Essentially, the title of a Marine Corps Development and Education Command summary: "Rhodesia: Tactical Victory, Strategic Defeat" (Marine Corps Command and Staff College, Quantico, Virginia,7 June 1983) sums up the struggle more succinctly than most analyses of the war. Even if it seems likely that a no-score draw would have been the ultimate end - by the late 1970s (going by what Peter Godwin has said) some places were essentially becoming no-go areas, where the security forces would operate only in daylight, in large groupings, secure in the knowledge both of greater fire-power and air-support. But as the war continued white Rhodesia began to disintegrate - briefly boasting the highest per capita divorce rate in the world.  But a strange dichotomy has emerged, addressed rarely if at all by Rhodesians: how it is that so many medals for bravery should be awarded for fighting such a cowardly enemy, who would prefer to attack defenceless women and children.
The US Marine Corps were to admit (Combined Action Platoon - an alternative doctrine) that search and destroy methods ultimately failed in Vietnam, and the emphasis should instead have been on pacification - the "clear and hold" concept that, had the PV strategy been properly implemented, may have radically affected the war. The constant failure in the US to understand that the struggle was as much (if not more) political than military bears remarkable similarities to the Rhodesian war, which likewise became a test of will, rather than of strength. 

An important part of any successful counter-insurgency campaign is the conduct of the security forces. It is essential that a strict observation of the rule of law be maintained; it is the responsibility of senior officers and politicians to ensure that this is the case. Strong leadership - both morally and practically - must be provided on the ground, both by leading through example and making it clear that those who refuse to follow this leadership will be punished. Any failure to do this effectively gives carte blanche to those soldier and police who consistently over-step the mark, and practise acts of repression and brutality against a civilian population. Perhaps the Rhodesian forces should have had a better awareness of another low-intensity conflict, the ultimate French political defeat in Algeria, where the French military effectively won the shooting war but were defeated at the negotiating stage.  

War chronology

Historical overview Rhodesian army 

Breakdown of Rhodesian armed forces and their guerrilla opponents

Air Force     Auxiliaries     BSAP     RAR     RLI     Rhodesia Regiment     SAS     Selous Scouts     Internal Affairs

ZANU/ZANLA     ZAPU/ZIPRA     Fifth Brigade

South Africa


Order of Battle



External Operations


FREE Rhodesian war downloads

BIBLIOGRAPHY - Rhodesian war books and articles

External links