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Rhodesian Security Forces
File:Rhodesian Army emblem (republic).png
Emblem of the Rhodesian Army. Following the declaration of a republic in 1970, the Crown was removed.
Founded 1964
Disbanded 1980
Service branches
Headquarters Salisbury, Rhodesia
Related articles
History Rhodesian Bush War

The Rhodesian Security Forces were the military forces of the Rhodesian government. The Rhodesian Security Forces consisted of a ground force (the Rhodesian Army), the Rhodesian Air Force, the British South Africa Police and various personnel affiliated to the Rhodesian Ministry of Internal Affairs (INTAF). Despite the impact of economic and diplomatic sanctions, Rhodesia was able to develop and maintain a potent and professional military capability;[1] in June 1977, Time magazine reported that "man for man, the Rhodesian army ranks among the world's finest fighting units."[2]

The Rhodesian Security Forces of 1964–80 traced their history back to the British South Africa Company armed forces, originally created during company rule in the 1880s and 1890s. These became the armed forces of the British self-governing colony of Southern Rhodesia on its formation in 1923, then part of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland military in 1953. After the break-up of the Federation at the end of 1963, the security forces assumed the form they would keep until 1980. As the armed forces of Rhodesia (as Southern Rhodesia called itself from 1964), the Rhodesian Security Forces remained loyal to the Salisbury government after it unilaterally declared independence from Britain on 11 November 1965. Britain and the United Nations refused to recognise this, and regarded the breakaway state as a rebellious British colony throughout its existence.

The security forces fought on behalf of the unrecognised government against the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) and the Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA)—the military wings of the Marxist–Leninist black nationalist Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and Zimbabwe African People's Union respectively—during the Rhodesian Bush War of the 1960s and 1970s. The Lancaster House Agreement and the return of Rhodesia to temporary British control on 12 December 1979 changed the security forces' role altogether; during a five-month interim period, they helped the British governor and Commonwealth Monitoring Force to keep order in Rhodesia while the 1980 general election was organised and held. After the internationally-recognised independence of Zimbabwe in April 1980, the Rhodesian security forces, ZANLA and ZIPRA were integrated to form the new Zimbabwe Defence Forces.

Rhodesian Army

A re-enactor portrays a Rhodesian Light Infantry trooper, circa 1979. The primary infantry weapon of the Rhodesian Army was the FN FAL battle rifle, which was camouflaged as seen here.

The majority of the Southern Rhodesia Volunteers were disbanded in 1920 for reasons of cost, the last companies being disbanded in 1926. The Defence Act of 1927 created a Permanent Force (the Rhodesian Staff Corps) and a Territorial Force as well as national compulsory military training.[3] With the Southern Rhodesia Volunteers disbanded in 1927, the Rhodesia Regiment was reformed in the same year as part of the nation's Territorial Force. The 1st Battalion was formed in Salisbury with a detached "B" company in Umtali and the 2nd Battalion in Bulawayo with a detached "B" Company in Gwelo.[4] Between the World Wars, the Permanent Staff Corps of the Rhodesian Army consisted on only 47 men. The British South Africa Police (BSAP) were trained as both policemen and soldiers until 1954.[5]

About 10,000 white Southern Rhodesians (15% of the white population) mustered into the British forces during the Second World War, serving in units such as the Long Range Desert Group, No. 237 Squadron RAF and the Special Air Service (SAS). Pro rata to population, this was the largest contribution of manpower by any territory in the British Empire, even outstripping that of Britain itself.[6] Southern Rhodesia's own units, most prominently the Rhodesian African Rifles (made up of black rank-and-filers and warrant officers, led by white officers; abbreviated RAR) fought in the war's East African Campaign and in Burma.[7] During the war, Southern Rhodesian pilots 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 in thanks to the efforts of the Rhodesian people.[citation needed]

