Book Review: Zambezi Valley Insurgency

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Zambezi Valley Insurgency is Dr JRT Wood’s latest look at the Rhodesian Bush War, this time focussing on the period April 1966 to April 1970, a period during which insurgency by was largely confined to the Zambezi River valley.

Wood does this by describing each operation in turn (Pagoda 1 to Granite), supported by maps he generated himself. This should be very useful to students of counterinsurgency and future historians.

The book raises an interesting question, the culpability of the Rhodesian Treasury in the ultimate demise of the country. As early as March 1967 reports commissioned by the counterinsurgency committee of Cabinet warned of trouble ahead. Some time later, Army chief of staff Brigadier Keith Coster added that a recent operation, Cauldron, had overstretched both the army and air force.
“Consequently Coster pressed for the expansion of the regular army to allow more than one operation to be mounted simultaneously. He recalled he had asked for this in October 1967, but the reply from the Treasury was that it had insufficient funds. Coster insisted that the money had to be found because his force would have to face the 1000 insurgents being trained by ZANU, ZAPU and [South Africa’s ANC and PAC]. These … forces were also developing links with Mozambique’s experienced and militant … [FRELIMO] at a time when it was spreading its influence into the Tete province and threatening Rhodesia’s vulnerable northeast border. The incursions into Rhodesia had been by small or relatively small groups but, Coster repeated, Cauldron had left the reserve strength of the Rhodesian forces at a dangerously low level when they also had to assist the BSAP [the Rhodesian police] and the SAP [an expeditionary deployment by the South African Police] in the impossible task of preventing groups from slipping through Rhodesia’s long borders.
“Coster warned therefore that, because guerrilla warfare was based on surprise and hit and run, countering it required constant patrolling on the ground and in the air along with good communications, rapid mobility and the ability to concentrate sufficient forces and aircraft. To date, he wrote, Rhodesia had been fortunate to contain subversion with relatively fewer troops than any country but her enemies were improving their tactics, training and logistics. It meant Rhodesia needed to increase her effective infantry strength and improve command and control.”

His cure was an expansion of the army, either by an extension of national service or by adding more regulars. The Air Force needed more muscle too, to allow for the proper staffing of forward air fields and to provide multiple pilots for the light aircraft (4 Sqn) and helicopters (7 Sqn) that were primarily then involved in the conflict. “He acknowledged he could call up the territorials … but only for short periods.” His proposal thus was to bring the regular Rhodesia Light Infantry up to full establishment strength and expand the Special Air Service squadron, then the most successful counterinsurgency unit, by four troops [platoons]. Coster also needed another brigade headquarters.

It is not clear from this work whether Coster was heeded the second time, but it is clear by the mid-to late 1970s, when steps were taken, including commissioning black officers (first proposed and shot down in 1966), “Rhodesia was in desperate straits”.

JRT Woods

Africa@War Volume 5

Zambezi Valley Insurgency – Early Rhodesian Bush War Operations
30 Degrees South Publishers

Johannesburg
2012
72 pages

Illustrated, maps, diagrammes

No index