Selous Scouts: Rhodesian Counter-Insurgency Specialists

The Africa@War series is being launched this year as a joint venture between 30 Degrees South publishing of SA and the Helion Group of the UK. It covers African warfare in the post WWII period, which, as we all know, is a very rich period in this particular field.

The first book to be released in the series is Prof. Richard Woods treatment of Operation Dingo, the attack on the ZANLA Chimoio base in late 1977. Next is Battle for Cassinga by Mike McWilliams followed by two written by myself, France in Centrafrique and Selous Scouts: Rhodesian Counter-Insurgency Specialists.

The Selous Scouts

The story of the Selous Scouts has been covered comprehensively in Commanding Officer Col. Ron Reid Daly’s account, and in many subsequent memoirs and biographies since. It remains a highly emotive subject and is dealt with in this instance less as a blow-by-blow account of the many Selous Scout operation and more as the biography of the regiment against a backdrop of the declining political and military situation in Rhodesia.

The Selous Scouts began life as an experiment in pseudo operations, which for the layman simply means loyal groups, often comprising turned guerrillas, posing as authentic guerrillas for the purpose of gathering intelligence or for delivering targets to more conventional follow-up. In the Rhodesian case this involved mostly the highly successful Fireforce vertical envelopment tactic. The Selous Scouts themselves rarely engaged in aggressive action, maintaining deep cover wherever possible and allowing the dreaded RLI to in most cases deliver the knockout punch.

The configuration of the Selous Scouts followed the pattern of psuedo forces in other similar campaigns, namely Malaya and Kenya during the post-war uprisings that took place in both countries. It was a combined military and Special Branch collaboration, making the best use of both, but also creating some friction within the more conventionally minded units that made up the rest of the army.

They call us Skuz’apo

The Selous Scouts were extraordinarily successful in the first few years of their existence. Kill rates in internal operation shot skywards while the insurgent groups of ZANLA and ZIPRA hardly knew what hit them. The epithet awarded to the Selous Scouts by the guerrilla forces was Skuz’apo, which in idiomatic chiShona means something along the lines of ‘excuse me while I slip this knife between your ribs‘. It implied arch trickery and a fox like cunning that was both impressive and terrifying.

Selous Scout External Operations

The Selous Scouts turned a corner in 1976 when it began to involve itself in external operations. Mozambique had fallen to FRELIMO and a hostile front now extended across two thirds of Rhodesia’s borders. The Rhodesian military planners began thereafter to take the war to the enemy by attacking guerrilla bases in Mozambique and Zambia. This was special forces work, and the Selous Scouts recruited many men from the territorial battalions in order to configure itself for more conventional operations of this nature. This is when the Selous Scouts emerged as the Rhodesian glory boys. Using flying columns disguised as FRELIMO the Selous Scouts raided camps and facilities accross Mozambique with virtual impunity, conducting such iconic operations as Op Eland, the raid on the Naydzonia Base that claimed the lives of upwards of 1000 ZANLA combatants.

The decline and fall

The end came with the end of Rhodesia, and the crumbling of the Rhodesian military establishment into internal bickering and recrimination – some part of which still clings to the legacy of that great culture to this day. There were without doubt dirty tricks on many levels played out in the Selous Scouts operational history, and when the end came no-one particularly wanted to claim ownership of that, and the legendary regiment simply faded away. ZANU used, and continues to use, the legacy of the Selous Scouts to apportion blame for every questionable act – and there were many – committed by its own forces during the war, and in the end there was no-one left to effectively argue the point.

Despite this the Selous Scouts remain one of the premier special force units ever assembled in the long history of the British military family. Whatever political scapegoating might accompany the legacy of the Scouts, among military men there are few examples to compare. This is evidenced by the fact that the Selous Scouts never numbered more than 2000 men during its existence, compared to the tens of thousands of ex-members still alive today.

Available thru Amazon or the Helion Website