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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Matchlocks versus Flintlocks

The turn of the 18th century brought an end to the era of matchlock muskets and the flintlock arrived to reign for over 100 years. Most historians accept the fact that the flintlock was a vastly superior weapon, but how much of an edge did the musket really have?

First let’s look at the basic concept of the matchlock musket. Matchlocks evolved throughout multiple wars, but the first of them were operated by a lever. The lever would trigger the pin with attached match cord to move down and light the powder in the pan. Later, matchlocks developed to have a trigger. The muskets were usually at the shoulder of the musketeer, measuring 140 cm (4’5). To load a matchlock, you would pour some powder in the pan, close the pan and blow off the loose powder, pour powder and ball down the barrel, ram the charge, light the match, and fire. The process would usually take a minute for inexperienced musketeers, but many could fire twice per minute.

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Part of a 17th century French drill manual on firing a matchlock musket

Now let’s look at the flintlock. The flintlock operated with a simple system with a hammer, frizzen, and pan. The musket was similar in length and weight to a matchlock and were used in the latter 17th century and continued to be used throughout the 18th century and even through the Napoleonic Wars, ending in 1815. Loading a flintlock was easy to learn for common infantrymen. The soldier would pour some powder into the pan and close the frizzen over it. Then, he would charge the musket by pouring the ball and powder into the barrel from a cartridge. The bullet would be rammed and then he would pull back the hammer. The flint would strike the pan and spark the powder, firing the musket.

Many would label the flintlock as the superior weapon immediately since it clearly arrived on the battlefield after the development of matchlock muskets. However, the flintlock did not have much of an edge at all. Loading times were staggeringly similar. Trained musketeers in the 1680s and 90s fired flintlocks in 30 seconds, just two seconds less than the average time to fire a matchlock (according to John Tincey in Osprey MAA 267). The weight and lengths of these muskets were comparably the same, too. Both weapons would frequently misfire due to problems with their pans and damp powder would not fire from either musket. Many musketeers continued to use the matchlock into the very early 18th century. So why was it replaced?

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British musketeers at Blenheim, 1704 – The War of Spanish Succession was the first war in which the matchlock truly was replaced on the battlefield. It was still used, however, by some Russians in the Great Northern War.

Matchlock musketeers carried their powder in wooden cartridges slung around their shoulders, nicknamed ‘apostles.’ Musketballs were carried in a pouch, and powder for their pans was in a horn. Including this, the musketeer had wadding in a separate pouch. These were very fiddly to operate, and would waste time. In the heat of battle, a musketeer may forget which ‘apostle’ he used and may forget wadding, causing a muzzle flash but no shot. Musketeers in the flintlock-era solved this problem by using paper cartridges, which were quicker to load and more effective. Flintlock muskets also had the ability to attach bayonets to them. The plug bayonet could be used by matchlocks, but this prevented firing, and many matchlock musketeers relied on swords or their regiment’s pikemen to defend them. Socket and plug bayonets were more common for the flintlock, and when Louis XIV first introduced the socket bayonet, it was exclusive to flintlock muskets. Flintlocks also removed the problems with matchcords, which would fizzle out on many occasions and cause uncoordinated firing from companies. Flintlocks were perfect for volleys and therefore suited the evolving style of European armies.

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The pan of a matchlock musket

The advantage is taken by the flintlock thanks to technological advances away from the musket itself. When presented head-to-head, these muskets were not much different from one another. Mass production in the Industrial Revolution played a large role in the flintlock overtaking the matchlock as the primary weapon on the battlefield, as well as the disappearance of pikes and the evolution of the Marlburian-Era tactics.

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.

HMS Macedonian vs USS United States

Painters have a fascination with the ocean. Monet’s “La Terasse de St.-Adresse”, Gericault’s “Raft of the Medusa”, and Turner’s “The Fighting Temerarie” all illustrate the sea’s crashing waves, ships tossing about, and the serenity of the water. Some paintings are of war, and the combination of these two themes create masterpieces. This painting, by Thomas Chambers, is “Capture of H.B.M Frigate Macedonian by U.S. Firgate United States, October 25, 1812.” It is time to explore both the art and the history behind Chambers’ piece.

