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Wars that have involved Rhodesians


Europeans, primarily of British descent, ruled for virtually ninety years from 1890 and served Photo of 1st Rhodesia Regiment in Bulawayo in 1914the British Empire with unwavering commitment during its wars and conflicts from 1899 to 1959 (Boer War, World War I, World War II, The Canal, Malaya, etc.). The first white settler in modern time that was attacked by nationalists was Mr Andrew Oberholzer who was stabbed repeatedly on the Melsetter Road in July 1964.

Independence was declared in 1965 as no recognition had been given to the Rhodesian administration - in contrast to other members of the Commonwealth which became autonomous.

Nationalists were mustered in Mozambique where Robert Mugabe took control of ZANU/ZANLA with backing from China and Joshua Nkomo operated in Zambia and Botswana where ZAPU/ZIPRA were supported by the Soviets. The "Bush War" continued after Ian Smith had handed control over to Bishop Abel Muzorewa (UANC) who won the first democratically held election in 1979. The UANC had rejected violence but the Zimbabwe-Rhodesia government of Prime Minister Muzorewa and President Gumede was not recognised. The British called for fresh elections and Load Soames and Prince Charles ceremoniously gave control to Robert Mugabe in 1980 who has been in power for 36 years.

This paper records the military service by the Rhodesians, but it commences with the Photo of water colour painting by Charles  bell in 1835 of ndebele warriorshistory of the original inhabitants. Before modern history, there was mass migration of indigenous people over this land. One Bantu nation overpowered another and conflicts prevailed over this land for nine hundred years. Finally, after six years of occupation in 1896, the settlers stopped the annual plunder of the Mashona tribe by the Matabele. The irony is that when the reverse occured, after the British had installed Robert Mugabe after the dismissal of Prime Minister Bishop Muzorewa, the Mashona tribe imposed retribution through the campaign they labelled "Gukurahundi" in which at least 20,000 Matabeles had been wiped out by 1984.

History of the early Bantu and the Portuguese traders

The Sans presumably became victims to the surge of Bantu migration that started when Paintings on rock recall events at the timethose of superior physique and fighting skills began to spill from the Congo basin in the heart of Africa and spread southwards. There were several waves of migration, each clashing with earlier migrants and spreading in one direction and then another. This turmoil endured from before the tenth to the end of the nineteenth century.

Portuguese explorers and traders were active in Rhodesia between the 17th and midway through the 19th centuries. They built several forts - some were subsequently located and documented in the 1960s before decimation was complete in recent time. One is next to old prospecting grounds on the Angwa River close to the Salisbury to Chirundu road, 180 kilometres north of Salisbury. Others were near Shabani and Portuguese map of Rhodesia in 1889Fort Victoria, and a fourth was near Bulawayo - this was Ivory sculpture made in seventeenth century by Portuguese settler of sculpture at Seville Cathedral and it was unearthed at Chakariwatched closely by Lobengula and it protected gold-seekers and traders who travelled from Tete and Sofala. The fortress of St Francis Zavier across the Zambezi on the Kafue River was the most substantial built by the Portuguese. Identical earthworks have been found in Mtoko and Hartley which were probably associated with trading. The Portuguese found the peaceful, pastoral Kalanga (Karanga) and called the chief by the name Monomatapa. Gold was the source of wealth and the Portuguese assigned a coat of arms to Monomatapa but became disinterested when the alluvial supplies were depleted. The Kalanga were overpowered by the Nyais. An ivory sculpture of the "Immaculate Conception" by a Portuguese settler, most probably Goanese, and a copy of the statue from Seville Cathedral, was unearthed at Chakari. Remnants were found where a Portuguese trader had lived in the region called Maramuca. This carving was probably looted during the invasion in 1690 but remained buried for 270 years.

The Nyais swung through to Mozambique under their leader, Chingimira, who established the Barozwe Empire. Their presence discouraged the Portuguese from reverting inland for a long period.

When British explorers and missionaries reached Rhodesia there was a Photograph by Dave Cross of great enclosure of Zimbabwe Ruins large number of distinct ethnic clans loosely linked by blood and language. They acknowledged no paramount chief and constitute the Mashona of today.

