ALL-OUT WAR 1977-1979 I

The Green Leader raid was part of the Rhodesian strategy of cross-border raids which began in earnest in mid-1977. After the debacle at Geneva, the Rhodesian government concentrated on finding an ‘internal solution’ to the war. Pretoria would continue to provide the arms to attack guerrilla camps in Mozambique and Zambia, and later Angola. This would ‘buy time’ to negotiate with moderate black leaders, who would be suitably awed by the still vigorous white military power. Such was the thinking in Salisbury. It meant that the Anglo-American proposals of September 1977, touted by Andrew Young, the American ambassador to the UN, and Dr David Owen, the British foreign secretary, were doomed.

The Patriotic Front was neither awed nor keen to negotiate an end to the war. By April 1977 the Rhodesian government conceded that about 2,350 guerrillas were active in the four operational areas: 500 in Hurricane, 1,000 in Thrasher, 650 in Repulse and 200 in Tangent. New operational areas were opened in central Rhodesia (Grapple), the Salisbury area (Salops) and Lake Kariba (Splinter). As the numbers of guerrillas increased, so did the extent of the penetration and disruption of the government infrastructure. Schools, clinics and mission stations were forcibly closed. In the south-east in May 1977 the government admitted that 22,000 tribesmen in four administrative areas had refused to pay their taxes. All over the country African councils in the rural areas could not function; local council buildings were looted and burnt. Stock theft and attacks on white farms mounted. In August 1977, the rail line to Sinoia was sabotaged on the outskirts of Salisbury. The most devastating guerrilla attack in 1977 was the bomb planted on 7 August at a Woolworth store in Salisbury: 11 people were killed and more than 70 injured. Nearly all the casualties were black. ZIPRA infiltration increased across the Botswana border; the new tempo of Nkomo’s effort brought a massive upswing in recruits, many of them schoolchildren, who crossed clandestinely into Botswana. They were then flown to Zambia for training.

Also, ZANLA raids grew more daring. On 18 December at 10.45 pm about 60 ZANLA guerrillas attacked the Grand Reef security force base near Umtali. The troops were watching a film show in the canteen. The show came to an end as rockets crashed on to the area. The guerrillas had seen one RLI unit leave, but they had not noticed the arrival of another RLI Fire Force which returned fire. The guerrillas then disappeared into the night, after killing one African and injuring six whites at the base. A vociferous section of the RF demanded total war on the guerrillas: it wanted a full-scale call-up and urged that, while a large regular army was being created, the security forces should destroy all guerrilla bases in the frontline states. Some hardliners in the RF hatched a plan to appoint a military junta under General Walls, after putting Smith under house arrest. Later 12 RF members, nicknamed the ‘dirty dozen’, hived off from the ruling party to form the Rhodesia Action Party. (They were all defeated in the August 1977 general election.) But the dissident RF men had a point: the Rhodesian effort was poorly organised. A new War Council was set up to co-ordinate the various ministries directly involved in the war; it also included the service chiefs. A National Manpower Board was established to oversee white conscription. The most important development was the creation of a Combined Operations centre (ComOps) in March 1977 which took over the role of the OCC and the National JOC. ComOps now co-ordinated the activities of the various Joint Operations Commands which remained the HQs of the respective operational areas. ComOps was thus the national JOC for day-to-day administration and also a think-tank for long-range strategic planning. It was headed by Lieutenant General Peter Walls, the Rhodesian-born, Sandhurst-trained, SAS commander and former OC of the Rhodesian Army. There was some canvassing for Air Marshal ‘Mick’ McLaren, the former air chief, to become the ComOps supremo. McLaren was considered by some to be a more capable commander than Walls; in the end the army, as the larger organization, had more ‘pull’ and McLaren was made Walls’s deputy. Both men were due to retire from the armed forces, but the government was thus able to retain their expertise.

ComOps HQ was appropriately situated in Milton Buildings next to the prime minister’s office in central Salisbury. By late 1979 the political-military balance had swung heavily towards Walls. By then, real power in Rhodesia lay in the hands of Walls, not Smith or Muzorewa. Ken Flower, a small, wily Cornishman who headed the CIO, also wielded tremendous power behind the scenes. By this time Smith and Walls were hardly on speaking terms because of disagreements over strategy. Both men were strong-minded and Smith found it easier to get on with Walls’s deputy, Mick McLaren. The two ex-airmen spent hours talking about aircraft, often of the World War Two variety. (After the Rhodesian war ended, Walls was asked why he hadn’t persuaded Smith of the importance of providing a political strategy for the war. Walls maintained that as a ‘simple soldier’ he was not in a position to dominate the political leadership, especially a stubborn man like Smith. Bearing in mind the position of the army in the last stages of the war and Walls’s personal influence, it is difficult to accept Walls’s conventional interpretation of civil-military relations. Perhaps Walls, a former member of the Black Watch, had fully imbibed the Sandhurst principles. The strain between the two men did not develop into a total rift. After Walls’s exile to South Africa, Smith continued to recommend that visitors to Johannesburg should look up his former military chief.)

Besides changes at the top, in April 1977–despite an outcry from the business community–conscription was extended to the 38 to 50 age group and exemptions were severely reduced. The maximum call-up for those under 38 was increased to 190 days a year; those older than 50 were asked to volunteer for police duties. In September the government encouraged national servicemen to stay on for another year by offering Rh$100 a month bonus. The bottom of the barrel was being scraped; the only alternative was to boost the number of black soldiers. Black doctors had already been drafted and apprentices were next on the list, but large-scale black conscription was unnecessary as hundreds of volunteers flocked every month to join the Rhodesian African Rifles. The RAR was augmented with a third and a projected fourth battalion. In addition, the PV programme was stepped up. In June 1977, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, more than 145 PVs and 40 consolidated villages had been completed; another 32 PVs were scheduled for construction by the end of the year. The Catholic Justice and Peace Commission asserted, however, that 203 PVs had been erected and that, in August 1977, 580,832 people were living ‘behind the wire’, often in squalor. Dawn-to-dusk curfews had been imposed on most TTLs and ‘no go’ areas had been extended along the Botswana and Mozambique borders. The government was trying to pull out all the stops. As Roger Hawkins, the minister of Combined Operations, put it: ‘Until now it has been accepted as basically a police operation with military support against criminals. Now it is to be a military operation, mainly by the army, with police support.’

Hawkins also admitted that ‘our greatest problem before was lack of decision’. Decisions were now made. The most significant was to escalate the cross-border raids. ComOps personnel had been impressed by the various film versions of the Entebbe raid; in particular, they wanted to experiment with a Dakota fitted out with communications equipment to act as the ‘command module’ of future raids. And the SAS were arguing for a ‘1,000-kill’ raid. In May 1977, Mapai, about 95 km from the Mozambique-Rhodesia border, was captured by security forces. It was not a successful raid. In spite of the scale of the operation, only 32 guerrillas were killed, although large quantities of equipment were seized. But a Rhodesian Dakota was shot down and the pilot killed at the Mapai airstrip. The raid was prolonged to three days to salvage the plane. ComOps privately blamed the military failure on a tip-off; politically the Mapai raid was a disaster. An irate Vorster phoned Smith to tell him to pull out his troops. Pretoria was still not convinced of the validity of Smith’s plan to bomb his way into a constitutional settlement. South Africa did not want an endless war; it was looking to its own military needs (in November 1977 the UN imposed a mandatory arms embargo on the apartheid state).

But then South Africa changed tack. For a number of political reasons, including the need to project a tough image to sidestep the HNP challenge in the November elections, the National Party government began to support the internal settlement plan in Rhodesia. Bishop Muzorewa’s UANC looked like going along with Smith; so did Ndabaningi Sithole’s wing of ZANU. On 25 September 1977 Smith had flown to see Kaunda in Lusaka to encourage the old warrior Nkomo to return. With his options widening, Smith had in effect rejected the Anglo-American settlement by late September. The Rhodesian government particularly loathed the idea of integrating the guerrilla armies with the Rhodesian security forces during a transition period monitored by a British Resident Commissioner (Field Marshal Lord Carver) and a UN-appointed military supremo (General Prem Chand). Perhaps a show of force before negotiating with Muzorewa and Sithole would work. And this time Pretoria nodded its assent. (On most occasions, until the last few months of the war, the Rhodesians did not consult Pretoria officially in case it disapproved. Salisbury wanted to avoid having to disregard South African advice, though the SADF liaison officers in Salisbury co-ordinated any military support required.)

On 23 November the Rhodesians launched their biggest operation to date. The Rhodesian army, with a crucial SAS core, hit the ZANLA HQ near Chimoio, about 90 km inside Mozambique (roughly opposite Umtali). Three days later a second assault wave overcame Tembue in Tete province (220 km from the Rhodesian border). The double assault, codenamed Operation Dingo, were classic examples of vertical envelopments. At Chimoio 97 SAS and 48 RLI parachutists landed on two sides of the base, while 40 heliborne RLI troops were dropped on the third side. The fourth side of the trap was, in theory, to be sealed by fire from K-cars, after the initial bombing strikes. Chimoio was estimated to hold at least 9,000 ZANLA and Tembue 4,000. Practically the entire air force (42 helicopters, eight Hunters, six Vampires, three Canberras, six Dakotas and 12 Lynx aircraft) was deployed for air strikes and to transport 185 Rhodesian troops. It was almost impossible to air-transport more than 200 troops at one time. Normally, a 3:1 superiority is required for attacking an entrenched enemy; the Rhodesian attackers were massively outnumbered. The element of surprise and air power were supposed to fill the gap. During the first phase of Operation Dingo, ComOps claimed that the Rhodesians had killed more than 1,200 guerrillas. According to ZANU sources, the guerrilla figures were much higher; probably nearer 2,000, many of them women and children. The Chimoio complex contained schools and hospitals, as well as military training sections. On 25 November a ground and air attack hit Tembue. A Hunter dropped flechette antipersonnel darts for the first time in the war. It hit the parade ground, but a hangover had prevented the ZANLA commander summoning his men that day. A personal inspection of the killing ground by the RAF’s Peter Petter-Bowyer had left him in no doubt of his invention’s potential. ComOps had vetoed their use at Chimoio because an international outcry would have followed the inevitable visit by the UN High Commission for Refugees. In total, ComOps estimated that Operation Dingo had cost ZANLA in excess of 3,000 trained men and approximately 5,000 wounded (and many subsequent desertions). The Rhodesians had suffered two dead, six wounded and one Vampire was downed. On 26/27 November, in Operation Virile, a Selous Scout column with close air support destroyed five key road bridges between Dombe (near Chimoio) and Espungabera to deny ZANLA vehicular access to the Rhodesian border.

The slaughter at Chimoio in particular was to have a big impact on the collective psyche of the ZANU leadership. The mass graves were continually conjured up in political speeches and poetry, particularly after Mugabe’s accession to power. After a week’s protest, however, the most important leader still in Rhodesia, Muzorewa, decided to return to his negotiations with Ian Smith. Eventually, in March 1978, Smith reached an accord with Muzorewa, Sithole and a pliant Shona chief, Senator Jeremiah Chirau. These four men, nicknamed the ‘gang of four’, hoped to bring about a kind of majority rule which would end the war and pre-empt a military victory by the forces of the Patriotic Front. It was essentially a formula for white survival: ‘Give them the parliament and we keep the banks.’

The Patriotic Front rejected the March Agreement as a sham, another UDI. Nkomo called the three internal black leaders ‘small nuts in a big machine’. Nevertheless, Nkomo still kept back the bulk of his army. During 1978 he never deployed in Rhodesia more than 2,000 guerrillas; 8,000 to 10,000 remained in bases in Zambia. ZANU in Mozambique had repaired much of the damage caused by interparty dissension. 1978 was declared the ‘Year of the People’ in which ZANU intended to achieve a mass political mobilization of the peasantry before 1979, the ‘Year of the People’s Storm’, the final onslaught on the Rhodesian government. ZANLA troops entered Rhodesia in groups 100-strong; by June 1978 at least 13,000 ZANLA troops were deployed in the country. They were assisted by locally trained recruits and thousands of mujibas.

In Salisbury, Muzorewa and Sithole, now members of the four-man Executive Council (Exco) which in theory controlled the transitional government established in March 1978, promised that the war would wind down. They argued that, as majority rule was in sight, the guerrillas would have no reason to fight on. Both men claimed to represent large groups of ZANLA guerrillas, but Smith was soon to find out that the two nationalists had deceived both him and themselves. During the rest of 1978 only a few hundred genuine guerrillas responded to the government’s amnesty offer.

The internal solution was not working. The war escalated. The main reason why the guerrillas refused to heed Salisbury’s call was the fact that behind Sithole’s and Muzorewa’s rhetoric all real power was still firmly in the hands of the whites. The obvious example was the running of the COIN war. On the same day that the Bishop, Sithole and Chirau were sworn into government, Smith quietly created his own unofficial war council, which had six members: Walls, as head of ComOps, the army and air force chiefs, the Commissioner of Police, the director-general of the CIO and sometimes civilian ministers. The streamlined war council had been set up in September 1976 to co-ordinate the ministerial control of the war; in March 1977 the formation of ComOps had improved some elements of the central command. Smith’s personal council primarily aimed at excluding the black co-minister of defence. Black ministers were considered unreliable and prone to security leaks. (The first black minister of defence, John Kadzviti, a Sithole man and a former guerrilla, shortly after his appointment fled the country to escape a murder charge brought by the BSAP.) Smith was officially excluded from the conduct of the war. In fact, however, he worked closely with the service chiefs.

The new administration tried to improve its image. Most of the political detainees were released, executions of political prisoners were suspended and the ban on the political wings of both ZAPU and Mugabe’s ZANU was (temporarily) removed. In spite of the military repercussions, many of the PVs were closed, especially in the Mtoko, Mrewa and Mudzi areas. (Some were in regions where the government tacitly admitted it had lost effective control.) This was done to satisfy the UANC’s clamour to end the PV programme, which it knew was unpopular with the tribespeople. The main weakness, however, was the tardy removal of racial discrimination. (Four months after the March Agreement, a committee was set up to ‘explore’ means of removing discrimination.) Smith seemed to regard the tempo of removal of racial inequalities as an exchange for winding down the war. The black leaders had not kept their side of the agreement, Smith argued. In turn the black leaders argued that white intransigence over the race laws had undermined their efforts to persuade the guerrillas to come home. Lacking real power, the three black internal members of the Exco did look like puppets.

Many white soldiers regarded the settlement as an opportunity to Africanize the war under effective white leadership. With blacks in a semblance of power, a tougher policy against the frontline states might be more acceptable to the world. White conscripts continued to agitate for blacks to be conscripted as well. Muzorewa opposed this move (except for blacks already affected–apprentices and doctors). But in September Exco announced that blacks would be conscripted in spite of the massive problems of training this posed for the army. Skilled men were needed in the field; few could be spared as instructors. The light had just dawned upon Muzorewa and Sithole: both leaders belatedly realized that they should flood the army with as many trained political followers as possible. Black Rhodesians, who comprised 80 per cent of the armed forces in 1978, could well hold the balance in future events. It would be just as well to have some soldiers already committed to their respective parties.

Meanwhile, the security forces were determined to show that a black-white coalition in Salisbury did not imply a softly-softly approach to the war. Sometimes excesses resulted. At a village in the Gutu district in May, security forces fired upon a night-time pungwe organised by ZANLA troops. At least 50 black civilians were killed and 24 were wounded for the loss of one guerrilla. Despite protests from Muzorewa, such incidents of indiscriminate firing continued. Casualties caused by the guerrillas also mounted. By mid-June fatalities within the country were 100 a week, against three a week in the first five years of the war. Guerrilla attacks became more determined and cruel. On 23 June 12 missionaries, eight adults and four children, were raped, hacked and bludgeoned to death at the Elim Pentecostal Mission in the Vumba mountains near Umtali. (ZANLA denied responsibility, and blamed the Selous Scouts. After the war, regular ZANLA troops were proved to be guilty of the abomination.) In July the first major gun battle took place within the Salisbury city limits. Police units killed three guerrillas in the Mufakosi and Highfields townships, wounded two and captured five others. It was claimed that the guerrillas were part of a suicide squad planning to assassinate members of Exco. The spiralling conflict continued to hit the white core: emigration was edging up to 1,500 a month and taxes were increased. On 20 July the government announced a compulsory national defence levy of 12.5 per cent extra income tax to help to cover a record budget deficit.

Salisbury was also perturbed by international events. In July 1978 the US Senate voted against lifting sanctions. Despite continuing South African backing, Rhodesia under a black-white coalition appeared to be the same pariah it was under unadulterated RF rule. And the Russians were meddling in southern Africa again. The Soviets and the Cubans were accused of encouraging an invasion from Angola of the Shaba province of Zaire. The bestial slaughter of whites in Kolwezi sent shivers down Rhodesian spines, as they prepared to hand over to blacks. Black rule might come in parliament, but the whites were determined to control law and order and the security forces. Rhodesian intelligence sources began to fear that the Cubans would step up their support of ZIPRA, which could be given the means to launch a conventional sortie into Matabeleland. Vassily Solodovnikov, the Russian ambassador in Lusaka, was portrayed by the CIO as the eminence grise behind an invasion threat. BOSS had got wind of the plans and so had the CIO. The CIO head, Ken Flower, a genial, unflappable man, rushed off to London. The traditional intelligence links between the rebel state and Britain (as well as the USA) had, like oil, proved too slippery and vital to succumb to the moral dictates of sanctions. London tried to calm the Rhodesians; the British were more afraid of Smith renouncing UDI and handing back to them a Rhodesia which was portrayed by the world’s media as completely war-torn. This thought terrified London more than any conceivable Red plot. The British fears were groundless because Smith would never have willingly renounced UDI. He had a pathological distrust of the British. (Although the CIO did have some grounds for alarm, as there was evidence of a conventional build-up, the Russians were playing a waiting game and were planning a long-term strategy. The year 1978 was vetoed. When the Cubans suggested a conventional sortie in mid-1979, ZIPRA rejected the plan even though ZANLA also had made extensive preparations for a conventional incursion. The Russians expected the war to last much longer and were gearing up for a big move in July 1980 or July 1981, depending on military developments.)

In April 1978 the first (and only) foreign war correspondent was killed. It was a sad irony, but it happened to be Lord Richard Cecil, a descendant of Lord Salisbury, the British prime minister who had lent his name to the Rhodesian capital. Cecil, a former Guards officer who had a distinguished record in Northern Ireland, was shot while making a film of the war. Because of his unusually good contacts with the Rhodesian army, he had caused some resentment among other journalists. He also carried a gun, which contradicted the professional ethics of journalists, who claim neutrality. Some journalists did nevertheless carry firearms for self-protection. The insurgents rarely asked for press cards before opening fire.

By mid-1978 Smith knew that his internal experiment was not working. The transitional government was being torn apart by party bickering among the blacks; even some of his own trusted supporters had been involved in a scandal over the theft of defence funds. The war was worsening and no one, not even South Africa, wanted to recognize the beleaguered state. Could Nkomo be brought into the internal settlement? Could ZIPRA and the security forces together wipe out ZANLA? Certainly Zambia and Angola, and perhaps other African states, would recognize a Nkomo-led Zimbabwe.

On 14 August Smith flew to State House, Lusaka, in a Lonrho company jet. Nkomo and Smith talked again, and later Brigadier Joseph Garba, a former Nigerian minister for external affairs, tried to involve Mugabe. The ZANU leader refused. But the secret Nkomo-Smith talks did not blossom into a military alliance, for on 3 September 1978 ZIPRA guerrillas shot down an unarmed Air Rhodesia Viscount with a SAM-7 missile. Of the 53 people on board, 18 survived the crash, but 10 of them, including six women, were massacred by ZIPRA guerrillas. Nkomo said that ZIPRA had shot down the plane, but had not murdered the survivors. During a BBC interview the ZAPU leader incensed Rhodesians by chuckling over the Viscount incident. One RF MP, Rob Gaunt, captured the mood of the whites when he said: ‘I believe we have done our utmost in this country to be reasonable and the time, I fear, is now upon us when all Africa is going to see their first race of really angry white men.’ Smith called Nkomo a ‘monster’; clearly a ZAPU-RF deal was now out of the question. In a subdued speech (Walls had persuaded him to tone it down) Smith declared martial law in certain areas of the country. Although ZAPU and ZANU were later re-banned, Special Branch allowed senior ZAPU personnel, such as Josiah Chinamano, to leave the country before arresting the lower echelon party members. Perhaps when the storm had died down, Nkomo and Smith could try again.

The whites called for a massive retaliation against Zambia. Initially, however, the Rhodesians hit Mozambique. In late September Rhodesian forces launched a four-day airborne attack against ZANLA bases around Chimoio. The area had been extensively attacked in the previous November in Operation Dingo. It had been rebuilt, but dispersed over a much wider area. The Canberras went in low with their Alpha anti-personnel bombs, followed by the Hunters with Golf cluster bombs which were designed to explode above ground. The Rhodesian troops, including South African Recce Commandos in ‘D’ squadron of the SAS, spent three days clearing ZANLA from the trenches. Nine FRELIMO T-54s were driven off when they came to the rescue, and four Soviet armoured cars were destroyed. The Rhodesians lost no aircraft, but many were hit by ground fire. The Rhodesians suffered one trooper killed in ‘friendly fire’ during an air strike; a South African Recce serving with the SAS was also killed in a separate incident. Salisbury claimed that large quantities of ammunition had been destroyed and several hundred guerrillas killed. Zambia seemed to have had a reprieve. In early October Kaunda had opened the Zambian border, which had been closed since 1973. The British-owned Benguela railway through Angola was useless because of action by South African-backed UNITA rebels and the TAZARA line through Tanzania was clogged by mismanagement. Kaunda had no choice but to use Rhodesia to get his copper out and food and fertiliser in.

Then Rhodesian security forces swept into Zambia. Previously Salisbury had launched raids only in the border areas of Zambia. On 18/19 October 1978 Chikumbi, 19 km north of Lusaka, was bombed. Mkushi camp, north-east of the capital, was also bombed and occupied by heliborne troops for two days. Via Green Leader, the leader pilot of the Canberra bombing force, Rhodesians controlled Zambian air space during the Chikumbi raid, and in effect prevented any hostile Zambian air activity for 48 hours. Using a Zambian airstrip (Rufunsa, near the Rhodesian border) as a forward staging base, Rhodesian aircraft created panic in the camps they hit.

During the Green Leader raid the security forces suffered minimal casualties. The Rhodesians claimed more than 1,500 ZIPRA killed as well as a small number of Cuban instructors. In fact, the bulk of Nkomo’s 10,000-strong army in Zambia was unscathed, although hundreds of refugees living in and near the camps were killed. From the gunners’ sights it was impossible to distinguish innocent refugees from young ZIPRA recruits.

The three-day assault demonstrated the efficacy of Rhodesian firepower and the superior security force training and leadership. Perhaps better weapons could help to fill the gap? Nkomo rushed off to Moscow to ask for further military aid and Kaunda asked Britain to improve on the air defence weapons it had already sent. Besides new equipment such as AA guns, the British Aircraft Corporation sent instructors and a maintenance team to refit the Rapier SAM system which had fallen into disrepair.

