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Rhodesian Light Infantry - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Rhodesian Light Infantry

 

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 
Rhodesian Light Infantry

Cap badge of the Rhodesian Light Infantry. The Queen's crown indicates that it is pre-1970 pattern.
Active February 1, 1961–November 1, 1980
Country Rhodesia
Allegiance Republic of Rhodesia
Branch Regular Army, Rhodesian Bush War
Type Infantry
Role various
Garrison/HQ Cranborne Barracks, Salisbury
Nickname The Saints
The Incredibles
Colors Green & White        
March "When the Saints Go Marching In"
Mascot Cheetah
Anniversaries February 1, 1961
Engagements Rhodesian Bush War

 

The Rhodesian Light Infantry, or R.L.I., was a regular army infantry regiment in the Rhodesia army. Composed only of white recruits, the First Battalion Rhodesian Light Infantry was formed within the army of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in 1961 in Bulawayo.

 

Contents

Origin

The battalion's nucleus was formed from the short-lived Number One Training Unit, which had been raised to provide personnel for a white infantry battalion as well as for C Squadron 22 (Rhodesian) SAS and the Selous Scouts (the Rhodesian Armoured Car Regiment, not the special forces regiment of the same name—although Ron Reid-Daly, Commanding Officer of the Selous Scouts, had been the RSM and then an officer in the R.L.I.).

1 R.L.I. included 100 recruits from South Africa, and was trained by instructors seconded from the British Army; shortly afterwards the regiment moved to its HQ at Cranborne Barracks near the capital, Salisbury.

As well as Rhodesian-born (or raised) soldiers, the Rhodesian Light Infantry (and 3 Commando in particular) attracted foreign volunteers from the British Isles, South Africa, the United States, Mozambique (settlers of Portuguese descent), Australia, New Zealand, Canada, France, West Germany, Scandinavia and other places. This does not mean however, that this was a mercenary unit, as it was a regular unit of the Rhodesian Army and the non-Rhodesians (who all spoke English) joined not for wealth (pay and conditions of service were the same as Rhodesian regulars). The significant majority of serving members were Rhodesian.

From 1977 onwards around half of the battalion was composed of selected Rhodesian conscripts, who served less time (in theory) than a regular. In practice, there was such a high turnover that the conscript could serve longer than many a regular. The quality of these conscripts was overall at least as high as the regulars, of which many were former conscripts.

The battalion was organised into four company size sub-units called "Commandos", numbered One to Three and Support Commando. In theory each Commando had five "Troops" (platoon size structures), though most of the time there were only four. The average fighting strength of a Commando was about 70 men. The rank order was this: Trooper (around two-thirds), lance-corporals, corporals, sergeants, colour-sergeant, sergeant-major, Lieutenants, Captain and Major (sometimes there was no Major and the Officer Commanding was a Captain)—but all ranks tended to be called "troopies" by the Rhodesian media.

 

Operations

The R.L.I. was at the forefront of the so-called Bush War or Second Chimurenga, the armed struggle by nationalist guerrillas against the white minority government of Rhodesia from the late 1960s until majority rule in 1980, when the country became known as Zimbabwe. This conflict is an excellent example of classic "counter-insurgency" warfare—so called "guerrilla war" (though of course unique, as all wars are).

 

Fire Force

The R.L.I.'s most characteristic deployment was the "fire force" reaction operation. This was an operational assault or response composed of, usually, a first wave of 32 soldiers carried to the scene by three helicopters and one DC-3 Dakota (called "Dak"), with a command/gun helicopter and a light attack-aircraft in support. The latter was a Cessna Skymaster, armed with two machine-guns and normally two 30 mm rocket pods and two small napalm-bombs (made in Rhodesia and called "Fran-tan"). The RLI became extremely adept at this type of military operation.