Meanwhile, to the south in South Africa, between the Drakensberg and the coast, the Nguni had become the strongest tribe and they encompassed many clans. Zwongendaba, a chief, left the Nandwe clan with his supporters and travelled north. He decimated the Barozwe in Mozambique, skinning their last chief alive, and then settled at Lake Nyasa where his people became known as the Angoni. Another Nguni clan in South Africa was the Mtetwa. Shaka was son of one of the chiefs and he transformed it into an invincible force by discarding sandals and introducing the stabbing assegai. His people became known as the Photo of Salve Pits reanmed as Pit Structures where slaves were held until shipped from MocambiqueZulus and he ruled ruthlessly. Mzilikazi, chief of the Khumalo clan defected north when he incurred the wrath of Shaka by asking if he could keep the cattle that he had captured instead of customarily handing them over to his monarch. He fled to save his life and established the Matabele (Mthwakazi) nation of 20,000 in Bulawayo after invading the surviving Kalanga of that area as the tsetse fly had prevented him from passing through the Zambezi Valley to the north. A son, Lobengula took over as ruler in 1856 after Mzilikazi had died. He had 15,000 warriors in 40 regiments. After crops had been harvested each year, the Matabele warriors raided neighbouring clans, taking their women and cattle, after killing the elderly and the men.

British South Africa Company's Police

The first Rhodesian force was created on 29 October, 1889. Queen Victoria authorised the British South Africa Company to raise a police force for the territories that were to come Photo of officres of the Pioneer Corpsunder its control beyond South Africa, north of the Limpopo River. The initial "British South Africa Company’s Police" which accompanied the pioneer column numbered 500 of which 100 came from the Bechuanaland Border Police and formed the core. Command was entrusted to Lieut Colonel Edward Graham Pennefather, an officer of the 6th Dragoons. Frank Johnson, a 24 year old prospector, had to select the 180 pioneers from doctors, lawyers, stockbrokers as well as miners and farmers, butchers and builders. Rhodes had deliberately excluded military men from the core of those who would create the new settlement.

Matabele warriors observed and visited the column on a few occasions. The most aggressive confrontations were resolved by the handing over of some oxen and then another situation was defused by giving a goat, but there were no attacks. The first Banyai encountered in the south were withdrawn as they were still recovering from the losses from a raid by the Matabele a few months previously. Killing the old women and men, and taking the young and cattle was called "collecting Taxes". Most Mashona villages on the Highveld near the final destination had been destroyed. The only ones to escape the Matabele tax collectors were protecting themselves within rocky enclosures that they had built on virtually inaccessible hills.

The British flag was raised in Cecil Square by Lieutenant E.C. Tyndale-Biscoe in Salisbury on 12th September 1890 and the laager and camp was established where Gordon Avenue crosses First Street in the modern city. A couple of years after the occupation of Mashonaland, the number of men in the force had decreased and volunteer forces took over. The Matabele warriors continued to plunder the Mashona villages in their path during the annual raids. The ensuing disruption to mining and farming activities precipitated the outbreak of the Matabele War in 1893. The total number of volunteers for police service rose to about 1,000 men in the Salisbury Horse, Victoria Rangers and Raaf's Rangers. The vast numbers of the Matabele were no match to firepower from the settlers and that campaign was concluded. In December 1893 the volunteer regiments were disbanded and were replaced by mounted police.Painting of the last stand of Major Allan Wilson by Allan Stewart

Dr Leander Starr Jameson took 600 police from Mashonaland Mounted Police on the futile raid into the Transvaal state of South Africa in December 1895 in an attempt to help the English who were rebelling against the Boer government. The failure of the Jameson Raid, and capture of Jameson and his men, left the new colony effectively undefended.