The raids into Mozambique and Zambia had boosted white morale, but they had done little to deter the rainy season offensives of both ZANLA and ZIPRA. On 23 October General Walls admitted: ‘We have not only had a hard job containing them [the guerrillas] but in some areas we have slipped back a bit.’ By December 1978, three-quarters of the country was under martial law. ComOps discussed a ‘vital ground’ strategy of trying to hold on to key areas of white settlements and farmlands, while effectively giving up on the TTLs. The generals, not a squabbling Exco, held uncertain sway. Courts martial had been set up which could impose the death penalty for acts of terrorism without the right of appeal to higher courts (though sentences were subject to a reviewing authority). The government claimed that more than 22 ‘frozen zones’ (encompassing seven per cent of Rhodesia) were being policed by security force auxiliaries, the guerrillas who had come ‘on-sides’ and accepted the internal settlement. In fact, only a small proportion were converted guerrillas; the vast majority had either been unemployed or were UANC or ZANU (Sithole) supporters who had been trained in Uganda, Libya and the Sudan. By late 1978 the UANC and ZANU (Sithole) had about 1,000 armed guerrillas each. By late 1979 Pfumu reVanhu, as they had become known, had swollen to nearly 20,000. Most were loyal to Muzorewa. In spite of the brief training and supervision provided by Rhodesian whites, the auxiliaries turned on each other as much as they fought the PF. Often looting rather than battle was their main preoccupation. A measure of their military capability was that Selous Scouts often dressed up as auxiliaries to entice the guerrillas into attacking a supposedly ‘soft’ target. The RF was creating the perfect conditions for its greatest fear–uncontrollable civil war. Five armies were active in Rhodesia by December 1978: ZANLA, ZIPRA, the security forces and the armed followers of Sithole and Muzorewa.

From Salisbury things looked decidedly ugly. The internal elections had been postponed from December 1978 to April 1979 because of the security situation. The internal ‘solution’ had impressed relatively few guerrillas; even UANC supporters were disgruntled. Moreover, few of the 25,000 Africans affected by the October call-up seemed ready to take up arms against their brothers in the PF. With whites emigrating and blacks reluctant to be conscripted, who would protect the Salisbury government in the future? The war was edging closer to the city suburbs. On 11 November, while Smith was celebrating the anniversary of UDI, guerrillas launched an attack on the exclusive Umwinsidale suburb of Salisbury. On 11 December guerrillas fired rockets and tracers at the central oil storage depot in the heart of Salisbury’s industrial sites. Only five guards armed merely with truncheons had been protecting the vital depot. ZANLA forces (although ZIPRA claimed the honours) created a fire which lasted six days and destroyed 25 million gallons of fuel.

The Rhodesian government entered 1979 in dire straits. This was to prove the crucial year. ZIPRA forces were committed in greater numbers; Rhodesia was now safer for them than Zambia. ZANLA, which stopped active recruiting because numbers were too large to train, had infiltrated beyond the Bulawayo-Plumtree rail line. The cities were being surrounded and ZANLA believed they would fall like ‘ripe plums’ as Mao had foretold. Despite the frictions, in some areas ZANLA and ZIPRA were co-ordinating their strikes. ZANLA was preparing to establish formal liberated zones and to defend them with a locally trained people’s militia. The groundwork for the initial, crude structure of administration was being laid.


ALL-OUT WAR 1977-1979 II

South Africa also feared the worst. During the white referendum of January 1979 that preceded the April poll, Smith admitted that if things went wrong South Africa had made ‘a very generous agreement’ to help Rhodesian war widows and the war-wounded. (A year before South Africa had secretly offered Rhodesian special forces, and their families, the option to move south to join the SADF.) Pretoria was also preparing to construct refugee camps in the northern Transvaal. And, like the British, South Africa had considered contingency plans for the military evacuation of Rhodesians if a wholesale carnage among whites was to take place. Against such a scenario of fear, the whites still said ‘yes’ (85 per cent of the 71 per cent poll) to Smith’s plan to elect the first black prime minister of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. How could Salisbury expect the PF guerrillas to believe that white rule was really over and to hand in their arms, if the unborn republic was to have such an ugly compromise name so redolent of white chicanery?

In the same month as the referendum, blacks had massively boycotted conscription. On 10 January, only 300 out of the scheduled 1,544 blacks turned up at Llewellyn Barracks in Bulawayo. Also, 415 of the expected 1,500 whites failed to show up. Two days later whites aged 50 to 59 were told they would have to serve for 42 days a year. Even ‘dad’s army’ would have to be deployed for the coming general election.

On 12 February 1979, ZIPRA shot down another civilian Viscount aircraft. Air Rhodesia Flight 827 from Kariba to Salisbury was hit by a SAM-7. Fifty-four passengers and five crew members were killed as the plane came down only 50 km from the spot where the first SAM victim had crashed. Nkomo claimed that the intended target had been General Walls, who was aboard a plane which took off just after the ill-fated Viscount. The alleged attempt to kill Walls was probably a post-hoc rationalization: ZIPRA had intended to shoot down a plane just before the referendum. The emotional white backlash might have produced a ‘no’ to Smith’s plans; and this would have disrupted the internal settlement to the benefit of the PF.

A feeling of sullen, resigned anger pervaded the white community, which retreated further into its laager. The roads were unsafe even for convoys; now the sky was dangerous too. Air Rhodesia flights were reduced and old Dakotas with heat-dispersion units around the engine exhausts were introduced on passenger runs. South African Airways cut back its flights and stopped its Jumbo jets from landing at Salisbury airport.

On 26 February the Rhodesian Air Force launched a retaliatory raid deep into Angola, the first major raid on that country. Canberra jets struck at a ZIPRA base at Luso, situated on the Benguela railway and 1,000 km from the Rhodesian border. Thanks to excellent intelligence work, the Rhodesian pilots avoided the British-maintained air defence of Zambia and the Russian-manned radar tracking system in Angola. In this audacious raid 160 guerrillas were killed and 530 injured. The Soviet MiG-17s at the Russo-Cuban air base at Henrique de Carvalho (320 km to the north) did not have time to retaliate. The guiding hand of South Africa was evident, however. The SADF was unhappy about the SWAPO threat to South West Africa and the UN’s indifference to guerrilla incursions from adjacent Angola. Rhodesia could act as a cat’s paw for the SADF, and SAAF Mirages could provide some emergency protection for the Canberras if things went wrong in Angola, despite their limited combat radius (a factor which also inhibited the Russian MiGs). All seven Rhodesian and South African Canberras returned safely. Ironically, on the same day as the raid ZIPRA did shoot down a Macchi jet fighter north-west of Lusaka, but this plane belonged to the Zambian Air Force. ZIPRA troops were jittery, as the Rhodesian Air Force had made two big raids into Zambia in the week before the Luso sortie. Rhodesians were in a tough mood in February; as one ComOps spokesman discussed the cross-border strategy he said: ‘If necessary, we’ll blast them back into the Stone Age.’

Special forces had already attacked Zambian oil depots, with little success. On 23 March 1979, however, the SAS, with South African Recce commando support, hit the Munhava oil depot in Beira. RENAMO was given the credit, a frequently used device for Mozambican coastal raids. But the raiders arrived in Mark-4 Zodiacs, courtesy of ships from the South African Navy. (The navy also regularly supplied and transported RENAMO leaders by submarine.) The oil depot went up in flames and the desperate Mozambicans turned to the specialist unit of fire-fighters in Alberton, near Johannesburg. The South Africans helped in the arson plot and then basked in the applause for their good neighbourliness.

The Rhodesian strategy had always relied upon sound morale and leadership. But by 1979 the prospect of black rule, even by the internal leaders, had sapped white resilience. Grit had been transformed into mechanical resignation. Worse was the infighting within the RF and the UANC. The senior officers of the army were at loggerheads over military developments. An incident in January 1979 exacerbated their strategic (and personal) schisms. On 29 January a bugging device was discovered in Lieutenant Colonel Ron Reid-Daly’s office. As Reid-Daly was then head of the elite Selous Scouts, this had serious security implications (though no one was actually monitoring his calls, because the Director of Military Intelligence, Lieutenant Colonel John Redfern, said he had actually ‘forgotten’ about it, after the Selous Scout monitoring plan was devised in August 1978). All Selous Scouts and SAS operations were immediately suspended. Two days later Reid-Daly launched a personal attack on the army commander, Lieutenant General John Hickman. The occasion was a crowded RLI mess during the drunken celebrations of the regiment’s birthday at Cranborne Barracks. An angry Reid-Daly used more than soldier’s language to describe his commander. Later described as being ‘overwrought and emotional’, Reid-Daly turned to Hickman, the guest of honour and began: ‘I want to say to you Army Commander for bugging my telephone, thank you very much.’ Raucous cheers followed. Everyone assumed Reid-Daly was joking. Reid-Daly repeated his words, and the company went silent. Reid-Daly concluded: ‘If I ever see you again, it will be too soon.’ The two antagonists immediately squared up for a fight, but senior officers managed to separate them. Reid-Daly was court martialled for insubordination and given a minor punishment. He then resigned. But the Reid-Daly/Hickman row had dredged up many murky facts about the army. There followed a welter of accusations and counter-accusations of gun-running and poaching. (Most prominent was the accusation that the Selous Scouts were using the no-go areas, from which other army units were excluded, to poach big game rather than hunt guerrillas. In some ‘frozen’ no-go areas on the Mozambique border guerrilla bands would seek refuge in Selous Scouts-patrolled areas and use them as a haven from patrols by other security forces.)

After another embarrassing incident involving too much alcohol, a lady and underwear for military dress code, General Hickman was summoned to the ministry of defence at 7.45 am on the following Monday morning. The co-minister of defence, Hilary Squires, had a file on his desk which contained the full details. The minister, who had a puritanical streak at the best of times, sacked Hickman on the spot. At 7.50 the general was out of a job. (Hickman, who had won the MC in Malaya, later sued, and won, a case for wrongful dismissal. Even though he had won his case on a technicality, he was paid a year’s salary minus the pension he had received.) After Hickman’s departure, the ministry of defence needed a ‘Mr. Clean’. The two choices as Hickman’s successor were either Major General Derry McIntyre or Sandy Maclean. McIntyre, although popular with his men, also had a reputation as a playboy, a man who was described as ‘a cross between a cavalier and a hooligan’. Maclean had a stable family background and, on the technicality that he was 12 days’ senior, was appointed the new army commander.

Hickman’s decision to contest his dismissal publicized the problems in the army. Then Reid-Daly sued Hickman (and the minister of defence and combined operations, Muzorewa, the directors of army military intelligence and counterintelligence, the director of military police, and other senior officers). As the court case dragged on to an inconclusive end, the normally publicity-conscious Hickman dropped out of sight. The death from wounds of his 19-year-old son also severely affected him. A bitter Reid-Daly went to South Africa, where he dabbled in a number of security firms and then, after helping to write his own account of the war, became briefly the head of the Transkei’s army.

In spite of the scandals surrounding two of Rhodesia’s best-known soldiers, Lieutenant General Maclean tried to give the impression that it was business as usual, for the army had to organize a massive security screen for the April 1979 one-man, one-vote, election. More than 70,000 men were involved in the country’s biggest mobilization. The security forces were determined to prevent any PF disruption of the polls, but sometimes the preventive counter-measures were heavy-handed. The security forces also took the offensive across Rhodesia’s borders. On 13 April the SAS led an Entebbe-style lt on the ZIPRA military command HQ in Lusaka (the Selous Scouts had done the initial reconnaissance in the city). The raiders tried to smash through the main gates in a Land Rover, but the padlock held the first time and the vehicle had to be used a second time to batter through them. By this time the ZIPRA guards were alerted and the SAS were pinned down by an RPD light machine gun. The delay would have given time for Nkomo, who was thought to be in the building, to escape. ComOps said that it wanted to destroy the ZIPRA nerve centre, but an SAS source later admitted that the aim was to kill Nkomo. Nkomo claimed that he had been at home and that he had escaped through a lavatory window but this was untrue. So complete was the destruction of the building that the ZIPRA leader could not have escaped. He must have been elsewhere, allegedly tipped off by a British mole in CIO. Rhodesian troops also sank the Kazangula ferry which was carrying ZIPRA military supplies from Zambia into Botswana daily. At the same time commandos spirited away ZAPU men from Francistown in Botswana and took them back to Salisbury. Not a single Rhodesian soldier was killed in the dramatic attacks which were executed with total efficiency and accuracy.

But ComOps regarded the April election as its crowning success. Never had a ruling minority done so much to hand over (apparent) power to a dominated majority. As one critical history, Rhodesians Never Die, observed about the two elections which marked the end of white rule: ‘Rhodesia buried itself with considerable integrity and maximum bureaucratic effort.’ Some Rhodesians, and most of the hundreds of pressmen in the country, expected the April internal elections to be wrecked by PF attacks. Instead, the security forces inflicted a high kill rate on the ZANLA forces which had concentrated in the Chinamora, Mhondoro and other TTLs in the Salisbury area. Security forces were deployed near all the static and mobile polling booths; for the first time the auxiliaries were mobilized in a major supporting role in the rural areas. Eighteen of the 932 polling stations were attacked, but none were closed. In a 64 per cent poll (if the population estimates were correct) 1,869,077 voters took part. Even some guerrillas voted. In some areas ZANLA actively encouraged the peasants to vote, although in most cases the PF tried to discourage any involvement in the election. The diminutive bishop, Abel Muzorewa, won 51 of the 72 black seats and so became the first African premier of the country. The election was a success comparable to that in 1966 in war-torn South Vietnam. It proved that the PF was nowhere near ‘imminent victory’ and that the security forces were still powerful enough to mount a huge logistic exercise. If, as the PF claimed, the turnout was the result of intimidation, it showed who effectively controlled the population at that time.

Rhodesians believed implicitly in Margaret Thatcher’s promise, when leader of the opposition, that she would recognize the April poll if the Tory group of observers said the election was fair. The group, headed by Lord Boyd, did indeed submit a favourable report, but the new British prime minister reneged on her commitment. She was swayed by a Foreign Office confidential paper outlining the possible repercussions of recognizing Salisbury, plus personal pressure from Lord Carrington, her foreign secretary. This was a catastrophic setback for Muzorewa. Many Africans rightly interpreted it as lack of faith. If a Conservative British administration would not go along with the internal settlement, who would? And the plain answer was–nobody. The internal settlement’s goal had been to bring peace, recognition and the removal of sanctions. The only tangible result was an escalation of the war. When the bishop became prime minister on 1 June 1979 he assumed the additional portfolios of defence and combined operations. By then ZANLA forces numbered more than 20,000 in the country. Could Muzorewa survive ZANLA’s ‘Year of the People’s Storm’?

The PF felt that military victory would come within one or two years at the latest. But what if Western nations recognized Muzorewa and channelled into Salisbury a vast array of military assistance? That would set back the war by years. By mid-1979 ZANLA had amassed a large reserve of conventional weaponry, although the variety of calibres and spares was proving a major problem. (This had been a continuous difficulty; the logistic chain to the forward-based guerrillas in Rhodesia, besides being poorly organized, suffered from the heterogeneous nature of the supplies.) ComOps was aware of the arsenal at Mapai, not far from the ZANLA base which the Rhodesians had hit on a number of occasions. The weapons seemed to be set aside for a special purpose which eluded Rhodesian intelligence. The arsenal had been intended at one time, May 1979, to support Operation Cuba. This was a Cuban scheme to set up a provisional government within a liberated area of Rhodesia. Many Eastern bloc and Third World countries would have recognized it and thus have pre-empted Western recognition of the Muzorewa administration. Mapai could have supplied such a venture in the Chiredzi area, apparently ZANLA’s choice. ZIPRA did not want anything to do with the plan and the Cubans withdrew their support. The open terrain in the Chiredzi area and its proximity to South Africa would have made a joint ZIPRA/ZANLA/FPLM/Cuban army an ideal target for a Rhodesian and South African conventional counter-attack. The other area mentioned in Operation Cuba, the north-east, would have been far more viable.

As it happened, the Cuban fear was unwarranted; not even South Africa risked recognizing Muzorewa. But Pretoria did pour equipment, pilots and ground troops into the very area set aside for Operation Cuba. And with the promises of bonuses and security of pensions, many whites in the civil service, security forces and police were persuaded to stay for another two years. Yet after the brief euphoria of the April election, the whites grew disenchanted with Muzorewa’s ham-fisted management of the new coalition government. Even his own UANC split with the departure of James Chikerema’s Zimbabwe Democratic Party. Then the bishop talked of encouraging skilled whites to return, but demanded a levy of Rh$20,000. In a bizarre attempt to court American opinion, he offered to welcome 1,000 Vietnamese ‘boat people’ to his country, which had an African unemployment rate of 50 per cent. His biggest failure was his ‘campaign for peace’. Muzorewa launched his amnesty programme at the same time as he authorized the RLI to wipe out groups of mutinous auxiliaries. Sithole’s men were particularly unruly in the Gokwe area. In this area and others a total of 183 auxiliaries were killed. One group was gunned down by troops hiding in the backs of troop carriers; another was lured into a schoolhouse for a supposed meeting to thrash out discipline problems and was obliterated in a strike by Hunters. Undoubtedly the government needed to control the more lawless bands of Pfumo reVanhu, but to kill so many of what the PF considered to be the bishop’s own force–just before the amnesty launch–was catastrophic timing. Few PF guerrillas were impressed.

The Amnesty Directorate had been set up on 7 June 1979. It was headed by Malcolm Thompson, the man who had masterminded the administration of the April election. Thompson came from Northern Ireland, a territory not exactly distinguished then for a tradition of fair elections or successful ceasefires. The amnesty call included the exhortation to phone a series of numbers across the country. Most of the numbers were UANC offices. A group of journalists tried to phone these offices in the early evening; most of the numbers were unobtainable because the offices were unmanned. The security force aspects of the amnesty were much more professionally executed. Besides the radio and TV campaigns, trilingual leaflets were scattered across the country. The air force helped with ‘skyshouts’. Aircraft would suddenly swoop down on a guerrilla camp. As the guerrillas ran to escape the expected bomb run they were deafened by the blast from enormous tannoys which delivered a dramatic and simple message: ‘You are about to be killed by the security forces. Give up and live.’ Despite many possible personal doubts about the internal settlement, guerrillas were severely punished by political commissars for listening to amnesty broadcasts. They could be executed for reading an amnesty leaflet.

The internal leaders had promised peace after the March Agreement, in 1978. Then they said the war would end after the one-man, one-vote polls; then after the installation of a black premier…Eventually few whites believed anything Muzorewa or Sithole said. Many emerged from their cocoons of total reliance on ‘good old Smithy’. After the April election the disenchantment in the army, particularly among the reservists, was widespread. The bickering among the internal nationalists, which threatened to destroy all the hard work the part-time soldiers and policemen had done, undermined their loyalty. A number of white police reservists refused to guard Muzorewa’s house the week after the April poll. They pointed out that the prelate had many bodyguards while their own families went unprotected. No disciplinary action was taken against the policemen. The real bone of contention was still white conscription. Why should the bishop call up 59-year-old whites possibly hostile to the UANC when he refused to conscript his youthful black followers? Only a handful of blacks had been called up. The whites began to feel that their taxes and skills were running the country and yet they were being compelled to fight for a black administration which could soon steal their rights and property. Another issue was the loyalty of the so-called ‘new Rhodesians’, the roughly 1,400 foreign mercenaries and volunteers in the regular forces. On the night of Muzorewa’s election victory, Captain Bill Atkins, an American Vietnam veteran who had been in the Rhodesian army for two years, said:

A good proportion of the foreign professionals [in the army] will stay–we’re not mercenaries. If we find that we’re working with a guy we disagree with, we will leave. We’re not here for the money. If they [the new Muzorewa administration] back away from the war, as the Americans did in Vietnam, then we’ll leave.

But no amount of reluctant military support from South Africa, white Rhodesians or foreign levies could replace some kind of international diplomatic support for Muzorewa. The PF rejected the new leader as a stooge. As one ZANU official put it: ‘At least the leader of a so-called Bantustan in South Africa can fire his own police chief.’ But Muzorewa could not. Behind the facade, the whites were in control. Even Ian Smith was still there in the Cabinet as a minister without portfolio. But the PF regarded him as the minister with all portfolios. And the new Tory prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, was still reluctant to recognize Muzorewa. At the Commonwealth Conference in Lusaka in August, Mrs Thatcher secured the agreement of her fellow premiers: an all-party conference would try for one last time to cut the Gordian knot of the Rhodesian impasse. Muzorewa was bitter and Salisbury’s Herald newspaper thundered: ‘Is Mrs Thatcher really a Labour Prime Minister in drag?’

The Lancaster House conference opened on 10 September and staggered on until just before Christmas. Both sides struggled to inflict military reverses on their opponents, both to influence the course of the three-month conference and to be in a commanding military position if diplomacy should once again fail. As during the Geneva conference, the guerrillas talked and fought, but this time there were four times as many guerrillas in the country as in 1976. Within 48 hours of Muzorewa’s accession to power he had authorized raids into his neighbours’ countries. Later, on 26 June, the Rhodesians hit the Chikumbi base, north of Lusaka. Simultaneously five Cheetah choppers dropped assault troops into the Lusaka suburb of Roma where they stormed into the ZAPU intelligence HQ. It contained ZIPRA’s Department of National Security and Order, which was commanded by Dumiso Dabengwa, whom Rhodesian intelligence dubbed the ‘Black Russian’ because he was reputed to be a KGB colonel. With the SAS was a senior ZIPRA captive, Elliott Sibanda. His job was to use a loud hailer to get his former colleagues to surrender and then identify whoever responded. During the fighting 30 ZAPU cadres and one SAS captain were killed. Five hundred pounds of sensitive documents were seized (including documents which, according to Muzorewa’s minister of law and order, Francis Zindoga, proved that intelligence information had been passed to ZAPU by white liberals). What had happened to the 150 tons of British air defence equipment which had been sent to Zambia in October 1978 and the Rapier missiles which the BAC team had repaired? Was it plain incompetence, or were the Zambians afraid of protecting PF targets in case Salisbury decided to hit directly at Zambian military installations?

On 5 September, five days before the Lancaster House marathon began, Rhodesian forces hit ZANLA bases in the area around Aldeia de Barragem, 150 km north-west of Maputo. This was part of a new strategy: instead of just targeting PF military bases, Salisbury escalated its strikes to include the economic infrastructures of both Zambia and Mozambique. The attacks on economic targets, especially dropping bridges, were a small part of the ComOps ‘final solution’ plan. The highly secret proposals estimated that both Mozambique’s and Zambia’s economic structures could be destroyed within six weeks. The techniques to be used would have gravely escalated the war and almost certainly brought in the major powers. ComOps demanded a clear political green light for total war on Zimbabwe-Rhodesia’s neighbours. If Muzorewa had been recognized after a possible breakdown of the Lancaster House talks, then the plan might have been put into action. Instead, only small parts of the scheme were used. It was then poorly organized. Major setbacks resulted and Walls was privately criticized by senior commanders for undue interference, particularly regarding the choice of targets. Some of the final raids were not planned by Walls or the CIO chief, who often had the final say, because both men were in London for most of the Lancaster House talks. Several raids had to be publicly supported by them even though they had been carried out against their better judgment.

