The Rhodesian Army was born on 29 October, 1889, when Queen Victoria authorised the British South Africa Company to raise a police force for the territories that were intended to come under its control north of the Limpopo river. The "British South Africa Police" (to accompany the Pioneer Column) was initially created almost entirely from the Bechuanaland Border Police. By 1892, a couple of years after the occupation of Mashonaland, the number of men in the force had decreased and a number of volunteer forces took over. With the outbreak of the Matabele War in 1893 the total number of volunteers for police service rose to about 1000 men in a number of new units - the Salisbury Horse, Victoria Rangers and Raaf's Rangers. The most memorable event was the last stand of the 34 men of the Shangani Patrol. In December 1893 the volunteer regiments were disbanded, and a new force named the Rhodesia Horse was formed; another force was raised specifically for the policing of Matabeleland.

Many of the police accompanied Dr. Jameson on the Transvaal raid in 1895, to help the Englishmen who were rebelling against the Boer government. The failure of the raid, and capture of Jameson and his men, left the new colony effectively undefended, and led indirectly to the Mashona and Matabele Rebellions in 1896. The fighting lasted until 1898, with British troops arriving from Natal and the Cape to help the colonists. The police forces were amalgamated into what would become the British South Africa Police (BSAP). 

In 1898. with the rapid increase in the white population, a purely military force was created - the Southern Rhodesia Volunteers (SRV), divided into an Eastern Division, based in Salisbury, and a Western Division, based in Bulawayo. With the Boer War, the SRV took part in the relief of Mafeking, where a division of the BSAP were among the defenders - Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts, was the leader of the defence. A new unit, the Rhodesia Regiment, was also formed at this time, mainly for the defence of Rhodesia, but this unit was also sent to serve in the Boer War. The original Rhodesia Regiment had been disbanded shortly after the siege of Mafeking, but in 1914 the unit was revived to form two regiments to fight alongside the Commonwealth troops in South West Africa (now Namibia) and East Africa; later in France during the First World War. The Rhodesia Native Regiment was was formed at the same time.

In 1920 the Southern Rhodesia Volunteers were disbanded (although a few rifle companies were retained in each of the main towns of Rhodesia). The Defence Act of 1927 finally created a Permanent Force and a Territorial Force for the colony, but only in 1939 were the police finally separated from the military, and conscription for the latter introduced. The Second World War saw the rapid expansion of the Rhodesian armed forces, with the addition of a number of full-time units, including the 1st Battalion RAR, an artillery unit, an armoured car unit, and training schools in Gwelo (Gweru) and Umtali (Mutare). 

As the British Empire disintegrated following the end of the Second World War, a volunteer group called the Rhodesia Squadron Malayan Scouts was raised in 1951, to support the Commonwealth troops in Malaya (effectively forming the first overseas SAS regiment), and  Rhodesia supplied troops for service in the Suez Canal zone in 1952.

In September 1956, bus fares in Salisbury were raised to the point at which workers were spending between 18% and 30% of their earnings on transportation. The City Youth League responded by boycotting the United Transport Company's buses and succeeded in preventing the price change. On September 12, 1957 members of the Youth League and the defunct ANC formed the Southern Rhodesia African National Congress led by Joshua Nkomo. The Whitehead administrationanned the SRANC in 1959 and arrested 307 leaders, excluding Nkomo who was out of the country, on February 29


The City Youth League, later known as the African Youth League, is a defunct organization that participated in nonviol...
 responded by boycotting the United Transport Company's buses and succeeded in preventing the price change. On September 12, 1957 members of the Youth League and the defunct ANC formed the Southern Rhodesia African National CongressSouthern Rhodesia African National Congress

The Southern Rhodesia African National Congress was a short lived political party of Black Africans in what is now modern Zi...
, led by Joshua Nkomo. The

The prefix "Rhodesia and Nyasaland" was attached to each corps with Federation; units of the RAR were sent to Malaya to replace the Northern Rhodesia Regiment serving there in 1955. With Federation's dissolution on December 31 1963, the army again underwent a large-scale reorganization. Guerrillas began to infiltrated Rhodesia from neighbouring Zambia in early 1966, but the start of the bush war is generally considered to have been the Centenary District farm attack, 21 December 1972. "Operation Hurricane" started in 1973, and in 1974 guerrilla numbers inside the country were estimated to have been reduced to less than 100. 

The real turning-point came with the independence of Mozambique (June 25 1975), and the eventual opening of a second front in the bush war. This coincided with the creation and expansion of a number of specialist units; the Selous Scouts, named after Rhodesia's most famous big game hunter; the Grey's Scouts, who reintroduced cavalry into the Rhodesian army, the intention being to follow the enemy into otherwise inaccessible areas with greater speed than infantry. The 1974 ceasefire failed to create a political solution to the war, seeming only to gave the guerrillas time to regroup and resupply,  .

In 1976, Operations "Thrasher" and "Repulse" started, attempting to contain the ever-increasing influx of guerrillas. At the same time rivalry between the two main guerrilla factions increased and resulted in open fighting in the training camps in Tanzania, with over 600 deaths. The Soviets increased their influence and began to take a more active role in the training and control of the ZIPRA guerrillas. New tactics were developed on both sides.