In March, 1896, the Matabele seized their chance and struck. Many, though by no means all, of the Mashona communities joined in the attacks. The rebels enjoyed an enormous numerical superiority over their opponents as many possessed firearms and some were modern rifles. About one-tenth of the settler population was lost, mainly around the mines, together with a large number of domestic servants that had been introduced from the Cape Colony. Martial law was declared on June 20 as the attacks spread. The most dramatic rescue was the Mazoe Patrol when a group of 33 survivors from earlier attacks fought their way to Salisbury but 8 were killed with many of the horses. A Victoria Cross was awarded. Fighting continued across the country until laagers were built for the protection of settlers. Native crops and cattle were confiscated and marauding gangs were Photo of officer from the Salisbury Laager 1896harassed. After a brisk military campaign, the rebels in the Matopos were defeated, but although it was clear they would not risk any open battles, nevertheless thousands of armed warriors were dispersed among the hills in a position to carry on prolonged guerrilla warfare. Rumours reached the punitive forces that the rebels were weary of fighting, but these were not confirmed until a dramatic incident in which Rhodes himself was involved.
When riding in the hills he came upon an ancient crone, one of Mzilikazi’s wives, and he insisted that she be brought to his camp where he treated her well. He gave her two flags, one white and one red, and told her to go back to her kraal. He believed the indunas would visit her, knowing she had been captured by Rhodes. He told her that if the Matabele wanted peace, they should fly the white flag at her kraal, if they wished the fighting to continue, the red banner should be displayed. They were given three days to decide.
On the third day, a scout saw the white flag flying from the village. As a result of this, the first – and the famous – indaba was held. On August 21st, 1896, Rhodes, accompanied by Mr. Colenbrander, Dr. Sauer, Mr. Stent and two Africans, John Grootboom and John Makunga, rode unarmed to the native stronghold, since the Matabele would not risk leaving it. There discussions between a large number of indunas and the small white party lasted four hours, and were watched by hordes of Matabele who thronged the kopjes around the natural amphitheatre where the negotiations took place. The Matabele grievances were discussed, and they were told that if they gave up their arms they might live in peace and begin to sow their fields in safety. But nothing was really decided and it was arranged that there should be a second indaba between Mr. Rhodes and a hundred representative indunas at Ushers Kop. As there was no ruling power among the Matabele at the time, it was necessary to give their various leaders time to talk things over among themselves.
On August 28th Rhodes and his party rode to the agreed meeting place to find, instead of one hundred unarmed chiefs, a whole Matabele army drawn up. Rhodes sprang down from his horse and walked into the warriors, berating them for not keeping their word. Such was his courage and the force of his personality that the warriors laid down their arms, and the indunas came forward to talk with him under a tree.
It now seemed certain that peace would come but yet a third meeting was held, and this time Rhodes was accompanied by the Queens Representative, Colonel Sir Richard Martin, and Lord Grey, the Administrator, when a formal proclamation was read.
There followed another whole series of informal talks between Rhodes and individual indunas until peace was finally ratified on October 13th. Long and tedious though the negotiations had been, Rhodes never lost his patience nor regretted the time and nervous effort they cost him when already a sick man. He described them as one of the few things in his life that had made it worth living.

The Mashonas persisted with their disturbances for a while as there was no leader to involve in negotiations but peace eventually prevailed in 1897.

The authorities entrusted internal defence to the “British South Africa Police”. From its inception the mounted officers were relatively well-paid, versatile and highly disciplined with the precision of a Guards regiment. The corps remained small, numbering only 750 Europeans and 400 African auxiliaries at the turn of the century. The country's European population totalled about 11,000. The African population exceeded 500,000. The police therefore, had to rely on a high standard of training and on winning the confidence of the nation. Constant patrolling on horse and mule enforced respect for law and order.

The Anglo-Boer War

In July 1899 Colonel Baden-Powell was commissioned by the British to raise two regiments in anticipation of war breaking out in South Africa. He had been involved with the Matabele Rebellion previously and learnt his bush craft in the Matopos and put this to use when he subsequently started the Boys Scout movement.

Recruiting for the Rhodesia Regiment commenced in August. Lieut Col. Plumer was in Photo of the SRV forces departing Salisbury for the Boer Warcommand and the regiment was posted to Tuli near the South African border where 100 members of the BSAP were stationed and they joined the force of 420. The third Rhodesian unit to participate were members of the Southern Rhodesian Volunteers (SRV). The combined force under Colonel Plumer was to watch the Transvaal border and endeavour to keep the Bulawayo to Mafeking railway line open. The Bechuanaland Regiment under Colonel Hore accompanied Baden-Powell to Mafeking near the South Africa-Bechuanaland border in September. Defenders in Mafeking totalled 1,200.

The Boers that engaged Plumer from October 1899 numbered 1,700. There were frequent battles with constant losses from the regiment of officers and men. By 31st March 1900, Plumer had reached within 10 km of Mafeking but couldn’t break the blockade of 7,000. The British mounted troop lost heavily and Plumer was wounded. An additional 100 BSAP Map of Rhodesiajoined on 1st May. Two weeks later a battery arrived from Canada together with more than 100 Queensland Mounted Infantry from Australia. On 17th May, the Boers were driven from the confines of Mafeking and the siege was over.

The bulk of the Rhodesian Regiment continued to serve with Plumer and was boosted with more Australians. Hore had 100 Australian NSW bushmen, 80 RR and 80 SRV. A squadron of 140 troops from the 3rd Queensland Mounted Infantry joined the garrison under Hore near Eland’s River but there were 2,000 Boers in the vicinity. The garrison had one 7 pounder and two Maxim guns whilst the Boers had nine modern guns. On 4th June no less than 1,500 shells landed within the garrison and the onslaught lasted over several days. The garrison withstood the barrages with only light casualties as they were well entrenched but most of the livestock was decimated.

Thereafter the Rhodesian Regiment was engaged in the area around Rustenberg and suffered severely on 21st August 1900 during one engagement. Lieut-Col Spreckley, commander of SRV, was killed with four of his men but 100 British prisoners that had been captured previously were freed and Chart of population of Whites in Rhodesia from 1890 to 200225 Boers were captured. The contract for service from the Rhodesian units concluded in September 1900 so they withdrew over the next few months and the Rhodesia Regiment was disbanded.