In September the Rhodesians tried to destroy much of the transport sy stem in Mozambique’s Gaza province, and beyond. More bridges were destroyed by SAS and South African Recce Commandos. Then Salisbury stopped the rail supplies of maize to Zambia through Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. In October and November vital Zambian road and rail arteries were hit. The aim was two-fold: to stop the infiltration of PF guerrillas and supplies, and to induce the frontline states to pressurize the PF into accepting a more conciliatory line towards the Salisbury delegation in London. But such a strategy was not without its costs. ZIPRA had improved with the aid of Cuban, East German and Russian instructors. And FRELIMO had added a stiffening to ZANLA forces. In Zambia the regular army was too small and ineffective to give much conventional support to ZIPRA in its defence against Rhodesian raids, but in Mozambique the position was quite different. The ZANLA bases there were well defended.

The Rhodesian raids were now no walkover. In the three-day Operation Uric (Operation Bootlace for the South Africans) in the first week of September the Rhodesians were determined to stop the flow of both ZANLA and regular FPLM soldiers infiltrating across what the Rhodesians nicknamed the ‘Russian Front’. The target was Mapai, the FRELIMO 2nd Brigade HQ and a control centre for ZANLA, a very heavily defended forward base 50 km from the border. Conventional military thinking dictated that in, addition to air support, two infantry battalions supported by artillery and tanks would have been required. As ever, the Rhodesians would make do with far less, relying on the shock of air power, surprise and courage. The aerial order of battle included: 8 Hunters, 12 Dakotas (half SAAF), 6 Canberras (of which 4 were South African), 10 Lynxes and 28 helicopters, including the newly acquired, but worn-out, Cheetahs (Hueys) along with a majority provided by the SAAF: Pumas, Super Frelons and Alouettes. A Mirage and Buccaneer strike force was on cockpit readiness in South Africa, and a battalion of paratroopers, with Puma helicopter transport, was on standby at a base near the Mozambique border. The command Dakota, the Warthog, was equipped with an advanced sensor system capable of locating and monitoring the guidance systems of ground-to-air missile installations and identifying surveillance radar systems. The crew included an intelligence officer and four signallers for communications with friendly forces. The plane was piloted by John Fairy, a scion of the famous British air pioneers. The SAAF had its own AWACS aircraft, a converted DC-4, nicknamed Spook. This was the largest single commitment of the SADF in the war.

The Canberras normally carried the cylindrical Rhodesian-designed Alpha bombs. But these had to be released in level flight, when flying at an air speed of 350 knots and at 300 metres above the ground. When they struck they bounced four metres into the air and exploded, sending out a deadly hail of ball bearings. The flak at Mapai was so heavy they would have been blown out of the sky if they tried a low-level attack. So the SAAF supplied conventional bombs which were dropped at 20,000 feet. A heliborne force of 192 troops went in after the bombers. In all the raiders numbered 360 men in the field, from the SAS, Recce Commandos, RLI and the Engineers. They met very fierce opposition. The fire from the 122mm rockets, mortars, recoilless rifles and machine guns from the entrenched ZANLA/FPLM enemy was intense, the heaviest the Rhodesians had ever encountered. All they had, besides air power, were 82mm and 60mm mortars, RPG-7s, light machine guns and their personal weapons. Soon the battle developed into a grim face-to-face encounter in trenches. The defenders stood and fought, and showed no intention of running from the air power, as they had so many times previously. General Walls, in the Warthog above the battle, wanted a victory not a defeat to accompany the politicking at Lancaster House. Nor did the South Africans want to commit their reserves and so not only risk defeat, but also reveal the extent of their cross-border war with Mozambique.

Two helicopters were shot down. The first was a Cheetah, hit by an RPG-7. The technician was killed, but the badly wounded pilot was extricated by a quick-thinking SAS sergeant. The second, an SAAF Puma, was downed by another RPG-7; the three air crew and 11 Rhodesian soldiers were killed. One of the dead was Corporal LeRoy Duberley, the full back of the Rhodesian national rugby team. The remains of the wrecked Puma were later golf-bombed in a vain effort to destroy the South African markings. Seventeen soldiers were killed in Operation Uric. Walls called a stop to the operation. This was the worst single military disaster of the war. And, for the first time, the Rhodesians were unable to recover the bodies of their fallen comrades. As a book on the Rhodesian SAS later noted: ‘For the first time in the history of the war, the Rhodesians had been stopped dead in their tracks.’ The RLI and the SAS were forced to make an uncharacteristic and hasty retreat.

The Rhodesians had underestimated their enemy. They were outgunned. Their air support had proved unable to winkle out well-entrenched troops and they were even more vulnerable when the aircraft–even when the whole air force was on call–returned to base to refuel and rearm. Combined Operations had decided to use more firepower. Surveillance from the air was stepped up by deploying the Warthog. The South African air force became heavily involved in these last months, both in the fighting and as standby reserves, as in the case of Operation Uric in September 1979. Super Frelons and Puma helicopters were difficult to pass off as Rhodesian equipment, but the Canberras and Alouettes also on loan were practically indistinguishable from their Rhodesian counterparts, except when they were shot down. The combined Rhodesian-South African efforts were approaching all-out war in the region. In late September, the Rhodesians hit the reconstituted ZANLA base known as New Chimoio. They also hoped to kill Rex Nhongo, the ZANLA commander, who narrowly escaped the first air strikes. ComOps claimed that this operation (Miracle) was a success, but the air force lost an Alouette, a Hunter and a Canberra. At the end of the climactic raid on New Chimoio, one Selous Scout admitted: ‘We knew then that we could never beat them. They had so much equipment and there were so many of them. They would just keep coming with more and more.’ The Rhodesians also attempted to stall the conventional ZIPRA threat to Kariba. RLI and SAS troops found themselves outgunned during this operation (Tepid). ZIPRA forces stood their ground, although they did eventually make an orderly withdrawal. On 22 November Walls ordered ComOps to stop all external raids.

The political warfare at the conference table was almost as bitter as on the real battlefields in southern Africa. The PF haggled over every step of the negotiations. Muzorewa had conceded easily. But Ian Smith had to be brought into line by the toughness of Lord Carrington, the conference chairman, as well as by a series of lectures from Ken Flower, General Walls and D C Smith, the RF deputy leader. David C Smith had played a pivotal role. Bishop Muzorewa had not wanted to include Ian Smith in his delegation to London, but David Smith had talked the bishop into it and said that he himself would not go if the RF leader were excluded. But Ian Smith’s presence was counterproductive for the Salisbury team. The RF chief did his best to undermine the bishop’s leadership. Gradually the PF was pushed into a diplomatic corner. The British had bugged all the hotel suites, especially the PF’s, and knew exactly how far to push the guerrilla leaders. The Rhodesians realized that their hotel was bugged and sometimes used an irritating device which made squawking noises to hide conversations. More often they talked about confidential matters out-of-doors. Lord Carrington told the PF he would go ahead and recognize Muzorewa if the conference broke down. None of the frontline states wanted the war to continue and they exerted a continuous leverage on the hardline PF coalition. Josiah Tongogara, who had more influence over ZANLA than did Mugabe, believed that a political compromise was possible. Nyerere also urged moderation and he persuaded Britain that more than ‘metaphysical’ force was needed to set up a ceasefire monitoring group. Samora Machel was also a vital ally of Carrington’s. In spite of Mugabe’s threats to go back to the bush, Machel privately told him that he wanted peace, and without Mozambique as a sanctuary ZANLA would collapse. Machel told Mugabe: ‘We FRELIMO secured independence by military victory against colonists. But your settlers have not been defeated, so you must negotiate.’ Angola, Nigeria and Zambia, for different reasons, wanted a speedy end to the conflict. There had been too much suffering for far too long.

If the guerrillas had not been put in an arm-lock by their backers, especially in Mozambique, and had walked out of the conference, Lord Carrington had warned that he would go for the ‘second-class solution’: recognition of Muzorewa. Paradoxically, the very success of the military raids, especially on the economic infrastructure (including the SAS-Recce Commando raid on Beira harbour on 18 September), was probably politically counter-productive. The raids raised the morale of the white hardliners in Salisbury, but it ensured that the frontline states kept the PF sitting around the table. A tactful lull in the externals might well have prompted Mugabe to go for the unconditional surrender option, and walk out, and thus force Carrington to hand the baton to Muzorewa.

On 12 December Carrington took a gamble and sent Lord Soames as the new British governor of Rhodesia. Britain was officially in full control, for the first time in the colony’s 90-year history. It was a highly risky venture–‘a leap in the dark’ in Soames’s own words. Final agreement on the complete process of drafting a new constitution, a return to British rule, a ceasefire and a new election had not been reached. But the rebellion was over. As soon as Lord Soames stepped down on Rhodesian soil, the revolt against the British Crown was quashed and sanctions were removed. But the civil war went on.

Walls had long predicted privately that the war would end in a military stalemate, and so it was. On 21 December 1979, after an epic of stubborn last-stands, all parties to the conference signed the final agreement. Ironically, it was exactly seven years to the day since the real war had begun with the attack on Altena farm in the Centenary district. Robert Mugabe was resentful. He said later: ‘As I signed the document, I was not a happy man at all. I felt we had been cheated to some extent, that we had agreed to a deal which would… rob us of the victory we had hoped we would achieve in the field.’

On 28 December the ceasefire creaked uncertainly into life. By 4 January 1980 more than 18,000 guerrillas had heeded the ceasefire and had entered the agreed rendezvous and assembly points inside Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. Just as the ceasefire began, one of the main architects of compromise, Josiah Tongogara, was reported killed in a motor accident in Mozambique. As the most prominent soldier on the ZANLA side, his voice of moderation–especially regarding relations with ZIPRA–would be sorely missed. Because ‘motor accidents’ had been staged throughout the Rhodesian saga as a means of removing opponents, ZANU went out of its way to try to prove the incident an accident; even to the extent of sending a white employee of a Salisbury funeral service to Maputo to embalm the body. But a strong suspicion of murder lingered at the time. Nevertheless, no firm evidence of this has surfaced, though ZIPRA was convinced that an East German specialist in ‘road accidents’ had arranged Tongogara’s demise. Later, even in ZANLA, it was accepted that he had been murdered. Senior ZANU men had agreed to his removal because of several general factors, including his desire to work closely with ZIPRA and his emphasis on encouraging whites to remain in the country. But the specific reason may have been his alternative plan, discussed privately during the Lancaster House talks, if the conference had failed. He argued that the three main armies (ZIPRA, ZANLA, the Rhodesian security forces) could guarantee a peaceful, five-year transition to civilian rule. A council of four parties (the RF, UANC, ZANU and ZAPU) would provide the administration, with a council of the military leaders acting as a watchdog. During this period the armies would be integrated. Then, after five years, or sooner if the integration was completed, elections would be held. Sir Humphrey Gibbs was suggested as a compromise candidate for the transitional presidency. ZIPRA apparently went along with the plan, but the constitutional conference reached agreement before Walls could be consulted by Tongogara. With hindsight such a plan appears bizarre, but it certainly paralleled Tongogara’s public demands for conciliation.

Certainly some reconciliation would be needed to rebuild the devastated country. The long war had exacted a sad toll. More than 30,000 people had been killed (though some historians have offered a lower figure). Operation Turkey had destroyed a vast acreage of peasant crops to prevent food reaching the guerrillas. The International Red Cross estimated that 20 per cent of the seven million black population was suffering from malnutrition. More than 850,000 people were homeless. The maimed, blinded and crippled totalled at least 10,000. The Salvation Army reckoned that of the 100 mission hospitals and clinics which served the rural population, 51 were closed, three had been burnt to the ground, and most of the others were badly damaged and looted. More than 100,000 men in the towns were unemployed. At least 250,000 refugees waited to be repatriated from camps in the frontline states. About 483,000 children had been displaced from their schools; some had gone without schooling for five years. Half the country’s schools had been closed or destroyed. Finding a real peace was only half the problem; a massive reconstruction programme would have to follow.

Many outside observers and most whites in Rhodesia expected the fragile truce to erupt once more into full-scale war which a British governor with only 1,300 Commonwealth troops would have to contain. Ninety-five per cent of the country was under martial law when Soames arrived. Extra regular troops had entered the conflict. FPLM soldiers from Mozambique were fighting alongside ZANLA. On the other side, the South African army’s commitment had grown. By November 1979, South Africans were operating in strength in the south-east, particularly in the Sengwe TTL and along the border. They were supplied by air from Messina and their HQ was at Malapati. They were using artillery bombardment to create guerrilla movement, a technique the Rhodesians could not afford with 25-pounder shells costing $150 each. By December the SADF was operating north of Chiredzi. The aim was to put one battalion, each with a company-sized Fire Force, into each major operational area, making the total commitment five battalions. The news of South African involvement was deliberately leaked to boost sagging white morale.

If the ceasefire collapsed, more foreign regulars would be sent to fight in the civil war, a war that could have engulfed southern Africa. A grave responsibility rested on the man at the epicentre of the storm: Lord Soames, who had no previous experience of African affairs. As the London Observer warned: ‘A bomb disposal expert would be the best British Governor to send to Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. The country lies ticking, a black and white booby trap with many detonators. ’Would the ceasefire hold?’

The Sri Lankan Government Forces – Sri Lankan War I

Red area shows the approximate areas of Sri Lanka controlled by the LTTE and the Government, as of December 2005.


The regular Ceylon Defence Force (CDF) was founded in 1910 although a reserve volunteer force had existed since 1881. The CDF came under the command of the British Army. It was mainly British officered and the other ranks were Ceylonese. An exception was the Ceylon Planters Rifle Corps, which was made up of Europeans. This rifle corps took part in the South African war of 1899 – 1902, as did the Ceylon Mounted Infantry. During the Great War many Ceylonese of all races volunteered to join the British Army fighting in France. Ceylonese units served in Egypt and in the Gallipoli campaign. During the Second World War the regular units came under the control of Britain’s South East Asia Command, headed by Lord Louis Mountbatten. The island was fortified extensively in anticipation of a Japanese invasion. In April 1942, for example, Japanese bombers, escorted by Zero fighters, mounted a large-scale surprise attack on Colombo and on a nearby Royal Air Force base, knocking out eight Hurricanes. Ceylon’s colonial forces deployed to occasional exotic garrison duties in the Seychelles, and also in the Cocos islands (where it had to put down a small Trotskyite mutiny among its own ranks; three soldiers were court-martialled and hanged, making them the only ‘Commonwealth’ soldiers executed by the British during the war). By 1945 the CDF numbered around 20,000.

After the war the CDF, in one case supported by British Royal Marines, countered left-wing strikes. On independence, technically the colonial force was disbanded but it was reconstituted into a new regular and reserve force structure. The formal foundation of the post-independence army dates from 9 October 1949 (now celebrated annually as army day; the navy and air force celebrate different foundation days). In contrast with the rapid mobilization of 1939 – 45, the CDF was reduced to around half its previous size. A defence agreement of 1947 offered the new colony British protection in the event it was attacked by a foreign state. British military advisers were provided and in effect a British brigadier commanded the fledgling army. Promising young Ceylonese officers were sent to the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, and more senior officers were trained at the British Staff College at Camberley. Some officers were sent to accompany the British Army of the Rhine for cold weather, and Cold War, experience. The emphasis on foreign military training was to continue as a hallmark of staff-officer education into the twenty-first century, though Britain was to give way to the US, China, India and Pakistan. Likewise, insignia, rank structure and officer ethos were long influenced by the British Army, though the dictates of ethnic war transformed some of the rules and standards taught at Sandhurst and Camberley. Ironically, Sri Lanka much later offered to instruct NATO armies in jungle-warfare skills.


The Ceylonese army, now under an indigenous comma nder, led its first major operation (Operation MONTY) to stop the influx of illegal South Indian immigrants smuggled into the country. The army co-ordinated with what was then the Royal Ceylon Navy. The army was busy in support of the police throughout the 1950s during strikes and domestic riots. Trade union and left-wing parties were active in much commercial disruption, most notably the 1961 Colombo port strike which caused major food shortages. Against this background of left-wing agitation a number of officers planned the 1962 coup. It was squashed just a few hours before it was due to be enacted. Fear of military intervention undermined political confidence in the forces for decades. The immediate result was the reduction of the military. In 1972 the three main services were renamed to reflect the republican status. From 1983 the main focus of the army was COIN against the Tamil insurgencies, although the two JVP Sinhalese insurrections (1971 and the late 1980s) also demanded extensive military operations. Few armies have had to fight a series of civil wars for over three decades. The ruling politicians were forced to learn to love their armed services and pump men and money into them – just to survive.

Like many developing countries Sri Lanka contributed to UN peacekeeping operations, in the early 1960s in the Congo and then, after 2004, a series of missions in Haiti. The average Haitian deployment was around 1,000 personnel. In 2007 over 100 members of the mission, including three officers, were accused of sexual misconduct including child abuse (though the latter related to women under eighteen paid for sex). The UN investigation found all the accused Sri Lankan military personnel guilty of the charges, although in Colombo nationalist politicians talked of an international conspiracy, related to criticisms from NGOs involved in the Tamil insurgency at home. Colombo promised an official inquiry and prompt punishment while replacing the offending regiment with 750 troops from the Gemunu Hewa Regiment. In 2010 – 11, small deployments were also sent to Chad, the Central African Republic, Sudan, and Western Sahara, while maintaining its major mission in Haiti. In November 2010 a mechanized infantry company (around 150 troops) was sent to join UN forces in Lebanon.

Structure and size

The army’s organization is based on the British Army model. And, like the Indian army, it has maintained in particular the regimental system inherited at independence. The infantry battalion, the basic unit in field operations, would typically include five companies of four platoons each. Platoons usually had three squads (sections) of ten soldiers each. In 1986 a new commando regiment was formed. Support for the infantry was standard – armoured regiments, field artillery regiments, plus signals and engineering support etc. In addition to commando forces, of interest were the special forces and a rocket artillery regiment.

Official and unofficial Sri Lankan figures and ORBATs (orders of battle) tend to differ from the standard Western data provided, for example, by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). The IISS put the current strength of the army at 117,000 comprising 78,000 regulars and 39,000 recalled reservists. That is a big army for a small country (with a population of just over 20 million), but not in the context of a long war. The army was certainly much larger, however, during the intense fighting in 2006 – 09. Interviews with a range of officers at or above the rank of brigadier all confirmed that the immediate post-war strength was around 230,000. Many senior officers insisted that the army should not be reduced, despite the potential post-war peace dividend, although they accepted, grudgingly, that natural wastage would reduce their ranks. When the same officers were asked their guesstimate of the size of the British Army, they all opined that it was much larger than theirs. They were stunned to discover that it was just over 100,000 and being reduced to 80,000. They then stopped complaining about possible reductions in the Sri Lankan army. The 1983 strength was roughly 12,000 regulars. Aggressive recruitment followed the outbreak of the Tamil war.

Today’s high figure of about 200,000 includes nearly 3,000 women. In 1979 the Army Women’s Corps was formed as an unarmed, non-combatant support unit. Inspiration and early training came from the British Women’s Royal Army Corps. Women in the British Army – except medical, dental and veterinary officers and chaplains (who belonged to the same corps as the men) and nurses (who were members of the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps) – were in the WRAC from 1949 to 1992. Initially the Sri Lankan equivalent was similar to its British parent. Enlistment involved a five-year service commitment, (the same as men) and recruits were not allowed to marry in this period. They did basic training and drill, but not weapons and battle training. Females, however, were paid at the same level as the men, but were generally limited to communications, clerical and nursing duties. The long war prompted the expansion of the Women’s Corps; two women reached the rank of major general. By 2011 the Women’s Corps comprised one regular and four volunteer regiments.

Since Sri Lanka forces were all-volunteer – that is, there had been no conscription – all personnel had volunteered for regular or reserve service. Conscription had been regularly debated and since the 1985 legislation the government has had the legal power to enforce national military service. Economic pressures, patriotism, religious nationalism and local, familial or caste traditions had managed to fill the ranks, however. Recruitment was in theory nationwide, though this did not apply in the northern and eastern provinces during the war (some Tamils, however, joined pro-government militias as well as the regular forces). After the war, plans were announced to form a ‘Tamil regiment’ to promote integration in the army. (Another exception was the Rifle Corps which recruited from a specific area.)

The Sri Lanka Army Volunteer Force (SLAVF) was the main volunteer reserve of the army. It was the collective name for the reserve units as well as the National Guard. The SLAVF was made up of part-time officers and soldiers, who were paid the same as the regular forces when on active duty. This was in contrast to the Regular Army Reserve, which comprised people who had a mobilization obligation for a number of years after their former full-time service in the regular army had been completed.

Operational command varied according to the tempo of the COIN war. The Army General Staff had been based at the Army HQ. Troops were deployed to protect the capital – which suffered a series of major terrorist attacks. Troops to defend the capital were based at Panagoda cantonment, the headquarters of a number of regiments, as well as a major arsenal and military hospital. The majority of infantry troops were deployed into the northern and eastern provinces during the war; they were placed under six commands known as Security Forces Headquarters: in Jaffna (SFHQ-J); Wanni (SFHQ-W); East (SFHQ-E), Kilinochchi (SFHQ-KLN); Mullaitivu (SFHQ-MLT) and South (SFHQ-S).

For officer training Sri Lanka largely adopted the British model. The local equivalent of Sandhurst was the Sri Lanka Military Academy (SLMA) based in Diyatalawa, where the young officer cadets trained for ninety weeks, much longer than their UK equivalents. Following the British model (set up in the UK in 1997) middle-ranking officers from all three services were educated at the Defence Services Command and Staff College. Just outside Colombo, the Kotelawala Defence University was established in 1981, as a tri-service college for young cadets (aged eighteen to twenty-two) to pursue a three-year course. Foreign senior-officer training migrated from the UK to more friendly, or generous, allies in Pakistan, China, Malaysia, the US and more recently the Philippines. More covert was the COIN training received from the Israelis, who have had a close intelligence and procurement relationship with Sri Lanka since the mid-1980s. In the early period the Israelis assisted with instruction in FIBUA (Fighting In Built-Up Areas).