A Commando would be based at an airfield with usually four helicopters, one DC-3 Dakota and the Cessna (known as the "Lynx"). The helicopters were Alouette Mk IIIs (in 1979 a few Bell UH-1s were used) of which one was equipped with a 20mm cannon and seating arrangement for the commander of the operation who was usually the officer in charge of the Commando. This machine/entity was called the "k-car" with a crew of three (pilot, gunner, and commander). The other three helicopters were known as "g-cars" and carried four soldiers ("troopies") along with the pilot and his helper (technician—called "tech"). This carrying capacity of the g-car dictated the combat organisation of the Commando, which was called a "stop". Stop-1 was assigned to the first g-car, stop-2 to the second, stop-3 to the third. Stop-4 to stop-8 were for the Dakota.

Each stop had four soldiers. One was the commander, with a radio, a FN FAL, 100 rounds (7.62 × 51 mm NATO), several types of grenade. One was the machine gunner, with a FN MAG machine-gun and carrying 400 rounds. The other two were riflemen with a FN and 100 rounds, grenades, rifle grenades and medical equipment. During 1979 one of these two was issued a radio.

The Dak carried five stops. Two on the port side, three on the starboard. Apart from the parachutes the equipment was identical to the heli-stops. The gunner had to jump with his machine-gun strapped to his side and carrying 400 rounds.

These eight stops (32 men) were deemed the "first wave". The fire force (of which there were only three main ones most of the time) had responsibility for huge swathes of the country (many thousands of square miles each). Any sightings of the enemy within the fire-force zone was reported and a siren sounded in the base. The first wave rushed to their air-vehicles (after of course donning their webbing and packs—the para-stops went first to the tent where their equipment and parachutes were held and the dispatchers (often their own) waited to help them), whilst normally the second wave rushed to the lorries, though if it was nearby they were held at the airfield to be picked up by the g-cars. "Stops" took turns in heli/para/first/second wave after each scene. The lorry-element was very often an important factor in refueling of helicopters and recovering of deceased persons (enemy and civilian) and parachutes. Sometimes there was a small third wave if numbers permitted, though often only the first-wave was involved.

The most important factors (apart from the reaction of the enemy and the terrain) in a fire force operation were firstly the reliability of the sighting of the enemy and secondly the skill of the fire force commander. In the first case the majority of successful contacts were due to the skills of the Selous Scouts (many of which were former enemy). They alone had the capacity to insert observation patrols (OP's) into the bush without being noticed by the inhabitants. In the second case the difficulty of commanding the scene was extreme and good fire force commanders were highly prized by the troopies.

How soon the enemy heard the approaching helicopters and his reaction to it was of course decisive. Wind direction and speed, the presence of a tree-covered ridge-line or a multitude of other factors would make the difference of life or death. Where he was caught in unfavourable terrain for him (like a village surrounded by open ground) he had no chance and normally none escaped (unless it was near nightfall).

Although the number of operational parachute jumps was remarkable (by far the most occasions by any one battalion—though it is possible that one or more French Para Battalions (for example: 2/BCCP) deployed more men into action by parachute in total - in the First Indochina War), the majority of troopies were carried into action by the helicopters. In these fire force operations the battalion killed or captured (the great majority killed) around 3000 of the enemy (the vast majority being ZANLA—Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army) in the last three years of the war, whilst losing less than two hundred killed and wounded in action (not counting those casualties incurred in patrolling or external ops, or other causes).

 

Tactics of fire-force operations

(The following paragraphs are for the standard Fireforce assault of one K-car, three G-cars, a Dakota and the Lynx. Often there was no Dakota involved, or more G-cars. When in 1979 Cheetas (the Bell Hueys) were introduced, a Commando might go into action with two or three of these, each carrying two (sometimes three) stops. There were many times when there was no Lynx.)

