Friday, April 27, 2012

Rural survival: Rhodesia

Rhodesia is today known as Zimbabwe, a landlocked former British colony that lies on the northern border of South Africa, with Mozambique being between it and the ocean. The Rhodesia war of the 1970s was a guerilla war, funded by the former Soviet Union, but it had an economic collapse background to it as well.  

Overpopulation had made a relatively comfortable situation untenable.

The Tribal Trust Lands (TTLs) were reserved for blacks, and in particular black farmers only, but their population had exploded with better modern medical practices.  The Rhodesian population from 1900 to 1975 had grown 100%.  The TTLs absorbed much of this population growth initially, but as time went on urban areas began to expand in size.  As population began to outstrip opportunity, the Communists had fertile grounds to work with.

The vagaries of commercial agriculture had also put pressure on the commercial farmers.  The earlier farm abandonments had not been due to terrorists, but due to an inability to make a living at farming.  Farmers had been leaving the land.  At meetings of concerned farmers, few of them were younger than 50.  The remaining farmers were getting by, but there was no vast excess economic surplus with which on could rearrange the social fabric of society in a way that might decrease the tension.

Trever Grundy and Bernard Miller, Model Farming Publications, Salisbury, 1979 (hat tip: Fer Fal)

There’s an audible crackle, not loud or piercing, but as if someone is screwing up sweet paper close to your head, and like a string of green fairylights, tracers arc their way almost lazily towards the darkened homestead. Immediately, or so it seems, from behind an unlit window an FN rifle barks its harsh reply, followed by another and another. From a rock outcrop, slightly elevated so that attacking fire is aimed advantageously down on the farmhouse, a mere 100 meters away, the first mortar thumbs skywards. It soars high over the house and, thankfully for its occupants, explodes harmlessly in the bush. The long swish of a rocket, the deadliest of projectiles, is followed by an explosive thump. A hit! Hot lead ricochets off brick wall and rock outcrop, sparking, whining in a cacophony of crossfire.

As that first attacking bullet sped through the sound barrier cracking out its message of death, she awakes almost expectantly, rolls from the bed to the floor and crawls on hands and knees towards the radio alarm which will alert Security Forces and neighbouring families. There's no panic or hesitation. She's practiced this over and again. Night after night. . .just in case. But this is no's the real thing.

Her actions are automatic. Purely instinctive. She gropes for the alarm button, finds it and presses. She's oblivious to the high-pitched scream coming from the set, a scream of alarm that lasts a mere 12 seconds, but to her could be 12 long hours; oblivious too to bleeding legs, wounds inflicted as she labored across splintered glass. Only seconds, not long now. "Control.. .go", the disembodied voice comes over clearly, calmly. Reassuring. "Under attack from the north," she replies, her voice low but steady. No trace of hysteria, yet.. .that will come later.

"Small arms, mortar, I think. Maybe rockets, too."

Only a split second before she made that first move (was she really awake, or still asleep and motivated by some unseen hand. Or was it just another repetitive nightmare?) her husband's FN cracked out its first retaliatory burst, unaimed, unsighted. From their son's bedroom came a second burst and a third burst of automatic fire from their police guard. In another bedroom two small youngsters huddle together under their beds. It had been a great game to dive for cover when Dad shouted "bang, bang, you're dead." It was a game that saved their lives. They, too, were calm, solemn-eyed and seemingly oblivious to the shattering noise of battle.

The attack ends as suddenly as it started. Silence. Then a muted thump and the night sky is lit by an orange glow. Retreating, the raiders fire barns and equipment, drive off the farm labor and fire their compound.

In that attack 42 mortar bombs were dropped into the farm complex and approximately 2 000 rounds of small arms fire pumped into the farmhouse (p1).

Note the ammunition expenditure in what was a harassing raid by a group that travelled mostly on foot.

The typical Rhodesian farm home was probably always more substantially built than our modern suburban homes, but it became more substantial as time went on.

Before the war it was open house down on the farm. Rarely were windows or doors locked or even closed at night. The farmer and his family would go to town leaving their home open to friends and visitors who might drop in. Hospitably, there were usually cold beers in the fridge and plenty to eat in the deep freeze. It was a friendly, outgoing, trusting society. But not today.

In the early days of the war, protection was elementary, or even non-existent ("It won't happen to us" was the attitude) and sandbagged walls to protect windows, doors and other vulnerable parts of the building was thought to be sufficient. Bitter experience disproved this, and now many of the protective measures employed are highly sophisticated and almost impregnable.

Sandbags have been discarded and permanent, specially strengthened outer walls encircle many homesteads. These not only screen the house but provide space for bunkers and firing positions. Every farmhouse has a safe area which has no windows or doors opening to the outside and must be easily accessible from the sleeping quarters. Some of these are mini "forts" within the farm fortress, built of extra strong quarry stone, elevated to give a good all-round defensive view, equipped with arms, ammunition, radio communications, emergency lighting, food stocks and sealed from the rest of the house by armor-plated and fire-proof steel doors.