Army’s weapons

The army’s equipment was initially British Second World War surplus, although some post-war armoured fighting vehicles such as the Saladins, Saracens and Ferrets were also added to the inventory. By the 1970s the USSR, Yugoslavia and China had displaced Britain; Chinese support was the most consistent. Modern counter-insurgency demanded modern military hardware, including heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, 106mm recoilless rifles and 60mm and 81mm mortars as well as up-to-date sniper rifles and night-vision equipment. Armoured mobility was also needed. The old Saladins and Ferrets and the like were too vulnerable to anti-tank weapons let alone mines. China provided an array of tracked and wheeled armoured personnel carriers (APCs) including the Type 85 amphibious variant. From Moscow came forty-five of the BTR-80 APCs to replace the trusty old BTR-152s. After 1985 South Africa provided Buffels which had proved very effective in apartheid’s bush wars, especially against land mines. Sri Lanka then developed its own variants, the Unibuffel (300 were locally manufactured) and the Unicorn. The Soviet Union provided nearly 300 infantry fighting vehicles (variants of the BMP). The Czechs shipped in around eighty T-55 medium battle tanks, while China matched the supply of tanks (Type 59s). The army also used Chinese Type 63 amphibious tanks. Sri Lanka claimed it had sixty-two MTBs (Main Battle Tanks). Much of the imported kit was obsolete or obsolescent, but it was refitted and often proved useful in combat.

Artillery came largely from China, especially 122mm, 130mm and 152mm howitzers introduced from the mid-1990s. From 2000 the deadly offspring of the ‘Stalin Organs’, 122mm multi-barrel rocket launchers, were deployed. Colombo acquired around thirty RM-71s from Czechoslovakia and a handful of BM-21s from Russia. Rocket artillery may not be very accurate but it can have a devastating effect, physically and morally, at the receiving end. The army was also well equipped with the standard array of mortars, from 60mm light mortars to 120mm towed versions — all courtesy of Beijing. It also used fairly sophisticated radar counter-battery equipment, the US-designed AN/TPQ-36 Firefinder at first. But the American system was old and the Sri Lankans had problems with spare parts. Then the Chinese stepped in with better equipment. When I asked the army commander, Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriya, what he regarded as his most useful bit of kit, he did not hesitate: ‘Artillery locating radars. We could locate friend and foe. That was the most important. We had five of them [systems]. With interlocking systems, we had total coverage. From 2008, it was in position. ’ Most of the army casualties had been from LTTE mortars and artillery.

A senior artillery expert in the army, Brigadier A. P. C. Napagoda, summarized the 2006 – 09 campaign thus:

From the battle of Marvil Aru to the final battle at the Nandikadal lagoon the artillery brigade employed a sufficient number of light field medium guns, MBRL [multi-barrel rocket launchers] and locative radars … which facilitated the creation of high gun density over any given area.

The Sri Lankans patched together local and imported signals systems. Perhaps the most important was the provision of live feeds from unmanned drones to the army HQ and divisional HQs. The other primary means of communication were radio and CDMA (code division multiple access technology); the latter allowed commanders at all levels secure and interactive full ‘duplex’ communication. VHF and UHF jammers were deployed to disrupt enemy networks. The army also used locally manufactured manpack bomb jammers to nullify LTTE improvised explosive devices.

Sri Lanka acquired a wide range of infantry weapons. The Beretta M9s and Glock 17s were frequently used handguns. The communist-sourced AK-47 assault rifles were very common, and, from the West, Heckler and Koch G3s, FNs and American M16s. Machine guns were varied too: ranging from the classic British Sterling to German MP5s and also Israeli Uzis. The vintage FN MAG gun was a traditional and reliable workhorse. The Chinese versions of the Russian RPD (Type 56 LMG) were also in evidence. Grenade launchers arrived from South Africa and Germany as well as the M-203 from the US. Many of the RPGs (man-portable rocket launchers) came from China and anti-tank missiles were sourced from Pakistan.

Army tactics

On land and sea the government forces fought conventional war unconventionally, sometimes aping and mastering the asymmetric tactics of the insurgents. Above all they used small-group long-range tactics by special forces to destabilize the enemy rear. The Commando regiments were set up in 1980, but the most effective troops were the special forces (SF) set up in 1985.

The special forces comprised around 5,000 troops in five regiments. They trained originally with the Israelis, mainly in urban warfare, but soon the Sri Lankan SF became arguably the best jungle fighters in the world. They fought in eight-man teams, although sometimes two teams of eight would combine, especially in an emergency or for logistical purposes. For example, one surveillance team might overlap with a team establishing a forward-supply cache (usually of ammunition, water and medicine) and then join forces if they met hostile elements. The SF did not use helicopters for insertions, partly because of the jungle terrain and partly because of stealth. They would walk in and often penetrate up to forty to fifty kilometres behind the lines. The air force was used only five times in emergency casevacs, usually by Mi-24 choppers. Nor did the SBS or navy work directly with the army SF. The SF commander told me: ‘We did no landings by sea – ground penetration was safer for us.’ Paradrops were not considered, not least because of the Indian army debacle in Jaffna.

The long-range patrols (LRPs) could last up to a month. They would act as spotters for air and artillery strikes. They would also disrupt LTTE movement not least by targeting their leaders and communications. The SF were also used defensively to plug successful LTTE counter-attacks or to staunch the occasional LTTE spectacular. For example, on 29 September 2008, the LTTE elite Black Tigers hit an air force base in the rear of army operations. Two Tiger aircraft also bombed the base. SF squadrons were rushed in to halt further LTTE exploitation of the surprise attack.

Interestingly, the special forces did not utilize captured insurgents, partly because many Tigers took suicide pills rather than surrender. Even when they were captured, the SF were extremely reluctant to accept any ‘turned’ insurgents. Despite the widespread and effective use of so-called ‘turned terrorists’ in the Rhodesian Selous Scouts, itself based upon British ‘pseudo-gang’ techniques applied in Malaya and Kenya, the Sri Lankan SF deployed only a handful of Tamil-speaking former Tigers and then very reluctantly and very occasionally. According to SF sources, there was only one example of a pseudo using his insurgent knowledge and the Tamil language to enable SF troops to disengage from a position where they were vastly outnumbered.

The army’s massive recruitment drive – attracting 3,000-5,000 men per month in the last two years of the war – allowed for attack and defence in depth. Combined services provided two or three infantry lines to prevent the previous LTTE tactic of outflanking or penetrating the lines, and then attacking from the rear. This would imply an unimaginative linear type of mentality. In fact, the ethos of the SF and commando long-range patrols were applied throughout the infantry in the focus on small-unit initiative. Special Infantry Operations Training (SIOT) – the initial courses were forty-four days – allowed the small units to carry out complex operations in often difficult terrain. The insurgents knew their own territory and so the army sought infantrymen who had been born and bred in the villages and who might also possess the same familiarity with jungles and endurance as the guerrillas they encountered. The small group approach from the SF down to the ordinary infantry created flexibility and often area dominance. Ability, not least from NCOs, was rewarded; promotion of good NCOs to officers was also encouraged. Mission command was to be seen at most levels, certainly best practice in COIN.

A close observer of the war, Dr David Kilcullen, an acknowledged authority on COIN, commented on the final stages:

The Tigers chose to confront the government in a symmetrical way, in terms of open warfare. In response, the Sri Lankan army destroyed them with a combination of conventional and counter-guerrilla tactics that denied the Tigers a comparative advantage while the tempo of operations prevented the Tigers from regrouping.

The basic approach of the LTTE was to combine guerrilla warfare, positional defence and IEDs to slow down and inflict heavy casualties by indirect fire – artillery and mortars. The LTTE erected numerous ditches and bunds which were often heavily, and randomly, mined. Army sappers had to devise all sort of means of dealing with these fortifications, including the use of improvised Bangalore ‘torpedoes’. An independent bridging squadron was also formed as part of the combat engineering effort. On a smaller scale, the infantry used spring-loaded ladders to deal with bunds. Engineers modified tractors to compensate for the lack of roads, especially during heavy monsoons and flooding. Often rations had to be airdropped. The much larger army required a massive logistical back-up.

One engineering challenge was met by installing steel mesh in the Iranamadu and Udayar Kattu reservoirs to protect against underwater Tiger infiltrators. Water was also a challenge for the Army Medical Corps. Near drowning, an unexpected type of casualty, was encountered when the LTTE blasted the bund around the Kalmadukulam Tank (reservoir). Frontline medics had to deal with 60 per cent of casualties from mortar and artillery blasts and 40 per cent from gunshot wounds. They also had to treat tropical diseases, especially Hepatitis A. Post-traumatic stress disorders also took their toll.

In short, tactical flexibility plus the massive numerical superiority (as well as air supremacy) allowed the army to dominate and then overwhelm the Tigers towards the end of the campaign.

Sri Lanka Navy Fast Attack Craft
Sri Lanka Navy turns 68

The Navy

As befits an island in the middle of crucial sea lanes, naval defence has always been a major security issue. In 1937 the Ceylon Naval Volunteer Force (CNVF) was set up. The Second World War meant a rapid absorption into the Royal Navy. In 1950 a small nucleus of officers and men forged the Royal Ceylon Navy, to change its name, as with the other services, when the country became a republic. Initial naval expansion depended upon purchase of ex-British and Canadian ships. The navy suffered perhaps even more than the army from the fallout from the 1962 coup conspiracy. Ships were sold off and manpower reduced, as was training in the UK. The navy was therefore ill-prepared for the first JVP insurrection and the beginning of the Tamil revolt. The immediate stopgap was the gift of initially one of the more advanced Shershen-class torpedo boats from the USSR and purchase of the unsophisticated Chinese Shanghai-11-class fast gunboats for coastal patrols and port protection. New bases were built primarily to interdict smuggling operations from southern India. The navy also developed a land component for base defence, becoming known later as Naval Patrolmen and capable of offensive operations. The navy also replicated the British SBS – the Special Boat Service. As the LTTE war expanded – and the Tigers relied on extensive overseas procurement – Sri Lanka developed a blue-water strategy capable of sinking large ships, even just outside the territorial waters of Australia.

The naval HQ was based in Colombo; this controlled six naval command areas. After the war some of the coastal defence was transferred to a newly formed Coast Guard.

The 2012 fleet consisted of over fifty combat, support ships and inshore craft, sourced from China, India, Israel and, more recently, from indigenous build.

The IISS put the size of the navy as 9,000 personnel, both active and reserve, but this appeared to be an underestimate. Probably the more accurate figure was 48,000, of whom approximately 15,000 were dedicated to land deployment. Women served in regular and reserve roles. Initially women were limited to the medical branch but the tempo of war led to females serving in all branches. A female doctor reached the rank of commodore in 2007.

The navy’s weapons

The navy boasted about 150 vessels, but the core consisted of around fifty combat and support ships. In addition, the navy rapidly manufactured 200 small inshore patrol craft. The majority of the larger vessels came from China, India and Israel, though the Sri Lankans began building their own bigger ships. The largest warships were five offshore patrol vessels, with the SLNS Jayasagara built in Sri Lanka (and commissioned in 1983). All the blue-water vessels could operate naval helicopters (but insufficient funding and air force opposition prevented any such deployment). The offshore patrol ships played a vital role in interdicting and finally sinking the major Tiger supply and storage ships. In 2001 two Israeli Saar 4-class fast missile boats were procured. Dubbed the Nandimithra class by the Sri Lankan Navy (SLN), they carried Gabriel 11 anti-ship missiles as well as a range of guns which augmented the conventional warfighting capability.

The workhorse of the navy – involved in regular coastal combat – was the fast attack flotilla. It was formed in the early 1980s with Israeli Dvora-class boats to counter LTTE gun-running in the Palk Strait between India and Sri Lanka. Two Dvoras were purchased in 1984 and another four in 1986. Around twenty-five metres long, and displacing about forty-seven tons, able to reach 45 knots and bristling with rapid-fire guns, they were able to deter the ‘swarming’ wolf-pack tactics of the Sea Tigers – a major element in asymmetric naval warfare. Small fibreglass Sea Tiger suicide craft would attack naval and civilian convoys. The fast-attack flotilla also patrolled the many creeks and landing points in LTTE territory to disrupt smaller boats securing resupply from the larger blue-water Tiger ships. The flotilla was made up of a variety of fast-attack craft types: four heavier Israeli Super Dvora (Mark 11) were delivered in 1995 – 96. The navy also used the Israeli Shaldag-class design to construct its own Colombo class. Ten other fast-attack craft originated in China.

Compared with their counterparts in other navies, the SLN fast-attack craft were much more heavily armed. They started with two or three machine guns but became more heavily armed to counter the arsenals fitted on Sea Tiger craft. Eventually, the fast attack craft had Typhoon 25 – 30mm stabilized cannon as the main armament. They were connected to day-and-night, all-weather, long-range electro-optic systems. The recent Colombo class was equipped with an Elop MSIS optronic director and the Typhoon GFCS boasted its own weapons control system. They also sported fancy surface search radar systems. In addition they carried weapons such as the Oerlikon 20mm cannon, automatic grenade launchers and PKM general purpose machine guns. This sounds over-armed but heavy firepower was required to protect the crews from suicide Sea Tigers trying to ram them or explode themselves close by. The fast-attack craft typically had eighteen crew members and operated in group patrols, usually, but not always, at night. The Tigers fought very hard and would not retreat; occasionally the flotilla had to withdraw from engagements. A fast-attack captain said, ‘Flak jackets were no good, except for bits of shrapnel; the heavy calibre [Tiger] guns would tear people in half.’

Inshore patrol craft were much smaller (fourteen metres long). They were used for harbour defence and amphibious operations. In addition, the seven-metre-long Arrow class were heavily armed speedboats manufactured in Sri Lanka and used by the SBS and its variant, the Rapid Action Boat Squadron (RABS). The SBS, formed in 2005, comprised around 600 men. Those who passed the tough training for the SBS but who were not good enough for the final selection phase could join the RABS, which numbered around 400 men.

To support larger amphibious operations the SLN had a tank landing ship and other utility craft. The Yuhai-class ship could transport two tanks and 250 troops. There were also smaller Chinese-made landing craft. The SLN had several auxiliary vessels for personnel transport and replenishment.

During the war the navy had no dedicated air assets or UAVs. Afterwards, the embryonic fleet air arm based on the offshore patrol ships started experimenting with HAL Chetak (the Indian revamp of the venerable French Alouette III) and HH-65 Dolphin choppers, used extensively by the US Coast Guard in short range air-sea rescue roles.

Most of the naval assets and SBS units were based during the war at Trincomalee, one of the best and most attractive harbours in the world. It was attacked consistently during the war, from and under the sea, and from cadres who had infiltrated the nearby wooded hinterland. Any British visitor to the base would be struck by its colonial heritage: the streets and junctions are named after Oxford Street and Piccadilly Circus. Monkeys clamber over verandahs of Seymour Cottage in Drummond Hill Road. It is very orderly, very Royal Navy, including the smart waiters in the mess/wardroom serving up a perfectly chilled gin and tonic in the sticky heat.

Maritime tactics

It is very rare for an insurgency’s naval forces to reach parity and even on occasions outmatch the conventional COIN power’s force. The naval war was long, active and intense: it involved the biggest tonnage of ships sunk since the Falklands war of 1982. To defend the 679 nautical miles of coastline the navy grew to nearly 50,000 (including 15,000 Naval Patrolmen for land-based security), almost the same size as the Indian navy. But for most of the war the Sea Tigers proved more flexible and destructive especially with their swarming tactics mixing suicide and attack boats. They sank a Dvora fast attack craft in August 1995 and another in March 1996. The Tigers filmed their sea victories for their propaganda outlets. They destroyed a further six of other classes of fast attack craft. After the ceasefire ended in 2005, the Sea Tigers sent out larger and more craft, mixing suicide craft among the wolf pack. The Black Tiger suicide crews and boats were difficult to detect, with their low profiles and 35 – 40 knot speed.

Just as the army developed the small-group concept, the navy advanced its own small boat variant. They tried to ‘out guerrilla’ the guerrillas. The navy copied the Sea Tigers’ asymmetric swarm but on a much larger scale. Hundreds of small inshore patrol craft were built from fibreglass; the smallest was the twenty-three-foot Arrow. Large fourteen-metre and seventeen-metre variants were also built. The larger boats had double-barrelled 23mm guns and a 44mm automatic grenade launcher (the latter acquired from Singapore). The fast-attack craft had more endurance, reach and firepower, but they were unstable in heavy seas and often needed to be augmented by the small boats to defeat swarms. The inshore patrol craft (IPCs) were based in strategically important locations ready for rapid-reaction forays against surprise assaults by the Sea Tigers. Although much of the fighting was at night, the navy had to maintain twenty-four-hour surveillance. Several squadrons could unite to form an anti-swarm of sometimes up to fifty or sixty boats. Echoing infantry tactics on land, they used an arrowhead formation to expand the arc of fire. Or they would attack in three adjacent columns in single file to mask their numbers and increase the element of surprise.

The SBS operated in four- or eight-man teams, deploying in Arrow boats or rubber inflatable boats for covert insertions. The SBS provided vital surveillance but also took part in land-strike missions. SBS basic training was for one year, with the majority dropping out before the end. Their training was said to be augmented by Indian Marine Commandos, as well as US special forces, including SEALs. The RABS manned the large number of anti-swarming boats, a tough and dangerous role.

The navy’s lacklustre performance was much improved after 2006. It contributed immensely to the government’s war effort by coastal interdiction of arms supplies to the Tigers, then it went further by adopting an extended blue-water strategy by sinking eight ‘Pigeon’ ships, the LTTE floating warehouses. Crucially, it also provided the umbilical supply line to the garrison in Jaffna. Towards the end of the war it prevented escape by sea of the surviving Tiger leadership, as well as engaging in humanitarian missions for civilians fleeing the fighting.

The keys to LTTE logistics were the unflagged merchant ships which would loiter 1,600 kilometres from the island, and then advance to 150 or so kilometres off the coast to liaise with LTTE fishing trawlers, escorted by armed Sea Tiger boats. The navy initially attacked the logistic trawler fleet, sinking eleven in the first year of renewed fighting. With the help of Indian and, sometimes, US intelligence, the navy sought out the LTTE Pigeon ships. The navy deployed its most up-to-date offshore patrol vessels, the Sayura (ex-Indian navy, re-commissioned in 2000) and Samudura (formerly the USS Courageous, transferred from the US Coast Guard in 2004); it quickly converted old merchant ships and rust-bucket tankers as replenishment vessels. The long-range fleet sank the first floating warehouse on 17 September 2006, 1,350 nautical miles from Sri Lanka. A further three were sunk in early 2007. Then audaciously the navy extended itself 1,620 nautical miles southeast, close to the Australian territory of the Cocos Islands off the coast of Indonesia, to destroy three ships in September 2007 and a fourth in early October.

Vice Admiral D. W. A. S. Dissanaayake, the naval commander, was sitting in his splendid office in Naval HQ in Colombo, with a fine view of the sea and the lighthouse built by the British. He was a poet and songwriter in his spare time. ‘We are not a big navy – we don’t have frigates. We improvised,’ he said. ‘But we went nearly all the way to Australian waters and sank the last four vessels.’

The Pigeon ships did not possess heavy-calibre weapons but they would open up with machine guns, mortars and RPGs when challenged by the navy. The Vice Admiral explained how – after initial resistance – the LTTE seamen did not offer to surrender. They either swallowed their cyanide tablets or simply drowned. On both sides in the naval war, there were few stories of capture at sea or rescue of survivors. Little or no quarter was given in littoral or deepwater combat. Because the LTTE vessels were rogue ships, naval officers claimed the right to protect themselves when they came under attack from the Pigeons. The loss of their supplies of weapons, ammunition and medicines was a major logistical defeat for the Tigers.

The Vice Admiral was equally voluble about the navy’s logistical achievements, especially the supply to Jaffna. The city was an icon to both sides in the war. The Tigers occupied it in 1986 and the Indian forces managed to briefly and precariously occupy it in 1987; it returned to rebel control from 1989 to 1995. The army regained the city in 1995. Thereafter its long siege was as symbolic to the Colombo government as Leningrad (now St Petersburg) was to the Soviets in the Second World War. It had to be held at all costs.

The navy escorted a converted cruise ship they dubbed the Jetliner to resupply the city. It took five to six hours to pass LTTE controlled coastline on the dangerous journey from Trincomalee up the northeast coast to Jaffna. The western route is not navigable, except by very small boats or hovercraft. The Jetliner, heavily armed itself with machine guns, was typically escorted by over twenty ships and boats, to deter Sea Tiger raids. Beechcraft aircraft and UAVs tracked the convoy. It left early in the morning and, once in Jaffna, had to organize a very quick turnaround, thirty minutes, so as to traverse the LTTE coast before dark on the return journey. Over forty tons of cargo and approximately 3,000 troops were transported once or twice a week. The whole of the navy and indeed most of the top brass in defence HQ would be on alert until the convoy sneaked past the dangers of LTTE artillery and sea attack. Jaffna was also supplied by air but only the navy could provide the heavy lift of sufficient men and equipment to keep the city in government hands.

‘If the ship had gone down, we would have lost the war,’ the navy commander admitted.

The navy was also proud of its actions during the final phases of the war. The Vice Admiral insisted the navy did not use any naval gunnery to attack the LTTE remnants in the Cage, but it did take extensive risks from last-ditch suicide boats to rescue thousands of civilians from the beaches as they tried to flee Tiger punishment squads and the Sri Lankan army envelopment.

The navy endured heavy fighting — some sea battles lasted fourteen hours — and many early reverses in ships sunk. The navy leadership was also targeted by Black Tiger squads. On 16 November 1992 the head of the navy, Vice Admiral W. W. E. C. Fernando, was killed in Colombo by a suicide bomber on a motorcycle who drove into the Admiral’s staff car. In October 2007 a truck bomber killed an assembly of 107 off-duty sailors, one of the most deadly suicide attacks of the war. In all, the navy lost over a thousand of its personnel in the conflict. Nevertheless, it finally achieved sea dominance because of its small-boat concept in defeating the Sea Tiger swarms, and the major interdiction of LTTE supplies. It was a four-dimensional war – a land, air and sea and underwater fight. The navy did not develop a sophisticated anti-mine warfare capability, however. The Tigers used frogmen with mines and semi-submersibles to destroy navy ships. The Tigers were trying to develop submarine warfare; various crude prototypes were captured by the army in the last stages of the war.


The third Arakan campaign of 1944 was broadly a success in the end. By September the Japanese were retreating south as their command concluded that it was no longer possible to hold north Burma. Still, it was a costly campaign, bedevilled by military and political problems. The air war was a hit-and-miss affair. It consisted mainly of bombing already ruined towns into the ground. An intelligence officer recorded that Paletwa, the largest town in northern Arakan, was now no more than jungle. It had been completely bombed out by the RAF. ‘In all these bombings there was intelligence officer recorded that Paletwa, the largest town in northern Arakan, was now no more than jungle. It had been completely bombed out by the RAF. ‘In all these bombings there was not a single soul in the place and the only casualty was a Japanese officer who lost an eye.’ The town and environs had already been squeezed for labour and produce by the Japanese who worked through the corrupt local police. It was then occupied by a British West African force and things got even worse for the local people. Everyone commented favourably on the Africans’ fighting qualities, but they appear to have been used to living off the land. The people were terrified of them and they happily looted village after village, committing more than fifty rapes for good measure, or so it was reported. Their officers apparently turned a blind eye. The African generally seems to have a touch of kleptomania’, someone noted, after troops had made off with a cow and brought it into their camp without a single British officer stopping them.