The K-car was always the first to arrive at the scene. The K-car Commander, using the radio call-sign One-Nine, Two-Nine, Three-Nine, or Four-Nine, depending on the Commando, had to first attempt to confirm the precise area where the enemy had been spotted by the OP (Observation Post). Usually the terrain was extremely broken and covered in vegetation, which made this task particularly difficult. The K-car Commander then had to make a plan—where to position the first stops, where to make the main sweep, and in what direction? The first stops to arrive were always transported in by the G-cars, which followed the K-car in column (sometimes a long way behind, for they were a little slower than the K-car). Sometimes the stops were dropped immediately, but on many occasions the G-cars would circle the scene several times (to the delight of the troopies) before #-nine made his final decisions. Very often the K-car occupants would see the enemy (or any perceived enemy), and then the Helicopter Gunner/Technician would attack them with his 20 mm cannon, using bursts of two to four shells (but no more than five). The accuracy of this firing was extraordinary, due to the machine flying in tight anti-clockwise circles just a few hundred feet above the ground. The 20 mm cannon poked out of the port side, thus there was no "lead in", and the exploding high velocity-shells would impact right next to and often on their intended targets—very few persons caught by this fire were ever found alive by the troopies.

Usually the G-car stops were positioned in areas where the enemy would most likely run through (often a stream-bed or dry "donga"), where there was more vegetation—therefore attempting to surround or cut-off enemy movement. If there was a hill or ridge that gave outstanding observation, then more than one stop might be placed there. Sometimes G-car stop groups would form the main sweep line immediately they were deployed instead of the Paras, depending on the circumstances at hand.

Whilst the K-car was looking for, or engaging the enemy, #-nine also had to decide on where to drop the Para-stops (and direct any strikes by the Lynx). The Drop Zone (DZ) position was of course dictated by the enemy's own position, and the terrain, but often there would be no clear DZ nearby, in which case the Para-stops would be dropped a mile or so away to be picked up and repositioned by the G-cars. Usually the Para-stops were dropped as close as possible, which resulted on numerous occasions with the Paras being fired at whilst floating down for a few seconds (drop heights normally varied from about 400 feet (120 m) to 600 feet). This firing was always ineffective, as no troopies were ever hit. There was also a great variation on the dropping patterns of these stops, as sometimes they were all dropped at once, sometimes individually, or any combination thereof.

Whilst all this was taking place, one of #-nine's main concerns was where the main sweep would occur. In a perfect scenario, the Para-stops would form the main sweep, and the G-car stops would carry out blocking actions. In reality, there was vast variation, so that there was little difference in being Para, or in the first-wave Helicopter assault. First-wave strikes in the G-cars however were generally the best stops to be in for those wishing action.

 

The Sweep

Each stop made a sweep every time it moved to a new location. This meant (usually) all four troopies moving in line formation, spaced apart according to the terrain. In flat open land this may mean as much as twenty-five yards or so. In heavy vegetation this dropped to a couple of yards or so. Even then it was common to lose sight of fellows, pushing alone through the denseness. Whether in the main sweep (which might be composed of any number of stops available) or in the one stop, the tactics were the same and very simple—to walk over the ground looking everywhere. If something happens, like seeing an enemy or being shot at—now there is infinite variation.

The speed of this movement varied. Where it was thought (usually deemed by #-nine) the enemy lurked, the sweep would slow very much. When the troopies could smell certain things the sweep became even more slow, edging forward inch by inch, rifles held with butt on shoulder but pointing down (safety catch perhaps flipped to fire). Machine-gunners might remove the sling from their shoulders.

Usually encounters with the enemy were resolved with great speed (a typical fireforce action would take hours, firing—a few seconds). In the great majority they were killed outright by swift shooting (sometimes hand-grenades were used). When possible prisoners were taken (though the Commandos were lectured to take more, for the more prisoners they took the more effective fire-force would become through the Selous Scouts). More prisoners could have been taken if specific drills were devised and taught to troopies. By far the most important factor in these deadly encounters was the action of individuals—most especially by the enemy.

The great majority of the enemy encountered did not offer effective resistance. It was reckoned by the troopies that about one in ten were "hard core", who were respected thus. It was not unusual that one man would fight back against four or twenty-four troopies (sometimes the K-car too) all by himself (in actually or effect). There were some of these that committed suicide in preference to the risk of capture.