 Perhaps too late, the Rhodesians decided to take the war to the enemy, and cross-border operations, which had started in 1976 with a raid on a major base in Mozambique in which the Rhodesians had killed over 1200 guerrillas and captured huge amounts of weapons, were stepped up. Attacks on large guerrilla camps such as Chimoio and Tembue resulted in thousands of guerrilla deaths and the capture of supplies sorely needed by the Rhodesians. In 1979 as the war increased even more in intensity, the Rhodesian army was able to take delivery of eight T54/55 heavy tanks which the South Africans had confiscated from a Libyan freighter when it mistakenly docked at Durban while en route to Tanzania.

 In 1978 the Rhodesian Air Force launched the daring "Green Leader" attack on a ZIPRA camp outside Lusaka, the Rhodesian fighters completely taking over Zambian air space for the duration of the raid. In September the guerrillas again took the offensive by shooting down a Rhodesian airliner with a SAM-7 missile. Eighteen civilians who survived the crash were subsequently massacred at the crash site by ZIPRA guerrillas, increasing calls for massive retaliation by the Rhodesian security forces.

 In 1979 another airliner was shot down and the Rhodesians launched more raids on guerrilla bases, successfully avoiding air-defence systems and the Soviet MiG-17s based in Mozambique. A raid was made by the SAS and the Selous Scouts on the ZIPRA HQ in Lusaka, where they narrowly missed being able to kill the ZIPRA leader, Nkomo.

 Towards the end of 1979 talks had begun at Lancaster House in England, with both sides seriously interested in stopping the war, but Rhodesian cross-border raids continued in the meantime, hitting supply lines, strategic bridges and railways in an effort to convince Zambia and Mozambique to put pressure on the guerrilla leaders to end the war. Rhodesian losses in men and aircraft were increasing, whereas the supply of equipment and recruits to the guerrillas seemed endless.

 By the end of 1979 therefore it was becoming obvious that the Rhodesians would be unable to bring the war to a speedy end, despite the fact that their troops were winning every battle and skirmish they engaged in, and that the guerrillas had not yet "liberated" any part of the country.

 A political agreement was finally signed in December 1979, and new elections took place. Commonwealth troops monitored the proceedings, but for a while it seemed that the Rhodesian army, still in control, might stage a coup to prevent a Marxist takeover, with troops and tanks on standby at strategic points in the capital. When it became clear that Mugabe had won a decisive victory at the polls, however, the military reluctantly accepted that there was no point in resuming the war and a new crisis was avoided.

 The first year of independence saw the dissolution of the Rhodesian security forces as the agreement to integrate the former guerrillas into the regular army was implemented. Lack of discipline among the guerrillas caused problems, but the major cause of friction was the fact that the two main guerrilla groups distrusted each other and formed their own rival "camps" in the army. When ZANU introduced the "Fifth Brigade", a new unit trained by North Koreans and loyal only to Mugabe, which gained a reputation for killing civilians, the writing was on the wall for the army as the Rhodesians had known it.

 The Commander, Lt.Gen. Walls, was dismissed by Mugabe, and as the traditional British style discipline broke down in the army, many whites left the country. In the course of 1980 most of the front-line units were disbanded or simply faded away. Disillusionment among the troops was great and the departure of many men to find employment elsewhere contributed to the lack of ceremonial disbandment of some of the units.

The prime example of the fading away of a unit was the case of the Selous Scouts. Because of their clandestine operations and since many of their troops were ex-guerrillas who had been "turned", it was not surprising that after the election an order was immediately given for the Scouts to dispose of their regimental insignia and wear other badges instead. Many Scouts elected to disappear over the border, taking their weapons with them. The majority eventually enlisted in the SADF in comparable elite units, such as the "Recces". There was no parade and no public acknowledgment of their services to their country. Their regimental standard was taken across the border and in 1990 was laid up at Phalaborwa in the unit chapel of the SADF's "5 Recce Regiment".

The RLI was officially disbanded on 25 July 1980 at a last parade before a small crowd, with the troops marching past their War Memorial - the "Trooper" statue (officially known as the Trooper Statue, although everyone knew it as the "Troopie"). The Roll of Honour was read out and the bagpipes played "The Last Post". The regimental colour was marched past for the last time, and three days later the Trooper statue was dismantled and spirited away to South Africa along with the rest of the regimental memorabilia. (Click here for details of the recent movement of the RLI "Troopie" statue).

The Rhodesian SAS also held a simple flag-lowering ceremony, then smuggled their 25-ton plinth across the border to South Africa for safekeeping.

The RAR, composed mainly of African troops, was the only unit not disbanded in 1980. Because of the rivalry between the guerrilla factions, it was fortunate for the new government that the highly-disciplined troops of the RAR remained on hand. In November full-scale fighting broke out between the rival guerrilla groups near Bulawayo with over 500 casualties, and ironically it was the RAR - his former enemy - that Mugabe sent in to quell the fighting among his own former guerrillas. In February 1981 fighting again broke out, this time involving over 10,000 ex-guerrillas. The RAR, which Mugabe had now wanted disbanded, was again sent in to separate the combatants, which they did very efficiently. By December, however, the situation in the Zimbabwe military had deteriorated and many troopers left the RAR, rendering it largely ineffective. On 31 December the order was given to integrate the remainder of the RAR with other units and the last remnants of the Rhodesian army faded away.

 

Trace