This was an area where there had been fierce clashes even before the war between incoming Bengali Muslims and the local Arakanese Buddhists. The Thakins had found much support among the embattled Buddhists and had instigated or turned a blind eye to communal massacres in 1942. In 1943, during General Irwin’s abortive offensive, Muslim militias ‘bent on loot and revenge’ had moved into the region on the heels of British troops. The Muslims massacred Buddhists and when the British moved out again the vicious cycle was reversed with Buddhist massacres of Muslims. The scene was set for nearly ten years of conflict during which armed Muslim militants carried out a guerrilla war first against the incoming British and then against the government of independent Burma.

The coming of the Civil Administration (Burma) was not an unmixed success either. Initially, the administration’s main aim was to collect labour and supplies for the advance to the south. This proved difficult. The population was mobile. Timber workers were used to migrating between Chittagong in India and Arakan, depending on the price of rice in the two regions. During the famine they had dispersed into Arakan. Labour had to be coerced into service. The ‘old hands’ now working for the Civil Administration found it difficult not to revert to tried, pre-war ways. The former Burma civil servant, Frederick Pearce, onetime secretary to the governor of Burma who was now chief civil affairs officer, wanted to collect the land revenue in classic ICS form despite the fact that the population was malnourished and in rags. Conflicts soon broke out between civil and military officers. Such was the demand for coolies to work on the new military roads that the army began to pay piecework rates well above those of local day labourers. The only way the Civil Administration could get off the ground was to impress labour under the Defence of Burma Rules and starve agricultural operations of manpower. This caused deep dissatisfaction and was psychologically damaging. The returning British administrators expected to find themselves greeted as heroes. To many local people they seemed little better than the Japanese, if at all. There was a strong Thakin element in Arakan and the news spread fast to central and southern Burma. It was one reason why relations between the British and the nationalists deteriorated so quickly after the Japanese were beaten.

The Nagas and other hill peoples played a key role in the fighting. As the Japanese pushed towards Manipur, the hill people found themselves right in the front line. The Naga levies and the exiguous British forces sent to aid them – V Force – had set into something of a routine since 1942. They drilled, exercised and listened. But the fighting on this front was over two hundred miles distant in 1943 and the first months of 1944 as the Chindits of the second Wingate expedition and Shan and Kachin levies carried on hazardous operations behind enemy lines. The main enemies at this time were cholera and smallpox, which stubbornly revived during the 1943 monsoon. But at least V Force now had food, clothing and ammunition. A particular hit amongst the Nagas, who had a keen sense of colour, were red blankets. These were specially coloured for use in the region and were used as gifts and payment throughout the hills. Amongst the Nagas, a leader was only first among equals and his honour and respect depended on his courage and his generosity in distributing prized items such as these.

Suddenly, the calm was broken. Ursula Graham Bower recalled two sergeants coming up to her on 28 March 1944 with chilling news. ‘Fifty Japs crossed the Imphal Road about a week ago and they ought to be here by now. We wondered if you had heard anything of them.’ The defensive belt had suddenly been rolled up and she and the local Naga chiefs were facing the advancing Japanese army with 150 native scouts, one service rifle, one single-barrelled shotgun and seventy muzzle loaders. There was a nagging fear that they would all be boxed in as the Japanese tide flowed round them on both sides. The code ‘one elephant’ was devised to signal that ten Japanese were approaching. A near panic set in when someone arrived in the locality with forty real elephants. On this occasion, the only ‘Jap’ sighted was an unfortunate squirrel which was shot out of a tree by an over-eager scout. But the danger was real enough. Several Naga scouts in the Imphal area went over to the Japanese and led the Japanese to British arms dumps. Bower noted that they were from communities that had taken part in a rebellion during the First World War. There was always the fear that the whole scout force would break and flee as the attack proceeded. After all, these men were scouts and not a fighting force. Meanwhile, refugees once more tramped through the hills. Among them were Bengali and Madrasi pioneers evacuated from Imphal. Then came newly recruited and ill-disciplined Indian support staff, artisans, drivers and mechanics, who all stumbled by with Naga porters and children, sometimes accompanied by escaped Japanese prisoners. Morale hung on a knife-edge until a platoon of Gurkhas came up to support Bower’s detachment. They maintained calm until Kohima was relieved.

The sense of chaos and panic among the defence units of the hill people hid a more important fact. This was the extent to which Naga, Chin and other personnel contributed to the defence of Imphal and Kohima and to the shattering victory that British and Indian forces subsequently won against the Japanese. Army intelligence wrote in the summer: ‘The quantity and quality of operational information received from the local inhabitants has been a major factor in our success to date. A high percentage of our successful air strikes have been the direct result of local information.’ The loyal Nagas gave the Japanese false information about British troop numbers. They guided British and Indian troops through the jungle and pointed out Japanese entrenchments and foxholes to them.

Finally, the great Japanese strength as jungle fighters was being turned against them. Ironically, the Japanese high command was in part betrayed by its own racial ideology, as the British had been two years earlier. The Japanese found it difficult to see the Nagas and allied tribes as anything more than illiterate primitives, more backward even than the aboriginal groups that they encountered in Hokkaido island or Taiwan. Nor could they believe that any Asiatic could reject the idea of ‘Asia for the Asians’ unless they had been bribed or bullied into doing so. No native people could possibly support the British of their own volition. Nagas and Chins were therefore allowed to wander around the Japanese camps even at the critical time when the Imperial Army was moving against Manipur.

Slim told Ursula Graham Bower a revealing story about Naga support. The Japanese commanders on the Manipur front employed a number of Naga orderlies as batmen in the early months of 1944. Naturally, they treated them as illiterate numbskulls. Two of these Nagas decided to steal an operational map which they saw lying around in a commander’s tent. Only too well aware of the estimate the Japanese put on their brainpower, they covered their tracks by pretending that this had been an ordinary theft, and made off with clothing and small pieces of equipment as well as the map. Within a few hours the map was on Slim’s table at British headquarters. As the attack developed, Slim was astonished to find that the Japanese commanders had not modified their plan one iota, so sure were they that no mere Naga orderly could have understood the significance of a battle plan. Slim told Bower that this intelligence was of very great importance in the defence of Imphal and Kohima. Indeed, the debt of the British to the tribal people of the hills was incalculable. Smith Dun, the four-foot tall Karen officer, remembered how dependent he had been on intelligence supplied by the local people during the fighting in the Chin Hills in 1943 and ’44. By chance one of the unit’s batmen was the son of a member of the local Chin levies. Dun’s force was able to move around behind Japanese lines using the information supplied by family members. But vendettas were also in the air. Smith Dun believed that the batman was eventually betrayed by a rival Chin family.

In Simla during June and July, Dorman-Smith among many other officials was aware of the critical situation in Manipur. Their optimism waxed and waned day by day as they read intelligence appraisals and spoke to soldiers returning briefly from the front. They listened to the English-language propaganda broadcasts from Japanese and INA sources with a mixture of amusement and anxiety, unable to evaluate what they heard. The governor still had a lot of minor political skirmishes to fight and this kept his mind off the war. There were the constant battles with Simla officials over accommodation for his government. Would this irritate Archie Wavell? ‘Who would be an exile!’ he wailed. Then again news came that ‘Uncle Joe Stilwell is by no means the popular figure that he was with his own Yank forces’ because of his cavalier attitude to the Chinese troops’ brutal way with the civilians of north Burma. Best of all, ‘Chancre Jack’ and his corrupt cronies were in trouble. ‘I expect you have heard that Chiang is engaged in an affair with some chit of a nurse who is about to produce an infant. Hence Madame’s disappearance. Just what repercussions all this may have, I do not know. But I do not like to think of a Madame scorned set loose upon the world.’

The mood across India remained apprehensive. Yet there was still no panic as there had been in response to every rumour during 1942. Censorship was tight and the Information Bureau of the government was by now so skilled in packaging news of the campaign that, as an intelligence official recorded, ‘even the civilians in Delhi failed to realise its importance’. He remembered looking out over a quiet and peaceful Janpath, Delhi’s triumphal thoroughfare, during these weeks and later recorded that it was impossible to conceive of the vast Arakan battle, still less the looming fact of the independence of India and Pakistan. British India seemed to have survived once again as it had survived every challenge since the Maratha invasions of the eighteenth century.

Once the monsoon had begun in earnest the Japanese reverse in Assam became a rout and the scenes of horror were even worse than the green hell of the Hukawng valley in 1942. The 14th Army had become a cold, efficient killing machine. Very few prisoners were taken on the Allied side. The British, Indian and African troops methodically and ruthlessly killed all Japanese, enraged by cases of atrocities against their own wounded. The enemy were rooted out of their foxholes and shelters, shot down or burnt to death with the new American-made flame-throwers. British, Indians, Gurkhas and Africans took tallies of the numbers of the dead. Those Japanese who stumbled into Kachin and Shan levies sometimes had their heads taken as grim tokens of the new barbarism. Of these operations, Slim wrote laconically: ‘quarter was neither asked, nor given’. Worse even than the condign Allied vengeance were the ravages of disease, monsoon and malnutrition. The Japanese army thrown against Imphal and Kohima was a kind of mass suicide squad. When it was defeated by the vastly increased firepower of the British and Indian armies and American air power, it was cast aside and abandoned by its commanders. There were no reserves, little transport for the withdrawal, no food and medicines. The Japanese air force was and American air power, it was cast aside and abandoned by its commanders. There were no reserves, little transport for the withdrawal, no food and medicines. The Japanese air force was almost entirely a fighter force and could not supply its troops by air. The Japanese had aimed to live off the land and ‘Mr Churchill’s rations’ – captured British supplies – as they had done in 1942. But there was little left on the land by this time and Mr Churchill proved very much less obliging. Even during the advance, the Japanese were on completely inadequate rations, except where they encountered the few remaining herds of cattle belonging to the hill peoples. Now, in July and August, they simply starved or drowned, sucked into seas of mud and filth. One Japanese soldier remembered:

In the rain, with no place to sit, we took short spells of sleep standing on our feet. The bodies of our comrades who had struggled along the track before us, lay all around, rain-sodden and giving off the stench of decomposition. Even with the support of our sticks we fell amongst the corpses again as we stumbled on rocks and tree roots made bare by the rain and attempted one more step, then one more step in our exhaustion.

Thousands and thousands of maggots crept out of the bodies lying in streams and were carried away by the fast flowing water. Many of the cadavers were no more than bleached bones. ‘I cannot forget the sight of one corpse lying in a pool of knee-high water. All its flesh and blood had been dissolved by the maggots and the water so that now it was no more than a bleached uniform.’

For many their only recourse was suicide. Groups of soldiers huddled together over a grenade by the side of the road, while one pulled out the pin to end their misery. A British officer of the King’s African Rifles remembered encountering thousands of the dead or dying enemy. There were ‘strewn over gaseous, bloated bodies family photographs, postcards of cherry blossom and snow capped Mount Fujiyama and delicate drawings of flowers had fallen from dying hands as life ebbed away in the roar of the unceasing rains’.63 Near Tamu, scene of mass refugee deaths two years before to the month, the King’s African Rifles warily entered a village recently occupied by the Japanese. ‘At the far end of the village a small shrine beneath a rusted corrugated-iron roof housed a statue of Buddha gazing across the paddy fields. Lying at the foot of the Buddha was a naked Japanese soldier, a barely living skeleton, with an empty water bottle by his side. Glaring at us, he croaked some words before his head fell back on the mud floor.’ Later, in the British camp, a Japanese-speaking intelligence officer wrote down the dying man’s delirious ravings: ‘Lieutenant Hazaki! Lieutenant Hazaki, where are you, you bastard? Shoot me with your pistol! Come and shoot me! You useless fool! For the sake of the Emperor we came to these filthy hills to be disgraced. Dragged on my behind by blackamoors! We came from Indo-China to be disgraced and clowned by blackamoors. Lieutenant Hazaki, you bastard, bring a machine gun and mow them down. Ah, the disgrace. A Japanese officer dragged in the mud.’

It is estimated that more than 80,000 Japanese died in this campaign as a whole, making it the worst defeat in Japan’s military history and in terms of personnel killed a greater one than any suffered during the main battles of the Pacific naval war. After their failure at Imphal, the Japanese were beaten back at Manipur and the Manipur road was reopened. The 17th Indian Division moved forward on Tiddim, taking Tamu on 4 August. This finally obliterated the memory of the division’s mauling at the Sittang bridge in 1942. The rolling-up of the Japanese position in the northeast was accompanied by a new push by Stilwell and the Chinese from the north. This assault was led by the US Army’s 5307th Composite Unit, the famous Merrill’s Marauders, built up to strength with Kachin and Chinese soldiers. This long-range penetration unit, urged on by Stilwell, took nearly 80 per cent casualties from enemy action and disease as it pushed down from the north through rain-soaked jungle. By 3 August, however, Myitkyina and its airfield were once again in Allied hands, recaptured as the Japanese garrison withdrew.

Finally, the Allies on the Burma front had something to celebrate. Leo Amery, the secretary of state, visited the war front. He spoke to Gurkha troops in Urdu, revealing that it was ‘a language I learned with my Ayah’s [nurse’s] milk nearly seventy years ago’, a perfect example of how the whole British ruling class of those days was shot through with memories of India. Wavell later flew to Manipur and knighted Slim and Auchinleck on the field. He then held a durbar, or official audience, with the Naga chiefs, as the Japanese were finally cleared south into Burma, chased by deep penetration forces.

In the distant Punjab, the province from which such a large proportion of the troops came, there was quiet rejoicing. The National War Front published advertisements in newspapers and distributed posters proclaiming ‘Salute the Soldier!’ The Maharaja of Patiala met returning troops and moved amongst them, chatting. Recruiting posters harped on the modernity of the armed forces: ‘Pilot today. Airline executive tomorrow!’ But that quiet rejoicing was tempered by anxiety. The Railway Board published a notice depicting emaciated villagers staring at a railway carriage: ‘Travel less’. It urged people to refrain from leisure journeys when food distribution remained a priority. Rationing remained severe. The black market burgeoned. The poisonous fires of Hindu–Muslim hatred were stoked across the Punjab as Jinnah denounced Gandhi’s most recent political plans as ‘a death warrant to all Muslims’. It was as if the callousness of wartime killing was seeping into Indian political debate and polluting it.

As the Japanese perished in their thousands, the Punjab and Delhi were suffering a particularly punishing ‘hot weather’. Despite its appearance of blithe normality and the distance from the crisis in Assam, things were gradually deteriorating in the capital. The last few years of the Raj were far from the ‘cushy billet’ that expatriates had come to expect. Wartime restrictions on imports meant that people were forced to make do with poor-quality Indian goods: electric light bulbs that exploded with monotonous regularity, Indian beer which had to be upended in pails of water to let the toxins drift off. The cost of living had risen 200 – 300 per cent in a few months. Private servants were in very short supply because of the demand for labour from swollen government offices and the military. Several officials suffered nervous breakdowns because of the pressures of extra work. Race relations deteriorated further. Indians were resentful of the new influx of British and Americans and their own declining standards of living. The imprisonment of Gandhi and the other Congress leaders was regarded as a national insult and the prospect of Gandhi’s death from a hunger strike had threatened public order. The British, for their part, were tense. They knew that the eastern war was still in the balance, but were poorly informed about what was actually happening. They tended to take it out on Indians, who were regarded as secretly seditious. Water shortages became worse. Pumping stations could not cope with the greatly increased wartime population. Cholera made its appearance as people drank bad water and started to spread as the rains began. Police cordoned off the coolie camp near the city and 3,000 people were inoculated in the course of a few weeks.

Then, quite suddenly, with the coming of the rains, the mood lightened. People sensed that the crisis had passed. Noël Coward arrived in Delhi and began to entertain the troops. He appeared at a cocktail party at the viceroy’s house, while lower ranks were entertained all over town with sausages, fruit juice and cigarettes. Around the middle of July All-India Radio began to broadcast news of the Japanese retreat from Imphal. British India was saved for its final three years of existence. Not everyone rejoiced. The victory at Imphal and the Normandy landings in Europe triggered a slump on Indian stock markets. This was because ‘India was one vast black market’ and the fun would end with the war. One Indian merchant wired his agent: ‘Situation Changing. Don’t buy anything… the future is not at all promising. It seems the war is drifting towards its end.’


The dramatic secret history of our undeclared thirty-year conflict with Iran, revealing newsbreaking episodes of covert and deadly operations that brought the two nations to the brink of open war

For three decades, the United States and Iran have engaged in a secret war. It is a conflict that has never been acknowledged and a story that has never been told.

This surreptitious war began with the Iranian revolution and simmers today inside Iraq and in the Persian Gulf. Fights rage in the shadows, between the CIA and its network of spies and Iran’s intelligence agency. Battles are fought at sea with Iranians in small speedboats attacking Western oil tankers. This conflict has frustrated five American presidents, divided administrations, and repeatedly threatened to bring the two nations into open warfare. It is a story of shocking miscalculations, bitter debates, hidden casualties, boldness, and betrayal.

A senior historian for the federal government with unparalleled access to senior officials and key documents of several U.S. administrations, Crist has spent more than ten years researching and writing The Twilight War, and he breaks new ground on virtually every page. Crist describes the series of secret negotiations between Iran and the United States after 9/11, culminating in Iran’s proposal for a grand bargain for peace-which the Bush administration turned down. He documents the clandestine counterattack Iran launched after America’s 2003 invasion of Iraq, in which thousands of soldiers disguised as reporters, tourists, pilgrims, and aid workers toiled to change the government in Baghdad and undercut American attempts to pacify the Iraqi insurgency. And he reveals in vivid detail for the first time a number of important stories of military and intelligence operations by both sides, both successes and failures, and their typically unexpected consequences.

Much has changed in the world since 1979, but Iran and America remain each other’s biggest national security nightmares. “The Iran problem” is a razor-sharp briar patch that has claimed its sixth presidential victim in Barack Obama and his administration. The Twilight War adds vital new depth to our understanding of this acute dilemma it is also a thrillingly engrossing read, animated by a healthy irony about human failings in the fog of not-quite war.

In 2012, relations between the United States and Iran had reached another nadir. The United States was now bent on more sanctions to bend Iran to the UN Security Council’s and Washington’s will. Rebuffed and wiser, President Obama ratcheted up the pressure, with the Treasury Department finding new, creative ways to close loopholes in sanctions and strangle Iranian commerce. Just before the new year, President Obama signed tough new sanctions against Iran. Imposed by a near unanimous Congress as a rider to the defense budget, for the first time, the United States targeted Iran’s central bank, the means by which the country received payment for its oil exports. The twenty-seven nations of the European Union followed suit with a pronouncement that they intended to phase out all oil imports from Iran. Europe was the second leading importer after China of Iranian crude, taking 450,000 barrels of Iran’s 2.6 million daily output.8 Iran responded with bellicosity. The chief of Iran’s regular navy, Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, warned that his country could easily close the Strait of Hormuz, through which one sixth of the world’s oil flows. Sayyari, who came through the ranks of the Iranian naval special operations forces, was an aggressive combat veteran of the Iran-Iraq war and more akin to the Revolutionary Guard than his own naval service. In December 2011 and January 2012, both the regular navy and the Revolutionary Guard held large-scale and very public military exercises around the strait to demonstrate Iran’s resolve. Iranian authorities warned the U.S. Navy not to send another aircraft carrier through the gulf. “The Islamic Republic of Iran will not repeat its warning,” said the head of Iran’s army, General Ataollah Salehi.

President Obama and his national security adviser Tom Donilon were in no mood to back down from this blatant threat against the world’s economy. Mattis was called back to Washington on a Sunday for two days of lengthy meetings at the White House, and the president publicly stated he would use force to keep the Strait of Hormuz open. In the end, Iran’s threat proved hollow as American air craft carriers continued transiting without incident.

The crisis over Iran’s nuclear program grew evermore ominous. In February 2012, the IAEA issued a scathing report about Iranian obfuscation. Inspectors were denied access to both scientists and Iran’s secretive Parchin weapons facility. Israel continued to beat the war drums. That same month both the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Martin Dempsey, and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon led successive teams to Tel Aviv to try to talk Israel out of taking any immediate military action. They met with somber Israeli officials. Rather than spouting the usual talking points about Iran, the Americans found their counterparts far more serious and circumspect. Donilon’s team returned to Washington convinced that Israel intended to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities sooner rather than later.

On March 5, 2012, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met with President Obama in the Oval Office.9 The two men already had a strained relationship, and the meeting did little to overcome their divisions, including those over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Obama stressed that there was no immediate need to attack Iran’s facilities because all the intelligence pointed to the fact that the supreme leader had not even decided to produce a nuclear weapon. The tough Israeli pushed back, saying that they could not wait until Iran entered into a “zone of immunity.” They had to strike now in order to prevent Iran from having the capability to develop nuclear bombs. Publicly, Obama tried to placate Israel’s concerns. “My policy here is not going to be one of containment. My policy is prevention of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons,” the president said before the meeting. He added, “When I say all options are on the table, I mean it.”10 Both sides agreed on tougher sanctions against Iran’s central bank, aimed at curtailing their oil exports.

This growing international isolation and economic pressure only heightened Iran’s paranoia that the real goal behind U.S. actions was the over-throw of the Islamic Republic. Anti-Americanism remained a pillar of the government’s policies, and no real change in this regard was likely to occur while the revolutionary generation remained in power. The young men who took to the streets, overthrew the shah, and fought eight years of a bloody war with an Iraqi government backed by Washington now had gray in their beards, but their attitudes remained the same. Like the great Arab historian Ibn Khaldun, who wrote about the rise and fall of the great empires as repeated cycles in history, the supreme leader and his inner circle remained convinced that the West was declining and the next empire, Iran, was on the rise. The United States and its regional lackey, Israel, like the Soviets and communism before them, were going to collapse. The U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan showed that the United States was in retreat in the Middle East. While more realistic Iranian leaders like Javad Zarif understood that the reality was quite different, and Iran was never going to rival the United States in power, the fallout from the 2009 elections had marginalized many of these voices of reason.

While the 1979 revolution changed Iran’s government, the Islamic Republic maintained the age-old Iranian goal of being recognized as a regional power. “We should be the greatest power in the region and play a role accordingly,” said Hadi Nesanjani, who served in President Rafsanjani’s cabinet. While the new government was loath to put it in these terms, deeper even than the Shia religious motivations is an ingrained sense of Persian historical entitlement. As a nation, the Iranians predate all others in the region, with a lineage tracing back to the Persian Empire founded by Cyrus the Great. A seat at the Middle East table is their natural right; it is the United States that stands in their path. Building this historical precedent, the Iranian Revolution had added a mission as the new defender of the downtrodden Shia across the Middle East and, by extension, all Muslims resisting the West and Israel. Starting in Lebanon, facilitated by the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and most recently in Yemen and Bahrain, Iran provided a steady stream of military and economic support to these movements. This puts Iran squarely at odds with both Israel and the Sunni governments backed by the United States.