The void from the departure of the Rhodesians had been more than met by Australians. More than 17,000 were deployed between 1899 and 1902 and this was the largest contingent from the Commonwealth. A total of 606 were lost - 286 from disease and 282 in action or from wounds and the remainder were missing.

A total of 1,700 Rhodesians had volunteered for the Boer War (15% of the settler population). There were 967 on the Rhodesia Regiment nominal role, 600 served from SRV and the remainder came from the BSAP.

Rhodesians in World War I

When the Great War broke out, Rhodesians were among the first to volunteer for service, and many proceeded to Europe at their own expense to enlist. The Rhodesia Regiment was revived and one platoon served in 2nd King’s Royal Rifle Corps. Many who volunteered were not accepted due to their vital administrative roles or for being unfit. 

20 officers and 466 men with 1st Rhodesia Regiment saw service under General Botha. The Rhodesian infantry in the Northern Force were engaged from Walvis Bay in January 1915. Photo of German artillery being positioned in German East Africa in WWIGerman artillery pounded the Royal Navy armoured cars and their infantry had launched endless infantry assaults. The Germans surrendered in July when the column had reached Windhoek.

2nd Rhodesia Regiment served in German East Africa (Tanzania) against General von Lettow. They were deployed to the Kilimanjaro area as part of the 1st East African Brigade. The small force of Germans with mostly native Askaris proved a formidable foe. Malaria and other tropical diseases proved even more devastating and much of the Rhodesian strength was lost at Tavete and in the jungle country along the Rufuji and Pangani Rivers. Despite reinforcements from the first battalion, they could only muster 50 men by January 1917 so returned home to Salisbury and the regiment was disbanded.

Rhodesian volunteers then served with other British and South African Armies. 73 had joined the Kings Royal Rifle Corps and this grew until there were sufficient to form two Rhodesian platoons.

Volunteers from Rhodesia and the South African province of Transvaal made up the 3rd Painting of Battle of Delville Wood on Western FrontRegiment of the total of four regiments in the 1st South African Infantry Brigade. The brigade assembled for training at Bordon, England in November 1915 after staggered sailings from Cape Town. The brigade was dispatched to Egypt in December 1915 and 3rd Regiment was engaged in the Battle of Agagia on 26 February 1916 and after a successful campaign which took place over a few months they were moved with the brigade to France.

On 30th June, 1916, only 10 of the 90 Rhodesians that were deployed in the "big push" on the Somme had survived by daybreak.

The 3rd Regiment was the first to lead the attack into Delville Wood on 15th July 1916 in the ongoing action in the Somme. Heavy fighting ensued and German guns bombarded from three sides as they had been ordered to enter before the perimeter had been cleared. Orders from British were to hold the wood “at all cost” despite holding no strategic value Looking for casualties after Battle for Delville Woodand it became a death trap. On the fourth day a bombardment of unprecedented fury was unleashed. Wounded filled the trenches and they could not be removed as all the stretcher bearers in 3rd Regiment were casualties. The 73rd Division relieved the 1st Brigade late on 20th July. Thackery, commander of 3rd Regiment withdrew from the wood with two wounded officers and the 140 men that could still stand. 190 had been captured or were missing and their total casualties were 771. Casualties for the brigade were recorded to be 2,815 — made up of 502 killed, 1,735 wounded, and 578 missing. Only 29 officers and 751 other ranks were present at roll call when the unit was gathered some days after the battle. Sadly, the contribution from most of the Rhodesians in the Western Front had ended by 19th July 1916.

However, a platoon of 70 Rhodesians serving in 3rd Battalion, King's Royal Rifle Corp had been transferred from France to the Salonika Front in 1915. They were gradually whittled down by the Bulgarians and were down to 26 by January 1917. The platoon had been decimated by the end of the war.

The Rhodesia Native Regiment enlisted 2,507 soldiers and they provided loyal service Photo of Chateaux Wood near Ypres at Flanders after action in WWIagainst von Lertow-Vorbeck in German East Africa. 30 scouted for 1st and 2nd Rhodesia Regiments, and 350 joined the British East Africa Transport Corps, British South Africa Police Mobile Column and South African Native Labour Corps. The natives lost 31 killed in action, 142 died on service and 116 were wounded.

Proportional to the settler population, Rhodesia had contributed more personnel to the British armed forces in WWI than any other part of the Empire, including Britain. About 40% of the male settlers had put on uniform. 5,746 left Rhodesia on active service. 1,720 were commissioned officers. The roll of honour from all fronts contains the names of 732 Rhodesians who made the supreme sacrifice. The volunteers were awarded 421 British decorations among which were two VCs, 58 DSOs and 144 MCs. They also received 25 Croix de Guerre, among others, from France.

