The Bush War in Rhodesia

Lasting from the mid-1960′s to 1980, the bush war in Rhodesia saw this tiny land locked nation surrounded by communist backed insurgents operating from the adjacent nations of Mozambique, Zambia, and Botswana. Robert Mugabe’s ZANU was supported by Red China while Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU was a primarily a Soviet sponsored insurgency. With guerrilla fighters pouring across the borders, Rhodesia’s military fought tooth and nail, especially as the war heated up around 1976. Fighting the war on a shoe string to a point difficult to compare to today’s War on Terror, the Rhodesian forces conducted lightening fast raids and parachute jumps behind enemy lines.

The Rhodesian African Rifles (RAR), the Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI), and the Rhodesian Special Air Service (RhSAS) all preformed impressively throughout the war but one unique unconventional warfare unit took the fight to the enemy in a way that may not have been seen before or since.

 

Unconventional Warriors

 

Rhodesian Selous Scouts Pamwe Chete

Founded by the indomitable Colonel Ron Reid-Daly, the Selous Scouts was born. Named after African bush hunter Frederick Courtney Selous, this unique Special Forces unit engaged in so-called pseudo-operations. Operating under official cover as a military tracking unit, the Selous Scouts were involved in far more perilous activities in which white Scouts would be paired up with black Scouts, or more often than not, communist guerrillas who had been captured and turned to fight against their former comrades.

Unconventional Tactics

Having received training in tactical tracking operations, survival techniques, and living in a mock terrorist training camp during the “Dark Phase” portion of their selection course, Scouts would then be paired up with captured terrorists. These “tamed” terrorists would be given an AK-47 to help build trust between them and the Scouts. Sometimes the firing pin would be secretly removed until they had established a strong working relationship, just in case they were feeling froggy.

Moving into covert Observation Posts, the white Scouts would remain hidden while their black counterparts would infiltrate into nearby villages reported to have been occupied by terrorists who had recently crossed the border. As former terrorists themselves, they would be able to gain the trust of the newly arrived comrades and the villagers alike. Once the bad guys were identified and relevant intelligence was collected the black Scouts would return to the OP and the RLI would be called in to clean the nest of terrorists out of the village.

The potential for pseudo-operations in which both black and white Scouts would disguised themselves as terrorists was adapted to many different tactics, one of which was the pseudo-column which would also incorporate captured (communist supplied) vehicles. A pseudo-column could be driven deep behind enemy lines and in some cases directly into enemy base camps. Such was the case at Nyodzonya where eighty four Selous Scouts accounted for over one thousand enemy KIA.

Rhodesian HALO ops

The Selous Scouts also had a Recce Troop which deployed two and three man teams into neighboring countries, often jumping in by conducting night time free fall jumps from Dakota aircraft.

 

Relevancy to the War on Terror?

Some aspects of what the Selous Scouts accomplished would be considered off limits to our soldiers fighting counter-insurgency operations overseas today. For instance, disguising yourself as a civilian in order to get close to the enemy for purposes of assassination is expressly forbidden by the Geneva Conventions. However, the concept of utilizing “tamed” Taliban to help infiltrate the enemy’s ranks may be valid in some cases. Disguises and deceptions are lawful for reconnaissance purposes. After the recon is completed soldiers can change into a uniform prior to the Direct Action mission, or conventional infantry can be called in to do the heavy lifting.

 The author conducting a Recce mission

While these types of Trojan Horse attacks are certainly nothing new, no other unit professionalized the practice and realized their potential to the extent that the Selous Scouts did. Fighting an unconventional campaign in this manner requires a shift in paradigm, blurring the lines between two opposing forces, and working in a gray area that many would not be comfortable with as you would literally be walking in the enemy’s boots, or as the case may be, in his sandals.

 

Further Reading:

Three Sips of Gin by Tim Bax (RLI and Selous Scouts Officer)

The Bush War in Rhodesia by Dennis Croukamp (RLI and Selous Scouts NCO)

Someone Else’s War by Anthony Rogers (see chapter two)

 

Kit Up! contributor Jack Murphy is a former Ranger, Special Forces Soldier and is the author of the military thriller Reflexive Fire.

