The Rhodesian War: A Military History – Paul L. Moorcraft and Peter McLaughlin

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Synopsis:

Rhodesia was founded by the British South Africa Company (BSAC) in 1890 under the direction of South African mining magnate Cecil Rhodes, and his colonial partner Leander Starr Jameson. Known as Southern Rhodesia the colony was granted self-governing status by the British government in 1923 under the administration of the white European colonial minority, and soon burgeoned as an economic powerhouse in southern Africa.

By the 1950s the standard of living for the white Rhodesians was vastly superior to most of the British living in the United Kingdom, and was even higher than many parts of the United States. It was not unusual for a white family living in the suburbs of the capital of Salisbury to own a single family home with a swimming pool, a car, all the contrivances of modern life, as well as employing more than one black African domestic worker. However, the white minority government only sought to assimilate the black African communities living within the state at a snail’s pace, and maintained a sort of parochial paternalistic racism over the black Africans, which was deeply resented. These ethnic tensions, and the communist Cold War strategy of fostering Marxist-Leninist wars of national liberation would snowball into what became known as the Rhodesian Bush War. The outcome of the war was the extinction of the white settler state of Rhodesia, and the birth of Zimbabwe under the leadership of the Marxist-Leninist and Pan-African ideologue Robert Mugabe.

In their book on the Rhodesian Bush War, Moorcraft and McLaughlin offer a political as well as military history of the war conveying thorough analysis of the tactics and strategies employed by the warring factions.

Excerpts:

“Rhodesia’s first concern, according to Prime Minister Ian Smith’s followers, was to prevent the spread of godless communism. But the war led to the triumph of a self-professed communist, Robert Mugabe. The most right-wing British prime minister in modern history, Margaret Thatcher, had inadvertently created the conditions for the first democratic electoral victory of a Marxist leader in Africa.

“The greatest paradox involved South Africa. Rhodesia broke away from Britain to avoid black rule and then, with the onset of the guerrilla war, became completely dependent upon an apartheid regime which subsequently became even more determined than London to establish a black premier in Salisbury, soon to be renamed Harare. Above all, Pretoria dreaded the possibility of a victorious Marxist army marching through the streets of Salisbury and Bulawayo, a precedent which it feared could be replicated in the Transvaal.

“The Zimbabwean nationalists called the whites ‘settlers’, but the ‘European’ population thought of themselves as Rhodesians, a nation in themselves, or a white African tribe at least.

“Many whites believed they were sincerely battling against communism to preserve a civilized Christian order; it was not merely to protect a three-servants-two-cars-one-swimming-pool way of life. But although the whites did fight long and hard, Rhodesia was not a militaristic society, despite the ubiquitous weaponry and uniforms. By 1979, as black rule became imminent, the whites looked back on the tragedies of the war. The mood was one of sorrow and resignation rather than anger; and they displayed a bruised pride in having survived for so long against such steep odds.

“…towards the end of the war, the Rhodesian military had begun to act as a state within a state. It was only the personal contacts between Smith and his service chiefs which kept the fiction of political supervision intact. With 95 per cent of the country under martial law, military dominance was inevitable.

*All excerpts have been taken from The Rhodesian War: A Military History, Stackpole Books.

War by Timetable – AJP Taylor

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Synopsis:

One of the decisive components of the Prussian victory in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 was the rapidity of mobilization sustained by the Prussian Army. Following the war the mobilization timetables of the great European powers would come to dominate military doctrine. Ultimately, the competitive struggle over mobilization timetables would climax with the outbreak of the First World War.

In his book War by Timetable, A.J.P. Taylor sketches the evolution of the importance of the timetables, and advances the thesis that once the timetables had been initiated there was no reversing them.

Excerpts:

“The essential European balance was between the Franco-Russian or Dual Alliance on the one side and the Triple Alliance, or more realistically the Austro-German Alliance, on the other. Both sets of alliances were strictly defensive if taken literally: they were to operate only in case of attack, and since every great power declared that it was exclusively concerned with defence, war was theoretically impossible.

“It was universal doctrine that speed was essential. Whichever power completed its mobilisation first would strike first and might even win the war before the other side was ready. Hence the time-tables became ever more ingenious and ever more complicated.

“There was little consultation between military planners and civilian statesmen. The statesmen assumed that the general staffs were doing their best to ensure that they would win a war if one came, and there was no speculation on how policy could be seconded by military action. The dogma of the great Clausewitz that ‘war is a continuation of policy by other means’ had lost its hold. War had now become a theoretical operation conducted for its own sake.

“Certainly the Germans did not rely on the Austrians for the defence of German territory in the east. Instead they relied on time – that is to say, the superior speed of their own mobilisation. They assumed that they would have defeated France before the Russians were prepared to move against East Prussia on any great scale at all.

“…there was only one decision which turned the little Balkan conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia into a European war. That was the German decision to start general mobilisation on 31st July, and that was in its turn decisive because of the academic ingenuity with which Schlieffen, now in his grave, had attempted to solve the problem of a two-front war.

*All excerpts have been taken from War by Timetable, Endeavour Press Ltd.