10 of the Most Blood Soaked African Battles and Conflicts the World Has Ever Seen
10 of the Most Blood Soaked African Battles and Conflicts the World Has Ever Seen

10 of the Most Blood Soaked African Battles and Conflicts the World Has Ever Seen

Peter Baxter - March 10, 2018

Africa is no stranger to war, and in fact, the hard facts of war often seem a lot harder in Africa. Recent events like the Rwandan Genocide, the Blood Diamond conflict in Sierra Leone and the ongoing horror of the Eastern Congo fueled the mood of ‘Afro-pessimism’ that was so prevalent in the 1990s.

These, however, are simply the modern manifestations of a long tradition of warfare in Africa, stretching back beyond recorded history. Foreign influence in Africa can be traced back to the Roman conquest of Egypt, the trade influences of Arabs along the east coast, and, of course, slavery and colonization. All of these prompted wars and conflicts. The aftermath of colonization left a slew of newly minted nation-states, often with mutually antagonistic ethnic populations, trapped within borders, not of their making.

10 of the Most Blood Soaked African Battles and Conflicts the World Has Ever Seen
A Congolese Soldier with the Spoils of War. Alvaro Barra

The legacy of this is a recipe of almost endless war in those parts of Africa affected by warlordism, opportunistic politics and ethnic incompatibility. Fortunately, the ‘Dark Continent’ is a brighter place in the 21st century, but warfare remains very much a feature of the modern African landscape.

Here we will touch on ten conflicts that characterize the history of African war in the last 100 years, from tribal to colonial to global.

10 of the Most Blood Soaked African Battles and Conflicts the World Has Ever Seen
Zulu Warriors, the greatest warriors on the African continent. Peter Baxter History

The Zulu Mfecane

In the early 19th century, a military phenomenon emerged in the eastern hill country of South Africa that utterly galvanized a nation of people. The name ‘Zulu’ is synonymous with black African power, and the name ‘Shaka Zulu’ resonates with the same authority as Julius Caesar, Hannibal or Napoleon. In fact, the great Shaka Zulu is quite often referred to as the ‘Black Napoleon’.

The late 18th and early 19th century was a time of great demographic change in South Africa. From the south, white, Dutch settlers were pushing north from the Cape, contacting southward moving Bantu tribes in a series of ongoing wars. For centuries prior to this, the various Bantu nations had been migrating south from Central Africa in a loosely organized confederation of related tribes and language groups. However, as white expansion north began to create land pressures, what had been a generally peaceful migration over many centuries began to grow more competitive and aggressive. Add to this the resources increasingly available through trade with Arabs and Portuguese, and the conditions were ripe for a major conflagration.

Into this situation was born the illegitimate son of a minor chief, chief Senzangakhona of the tiny Zulu clan. The child’s name was Shaka, and the complex circumstances of his birth, and his illegitimacy endowed him with a powerful grievance against his father. The Zulu were part of a much larger, polyglot federation of tribes in the east of South Africa, beginning to form a complex and multi-faceted society. It was a military society, and Shaka, as he grew up, was inducted into the ranks of the army, and very quickly his military genius became evident.

Upon the death of his father, Shaka seized the crown of the Zulu in an effective coup d’état, and although a small tribe, he set about creating a military nation. There are many factors that play into the emergence of the Zulu as the most powerful state in sub-Saharan history, and much of it has to do with revolutionary military tactics. Haphazard traditions of warfare were modified under extreme discipline, revolutionary weapons and brilliant tactics. The effect was somewhat similar to the impact of the Romans on the tribes of Europe. Nothing like it had ever existed before, and the mass of the population had absolutely no answer to it.

The Zulu grew rapidly in power, and Shaka’s empire exploded in size and scope. It was characterized by astronomical levels of violence and driven by a personality cult that inspired, and still inspires, fanatical loyalty. In the early decades of the 19th century, the violent expansion of the Zulu had the unintended consequence of creating a cyclone of cascading violence, conquest and counter-conquest. This was the Mfecane, a word with the idiomatic meaning ‘Scattering’. The number of lives lost has never been calculated, but the event is seminal in South African history.