The Iran problem is an enduring constant in American foreign policy. Over the decades, every administration has had its moments with Iran. The country has been too strategically important to ignore. Various administrations have tried to woo it back into the Western fold, or talk of replacing the Islamic Republic with one more to Washington’s liking, but the results have been uniformly miserable. In the final analysis, Iran simply rejects any vision of the Middle East as imposed by the will of the United States. A famous quote by Ayatollah Khomeini puts it succinctly: “We will resist America until our last breath.” Unfortunately, Washington has helped perpetuate the animosity. The United States has displayed a callous disregard for Iranian grievances and security concerns. Giving a medal to a ship’s captain who just inadvertently killed 290 civilians and then wondering why Iran might harbor resentment is just the most obvious example of American obtuseness. An ill-conceived intervention in the Lebanese Civil War against the Shia, while at the same time backing Iraq, threatened the new Iranian government. Tehran’s response, to level a building full of marines and to take American hostages, still colors American thinking, equally understandably. Washington invariably took the wrong course with Iran. When diplomatic openings appeared, hardliners refused to talk and advocated overthrowing the Islamic Republic. When Iran killed U.S. soldiers and marines in Lebanon and Iraq, successive administrations showed timidity when hard-liners called for retribution.

Glimmers of optimism invariably give way to the smell of cordite and talk of war. In 2012, the prospects for conflict peaked again. Seasoned, pragmatic Iran watchers called for tougher sanctions to punish Iranian intransigence regarding its nuclear program. But punishing Iran for its intransigence also hardens Iranian leaders and justifies in their minds the need for a nuclear program, both for increased self-sufficiency and as a deterrent against Western aggression. Within the U.S. administration, discussions in the White House Situation Room turned to the possibility of pressing for sanctions against Iran’s central bank. As this is the means by which Iran receives payment for its oil exports, this would be a radical act, tantamount to an embargo of Iranian oil. “Iran could see it as a de facto act of war,” said one senior Obama administration representative.

Unfortunately, now neither side has much desire to work to bridge their differences. Distrust permeates the relationship. Three decades of twilight war have hardened both sides. When someone within the fractured governing class in Tehran reached out to the American president, the United States was unwilling to accept anything but capitulation. When President Obama made a heartfelt opening, a smug Iranian leadership viewed it as a ruse or the gesture of a weak leader. Iran spurned him. Obama fell back on sanctions and CENTCOM; Iran fell back into its comfortable bed of terrorism and warmongering. Soon it may no longer be twilight; the light is dimming, and night may well be approaching at long last.


The Secret History of America’s Thirty-Year Conflict with Iran

 DAVID CRIST published 2012

Mozambique – Civil Wars

Mozambique was ravaged by war for nearly 30 years before it slowly returned to peace at the beginning of the 1990s. First came the war of liberation against the Portuguese (1964–75), only to be ended after the change of government in Portugal that came with the overthrow of the Marcello Caetano dictatorship in April 1974. Following this event, Portugal signaled its readiness to grant independence to its African territories and Mozambique became independent on 25 June 1975. The great majority of the 250,000 Portuguese settlers, who had held most of the administrative and skilled jobs, left the country at independence to present the Frente da Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO)/Mozambique Liberation Front government with formidable problems of reconstruction. Mozambique, by almost any standards, was one of the poorest countries in Africa and the world at this time.


As the fighting against the Portuguese in in both Mozambique and Angola had escalated during the early 1970s, both white-controlled Rhodesia and South Africa had provided Portugal with support in its efforts to hold on to power; however, when the Portuguese finally withdrew in the mid-1970s, Mozambique’s neighbors embarked upon policies of destabilization in order to undermine the new governments which came to power, since both Salisbury and Pretoria saw these as Marxist opponents of white racialism. By 1975, the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) was having an increasingly successful impact upon the Smith regime in Rhodesia and it received immediate backing from the new Mozambique government. The head of Rhodesian security, Ken Flower, who ran the Central Intelligence Organization (CIO), conceived the idea of fomenting civil war in Mozambique by creating and then supporting a rival movement to FRELIMO. Flower originally advanced his idea during talks with his Portuguese and South African security counterparts during 1971 and 1972. At first his suggestion was not adopted, but in March 1974, Flower visited the director general of Security in Lourenco Marques (Maputo), Major Silva Pais, who agreed with his approach. Flower wanted to launch an African group of Flechas (arrows) who would be responsible for “unconventional, clandestine operations.” In April 1974, prior to the Lisbon coup which toppled Dr. Marcello Caetano, the Rhodesian CIO began to recruit Mozambicans to form an organization to operate inside Mozambique, in theory without external support, although in practice it would depend first upon Rhodesia and then, after 1980, upon South Africa for assistance. The members of this group became known as the Resistência Nacional Moçambicana (RENAMO)/Mozambican National Resistance, which was usually referred to simply as RENAMO. Flower and the CIO had little difficulty in recruiting dissident Mozambicans during 1974/1975 and such a movement made sense to an increasingly beleaguered Rhodesia.

The Civil War: 1975–1984

The huge exodus of the Portuguese was a contributory cause of the developing chaos: of 250,000 Portuguese at independence in 1975, only 15,000 remained by 1978. As colonialists, the Portuguese had reserved all the skilled posts for themselves and when they went, the greater part of the country’s skilled capacity went as well. Moreover, the departing Portuguese carried out wilful acts of destruction of machines and equipment as they left. Once the new FRELIMO government had made plain its political stand—its determination to apply United Nations sanctions against Rhodesia and its declaration of support for the African National Congress (ANC)—it made itself a natural target for Rhodesian and South African hostility. From 1975 onward, both the Rhodesian and South African military were to make periodic cross-border raids into Mozambique, and for them RENAMO was to prove an invaluable ally, or at least an important nuisance factor.

In the period 1975–1980, as RENAMO gradually built up its capacity to harass the new government, Mozambique found itself beset by four basic problems: the loss of Portuguese skills; the deteriorating state of the economy; the presence in Mozambique of both ZANU and ANC guerrillas, which attracted punitive cross-border raids from Rhodesia and South Africa; and growing dissatisfaction among FRELIMO members who had expected quicker “rewards” once the country became independent. It is not possible to pinpoint exactly when RENAMO resistance to the new government became sufficiently important to warrant the description of either dissidence or civil war. The immediate problems concerned Rhodesia rather than South Africa: there were about 10,000 ZANU guerrillas in the country and growing border violence as Rhodesian security forces and ZANU guerrillas raided back and forth in the two territories. Such conditions provided a perfect cover for RENAMO to launch its activities.

There was to be a state of border war between Mozambique and Rhodesia from 1975 until 1980 when Rhodesia became independent as Zimbabwe. In March 1976, obeying UN sanctions, Mozambique closed its border with Rhodesia. In August of that year, after RENAMO spies had provided the information, the Rhodesian Selous Scouts raided across the border to attack the ZANU base camp at Nyadzonia (Pungwe) where they killed about 1,000 members of ZANU, many of them women and children. During 1977, frequent ZANU incursions across the border into Rhodesia led to retaliatory cross-border raids against the ZANU bases in Mozambique. It was, in any case, easier for the Rhodesians to attack these camps than to find the ZANU guerrillas in the Rhodesian bush. President Samora Machel claimed that between March 1976 and April 1977 there occurred 143 Rhodesian acts of aggression across the 1,140 kilometer border between the two countries, in which a total of 1,432 civilians, of whom 875 were Rhodesian refugees, were murdered. At the same time, however, there was little evidence of any internal opposition to FRELIMO or of RENAMO guerrillas operating against the government.

The acknowledged opposition to FRELIMO at this time—the United Democratic Front of Mozambique—had failed to obtain arms from Europe for a struggle against the government. On the other hand, RENAMO claimed that its guerrillas were then fighting under the command of six former FRELIMO commanders. By 1978, it had become apparent that the poverty-stricken Mozambique economy was heavily dependent upon three aspects of its connection with South Africa: the transit trade through Maputo; remittances from laborers in South Africa, especially in the mines; and payments for power from the Cabora Bassa Dam. Two of these links with South Africa made Mozambique especially vulnerable: both the Cabora Bassa power lines and the transit routes (road and rail) to Maputo and Beira were open to attacks by RENAMO.

By 1979, ZANU was clearly winning the war in Rhodesia and huge new pressures (following the Commonwealth heads of government meeting which was held in Lusaka that August) spelled the coming end to the Smith regime in Salisbury. However, in Mozambique the activities of RENAMO had by then become a serious threat to the government; as a result, it was in Mozambique’s interest that the struggle in Rhodesia should be terminated. Thus, in December 1979, when the ZANU leader, Robert Mugabe, was prepared to abandon the Lancaster House Conference in London and return to the bush, President Machel exerted pressure upon him to come to terms with the British foreign secretary, Lord Carrington.

Once Mugabe had become president of Zimbabwe in April 1980, Flower told him of his CIO role with regard to RENAMO, but Mugabe still kept him in office. In Mozambique the stage was set for an escalation of the civil war, for though independence for Zimbabwe meant the reopening of the joint border and the immediate easing of existing tensions, RENAMO guerrillas were then established in Manica, Sofala, and Tete Provinces. The result was that the government had to deploy substantial forces against the insurgents. Even so, whether RENAMO could really become effective seemed doubtful at that stage: Rhodesia had ceased to be its paymaster and South Africa had to formulate a clear policy in relation to Mozambique. However, Pretoria soon decided upon a policy of maximum economic disruption of its neighbor; it urged RENAMO to attack lines of communication (roads and railways), which served the landlocked countries to its north—Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe and, in particular, to concentrate upon the Beira Corridor. In April 1981, RENAMO attacked the Cabora Bassa hydro-electric power station and cut the power lines. At that time, Cabora Bassa supplied 10 percent of South Africa’s power; the attack demonstrated that South Africa did not control RENAMO. In June 1981, fierce fighting in the north of Mozambique between government forces and RENAMO guerrillas caused hundreds of refugees to flee into Zimbabwe; they complained of ill-treatment from both sides.

The government now constructed fortified villages (similar to the former aldeamentos of the Portuguese) so as to protect and control the rural populations. In July, Machel met with Mugabe to discuss joint security measures. By the end of 1981, RENAMO activities in Manica and Sofala Provinces were sufficiently damaging to lead the government to recall FRELIMO commanders who had been released from service: they were ordered to establish “people’s militias” and arm them. During the liberation struggle, FRELIMO’s main support had come from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), East Germany, and other Communist states; now, however, it felt the need to mobilize support from the West if it was to contain the South African destabilization activities.

During 1982, RENAMO widened the scope of its operations and obtained military equipment from South Africa, while concentrating its attacks upon road and rail links used by the landlocked countries of the interior. In May 1982, the government began a major operation to make the Beira Corridor safe from RENAMO attacks; this included arming civilians living along the Corridor. RENAMO then employed a fresh tactic, that of abducting foreigners who were working in Mozambique in an effort to frighten them into leaving the country. Its efforts paid off when 40 Swedish workers fled to Zimbabwe after two of their number had been killed. Other persons abducted included six Bulgarian workers, while a Portuguese was killed. Fresh strains were added to an already deeply damaged economy when RENAMO attacked the Beira Corridor. In October 1982, Machel was forced to seek assistance from two of his neighbors, Tanzania and Zimbabwe: he asked President Julius Nyerere to increase the number of Tanzanian troops in the north of Mozambique—there were 2,000 there already—and asked President Mugabe for assistance in fighting RENAMO. By 1983, RENAMO guerrillas had become active in every province except Cabo Delgado in the north where the Tanzanian troops were stationed. By this time several thousand Zimbabwean troops had been deployed along the Beira Corridor, although the railway line was still being sabotaged. The Mozambique government mounted a major anti-RENAMO campaign in Zambezia, Mozambique’s richest province, and a second campaign in Inhambane Province in the south.

A growing problem for the government was the poor condition of its army: by this time it was ill-equipped, badly malnourished, often unpaid, and its soldiers felt neglected. Such troops, suffering from low morale, did not want to take the field against RENAMO. Twice during 1983 (May and October), units of the South African Defence Force (SADF) raided Maputo, ostensibly to attack ANC bases, but in fact to exert further pressures upon an already harassed government. Also during 1983, Machel visited a number of western countries seeking aid, although the immediate consequence was that the USSR cut off its assistance to Mozambique. South African policy was to put pressure upon the “Frontline” States (which included Mozambique) so that they would not provide the ANC with bases, and Pretoria’s support for RENAMO now appeared to be paying dividends.

Under these pressures, Machel was obliged to forge a deal with South Africa. On 16 March 1984, President Machel met South Africa’s President P. W. Botha at Nkomati on their joint border; they negotiated the Nkomati Accord, by whose terms they would each prevent the activities of opposition groups in the other’s territory. Mozambique was obliged to withdraw its support for the ANC and South Africa for RENAMO. The ANC and Nyerere both condemned the Accord, but at the time, Machel had little choice, even though his own leadership was opposed to the agreement. In fact, no decline in RENAMO activity followed. In June 1984, South Africa’s foreign minister, “Pik” Botha, went to Maputo to insist that South Africa was keeping its side of the agreement. It did not do so. The government now made members of the ANC in Mozambique live in controlled camps (or leave the country) and reduced the ANC mission in Maputo to 10. Furthermore, about 800 ANC departed from Mozambique to other Frontline States. When Machel visited China and North Korea in July, both countries endorsed the Nkomati Accord, which gave Machel moral support but not much else. During the second half of 1984, RENAMO increased the severity of its attacks, with continuing backing from South Africa, and by August was active in all 10 of Mozambique’s provinces.

The Second Phase: 1984–1990

Meetings between representatives of the Mozambique government, RENAMO, and South Africa, during August and September 1984, had proved abortive, and in November 1984, RENAMO mounted a new offensive throughout Mozambique. A strong government counter-offensive destroyed 100 RENAMO bases and resulted in the deaths of about 1,000 guerrillas. During 1985, despite protests by the Maputo government, South Africa made no efforts to restrain RENAMO; nor did it withdraw its support, and by this stage Portugal was also providing aid for RENAMO. The guerrilla tactics now changed: they raided villages and forcibly conscripted villagers to act as porters or soldiers. Some towns also came under siege. In April 1985, RENAMO severed rail links between South Africa and Mozambique. When the country celebrated its tenth independence anniversary in June 1985, President Machel was obliged to tell the people that Mozambique had to remain on a war footing because of RENAMO. At a meeting with Presidents Nyerere and Mugabe in July 1985, the latter promised to commit more troops to fight RENAMO. In August 1985, a joint campaign by FRELIMO and Zimbabwean troops captured the RENAMO headquarters at Casa Banana in Sofala Province. Documents seized in the raid showed that South Africa had provided continuous support to RENAMO ever since the Nkomati Accord, and this led a for-once deeply embarrassed South African government to reply that it had only “technically” broken the Nkomati Accord. The spokesman then blamed Portugal and claimed that the government was unable to control the many Portuguese then in South Africa who “worked to Lisbon’s orders.”

Slowly, meanwhile, the West was becoming more sympathetic to Mozambique and both the United States and Britain offered relief aid following the 1985 drought. In addition, Britain offered military training for FRELIMO troops—but in Zimbabwe. A further 5,000 Zimbabwean troops were committed to Mozambique in addition to the 2,000 already there. The year 1986 turned into the worst year of the civil war. In February, RENAMO recaptured Casa Banana and this had to be retaken by Zimbabwean troops in April. The government found that it was spending 42 percent of its revenue fighting RENAMO or preparing to deal with South African incursions. RENAMO concentrated upon cutting railway links, thus reducing government revenues from the transit trade. Then, in a further calculated blow to the government, South Africa announced that it would no longer recruit Mozambicans for its mines or renew the contracts of those already in the Republic. This represented a financial loss in the region of $90 million a year. When President Machel asked President Hastings Banda of Malawi to hand over RENAMO rebels then in his country, Banda instead expelled several hundred into Mozambique where they ravaged the border area. RENAMO then declared war on Zimbabwe.

On 19 October 1986, following a meeting with Presidents Kenneth Kaunda and Mugabe in Lusaka, Machel was killed when his plane crashed on its return journey. The crash was never properly explained: South Africa was blamed and a South African mission in Maputo was sacked. South Africa claimed that documents found in the wreckage (the plane crashed just inside the South African border) showed that Zambia and Mozambique were plotting to overthrow Hastings Banda of Malawi. Joaquim Chissano, Machel’s foreign minister, succeeded him as president and Maputo increased its pressures upon Malawi to end its support for RENAMO, threatening to cut its transit routes through Mozambique. As a result, Malawi reversed its policy and committed 300 troops to help guard the Nacala Railway, which linked Blantyre to the Indian Ocean port of Nacala. The line was then being upgraded and rehabilitated.

The war continued as fiercely into 1987, and President Mugabe agreed to provide further military assistance until the war had been won. By this time an estimated four million Mozambicans were facing starvation or destitution as a result of the civil war and one million people had been forced to leave their homes in Zambezia Province, which was one of the worst affected areas. However, the presence of Tanzanian and Zimbabwean troops, as well as the reversal of Malawi’s policy of helping RENAMO, gave the government a new lease of energy to fight the war. A South African raid upon Maputo in May—supposedly against an ANC base—finally spelled the end of the Nkomati Accord. By this time, the Mozambique–Zimbabwe border region had become a semi-war zone.

There were 40,000 Mozambican refugees in camps in Zimbabwe and a further 40,000 were thought to be roaming the country in search of work. Zimbabwe rounded these people up and sent them back to Mozambique. A RENAMO incursion into Zambia produced Zambian retaliation and a military pursuit into Mozambique to destroy two RENAMO bases. In July 1987, RENAMO attacked the southern town of Homoine to massacre 424 people, although Chissano claimed that the South Africans were responsible. Further RENAMO attacks in the south included the ambush of a convoy north of Maputo in which 270 people were killed. RENAMO tactics aimed to isolate Maputo. These RENAMO forces operating along the coast were being supplied by sea from South Africa. They attacked the only road linking Maputo with Gaza and Inhambane Provinces. The Mozambican military escorts for convoys proved ineffective and the troops’ morale was low. Such attacks close to the capital also had a demoralizing effect upon both the government and the international community living in Maputo. However, internal divisions in RENAMO weakened its onslaught. A leading member, Paulo Oliveira, advocated peace while Afonso Dhlakama, the leader, insisted on continuing the war. In December 1987, following the announcement by Chissano of a law of pardon, some 200 members of RENAMO surrendered in January 1988 and Oliveira defected to the government. The Zimbabwean troops provided essential stiffening for the demoralized Mozambican army; with their help two RENAMO bases were captured in December 1987 and a further three in March 1988.

Meanwhile, under Chissano, Mozambique was moving steadily toward the West: Great Britain agreed to a $25 million aid package as well as an increase in the military training for FRELIMO, which it was carrying out in Zimbabwe; and in June 1987, Mozambique negotiated a financial package with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In October 1987, Mozambique was allowed to send an observer mission to the Vancouver Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) and a special Commonwealth fund was created to assist Mozambique. In addition, a massive $600 million project to rehabilitate the port of Beira was launched, to be financed (in the main) by funds from the European Community. Mozambique had now come to see the West rather than the Communist bloc as its essential economic resource and savior.

RENAMO activity reached a peak during 1988 with repeated attacks upon communications and villages, with sabotage aimed at the vital Chicualacuala rail line linking Zimbabwe to Maputo. By this time RENAMO had an estimated 20,000 men in the field. Sometimes a force of as many as 600 guerrillas would attack a particular target, though generally RENAMO used small bands of men, often armed only with machetes, who robbed and killed. Half the FRELIMO army appeared to have collapsed or disintegrated and only the better units were able to withstand RENAMO, while government control did not run in large parts of the country. Instead, the government appeared increasingly dependent upon troops from Zimbabwe (10,000) and Tanzania (3,000) to fight RENAMO.

The position was made worse because of the large numbers of refugees created by the war. Sometimes whole villages were massacred. Many RENAMO guerrillas were, in fact, no more than armed bandits, the product of a lawless time. Afonso Dhlakama controlled about half the RENAMO forces. He had worked closely with South African intelligence since 1980 and had undergone training at the South African Special Forces base at Voortrekkerhoogte. South Africa, even after the Nkomati Accord, had made airdrops of supplies to RENAMO. Its other backers were the Portuguese (principally those who had fled in 1975 to settle in South Africa) and right-wing groups in the United States. Part of Pretoria’s motive for assisting RENAMO was economic: South Africa wanted to force the landlocked countries to its north—Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe—to continue trading through South Africa and a destabilized Mozambique helped ensure that this happened.

Western aid to Mozambique increased through 1988 while Chissano’s government attempted to reactivate the Joint Security Commission with South Africa (it had been set up under the terms of the Nkomati Accord). In Lisbon, Eco Fernandes, who wanted RENAMO to maintain its links with South Africa, was shot. At a time when right-wing U.S. senators were arguing for U.S. aid to RENAMO, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Roy Stacey publicly described RENAMO as “waging a systematic and brutal war of terror against innocent Mozambican civilians through forced labor, starvation, physical abuse, and wanton killing.” The war produced many contradictions: in May 1988, for example, South Africa offered the Maputo government 82 million rand in military assistance to protect the Cabora Bassa Dam against RENAMO; Mozambique refused the offer of South African troops, but accepted training for 1,500 FRELIMO troops to guard the power pylons. In mid-year the government launched a new offensive against RENAMO.

Peace Negotiations

A possible breakthrough occurred in August when Chissano endorsed a plan advanced by church leaders to meet representatives of RENAMO in an effort to end the war. In 1989, the U.S. State Department claimed that RENAMO had killed 100,000 people since 1984. Meanwhile, Malawi had become host to nearly one million refugees (one in 12 of its population) and early in 1989 refugees from the war were arriving at the rate of 20,000 a month. And, despite repeated denials by Pretoria, South Africa continued to support RENAMO. In April 1989, RENAMO made a conciliatory gesture when it agreed to a ceasefire to allow food supplies to reach starving people. In June 1989, President Chissano advanced a 12-point peace plan, provided that RENAMO would renounce violence and agree to constitutional rule: by that time, some 3,000 members of RENAMO had accepted the December 1987 government amnesty. Also that June, church leaders met representatives of RENAMO at one of its strongholds, Gorongosa, and Dhlakama endorsed the peace move. RENAMO then demonstrated its readiness to compromise by sacking Artur Janeiro de Fonseca, its pro–South African external relations minister, and replacing him with Raul Domingos, formerly chief of staff. Talks scheduled to take place in Nairobi, Kenya, were called off when the government launched an attack upon Gorongosa. However, Dhlakama did go to Nairobi for talks with church leaders at the end of July, and though no agreement was reached these talks were generally seen to herald the beginning of a peace process. There was a setback in October 1989, but at the end of the year, Presidents Daniel arap Moi of Kenya and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe met in Nairobi to urge both RENAMO and the Mozambique government to drop all talk of preconditions. Early in 1990, with the country facing growing industrial unrest and an army that often went unpaid for months, President Chissano announced major constitutional changes which had the effect of moving Mozambique into line with the western democracies. An immediate result of this move was a U.S. announcement at the end of January that it no longer regarded Mozambique as a Communist country, while the general effect of these reforms was to make Mozambique more acceptable to the West.