Recent research has included the numbers of Rhodesians that served with other units to these statistics and is summarised:

Descriptor Settler Native Total
Served 6,115 2,887 9,002
Population 30,000 750,000 780,000
Percentage 20.4% 0.4% 1.1%
Died/Killed 700 173 873
Percentage 11.4% 6.0% 9.7%


The Rhodesian contribution during the First World War became a major feature in the history of the colony, and a great source of pride. It played a part in the UK government's decision to grant self-government in 1923.

Rhodesians in Second World War

As early as 1934, there was concern about the German presence in Tanganyika (which became Tanzania) and the Italians in Ethiopa. A few years later it was resolved by the Photograph of 237 Squadron in front of Spitfire in August 1944Imperial Inspector General of Colonial Forces that leaders should be trained in Rhodesia for Rhodesian troops and for certain native reserve battalions in other countries within British-ruled Africa. This was in recognition of the high proportion of Rhodesian settlers that had gained commissions during the First World War. The decision was also made to limit the size of each Rhodesian unit to platoon size, to avoid the catastrophic effect back in the colony if they were wiped out in one action.

Dispite the ineptitude of the British command in the Somme in WWI, at the outbreak of the war there was no lack of volunteers as the next generation of Rhodesians stepped up. The main problem for the authorities was not so much in getting soldiers, but in persuading men in key occupations to stay at home. By May, 1940, some 1,600 settlers had already gone abroad and enlisted with various British and Commonwealth Forces. In addition, out of a population of 66.000, some 2,000 men were being trained in the colony, 457 women were at work with Photo of Rhodesain African Rifles marching ythrough Salisbury township on 11th November 1941auxiliary military services, 462 officers, 652 non-commissioned officers and 882 ''other ranks" were in action or waiting for battle abroad.

The colony supplied white officers and sergeants for units in other parts of Africa before drawing on her own indigenous manpower. Then, a new African battalion, 1st Battalion, Rhodesian African Rifles was formed in Rhodesia under Major F J Wane who was called back from retirement. They camped in Borrowdale, Salisbury while barracks were built. In November 1943 the battalion was sent to Nairobi and 63 Europeans accompanied 860 Africans. Training in the forests of Mount Meru preceded their arrival at Colombo, Ceylon in September. On 10th December 1944 they docked at Chittagong, India, to join the third and final Arakan Campaign in Burma. The Rhodesian African Rifles had some fierce encounters with the battle-experienced Japanese in the jungle along the Taungup-Prome Road where they initially lost 32 men and 72 were wounded. The Japanese respected the fighting askari - according to a captured Lancaster bomber of No 44 Rhodesia Squadron in World War IIJapanese officer’s diary “The enemy soldiers are not from Britain, but are from Africa. Because of their beliefs they are not afraid to die, so, even if their comrades have fallen, they keep on advancing as if nothing had happened. They have excellent physique and are very brave, so fighting against these soldiers is somewhat troublesome”. Mopping up continued, but confrontations were less intense. The local Burmese villagers would flee when the Africans approached and it was explained that the Japanese had warned them that the Africans were cannibals. This revelation explained why they had found few Japanese casualties or bodies after successful engagements. By 6th July, the Japanese captures were emaciated by hunger, malnutrition and disease. On 15th August 1945 the Japanese had surrendered but it took until 12th September that all units in the field were aware that hostilities were over. The Battalion was retained in Burma and Photo of Rhodesian mortar team in North Africa in 1942repaired a 160 km stretch of the Mawchi Road and performed POW guard duties. They moved to Rangoon in March 1946 and returned to Salisbury on May 10. The following day the 1st Battalion marched proudly through Salisbury. The battalion lost 27 killed in action, 5 died of wounds, 72 wounded and 64 died on service.

The disappointing numbers of volunteers in South Africa did not enable sufficient infantry divisions to be formed and the situation had been aggravated by the capture of 10,772 men from 2nd Infantry Division in Tobruk on 23rd October 1940. The Rhodesian Government undertook to provide a certain proportion of the manpower required when the 6th Armoured Division was formed in 1943. Two Rhodesian batteries were incorporated into 6th Armoured Division and 1,200 Rhodesians were on board s.s. Sobieski that landed at Tarantino in April 1944 after training for a year in Egypt. The 17th Rhodesian Battery 17th Rhodesian Battery artillerymen shovelling snow in Italy during World War IIwas assigned to support the Witwatersrand Rifles Regiment/Regiment de la Rey for most of the battles along the haul through the Apenines from Cassino to ultimate victory when the River Po was crossed. A definitive battle when the Gothic Line was broken at Monte Stanco had been led by the 17th Rhodesian Battery and Wits/de la Ray infantry combination. According to prisoners (which included 124 SS troops out of the 500 Germans captured) over forty percent of their losses had been inflicted by direct hits before the infantry had engaged. They had not encountered such accurate and concentrated artillery fire and as soon as the artillery fire lifted, the infantry were right on top of them. They had not encountered such precision in Russia or in any of their previous encounters in Europe. The next day a Rhodesian officer earned notoriety when the First City/Cape Town Highlanders had taken the lead infantry role. Major H Biermann wrote “A brave young man, a Rhodesian named Mollett, ran through the minefield with his FC/CTH platoon to rout the stubborn foe”. For this effort, 2nd Lieut G B Mollett was awarded the DSO.