Variations on the theme of homestead defenses, both simple and sophisticated, are many. The "soft target" is now a tougher nut to crack (p14),

"First came the fences round our homes. An awful eyesore we felt they would be but who, today, would be without their fence. They give a limit to our gardens which in the past have tended to encroach upon our husbands' farming lands. They are an ideal way of restraining our dogs from hunting; a maxi playpen for small children and a better support for sweetpeas has yet to be devised.

After the fences came the grenade screens on the windows. A perfect excuse for not cleaning the windows — our house staff love them.

The next step was the protective walls around our beds. They may cut out the view but are marvelous for hanging photographs and the endless posters with which our children surround themselves.

The final stage is wearing a gunbelt round the waist. A great posture aid — it really makes you hold your 'turn' in (p21).

The attacks generally came quickly and because of local defenses that would eventually arrive to retaliate, of short duration

The Storrers have been attacked twice by terrorists on the farm in the last 12 months. The second attack, in February, virtually destroyed the upper story of their home and scared off their entire workforce, most of them, Peter believes, permanently.

The first at Christmas last year was beaten off by the Storrers, their twin daughters, aged 20, and their boyfriends who were both armed. The youngest Storrer, aged 10, loaded fresh magazines for his father's rifle. It was a sharp, but short, shoot-out which ended when the terror gang fled.

In February, Peter and Jane were alone. Jane was standing on the stairs when a terrorist 82 mm mortar penetrated the roof, exploding in the upstairs rooms. Fortunately, Jane was unharmed, which her husband believes is nothing short of miraculous. That night Peter, helped by Jane, fired more than 400 rounds back at the terrorists, before they withdrew.

The morning brought no relief for the Storrers. Their entire workforce, some of whom had worked for Peter and Jane for more than 20 years, had fled. Their cook, who had served the family for 14 years and watched the children grow up, had also disappeared. For the next three weeks Peter and Jane ran the farm themselves while friends in Salisbury and elsewhere tried to recruit new farm workers (p 15).

It is important to note that while there is a lot of literature that shows the bravery and determination of the Rhodesians and their scouts, that in the end they lost.

Just as the (mixed) agricultural Apache lost to the nomadic Comanche in the 1740s.  The Rhodesian farmers were bound to loose eventually if they could not strike damagingly at the base of more mobile attackers.  Since in this case the attackers were part of their own needed, but greatly overpopulated, work force, there was no effective military solution.  Without the economic resources to make other arrangements, the loss was inevitable.

It is also important to note that the urban areas were generally much safer than the rural areas.  This was not an occupation of a hostile foreign nation, so the guerillas were not going to be planting landmines/IEDs in the middle of a city street.  The faster reaction time of police forces within the urban areas, and likely the greater economic opportunities kept those areas quitter.  As Fer Fal has noted –possibly as too much of a truism – rural areas are not always safer than urban ones.

Rhodesian Leopard Security vehicle - not the measures (angled bottom plates)  to reduce the effectiveness of IEDs. from wikipedia


PioneerPreppy said...

I read your post this morning and was late getting on the road because of you damnit :)

Articles and stories of rural attacks in Rhodesia have always fascinated me. I still wonder even with all of the Western world demanding blood sacrifice of the Whites in Rhodesia and SA why haven't some of them attempted to really fight back yet?

russell1200 said...

Well they did fight back for a long time, but it didn't work.

Rhodesia unilaterally declared its independence, and then tried to go its own way. Demographics by itself said there was going to be problems. With the Soviets funding every problem spot with AK-47s it was pretty much guarenteed that you would have problems. As much of a mess as South Africa is now, I don't see it being any better than it is now if the whites had tried to retain power. The over population problems in Africa pretty much guarentee ongoing tribal and racial strife.

I have a lot of good information on both Rhodesia and Soviet Afghanistan that I haven't even got to yet. This one I picked up because Fer Fal mentioned it. But he had a different agenda, and I wanted to do more with it.

Sorry about your being late. I do it to myself sometimes.

PioneerPreppy said...

While I understand the financing and population issue I can't help but think the remaining Whites could carve out a protectorate for themselves.

Let's face it when it comes to Whites defending themselves no other race/culture whatever you want to call it can manage it better than European stock.

Why haven't they said enough is enough and done it yet?

russell1200 said...

Historically Europe was relatively isolated from much of the rest of Eurasian continent. But when the asians did come into European areas it is hard to see much evidence that the Europeans did a particularly good job of stopping them. They were getting beat frequently by the Ottomans well into the 1680s.

In North America, it took the intervention of the (non-white) Mohawks to finally decide King Philips War. A war that lost the Massachussets settlement area about half of its population centers.

The Shawnee knocked the white settlers back over the mountains three times over an extended period of time, before the settlers were able to settle in the area of what is now West Virginia.

White Europeans IMO, were succesful because of a combination organization, sea going cabablities, and the luck of benifical pandemics that opened up two continents to them. The Europeans lost a lot of battles on the way to slowly taking over much of the world.

In Rhodesia, many of the best defending troops were black natives. Most of the work force was also black. So it is not actually as clear case of whites versus blacks as some would tell you. However, the poorer classes were black, and they greatly outnumbered the farmers. Sedantery farmers have historically had very poor results against mobile groups capable of hit and run tactics. The farmers get people too spread out, and the raiders can dictate the timing and place of actions.