The end of the Cold War played a part in the peace process, for once Mikhail Gorbachev had come to power in the USSR, he signaled the withdrawal or ending of Soviet aid and advised the two sides in the war to negotiate a peace. Fighting was to continue through 1990, but in July, the two sides met in Rome for talks arranged jointly by the churches and President Mugabe of Zimbabwe. In November 1990, the government announced the abandonment of Marxism–Leninism and said it would thereafter run the economy according to market forces.

In December 1990, after Zimbabwe’s forces had been confined to the Beira and Limpopo Corridors, a ceasefire was negotiated; however, in February, despite the emergence of new political parties as part of the peace process, RENAMO launched new attacks to cut the roads to Malawi in the north. Peace talks were resumed on 6 May 1991, with RENAMO attempting to alter the agenda while its guerrillas continued to launch attacks against the Cabora Bassa power lines and railway links. The talks again broke down, but the following 4 October, a cease-fire was signed by Chissano and Dhlakama. By this time both sides were exhausted: these talks had been brokered by the Roman Catholic Church, President Mugabe, and the British businessman “Tiny” Rowland.

Costs and Casualties

The statistics of this brutal war were horrifying: by 1988 RENAMO campaigns had forced a minimum of 870,000 people to flee the country, had displaced a further one million inside the country, and reduced another 2.5 million to the point of starvation, while approximately 100,000 civilians had been killed and many more wounded or permanently maimed. By the end of the 1980s, famine threatened up to 4.5 million people throughout the country. There are variations on these figures but they each tell the same story. For example, in 1988 the World Food Programme (WFP) reported that there were 420,000 refugees in Malawi, 350,000 in South Africa, 22,500 in Swaziland, 30,000 in Zambia, 64,500 in Zimbabwe, and 15,000 in Tanzania to make a total of 902,000. Other estimates gave a total of 650,000 refugees in Malawi. The government requested (mid-1988) $380 million in emergency assistance to help feed six million people threatened with famine.

By the beginning of 1992, Mozambique was rated (by the World Bank) as having the lowest standard of living in the world.

The Aftermath

In December 1992, the United Nations agreed to send a peacekeeping force of 7,500 to Mozambique; its task would be principally to safeguard the transport corridors. However, delays in implementation almost led to disaster and RENAMO withdrew from the peace process. This resumed again and on 14 April 1993 the Zimbabwe troops guarding the Beira and Limpopo Corridors were withdrawn. By the following May 4,721 UN soldiers from five countries, the United Nations Operation in Mozambique (UNOMOZ), had arrived and these were accompanied by additional unarmed units. On 14 June 1993, the repatriation of 1.3 million refugees began under United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) auspices while international donors promised $520 million for humanitarian programs. On 14 August, the Joint Commission for the Formation of the Mozambique Defense Armed Forces (CCFADM) agreed upon a program to create a Mozambique Defense Armed Forces (FADM); 50 officers from either side in the civil war and 540 soldiers were selected for a 16-week training course. On 20 October 1993, the UN secretary-general, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, visited Maputo for talks with Chissano and Dhlakama. A fresh timetable for demobilization was set—this was to be carried out between January and May 1994, with a new army coming into being in September 1994. UN Security Council Resolution 898 of February 1994 authorized the creation of a UN police component to supervise the coming elections.

By March 1994, troops were moving into demobilization centers by which time 6,000 UNOMOZ troops were stationed in the country at a cost to western donors of $1 million a day. By mid-July 1994, 3.2 million voters had registered in areas over which the government had control. RENAMO called for a government of national unity after the elections. During the run-up to the elections, Dhlakama charged FRELIMO with fraud and said RENAMO would not take part in the elections, although on 28 October he reversed this stand and urged his followers to vote. The election results gave Chissano 53.3 percent of the presidential vote and Dhlakama 33.7 percent while, for the legislature, FRELIMO obtained 44.3 percent of the votes and RENAMO 37.7 percent. Dhlakama agreed that RENAMO would accept these results and cooperate with the government. Various offers of aid for reconstruction were now made by western governments.

At first, relations between the ruling FRELIMO government and RENAMO were delicate; Chissano said Dhlakama could not be an official leader of the opposition because he was not a member of the legislature but would, nonetheless, be provided with a salary and other official benefits since he had come second in the presidential election. In March 1995, the Paris Club pledged $780 million in loans and grants to Mozambique; the government also hoped to obtain relief on $350 million of debts. The government launched a program to eradicate poverty. The European Union arranged another package of aid in 1995 worth $65 million to rehabilitate Cabora Bassa and the Beira Corridor. By May 1995, most of the refugees had returned home, and in November 1995, Mozambique was admitted as a full member to the Commonwealth. In 1996 Mozambique embarked upon the long haul of economic and social recovery. It enjoyed much international goodwill at this time and in particular, growing links with the new South Africa, which was ready to provide assistance for its recovery.

FRENTE DA LIBERTAÇÃO DE MOÇAMBIQUE (FRELIMO)/MOZAMBIQUE LIBERATION FRONT. As the nationalist determination to oust the Portuguese from Mozambique developed, several liberation movements arose in the early 1960s; these merged in 1962 to form the Frente da Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO) under the leadership of Dr. Eduardo Mondlane. By 1969, when Mondlane was assassinated, FRELIMO had become a powerful organization, although its cohesion was now threatened by a potential split between the leadership that came from the south of the country and the fighting forces that were mainly drawn from the north. For a short time following Mondlane’s death, FRELIMO was ruled by a troika, but before long Samora Machel, one of the three who made up the joint leadership, emerged as the undisputed leader. His military ability, as well as his personal charisma, were to alter the character of the guerrilla war against the Portuguese.

As early as 1964, FRELIMO had extended the war into Tete Province in an attempt to prevent the construction of the Cabora Bassa Dam on the Zambezi; by 1974 (the year of the coup in Lisbon which toppled the Marcello Caetano government) FRELIMO forces were fighting throughout the northern third of the country and as far south as Manica and Sofala provinces, as well as across the Pungwe river. According to Portuguese sources, 3,815 FRELIMO guerrillas were killed between May 1970 and May 1973. In 1974, as white settler farms came under increasing threats of attack, Portugal was forced to transfer 10,000 troops from Angola to Mozambique. Meanwhile, FRELIMO claimed that its greatest victories were being achieved among the liberated people of the country, where new freedoms were being introduced. By this last year of the war against the Portuguese, FRELIMO had long been the only liberation movement and so formed the first independence government of Mozambique in 1975. It became the sole (Marxist) ruling party.

The new government faced daunting problems: not only was Mozambique one of the poorest countries in Africa, but it had suffered from nearly 15 years of warfare and the great majority of its people were rural peasants unaccustomed to urban life, although they had now occupied the towns. FRELIMO lacked the discipline necessary for peace and its members were difficult to control; moreover, after a long, brutal war and memories of past oppression, there were demands for reprisals against former enemies or collaborators with the Portuguese. The readiness of the new government to support the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) in Rhodesia and the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa, ensured the immediate enmity of the illegal Smith regime in Rhodesia as well as that of P. W. Botha’s government in South Africa. The result of this enmity was the creation of the Resistência Nacional Moçambicana (RENAMO)/Mozambican National Resistance by Ken Flower, the head of the Rhodesian Central Intelligence Organization (CIO), during 1974–1975, in order to destabilize the new FRELIMO government and leadership.

Discontented members of FRELIMO, including many who did not see any quick rewards resulting from their victory, provided recruits for RENAMO, which soon challenged government authority in many rural areas. By the early 1980s, as the Mozambique economy deteriorated and the war against RENAMO escalated, FRELIMO turned from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), East Germany, and other Communist countries, which until then had been its principal backers, and sought instead to mobilize western support for its cause. By 1983, the war against RENAMO was going badly, FRELIMO forces in the field were ill-equipped and malnourished (and not paid), and often did not wish to fight at all. The Nkomati Accord, which was concluded with South Africa in 1984 by Machel, appeared to make pragmatic sense, even though it was opposed by the hardline members of FRELIMO. In the event, the South Africans did not keep their side of the agreement. By 1988, the greater part of the FRELIMO army, with the exception of a few of the best units, appeared to have disintegrated and the government came to rely increasingly upon troops from Zimbabwe and Tanzania to safeguard its vital cross-country railway routes to Beira and Nacala.

In June 1989, a 12-point position paper on how to end the war with RENAMO was issued by FRELIMO and a peace process was initiated. During 1990, the FRELIMO government under President Joaquim Chissano, radically altered the constitution to pave the way for the switch from a one-party Marxist state to a multi-party system, and in November the government announced the abandonment of Marxism–Leninism, the creed which had been a cornerstone of FRELIMO until that time. The years 1990–1994 witnessed negotiations that finally produced a ceasefire, then peace followed by an amalgamation of the armies of FRELIMO and RENAMO under United Nations auspices. In the legislative elections of 1994, FRELIMO won 44.3 percent of the vote to RENAMO’s 37.7 percent and though FRELIMO formed the new government, it was no longer a sole “ruling party” but one of a multi-party system.

RESISTÊNCIA NACIONAL MOÇAMBICANA (RENAMO)/MOZAMBICAN NATIONAL RESISTANCE. The Mozambique National Resistance, generally known as RENAMO, fought against the Frente da Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO)/Mozambique Liberation Front government, which came to power in Mozambique in 1975, through to the peace of 1992. Then, in 1994, RENAMO took part in nationwide elections.

RENAMO was set up in 1975/1976 by Ken Flower, the head of the Central Intelligence Organization (CIO) in Salisbury, Rhodesia, under the illegal Ian Smith government, as a means of destabilizing the new FRELIMO government that supported the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), which then maintained a number of base camps in Mozambique. The original members of RENAMO were recruited from Mozambicans who had fled from the war into Rhodesia.

First operative on the Rhodesian border (Flower’s CIO hoped that RENAMO would supply it with advance information about ZANU movements), by 1979 RENAMO was disrupting the new government with attacks in Manica and Sofala Provinces. When Rhodesia became Zimbabwe in 1980, the new government of Robert Mugabe at once withdrew support from RENAMO, but by then Flower had already persuaded the South African government to take responsibility for supporting RENAMO, which it was willing to do since it saw the movement as a means of destabilizing its Marxist neighbor. During 1983 RENAMO was able to carry out offensives in Nampula and Zambezia Provinces and had developed into a major threat to the stability of independent Mozambique. In August 1983, for example, RENAMO took 24 Swedish aid workers hostage and then forced them to withdraw from the country. On 28 September 1983, the army claimed to have destroyed a RENAMO provincial base at Tome in Luhambane Province. After the signing of the Nkomati Accord (which the Mozambique government had assumed would deprive RENAMO of further assistance from South Africa), RENAMO claimed that it possessed sufficient war materiel to continue fighting for two years and that it was by then active in all 10 provinces of the country.

RENAMO then demanded an end to the one-party state and the creation of a government of national reconciliation, but after tripartite talks had been launched between the Mozambique government, South Africa, and RENAMO, the latter withdrew (2 November) claiming it was not prepared to accept the presence of South African troops on Mozambique soil. By the end of 1984 RENAMO was deploying 21,000 guerrillas; its main targets were convoys, civilians, and foreign aid workers and it was able to disrupt trade between Mozambique and Malawi and Zambia. The power lines to Beira and Maputo were cut during December 1984 and January 1985, and by this time RENAMO had become a major threat to the stability of Mozambique and was interrupting and damaging most aspects of development.

By July 1985, Zimbabwe had committed some 10,000 troops to Mozambique to assist the government in its fight against RENAMO. On 28 August 1985, a combined Mozambique–Zimbabwe force captured the RENAMO headquarters in Sofala Province, including documents which revealed that South Africa was still supporting RENAMO, despite the promise not to do so enshrined in the Nkomati Accord. RENAMO attacks upon government and civilian targets were to continue unabated during 1986, and in July of that year Mozambique accused Malawi of harboring RENAMO rebels. One of the side affects of RENAMO offensives was a growing influx of refugees into South Africa, which then decided to erect an electric fence along a section of its border with Mozambique. In October of that year, thousands of RENAMO forces were expelled from Malawi to return to Mozambique.

The death of President Samora Machel in an air crash (19 October 1986) brought Joaquim Chissano to power as president of Mozambique; and following a meeting between Chissano and President Mugabe of Zimbabwe (15 January 1987), a joint statement declared that they would increase military operations until RENAMO had been eliminated. On 7 February 1987, a RENAMO spokesman in Lisbon said it was ready for talks with the government, provided that all foreign troops were withdrawn from Mozambique. Meanwhile, beginning in January 1986, British military personnel undertook a series of training programs for FRELIMO troops at a base in Zimbabwe. During 1988 and 1989 RENAMO activities continued unabated; they prevented any development from taking place, certainly in the rural areas, as more and more government resources had to be diverted to the war against them.

By 1990, UNICEF estimated that 600,000 people had been killed in the course of the war, that about 494,000 children had died of malnutrition, and that 45 percent of primary education facilities had been destroyed, as well as many health centers. As RENAMO activity continued during 1990, the government came to realize that it had to negotiate and would not be able to win a purely military victory.

Talks were held through 1990 and government reforms during the year, foreshadowing the abandonment of Marxism and moves toward a market economy and multi-partyism, gave point to the talks. On 3 November 1990, President Chissano said “there is no longer any pretext for anyone to continue the violence,” but RENAMO rejected the 1990 constitution because, it argued, the National Assembly was invalid. Negotiations continued through 1991 and 1992, and toward the end of that year, RENAMO finally agreed to take part in national elections. These were held in November 1994, with RENAMO competing in multi-party elections. Though it came second to FRELIMO in the results, it agreed to abide by these. RENAMO had begun as the creature of Smith’s Rhodesia to destabilize Mozambique and it had no discernible philosophy but by the end of a bitter war it demanded—and got—multi-partyism. The most obvious lesson of the RENAMO war was that power should be shared.

Koguryo-China Wars

Koguryo, a nation based in northern Korea, rose to power during the first several centuries ad, emerging dominant from a struggle with other Korean nations to its south, China to its west, and nomadic peoples to its north. It reached its peak under King Gwanggaeto and King Jangsu, who moved the capital from Kungnaesong (T’ungkou) to Pyongyang. Gwanggaeto. According to his own propaganda, he conquered sixty-four fortresses and 1,400 towns. He seized the Liaotung Peninsula, occupied by China, Sushen nomad-occupied Manchuria in the northwest, and Paekche as far as the Han River to the south.

King Gwanggaeto The Great

The second Sui emperor, Emperor Yang, was determined to bring the northeast frontier under control and to match the achievements of the Han by controlling all the lands that were once part of the Han Empire, including Liaodong and northern Korea. But Koguryo was an obstacle to resurgent Chinese expansionary plans, and Yang directed his attention at subjugating the northern Korean state. In 612, after an unsuccessful naval attack, he embarked upon a major campaign against Koguryo. This was a large-scale undertaking that involved forces and resources from across the Chinese Empire. A confident Emperor Yang, fresh from successful campaigns against the Turks, sent a reported 1,130,000 men 1,000 li into Koguryo. About 300,000 troops were detached from the main force and unsuccessfully besieged P’yongyang. On their return, they were ambushed by Koguryo general Ulchi Mundok at the Salsu (Ch’ongch’on) River, a defeat that only 2,700 Chinese forces are reported to have survived. The size of the forces and the magnitude of the defeat were recorded by Tang China historians, who no doubt inflated these figures to discredit their Sui predecessors. Nonetheless, Koguryo won an impressive victory that became part of Korean legend. Ulchi Mundok later became a symbol of national resistance for modern Koreans. Emperor Yang made two more unsuccessful attempts on Koguryo in 613 and 614, and those costly defeats were a major factor in the collapse of the Sui and the rise of the Tang.

The newly established Tang dynasty (618-907), one of the most brilliant in Chinese history, inherited the same foreign policy objectives of its predecessors-to secure the northern frontier and bring all the former Han lands under its control. When in 628 the Tang defeated the Turks, it began to reconsider Silla’s appeals for assistance. Silla, seeing an opportunity to deal a fatal blow to its northern rival, justified its need for Chinese intervention in much the same way that Han chieftains may have called for Han help in overcoming Wiman’s Choson blockade of the overland route to China. Tang emperor Taizong (r. 626-649) attacked Koguryo and was defeated at Ansi Fortress by Koguryo general Yang Man-ch’un. Taizong was again defeated in 648, and his successor, Tang Gaozong (r. 649-683), launched unsuccessful attacks in 655 and in 658-659. Koguryo?’s consistent success against the world’s mightiest military force was an impressive achievement in Korean annals. It also shielded the states of Paekche and Silla from the brunt of Chinese expansionism, allowing them time for autonomous development.

In 645, Emperor Taizong invaded. He managed a victory at Liaotung, but failed to capture the minor fortress at Anshi (Yingchengtzu), despite a sixty-day siege with up to seven assaults a day. When winter began to descend, Taizong retreated; his second attempt, in 647, also failed.

Defying the Chinese

Not until 668, when the remarkable Empress Wuhou ruled the empire (in fact, if not in name) did China finally succeed in conquering Koguryo, thanks to an alliance with the Silla kingdom. Despite its eventual fall, Koguryo’s defiance of the invading Chinese remains a source of great significance and pride for Koreans today-as does Silla’s unification of the Korean peninsula, pushing out the Tang in 676.

Sino-Korean War (610-614)

In the period corresponding to the early Middle Ages in Europe, Korea was divided into three separate kingdoms. The two northern kingdoms, Koguryo and Paekche, had been vassals of China, and by the seventh century, although now independent, they still retained close ties with that larger realm. Sui-dynasty Chinese emperor Yangdi (Yang-ti; 569-618) attempted to reestablish the former relation of vassalage, demanding that the Korean king of Koguryo acknowledge Yangdi as overlord. When the Korean king refused, the Chinese emperor ordered an invasion. Twice the Chinese invaded, only to be repulsed by fierce Korean resistance. The emperor personally led a third invasion force, which made excellent progress. However, at the point of consummating his conquest, Yangdi was informed of a rebellion in China, at Loyang, his capital city. He had no choice but to break off the invasion and raise the siege against his capital. He lost control of the situation, however, and was forced to flee for his life to southern China. All thought of Korean conquest fled with him. The emperor was subsequently killed in exile.

Sino-Korean War (645-647)

Three decades after Emperor Yangdi (Yang-ti; 569-618) attempted to reestablish northern Korea as a vassal of China in the SINO-KOREAN WAR (610-614), Emperor Taizong (T’ai Tsung; 598-649) of the Tang dynasty invaded the Korean Peninsula, again in an effort to expand the Chinese empire. Like Yangdi, Taizong concentrated on the northern kingdom of Koguryo. His armies succeeded in capturing several cities, but unyielding Korean resistance, combined with the harsh winter of the north, sent Taizong packing in 645. He did not renew his campaign of invasion in earnest until 647 but once again was driven out of Koguryo.

Sino-Korean War (660-668)

The northern kingdoms were conquered, resulting in the enlargement of Silla and the acquisition by China of most of Koguryo, a long-sought-after prize.

Koguryo and Paekche, the two kingdoms making up the northern part of the Korean Peninsula, entered into an alliance to attack Silla, the kingdom of south Korea. In response, Silla called on Gao Zong (Kao Tsung; 628-683), emperor of China, for military aid. China had repeatedly attempted conquest in Korea, without success, so the appeal for aid seemed to Gao Zong a great opportunity. The emperor dispatched a large Chinese army via Manchuria into Koguryo, while a Chinese fleet struck Paekche along its coast. Japan entered the war during 662-63 on behalf of Paekche, but its land and sea forces proved inadequate and were defeated. The Japanese navy incurred the greatest losses; it was almost totally destroyed. As a result of Chinese intervention, Paekche was conquered and incorporated into Silla, which became a Chinese vassal state. Farther north, however, Koguryo continued to resist. At last, in 668, combined Chinese and Sillan forces captured the north’s capital city, and Koguryo yielded. Silla acquired all of the area south of the Taedong River, whereas the greater part of Koguryo was annexed to China.

Further reading: Woodbridge Bingham, The Founding of the T’ang Dynasty: The Fall of Sui and Rise of T’ang (New York: Octagon Books, 1970); Yihong Pan, Son of Heaven and Heavenly Qaghan: Sui-Tang China and Its Neighbors (Bellingham, Wash.: Center for East Asian Studies, Western Washington University, 1997).


In 660, the Tang, frustrated by their inability to overcome Koguryo resistance, decided on a plan to invade Paekche by sea, and after subduing Paekche, to invade Koguryo from the south. This plan was implemented, with Admiral Su Dingfang, who had recently defeated the Turks, leading the Chinese forces. His ships sailed up the Kum River while Silla forces under General Kim Yu-sin crossed the Sobaek range that separates the Kyongsang heartland of Silla from the Cholla and Ch’ungch’o? ng regions of Paekche. On the Hwangsan Plain, the Paekche forces under General Kyebaek were defeated. Paekche king Uija surrendered at Ungjin, and in the seventh lunar month of 660 the Tang forces were in control of most of Paekche.

Tang now concentrated on its major goal of destroying Koguryo. In 668, Tang land and naval forces, and Silla forces under Kim In-mun, captured P’yongyang. As a result, Koguryo fell. It was clear that Tang efforts were now aimed at directly controlling the entire Korean peninsula, with the former Koguryo and Paekche territories to be directly incorporated into the empire and Silla to survive only as a satellite state. The Chinese emperor proposed that Silla become the Great Commandery of Kyerim-in essence a Chinese territory-and offered to appoint the Silla king as its head. The Silla monarch Munmu (r. 661-681) rejected the offer and instead invaded the Chinese-controlled territory in Paekche. Sillan forces drove out the Chinese by 671, and then moved north into Koguryo. In a series of battles in the Han River basin in 676 Silla forced the Tang into retreat, gaining control of all the territory south of the Taedong River, that is, almost all of peninsular Korea. Although Chinese and Korean accounts of this period vary, it is clear that Silla emerged as the victor. Most of the peninsula was now under Silla’s control. The Korean peninsula, and Silla especially, proved too much of a logistical problem for permanent occupation by China. China had a hard time supplying its troops in the peninsula. Silla had provided its Chinese forces with food. Once Silla turned against them the logistical problems proved too much for the Chinese, contributing to their defeat and withdrawal. Tang settled for the destruction of a strong Koguryo contiguous to its northeast frontier and ceased further efforts to intervene militarily in the peninsula. To further secure their frontier, the Chinese set up a small puppet state of Lesser Kogury in the Liaodong region of Manchuria.

Silla’s victory in unifying most of the peninsula can be attributed to several factors. The political and military institutions of the kingdom proved capable of providing a stable and effective government that could successfully carry the country’s expansion. The kingdom itself enjoyed considerable prosperity and had an economic base and a system of extracting the surplus from that base sufficient to support large military undertakings. Nonetheless, it is not certain that this was any less the case with its rivals. Most probably it was geography that provided the greatest opportunities for the kingdom. Koguryo had to wage wars on its northwestern and southern boundaries, and Paekche was vulnerable to Koguryo to the north, Silla to the south, and China from the sea. Silla in the southeast corner of Korea, however, had easier boundaries to defend and was out of reach of direct assault by China. China assisted in the unification, but unintentionally, since its motive was to establish control over Korea, not to create a strong united state there.

