Rhodesia: The Colossus of Southern Africa

The Modern Wars of Africa are some of the bloodiest and racially divided of the 20th century and no nation exemplified those traits quite like Southern Rhodesia, an autonomous nation under the control of the British Empire. Named for Cecil Rhodes, Rhodesia lasted for a decent portion of the 20th century until it became Zimbabwe in 1980 after years of conflict. Whites led the government in Rhodesia much like South Africa, where blacks were violently suppressed.

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Rhodesian troops sitting on their tank armed with FALs and AK-47s

Ian Smith, Prime Minister of Rhodesia, led his white supremacist supporters in the RF (Rhodesian Front). When he attempted in 1965 to create an independent Rhodesia, Britain was outraged. Not only was a colony declaring independence, but Smith was determined to repress all blacks in the country. Britain attempted to defuse the situation, but refused to send troops into Rhodesia. The United Nations criticized Smith’s regime’s blatant racism and encouraged sanctions to be imposed in order to cripple the economy. With a failing economy and international pressure, the blacks in Rhodesia rose up in order to create an independent Zimbabwe. Smith’s response? War.

In 1972, the white population of Rhodesia was overwhelmingly small compared to the black population. Apartheid-era South Africa assisted white Rhodesia with their economy and sent troops and police to keep things in order. Black independence movement like the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) took up arms against Smith’s regime in guerrilla and targeted attacks. Chinese-backed ZANU and Soviet-backed ZAPU stood mainly to remove the white elite from power and create a better government where the 4 million-strong black majority had the real power. ZANU attacked white farmers in the northeast in large guerrilla operations. This prompted Operation Hurricane that December, which managed to quiet the number of attacks.

 

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Map of the main Rhodesian operations against ZANU and ZAPU

The war trickled into Mozambique and Zambia as many ZANU and ZAPU bases were located there. As the Zimbabwe ‘Freedom Fighters’ butchered whites all throughout the nation, the Rhodesians stepped up their military attacks. Conscription escalated and no Rhodesians over 17 were allowed to leave the country to study in attempts to avoid draft. Those who refused to join were often arrested and tortured. The Rhodesian Bush War exploded into a racial war of atrocities. Villages were burned, civilians were slaughtered, and no quarter was given.

By 1976, the situation for white Rhodesia was becoming worse as forces clashed with Mozambican and Zambian troops on several occasions. The border was closed and the Rhodesian Air Force bombed multiple sites along the border as well. The whites were only supported by South Africa with just two precious rail lines. If they lost those, they would be alone. Tourism was halted as many became caught in the crossfire. The state of white Rhodesia was deteriorating fast as they fought Zimbabwean guerrillas, Zambian forces, and Mozambican troops. Operations Tangent and Repulse attempted to assuage threats to the east, but to no avail. Henry Kissinger met with the South African PM and managed to convince them to stop sending aid to Rhodesia. They were alone.

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Rhodesian Light Infantry outside their helicopter

Zimbabwean militants destroyed railroad bridges for Rhodesia’s supplies in 1976 and managed to further cripple the economy. Mozambican troops fought against Rhodesians but they were crushed by the RhAF. The USSR, the US, Britain, and the UN denounced the invasion, prompting Smith to remove his forces. By 1978, the war had reached peak brutality as 50 civilians were cut down and 106 militants were killed in Salisbury, the capital of Rhodesia. Helicopter attacks by Rhodesian troops were common. By 1979, the war was too much for Smith’s white government. The Lancaster Agreement was signed, transferring power to the black majority. Zimbabwe became its own nation.under the leadership of Canaan Banana.

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Book Review: The Last Battle

Peter Hart’s new book, The Last Battle, is a study of the concluding months of the First World War. Beginning at the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, Hart takes readers through the dying days of the war and reveals its ferocity and brutality even with hours before armistice. I was wildly impressed with this book and enjoyed it much more than I originally thought.