The Southern Rhodesia Air Force (SRAF) was re-established in 1947 and two years later, Prime Minister Godfrey Huggins appointed a 32-year-old South African-born Rhodesian Spitfire pilot, Ted Jacklin, as air officer commanding tasked to build an air force in the expectation that British African territories would begin moving towards independence, and air power would be vital for land-locked Southern Rhodesia. The threadbare SRAF bought, borrowed or salvaged a collection of vintage aircraft, including six Tiger Moths, six North American Harvard trainers, an Avro Anson freighter and a handful of De Havilland Rapide transport aircraft, before purchasing a squadron of 22 Mk. 22 war surplus Supermarine Spitfire from the Royal Air Force which were then flown to Southern Rhodesia.[8]

In April 1951, the defence force of Rhodesia was completely reorganised.[9] The Permanent Force included the BSAP as well as the Southern Rhodesia Staff Corps charged with training and administering the Territorial Force. The SRAF consisted of a communication squadron and trained members of the Territorial Force as pilots, particularly for artillery observation. During the Malayan Emergency of the 1950s, Southern Rhodesia contributed two units to the Commonwealth's counter-insurgency campaign: the newly formed Rhodesian SAS served a two-year tour of duty in Malaya starting in March 1951,[10] then the Rhodesian African Rifles operated for two years from April 1956.[11]

The colony also maintained women's auxiliary services (later to provide the inspiration for the Rhodesia Women's Service), and maintained a battalion of the RAR, officered by members of the Staff Corps. The Territorial Force remained entirely white and largely reproduced the Second World War pattern. It consisted of two battalions of the Royal Rhodesia Regiment, an Armoured Car Regiment, Artillery, Engineers, Signal Corps, Medical Corps, Auxiliary Air Force and Transport Corps. In wartime the country could also draw on the Territorial Force Reserve and General Reserve. Southern Rhodesia, in other words, reverted more or less to the organisation of the Second World War.

Matters evolved greatly over twenty years. The regular army was always a relatively small force, but by 1978–79 it consisted of some 10,800 regulars nominally supported by about 40,000 reservists. While the regular army consisted of a professional core drawn from the white population (and some units, such as the Rhodesian SAS and the Rhodesian Light Infantry, were all-white), by 1978–79 the majority of its complement was actually composed of black soldiers. The army reserves, in contrast, were largely white.[12]

The Rhodesian Army HQ was in Salisbury and commanded over four infantry brigades and later an HQ Special Forces, with various training schools and supporting units. Numbers 1,2, and 3 Brigade were established in 1964 and 4 Brigade in 1978.[13]

  • 1 Bde – Bulawayo with area of responsibility in Matabeleland
  • 2 Bde – Salisbury with area of responsibility in Mashonaland
  • 3 Bde – Umtali with area of responsibility in Manicaland
  • 4 Bde – Fort Victoria with area of responsibility in Victoria province

During the Bush War, the army included:

  • Army Headquarters Army HQ
  • The Rhodesian Light Infantry
  • C Squadron 22 (Rhodesian) SAS (in 1978 became 1 (Rhodesian) Special Air Service Regiment)
  • Selous Scouts
  • The Rhodesian Armoured Car Regiment (The Black Devils)
  • Grey's Scouts
  • The Rhodesian African Rifles (also including independent companies numbered 1–6 and, briefly, 7)
  • The Rhodesia Regiment (eight battalions, numbered 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10)
  • 1 Psychological Operations Unit
  • The Rhodesian Defence Regiment (two battalions)
  • The Rhodesian Intelligence Corps
  • The Rhodesian Artillery (one depot, one field regiment)
  • Six Engineer Squadrons (numbered 2, 3, 4, 6, 7) 1 Engr Sqn
  • 5 Engineer Support Squadron
  • Three Brigade Signals Squadrons (numbered 1 to 3), 41 Troop 4 (Bde.) Signals Squadron, and three Signal Squadrons numbered 8, 10–12
  • Two Services Area HQs (Matabeleland and Mashonaland)
  • Two Ordnance and Supplies Depots (Bulawayo, Salisbury)
  • Two Base Workshops (Bulawayo, Salisbury)
  • 1 Air Supply Platoon
  • Three Maintenance Companies (numbered 1 to 3)
  • Three Medical Companies (1, 2, 5) and the Army Health Unit
  • Tsanga Lodge
  • Five Provost Platoons (numbered 1 to 5) and the Army Detention Barracks
  • Six Pay Companies (numbered 1 to 5, 7)
  • Rhodesian Army Education Corps
  • Rhodesian Corps of Chaplains
  • Army Records, and Army Data Processing Unit
  • Rail Transport Organisation Platoon
  • 1 Military Postal Platoon
  • Training establishments: School of Infantry, 19 Corps Training Depot, School of Military Engineering, School of Signals, Services Training School, Services Trade Training Centre, Medical Training School, School of Military Police, Pay Corps Training School, School of Military Administration.

