rhodesian security forces

Abridged version of Rhodesian Bush War and the Rhodesian army (mostly RLI and Selous Scouts because <3)

From (not so) Humble Beginnings

The Brits and South Africans began colonisation of Southern Rhodesia in the 19th century. Mineral and land rights were acquired from the local traditional leaders under treaties. The colony was administered by the British until 1965 when the government unilaterally declared themselves independent of British rule. The main reason for the unilateral, as opposed to the formal grant which the Brits were willing to do, was due to a new British policy of “no independence before majority rule”. In other words, until Africans were the single ruling gov’t, Rhodesia could not have its independence. While nice on paper, due to what happened in the Belgian colony of Congo when immediate majority rule was approved. In Belgian Congo, when independence was going through, there was a great deal of violence focused against people of European origin. As the government of Rhodesia didn’t want this to happen, they declared independence. However, they still planned to move towards majority rule though at a more controlled rate.

War were declared

The Rhodesian Bush War actually began before the declaration of Rhodesian independence. The first killings were executed by Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) insurgents. ZANU was an African nationalist party under Robert Mugabe, who alongside the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) made up the majority of “opposition” (read, terrorist) forces. Though the two groups initially clashed for reasons of tribalism and ideals, they made up and took on Rhodesia in the end. It should be noted that both terrorist groups were supplied by the USSR and China respectively, though Rhodesia proper was only occasionally supported by South Africa, and Portugal during the early war.

Immediately after Rhodesia declared independence, they had sanctions placed on them by the British government, including an arms embargo. However, they were able to secure arms from Portugal (who ruled Mozambique until 1975) and produced licensed version of their weapons.

The war was relatively low-key until the 1970s, with a few major engagements happening, but mostly small scale.


In the early 1970s, a new tactic was introduced by the Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI). Its purpose was effectively as a QRF, though much heavier handed. Generally involving 32 infantry troops, three helicopters, and one command aircraft (K-Car) which was generally a DC-3 or Cessna Skymaster. Occasionally a second aircraft called a “Lynx” was used, but more often than not there wasn’t one involved.

One of the reasons for the effectiveness of the tactics was the immediate superiority of force it gave to the Rhodesians. As the ZANU/ZAPU forces had no air force of their own and no way to shoot down the incoming craft effectively,it proved devastating. As well, many contacts were made with squad sized (9-12 troops) forces of insurgents, giving the Rhodesians the advantage in numbers as well as firepower.

The new tactic yielded an 80-1 kill ratio in favour of the Rhodesians, and often ended contacts in minutes (though a full Fireforce operation could take hours). As such, the RLI and other regiments (Rhodesian African Rifles, British South African “Police”) were quick to be regarded as some of the most effective in the world.

Pamwe chete

On the complete opposite side of fireforce tactics were the now famous Selous Scouts. In essence, they were the terrorists to the terrorists. Their tactics ranged from basic intel gathering and interrogation, to assassinations, bombings, and other such things. Another thing that made them quite special when compared to other units was that Africans made up 50-80% if their ranks, including the first African commissioned officers (in the Rhodesian Security Forces). 

By far the most famous operation executed by the Scouts was Operation Eland, a cross-border raid into Mozambique. Disguising themselves as FRELIMO (Mozambique Liberation Front) they snuck into a ZANU camp that had over 4000 troops in it. They assembled the vehicles on the camps parade square, and the leader of the group announced over his vehicles loudspeaker (in Shona) “We have taken Zimbabwe”. The ZANU troops began cheering and crowding into the parade square and around the vehicles. At this point, the Rhodesians opened fire and continued to shoot until there was no movement left on the parade square, at which time they returned to Rhodesia. Around 1000 ZANU insurgents were killed, and only four Scouts were wounded in the fight.

As well, the operational tactics and composition of the unit led the insurgent groups to occasionally engage in friendly fire, fearing that their allies were in fact Scouts.

There’s a great deal more information out there, and plenty more stories. But this is the short version, and just has the best stuff and content for basic understanding.

Submitted by absitplague, thanks pana! 

@smokeinganddrinking there you go.