 

The Stop position

The other main experience was for an individual stop to sweep to a position thought most likely to intercept a fleeing enemy, and stay there for up to several hours (perhaps being moved around and maybe later on joining the main sweep). More often than not nothing happened but on many occasions one or more of the enemy came down the (usual) stream bed, or nearby. If there was a clear view then it was easy—once again just a few seconds shooting (sometimes less than a second). Sometimes the process was repeated in the same spot, with fire being opened a bit earlier. Sometimes the enemy were seen behind in which case the stop immediately pursued. There were many occasions where the action was not so tidy due to terrain/vegetation—or even the sunlight blinding them.

 

Other Operations

In addition to the fire force, the four Commandos were very often used in patrolling actions, mostly inside Rhodesia but often in Zambia and Mozambique. In these operations troopies were required to carry well over 100 lb (45 kg) of equipment for five to ten (or so) days on one patrol and come back and repeat - on many occasions immediately. This lasted for weeks and sometimes months. Also, there were many attacks on enemy camps in Zambia and Mozambique. Most of these involved two or more Commandos. The Rhodesian SAS (which was almost exclusively used for external ops and more highly-trained than the RLI) were often present (as of course the Selous Scouts).

  • 1: Patrolling: In these operations the stop of four was not used (unless of course there were only four men in the patrol—even then their call-sign was not called a 'stop'). Patrols took place in Zambia and Mozambique though most patrolling took place in Rhodesia. Patrolling bush trips were not popular with the troopies due to the extreme arduous nature of it, and the lack of action compared to fireforce (though there were long occasions when most fireforces saw little or no action). A Commando could be more tired-out from a patrolling bush-trip than the most intense fire-force period even if more casualties occurred than usual in the latter. However, the nature of patrolling work greatly expanded the minds of the troopies. Patrols varied from moving about during the day and setting up ambushes at night, to OP work—where a suitable position was occupied to observe the locality. Extreme precautions were made to be clandestine on these OP's, though it was often felt that the locals knew of the presence.

Regardless of type of patrol, a night-march (possibly more) was made to the area. Conditions could make this task most difficult—especially when it was so dark that the troopies were completely blind. Water was a concern—though it was always found. Discipline on these patrols was extreme. The civilians were not regarded as hostiles by the troopies. There were numerous occasions when they helped each other and process of great empathy took place. If a patrol learned of enemy presence it immediately attacked. Pursuit might occur, where the troopies ran as fast as they could through the bush carrying their bergens—sometimes for miles and into the night. There were times when patrols were ambushed (not formal ambushes). Patrols in Mozambique could be the most hazardous due to the violent reaction of FRELIMO (also known as FPML).

  • 2: Assaults on bases in Zambia (ZIPRA camps) and Mozambique (ZANLA camps). There were many of these (including one in Botswana). The outcome varied wildly from total "lemons" to the worst days in the battalion's history. The larger raids were a gathering of the Fireforces and were like in execution, save for the greater scale and planning and logistics. Just before the assault Canberra and Hunter jets would bomb the target. Just like Fireforce surprise was most important. For example, the entire battalion participated in an attack on ZIPRA camps in Zambia in October 1978 and killed no person, whereas there was an attack in November 1977 on a ZANLA camp in Mozambique by three of the Commandos (with the Rhodesian SAS) in which more than a thousand persons were killed. There were several raids by individual Commandos. Where there was the presence of FREMILO, resistance was greater.

The stop of four was used in these raids (though they were organised into larger entities). The plans for these raids varied from sudden and fairly simple (subject to change on the fly) to highly intricate. The political situation interfered on occasions and this was much resented. The troopies always thought that these operations were most important.

 

The importance of air power

Fire Force without air power is inconceivable. As the enemy did not have air power and was unable to shoot down significant numbers of aircraft (remarkably few helicopters, and no Dakotas (at least one was damaged by enemy fire in flight), were shot down in this conflict), Fire Force operations were invincible as long as the infantry performed correctly. The movement of the circling helicopters was enough to drown out the sound of the dropped attackers (there was no shouting or talking in the sweeps) so that often they surprised the hiding defenders, in effect ambushing them.

