A Brief Operational History of the Campaign in Rhodesia 1964 – 1978
Events are dealt with chronologically to indicate the build up of the terrorist threat.
by Lt. Col. R. E. H. Lockley MLM, via the Rhodesian Forces website
This was originally compiled as a briefing for VIPs and Visitors in the first person. It has now been revised into the 3rd person, but is otherwise as originally written.
In 1964 there were three acts of terrorism committed in Rhodesia:
In the Plumtree area (Southwestst of Bulowayo) a white farmer heard his dogs barking one night and went out with a torch and a pistol to be confronted by a group of some seven terrorists. He fired a couple of shots at them and they fled into Botswana where they were arrested and held in prison for some considerable time before being repatriated to Zambia. Most of this gang were subsequently killed in operations some years later.
A Peugeot crossing at Victoria Falls bridge was found, on a routine Customs inspection, to have its boot stuffed with plastic explosives. The occupants were a Russian trained sabotage group tasked with a mission of sabotage in Bulawayo.
A Zimbabwe African Nationalist Union (ZANU) group, (ZANU was then under the leadership of Ndabaningi Sithole), were sent down into the Chipinga area (near the eastern border of Rhodesia) where they carried out the first proper act of terrorism, when they ambushed a Mr and Mrs Oberholtzer and family one night on the main road. They killed Mr Oberholtzer and tried to set his body and car alight in front of the family. However, they were driven off by the arrival of another car on the scene. Most of this gang were subsequently eliminated in follow-up operations.
During 1964 besides these three acts of terrorism, there was a great deal of political in-fighting amongst the black nationalists within Rhodesia. Joshua Nkomo for a long time the only Nationalist leader of any stature, had a revolt within his his own party. Sithole broke away from the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU) and created ZANU thereby effectively dividing the blacks of Rhodesia into two camps, namely, the Ndebele (the main tribe occupying the southern and Western part of the country) element supporting Nkomo’s ZAPU and the Shona (the main tribe occupying the Northern part of the country) element supporting Sithole’s ZANU.
Most of the problems in arriving at any internal settlement have resulted from this split which resulted in considerable intimidation, murders, petrol bombings and acts of political violence in the urban townships of Salisbury and Bulawayo. This eventually led to the banning of both parties and the incarceration of most of the political leaders in detention. From 1964 to 1974 Nkomo, Sithole, Mugabe, Chinamano and a host of other Nationalist leaders were removed from the political scene.
This heralded a period of development, progress and peace within the townships which was only disrupted in 1972 with the arrival of the Pearce Commission and the emergence of Bishop Abel Muzorewa as the only Nationalist of any standing who was not in detention. We saw here the creation of the African National Council (ANC) as the internal wing of the external banned movements.
1965 was a very peaceful year. There were no acts of terrorism and Rhodesia declared its independence which, contrary to international beliefs, was a storm in a teacup and no acts of aggression were committed against Rhodesia during the period of declaration.
In April 1966 a gang of seven terrorists crossed the Zambezi and made their way to the area of Sinoia (in the North East of the country) where they were contacted by Police and all were killed. In that same month another group made their way into the Hartley area where they murdered a Mr and Mrs Viljoen in front of their three year old son. This gang was tracked down over a period of months and the last surviving member of that gang was killed attempting to cross the Zambezi at Kanyemba on the Northern border of the country). Two other minor incursions took place which were speedily eliminated.
In the first half of 1967 some small incursions took place West of Lake Kariba and East of Lake Kariba all of which were easily dealt with. However, 1967 is highly significant. In August 1967 a group of 90 terrorists comprising half ZAPU and half SAANC entered Rhodesia East of Victoria Falls. Their intention was to move into the Tjolotjo Tribal Trust Land (TTL) and establish bases for the recruiting and training of terrorists within Rhodesia. Once the Rhodesian element was secured the South African terrorists intended to move through Botswana and head for Soweto. However, their presence was speedily detected. In the first major operation of this war 47 of that group were killed within the first three weeks. In excess of 20 were captured and the remnants, many of whom were wounded, escaped into Botswana where they were imprisoned and subsequently released to Zambia. The ramifications of this incursion were many:
a. By the involvement of South African terrorists in Rhodesia’s war, Prime Minister John Vorster was able to dispatch South African Police contingents to assist Rhodesia in what was termed border control, namely the patrolling of the Zambezi to prevent incursions by South African or Rhodesian terrorists into Rhodesia.
b. In the actions of August/September 1967 Rhodesia lost their first men killed in action in Rhodesia since the Mashona and Matabele rebellions of 1896/1897.
c. The terrorists had adopted a tactic which they were to continue to their detriment, namely, they crossed in large numbers in inhospitable areas and moved through uninhabited terrain. This was a grave error on their part as their presence was easily detected particularly when they moved into the Wankie National Park.