Rhodesia was the first Commonwealth country to offer air training facilities for Britain, and Photo of South African 6th Armour Division parade through Monzafrom 1940 onwards provided all the facilities for a major component of the Commonwealth Air Training Scheme for pilots, navigators, bomb aimers and gunners. Trainees came mainly from Great Britain but also from Australia, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, USA, Yugoslavia, Greece, France, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika, Fiji and Malta. Over 7,600 pilots and 2,300 navigators were trained by RATG during the war. This service was also provided in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa.

In August 1939, a fully equipped squadron (No. 1 Squadron, Southern Rhodesia Air Force) left for Kenya. They were engaged against the Italians in Kenya, Sudan and Eritrea. The unit became named as 237 (Rhodesia) Squadron, Royal Air Force and played a distinguished role in North Africa, the Mediterranean, Southern France and ltaly. Rhodesians also joined 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron, a bomber formation stationed in England and which was the first to entirely change to Lancaster bombers. 266 (Rhodesia) Squadron, a fighter unit, became the first R.A.F. formation to re-equip from Spitfires to Typhoons Photo of Southern Rhodesian Air Force Spitfire Mk22 serial PK350which had to be nursed operationally through difficult teething troubles. The strain proved heavy as many Rhodesian airmen lost their lives and manpower dwindled away. By 1942 the colony was having difficulty in maintaining the Rhodesian character of these units. The Rhodesian pilots had proportionally earned the highest number of decorations and ace appellations in the Empire. This resulted in the Royal Family paying an unusual state visit to the colony at the end of the war to convey their thanks to the Rhodesians.

During the Second World War, Rhodesians had won distinction in British Somaliland, Ethiopia and North Africa; 373 served in the Royal Navy and 49 in the South African Navy; others fought as artillerymen, as riflemen, and in armoured cars; they raided enemy communications in the desert; they worked as technicians, surveyors, doctors and in other Royal salute during visit to Salisbury in 1947specialized capacities. The Rhodesian settler proved himself to be an excellent and adaptable fighting man. The colony also made full use of its leader potential, and Rhodesians successfully trained and led black soldiers from west, central and east Africa, the settlers showing considerable capacity in winning the confidence of their men.
The war placed a tremendous strain on European manpower resources; but more than 15 per cent. of the white population was mobilized but many were prohibited from volunteering so that essential servcies could be maintained. 2,665 earned commissions, 709 received decorations but 693 lost their lives. 498 Rhodesians were killed in the Air Force out of the 2,409 that served (21%). In all 6,520 men had left the colony with the settlers proving that they could mobilize a very large proportion of their population for military purposes, and yet expand their economy, which became increasingly diversified and made valuable contribution to the civilian war effort. In addition, 14,302 Africans put on khaki and 136 died or were killed on service.

The war service is summarised:

Descriptor Settler Native Total
Served 11,000 14,302 25,302
Population 66,000 1,350,000 1,416,000
Percentage 16.7% 1.1% 1.8%
Died/Killed 732 136 868
Percentage 6.7% 1.0% 3.4%

Total Rhodesian casualties were 1,176.

Post-war Rhodesian Air Force

In 1951 Rhodesia provided two fighter squadrons as an aid to the defence of the Commonwealth.

2nd Squadron Royal Rhodesian Air Force posted to Aden 1959During the post-war period, Rhodesia continued to host the Royal Air Force Training Group and the Rhodesian Government contributed towards its upkeep.

From 1958 to 1963, on nine different occasions, Rhodesian Vampire and Canberra squadrons were detached to Aden and Cyprus and, while there, were under British command.

In 1961 Rhodesian transport aircraft provided notable assistance to the Royal Air Force during the Kuwait crisis when Royal Rhodesian Air Force Canadair C4 Argonauts transported British troops in the Middle East.

Canal Zone 1952

1st Battalion Rhodesian African Rifles principally carried out guard duties in British Army operations during 1952 in the Canal Zone in the Middle East. Private Billy was killed on 2nd October 1952 and is buried at Moascar.

Malaya 1951-3 and 1956-8

Southern Rhodesia contributed two units to Malaya.