Praise:

Hart’s use of quotes is fantastic and there is rarely a page without one. The large number of quotes paint a great picture of the soldiers’ experiences. Many of the quotes are from British troops, but it includes a number of Commonwealth troops. American, French, and German perspectives also add to the book. Since Hart is an oral historian, he knows how to use quotations perfectly in his books. If you have read Gallipoli, you will not be dissapointed. here are a few maps included of certain battles as well as an overview of Flanders in Sept. 1918. Hart includes the sectors of each individual army and breaks it down by division. Chapter 1 is very useful since it reviews the effects of Operation Michael (Kaiserschlacht) on the Western Front. A casualty list gives readers an idea of how costly this war has proven. A lot of people would assume this book is about the infantry. The book includes a large number of sources from artillery and air units, including vivid descriptions of dogfights and devastating air crashes. This book gives you a feeling, something not many history books do. When you know a war is drawing to an end, each lost life you read about hurts just a bit more. Men die with weeks, days, hours, even minutes before peace. It feels horrible when you know somebody is so close to being safe and returning home to their mothers, wives, and children.

Criticism:

I have little criticism about this book, but the main thing is the lack of German or French sources. There are a decent number, but a few more wouldn’t hurt at all. The maps were VERY confusing at first thanks to complex objective lines, but there’s a key so it’s not as bad as it sounds.

Rating:

5/5

Spaniards in the Highlands: The Battle of Glen Sheil

The War of the Quadruple Alliance began in 1717 in the hopes of defeating Spanish power in Europe post-succession. The alliance of Great Britain, France, the Dutch, and the Holy Roman Empire united to prevent Spain under Philip V from breaking the Treaty of Utrecht (1713). The treaty gave Austria the Spanish Netherlands and parts of Italy while England controlled Gibraltar and parts of the Americas from France. Cardinal Giulio Alberoni, reminiscent of the legendary Richelieu, controlled the Spanish king and convinced him into marriages and the rebuilding of a navy. The Quadruple Alliance began to worry, and rightfully so, as Spain was preparing for war. Most battles were fought throughout Italy in 1718 and 1719, but the Spanish created a plan to invade the British Isles.

Irish exile James Butler, Duke of Ormonde, created the idea to overthrow King George I in favour of James “the Pretender”, son of James II. Catholic Spain supported the invasion and began gathering troops to send over to Ireland. With Spanish troops ready to sail for Britain, Butler dispatched his fleet. Just like the Spanish Armada of 1588, a massive storm destroyed the ships off the coast of Galicia. Just 300 Spaniards managed to arrive in Scotland after being blown off course. George Keith and his Spanish troops landed in County Ross where they managed to get the support of Jacobite highlanders. At Eilean Donan Castle, Jacobites learned of British ships sent to attack them.

HMS Worcester, HMS Enterprise, and HMS Flamborough; the strongest of the ships; arrived near Eilean Donan and sent a parlay ashore to negotiate. When the highlanders opened fire, the British rushed back to their ships and began pounding the castle with shell. British Marines snuck ashore on the night of May 10 and caught the defenders by surpise, forcing their surrender. With a good portion of their support gone, Keith was struggling to keep his operations going. The Spaniards and Jacobites fell back to a mountain pass- Glenn Sheil.

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The Battle of Glen Shiel, 10 June 1719

The Spaniards and Jacobites created defenses at Glen Shiel that bisected the road. 200 men of the Galicia Regiment were supported by members of the Clans Mackenzie, MacKinnon, Cameron, McGregor, Murray, and Keith. The entire force numbered about 1,000 men. British forces under the command of Gen. Joseph Wightman arrived on June 10. Montagu’s Regiment and Clayton’s Regiment were sent to defeat the Jacobites along with the Huttel Dutch Regiment, a company of grenadiers, 120 dragoons, and four mortars. The Galicians were positioned on a hill overlooking the enemy while Scottish troops manned the barricades on the road. Murray’s troops were mortared and then charged by the British, cracking after an hour of fighting. George Seaforth attacked the Jacobite left, but he was wounded in the arm by the Galicians in the assault. The flanks began to crumble and the Spanish line caved in, routing uphill away from the deadly fire of the British troops. The Spanish were captured and imprisoned in Edinburgh till the end of the war in early 1720. Keith later became Prussian ambassador to Spain, but the Spanish attacks on Scotland failed spectacularly in a widely overlooked conflict of the early 18th century.

To view a map of the battle drawn by Lt. John Bastide at the National Library of Scotland, click here.