The terrain varied wildly, from villages surrounded by open fields on flat plains, to dense vegetation amongst huge boulders on mountain slopes. Usually there was plenty of cover. Where the enemy ran and a stop had been placed by the Fire Force commander in the right place the hunt was usually easy. The difficult thing was to walk up to the enemy hiding in a house or cave or behind a boulder and kill or capture him. Many a troopie clawing through obstacles found himself very suddenly right by another armed man he was supposed to kill or capture. Though the event was shocking (and often results in one or more persons being killed), it is far more efficient than firing or dropping ordnance from air and overall reduces civilian casualties.

The dedication of the Rhodesian Air Force to army operations was total. Even when patrolling the RLI (or any other unit of the Rhodesian Army) could expect prompt G-car response in any crisis.

 

Conclusion

The Rhodesian Light Infantry was an outstanding example of infantry capable of performing any task ordered, no matter the means of transport (whether crossing the Zambezi river in little boats, walking long miles with huge weights, or riding high in G-cars and Daks), no matter what type of operation. Though the enemy was always at a disadvantage in having no radios or air support, the stops always continued in seeking them out even when all the helicopters had to go away for fuel.

The troopies walked close to the enemy; they believed that this was the most efficient way of dealing with him.

 

Technical notes

The parachutes (harnesses) were Saviac Mk1's, of U.S. manufacture. They were extremely reliable (reserve parachute on chest). Overhead static line attachment in the Dak. Confusedly the stops in the Dak were dropped in "sticks", supposedly noted in an entry in the parachute log book held by troopies which was filled in by themselves—as other data pertinent to the jump. This resulted in the log books filled often with false data. The port side of the Dak was much more preferable than the starboard.

Riflemen were required to carry a panga, which was used to chop down little trees so that the g-cars could pick them up. Strangely, some riflemen tried not to carry this piece of equipment, whilst some gunners and stop-commanders (whose rank varied from Trooper to Captain) did.

All troopies carried a water bottle and a tin or two of food and a light sleeping-bag or blanket, for often the stops stayed the night at a fire-force scene and perhaps patrolled the next day (also, some scenes led into the night and following day). Issue webbing was not used much which led to a bewildering array of webbing/packs. On external raids they might carry a mortar bomb or two and more ammunition for themselves. On patrols a bergen was carried, filled with food for several days, several more water bottles, batteries for the main radio, claymore mines, gas canisters for the stove, books etc.

Hand-grenades were high-explosive, white-phosphorus, and coloured smoke. Release handles (which detonated the grenade) were taped. Rifle-grenades HE and WP, with anti-tank on externals. Sometimes "bunker bombs" carried. Most gunners and some others carried a revolver or pistol.

Stop-commanders carried mini-flares. These little devices (about the size and shape of a large pencil—firing thimble-like flares (of various colours)) were often used to signal positions (never at night) and popular within the troopies.

Radios were reasonably light and reliable. Most importantly they were easy to use. No headsets—hand-sets tied to a shoulder-strap. An extremely efficient form of radio-speech evolved. Troopies were expected to have a high degree of self-initiative and reliance. For example, if a stop-commander desired, the two riflemen would be detached to perform a mini-sweep (or stop position) of their own (and perhaps even an individual go off on his own). The introduction of the second radio in 1979 merely confirmed this practice.

Hand-signals—most important of these were; Thumb up: friend, Thumb down: enemy.

The 7.62 bullet fired by Rhodesian forces had nearly twice the energy than the 7.62 bullets fired by the enemy. In a short time (a few seconds) of furious firing a rifleman of the RLI could therefore shoot 20 bullets (the magazine capacity of the FN) to the 30 half-weak bullets of the AK-47, with greater accuracy (it was very easy to miss at ranges of just a few yards), in hypothetical one-on-one. There are a multitude of other factors which add to the chaos.

The burst capability of the AK-47 was excellent at short range. At this range the single-shot automatic FN was even more deadly. Multiple bullet wounds from the short 7.62 round proved much more survivable than from the long one. The further the range the more the difference is enhanced in favour of the long round.

