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                               THE RHODESIAN  GUARD  FORCE

Overview / History :

The establishment of Guard Force, as the fourth arm of the Rhodesian Security Forces,  will always be linked to the concept of the Protected Village system as a counter-insurgency measure by Rhodesian political and military authorities.

The idea behind this concept was to resettle the African rural population, who lived in widely dispersed kraals, into protected and consolidated villages. It was seen as an important measure to protect the rural African population from intimidation and terror by insurgents and to deprive those insurgents of the support from the local population. It also made the attempts by insurgents to politicise and mobilize the people extremely difficult.

The failures of their first incursions and operational activities at the start of hostilities, made insurgents recognise that they needed the support of the local population to succeed. This support required the co-operation of the local people and included acts of terror, in which persons associated with the Rhodesian authorities were mutilated and murdered in the most gruesome fashion. Whilst the victims were mostly rural Africans, the European population in the rural areas were not excluded from this wanton barbarity.

These villages were not a new idea, in fact,   the concept of the Protected Village system was successfully applied by the British military in Malaya, in the 1950’s .

The first Protected Villages [ PVs ] in the Tribal Trust Lands of Rhodesia were established during 1974  and became the responsibility of the Ministry of Internal Affairs [ Intaf ].

Intaf had the task of being in charge of these rural areas from an Administrative standpoint and largely were  responsible for them.  . Thus, the PVs fell under their jurisdiction in this regard.

Very soon Intaf personnel and its administrative structures became priority targets of insurgent operations. Intaf lost many of their members to the enemy in the course of their unenviable duties in the rural regions. When it became clear that Intaf’s primary administrative role suffered because of its protective paramilitary commitments, political and military authorities decided to create an autonomous force exclusively responsible for the security of PVs, and subsequent protection of their inhabitants. 

Guard Force was thus born.

It should be mentioned that neither the Rhodesian Army nor the BSAP was prepared to take over the function of Protected Villages. Their remit was one of pro-active defence of the country. Or as it was expressed by officials that to have burdened the Rhodesian Army with such defensive tasks would dilute its strength and offensive ethos “.

On the 1st of August 1975 Major General G.A.D. Rawlins OLM, a retired General of the Rhodesian Army, was appointed as the first Commander of Guard Force. He was a strong supporter of the idea to create a separate dedicated force for the protection of the rural areas, where up to now, a great deal of local support was offered to the insurgents. Brigadier W.A. Godwin became Deputy Commander.

The first officers and senior NCOs for Guard Force were signed on in August/September 1975. The task before them was to establish Guard Force Headquarters, and the design, structures and initial modus operandi of the Force. There was very close liaison with members of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Starting in October 1975 Brigadier Godwin and other senior officers conducted visits to existing Protected Villages, in order to familiarise themselves with the workings of the villages and their future role in their well-being.

In October 1975 Guard Force Headquarters was established in Salisbury.  It accommodated the offices of the Commander and Deputy Commander Guard Force and the Staff Divisions necessary to support them and the deployed units and headquarters in the field. Deployed Guard Force elements were falling under the Operational Control of  Joint Operation Centres [ JOCs ], as other military units were,  on different levels. It is worthy of note that Guard Force personnel in the field were transpiring into a sizable force that JOC’s were becoming increasingly reliant upon.  They tended to operate in areas that were previously considered ‘liberated’ by the insurgents (and to some extent by the Rhodesian authorities), and from that viewpoint their contribution was well considered at Brigade level.

On 1st February 1976 Guard Force was officially gazetted as an autonomous force under the Ministry of Defence. [Government Notice 1203 of 1975]                                                                                

 On the 17th February 1977 Major General Rawlins retired from Guard Force and was succeeded by Brigadier W.A. Godwin OLM, DMM, OBE and his Deputy,  Air Commodore H.J. Pringle ICD, OLM, OBE, MID . Both of them served in their posts until the stand down of the Force, as great servants of the unit. 