Wargame Figures: Ottomans in the Crimean War

One of the four allied countries to send troops to fight the Russians, the Ottoman Empire sent a large army to Crimea. Their westernized uniforms with fezzes were a common sight on the battlefields, as over 140,000 Ottoman soldiers fought in the war. 45,000 of these soldiers would lose their lives, more than even the British forces in the war. To use my Ottoman troops in your Crimean War wargames, click here.

Ottoman Contingent

Book Review: Passchendaele

Nick Lloyd released his new book just before the centennial of the Battle of Passchendale (also known as 3rd Ypres). Passchendaele is synonymous with mud and death as British and Dominion troops clashed with Germans over a small ridge and a few wooded plots of land. Names like Polygon Wood. Poperinge, Langemark, and Menin Road became etched in history as some of the bloodiest spots of the entire war. The churned up countryside of Flanders became home to the bodies of 670,000 soldiers and millions of horses. This gruesome battle would put the new British “bite and hold” tactics against the might on the Hindenburg Line.

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Praise:

The book opens with the failure of the Nivelle Offensive by the French in the spring of 1917 and then gives a small description of the Battle for Messines Ridge. These two battles help one understand the background for the Battle of Passchendaele and illustrates the new tactical revolutions the British command underwent. Every chapter opens with a quote about the battle and uncovers some of the feelings of general and private alike. One harrowing quote that opens a chapter is an excerpt from a soldier’s letter to his parents: “Our dead were lying in heaps. It was the worst slaughter I had ever seen.” Another quote in the book was by Hermann von Kuhl, the Chief of Staff to Crown Prince Rupprecht. Kuhl said that “no division could last more than a fortnight in this Hell.” Passchendaele is full of primary sources from both the British and the German forces. Lloyd, a professor at Kings College London, has great access to the collections of the Imperial War Museum and the British National Archives. He also traveled to Germany to collect sources at the Bundesarchiv and the Bayerisches Hauptstaatarchiv. He also has sources from the Australians and Canadians, who played a major role in the latter stages of the battle. The book has about two Victoria Cross citations per chapter during the battle showing the incredible heroism in the face of danger. Lance Corporal Walter Peeler and Sergeant Lewis McGee both captured German machine gun bunkers by themselves under fire at Poelcappe and Zonnebecke.  There are plenty of other amazing stories of soldiers such as them in the battle. Lloyd’s maps are very good too, indicating the objectives which troops were ordered to take. The photographs are very good and one which was very striking was Polygon Wood during the battle, completely leveled by the scars of artillery. The book really shows the internal struggles between the English command. The conflict between Haig and his subordinates caused many problems, as did the fights between the Army generals also, notably Henry Plumer and Sir Hugh Gough. Lloyd’s writing shows how horrible the battle was for a common soldier, shuffling closer to death in a wet, muddy hole. I have used Lloyd’s other books in historical essays and the amount of detail you can gather from his books is astonishing. This book continues that trend. A perfect blend of historical sources, bravery, high command, and gripping battle descriptions make this one of the standout history books of the year. The book also ends quite abruptly without any description of future events, which bothered me a little.

Criticism:

There is not much that I have a problem with in the book. I initially had some problems recognizing when the Battle of Passchendaele officially started. You could easily read a good deal into the book thinking you were still at the Battle of Messines Ridge. Another point which sometimes bothered me was the cutbacks to the Italian Front. The Battle of Capporetto was happening during the Battle of Passchendaele, so Lloyd mentions the fighting in Italy every few chapters. It doesn’t make much of a difference with or without it. Capporetto simply reveals a little more of the character of David Lloyd George, the Prime Minister of Britain at the time.

Passchendaele is a great book to fill in a gap on the Western Front history section. A book like this really needed to be published to tell how much this battle influenced British tactics and damaged the mind of the common soldier. The book also reveals how much of a stalemate the war was in late 1917. Many people simply label the German troops as poor at this point, simply due to the knowledge of the Entente victory in 1918. This is not true. German forces showed incredible resistance and strength during the battle, taking back the ridge within two weeks. Nick Lloyd is a great author and this book makes it to the top of the tree for the holidays this year.

Rating:

4.5 / 5