Rhodesian Armoured Corps
|Rhodesian Armoured Corps|
|Active||February 1941 – 1956
|Allegiance|| United Kingdom (1941–56)
Republic of Rhodesia (1972–79)
Zimbabwe Rhodesia (1979)
United Kingdom (1979–80)
|Size||One battalion (circa 400–500)|
|Nickname||"The Black Devils"|
(We Fear Nothing)
|Colors||Maroon & Yellow|
|Engagements||Rhodesian Bush War|
The Rhodesian Armoured Corps was the last incarnation of various armoured military units of Rhodesia. Its initial incarnation was raised in 1941 for service in World War II. This was disbanded in 1956 before being re-established in 1973 to fight in Rhodesia's insurgency.
The various names of the regiment are as follows:
- Southern Rhodesian Armoured Car Regiment (1941)
- Southern Rhodesian Reconnaissance Car Regiment (1941–1947)
- Southern Rhodesian Armoured Car Regiment (1948–1956)
- Disbanded (1956–1973)
- Rhodesian Armoured Car Regiment (RhACR) (1973–1979)
- Rhodesian Armoured Corps (RhAC) (1980)
The regiment consisted of five armoured squadrons, each of four troops, with a supporting Signals Troop, Army Service Corps detachment, Training Troop and an HQ element. In 1979 a supporting Infantry Troop was added. A, B and C Squadrons were territorial units, while D and E Squadrons were staffed by regulars and national servicemen. The armoured troops used the South African manufactured Eland 90 armoured car, the British made Ferret armoured scout car and a variety of Rhodesian armoured personnel carriers constructed on the short wheelbase '25' and long wheelbase '45' Mercedes truck chassis, or the Nissan truck chassis. The unit acquired 8 Soviet block T-55 tanks in October 1979, that were seized by South Africa from a Libyan freighter in Durban.
The regiment's primary roles were in static defence of key border crossing points, in high density operations in no-go areas heavily infiltrated by guerillas, in external operations against enemy bases and mainly in the provision of an armoured force in the event of a classical war invasion of the country. This latter scenario only materialised in 1980 after the end of the Bush War, whereas the regiment carried out most of its operations in a counter-insurgency role prior to 1980.
The regiment had the reputation of high standards, with all members being infantry trained prior to application. Applicants were then trained to an armoured specialisation at the regiment's own training centre.
Performance during the peak of the Rhodesian Bush War
The unit's CO from inception to 1977 was Major Rooken Smith, and from 1978 was American Major Darrell Winkler. He was a field grade officer in the U.S. Army, who, after resignation went to South Africa first, and then towards Rhodesia. He was commissioned in the Rhodesian Army on 12 August 1977. The Rhodesian Armoured Corps then consisted of four squadrons, three of them were manned by territorials and only one squadron with a regular staff supplemented by National Servicemen.
An Armoured Depot was established at Blakiston-Houston Barracks which conducted all armour training and housed the Headquarters, Stores, Signals and Workshop detachments adjacent to King George VI Barracks (Army HQ) on the outskirts of Salisbury. Their vehicles consisted of the Rolls-Royce powered Ferret Scout Car, housing a 7.62mm Browning machine-gun in a small hatch-topped turret and the GM-powered Eland Armoured Car, the South African-produced version on the French Panhard AML-90, equipped with a 90mm cannon and a co-axial 7.62mm Browning machine-gun in a fully enclosed revolving turret. Later on the regiment received from South Africa eight captured T-55 main battle tanks, armed with a 100mm main cannon, a 7.62mm co-axial machine-gun and a 12.75mm anti aircraft gun.
They were fighting a counterinsurgency war for the most part but also continually trained for classical warfare in order to deal with enemies in the front line states who were equipped with T-34, T-55 and T-62 tanks, supported by Soviet, Red Chinese and Eastern European advisers. Heavy weapons deployed against the RhACR during border battles included 122mm rocket launchers, 75mm recoilless rifles and 82mm mortars. The TM46 anti-tank mine, often boosted, accounted for most of the regiment's casualties in the internal insurgency conflict.
The regiment took part in a number of static but intense battles, notably at Mount Selinda against Mocambiquan Frelimo Forces (where a Bronze Cross was awarded to 2nd Lieutenant Rae) in 1977 and at Chirundu in October 1978, where heavy-machine gun, artillery and mortar duels took place between D Squadron and elements of the Zambian Army over a period of three days and nights near the Otto Beit Bridge. Elements of the RDR were also involved at close quarters at the bridge, while 1RR provided 81mm mortar and 106mm recoilless rifle fire support.