The differences of rifle and machine-gun are numerous. For example, a running enemy might be glimpsed and very often only the riflemen had time to shoot. If the target was a few hundred yards away (and often very much closer), they would most likely miss. If a gunner had time to fire at these he would very often hit. In sudden close encounters the gunner was at a distinct disadvantage. Gunners had the highest chance of being killed. Even at the closest range, once the gunner opened fire he was invariably the one who did the most damage.

From 1977 onwards the RLI was forbidden to wear shorts on operations. This rule was adhered to but a rule which required troopies to wear ankle-boots when in para-stops was often broken. The number of parachute injures on ops was insignificant, despite (or perhaps, because of) around half of landings falling into trees (small trees were good-large trees could be hazardous). Sometimes they fell onto boulders or buildings or fences or boggy ground. Fields varied from concrete-hard to soil so dry and diffuse that it swallowed them up. Extremely fast "ground rush" was frequently experienced, due to taking place on the sides or top of great hills.

There were many times when the exiting from G-cars was dangerous, due (for example) to them unable to descend close enough because of trees and troopies had to clamber out and hold onto the steps and drop from too great a height, with mass leaves and twigs whirling about the inside of the machine and great stress of pilot and tech. The Alouettes were much more capable of dropping off stops in rough terrain than the Bells, though they had less carrying capacity and range and speed. The Alouettes were extremely reliable (they had a tendency to sway a little as the troopies jumped). Both these vehicules were armed with twin-Browning machine-guns (3.03's), which were never indiscriminately fired by the tech. The k-car-gunners had to be careful, for there was always a shortage of 20 mm rounds and there were many times when troopies were only yards away from the target. K-cars with four Browning 3.03 machine-guns (instead of the 20 mm cannon) were not popular with the troopies, as they were less effective. The numbers of the enemy killed by the K-car in a scene varied from zero to all (and are included in the estimate for those killed).

On some Fire-force scenes Hunter jets were used, and more rare, Vampires.

Up to the second quarter of 1979 troopies were required to collect and remove all deceased persons from the scene. This rule was very strictly adhered to, even if it reduced in the short term the effectiveness of the fireforce (due to the immense effort of it). The plight of the civilians was most profoundly realised by the troopies.

Deployments: Commandos (based at Cranbourne Barracks) were sent on "bush trips", usually from four to six weeks duration, where they would motor off to either the fire-force bases (Grand-reef, Mtoko and Mt Darwin the most important, covering the North-Eastern zone of the country), or any other place from which to carry out patrolling actions or externals. Most bush trips were fireforce, though there could be mixture (also, elements could be detached to operate alone or attached to another Commando). After such period they would motor back for around twelve days "R & R", when apart from a time of sorting out they were set totally free. This routine meant that the troopies could operate for years on end at any desired tempo of operations, though a degree of "burn-out" in individuals could not be avoided—especially in 1979.

Medical: Each Commando had attached one member from the Rhodesian Army Medical Corps. These persons were parachute-trained and usually were in stops just like any Trooper, though not officially required to be so. A great deal of training was devoted to first-aid so that all troopies were required to know the basics (including drips). The training of "Troop Medics" proved a step too far.

Reaction to flora and fauna: The troopies were in awe of these things though they despised certain aspects that caused them discomfort. It was rare that other creatures were slaughtered with malice. It was common that troopies would summon others to observe some creature(s). There were countless occasions when the troopies were walking, or flying across terrain of such outstanding aspect that their morale soared.

The RAR (Rhodesian African Rifles) were para-trained too and performed fire-force. They were well-respected (especially the 1st Battalion) by the RLI.

 

Enemy Armaments

No more than half of ZANLA combatants were armed with AK-47s, mostly supplied from Soviet satellite states (none from Russia). Around half of them had SKS rifles, all from the People's Republic of China (which also sent some AK-47s). These SKs were semi-automatic and fired the same round as the AK-47 with a magazine of ten (normal AK-magazines, which are detachable, held 30). Thus the AK-47s were inevitably held by the more determined members of a section. Few RLI casualties were caused by SKSs.

