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Rhodesian African Rifles
Cap badge of Rhodesian African Rifles
Active 1916 – December 31, 1981
Country Rhodesia, Zimbabwe from 1980[note 1]
Allegiance  United Kingdom (1916–65)
 Rhodesia (1965–70)
 Republic of Rhodesia (1970–79)
 Zimbabwe Rhodesia (1979)
 United Kingdom (1979–80)
 Zimbabwe (1980–81)
Branch File:Rhodesian Army flag late 1970s.png Regular Army
Type Infantry
Colors Green & Black         
Mascot(s) "Private N'duna" the goat
Engagements World War II
Suez Crisis
Malayan Emergency
Northern Rhodesia
Congo Border
Rhodesian Bush War
Ceremonial chief Her Majesty the Queen

The Rhodesian African Rifles, or RAR, was the oldest regiment in the Rhodesian Army, dating from the formation of the 1st Rhodesian Native Regiment in 1916 during the First World War. This was followed by the creation of the Matabeleland Native Regiment, and the 2nd Rhodesian Native Regiment, formed in 1917. In 1918, the Rhodesia Native Regiment was formed by combining the 1st and 2nd Regiments.

Second World War

The regiment was raised again in 1940 during the Second World War and staffed with black non-commissioned officers (NCOs) from the British South Africa Police Askari Unit. This was considered as the direct successor of the Rhodesia Native Regiment, which was confirmed in 1962, and the RAR inherited all of that Regiment's battle honours. Until the late 1970s, the RAR had exclusively black recruits and NCOs and exclusively white officers.[5]

During the Second World War, the RAR established its first training depot at Borrowdale Camp, Salisbury in 1941. The RAR shipped out to Burma in 1944, to serve with King's African Rifles battalions in 22 (East African) Independent Brigade.[5] The unit saw action in April 1945, and earned the battle honours 'Taungup', 'Arakan Beaches', and 'Burma'. The regiment went back to Rhodesia in 1946, where its depot was closed, and the unit effectively disbanded.


Two soldiers of the Rhodesian African Rifles aboard a patrol boat on Lake Kariba, December 1976.

A skeleton unit was however retained. By 1949, A, B and C companies were operational as demo companies. In 1951, B Company became support company. The regiment saw service in Suez in 1952, and in 1953 it was presented with the Queen's Colour and Regimental Colour by the Queen Mother. In 1954 a new depot was opened for the regiment at Llewellin Barracks in Bulawayo. The Depot was situated near the HQ 1st Bn R.A.R, which had always been at Heany/Methuen Barracks near Llewellin Barracks. During the Malayan Emergency, the regiment served as part of the Army of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in Malaya from 1956 to 1958. While in Malaya, the unit was known as the RhAR to distinguish it from the Royal Australian Regiment.

After the Malayan Emergency, the RAR was deployed to Nyasaland (now Malawi) in 1959. Later deployments included Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), the Congo Border, and within Rhodesia in 1966.

Its first contact in the Rhodesian Bush War came in the Zambezi Valley in September 1966. The RAR was responsible for over 400 guerrilla casualties from 1966–1973.

A second battalion was raised in 1973; in 1976 this battalion was based at the former boarding school of St. Stephen's College, Balla Balla[note 2] which had closed in 1975. This new barracks in Balla Balla was named Shaw Barracks, after the late Maj-Genl J. Shaw. A JOC HQ was formed at Fort Victoria (now Masvingo) followed by 3 RAR (HQ at Umtali, now Mutare) in 1977 – formed from three of the Independent RAR companies. Para-training was introduced in 1978 and the RAR were actively involved in "fireforce" missions, where they gained a reputation of jumping from minimum heights. The unit was not deployed outside Rhodesia during the war, but it established a considerable tally on internal operations.

In 1979, black officers first began to serve in the unit.[5]

The 4th Bn (Holding Unit) RAR was formed when the Selous Scouts disbanded on 17 April 1980. It existed in name only and continued until 30 September 1980 before becoming 1st Zimbabwe Parachute Battalion.

After Zimbabwe's internationally-recognised independence on 18 April 1980, the Rhodesian African Rifles Battalions were integrated into the 1st, 3rd and 4th Brigades of the Zimbabwe National Army but were not immediately integrated with ZIPRA or ZANLA cadres; in fact, in 1981 RAR and recalled elements of other Rhodesian units were used to suppress fighting in integrated battalions of the Zimbabwe National Army.


As in most Rhodesian Army units, the standard weapon was the FN FAL in calibre 7.62mm, or the identical South African R1. The MAG-58 light machine gun was carried as a section weapon, with heavier support provided by 81mm mortars. The West German G3 rifle was used in increasing numbers toward the end of the war. Regulation-issued weapons were often supplemented by local products, captured weapons and a variety of personal sidearms.[6]

See also

Notes and references

  1. The name of the country equivalent to modern Zimbabwe changed numerous times during the history of the Rhodesian African Rifles. The government of the self-governing British Colony of Southern Rhodesia announced on 7 October 1964 that when Northern Rhodesia achieved independence, and changed its name to Zambia, it would drop the designation "Southern" and become simply "Rhodesia". On 23 October the Minister of Internal Affairs confirmed that the constitution would be altered appropriately, and on 9 December the "Interpretation Bill" received its third reading in the Legislative Assembly. However, when the Bill then passed to the colonial Southern Rhodesia, Sir Humphrey Gibbs, no assent was granted: as the measures naming the colony were British, not Southern Rhodesian, it was beyond the powers of the colonial government to amend them. The Rhodesian government did not press the issue, having already been using the shortened name without consequence since October 1964.[1] The government issued the Unilateral Declaration of Independence as Rhodesia and used that name until becoming Zimbabwe Rhodesia on 1 June 1979.[2] The British government continued to use Southern Rhodesia, under its constitutional theory the official name, throughout this time. When the country came under British control on 12 December 1979 it was as the "British Dependency of Southern Rhodesia".[3] The name "Zimbabwe" was finally adopted on internationally-recognised independence at midnight between 17 and 18 April 1980.[4]
  2. Balla Balla was renamed Mbalabala in 1982, two years after Rhodesia became the internationally-recognised Republic of Zimbabwe. The village is in Matabeleland, about 41 miles (66 km) south-east of Bulawayo.
  • Abbott, Peter; Botham, Philip (June 1986). Modern African Wars: Rhodesia, 1965–80. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-0-85045-728-5. 
  • Maclaren, I. P., ed (1982). More Rhodesian Senior Schools, Part Two, 1950–1982 (First ed.). Bulawayo: Books of Zimbabwe. ISBN 0-86920-260-X. 
  • Palley, Claire (1966). The Constitutional History and Law of Southern Rhodesia 1888–1965, With Special Reference to Imperial Control (First ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press. ASIN B0000CMYXJ. 
  • Rasmussen, Kent; Rubert, Steven C. (2001) [1990]. A Historical Dictionary of Zimbabwe (Third ed.). Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0-8108-3471-2. 
  • Smith, Ian (June 1997). The Great Betrayal: The Memoirs of Ian Douglas Smith. London: John Blake Publishing. ISBN 1-85782-176-9. 
  • Wessels, Hannes (July 2010). P. K. van der Byl: African Statesman. Johannesburg: 30° South Publishers. ISBN 978-1-920143-49-7. 

External links

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