Rhodesian Air Force

The Rhodesian Air Force was never a large air force. In 1965, it consisted of only 1,200 regular personnel. At the peak of its strength during the Bush war, it had a maximum of 2,300 personnel of all races, but of these, only 150 were pilots actively involved in combat operations. These pilots, however, were rotated through the various squadrons partly to maintain their skills on all aircraft and partly to relieve fellow pilots flying more dangerous sorties.

British South Africa Police

The British South Africa Police (BSAP) were the first line of defence in Rhodesia, with the specific responsibility of maintaining law and order in the country.[13]


Rhodesian Ministry of Internal Affairs (INTAF) officers were heavily involved in implementing such civic measures as the protected villages program.

Guard Force

The Rhodesian Guard Force was the fourth arm of the Rhodesian Security Forces. It consisted of both black and white troops whose initial role was to provide protection for villagers in the Protected Village system. During the latter stages of the Bush War they provided a role in the protection of white-owned farmland, tribal purchase lands and other strategic locations. They also raised two infantry Battalions and provided troops in every facet of the war in each of the Operational Areas. It was a vast force having over 7,200 personnel. Its headquarters were at Chikurubi in Salisbury.

Combined Operations

A map. See description

Map showing operational areas of the Rhodesian Security Forces during the Bush War.[14][15]

The Rhodesian Bush War required that each of the security forces work in a combined effort to combat the enemy. Therefore it became essential to establish an organisation known as Combined Operations in Salisbury to co-ordinate the efforts of each service. The Rhodesian army took the senior role in Combined Operations. Combined Operations was responsible for the conduct of all operations both inside and outside Rhodesia. Combined Operations had direct command over the Joint Operational Centres (JOCs) deployed throughout the country in each of the Operational Areas. There was a JOC per Operational Area.[13]

The operational areas were known as:

  • Operation Hurricane – North-east border, started in December 1972
  • Operation Thrasher – Eastern border, started in February 1976
  • Operation Repulse – South-east border, started in May 1976
  • Operation Tangent – Matabeleland, started in August 1976
  • Operation Grapple – Midlands, started in August 1977
  • Operation Splinter – Kariba, started in June 1978
  • Salops – Operations in and around Salisbury, started in 1978

Senior military officials in Rhodesia

Source: original (T.F. Mills) via webarchive.

  • Commandant, Southern Rhodesia Defence Force:
    • 19uu Col. George Parson, CBE, DSO
    • 1936.10.09 Brig. John Sidney Morris, CBE, KStJ, KPM, CPM
    • 1945 (unknown)
    • 1947 Maj-Gen. Storr Garlake, CBE
  • Chief of the General Staff:
    • 1953 Maj-Gen. Storr Garlake, CBE
    • 1959.04.12 Maj-Gen. Robert Edward Beaumont Long, CBE
    • 1963.06 Maj-Gen. John Anderson, CBE
    • 1964.10.24 Maj-Gen. Rodney Roy Jensen Putterill, CBE
    • 1968.10 Maj-Gen. Keith Robert Coster, OBE
  • Commander of the Rhodesian Army:
    • 1977.05.16 Lt-Gen. John Selwyn Varcoe Hickman, CLM, MC
    • 1979.03.06
  • Commander Zimbabwe Defence Forces:
  • 1981.08 Gen. Andrew Lockhart Charles Maclean

