became multiracial RAR independent companies with the white conscripts re-badged RAR and serving alongside the regular black soldiers of the RAR. By 1978, there were six such independent RAR companies. More were to follow including the RR territorial battalions receiving more RAR badged AS.

        Even though the RAR is only credited with two large external operations into Zambia against ZIPRA bases at Kavalmanja and Kabanga Mission the two battalions did carry out a continuous series of smaller external missions by companies and smaller units on foot, which are recorded in the books Masodja and The War Diaries of Andre Dennison. One must remember that air assets tended to be hogged by 1SAS, RLI and to some extent the Selous Scouts. One external operation not recorded at the end of the war, practically the whole of 1RAR actually marched into Zambia to take out a ZIPRA battalion base camp. The cease fire came into being so 1RAR had to be withdrawn by helicopter.

        It should be also remembered that there were a very large number of ex RAR men European and mainly Africans serving in the Selous Scouts , and probably provided more men than any other regiment in the Rhodesian Army.

        RAR loyalty and recruitment.

        As far is recruiting, the RAR was over whelmed with Africans wishing to join the battalion and even right up to the end of the war. On a normal recruiting day were only 150 – 200 recruits were needed for each new intake and even in 1979 as RAR geared up to expand to 8 battalions, at least 600 candidates would turn up for selection. There was never any need to conscript Africans for the Rhodesian Army.

        There was never an incident of disloyalty within the ranks of the RAR and the RAR can be justifiably proud of this record.


        Watch the video: VOENRUK - Скауты Селуса. Selous Scouts. Война в Южной Родезии. Rhodesian Bush War. (January 2022).