Hand-grenades were mostly of Communist Chinese manufacture. Most of these were stick grenades—with a wood handle at the bottom of which was a screw cap whereupon unscrewing out fell (if holding right) a porcelain-bead with a thread attached. Pull this and in an unknown time (for these were badly stored and old weapons) it might explode. Despite this there were numerous troopies wounded by this weapon.

RPG-2's and RPG-7's were prevalent, sometimes one or two to a section of ten men, though hardly ever used against fireforce (there was usually only one present and the difficulties of targeting the helicopters was extreme). However the RLI's greatest single loss in one day was due to a South African Air-force Puma shot down by a RPG-7 wielded by a FRELIMO member, in a raid into Mozambique.

Various other small-arms were used, some very old. For example, in one instance three RLI men were killed by one FPLM man armed with a PPSh-41 sub-machine gun, which fired a bullet much weaker than the AK-47 and SK. Such is the chaotic nature of combat.

Heavy infantry weapons like medium mortars and heavy machine guns were rare, though encountered more frequently in external ops late in the war, so much that these had a definite effect on Rhodesian policy.

There was only one serious attack on a fireforce base, which occurred in December 1977, at Grand Reef (near the Mozambique border). A force of ZANLA (about 60 strong) bombarded and shot for ten minutes, then retired (one killed by the Commando mortar), with the only effect (beside the very few casualties) that they energised more the Commando that was there.

Training culture

"Training Troop" was the name of the institution, though there were long periods when there were more men than in any Commando. Some of the non-Rhodesians were able to evade this training entirely. A sixteen week course was standard (plus a two week parachute course at New Sarum which was thought of as bliss). Most of the instructors were trained at the Rhodesian School of Infantry and were a mix of Commando veterans and Rhodesian conscripts. An extremely high standard of training was achieved, without bullying by the staff yet of great pressure. There was a great deal of humour and very often (good natured) parody. The ethos of the staff was such that independent thought was not suppressed—it was enhanced (as in the Commandos too). Bullying within the recruits was rare to non-existent. Recruits helped each other (some more than others)—without this help many would not have made it to the Commandos (many did not make it). At any time, a recruit could withdraw from this training (and most likely leave the battalion). All training was for the Infantry art, except for the lessons in Shona, and purposeful trip to civilians in some small village a day's drive from Cranborne Barracks to introduce recruits to the being of the Shona people. Officers (2nd Lieutenant and above) were of course trained to a higher standard (at Gwelo). The ex-British army officers (and others) who served in the RLI proved of equal calibre.

Casualties

The latest listing gives a figure of 85 men killed in action from March 1968 to December 1979. A further 15 are listed as died on operations from September 1961 to December 1979. Another 34 are listed as deceased from other causes, from 1961 to December 1979.

Of the 85 killed in action, 66 occurred in the last four years of the war, thirty-one in 1979 alone. These figures mirror fairly accurately the ratio of combat the battalion was in.

The number of wounded is not known. It is known that in one of the Commandos there were more than 50 wounded in action in a two-year period where it had 21 killed in action. There were of course many other casualties, from accidents and illness/disease, or bad landings on jumps.

These figures are very low for a battalion that was involved in so much combat, though it must be remembered that the Commandos were smaller than the companies of the average-strength infantry battalion of modern warfare.

Zimbabwe

Following majority rule, the regiment was disbanded on 1 November 1980. A nucleus of former R.L.I. personnel remained to train and form the First Zimbabwe Commando Battalion of the Zimbabwe National Army. The regimental statue, "The Troopie", was spirited out of Zimbabwe to South Africa, and is now held at the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol, United Kingdom.


References

  • Bond, Geoffrey. The Incredibles: The Story of the 1st Battalion, the Rhodesian Light Infantry. Salisbury: Sarum Imprint (distributed by Kingstons), 1977. ISBN 0-7974-0233-0.
  • Cocks, C. J. Fireforce: One Man's War in the Rhodesian Light Infantry. South Africa: St. Albans: Covos; Verulam, 2000. ISBN 0-620-21573-9
  • 3 Croukamp, Dennis E. W. Only My Friends Call Me 'Crouks' . Cape Town: Pseudo Publishing, 2006. Pp. 123–124.

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