Military equipment of Rhodesia

Small arms

Name Type Country of Origin Notes
Beretta 92 Semi-automatic pistol  Italy
Browning Hi-Power[16] Semi-Automatic Pistol  Belgium
Enfield revolver Revolver  United Kingdom Enfield No. 2 Mk I Revolver.
Mamba Semi-Automatic Pistol  Rhodesia
Star[17] Semi-Automatic Pistol  Spain Model 1920, 1921, 1922.
Walther PP[17] Semi-Automatic Pistol  West Germany Captured.
Austen[18] Submachine gun  Australia Austen "Machine Carbine" Mk I.
Kommando LDP Submachine gun  Rhodesia Issued primarily to INTAF.
Northwood R-76 Submachine gun  Rhodesia
Owen Gun[18] Submachine gun  Australia
Škorpion vz. 61 Submachine gun  Czechoslovakia Some of local manufacture.
Sten[18] Submachine gun  United Kingdom Mk II.
Sterling[16] Submachine gun  United Kingdom
Uzi[19] Submachine gun  Israel Some of local manufacture.
AK-47[20] Assault Rifle  Soviet Union Captured.
AKM[21] Assault Rifle  Soviet Union Captured and used by RhACR.
FN FAL[17] Battle Rifle  Belgium Belgian FNs, South African R1s.
Heckler & Koch G3[17] Battle Rifle  West Germany G3A3, received from Portugal.
L1A1[17] Battle Rifle  United Kingdom Issued primarily to reservists.
Lee-Enfield[22] Bolt-action rifle  United Kingdom
M16A1[16] Assault Rifle  United States Used very late in the war.
SKS Semi-automatic rifle  Soviet Union Captured.
Bren Light machine gun  United Kingdom Mk 3.
Browning M2 Heavy machine gun  United States
Browning M1919[17] Medium machine gun  United States Helicopter-mounted weapon.
Degtyaryov 1938/46[23] Light machine gun  Soviet Union Captured.
FN MAG[17] General purpose machine gun  Belgium MAG-58.
KPV Heavy machine gun  Soviet Union Captured.
PKM General purpose machine gun  Soviet Union Captured.
RPD[17] Light machine gun  Soviet Union Captured.
RPK Light machine gun  Soviet Union Captured.
Browning Auto-5[17] Shotgun  United States
Ithaca 37 Shotgun  United States
Dragunov Sniper rifle  Soviet Union Captured.
M26[16] Fragmentation grenade  United States
M18 Claymore[16] Anti-personnel mine  United States
Mine G.S. Mk V Anti-tank mine  United Kingdom
Bazooka Anti-tank weapon  United States M20 Super Bazooka.
M72 LAW Anti-tank weapon  United States
RPG-2[24] Anti-tank weapon  Soviet Union Captured.
RPG-7[16] Anti-tank weapon  Soviet Union Captured.

Missiles and Recoilless Rifles

Name Type Country of Origin Notes
MILAN Anti-tank missile  France/ West Germany 9 launchers, 75 missiles.[citation needed]
M40 Anti-tank weapon  United States
B-11 Anti-tank weapon  Soviet Union Captured late in the war.


