Fireforce as a military concept dates from 1974 when the Rhodesian Air Force (RhAF) acquired the French MG151 20mm cannon from the Portuguese. Coupled with this, the traditional counter-insurgency tactics (against Mugabe’s ZANLA and Nkomo’s ZIPRA) of follow-ups, tracking and ambushing simply weren’t producing satisfactory results.
Visionary RhAF and Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI) officers thus expanded on the idea of a ‘vertical envelopment’ of the enemy (first practised by SAS paratroopers in Mozambique in 1973), with the 20mm cannon being the principle weapon of attack, mounted in an Alouette III K-Car (‘Killer car’), flown by the air force commander, with the army commander on board directing his ground troops deployed from G-Cars (Alouette III troop-carrying gunships and latterly Bell ‘Hueys’ in 1979) and parachuted from C-47 Dakotas.
In support would be a propeller-driven ground-attack aircraft armed with front guns, pods of napalm, white phosphorus rockets and a variety of Rhodesian-designed bombs; on call would be Canberra bombers, Hawker Hunter and Vampire jets.
Dr J.R.T Wood
Dr Richard Wood, BA (Hons) (Rhodes), PhD (Edinburgh), FRHistS was born in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). He was educated at St George’s College, Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa, and Edinburgh University, Scotland. He was a Commonwealth scholar and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. He was the Ernest Oppenheimer Memorial Research Fellow at the University of Rhodesia and a Professor of History at the University of Durban-Westville. He is undoubtedly the foremost historian and researcher on the history of Rhodesia in the decades following World War II and, with exclusive access to the hitherto closed papers of Ian Smith, has written three definitive publications: The Welensky Papers; So Far and No Further! and A Matter of Weeks Rather than Months.
He is a renowned military historian, having served as a territorial soldier in the Rhodesia Regiment, and the Mapping & Research Unit of the Rhodesian Intelligence Corps. He has published The War Diaries of André Dennison (1989), numerous articles, conference papers and chapters in books. He has a lifelong interest in matters military, rugby and fly-fishing. He lives in Cape Town, South Africa with his wife Carole.
Publisher30 Degrees South PublishersPublication Date01/11/2010
Marine Corps University Journal Spring 2010
Almost half a century after these events took place, there is still an active interest in the details of the Rhodesian War, the last of the British Empire and Commonwealth’s independence struggles in Africa. Recently, this has even seen the reprint of previous accounts but without substantial update. Yet original records and study exist, and this narrative is a first-rate example of what the last decade of research work have accomplished. The author, J.R.T. Wood, produced on of the classic company commander’s accounts of the Rhodesian War, The War Diaries of Andre Dennison (1989), while editor Chris Cocks wrote the defining personal memoir of front-line fighting in Fireforce: One Man’s War in the Rhodesian Light Infantry (1997). Both men have also been active in continued work and publication of material on the conflict that continues with this current project. My interest in the conflict in Rhodesia began in 1971 while in Southeast Asia. As a junior leader, I was pondering how to do a better job in my small patch of the Vietnam War. Direct exposure to British experience in Malaya and reading about Rhodesia’s “thin white line” seemed to offer other solutions to tactics, techniques, and procedures. A number of Americans, including U.S. Marines, served in the Rhodesian Security Forces during the war, bringing back firsthand experience and recollections. The U.S Marine Corps maintained a low level of continued curiosity in pseudo techniques, mine- and ambush-proofed vehicles, and the conduct of operations through the 1980s and 1990s. The so-called Global War on Terrorism witnessed a renewed (or belated) focus on irregular warfare and low-intensity conflict that conventional campaigns, as shown in the current U.S. Army and Marine Corps field manual Counterinsurgency (FM 3-44, MCWP 3-33.5). How does the Rhodesian experience apply to Iraq and Afghanistan? This text provides some of the needed answers. References like this book should be found on professional reading lists and as command and staff course text. If not, true professionals will buy it “on their own dime.” Wood uses sixteen chapters to describe the development of just one of the tactical innovations coming out of the Rhodesian conflict. This was the successful use of air-ground task forces to eliminate guerrilla bands with the direct application of aerial firepower and maneuver. With the example of similar British, French, American, and Portuguese experience, the Rhodesians developed a unique brand of aviation technology, command and control, and effective troop units to meet the situation they faced on the ground. I would argue this was the result of necessity rather than innovation, as the problem was how to cover MMBA (“miles and miles of bloody Africa”) with limited manpower. This was the same problem the nationalist insurgents dealt with by flooding the country with large numbers of ill-trained and ill-equipped terrorists and guerillas to dominate areas populated by rural black Rhodesians. Fireforce was a concept and application that depended on killing the insurgent to the detriment of occupying the territory thus cleared by police, militia, auxiliaries, and other “protective” forces with an acute lack of political and material support. The Fireforce “killing machine” was not a “hearts and mind” effort. Despite this, it allowed the Rhodesian Security Forces to fight guerilla incursions to a standstill to allow time for political solutions to be negotiated. Wood covers this from Sinoia to Chimoio by describing the evolution of Fireforce as well as providing context in the form of background on the “armed struggle” by nationalists, the security forces response, and the overall development of the counterinsurgency campaign. His coverage ranges from border control and support to the civil power, to the joint operations command, and to the implementation of combined operations and evolving civil-military response to the insurgent threat. He describes the place of the internal Fireforces as well as an example of Fireforce “writ large” with the November 1977 raid on Chimoio, Operation Dingo. This shows how a predominantly internal technique worked for external operations. As the road less taken, the use of the concept outside Rhodesia’s geographic borders was soon countered by the guerillas expanding the area covered by their camps and staging points and no longer providing a concerntrated target that could be confined successfully. There came a point when the combined operations commander, Lieutenant General George P. “Peter” Walls, realized that more insurgents could be killed by external rather than internal operations. Fireforce remained the backbone of the internal effort, while flying columns and special forces led the attacks in external operations. The Rhodesian defensive effort focused on holing “vital asset ground”, at the expense of good tactical terrain and other ground. With this, Fireforce soldiered on with almost daily actions and casualties, as covered by Wood’s final chapter. On 28 December 1979, a last call out occurred from Grand Reef as a brokered cease-fire went into effect. Wood’s prose, graphics, illustrations, and Cock’s audio-visual presentation successfully bring the reader and viewer into the intense world of Fireforce operations. This is a fully documented work written and edited from insights of participants. I highly recommend it, as the lessons of the past have a relevance to the needs of the present.