In January 1976 the first Guard Force elements arrived at Chikurubi Barracks to establish the Guard Force Training Center [ GFTC ]. This was to be later re-named as  the Guard Force Regimental Depot [ GFRD ]  in 1977.  Offices, quarters and training facilities were shared in those early days, with Intaf, leading sometimes to an uneasy relationship. It should be understood that whilst Intaf were doing a tremendous role in the rural areas they had the difficult task of being ‘friend and protector’ to the local population…..when Guard Force took over the latter role it became a difficult alliance between Guard Force and Intaf in those initial stages. Time would prove however that in general, the two units did work well together for the benefit of the locals and of course to the detriment of the insurgents..

At a later stage other structures, which included Quartermaster Stores, Detention Barracks, Armoury, Motor Transport Section, Signals Section and a Sick Bay / Hospital , formed part of the GFRD. Some elements from the Quartermaster Stores and Signals Section moved at a later stage to other facilities in Salisbury.

The 9th of February 1976 saw the beginning of the first Keep Commander Course. That initial course ran until  the 2nd of April 1976. In total the unit ran in excess of some 16 KC courses during its life, turning out some 400 KCs/Dep KCs.

The first Basic Training Course started on the 14th of February. The Passing-Out Parade took place on the 18th June 1976. Inspecting Officer was the Minister of Defence ,  P K Van der Byl.  Adressing the Guard Force soldiers on parade, he stated that “ from henceforth, to you will fall the responsibility for the protection and safety of the civilian population of the villages “.

On the 1st of July 1976 the Headquarter of Group 1  Bindura / Madziwa was established,  leading to the first operational deployment of Guard Force soldiers. This was followed by the establishment of Group 2 Chipinga on the 20th December 1976.


On the 6th of December 1976, 85 “ D “ Category National Service members started their training.   D Cat personnel were in essence men of ‘military age’, but  older than 25 years of age approx.  and had not as yet undergone any other military training.                                                                                                                         By the end of 1976, 2500 African recruits had completed their four week basic tailormade training. European National Service members, and Territorial Force members  had to undergo a ten weeks training programme.

Others were trained with intakes at Llewellin Barracks / Bulawayo.   As the role of Guard Force changed over time, training was adopted to a more Infantry orientated counter-insurgency  [ COIN  ] training and the duration of training was extended. Specialist Courses for signallers, drivers, medics, military policemen, clerks, storemen and drill and weapon instructors were conducted at Chikurubi.

A Guard Force Battlecamp was set up  on a farm north of Salisbury to ensure that the  leadergroup received practical and realistic training in all aspects of COIN including live firing exercises.

Group Headquarters , situated close to the local JOC, BSAP Station and D.C. Camp, were established to exercise command and control over a large number of PVs. Sometimes the number and dispersal  of PVs made it necessary to subdivide group areas and to establish interim command posts known as Forward Command Posts. Guard Force Group Headquarters  were established in  Bindura / Madziwa , Chipinga,   Chiredzi,  Honde Valley,  Mrewa,  Mtoko,  Mudzi,  Beitbridge and  Mt.Darwin .This in effect covered the Operational areas which had already been established.

 Each PV, occupied by a few thousand rural African families, was surrounded by a high wire diamond-mesh fence. Within the PV was a fortified strong point known as the “ Keep “. It was occupied and “ defended “ by about 20 African guards and a European Keep Commander and a European Deputy Keep Commander. (Having two European Senior NCOs was a bit of a luxury and in reality each PV was headed up by either a KC or Deputy KC depending upon circumstances ]..

The entire success of the system depended on the control and checking of everyone and everything that left or entered the PV through the prescribed entry and exit points.  Food and provisions control was priority. There was a  dusk to dawn curfew enforced and nobody was allowed to be outside the perimeter fence during hours of darkness. In effect locals largely went about their own business outside of the confines of the PV, their only restriction was that they had to be inside the area after dusk. That arrangement suited both sides as the military were attempting to cut the insurgents off from the locals whilst the locals were given the protection of the PVs during hours of darkness.

Other operational activities included Perimeter Fence Patrols, Clearance Patrols during daytime in the close proximity of the PV, Mine Clearance Patrols on roads leading to and from the PV, Escort Duties and defending the PV against any attack by insurgents. At any one time it was fairly common to have Ground Coverage or Special Branch plain clothes officers working within the PV and the KCs had to have full knowledge of any ‘Intelligence’ going on inside the village.

