It has been 32 years ever since Chris Cocks first published his acclaimed book narrating his experiences with the elite Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI). Now, five editions later, he is reprinting his masterpiece.
But it’s not just a reprint. Cocks has gone in and re-wrote the book to make it even better.
“Over the last three decades, the book has undergone around five editions with various publishers, some good, some not so good,” said Cocks “I decided, therefore, to re-write the book and take out a lot of fluff and waffle, and then self-publish.”
The Rhodesian Bush War (1964-1980) was a small but intense Cold War conflict. The Rhodesian government was faced by a Communist insurgency that had shrewdly sold itself in the international community as a liberation front aiming to end White-rule in the Southern African country.
Formed in 1961, the Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI) was an airborne all-white unit focused on direct action operations. (Most units in the Rhodesian military were mixed, usually Black soldiers led by White officers; the RLI and the Rhodesian Special Air Service (SAS) were some of the few all-White outfits.) Three years later, in 1964, the unit was retitled to 3 Commando, The Rhodesian Light Infantry, to better reflect its Special Operations role.
The unit was broken down to four Commandos of 100 men each and a headquarters company. The majority of the RLI troopers were Rhodesian regulars or reserves. There was, however, a significant foreign presence (Americans, French, Germans, British, Australians, New Zealanders).
“As a 20-year-old lance-corporal, I found myself in command of a troop (a platoon),” he recalls. “As a junior NCO, I never lost a man in combat, but I think that was luck. But I’m still proud of that.”
The airborne capabilities of the unit paired with its lethality made the RLI the bane of the communist insurgents. It is estimated that as part of Fire Force missions, which were introduced in 1974, the RLI killed 12,000 insurgents. At some point during the Bush War, the operational tempo was so high, that RLI troopers were conducting three combat jumps a day. Rapid deployment of troops was key to the Fire Force concept. Jumps, thus, were made at 300-500 feet without reserve parachutes. Indeed, they were flying so low that as the last jumper of the stick exited the aircraft, the first hit the ground. To this day, an RLI trooper holds the world record for most operational jumps with an astounding 73.
Chris Cocks’ book provides an original account of the Rhodesian Bush War. Several pictures breathe life into the men and their feats. The illustrations on the Fire Force are elucidating. Perhaps what sets Cocks’ book apart from similar narratives is its dual nature: a lover of narrative history will gain as much as a student of military history. (I’ve personally used Cocks’ book as a primary source for a paper that was published in the West Point’s military history journal.)
Dr. Paul L. Moorcraft, a British journalist and academic who has written extensively on the Rhodesian Bush War, said that “Cocks’s work is one of the very few books which adequately describes the horrors of war in Africa … Fire Force is the best book on the Rhodesian War that I have read… it is a remarkable account that bears comparison with other classics on war … a tour de force.”
Cocks first wrote the book in the mid-1980s. He sought to understand why so many had died (over 50,000 dead on both sides) and why Zimbabwe had fallen to Communism. “Essentially, we lost not only the war, but our country,” said Cocks. “For what? I needed to record that, somehow. To be honest, I just started writing, with no particular end point in mind. It all came tumbling out.”
This is a book worth reading. You can purchase it on Amazon.