In March 1968 a further large scale crossing took place in the Zambezi Valley along the Chewoi river. 123 terrorists of the same affiliation, nearly half ZAPU half SAANC, crossed over a period of weeks. Their presence was undetected. Because of heavy rains that year patrolling in that area was sparse. The terrorists were able to establish chain of bases stretching from the Zambezi river through the valley towards the escarpment. Their intention was to proceed into the European farming areas and recruit and train within Rhodesia. Again, once the Rhodesian terrorists were established, the South African element were to move through the country to Soweto. This course was a grandiose plan which had no chance of success. A game ranger on a routine patrol detected the “four-lane” highway created by movement of this large number of terrorists backwards and forwards conveying supplies inland, and a large scale operation was mounted. Within a matter of weeks 69 terrorists he been killed and a large number captured. The remnants fled back across the Zambezi. Again, this operation had important overtones.
a. It reinforced Prime Minister Vorster’s stance that if Rhodesia was to be used as a spring-board for attacks by SAANC terrorists against South Africa, then he was legally empowered to deploy South African policemen to assist us. Therefore, in mid 1968 further contingents of South African policemen were sent up to assist Rhodesia.
b. The terrorists did learn from this operation not to commit their forces in large numbers to remote areas, although it did take a while for this to sink in.
c. It effectively blooded the Rhodesian Army, but may have had a disadvantage in that this operation and subsequent ones, all of which were highly successful, led to an air of complacency amongst the Rhodesian public, namely, that we were so superior to the terrorists that we could deal with any terrorist threat that might develop in the future.
An example of our superiority was in July 1968 when a gang of 30 terrorists crossed the Zambezi just below the Kariba George. One member of that gang, a Rhodesian African who had been working in Lusaka, had been press-ganged into going for terrorist training in Tanzania. He had tried to desert on a number of occasions but only successfully achieved his aim the night the terrorists crossed into Rhodesia. He ran all the way to the Chirundu Police Station where he reported the crossing. Within 48 hours of the crossing having taken place 25 terrorists had been killed and the remainder captured. A number of smaller incursions did take place during 1968. Again these posed no problems to the Security Forces.
A similar pattern developed of small incursions of ZAPU in the Wankie area and ZANU in the Zambezi Valley area. However, 1969 was a quiet year and posed no problems to the Security Forces.
From 1970 onwards ZAPU played no part in the terrorist war. They were in a state of disarray following their decisive defeats within Rhodesia, and they took the opportunity of consolidating their position by sending their terrorists, outside the country, on extended courses to Russia, Cuba and North Korea. This situation as regards ZAPU continued until 1976. ZANU also took time out to rethink the tactical lessons that they had learnt. At this time, there was increasing Chinese Communist influence with ZANU and a number of ZANU commanders spent a long time in Peking undergoing training. The most significant development was that ZANU learnt the lessons of Mao Tse Tung namely, that it was pointless to Operate in remote areas without the support of the local population. They learnt the true art of guerilla warfare, namely, to move amongst the people like fish in water. There were no incursions in 1970 worthy of note.
ZANU started to put its new operating policy into effect but on a very small scale. They started infiltrating the north-east of Rhodesia through Mozambique but had ill-prepared the ground and those incursions were again easily detected and eliminated. They were, however, significant in that they were the forerunner of things to come. The North-Eastern area, predominantly occupied by the Kore Kore people who have always been anti-administration, Zanu started to move in clandestinely. The area was remote and administered by a very small staff. The rainy seasons, the administrators could not travel to the remote areas and therefore the area was ideal for the terrorists to establish themselves.