Starting May 1977,  Guard Force was adopting a new approach “ to cope more effectively with infantry situations “. From a previously static and protective role the force engaged in all aspects of Counter-insurgency operations  [ COIN ]  in their respective Group areas of responsibility within the network of PVs and local areas.

The scale of this more aggressive approach depended largely on the commanders on the ground.  Training standards, lack of support weapons and equipment placed a limit on this more offensive responsibility  and sometimes commanders ignored the fact that the not so popular main role of Guard Force was  to protect and therefore be more defensive in its application. A point which was difficult  to accept by the more aggressive younger white leader group and commanders who came from a conventional military background, and were eager to ‘take the war’ to the insurgents rather than to permit the war to be brought to them..

This point was also valid for the increasingly large group of foreign volunteers and TF members serving with Guard Force. The question could be asked if the leader group deployed as Keep Commanders and their Deputies fully understood and accepted the role they had to play in ensuring the proper and effective functioning of the Protected Village System within the wider Security Strategy. The role was well founded, it was an absolute necessity but by the latter stages of the war the question was continually being asked. ‘Can one of the largest units in the Rhodesian Security Forces continue to have the luxury of performing a mainly static role’?

The permanent change over of  mostly white key personnel did not always give them  enough time to fully understand the rural African environment and prescribed security tasks within the PV and the surrounding area. In other words , were their efforts being misdirected , and could a more strategic responsibility be found for them? To have a significant manpower resource and not use it to its fullest capability was folly.

Guard Force personnel consisted of a regular contract based  leader group [ African and white Officers , Warrant Officers and senior NCOs including quite a number of non-Rhodesian volunteers], white National Servicemen who served for 18 month  and soldiers who belonged to the  25 to 38 years age bracket  who served their appointed call-ups in Guard Force.

During November 1978 a number of newly commissioned Officers who had undergone an officers course at the School of Infantry in Gwelo were posted to Guard Force. On the 19th of May 1979 the first two African cadets were commissioned as Officers. Most African Officers served as Warrant Officers or Senior NCOs with RAR before joining Guard Force where they were commissioned at a later stage . The rank and file were African volunteers on an initial three year contract . In 1979 the total strength of Guard Force numbered over 7000 members. No confirmed detailed figures are available.

 The strategy applied to react to the changes in the security situation and threat against the country led to  changes in the role of Guard Force . In 1978 Combined Operations [ ComOps ] produced a strategy with coherent goals, based on the political and military realities after the March 1978 political settlement, and the formation of the Transitional Government of Muzorewa. The first and most important goal of the new strategy, which led to a change in the role of Guard Force, was “ Protecting Vital Asset Ground “ [ mines, factories, key farming areas, bridges, railways, fuel depots, etc. ]  The political decision by the Transitional Government to open the PVs was another contributing factor. The Transitional Government hoped that the opening of PVs would influence the attitude of the local population to support moderate black nationalist leaders. By December 1978 all PVs in the Mrewa, Mtoko, Mudzi Districts and 20 PVs in the Mt. Darwin District  had been opened .

In other areas Security Forces lifted all restrictions of movement by people  living in PVs and in October 1978  PVs in the Beitbridge, Chiredzi, Chipinga, Mutasa and Mt.Darwin Areas were taken over from Guard Force by Security Force Auxiliaries [ SFA ]. By 1979 the Transitional Government acknowledged  that the opening of PVs was a mistake because people returning to their homes fell victim to terrorism because they were no longer protected.

The withdraw of Guard Force from the PVs made a large number of soldiers available for other tasks and led to the decision by political and military authorities to deploy Guard Force to protect National Vital Assets like European Farming Areas , Railway Lines and vital industrial and commercial enterprises. Before these new deployments and the establishment of new units and HQs, elements of  Guard Force operated for a few months  in a COIN role in their Group areas of responsibility. (Principally but not restricted to the Operation Hurricane area in the NW). This seemed to be the initial start of the ‘soon to be’  Infantry Battalions of Guard Force.

 Retraining and deployment of these elements within their Group areas continued into the second half of 1978 . Their operational activities and deployments can be seen as the forerunners of the newly formed Infantry Battalions. This was a testing period for the new Guard Force, and as history would dictate it worked.