{ 53 comments… read them below or add one }

BrandonWebb November 7, 2011 at 9:34 am

Great write up Jack…..nobody hanging it out more than those boys back then. My friend said they would go out for months at a time, reporting to noone until debriefing. About as off the radar as you can get….nice pics too. -Brandon

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reflexivefire November 7, 2011 at 9:56 am

Because the survival training was really emphasized they were able to stay out in the bush for long periods without resupply. It didn't sound like they were very comfortable though, remember the saying from SERE school when it comes to food in a survival situation…go ugly early.

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BrandonWebb November 7, 2011 at 10:25 am

No kidding….I try to keep that saying strictly to the bush (no pun intended) and not the bar……

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reflexivefire November 7, 2011 at 10:28 am

And that's the difference between the Army and the Navy!

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David Reeder November 7, 2011 at 10:05 am

There was on Scout who would cross the border by himself. His thought process was, 1. two sets of footprints is a sniper or recce team, 2. three or four sets was a "call-sign" or patrol and 3. if he was by himself, he was the only friendly. Some of the work they did in frozen zones was absolutely amazing. I had the privilege of training alongside a former Scout and a former Rhodesian C Troop SAS guy (they later both went to the SADF recces) for a few weeks. It was an experience I'll always treasure…particularly once they'd killed a couple bottles of South African wine and the stories started coming out. There are a couple former SNCOs and officers from the school at Kariba that are working on a pictorial history of the Scouts right now. They dug out a bunch of old black and white slides, including the very first ever Selous Scout "selection" course. Amazing pictures.

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reflexivefire November 7, 2011 at 10:15 am

Sounds awesome! I suspect that there were a few Scouts who conducted solo operations by HALO insertion as well but haven't yet confirmed that.

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Auddis November 7, 2011 at 11:34 am

David,

This solo scout operator was Chris Schulenburg..No one can compare to him. I have never found anyone who could have done the things he did.

Auddis

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Copper November 7, 2011 at 10:19 am

Sweet post man. Very interesting and not something you see everyday.

Oh and I'm lovin the pictures too

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chaos0xomega November 7, 2011 at 10:19 am

This is some pretty cool stuff, think it puts the US own LRRP efforts during Vietnam to shame by comparison.

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reflexivefire November 7, 2011 at 10:22 am

Between MACV-SOG and the Phoenix Program we used some similar tactics but the Selous Scouts were still very unique and remain so today.

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Auddis November 7, 2011 at 10:29 am

Jack did a great job, it been a pleasure corresponding with him…
bring back all the old memories from the good old days in Rhodesia.

cheers!!!

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reflexivefire November 7, 2011 at 10:35 am

Thanks Auddis! Folks, look forward to hearing more from this guy! He served in 'Nam before traveling to Rhodesia and serving in the Selous Scouts.

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Feral Jundi November 7, 2011 at 10:32 am

Awesome post Jack, and these guys definitely deserve some study. I have written about them in the past and I continue to be inspired by their methods. A great primer on pseudo operations was Dr. Lawrence Cline's work on the concept and history. Here is the pdf for anyone that is interested.
http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pub

Also, if anyone is looking to gain some knowledge in combat tracking, you can get instruction from a former Selous Scout named David Scott-Donelon. Good guy and he has been active in training police and military for awhile now. He would be a great source for researching Selous Scout operations as well.
http://67.212.230.121/~arrondan/Tracking/Tracking

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canadianblackriflema November 7, 2011 at 10:41 am

Did university report on the Rhodesian Bush war last year. Read quite a bit about the Scouts. Likely the most interesting conflicts during the Cold War era.

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Bobbles November 7, 2011 at 11:02 am

My old CO during RM Commando training ten years ago spent his his early years with these boys. He then left Rhodesia, joined the corps, and went on to be an SBS legend.

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mpower6428 November 7, 2011 at 11:10 am

"FIRE FORCE". is a good book as well. more of a memoir/personnel account but, no less entertaining and informative.