At this time the Portuguese were already beginning to loose control over the Tete Pedicle and FRELIMO started to operate against the Portuguese with a degree of impunity. Because of the tribal groupings FRELIMO were sympathetic towards ZANU and started to give them assistance in moving through Mozambique into Rhodesia. Therefore, although Special Branch had inklings of what was happening we were unable to prevent ZANU from infiltrating and subverting the Kore Kore people. They found a fertile ground and were able to move a large number of recruits out of the country. On the 21st September 1972 the real war started. Anything prior to that date can be considered as falling into the preparatory phase of guerrilla warfare and, as already outlined, no incursions to this date posed any major problem to Rhodesia. However, on the 21st December 1972 an attack took place on a farm homestead in the Centenary district in which an eight year old white girl was injured.
This attack was meant to be part of a simultaneous co-ordinated attack on five homesteads but one group had its instructions wrong and attacked 24 hours prematurely. This allowed the Army to get into the area and negate these scheduled attacks. However, it was the start of a whole new ball game. Instead of having the tribesmen willingly coming forward reporting the presence of terrorists, we now had the situation where the terrorists had prepared the ground before an overt act of terrorism took place. Generally speaking, the Kore Kore gave passive support to the terrorists by not reporting their presence and by being unco-operative with Government agencies. Within a matter of weeks, it was realised that the war proper had started as more farm attacks took place and more and more terrorists entered Rhodesia in the North-Eastern area.
Operation HURRICANE started and slowly, mainly because of the complacency outlined earlier, Rhodesia’s war machine began to work.
July 1973 saw the first major abduction of schoolchildren by terrorists. St Alberts Mission on the escarpment was attacked by a gang of terrorists who abducted 295 pupils and staff and force – marched them down the escarpment into the Zambezi Valley and north towards Mocambique. Luckily, they were intercepted and all but eight of the abductees were recovered. This was the forerunner of things to come, as since this incident there were many abductions, with thousands of schoolchildren being taken across the borders for terrorist training. Because of the involvement of the Kore Kore, it was rapidly apparent that little could be done without an adequate means of controlling the population. Accordingly, the protected village programme was instituted to divorce the tribesmen away from the terrorist, protect him and deny the terrorist a source of food, intelligence and recruits.
In mid 1974 the first protected village programme was instituted in the Chiweshe Tribal Trust Land (TTL) where 50,000 people were moved in a three-week operation into 21 Protected Villages (PVs). Immediately thereafter the Security Forces moved into the Madziwa TTL and did the same exercise. This effectively drove the terrorists, who were well established in those TTLs, North and the Security Forces started to get the upper hand. By being able to concentrate the entire country’s resources in a relatively small area of Rhodesia, it was possible to have large force levels deployed, an improvement in the communication network and the construction of excellent airfields. With the assistance of the South African Police who were mainly engaged in border control along the Zambezi, although a number were involved in hot operations, our kill rate increased considerably. In October and November of 1974 we killed more terrorists than we had killed in the total period from 1972 to October 1974. By the 11th December 1974 it was estimated that there were only 70 terrorists left within Rhodesia. These 70 were of course hard core terrorists and included Rex Nhongo amongst them.
On the 11th December 1974 Rhodesia accepted the South African initiated detente exercise or ceasefire. Militarily, this may have been a mistake. With only 70 left it would have been a matter of weeks, possibly months, before they were totally eliminated. However, the ceasefire was accepted which meant that the SAP were confined to their camps and were not to do anything other than patrol the immediate vicinity of those camps for their own protection.
The Rhodesian Security Forces were restricted to non-offensive patrolling. What this meant was that the 70 hard core terrorists were able to move out of Rhodesia with impunity, visiting all kraals en route out, stating that they had won the war and had brought Ian Smith to the negotiating table. It must be added that 11 December 1974 also saw the release of all the Nationalist leaders from detention to engage in talks with the Government. Psychologically, therefore, the Government lost a tremendous amount of face with the Kore Kore people who were influenced by the terrorists and of course with the majority of the law abiding black population of Rhodesia who saw the rabid nationalists being released from detention.[Editor’s Comment: Trust was also lost because the Government was perceived as being weak and therefore unable to protect the people.]
It was now known that it is unwise to enter into these sort of negotiations with terrorists unless there are guarantees that they will abide by the rules. For example, on the 16th December 1974, five days after the ceasefire had been accepted a group of terrorists, (under the leadership of one Herbert Shungu subsequently a “top” terrorist training commander last heard of at Tembue base camp) sent an emissary to a South African camp with an invitation to them to come and talk surrender terms. The SAP, somewhat naively, accepted the invitation and were ambushed on the Mazoe high level bridge where six of them were killed. So much for the ceasefire.