A group of 6 officers and 93 men volunteered and were initially known as "The Far East Volunteer Group". They became "C" Squadron (Malayan Scouts) of 22nd Special Air Services Regiment which included "A" and "B" Squadron of the British SAS. “C” Squadron served under Major Walls from April 1951 to March 1953. A former fireman on the railways, Cpl V E Visagie (23) stated “The jungle is like nothing that you see in the movies. Rhodesian SAS in Malaya 1953Leeches are a constant worry and it is always raining. It is a heartbreaking job trying to clamber muddy, slippery slopes with a 60 pound pack on your back. But I suppose that I am enjoying it”. He was killed in action on 23rd April 1952.

1st Battalion Rhodesian African Rifles served in Malaya from April 1956 to February 1958 under the command of Lt Col Jock. They were stationed for a brief period at Kluang and then on the Tanemera Rubber Estates in Ch'ah. They had the highest kill rate of any regiment during that time and won a number of MM's. The second in command Lieut Col. F Fitzgerald said “Our African soldiers are ideally suited to jungle warfare – far superior to the British and Ghurkha troops”. Tragically, Corporal Tavenga and Private Joseph, Hunyani, Manuel and Kjikijelwa were killed.

The Rhodesian African Rifles subsequently served in Malawi (Nyasaland) in 1959, Northern Rhodesia and on the Congo border.

National Service, Territorial Service and Regular Army.

The Southern Rhodesia Volunteers disbanded in 1927 and the Territorial Army comprised two battalions of the Rhodesia Regiment. In 1930 the BSAP numbered no more than 467 Europeans and 879 Africans and the total Territorial Active Force 544. In wartime, the country could mobilize a further 2,664 Europeans in the Territorial Force Reserve. The settler population stood at just under 50,000; the Africans numbered just over 1,000,000, so that the total armed forces in peacetime amounted to less than two per thousand of the population, instead of the accustomed ten or more per thousand in Europe.

The Rhodesian Army numbered around 3 400 regulars and 8 400 territorial troops when Independence was declared in 1965. The Air Force had about 1000 men and 100 aircraft. The manpower figures were soon to increase substantially as peacetime soldiering turned rapidly to counter-terrorist operations and then almost to outright war.

The Rhodesian Native Regiment was formed in 1916 and had a distinguished fighting record beginning in Tanganyika during the First World War and continuing, as the Rhodesian African Rfiles (RAR), in Burma during the Second World War and again in Malaya in the mid-fifties.

The Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI) was formed in 1961 as one of five battalions of the Federal Army. Whereas the RAR had black troops and NCOs under the command of white officers, the RLI was an exclusively white unit reflecting the concerns during the Belgian Congo crisis.

An armoured car squadron that was equipped with ferrets had been formed, as well as a paratroop squadron which was virtually a resuscitation of the Rhodesian C Squadron, Special Air Service (SAS) that had also operated in Malaya.

Rhodesian Bush War

The first insurgents were ZANLA members of the 'Crocodile Gang' that was led by William Ndangana but they were not issued with weapons. A ZANU Congress was attended in Badges of Rhodesian Army units around photograph of troops on ground after debussing heliicopterGwelo. The first casualty was white forester "Andrew" Oberholzer of Melsetter who was stabbed multiple times after stopping to clear rocks from a road block on 4th July 1964. Despite his injuries he was driving away in his Combi but it overturned and he died. James Dhlamini and Victor Mlambo were the only two that were caught and they were sentenced and hanged. Emmerson Mnangagwa was sentenced to 10 years in prison after sabotaging a railway locomotive near Fort Victoria in late 1964.

It took another 18 months before a new wave when a few groups entered the country near Chirundu from Zambia. The seven ZANLA in one group were killed in the first contact with a Police Anti Terrorist Unit (PATU). This has been called the 'Battle of Sinoia' on 28th April 1966 after an attempt to sabotage the powerlines from Kariba. Three weeks later, the third of the four gangs shot and killed the Viljoen parents in their farmhouse in the Gadzema district when Johannes had opened the door. The follow up was commanded by the local police but after these events the Rhodesian Security Forces became the government's primary instrument for conducting counter insurgency operations rather than the BSAP.

The RLI comprised regulars until conscripted national servicemen were introduced from 1973. National servicemen and territorial members could join the SAS after passing selection. The numbers of men in the SAS was approximately 250 when, in June 1978, "C" Squadron (Rhodesian) Special Air Service became 1 (Rhodesian) Special Air Service Regiment. The unit moved to their new barracks called Kabrit in 1979 and continued to serve with outstanding success and distinction until it was disbanded on 31 December 1980. Only regulars served in the ranks of the RAR until the independent companies were formed from national serviceman. Mounted Infantry called Greys Scouts

The Selous Scout Regiment that was formalised under Lieut Col Ron Reid Daly in November 1973 was multiracial. A physical selection course with a success rate around 25% had to be completed to gain entry. After screening, many captured CTs converted surprisingly readily to the pseudo concept and loyalties changed again on a few occasions when sleeping scouts were shot by a lone guard. The Selous Scouts with 68% of the mortalities of all CTs within Rhodesia with the loss of less than forty.