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reflexivefire November 7, 2011 at 11:13 am

Fire Force by Chris Cocks is one of the best war memoirs ever written.

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reflexivefire November 7, 2011 at 11:13 am

Okay, that's funny. The last name is C-O-C-K-S!

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Lance November 7, 2011 at 11:33 am

It was a interesting war that is little talked or studied by Western strategist BUT may be really relevant in Afghanistan and Libya today. I notice many dumped FALs in the Bush war for captured AKMs interesting.

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reflexivefire November 7, 2011 at 11:42 am

The Rhodies loved their FN's. They used them for overt, Direct Action missions. For UW and Pseudo Ops the AK was pretty much a must though.

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mpower6428 November 7, 2011 at 12:20 pm

LOL, ok lets spell it out for the "readers" since we both highly suggest it.

"FIRE FORCE" author; C-H-R-I-S C-O-C-K-S

i can still spot a stray hardback at "barnes and noble's" here and there. WELL WORTH THE READ for anybody interested in this piece of military history. a gritty and irreverent personnal account that i feel lucky to have picked up on a whim.

happy hunting folks.

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reflexivefire November 7, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Paladin Press is the American publisher. They also sell the sequel which I have not read yet. I do have the South African copies of Fire Force Second Edition and Chris' novel Cyclone Blues, another I still have to dig into.

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Odin November 7, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Perhaps a good follow up to this article would be an expansion on the SADF Recces, who worked very closely hand in hand with the Rhodesian SAS and Selous Scouts…

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David Reeder November 7, 2011 at 1:06 pm

Auddis; thanks for the reminder. I couldn't remember his name. Last I heard he was still alive but not particularly keen to talk to anyone. Some of what I've read and heard about him was absolutely amazing. Some other articles on here: http://www.breachbangclear.com/site/the-spoor-pit

Updated very infrequently, but some good stuff in there.

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BrandonWebb November 7, 2011 at 1:30 pm

I love that Halo shot…the dude out the door is locked on!

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Lawrence November 7, 2011 at 1:38 pm

These guys totally rocked. I met a former member once a few years ago in the UK – he was the boyfriend of a girl friend of a girlfriend I had at the time. Apparently, neither of them had known that about him before – but one Sunday afternoon over a bottle or three of red wine, and upon learning that I was ex-82nd Airborne, the photo album came out. Truly amazing stuff – and he confirmed the rotten baboon legend too…

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Justin November 7, 2011 at 2:05 pm

what in the hell does that guy have on the left in the recce mission picture? is it a chopped up m16?

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reflexivefire November 7, 2011 at 3:28 pm

A stand-alone M203. These guys were supplied by OGA.

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e5matt November 7, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Wow. .have'nt seen a write up on the Scouts in years!!! I remember reading about these guys in the 80's when I was in middle school..I remember the SOF Mag always wrote stories about their missions and Ops…They used motorcycles and state of the art mine proof vehicles (at the time)….The eating of the rotten baboon legend is classic. Rhodesia must have been a pretty cool place to live in the day..I met a Vietnam Vet a couple years ago. We talked and he brought up his time in Africa after serving in Vietnam. His eyes lit up when i said something about Rhodesia and the Selous Scouts .He just smiled…..enough said…..

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nobody November 7, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Thank you for the article! and some don't still believe stuff is still going on in that part of the world today???. About 100 hot spots around the globe that goes on and it never ends. They used to call us Soldiers of Fortune back then now it's contractors.I tell ya what the South African SOF mothers were great!. They had it down i wouldn't say all the time human rights followers but i am glad they were on our side.

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zafgak November 7, 2011 at 9:57 pm

Always good to remember the "good old days" Nice article and I would recommend a follow up article on the koevoet guys in SWA..

You do not see guys going to war in shorts and a Tshirt anymore !!! hell those were the days when men were men.
The only problem with the shorts was a brush with buffalo beans could be a tad uncomfortable !!!