An unprecedented onslaught on the land to disrupt the economy of the country and to drive commercial farmers off the land, led to an increase of attacks and terror directed against the commercial farming community, homesteads and other farming assets, the farmers themselves, their families and farm labourers and their families. The manpower of the country (principally the European effort) was stretched to breaking point and due to their experiences of the culture and of the land any farmers were being called up into BSAP (PATU). Therefore the protection of these assets fell to a very large extent upon Guard Force.

The farmer became a top soft target on the frontline of this conflict. The vital necessity, as spelled out in the Security Strategy of the country, to maintain the commercial farmer on the land required the provision of security for his family, home and labour. To achieve this objective , Guard Force took over the protection of Key Farming Areas together and  in close cooperation with BSAP /. PATU and other Security Force elements. It began with the deployment of about 500 GF soldiers during 1978. Regional and Area  Headquarters , ensuring proper Command and Control were established in the Operational Areas  HURRICANE, THRASHER, REPULSE, TANGENT and GRAPPLE covering most of the commercial farming areas. GF soldiers were deployed to individual farms, with the local control centre being based at the BSAP offices.

.Their task was to assist the farmer in security related tasks, clearance patrols, escort duties and defending the farm homestead, the farmer and his family and labour against attacks by insurgents. Reaction Forces were based at the relevant HQs. Local Reaction Forces were based at BSAP Stations and worked closely with BSAP / PATU. Some Regional / Area Headquarters responsibilities included the protection of Government and Municipality installations and industrial and commercial enterprises of vital importance to the economy of the country. Protection of key installations in Salisbury led to the establishment of a Guard Force Urban Protection Group based at New Sarum / Salisbury during 1979.

In May 1979 1 Battalion Guard Force [ 1BN ] was formally  established, using the manpower from GP 5 Mrewa, GP 6 Mtoko and GP 7 Mudzi and later GP 8 Beitbridge . During the first few months of its existence, companies of the Battalion operated in an area-bound COIN Infantry role in their former Group areas . In September 1979 the Battalion was allocated the task to protect the Railway Line between Beitbridge and Gwelo. 1 BN consisted of six Companies and a HQ element which was based at Rutenga. This railway line to South Africa was the lifeline of the country and was given a high Defence priority.

Shortly thereafter 2 Battalion Guard Force [ 2 BN ] was established with the responsibility to protect the Railway Line between Bulawayo and Victoria Falls . Its HQ was situated at the Cyrene Mission near Bulawayo. (Horst, from which Groups were these men drawn?....HQ Delta etc?)

3 Battalion Guard Force [ 3 BN ] was the last established Guard Force unit with its HQ at Stamford Farm west of Salisbury . The Battalion deployed its companies as  independent operating Infantry companies  and played an important role during the period leading up to the March 1980 election.                                                                                                                          Changes in the role of Guard Force did not change the role of the individual Guard Force members who fought as soldiers from the day of the establishment of Guard Force as the fourth arm of the Rhodesian Security Forces to the final days of the Bush War.

On the day, when the deployed units in the field received the signal  from  Guard Force Headquarters to stand down was an emotional time for all.. It was a  sad moment  reading the signal which cited the words of  Rudyard Kipling, the great poet of the British Empire (and friend of the common soldier), ………. now, the time has come to quietly unfurl your tents and fade away ……” .

For the 206 soldiers of the Guard Force, black and white, who made the ultimate sacrifice, their final rollcall came before this painful day.

Keep Cmdr Charles Provis , the last Guard Force casualty of the War, was killed on the 15 March 1980 on active service. As a soldier he fought and as a soldier he died.

 Guard Force units and HQs stood down between the 11 May and 25 June 1980.                                                                                

For the thousands of African Guard Force soldiers,  who survived the Rhodesian War, the future became bleak. Seen by the new Government as an “ irregular  unit brought into existence solely for fighting the war “, Guard Force was  not considered for integration into the new Zimbabwe National Army. Individual African Guard Force officers, Warrant Officers and NCO’s made it into the new Army, including a few white officers. Most white soldiers who were part of the conscription / call-up system went back to their civilian lives. Others who served as  contract based regulars continued soldiering  “down south “ or looked for civilian jobs. . Foreigners went back to their home countries or continued fighting wars in other distant places.