April 1974 saw the coup in Portugal take place. It had no immediate effect on Rhodesia because Samora Machel took a considerable time to move South to Maputo. During this period the Security Forces maintained good relations with the local FRELIMO commanders who pledged their support to eliminate ZANU from Mocambique. However, once Machel was safely installed the attitudes rapidly changed. Late 1974 and 1975 there was a faster turn round of terrorist recruits than had previously been possible. They started to be trained in Mocambique and were assisted in their movement by FRELIMO placing vehicles, railways and ships at their disposal.
The terrorist sectorial commanders became disillusioned with the conduct of the war following spectacular Security Force successes in 1974. Very little re-supply or reinforcements were able to enter Rhodesia. In addition they had learned of the political moves taking place in Lusaka. (Chitepo’s murder and the vying for power by Tongogara). They therefore left Rhodesia for Chifombo where they collected other dissident leaders and went to Lusaka. In Lusaka they arrested a number of Commanders with the intention of taking them back to Rhodesia to see the mess they were making of the war. However, they missed Tongogara. In late 1974, 250 terrorists passed out of Mugagao. Tongogara took 200 of these with him to Chifombo where he in turn arrested and executed the dissidents. At least 14 hardcore veteran leaders suffered this fate as their bodies were later located. This set terrorist effort back considerably until 1976. We were able to gain the upper hand in 1975 because of the inexperience of the field commanders.
The SAP were totally withdrawn from Rhodesia by August 1975.
The ceasefire was well and truly over when a group of 60 ZANU terrorists infiltrated Rhodesia in mid January. For the rest of 1975 the Rhodesian Security Forces had to regain the psychological and therefore the military, ground that we had lost during the ceasefire period and it was an uphill struggle. However, with the continuing pattern of protected villages and by again concentrating all our resources in one small area, the Security Forces were able to estimate that by December 1975 there were only three groups of 10 terrorists each operating in Rhodesia. However, there was no time for complacency because it was known that there were still large numbers of trained and semi-trained ZANU terrorists outside Rhodesia.
On the 21st January 1976 a crossing of 90 terrorists took place south of Nyamapanda. We contacted that group the morning after they crossed. Four were killed and one was captured. The story he gave us was that they were part of a simultaneous three-pronged assault on Rhodesia. However, their plan did not work in that the second assault in the Melsetter area by 130 terrorists took place some five weeks later and the third assault in the south-eastern area took place seven weeks later ie three months after the first assault. This meant we were able to deploy troops accordingly. In February 1976 Operation THRASHER started and in May 1976 operation REPULSE began.
During this perid there was the creation of the Zimbzbwe Peoples Army (ZPA) a so-called amalgamation of ZANLA and ZIPRA under the leadership of an 18-man Central Committee. The Russians now took over a major control of the war in view of the influence they exerted over Mocambique. ZPA never really worked because ZPRA were numerically inferior to ZANLA and of course had not been involved in the war for a number of years. Therefore, we saw the ZANLA terrorists usurping positions of authority and command to the detriment of ZPRA. The effect it had was that in the training camps in Tanzania, namely Mugagao and Morogoro, inter-faction fighting took place. In one of these clashes 400 terrorists were killed and in another 200 suffered the same fate. It had a side effect that when these combined groups normally consisting of eight ZANLA and two ZPRA terrorists, entered Rhodesia, the ZPRA element would desert and head back for their home areas. Of course the same disunity existed throughout the war with the myth of the Patriotic Front.
In mid 1976 therefore there was the gradual drift of these ZIPRA elements through Rhodesia towards Francistown. The more dedicated of them collected recruits as they went through country and committed various acts of terrorism. At this time, ZAPU had been told in no uncertain fashion by the OAU Liberation Committee that unless they took a more active role in the war they were to be cut off from all sources and funds. As a result ZAPU groups led by Russian trained intelligence agents, infiltrating across the Zambezi. This lead to Operation TANGENT being opened in August 1976. The abortive Geneva Conference took place in late 1976. At this meeting the Patriotic Front became the “force to be negotiated with”, in the eyes of the British and American Governments.
The pattern of increasing infiltration from Mocambique continued. A number of defensive measures were instituted one of which was to increase the commitment to the protected village programme which has now spread throughout all operational areas. Recruiting for our own Security Forces was increased but during 1977 ZIPRA involvement increased with a number of incursions across the Zambezi.
