I must admit I approached this book with a certain amount of dread, not being entirely sure what sort of tone to expect. A discussion of the formation of Rhodesia in which the unprovoked invasion of the area was justified on the grounds that the local African power was too militaristic didn’t do much to reassure me, but my worries were unjustified. Although the author has some sympathy with the plight of the White population of Rhodesia, which found itself isolated by the changing world, he also acknowledges that the cause of White minority rule was unjustifiable at the time, and the war essentially unwinnable.
One minor quibble - the author ends by claiming that the Rhodesian military was undefeated, but his own text makes it clear that they quickly lost control of much of the country and were unable to prevent rebel attacks hitting just about anywhere. Their failure to protect the White population resulted in large scale emigration, which then reduced the manpower available to the Rhodesian armed services. The Rhodesian forces may well have won almost all of their direct clashes with the various rebel forces, both inside and outside Rhodesia, but that didn't change the overall course of events. In some ways this war was thus similar to the almost contemporary struggle in Vietnam, where the US military won just about every major clash, but still lost the war itself.
I must admit it is often hard to have much sympathy for either side in this conflict - the Rhodesian government was trying to retain an unsupportable form of minority rule, while the rebels committed repeated atrocities against both populations and the recent history of Zimbabwe is rather uninspiring.
There is some fascinating material on the political background. The author is rather hostile to Ian Smith, the leader of Rhodesian during much of this period. The Unilateral Declaration of Independence is portrayed as a total disaster, leaving Rhodesia isolated from the rest of the world (not even South Africa recognised Rhodesia independence), and ensuring that the Rhodesian armed services would have to fight alone. Smith also seems to have based his plans on wishful thinking and the idea that he had support in the majority population, who in his mind preferred stable White rule to the sort of chaos emerging in some of their newly independent neighbours.
The coverage of the military aspects of the campaign is excellent, with detailed examination of key Rhodesian campaigns, and the successful rebel strategy. The text is supported by excellent maps, and a wide selection of photos.
This is a valuable examination of how a well trained military can win most, if not all, direct encounters in a conflict, but still lose the war.
1 - The Players
2 - The First Shot
3 - The Politics of Rebellion
4 - A New Paradigm
5 - A New War and a New Strategy
6 - The Politics of Survival
7 - The Rhodesian Way of War
8 - An Attempt to Settle Matters Internally
9 - Operation Dingo
10 - The Closing Stages
11 - Strategies and Command Structures
12 - Revenge Attacks and Compromises
13 - Closing Operations and the Politics of Defeat
14 - The Unbearable Truth
Author: Peter Baxter