About Me

My photo
Nairobi, Kenya
I an ex member of both 7 and 8 Squadron's of the Rhodesian war spending most of my operational time on Seven Squadron as a K Car gunner. I was credited for shooting down a fixed wing aircraft from a K Car on the 9 August 1979. This blog is from articles for research on a book which I HAVE HANDED THIS MANUSCRIPT OVER TO MIMI CAWOOD WHO WILL BE HANDLING THE PUBLICATION OF THE BOOK OF WHICH THERE WILL BE VERY LIMITED COPIES AVAILABLE Contact her on yebomimi@gmail.com The latest news is that the Editing is now done and we can expect to start sales and deliveries by the end of April 2011

Blog Archive

Search This Blog

There was an error in this gadget



Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Rhodesia and the Selous Scouts

  The insurgency in the former British colony of Rhodesia started out in the 1960s at a low, seemingly containable level, but, by 1973, the complexion of the war had changed. Soon, insurgent activity so intensified that a total commitment of security forces was required. Ultimately, the breakaway white-minority government in Salisbury faced, notwithstanding the political and naval opposition of the British, two major insurgent groups – the Zimbabwe African People’s Union, together with its military arm, the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA); and the Zimbabwe African National Union, with its military wing, the Zimbabwe National Liberation Army (ZANLA). The two elements were largely tribally based, and their respective armed components used very different strategies. ZIPRA focused on conventional Soviet- style operations, while ZANLA operated under a Maoist rural strategy. The groups did not cooperate; in fact, there were clashes between them.7

  The Rhodesian army initially was able to isolate the war near the northern border with Zambia. However, as it became apparent that the Portuguese were failing to contain anti-colonial campaigns in Mozambique, (Mozambique was to become independent of Portugal in 1975), to the east and north, support and sanctuary for Rhodesian terrorists began to spread into that colony. This expansion, combined with growth and better training of the insurgents, resulted in several guerrilla successes during 1973. The fighting resulted in very few white casualties – the primary victims being blacks who worked the European-owned farms. In fact, there is little evidence that the majority of the Rhodesian black population supported the nationalist cause, but neither did it enthusiastically support the white minority government. Brutalization of black tribesmen by insurgents may have increased sympathy for the white-minority government, but it also undermined confidence in that government’s ability to protect those at risk.

  From 1973 until 1975, both sides began to learn unconventional warfare. The guerrillas demonstrated the discipline required to wage an effective campaign for the ‘hearts and minds’ of the populace. The Rhodesian security forces, for their part, developed counterinsurgency methods that would bring, at least, tactical success, and, in later years, these methods would be studied abroad.8 Because they were no more numerous than the insurgents, the Rhodesian security forces had to rely upon small-unit operations, innovative tactics and techniques, and special operations. The Rhodesian army eventually seized on the concept of ‘pseudo’ forces, after some bureaucratic resistance. It needed troops who could pose as insurgents among the local population, and could even deceive the enemy. The tasks of the pseudo-gangs were to gather intelligence, locate insurgent groups, and, when the time was propitious, eliminate their leaders. Also, they could simply stir things up for the nationalists by pitting one group against the other.

  The result was the formation of the Selous Scouts (pronounced “Sel-oo,” named after Frederick Courtney Selous, Rhodesia’s most famous big-game hunter),9 a predominantly black unit that conducted a highly successful clandestine war by posing as guerrillas and fighting as they did. The Scouts’ skills soon extended beyond tactical intelligence-gathering to direct attacks upon the insurgents and their leaders, without regard to international borders. Their tracking, survival, recon-naissance, and counterinsurgency techniques made them one of the most feared and despised (by the terrorists) units of the Rhodesian army.

  As the British had done in Malaya and Kenya, the Scouts ‘turned’ captured insurgents for use against their former comrades – and they did so with particular skill and aplomb. Guerrillas captured in an engagement would be invited to change sides in return for good treatment; an insurgent who had already switched sides would inform the captive of his alternatives – death at the gallows or a chance for redemption in service for the government. Those who chose the latter had to convince their new comrades of their good faith.11

  The Selous Scouts would deploy a team of four to 10 men into an operational area, from which all other friendly forces would be withdrawn. The team posed as a guerrilla force down to the last detail, dressing in insurgent uniforms and carrying communist weapons – but, critically, they were much better trained and better disciplined. The local populace, thinking the Scouts were insurgents, might well inform them about genuine insurgents in the area. Detecting an insurgent force, the Selous Scouts would begin to stalk it, remaining undetected themselves until they chose to make contact. The Selous Scouts, in this way, carried the war directly to the guerrillas, thereby allowing civil-action and police measures to be extended into heretofore- lost zones.12

  Although its larger political cause ultimately failed, with Rhodesia becoming the independent, black-majority state of Zimbabwe in 1980, the professional reputation of the Rhodesian security force as a whole was solid. Even within that service, however, the Selous Scouts were extraordinary. During the war, they were credited with the deaths of 68 percent of the insurgents killed within the borders of Rhodesia. Their example points to an essential component of an effective counterinsurgency campaign – using indigenous forces with knowledge of the terrain, culture, and enemy to outfight the guerrilla within his own paradigm. The Selous Scouts were simply better at guerrilla warfare than the guerrillas themselves.13 The unique intelligence asset that was embodied in ‘turned’ insurgents that had been incorporated within the regular Rhodesian army force structure drove their successful operations.