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Rhodesian Bush War - Grey's Scouts

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This is project will concentrate on the existence of Grey’s Scouts, a predominantly ‘white’ mounted infantry battalion that fought insurgents in the Rhodesian Bush War between 1975 -1979. The unit was disbanded at the conclusion of the Bush War in 1979 and became a regiment of the Special Forces of Zimbabwe in June 1980. It was totally disbanded in July 1986 due to lack of resources.

Grey's Scouts

Grey's Scouts Ride Again

Medal awards

Mercenary Wars

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Background to Grey's Scouts

In June 1896, only a few months after the eruption of the Matabele Rebellion in Rhodesia, approximately one hundred white European settlers were killed. One of the volunteer units to go to the help of the settlers was Grey’s Scouts.

Almost eighty years later, Grey’s Scouts was re-established as a Rhodesian mounted infantry unit, based in Salisbury (now Harare). The troops were known for tracking, reconnaissance, pursuit and border patrol, covering an area of over 65 km (40 mi) on an average day, often through active minefields.

The Scouts transported materials and supplies over terrains impassable to vehicles while the horses themselves were mostly given in charity by sympathisers of the Rhodesian effort from South Africa and elsewhere.

  • In 1976 the Scouts were again seeking out insurgents in North East Mashonaland and were probably the first mounted infantry seen in the world since the Red Army clashed with the Waffen SS cavalry in Russia.

Logistics of the terrain

In Rhodesia, logistical realities became real issues.

  • The country was surrounded by land with no sea access.
  • Every vehicle and litre of petrol had to be imported.
  • Gruelling bush conditions.
  • Large numbers of the vehicles had been destroyed by land-mines.
  • Many vehicles became bogged down by rains, or in the dry season columns of dust advertised their approach.

A growing force

Initially the Grey’s Scouts unit consisted of around 200 men but this would eventually grow to over 1,000. Soldiers were conscripted from the Rhodesian Army infantry and were then instructed in equestrianism.

'Farriers, horse breeders, smithers and manufacturers' were employed and trained as mounted infantry and also for engagements on foot.

The number of casualties they suffered during the Rhodesian Bush War is known, and is recorded to be only nine.

  • Grey's Scouts comprised a mix of men ranging from crack polo players to Foreign Legionnaires who had never before ridden a horse and were mostly volunteers.
  • Each troop had its own veterinary officers, farriers and saddlers’, though sometimes units lacked a medic. Threats of ambush were always present.

The unit was disbanded following the conclusion of the Bush War in 1979 and then became a regiment of the Special Forces of Zimbabwe from June 1980 - 1986.

Marked men

Robert Mugabe vowed to hunt down those who had inflicted damage on his forces.

They were forced to flee the country, many being flown out, others leaving by road with lump-sum pensions paid by the Smith Government.

It was a freedom fighter war filled with atrocities. Anyone suspected of informing security forces on insurgent activity could expect to be harshly treated.

Medal Awards:

  • Cpl Mike Wilkinson BCR - Bronze Cross of Rhodesia for bravery in action in Sengwe Tribal area. Promoted to Sargeant.
  • Cpl J.J. du Plessis - Bronze Cross of Rhodesia for unselfish gallantry during ZIPRA insurgents skirmish in the Gona-Re-Zou Game Reserve.
  • Cpl John Coast - Silver Cross of Rhodesia for unselfish gallantry during conflict against ZIPRA at Victoria Falls.
  • Cpt Vince King - Defence Force Meritorious Medal for outstanding services to Quartermaster stores under difficult operational circumstances
  • Cpt Richard Passaportis BCR


Grey’s Scouts Regiment

Armed Forces & Modern Counter-insurgency – Frederick William Beckett, Ian; John Pimlott (1985)


The origins of the Rhodesian Civil War

The origins of the war in Rhodesia can be traced to the colonization of the region by white settlers in the late 19th century.

  • Rhodesia is known as Zimbabwe Rhodesia and is currently under a black majority government.
  • Resistance stemmed from the wide disparities in wealth possessions between blacks and whites resulting in armed struggle.
  • South Africa clandestinely provided material and military support to the Rhodesian government.
  1. Zimbabwe African People’s Union - ZAPU and its military wing ZIPRA.
  1. Zimbabwe African National Union - ZANU - and its military wing ZANLA.
  2. A front for the Liberation of Zimbabwe -FROLIZI - a militant nationalist organisation.

The Bush War was also known as the Zimbabwe War of Liberation taking place between July 1964 and December 1979. Involvement was in a number of conflicts:

  • Angolan War of Independence (1961-1975) and Angolan Civil War (1975-2002)
  • Mozambique War of Independence (1964-1974)
  • Mozambican Civil War (1977-1992) and the Shaba 1 and 11 conflicts (1977-1978)
  • FRELIMO – Mozambique’s independence movement, supported by China

Southern Rhodesia was promised by the British Imperial Government (although this was never officially committed to treaty) that she would also be granted independence within the Commonwealth once hostilities had ceased.

'Zimbabwe Rhodesia' was created in 1979 although legally the 'Republic of Zimbabwe' was formally proclaimed in 1980.

The Federation of Rhodesia & Nyasaland

The Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, meanwhile, was established in 1953 to allow for white rule in the region.

The emergent black leader of this period was future Malawian president Hastings Banda and by the 1960s the Federation was in the grip of organized black civil unrest.
This resulted first in the independence of Nyasaland as Malawi, and then Northern Rhodesia as Zambia, on collapse of the Federation white Southern Rhodesia became known as Rhodesia.

UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence)

Ian Douglas Smith viewed the steady advance of black political independence down the length of Africa as part of a wider communist assault against the western, Christian values that he purported to represent.

  • He failed in his efforts to negotiate independence for white Rhodesia which on 11 November 1965, was recast as a rebel republic, remaining so until the advent of majority rule in 1980.

The Immediate Ramifications

  • International sanctions that included both an arms and fuel embargo,
  • Removal from any hope of direct British military support, and nor, indeed, any overt political support.
  • The black population received effective notice that white Rhodesia was not going to collapse quite as easily as the British Empire had elsewhere on the continent.
  • Banning of the two principal nationalist organisations.

Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU).
Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) .

  • Imprison or restrict their political leadership.
  • Governments in exile were set up in Tanzania and Zambia and planning commenced for an armed insurgency to topple white rule in Rhodesia.

Perhaps the most effective tool in the Rhodesian Bush War arsenal was the rural black population itself, which passed back information to the authorities regarding the movement of unknown groups of armed men through their areas.

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Rhodesian Security Forces ]