In July 1977 D Squadron engaged a large group of ZANLA guerrillas north of Vila Salazar, while they were attempting to cross the border into Rhodesia, and it was reported that 37 enemy were killed in that engagement with some accounted for at point-blank range. In these battles the Eland and its devastating 90mm round were decisive in the outcome. Nobody was hurt on the Rhodesian side in any of these engagements. Casualties in the regiment were among the lowest in the army because the guerrilla enemy avoided contact as far as possible.
Rhodesian T-55 Tanks
Before 1979 the Rhodesian Army had not possessed any tanks. In October of that year they received eight T-55 tanks from South Africa. These tanks were confiscated from a Libyan cargo ship that was destined for Maputo (Mozambique) but had entered Durban due to the ship captain having mistaken Durban for Maputo. The tanks were to be sent to Mozambique where they were going to be delivered to anti-Rhodesian insurgents operating out of Mozambique. The ship entered the port at Durban where the cargo, including ten Polish-built T-55LD tanks (built in 1975), was seized. Two of the tanks were kept by the South Africans for evaluation.
Since South Africa was an unofficial ally of Rhodesia, the remaining eight tanks were transported to Rhodesia. The South African Defence Force (SADF) sent advisers for the purpose of training Rhodesian crews. The rumour was spread that the tanks had been captured in Mozambique, in order to obscure South Africa’s part in the deal. The tanks, now part of the Rhodesian Armoured Car Regiment – in a newly formed "E" Squadron – were driven around on tank transporters for several months in order to give the impression that the Rhodesians possessed a large number of heavy tanks.
On arrival the T-55s had sported the original Libyan camouflage scheme. Major Winkler ordered them repainted in American camo, which was eminently unsuitable, and finally the South African instructors had them painted in anti-infra-red South African camo, which proved perfect for Rhodesian conditions. The tank crews came from 'D' Sqn RhACR, regular force soldiers who had signed on for a minimum of three years. Trained crews were vital if the tanks were to be used to maximum effect and it was necessary to ensure that the crews would remain in the Army for some time. A few of the men had tank experience already, but initially there was a lot of experimenting and reliance on the manuals, until Army HQ arranged for proper training by members of the SADF School of Armour.
Command of 'E' Sqn was given to Captain Kaufeldt, an experienced tanker from West Germany. More recruits from the RLI and Selous Scouts arrived to fill the gaps and acquitted themselves well in their new task. The Soviet-manufactured radios were removed from the tanks and replaced with the South African radios and headsets used on the Eland 90 AFVs. These used a throat-activated microphone system and were far superior to the Soviet models. In Soviet tanks the radios were operated by the loader, in addition to his task on the main gun. The Rhodesians, reasoning that the loader already had enough to keep him occupied, moved the radios to the tank commander's position. The tank crews were issued with brand-new Soviet AKMS assault rifles which they were eager to test in battle conditions. They were destined to remain unused.
Orders of dress
The regiment was allegedly given the nickname 'The Black Devils' by the insurgents, reflecting the black tank-suits and leather jackets worn by some of the more highly spirited D Squadron members. These were introduced by Darryl Winkler in an effort to engender an esprit de corps within his squadron – and echoed the all black look of the British Royal Tank Regiment (although the appearance of Frank Sinatra in the 1965 film Von Ryan's Express readily springs to mind).
In the operational area the majority of the soldiers of the regiment wore one-piece tank uniforms and ubiquitous peaked field caps with neck flaps. On base, standard Rhodesian camouflage was worn with a black beret, fitted with the sable badge illustrated on this page. 'T' Troop wore the Corps of Signals badge. The fitter section wore the Army Service Corps badge. All badges were underpinned by the maroon and yellow regimental colours on an enamelled plaque, as illustrated on this page. The stable belt was red with the unfortunate inclusion of two yellow stripes, for which members were sometimes mocked. Thus, the olive-green webbing belt was worn in preference by many members.
- Locke & Cooke, Fighting Vehicles and Weapons of Rhodesia 1965–80 (1995), p. 100.
- Locke & Cooke, Fighting Vehicles and Weapons of Rhodesia 1965–80 (1995), p. 97.
- Robert K. Brown: The Black Devils, SOFMAG, 1979
- Peter Gerard Locke & Peter David Farquharson Cooke, Fighting Vehicles and Weapons of Rhodesia 1965–80, P&P Publishing, Wellington 1995 ISSN 0-473-02413-6
- Robert K.Brown, The Black Devils, Soldier of Fortune Magazine, January 1979