Name Type Country of Origin In Service Notes
Bedford MK[25] Utility truck  United Kingdom
BRDM-2 Scout Car  Soviet Union Captured.
Buffel Wheeled Personnel Carrier  South Africa
Bullet[25] Infantry Fighting Vehicle  Rhodesia
Crocodile[25] Wheeled Personnel Carrier  Rhodesia 40
Eland[19] Armoured Car  South Africa 34
Ferret[25] Scout Car  United Kingdom 10 Mk 2/2.
Land Rover 4×4 Vehicle  United Kingdom Mine-resistant variant designated Armadillo.[25]
Leopard[25] MPAV  Rhodesia
Mine Protected Combat Vehicle[25] Infantry Fighting Vehicle  Zimbabwe Rhodesia 115
Mazda B1600[25] Light truck  Japan 300 Fitted with machine gun turret.
Marmon-Herrington[25] Armoured Car  South Africa
Pookie Mine Detection vehicle  Rhodesia Built on Volkswagen Kombi chassis.[25]
Ratel Infantry Fighting Vehicle  South Africa Some belatedly offered in 1980.
Shorland[25] Armoured Car  United Kingdom 2 Custom hulls and Ferret turrets.
T17 Staghound[25] Armoured Car  United States 20
T-34 Medium Tank  Soviet Union 5–10 Captured from Mozambique.
T-55[25] Main Battle Tank  Poland/ Soviet Union 8 Polish T-55LD tanks provided by South Africa.
Thyssen Henschel UR-416[26] Armoured Personnel Carrier  West Germany 50
Unimog[17] Utility Truck  West Germany
Universal Carrier[25] Armoured Personnel Carrier  United Kingdom 30 Improved Universal Bren carrier.
Willys MB Jeep  United States M38.


Name Type Country of Origin In Service Notes
BL 5.5[19] Howitzer  United Kingdom 4
BM-21 Grad Multiple Rocket Launcher  Soviet Union Captured.
L16[19] 81mm Mortar  United Kingdom 30
M101[27] Howitzer  United States 6
Ordnance QF 25 pounder[19] Howitzer  United Kingdom 18
OTO Melara Mod 56 Howitzer  Italy 18

Air Defence

Name Type Country of Origin In Service Notes
37mm Gun M1 Anti-aircraft gun  United States
Oerlikon 20 mm cannon[23] Anti-aircraft gun   Switzerland 1 Captured.
Strela 2 Surface-To-Air Missile System  Soviet Union 15 Captured.
ZPU[27] Anti-aircraft gun  Soviet Union 10 Captured.
ZU-23-2 Anti-aircraft gun  Soviet Union Captured.

Air force equipment

Name Type Country of Origin In Service Notes
Aermacchi AL-60[19] Utility Aircraft  Italy 9 AL-60F-5 "Trojan".
Aermacchi SF.260[19] Trainer Aircraft/Light Attack Aircraft  Italy 17 SF.260C and SF.260W "Genet".
SNIAS Alouette-II[19] Light Transport Helicopter  France 10
Aérospatiale Alouette III[19] Helicopter  France 27 Several supplied by the SAAF.
Beechcraft Baron[28] Transport Aircraft  United States 1 Baron 95 C-55.
Bell UH-1 Iroquois[19] Helicopter  United States 10 Agusta-Bell 205A. Used very late in the war.
Britten-Norman Islander[19] Transport Aircraft  United Kingdom 6
Canadair North Star Transport Aircraft  Canada 4 C-4 Argonaut.
Cessna 185 Utility Aircraft  United States 17
Cessna 421 Transport Aircraft  United States 1
Cessna Skymaster[19] Light Attack Aircraft  United States 10 Reims-Cessna FTB 337G 'Lynx'.
de Havilland Vampire[28] Fighter  United Kingdom 12
Douglas C-47 Dakota[19] Transport Aircraft  United States 12
Douglas DC-7 Transport Aircraft  United States 2
English Electric Canberra[19] Bomber  United Kingdom 7
Hawker Hunter[19] Fighter  United Kingdom 13 Hunter FGA 9.
North American T-6 Texan Trainer Aircraft  United States 21 AT-6 Harvard, sold to South Africa.
Percival Pembroke Transport Aircraft  United Kingdom 2 Percival Pembroke C.1
Percival Provost[28] Trainer Aircraft  United Kingdom 8 Provost Mk 52.
Supermarine Spitfire Fighter  United Kingdom 22 Mk 22.
Golf & Alpha Aircraft bombs  Rhodesia few.
Matra 68mm Aircraft rockets  France