In the years after 1980 many of the former white Rhodesians  left the country and tried to start a new life in other places. For others, the country they called home was no longer. Most white Rhodesians when called up to serve their country ,did so , and many of them served with Guard Force. All that was left, was to recall and record  bygone days and the challenges they faced in defending keeps and Protected Villages,  farming communities , securing railway lines,  and protecting other vital assets.  The comfort that these men brought to the families both black and white under their protection may never be fully appreciated. Patrols, OP’s, contacts, ambushes, landmines , escort duties ,sweeps and other terms from the COIN handbook became their daily vocabularyall in the service of others, continuing that great tradition of military men the world over.. .

The list of challenges Guard Force soldiers under deployment faced is endless, but there was very little recognition given for what they have achieved. No regular military Force wanted to be involved in protective / defensive tasks. These tasks have been seen as frustrating, sapping the morale of the soldiers and causing ill discipline, in addition to the danger incurred. Success in protecting Vital Asset Ground [ railways, key farming areas, bridges etc, ] or denying the insurgents the access to the rural African population [ Protective Villages ] cannot be measured by the number of insurgents killed.   Had the insurgents not faced this barrier the war would have been lost very much sooner                                              

Guard Force , RDR, BSAP, Intaf and other defensive elements of the Security Forces provided the protective shield so that the sword, consisting of the elite units of the Security Forces,  could strike and destroy the enemy. This very subtle but nevertheless extremely valid assertion is often misunderstood at best, and ignored at worst. Without the protection of those assets and resources, the aggressive aspects become null and void. Both elements, the shield and the sword , were necessary to defend the country against a multifaced revolutionary threat. Guard Force soldiers were part of this total and integrated effort to counter this threat against their country. They have done their duty, against all odds,  and nobody can take this away from them. What others may say about Guard Force is not important and is largely based in not understanding the role Guard Force played in the total war effort.

In January 1979, the white Joint Minister of Justice, Law and Order in the Transitional Government, Hilary Squires, reassured white National Servicemen allocated to Guard Force that   it is one of the most crucial arms of the Security Forces and that it was essential to keep areas clear of insurgents and this was the function of Guard Force “ and he added that “ you are likely to be in the frontline contacts, just as much as anyone else . Perhaps he may have added that their function expanded and the force eventually became both ‘protector and assailant ..

We ourselves know - and therefore we can say that we are proud to have served as soldiers  in the Rhodesian Guard Force “ -  and we must say so at the top of our voices..


P.S. The content of this article is based on input from former Guard Force soldiers and information contained in the following publications, articles and websites :

·       Peter Abbott / Philip Bothham : Modern African Wars [1] : Rhodesia 1965 – 80 :  Osprey, London 1986.

·       Fighting Forces of Rhodesia Vol.5 : The Guard Force – fiercely loyal and protective.  CentAfrican Press Publications, Salisbury 1978.

·       Dr. Jakkie Cilliers : Counter-Insurgency in Rhodesia.:  Croom Helm, Beckenham 1985  and  Institute for Security Studies, Pretoria [ scan ].

·       AAM : Fire Force exposed.:  AAM, London 1979.

·       Peter Godwin / Ian Hancock : Rhodesians Never Die.:  Pan Macmillan. Northlands, 1993.

·       Trevor Grundy / Bernard Miller : The Farmer at War.:  Modern Farming Publications, Salisbury 1979.

·       Norma Kriger : Guerilla Veterans in Post-War Zimbabwe : Cambridge University Press  2003.

·       Paresh Pandya : Mao Tse-tung and Chimurenga.:  Skotaville, Braamfontein 1988.

·       Nhowo ,  Vol Oct 76 : Maj Gen G.A.D. Rawlins, OLM : Guard Force News.

·       Dudley Wall : Website : Rhodesia – Intaf.

·       Dr. J.R.T. Wood : Countering the Chimurenga – The Rhodesian Counter Insurgency Campaign 1962 – 80.  [ Chapter 10 in D. Marston / C. Malkasian : Counter Insurgency in Modern Warfare ].:  Osprey, London 1986.

·       Valuable  written informations were provided by former A/Comdt Mark Axworthy and military historian and collector Mr. Craig Fourie.