At this time the situation was that ZANLA were pushing West as far as they can possibly go with ZIPRA reacting by trying to move as far East as possible. The intention of both factions was to ensure the maximum number of tribal lands and, thereby the inhabitants, to be under their influence and not that of the opposing factions. This is as a prelude to any election in Rhodesia. Both ZANLA and ZIPRA groups had been given instructions to eliminate the opposing factions if they encounter them. Contacts between these groups took place in the Maranda and Belingwe TTLs and the threat of contact was apparent throughout the centre line of Rhodesia. What was being set up here was a forerunner to civil war unless the Rhodesian Security Forces were able to eliminate the threat.
BLACK PARTICIPATION IN SF
In November 1977, over 100 black Rhodesians were volunteering for duty with the Security Forces per day. It was not possible to handle this number. However, the increase in the size of the Security Forces was mainly by the involvement of black Rhodesians. It was of interest to note the following figures of black participation in our Security Forces:
|Territorial and Reserves
|Regular (other ranks)
|Small percentage of blacks but increasing
|Territorial and Reserves
A number of other strategies and tactics were put into operation which paid dividends during 1978.
During the years Rhodesia had to mount a number of external operations to safeguard the national integrity of Rhodesia. In August 1976 a raid took place on a ZANLA terrorist base camp in Mocambique. Information was forthcoming that a major incursion numbering some 900 terrorists was due to be mounted in late August 1976 from this camp (called Nyadzonya). 1200 terrorists were killed in this raid which totally destroyed that incursion for 1976. We suffered no casualties. This was confirmed by papers subsequently recovered from Chimoio. In November 1976 an operation was mounted in the North-Eastern area which, although not spectacularly successful as regards the numbers of terrorists killed (only 25 were accounted for), some 80 tonnes of war material was captured. Most was destroyed in situ but eight tonnes of attractive items, namely AA weapons, anti-tank guns, mortars and heavy machine guns were brought back into Rhodesia and put on display to the International Press. This operation effectively prevented another planned incursion in the North-Eastern corner from taking place.
In May 1977 a further raid was launched into Mocambique. Initially a terrorist camp right on he border was attacked in which 33 terrorists were killed. Documents recovered from this camp indicated that the small village of Mapai was the logistical centre for re-supply to the south-eastern operational area. Accordingly it was attacked and large quantities of war material were destroyed. Again this operation, whilst not a spectacular success, achieved tremendous results by disrupting their entire re-supply chain for many months.
In November 1977 Chimoio the main ZANLA Operations Headquarters and Provincial HQ for Manica Province was attacked. This was a large terrorist complex including the offices of Mugabe, Tongogara and Nhongo. Large quantities of arms and explosives, vehicles, buildings were destroyed and documents recovered. A very high number of terrorists were killed. Some women and children were killed in this raid. This was not disputed but photographs exhibited to you taken of them showed that they were armed and uniformed terrorists who were all undergoing terrorist training and were armed terrorists. Three days later Tembue terrorist camp was attacked. In both these operations in excess of 1,200 armed terrorists were killed and many more who may subsequently have died were wounded. We suffered a total of one soldier killed and eight others injured in both these attacks.
In February 1976 the ZPRA camp at Kavalamanja on the Zambezi River was attacked. Intelligence indicated a build-up of terrorists at this camp and Security Forces observations across the Zambezi River showed boat loading drills being practiced on a nearby tributary. To pre-empt the expected incursion the attacks took place on 6 March 1978. We killed 42 ZPRA terrorists, lost one man killed and captured significant quantities of sophisticated weaponry. Documents showing the involvement of the Zambian Army in our war were also captured.
Casualty figures from 21 December 1972 to 31 December 1977 were:
|Terrorists killed in Rhodesia
|Security Forces killed in action
|Civilian whites murdered by terrorists
(this includes 14 white missionaries)
|Civilian blacks murdered by terrorists
|e. External operations: Terrorists killed:
|Others including Mapai etc
|(Note this is a very conservative figure based on actual body counts and recovered documents)
In the period 1 January 1978 to 31 May 1978 casualty figures were:
|Terrorists killed in Rhodesia
|Security Forces killed in action
|Civilian whites murdered by terrorists (including landmines)
|Civilian blacks murdered by terrorists (including landmines)