The driving force behind the proposal to use horses for better mobility, Captain 'Beaver' Fraser-Kirk, and the man who succeeded him as Commanding Officer of the Mounted Infantry Unit (MIU), Captain Tony Stephens, stressed the relevance of mounted infantry to counter-insurgency operations in rugged terrain. The MIU had succeeded in raising its first troop for trials in the Eastern Highlands in September 1975. The task of training the first volunteers for the MIU - which became known as Grey's Scouts in early 1976 - fell on Bus after hitting Zanla landminethe experienced shoulders of the equitation instructor, Sergeant Roy Elderkin. By early 1976, regular and territorial troops were in rotation in Operation Hurricane in the North-East of Rhodesia. The first contact between the modern Grey's Scouts and CTs occurred in June, 1976 in Kandeya Tribal Trust Land. The unit made its presence felt wherever deployed.

Conscripts for National Service and subsequent Territorial Service served in nine infantry battalions of the Rhodesia Regiment.

From December 1972 to December 1979, 1,361 members of the Rhodesian security forces were killed, along with 10,450 CTs who were killed in Rhodesia and the number in Angola, Mozambique and Zambia were not publicly stated. 468 white civilians, and 7,790 black civilians perished within Rhodesia.

ZANLA was estimated to have 25,500 combatants at the time of the death of their leader Josiah Tongogara in 1979.

Estimates by Steve Bennett of casualties from ZANLA between 1964 and 1980 are just below 18,000 of which 55% were within Rhodesia. ZIPRA losses are just below 5,000 of which 48% were incurred in Rhodesia. Most of the ambiguity in the literature comes from the presence of "refugees" within or nearby training camps in Mozambique that were the next wave of recruits.


The RLI held their last parade on 25 July 1980 when the troops marched past their War Memorial. The unit was disbanded on 31st October 1980. The Rhodesian Light Infantry Rhodesian Light Infantry on paradeRegimental Association maintains a Roll of Honour which lists 85 men killed in action from March 1968 to December 1979. A further 15 are listed as having died on operations and another 34 are listed as deceased from other causes from 1961 to December 1979. During the 1970s the RLI achieved kill ratios ranging from 35-to-one to 50-to-one.

The Rhodesian SAS held a simple flag-lowering ceremony.

The prime example of a unit fading away was the Selous Scouts. Most Scouts elected to disappear but some reverted to their former units. There was no parade and no public acknowledgment of their service to the country.

The Rhodesian African Rifles, comprising mainly African troops, was the only unit not to Photograph of Rhodesian African Rifles machine gunnerbe disbanded in 1980. Because of the rivalry between the two former guerrilla factions, it was fortunate for the new government that the highly-disciplined troops of the RAR remained on hand. In November full-scale fighting broke out between the former CTs near Bulawayo with over 500 casualties, and ironically it was the RAR - their former enemy - that Prime Minister R. G. Mugabe sent in to quell the fighting. In February 1981 fighting again broke out, this time involving over 10,000 ex-guerillas. The RAR, which Robert Mugabe had wanted disbanded, was again sent in to separate the former combatants serving in the national army, which they did very efficiently. By December, however, the situation in the Zimbabwe military had deteriorated and many troopers left the RAR, rendering it largely ineffective. On 31 December the order was given to integrate the remainder of the RAR with other units and the last remnants of the Rhodesian army faded away.

Despite the assistance of British teams to integrate the new army, the "Fifth Brigade" was Photo of Air Marshal Perence Phiri commander of Zimbabwe Air Force and former Commander of 5th Brigade trained by North Koreaformed after an agreement had been signed with North Korean President Kim Sung II in October 1980. Training had been completed by February 1982 and commander was Colonel Perence Shiri. The brigade was not integrated within standard army command but Shiri reported directly to the Prime Minister, his cousin. Reports have been made of mass killings by shooting or the burning of victims within huts. Road closures across the south-west of the country brought on starvation. 20,000 Matabeles are alleged to have died during Gukurahundi. Air Marshal Shiri is presently commander of the Zimbabwe Air Force and survived an assasination attempt in 2008.

President Robert Mugabe had been given Zimbabwe to rule after a political victory but he was deposed in a coup after the people had turned out in protests until they were fired upon. A record of events is recorded here.



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