The SAS, being undermanned for the amount of activity required to keep the enemy on their heels, approached Major Reid-Daly to borrow some men to use on external missions. Their skill at penetrating terrorist organizations and having black soldiers would be a tremendous asset to Externals. The Major saw this as his opportunity to advance the Scouts into a more useful position.
In characteristic fashion, Reid-Daly flatly turned the OC of the SAS down unless he could move his unit into the mission cycle and go beyond the borders of Rhodesia and do more than collect intelligence. Begrudgingly, the higher command decided it was time to use ALL of its resources to stop the enemy cold.
An initial trial was offered to the SAS. Two Selous Scouts would do a Recce for a SAS operation. Neither of the Scouts were heard from again. Reid-Daly was disgusted and decided that the only way that this would work is if the Selous Scouts planned and ran their own missions.
With the ZIPRA and FRELIMO forces moving south and operating with more impunity, the Scouts moved personnel further south. The terrain was inhospitable with few natural landmarks available for navigation. The plan to injure and disable FRELIMO involved destroying infrastructure. A major railway ran to the south and was used to transport troops and material into southern Mozambique. The Scouts set their eyes on infiltrating and owning that area.
The unit remained active throughout the whole country but a large part of the missions that the Scouts performed were in the southern most Provinces of Mozambique. It became known as Operatioal Area Repulse. A fort was created in Chiredzi for the men and their families. Again, the railway that ran through Rhodesia into Mozambique went through a border town named Malvernia, often called Fuck City by the soldiers became a focal point of battle.
Malvernia and the surrounding AO became known as the Russian Front. There were two reasons that it gained this moniker. The area was fortified by Russian Artillery and other weaponry as well as Russian and East German advisors. The other reason, a bit of comedy in the midst of war was that it was the least desirable area to operate in just as the Eastern Front in World War Two was tantamount to a death sentence. It was flat, dry and devoid of navigational aids. The railway was the most prominent reference point.
The buildup of the once friendly gateway to Mozambique and its vacation coastline had to be kept in check so that a full-fledged ground invasion of Rhodesia was less likely. The area also provided an opportunity for the highly skilled men to move into an offensive role of sabotage and direct action missions while the SAS was tied up elsewhere.
With the composition of the unit being a black majority, Reid-Daly and his staff began developing ideas of covertly entering the area disguised as FRELIMO troops and taking out High Value Targets. A twist of fate made this even more possible. The Unimog trucks that were provided to the enemy were almost identical to the ones the Rhodesians used. With a little paint job and stolen plates, truckloads of strike force personnel could be driven down main roads with little to no curiosity on the enemies part. The Flying Colums or Death Trains would become a hallmark of the unit’s history.
After the fall of Portuguese rule in 1975, the tempo of the war increased. More arms, ammunition and recruits were staging inside Mozambique. As with most insurgencies, the loosely formed rebels eventually try to form up into solid military ranks to battle and defeat their enemy. Many believed that Rhodesia needed to into the Lion’s Den and kill the Lion.
To forward thinking men like the Selous Scouts, why couldn’t they simply drive heavily armed vehicles across the border and gun down as many Terrs as possible and generally destroy the infrastructure and ability to make war?
Reid-Daly approved the planning of such a mission but the caveat was that there would be a moratorium on air support. They would have to infil and exfil on their own. The Scouts went to work arming vehicles with everything from .50 Caliber guns to Rocket Launchers and Mortars. In 1976, Operation Long John was given the go ahead. They would enter Mozambique and head some 50-60 miles into the country to the town of Mapai where it was found to be a transit point for Terr recruits. 60 total Scouts were on this mission in five vehicles.
The Flying Column inflicted immense material damage in towns and checkpoints along the way and once they reached the garrison at Mapai, they destroyed the buses that were used to transport recruits around the country. They did take one back with them in order to carry back captured armaments and anything else useful. They simply drove back to Rhodesia. They inflicted 27 casualties on the enemy but sadly lost a Warrant Officer and Lieutenant Dale Collett was paralyzed after receiving a bullet that lodged in his spine.
This was the beginning of many cross border raids that would boost the national morale as truly inflict damage on the Terrs. One raid in particular was so one sided that it drew the ire of the international communities due to claims that the Rhodesians had hit a refugee camp. It was no refugee camp and was the biggest single dent in the manpower of the enemy during the whole war.
The target would by Nyadzonya.
The camp in this location was reported to have approximately 5000 ZANLA recruits in training. There was scarcely a place where there was such a conglomeration of the enemy in one place. This intelligence was brought to Reid-Daly and a mission proposed. Weeks of reconnaissance and interrogation of men who had been there took place. In order to execute this raid and escape would require immense planning and a lot of luck.
So great was the value of the target that Reid-Daly went to General Peter Walls and requested the use of Hunter Jets should their back be against a wall. The General gave permission to help the Scouts only under the most dire of conditions.
The plan would lead 80 Selous Scouts into Mozambique undetected along a rarely used path to avoid FRELIMO checkpoints. The vehicles were armed again with every type of gun in the Rhodesian’s arsenal that could be mounted onto a truck. Entering after midnight in August, 1976, the Flying Column made it to the camp in time for morning muster. All of the inhabitants would be on the parade ground.
Black Selous Scouts led the convoy inside the camp dressed in Terrorist uniforms and shouting Marxist slogans. The young exuberant men rushed the trucks thinking that comrades had arrived. One of the Scouts used a megaphone to back the people away from the vehicles. Someone in the crowd spotted a white Scout manning a machine gun and once that was passed around, the earth began to rumble. Every gun, every rifle began to tear through these men who were bent on the death and destruction of Rhodesia. At the end of the one sided firefight, over 1000 would-be terrorists were dead. A massive blow had been struck.