See also

Notes and references

  1. Rogers 1998, p. 41
  2. "The World: The Military: A Mission Impossible". Time. New York. 13 June 1977.,9171,919001,00.html. Retrieved 3 December 2011. 
  3. Wilson, Graham Cap badges of the Rhodesian Security Forces Sabretache, June 2000
  4. p.46 Radford
  5. [1][dead link]
  6. Gale 1973, pp. 88–89; Young 1969, p. 11
  7. Binda 2007, pp. 41–42, 59–77
  8. Moss (n.d.); Petter-Bowyer (2003) p. 16
  9. Extracted from 'The Development of Southern Rhodesia's Military System, 1890–1953 by L. H. Gann, M.A., B.LITT., D.PHIL.'
  10. Binda 2007, p. 127; Shortt & McBride 1981, pp. 19–20
  11. Binda 2007, pp. 127–128
  12. Lohman & MacPherson 1983, chpt. 3
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Combined Operations – Brothers in Arms[dead link]
  14. Abbott & Botham 1986, p. 7
  15. Cilliers 1984, p. 29
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 16.4 16.5 Moorcraft, Paul L.; McLaughlin, Peter (April 2008) [1982]. The Rhodesian War: A Military History. Barnsley: Pen and Sword Books. ISBN 978-1-84415-694-8. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 17.4 17.5 17.6 17.7 17.8 17.9 Chris Cocks. Fireforce: One Man's War in the Rhodesian Light Infantry (1 July 2001 ed.). Covos Day. pp. 31–141. ISBN 1-919874-32-1. 
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 "Small Arms". Saxonwold, Johannesburg: South African National Museum of Military History. 2012. 
  19. 19.00 19.01 19.02 19.03 19.04 19.05 19.06 19.07 19.08 19.09 19.10 19.11 19.12 19.13 19.14 Nelson, Harold. Zimbabwe: A Country Study. pp. 237–317. 
  20. Rod Wells. Part-Time War (2011 ed.). Fern House. p. 155. ISBN 978-1-902702-25-4. 
  23. 23.0 23.1
  24. Anthony Trethowan. Delta Scout: Ground Coverage operator (2008 ed.). 30deg South Publishers. p. 185. ISBN 978-1-920143-21-3. 
  25. 25.00 25.01 25.02 25.03 25.04 25.05 25.06 25.07 25.08 25.09 25.10 25.11 25.12 25.13 Peter Locke, David Cooke. Fighting Vehicles and Weapons of Rhodesia 1965–80. pp. 5–152. 
  26. "WAR SINCE 1945 SEMINAR AND SYMPOSIUM, Chapter 3". Ohio State University. N/A. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  27. 27.0 27.1 John Keegan, page 589 World Armies, ISBN 0-333-17236-1
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 Rhodesia. Deadline Data on World Affairs, 1979 Volume, Issue October 1 p. 1-5.
Journal articles
  • Abbott, Peter; Botham, Philip (June 1986). Modern African Wars: Rhodesia, 1965–80. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-0-85045-728-5. 
  • Binda, Alexandre (November 2007). Heppenstall, David. ed. Masodja: The History of the Rhodesian African Rifles and its forerunner the Rhodesian Native Regiment. Johannesburg: 30° South Publishers. ISBN 978-1920143039. 
  • Shortt, James; McBride, Angus (1981). The Special Air Service. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 0-85045-396-8. 
  • Cilliers, Jakkie (December 1984). Counter-Insurgency in Rhodesia. London, Sydney & Dover, New Hampshire: Croom Helm. ISBN 978-0-7099-3412-7. 
  • Gale, William Daniel (1973). The years between 1923–1973: half a century of responsible government in Rhodesia. Salisbury: H. C. P. Andersen. 
  • Rogers, Anthony (1998). Someone Else's War: Mercenaries from 1960 to the Present. Hammersmith: Harper Collins. ISBN 978-0-00-472077-7. 
  • Young, Kenneth (1969). Rhodesia and Independence: a study in British colonial policy. London: J. M. Dent & Sons. 

External links

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