Capture of H.B.M. Frigate Macedonian by U.S. Frigate United States, October 25, 1812

The painting is in the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C. on a wall in the second floor corridor. Painted in 1852, the image shows a duel between HMS Macedonian and the USS United States, early in the War of 1812. First we must understand the background to the piece. The War of 1812 began on the seas as the US and Britain became involved in a series of disputes over impressment. The United States’ claims to parts of Canada and the Franco-American sympathies helped turn the tide and war was declared in 1812. The USS United States was the first American frigate ever built, ordered in March of 1794. The ship’s captain, Stephen Decatur, allegedly made a bet with the commander of the Macedonian, John Carden, in Norfolk, Virginia. If the two were to meet in battle, Carden owed Decatur his beaver-felt hat. The United States was sent to patrol North Africa where it came into contact with the Macedonian off the Azores.

USS United States had a strong advantage over HMSMacedonian in its firepower. Most of the United States’ guns were 24-pounders, while HMS Macedonian was equipped with primarily 18-pounders. The United States also had six more guns and was a larger, more-powerful ship. The United States‘ broadsides riddled the British frigate at a long range and demasted the ship. Carden surrendered his ship after suffering some 100 casualties. The Macedonian was the first British ship to be bested by an American ship and the first to be returned to an American port (Newport, Rhode Island). HMS Macedonian was recommissioned as USS Macedonian and served until 1824.

Carden and the Macedonian

The close-up above shows Capt. John Carden of HMS Macedonian announcing his surrender to the United States with a loudhailer as the American ship fires a broadside into the Macedonian‘s hull. The sails next to him are covered in holes from the shot. It is important to note the damages around the ship as the USS United States fired about seventy broadsides. Chambers’ painting shows the ship in a much better state than it would have been. Many of the crew on both side are on deck, but on the United States, they would have been below decks firing the broadside illustrated.

USS United States

The whisps of smoke are my favourite part of this painting. Think how difficult it is to paint smoke and even show the wooden hull behind it. The American crew cheers from the deck and further to the right stands Decatur, responding to Carden over the roar of the cannon. Notice how the American ship is in the light of victory. Chambers was born in England, but moved to the United States where he would paint this in 1852. It is interesting to see where his loyalties lie.

While this painting is not as famous as “The Coronation of Napoleon” which I previously reviewed , it is still a very intriguing painting as it shows the different aspects of naval combat and the differences between each nation’s ships in one of the first naval engagements of the War of 1812.

Wargame Figures: New Model Army

The New Model Army was created in 1645 during the English Civil War and they were the first English troops to wear the trademark red coat. Fighting against the Royalists and the Irish, the New Model Army was extremely religious. The Puritan troops fought many famous battles such as Naseby, Preston, Limerick, and Galway.

Here are the figures I created including musketeers, pikemen, flag bearers, dragoons, cuirassiers, and artillery:

New Model Army

Feel free to print out your own figures here and check out all of the other paper miniatures I’ve designed.

Wargame Figures: The Battle of Fontenoy 1745

Arguably the most important battle in the War of Austrian Succession, Fontenoy pitted French troops against an Anglo-Hanoverian and Dutch force in the fields of Belgium. I made wargame minatures in 15mm scale to replicate each regiment that was present at the battle so you can reenact sections of this engagement. Including generals, infantry, artillery, and cavalry, the set I created is as accurate a representation to the flags and uniforms as possible.

Artillery and Generals (Micro-scale)

Here are all of the links to print off your figures:

British & Hanoverian Infantry

Dutch & Austrian Infantry

Allied Cavalry

French Infantry

French Cavalry

Generals & Artillery

If you would like to learn more about the Battle of Fontenoy, feel free to read the review of Osprey Publishing’s recent book about the battle here.