The convoy made its way back the way it had come. After news of success had come, Walls released the jets to cover their escape. With a final exclamation point, the Scouts blew the Pungwe River Bridge to stop any pursuit by FRELIMO or ZANLA. The group also made several captures that proved useful. Only four Scouts were slightly wounded.
There was immediate political fallout from the World Council of Churches and other leftist organizations that bought into ZANU’s story that it was a refugee camp. Other documents prove that it was a first stop, a boot camp for political indoctrination before sending men on their way to the front. War is a nasty business and the Terrs showed no mercy on white or black opposition throughout and after the war. Even up until 1982, Mugabe slaughtered over 20,000 Matabele indigenous Rhodesians due to their opposition to his rule.
This raid proved in a giant way that the Flying Columns were useful, expedient and above all, effective. They would continue throughout the war, attacking weapons caches, buildup of troops in one area and to stop forward movement into Rhodesia.
The pseudo operations continued inside Rhodesia’s borders as External missions were being planned and carried out. In order for successful raids, reconnaissance was paramount. A new specialized wing of the Selous Scouts came into being, The Recce branch. Many of the most harrowing stories of bravery and skill came out of this group of men. Names such as Chris Schulenburg, Dennis Croukamp, Bert Sasche and others joined the ranks and gave the relatively new unit needed experience.
The Recce wing of the unit were master parachutists. HALO insertions were vital to maintain a low profile. Jumps were performed at night at an altitude that required oxygen. Before the age of GPS, pilot error or unseen jet streams could put the jumpers off course. Ground navigational skills were pushed to their limits.
As the Unit grew in experience and knowledge of the area, seldom was a Recce group sent out without a sabotage mission. The size of a Recce element rarely exceeded three men. There are instances of solo Recce operations as well. Once over the border, they were behind enemy lines. They could not reach out to any civilians if they were in dire straits. If the local soldiers were alerted to the presence of Selous Scouts, a Platoon to Company sized unit was immediately on the discovered tracks and hunted with a vengeance. Dennis Croukamp in his book ‘The Bushwar in Rhodesia’ gives us several hundred pages of memoir about his experience in the Recce unit. Two particular stories give us an idea of the type of activity the Selous Scouts became famous for.
Croukamp was with the very first selection for the Scouts and stayed with them until the end of the war. Before that, he served for years in the RLI. One mission is a case study of how deep and far from friendly forces these men operated. Assigned to a mission that coordinated with a Flying Colum, he inserted via HALO deep inside Mozambique with two other team mates. The Flying Column would drive directly into Mozambique and engage any and all hostile pockets on a road that paralleled the railway. Croukamp’s three man group would make their way 15 kilometers from the drop zone and demolish a section of rail that would prevent FRELIMO from bringing up reinforcements to counter the Flying Column. They spent three weeks rehearsing the mission. What follows is a testament to their training and spirit of what to do when things didn’t go their way.
Landing fifty kilometers off of their target due to the jet stream, they had to hurry to make their ambush site. An extra 40 kilometers is a long distance as they were carrying close to 100 pounds of gear. They had planned their water rations for the duration of the proposed mission but quickly tore through it in the Southern Hemisphere’s October heat. They reached their destination a day and a half late fortunately but the Flying Column had been delayed as well. By that time, they were bone dry and one of the members was suffering dehydration.
Scouting nearby for water turned up nothing. Croukamp made the decision to depart his team and go 15 kilometers south to the Limpopo River to fill their water bottles. Though this was a tactical mistake, he felt he had no other options as they were 200 kilometers behind enemy lines! Upon his return to the railway and the base camp area, something was wrong. A train full of soldiers had stopped further up the tracks and poured into the bush. Their spoor had been spotted from their Drop Zone and followed to the general area they were now in. The whole mission was compromised and Croukamp was separated and without comms.
The next week would prove to be an epic story of escape and evasion that spanned well over 200 kilometers. Only the experience, tenacity and toughness bred into the Rhodesian soldier saved his life. Facing the African bush, bullets and large groups of trackers, he relied upon his training and long experience as a Rhodesian soldier. Upon crossing the border and being found, he collapsed and nearly died due to collapsed veins from dehydration. He recovered and was soon operational again.
Another mission involved once again blowing a section of railway. Croukamp and one other Scout planted two sets of explosives, one never blew and the mission was deemed a failure by Reid-Daly. A short couple of weeks passed and the secondary explosives did their job and killed 300 enemy soldiers in a massive railway pile up. The unfortunate part of that mission was that FRELIMO rounded up many locals and killed them believing that only locals could have done it without notice. Croukamp made note that the Scouts had truly become proficient at employing the art of terror against their enemy. They themselves had become Terrorists.
Many many missions were undertaken from 1972 up till the end of the war in 1980. The versatility of the integrated unit proved to be the stuff of Legends. More important than their status of ‘Legendary’ was their effectiveness. Whereas the Rhodesian Light Infantry and Special Air Service operated in a conventional Special Forces role, the Selous Scouts took things to a different level. They mingled with the enemy and exterminated them from within in their Psuedo Operations. The Direct Action missions were still based on deception through the racially mixed makeup and using the vehicles and arms of the Terrs.
Their history and TTP’s may be closing in on four decades old but for modern Armies of today, the history available can be new, bold and fresh in creating strategies and tactics to battle Counter Insurgency warfare anywhere on the planet.