Tomorrow marks the anniversary of the Rhodesian Universal Declaration of Independence (UDI). On the 11 of November 1965, Prime Minister Ian Smith announced that Rhodesia now regarded itself as an independent sovereign state (This was much against the wishes of certain governments). The United Nations deemed Rhodesia’s UDI illegal, and economic sanctions, the first in the UN’s history, were imposed on the breakaway colony. Amid near-complete international isolation, Rhodesia continued as an unrecognized state with the assistance of South Africa and Portugal.
The Rhodesian Bush War, a guerrilla conflict between the government and two rival communist-backed black nationalist groups, began as a low level insurgency in 1964. Many White Rhodesians viewed the war as one of survival in the context of atrocities committed against the white population during the Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya and in the Congo. Many whites (and a sizeable minority of Black Rhodesians) viewed their lifestyle as being under attack, which both had considered safer and with a higher standard of living than many other African countries.
Prime Minister Ian Smith was regarded by many as the embodiment of White Rhodesia. A former farmer, and WW2 fighter pilot, he was the first Prime Minister to have been born in Rhodesia. As a child he was merited for his athletic and leadership qualities, he was head school prefect, captain of the rugby and cricket teams, and the school’s top rife marksman.
When WW2 broke out, Smith abandoned his university studies and enlisted in the RAF. He joined №237 Rhodesia Squadron stationed in Egypt. In October 1943 Smith crashed his Hurricane after his throttle malfunctioned during a dawn takeoff. Suffering serious facial disfigurements, he also broke his jaw, leg and shoulder. Doctors and surgeons rebuilt Smith’s face through skin grafts and plastic surgery, and he was passed fit to fly again in March 1944. Turning down an offer to return to Rhodesia as an instructor, he rejoined №237 Squadron, which had switched to flying Spitfire Mk IXs, in Corsica in May 1944. During a strafing raid over northern Italy on 22 June 1944, Smith was hit by enemy flak and forced to bail out behind German lines. He was briefly hidden by a peasant family then recruited into a group of pro-Allied Italian partisans with whom he took part in sabotage operations against the German garrison for about three months.
The Rhodesian Security Forces
Despite the impact of economic and diplomatic sanctions, Rhodesia was able to develop and maintain a potent and professional military capability.
Bush War Units
The Selous Scouts was a special forces regiment of the Rhodesian Army. It was organized as a mixed-race unit, consisting of recruits of both African and European descent, and whose primary mission was operating deep in insurgent-controlled territory and waging war on the hostiles’ rear through irregular warfare including the use of pseudo-terrorism as a means of infiltrating the enemy.
The Selous Scouts employed asymmetric warfare against their enemy, actions that ranged from the bombing private houses of suspected enemy insurgents, abductions, Claymore mine attacks against military targets, and sabotage of bridges and railways.
The ranks of the RAR were recruited from the black African population, although officers were generally white Rhodesians. The RAR were the second-oldest regiment of the Rhodesian Army, after the Rhodesia Regiment which was raised in 1899.
The RAR fought throughout the Bush War. In the course of the conflict, the regiment grew from one to three battalions, established a regimental training depot and expanded further to incorporate the Independent Companies of the Rhodesia Regiment. Every African Soldier was a volunteer.
The Rhodesian Special Air Service was a whites only special forces unit used in external operations.
In November 1977 the SAS spearheaded Operation Dingo, a raid against the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) headquarters in Mozambique. More than 3,000 ZANLA fighters were killed and 5,000 wounded while only 1 SAS soldier, and 1 pilot were killed in the operation.
Grey’s Scouts were a Rhodesian mounted infantry unit raised in July 1975 and named after George Grey, a prominent soldier in the Second Matabele War. Initially, the unit consisted of around 200 men, but this would eventually grow to over 1,000.
Grey’s Scouts were trained as mounted infantry rather than cavalry, and were prepared for engagements on foot rather than on horseback. A tactic of rushing and fronting with their horses was implemented to significant success by Grey’s Scouts and they were noted for their skill in launching shock attacks. The number of casualties Grey’s Scouts suffered during the Rhodesian Bush War is known, and is recorded to be nine.
The Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI) became one of the country’s main counter-insurgency units during the Bush War. An all-white regiment, they had astounding success with both internal Fireforce operations in Rhodesia and external preemptive strikes against guerrillas based in Mozambique and Zambia. They became one of the world’s foremost exponents of counter-insurgency warfare.
The Rhodesian Armoured Corpsthe “Black Devils”was the only standing armoured battalion of the Rhodesian Security Forces. Patterned after its British and South African counterparts, the Rhodesian Armoured Corps was generally organised along NATO lines. There were five squadrons (companies); each squadron had four troops including attached signals, training, maintenance, and headquarters personnel.
The regiment took part in a number of static but intense battles, notably at Mount Selinda against the Mozambican Army (where a Bronze Cross was awarded to 2nd Lieutenant Rae) in 1977 and at Chirundu in October 1978, where heavy-machine gun, artillery and mortar duels took place between D Squadron and elements of the Zambian Army over a period of three days and nights near the Otto Beit Bridge. Elements of the RDR were also involved at close quarters at the bridge, while 1RR provided 81mm mortar and 106mm recoilless rifle fire support.
On 9 August 1976, Rhodesian Selous Scouts attacked a ZANLA camp at Nyadzonya in Mozambique containing over 5,000 guerrillas and several hundred refugees. The Selous Scouts, who numbered 72, dressed in FRELIMO uniforms and disguised their vehicles, attaching FRELIMO licence plates and painting them in FRELIMO colours. White soldiers wore black ski masks. They crossed the unmanned border into Mozambique at 0005 hours on 9 August and drove through the early morning to the camp, passing several FRELIMO sentries who saluted them as they went by.
When they reached the ZANLA camp at 0825 hours the six ZANLA soldiers on duty allowed them to enter, and the Rhodesian vehicles moved in and took up prearranged positions around the edge of the parade ground, on which stood about 4,000 guerrillas. When all was ready a Rhodesian soldier took his vehicle loudspeaker and announced, in Shona, “Zimbabwe tatora” translated into English, “We have taken Zimbabwe”. The cadres began cheering and ran towards the vehicles, packing around them as more ran onto the parade ground from other areas of the camp. The Rhodesians then opened fire and continued shooting until there was no movement on the parade ground, at which time they returned to Rhodesia. More than 1,000 ZANLA insurgents were reported killed by the Rhodesians, with four Selous Scouts lightly wounded. This figure is corroborated by ZANLA’s official report on the matter, though publicly both ZANLA and ZIPRA claimed that Nyadzonya had been a refugee camp.