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Buckaroomedic November 7, 2011 at 10:42 pm

They were some bad-assd mama jammas! I too remember reading about them in SOF magazine many moons ago. Who remembers their recruiting poster? "Be a Man Among Men" that pretty much sums it up.

Always loved their uniforms; "combat" short-shorts and a bush shirt with "black face". Classic. Could anyone imagine trying to get away with that today?!?

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Lance November 8, 2011 at 12:11 am

I agree FAL was good they also had G-3s and like the South Africans hated them it was the UN embargo which forced them to go with G-3s otherwise FALs would have been all rifle mans rifles in the bush. I know this I had a shooting friend who was in the South African Army in the Bush wars you cannot separate him from his FAL.

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Nobody November 8, 2011 at 5:47 am

Bush special operations forces?, more like Carter/Reagan.I know, Carter can you believe that?.It still churns on only to be exposed 40-50 years later. Some never at all

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Morgan November 8, 2011 at 5:18 pm

Hmmm. Misread my post I think.

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Jason November 9, 2011 at 11:26 am
swilliams November 9, 2011 at 6:33 pm

Didn't the US have an equivalent during Vietnam? Kit Carson Scouts?

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Danmark November 10, 2011 at 3:17 am

A number of my former school teachers were in the Bush War, had three who were SOF.

Not sure if they all operated like this, but one of my teachers operated in a three-man scout team deep behind enemy lines in Angola. Did all the Selous Scouts work like this, in threes?

Thanks for this awesome article!

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Danmark November 10, 2011 at 3:20 am

Sorry, I mean the Selous Scouts in Rhodesia, were three-man scout teams common there?

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JMosley November 10, 2011 at 7:39 pm

check my old jumpmasters books on the subject,he sold the zone and went free lance to south africa,had some damned wild experiences. His name is Jim Hooper.

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sadfgrunt November 11, 2011 at 2:58 am

These guys were the Best of the Best. Schullie (Christo Schullenberg) was regarded as the world's foremost deep recon soldier – we had the privilidge to have him present as a "master at arms" while presenting a Bn Recce Platoon leader course in the SANDF. He was 63 at that time but you would not believe the eye for detail he still had. His kit preparations were simply awesome and so was his mapreading skills!

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reflexivefire November 11, 2011 at 3:31 am

I would love to learn more about this individual! I can only imagine what his kit looked like when doing singleton ops.

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jbmax November 23, 2011 at 1:59 am

I knew a few Scouts when I worked in Chiredzi in the late 70's. Interesting guys known as "Walking Armpits" or "Funnies". They spoke about selection at Waffa Waffa on the banks of Lake Kariba. You had to boil an egg without water, a spoon and one matchstick. Does anyone know how the guys did this?

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Guest February 20, 2014 at 9:39 am

I have a copy of some course notes from a Selous Scouts selection course. Regarding cooking the egg, the notes give this advice:
1) Underground with green leaves around it, then pour water or urinate on the leaves, cover with soil, then make a fire on top.
2) Inside elephant dung placed next to the fire.
3) On top of baobab bark or other moist bark over the fire.

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Guest November 28, 2011 at 2:57 pm

LRRP teams would have been closer to what the RhSAS was. MIKE Force was closer to what the Selous Scouts did. They are not direct comparisons mind you, but as close as you're likely to make.

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Mel January 12, 2012 at 8:17 am

yup…those who know don't talk, those who don't know talk.

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Tom January 12, 2012 at 10:14 am

!. Dig a hole.
2. Place the egg in hole.
3. Cover egg.
4. Pee on earth covering hole.
5. Build fire over egg.
6. Uncover egg.
7. Eat egg.

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Warwick Hidgson January 24, 2012 at 3:54 am

Amadoda! Pamwe Chete!

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Green Beret intellig December 24, 2012 at 2:18 am
Green Beret intelligent December 24, 2012 at 6:15 am
Green Beret intelligent December 24, 2012 at 6:17 am
Green Beret intelligent December 24, 2012 at 6:18 am
MELNISA November 21, 2013 at 4:44 am

WHY DID US DO??? YET IT HAS ITS COUNTRY

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