Trethowan starts his BSAP service as an ordinary officer in Rhodesia`s second city, Bulawayo, where an incident with a female stalker convinces the authorities to transfer him to Filabusi, a rural settlement a distance south east of Bulawayo in northern Matebeleland South. There he was soon assigned to GC duties, becoming the area`s “Scouter Delta”, or Delta Scout.
Counterinsurgency is largely about intelligence –keeping a finger on the pulse of a community, setting up and maintaining informer networks, making sense of scraps of information and acting on them.
Delta Scout is the story Anthony Trethowan, a British South Africa Police (BSAP) Ground Coverage (GC) operator.
“The means at my disposal were my Land Rover and a black sergeant, Sergeant ‘M`. We operated alone or in a pair. We cultivated and debriefed contacts, informers and sources and attended and investigated the murders of ‘sell-outs`, but our main task was to find the terrorists and have them eliminated. When wee were sure of the location of a terrorist gang we would call for Fireforce and, if unavailable (as was mostly the case), we would send in ground troops whom we would brief and deploy. The idea was not for us to engage terrorists but to locate them and let the military do the rest.”
“In the way of things, this seldom happened. When you were getting close to a terrorist gang it was likely that they would know your whereabouts before you knew theirs. … Inevitably they would initiate a firefight and you would have to fight your way out of it. The consequences were often tragic. GC as a unit took a lot of casualties and many good friends of mine were killed in this manner while on operations. This was simply because we were undertrained and hopelessly outnumbered. There was no selection procedure for GC – you were ‘volunteered` albeit never forced. Some fellows adapted and developed their skills, while others didn`t and paid the ultimate price.”
Trethowan`s three years at Filabusi mainly had him in contact with Joshua Nkomo`s ZIPRA guerrillas, though he sometimes also engaged Robert Mugabe`s ZANLA and frequently chanced onto the detritus left when ZANLA and ZIPRA – who detested each other – met. After the Filabusi stint, Trethowan was posted to GC on the outskirts of Salisbury, where he served to 1980.
An eminently readable book, this is to the reviewer`s knowledge the first comprehensive look at GC in the Rhodesian bush war. That alone makes it a “must read” for all interested in counterinsurgency warfare.
300 South Publishers