Rhodesia

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Republic of Rhodesia

The Republic of Rhodesia came into being on 11 November 1965 following a Unilateral Declaration of Independence from the United Kingdom. The nation was originally home to the Shona Kingdom of Zimbabwe, which ruled from 1220 to 1450, and was later replaced by the Kingdom of Mutapa, which fell into decline after a series of wars with Portugal in the 16th century. The Zulu-speaking Ndebele fought their way into the Transvaal region of South Africa in 1836, but were driven out by the local Boers and moved into the region that would become Rhodesia, dominating the Shona in the process.

In the 1880s, the British South Africa Company under Cecil Rhodes obtained a concession for mining rights from King Lobengula of the Ndebele, which in turn landed him a royal charter from the United Kingdom to settle Europeans in the lands of both the Ndebele and the Shona and to establish Fort Salisbury. The British South Africa Police (BSAP) were created in 1880 to watch out for the interests of the British South Africa Company as well as to protect white settlers moving into hostile tribal territories. From November 1893 to January 1894, the BSAP and Ndebele engaged in the First Matabele War, which culminated in the destruction of Bulawayo, the death of Lobengula, and the military defeat of the Ndebele. In 1895, the name Rhodesia was adopted for the territory, which in 1898 became Southern Rhodesia (the region south of the Zambezi) and Northern Rhodesia (the region now called Zambia).

A Second Matabele War was fought between March 1896 and October 1897, incited by an Ndebele spiritual leader who claimed the European settlers were responsible for drought, locust plagues and cattle disease. With the majority of the BSAP in the Transvaal at the time, the Europeans were initially caught with their defences down. Subsequently by the war's end, more than 400 whites had been killed and as many as 50,000 natives. Subsequently, land distribution (controlled by the BSAC) heavily favoured Europeans, with many tribes being displaced from their traditional homes.

Southern Rhodesia became a self-governing British colony in October 1923, but in 1953 Britain consolidated the two colonies with Nyasaland (now Malawi), creating the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Growing African nationalism and general dissatisfaction with colonial rule, however, persuaded Britain to dissolve the Union in 1963, forming three colonies. Subsequently, the Southern Rhodesian government led by Ian Smith's Rhodesian Front (RF) dropped the designation "Southern" in 1964, and issued a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) the following year, breaking free of British control. What followed were economic sanctions instigated by the British government and a permanent attitude of self-sufficiency for Rhodesia.

Meanwhile, two nationalist movements began their struggle for majority rule in Rhodesia: the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), and the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU). The struggle rapidly became a civil war pitting the Rhodesian security forces(Army, Air Force, the BSAP and native militias) against the military wings of ZANU and ZAPU, the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA), and the Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA). The war raged from 1972 until 1979, with Rhodesia supported cursorily by South Africa and the two insurgent movements receiving large scale military aid from China and the USSR respectively. Additionally, both ZANLA and ZIPRA received training and sanctuary in neighboring countries friendly to their cause (Mozambique, Botswana and Zambia). Although the Rhodesian security forces were militarily far superior and insurgent casualties exponentially greater, the Rhodesian government was unable to hold out indefinitely against worldwide pressure and lack of support. In 1979 an interim government for a new nation, Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, was agreed to by the Smith government, but so-called "free" elections in 1980 saw ZANU's Robert Mugabe win the office of prime minister, a position he has held continuously (by electoral "victories") ever since. In 1980 the name of the nation was officially changed to Zimbabwe.

Rhodesian Security Forces Camouflage Patterns

  • Members of the C Squadron, Rhodesian Special Air Service serving in Malaya in the 1950s wore both British and Rhodesian manufactured brushstroke pattern Denison smocks.

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  • A locally-produced brushstroke camouflage pattern, influenced by the original British design, was developed for Rhodesian security forces in 1965. The pattern would incorporate brown & forest green brush strokes on a yellowish-tan background, creating a scheme more suitable to the African bush than the older WW2 and 1950s era designs. The 1st pattern Rhodesian brush design was produced from 1965 until 1969, and is seen here in its first incarnation, which was printed on the same cotton denim fabric used to produce tropical uniforms for personnel deployed to Malaya. The "translucent" printing of the design was a mark of the prototype or trial uniforms, and was later fixed by adjusting the type of dyes used in the printing process.

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  • An experimental version of the Rhodesian brushstroke pattern was also produced between 1965 and 1969, having brown & yellow brush strokes on a sandy background. It is believed the pattern was tested for issue during the African dry or winter season, although it appears the uniforms were only tested by special forces and never fully implemented.

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  • A 2nd pattern, fairly consistent in coloration and printing, was produced from 1970 until the end of the war. This design featured brown & dark green brush strokes on a khaki background, and was produced on a much wider variety of uniform items. This was standard combat issue to both the Rhodesian Army and BSAP.

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  • Entrepeneurial Rhodesians also printed a number of colorful t-shirts in camouflage designs during the war. Although entirely unofficial, the t-shirts would nonetheless prove popular with Rhodesian Security Forces, particularly during the hotter months. Some of these designs attempted to copy the standard camouflage pattern of the Security Forces, while others utilized completely different screens and brighter colors.

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  • Units of the BSAP occasionally wore the South African Police camouflage design, which was also produced in Rhodesia for the SAP.

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Camouflage Patterns of Rhodesian Insurgent Groups

  • During the Rhodesian War, insurgent groups wore a variety of uniforms, including a number of camouflage patterns provided by various friendly nations. Eastern European rain patterns, most likely East German or Polish in origin, were often in use among ZIPRA forces. In Africa, the pattern earned the nickname "rice fleck."

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  • Also documented in use among ZIPRA forces was the Soviet solnechnye zaychiki (sun bunnies) pattern printed on the KLMK lightweight uniforms.

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  • Egyptian manufactured "rocks" pattern camouflage was worn in limited numbers by some ZIPRA insurgents.

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  • Also worn by ZIPRA were Cuban designed "grey lizard" camouflage uniforms, probably obtained through sources in Angola.

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  • Both ZANLA and ZIPRA insurgents have been documented wearing the Portuguese produced m63 vertical lizard camouflage pattern. These were likely supplied by allies in Angola and Mozambique.

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