The unification of most of the peninsula by Silla in 676 was a pivotal event in Korean history. From the late seventh century to the twentieth, a single state dominated the peninsula, including most of the agricultural heartland of what was to become Korea. Gradually, within the framework of the peninsular state, a culturally well-defined and ethnically homogeneous Korean society emerged. This process, however, was only beginning in the seventh century.

Ælfred’s Defence

A reasonable attempt at illustrating the larger sized English ships and therefore their crew’s advantage in battle. Alfred responded to the threat by constructing a fleet of large longboats, each of which could carry a hundred men, to meet and fight off the invaders before they landed. This navy’s first battle was against four Danish ships in the Stour Estuary in 882, but it was his victory over the invading forces in the Thames estuary and off the coast of Essex in 897 that won Alfred the epithet ‘the Great’. King Alfred is now considered to be, in a way, the founder of the Royal Navy.

A storm was brewing in the east. In 889 one of the Scandinavian armies, which had enjoyed rich pickings among the fractured Frankish kingdoms in the previous decade, came out of the Seine and, sailing up the River Vire to St Lô, was heavily defeated the following year by a Breton army. The Host now moved north and east, penetrating the River Scheldt, and encamped at Louvain on the River Dijle, a tributary of the Scheldt, 10 miles (16 km) or so east of what is now Brussels. Here it was met by an army of East Franks, Saxons and Bavarians under King Arnulf, son of the late Carloman. The Host was put to flight, its camp overrun. The gloating annalist of the monastery at Fulda recorded that the river was blocked by the bodies of dead pagans.

That winter a severe famine struck the region, ravaging Christian and pagan communities alike. The Scandinavian armies, perhaps sensing that the fates were against them, now decided that their Frankish game was no longer worth the candle. Odo, de facto king of the West Franks since 888, saw an opportunity to be rid of their menace, and gave them sufficient ships to leave. The annalist of St Vaast wrote that ‘seeing the whole realm worn down by hunger they left Francia in the autumn, and crossed the sea’. En masse, and perhaps in collusion with Northumbrian and East Anglian allies, they determined to mount a decisive assault on the Angelcynn.

A highly detailed series of entries in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the next three years, at precisely the time when it was first being compiled, reads like an almost continuous war narrative, fought for the highest stakes. They crossed the Channel as two fleets: warriors, dependents, animals, the lot. Two hundred and fifty ships entered the mouth of the River Lympne on the south coast of Kent. Lympne, once a Roman port, is landlocked now, its ancient hythe lying high and dry at the foot of the chalk scarp that overlooks the flat expanse of Romney marsh; the Royal Military canal, a relic of more recent invasion fears, is its only access to the sea. During the ninth century the river was sufficiently deep to enable the Viking Host to row as far up as Appledore, now some 8 miles (13 km) from the sea and lying at the east end of the Isle of Oxney whence the River Rother once issued.

At or close by Appledore the Host captured ‘a fort of primitive structure, because there was [only] a small band of rustics in it’ and made of it a winter camp. Thirty miles (48 km) to the north, across the Downs of Kent, a smaller but no less menacing fleet of about eighty ships sailed up the Thames to the Isle of Sheppey; from there they rowed along the muddy channel of the River Swale and a mile or so up Milton Creek to make their winter camp uncomfortably close to the fortress at Rochester.

Canterbury offered rich pickings, as did trading settlements at Sarre and Fordwich and minsters on Thanet and Sheppey. Kent east of the Medway had not been fortified under Ælfred’s burghal plans of the 880s and we do not know what, if any, provision the Kentish administration had made for its defences. Ealdorman Sigehelm seems to have been a loyal ally of Wessex: his daughter became the third wife of Eadweard, Ælfred’s son and presumptive heir. Archbishop Plegmund was a member of Ælfred’s ‘renaissance’ court; a close political and military relationship is implied.

Without the defensive and offensive advantages of garrisoned fortifications, Ælfred could not hope to expel such large forces; nor could he concentrate his attack on one for fear of allowing the other to penetrate west into Wessex with impunity. He had not yet, it seems, installed Eadweard, who makes his first stage entrance in the year of the invasion, as sub-king in Kent. That Eadweard was being groomed to succeed him is in no doubt. He was provided with substantial estates in his father’s will, including all Ælfred’s booklands in Kent and, judging by the frequency with which he witnessed royal charters, he spent much time with the king on his itineraries through the shires.

Ælfred’s response to the arrival of the Continental fleets, early in 893, was to bring his own army to a point more or less equidistant between the two, unsure of their ultimate intentions. He had by this time instituted radical changes in the way his forces were able to respond to external threats. His field army, the was now divided into two, so that one force was always in the field, with a contingency for those permanently on standby to garrison the burhs. The system was now to be tested to its limits.

According to the Chronicle, the Host at Appledore disdained to take the field against Ælfred’s army. Instead its scouts, mounted warriors and foraging parties probed the edges of the vast dense woodland of the Weald: Andredesweald, the haunt of wild beasts, charcoal burners and an ancient iron-working industry stretching across the Downs as far as Hampshire. It was a form of guerrilla warfare: testing, teasing. They moved ‘through the woods in gangs and bands, wherever the margin was left unguarded; and almost every day other troops, both from the levies and also from the forts, went to attack them either by day or by night’.

Only after Easter did they abandon their redoubt and their fleet at Appledore and march west; they kept to ‘the thickets of a huge wood called Andred by the common people, spread as far as Wessex [Occidentales Anglos’. and gradually wasted the adjacent provinces, that is Hamtunscire and Bearrucscire’ and After this campaign of plundering with no attempt, it seems, at conquest, during which they were apparently shadowed but not engaged in open battle, they ‘seized much plunder, and wished to carry that north across the Thames into Essex to meet the ships’.

Sometime during the early summer of 893 they were brought to battle at Farnham ( Fearnhamme: ‘River meadow where ferns grow’) on the River Wey in Surrey. The Chronicle is silent regarding the names of the commanders, but Æðelweard, writing a hundred years later and drawing on material from a lost version of the Chronicle, names the West Saxon leader as Eadweard, the king’s son. Eadweard’s forces inflicted a heavy defeat on the Host, injuring its leader and retrieving all the booty that had been taken during the rampage across Sussex. The mycel here was driven north over the Thames somewhere near Staines, apparently in such disarray that they did not even manage to find a ford. One imagines the pell mell chaos of a rout: baggage, weapons, loot and even armour cast aside; panic, slaughter on the river banks and bodies floating downstream.

The survivors followed the course of the River Colne as far upstream as the island called Thorney (on the north-west periphery of the Heathrow Airport complex, now swallowed by a motorway interchange) and, their commander too ill to flee further, found themselves besieged by Eadweard.

At the point of victory the momentum was lost: according to the Chronicle the levies, coming to the end of their deployment, ran out of provisions and left for home. Æðelweard says that the ‘barbarians’ asked for peace and that the West Saxons negotiated their withdrawal with an exchange of hostages; the Host retired not to Kent, but to East Anglia. But these accounts pose more questions than they answer. After Eadweard’s brief appearance at Farnham and Thorney his role in the war of 893-894 is obscure. Was he written out of the official Ælfredan narrative to ensure that the king stood alone as hero? Or was his inability to keep his levies in the field regarded as a failure of leadership or loyalty? Who were these levies: his own retinue, certainly, and also those of the shires which had been ravaged by the Host, perhaps: Hampshire and Berkshire? But it is an intriguing possibility that, in preparation for his installation as sub-king of Kent, which may have happened in about 898, Eadweard was already in command of the Kentish levies; that they regarded themselves as having gone far beyond the traditional call of duty in chasing the Appledore Host across the southern shires and then beyond the Thames. And then, Æðelweard says that while Eadweard was still at Thorney, his brother-in-law Æðelred, ealdorman and sub-king of Mercia, came from London to his aid. If so, why lift the siege? Despite the contemporaneity of the Chronicle and the value of Æðelweard’s insider information at court, it seems that either the complexities of the 893 campaign were such that no coherent account could be constructed; or, if one wants to detect political undercurrents, the West Saxon spin doctors were already at work to contrive an official account that would cover unsightly stains and keep the narrative focused on Ælfred.

Ælfred’s policy had always been to bargain straight and trust the enemy’s sense of decency: it seems extraordinarily naive. Time and again the Scandinavian armies accepted Ælfred’s terms and defaulted, as they had so often in Francia. Given the otherwise sophisticated strategies displayed during the Viking wars, one must surmise that the underlying rationale of the Angelcynn leadership was always to buy time and limit its own casualties. There is a fine line between appeasement and low cunning.

The West Saxon and Mercian leadership now anticipated fighting wars on multiple fronts. Their principal fear was probably not either Host in isolation but that the two forces should combine and that the slumbering giants of East Anglia, Danish East Mercia and Northumbria might join in. While Eadweard had expelled the Appledore Host from Wessex, Ælfred seems to have concentrated diplomatic efforts on persuading the force under Hæsten, in the Thames estuary, to cross the Thames to Essex. If this war band leader is to be identified with the Viking raider whose name appears periodically like a rash in Continental sources spanning half a century, then the Angelcynn had good reason to fear him. He is implicated in a notorious series of raids deep into the Mediterranean in the years 859-862, with campaigns along the Loire at the end of that decade and into the 870s. Later tradition has embellished his feats and cruelties; even so, he seems to have been an unusually successful and energetic warlord over several decades. Whatever the truth, his career took him to the mouth of the Thames in 893.

In the uncertain political aftermath of Guðrum’s death, Ælfred and Æðelred may have hoped that Hæsten would compete for the East Anglian kingship, killing two birds with one stone. We gather, from events later in 893, that while the Host lay at Milton Regis, Hæsten and his family received baptism. At least, the Chronicle records that his two sons were godchildren of, respectively, Ælfred and Æðelred. No such ceremony is likely to have been conducted without a peace deal ensuring that the Deniscan would leave Wessex alone; they had, it seems, been paid off. Given that Æðelred is recorded as co-sponsor, we might reasonably argue that the venue for both negotiation and ceremony was London, the timeshare capital for Mercia and Wessex and symbol of their alliance.

Hæsten’s fleet duly crossed the estuary and built a fortress in Essex, at Benfleet (Beamfleote: ‘Tree creek’) overlooking the edge of the marshes to the north of Canvey Island, even as their comrades were fighting their way out of trouble across the Upper Thames. Here the remnants of the Appledore Host also arrived that summer and the two forces now combined. The Angelcynn had bought time in exchange for future trouble; and they are unlikely to have anticipated the grim news coming from the West Country. A Northumbrian fleet had sailed south from a port somewhere on the Irish Sea†† and landed on the north Devonshire coast, while an East Anglian fleet, sailing along the south coast, now besieged Exeter.

This turn of events in the west looks like a co-ordinated plan to draw West Saxon forces away from the east and open up a second front. Hæsten, it appears, had successfully enrolled both the East Anglians (Guðrum’s veterans of the campaign of 877-878, perhaps) and those of Guðroðr, the nominally Christian king of Scandinavian York, in his plan to finish what the mycel here had begun in the 860s. If the community of St Cuthbert recorded their reaction to their adopted king’s involvement, it has not survived.

Ælfred’s reaction was to march westwards with the bulk of the West Saxon levies, leaving Eadweard and Æðelred‡‡ behind to confront Hæsten and the, by now, combined forces from Milton and Appledore at Benfleet. They marched east through London, picking up extra forces as they went. When they arrived at Benfleet they found a part of the combined Host in residence; but Hæsten was away on a raiding expedition in Mercia. In a stunning coup, the English put the Host to flight, stormed the fort and took possession of everything inside, including Hæsten’s wife and children. The ships of their considerable fleet were burned, sunk or otherwise taken to Rochester or London. For good or ill the Host could not now retire to the Continent whence they had come.

The Chronicle makes much of the victory at Benfleet and of Ælfred’s magnanimous treatment of Hæsten’s family, restoring them to the warlord in a one-sided gesture of good faith; but Æðelweard ignores the Benfleet episode entirely and, given that the Host was able to take to the field again very shortly, and in dangerous numbers, we may judge that the bulk of its fighting force had been absent with their commander, leaving behind only a small garrison and the baggage train in his new fort. The victory at Benfleet had not, perhaps, been all that glorious.

Far to the west, the East Anglian and Northumbrian forces retired to their ships on Ælfred’s arrival, precisely achieving their broader purpose to draw the main West Saxon fyrð from the east. Hæsten’s combined army, dispossessed of its fort at Benfleet, now took up station in a new stronghold at Shoeburyness ( Sceobyrig on Eastseaxum: ‘the fort on the shoe-shaped spit’) nearly 10 miles (16 km) to the east.

In that whirlwind year of punch and counterpunch, a new phase now opened. With the apparent knowledge that the fyrð was otherwise occupied, the Deniscan once again left their fortress and with extraordinary boldness marched along the entire length of the Thames into Gloucestershire, making a rendezvous with forces from Northumbria and East Anglia that seeped (or swept) through the Mercian border.

Their intention must now have been to wage a final war of conquest, staking everything on a swift victory; but the geography of southern Britain had changed since the campaigns of the 870s. The forts of the Burghal Hidage, with their well-provisioned and trained garrisons, severely compromised the Host’s ability to live off the land, to steal or buy horses and force the submission of shire ealdormen. The old river route, which had enabled deep and swift penetration into the heartlands of the Angelcynn, was closed to them.

At Sashes, Wallingford, Oxford and Cricklade, along the full length of the Thames, they faced opposition secure behind new walls; opposition with the benefit of intelligence forewarning them of the advancing Host. The portable wealth of the countryside, its livestock, was corralled behind ramparts. The formerly overflowing cupboard of the Anglo-Saxon landscape was bare; and, for once, the Host was unsupported by its fleet, having lost the bulk of its ships at Benfleet. Moreover, the West Saxon-Mercian alliance was solid: Æðelred’s loyalty, sealed by his marriage to Ælfred’s daughter, Æðelflæd, was unimpeachable. There is no hint that even disaffected ealdormen would throw in their lot with the invaders.

These were epic campaigns: battle-weary veterans on forced route marches through enemy territory, denied the means to live off the land and at all times watched, pursued and hunted by an exhausted but determined fyrð under active, committed commanders. If Francia had, finally, proved too hot to handle, then Wessex and Mercia were now also too well guarded, too deeply defended.

Avoiding the burhs, then, and no longer tied to the river, the most direct route for the Host would have been to take Akemen-nestraete from London, heading north-west through St Albans and Bicester towards the Fosse Way, which would lead them directly towards Gloucester, avoiding the Thames burhs. Here, perhaps, a gathering of warriors and their jarls from the north and east, even from potential allies among the Welsh and Irish, might have been arranged. The combined army, reaching the River Severn, now traced a route north along the ancient marcher lands of Hwicce (surely avoiding Worcester, already fortified with a burh; but how?), Magonsaete and Wrocansaete, beneath the ramparts of ancient hillforts and past the ruins of Roman towns; and then, as the river turned west and south, into Powys.

Even here the Angelcynn now had allies among those Welsh kings who had submitted to Ælfred after 880. All the time the Host was pursued by Æðelred, supported by the shire levies of Wiltshire and Somerset under Ealdormen Æðelhelm and Æðelnoth, who had long ago stood with Ælfred at Athelney and fought with him at Edington. The stores of the burhs, and their knowledge of the movements of the Host, allowed the pursuing levies to maintain pace and strength.

At Worcester, perhaps, the levies paused to regroup and resupply, to gather intelligence and take counsel. At Buttingtune on Sæferne staðe, a ford just north of Welshpool where the Severn meets Offa’s Dyke beneath the naturally imposing ramparts of the Long Mountain, the Host ran out of steam and built a fortress, as they had so often before. On their long march they had been unable to capture a single major settlement although they had, in all probability, wasted many smaller estates and vills. With Ælfred still occupied on his watching brief in Devon, the combined levies laid siege to the Host on the banks of the river and waited: waited until those inside were half-starved and had slaughtered all their horses for meat.

At last, in desperation, they broke out and, after a fierce engagement, with much slaughter on both sides, marched overland all the way back to Essex. This time, at least, they might retreat north-east into friendlier territory, through the lands of the Five Boroughs, tracking across Danish East Mercia and through East Anglia; Æðelred’s forces were probably able to trace their progress but unable to engage them beyond the line of Watling Street.

It is an old axiom of military strategy that a powerful enemy should be afforded the means of escape. The destruction of the Host’s ships at Benfleet closed its back door to the Continent. Another plan seems now to have occurred to Hæsten. For the third time in twelve months, and with winter’s dark days approaching, he led his forces overland again and this time, according to the Chronicle, they marched day and night, right along the Mercian frontier. At this speed, perhaps, they might use the metalled road of Watling Street and outrun the fyrd. They reached a ‘deserted fortress in Wirral [ Wirhealum: ‘the hollows where the bog myrtle grows’], called Chester’ (þæt hie gedydon on anre westre ceastre on Wirhealum, seo is Legaceaster gehaten).

If Hæsten hoped to buy himself time, to refortify and provision Chester, to make contact, perhaps, with friends in Gwynedd and across the Irish Sea in Dublin, he had again underestimated the capabilities of his enemy. Shortly after the Host’s arrival at Chester, Æðelred’s Mercian levies surrounded the old Roman fort and set about implementing an aggressive scorched-earth policy, stripping its hinterland of cattle, grain and horses and sweeping up unsuspecting foraging parties so that the Host should have no provisions for winter. By now, with corn reaped and threshed and trees losing their leaves it must have been difficult to keep any army in the field. It seems that the fyrð now withdrew; Hæsten, his options diminishing, marched his army into Wales, hoping to scavenge sufficient provisions for the winter. Here again he was denied, the land having been emptied of cattle and grain; instead, he plundered booty: bullion, jewellery, coin—anything to make this disastrous campaign seem worthwhile and satisfy his veterans.

The Welsh raid, diminished by a dismissive account in the Chronicle, was serious: the Annales Cambriae record its progress all through Brycheiniog and Gwent. Hæsten led the Host on a final, dispiriting march all the way across Northumbria and East Anglia out of the reach of the levies, to Mersea on the Essex coast, and relative safety, some time in the New Year of 894. Here they were joined by the remnants of the East Anglian fleet which had invested Exeter and which, raiding along the south coast on its way home, had been put to flight by the burh garrison at Chichester.

Now, at least, the Host had ships again, perhaps even sufficient to carry its forces back to the Continent. But its commanders were not done yet. Once more probing the edges of Wessex and Mercia, testing the mettle of the alliance, the Host left its baggage and camp followers, took to its ships and, during the summer of 894, sailed up the Thames estuary to the mouth of the River Lea opposite what is now Greenwich. The fleet rowed north past Stratford and its tidal corn mills, tracing the western edge of the great forest of Epping; past King Offa’s minster at Waltham (one wonders if it had been pillaged by earlier raiders) as far perhaps as Ware, whose name, literally ‘Weirs’, suggests the highest navigable point, close to Hertford. In 895 they built a new fortress at an unidentified spot, this time with access to their fleet: their escape route. In the late summer of that year the fyrð was sent to dislodge them; it was repulsed with serious casualties including, the Chronicle says, the loss of four of the king’s thegns. The Host’s intention was evidently to threaten London’s rich hinterland.

Ælfred, finally released from his long watching brief in the south-west, now brought his army across the Thames and camped somewhere on the south-west side of the Lea, ‘while the corn was being reaped’. This small detail evokes a vision of labourers in the fields, harvesting wheat with their saw-edged sickles; of oxen grazing on the stubble, stooks drying in hot August sun; of weary soldiers watching, leaning on their spears under shady trees; of barns filling with winter’s grain—like a bucolic passage from John Stewart Collis’s wartime reminiscences of the 1940s, perhaps.

Nothing more perfectly captures Ælfred’s own vision of the duties owed by a king to his people: of the idea of economic security guaranteed by the king’s peace in return for duty and render. Content that the harvest was protected, Ælfred set his mind to a military solution. Inspired, it seems, by the example of Charles the Bald in Francia, Ælfred now sought to block the fleet’s escape. He and his engineers found a suitable spot on the Lea, downriver from the enemy’s camp, and set the fyrð to constructing a bridge that would connect forts built on both banks.

The threat was sufficient; even before the bridge and forts were complete the Host abandoned their new fortress and once again marched west, this time as far as æt Cwatbrycge be Sæfern: Bridgnorth, a key crossing of the Severn in what is now Shropshire, some 13 miles (21 km) south of Watling Street, their likely route. Here they constructed a new fort, most likely on the west bank, and overwintered. Ælfred seems to have used the breathing space to bolster diplomatic efforts to isolate the Host. He sent Æðelnoth, his loyal Somerset ealdorman, to York to broker a treaty with Guðroðr. A year earlier the British chronicler of the Annales Cambriae had noted that Anarawd of Gwynedd ‘came with Englishmen to lay waste Ceredigion and Ystrad Tywi’; with Mercia and Gwynedd in collusion against the weaker Welsh kingdoms the Host’s last hope for a northern and Welsh alliance evaporated.

In this year, the Host dispersed, some to East Anglia, some to Northumbria, and those without stock got themselves ships there, and sailed south oversea to the Seine. The Host, by the mercy of God, had not altogether utterly crushed the English people, but they were much more severely crushed during those years by murrain and plague, most of all by the fact that many of the best of the king’s servants in the land passed away during those three years.

It is a salutary lesson for the historian, whose window on the remote past offers mostly the narrow view of great events, to learn that more damage was wreaked by the everyday woes of illness, poor harvests and diseased livestock—by the fates—than by the depredations of the Host. It is little wonder that while the Angelcynn reposed considerable and justifiable faith in their king, they also prayed to their God; and also, perhaps, to those capricious deities who had seemed for so long to favour their enemy: Oðin, Thor, Frey and the rest. Those same gods had run out of patience with the warriors whose apocalyptic thirst for battle, plunder and conquest had not, in the end, brought about Ragnarök, the last battle, and the dawning of a new world order.

The states of Wessex and Mercia, who had entered the lists against their Scandinavian antagonists so seemingly ill-prepared, had paid a heavy price for their education in modern warfare. They had been forced by extreme circumstances to adapt and to learn. Above all, perhaps, their appreciation of economic, military and political geography had undergone a decisive shift: by the end of the conflict they were more than a match for their enemies. They had mastered their own landscape. Ælfred had won his final victory at the age of forty-seven. He had successfully exploited the rules of lordship to embark on a most ambitious programme of military reform, maintaining the support of most of his nobility and attracting the loyalty of Mercians, Welsh and many others including, according to Asser, an assortment of Vikings, Gauls, Franks and Bretons. Now Ælfred was able to enjoy a few last years of peace in which to set the political and cultural seal on his brilliant military legacy.