On September 22, 1828, Shaka was assassinated by his brother. His mental health had deteriorated to the point where killing more of his than the wars he inspired. He remains, however, central to the Zulu self-image.

10 of the Most Blood Soaked African Battles and Conflicts the World Has Ever Seen
The Epic Battle of Isandlwana, the worst defeat inflicted by a native army on the british. British Battles.

The Massacre at Isandlwana

The Zulu nation survived the death of Shaka, but it did not survive the arrival of the white man. While the Zulu remains a coherent nation, their great days came to end in 1879 with the Anglo-Zulu War. They did not, however, go down without a fight, and the Battle of Isandlwana, fought on January 22, 1879, is acknowledged as the worst defeat ever inflicted on the British Army by a native force.

The background to the Anglo/Zulu War is both complicated and simple. The simple version is that South Africa had gold and diamonds in mythic quantity, as well as a landscape with climate that Europeans found compatible. They wanted the land and its resources, and a powerful, fully configured and aggressive native monarchy, ruled by terror, and inimical to British domination, simply could not be allowed to stand.

The Zulu King Cetshwayo, not by any means the same man as his half-brother Shaka, realized that he ruled a nation living on borrowed time. As the British and Boer applied pressure, prodding the Zulu into a war that they did not want, and could not win, he conceded and accommodated until he could do so no more. The British issued an ultimatum, the details of which are not important here, and on January 11, 1879, war broke out.

Under the command of General Lord Chelmsford, a highly ambitious soldier, the British marched into Zululand in force, crossing the Buffalo River at a point known as Rourke’s Drift. Chelmsford fully expected the Zulu to be routed in the time-honored tradition, and he was therefore rather casual and careless in his deployments. The British arrived in the shadow of a large hill known as Isandlwana, and there a base was established. Chelmsford then separated his force, removing two-thirds of his 5,000 men to follow up what he believed was the main Zulu force. It was not. A force of 20,000 Zulu were lying in wait just five miles south of the main British camp.

Isandlwana held a small garrison force of just 1,750 men. At 11h00 on January 22, spotted by advance scouts, the Zulu began to move. Adopting what was known as the Bull and Horns tactic – a heavy frontal assault backed up by two flanking sweeps – the Zulu began to bear down on a hopelessly outnumbered garrison. Even though armed mainly with traditional weapons – shields and assegais – the Zulu bore down and soon overwhelmed the defenders, armed in the main with Henri-Martini breech-loading rifles.

By 15h00 that afternoon, despite heavy losses, the Zulu had taken the camp. Of the original 1,750, of whom 1,000 were white and 750 black auxiliaries, 1,350 lay dead on a blood-soaked battlefield. The survivors fled the scene, making their way back the way they came. As the first of them arrived at Rourke’s Drift, they warned the tiny garrison there that the Zulu were on their way.

10 of the Most Blood Soaked African Battles and Conflicts the World Has Ever Seen
The Battle of Rorke’s Drift, an Epic Engagement of the Anglo/Zulu War. Wikicommons

The Battle of Rourke’s Drift

A ‘drift’ is South African parlance for a ‘ford’, or a point at which a river is crossed. The river was the Buffalo River, and Rourke’s Drift, the site of a Swedish mission station seconded by the British Army as a supply depot and hospital. It was defended by a small garrison of 150 mixed imperial and colonial troops. As panicked survivors of Isandlwana began to arrive in the late afternoon, it became clear that a large Zulu advance force was hot on their heels, and would be on the scene within hours, probably sooner.

The senior officer present was Assistant Commissary James Dalton of the Commissariat and Transport Department, and his immediate subordinates were Lieutenants John Chard and Gonville Bromhead. A decision had to be made, and made quickly. Should the garrison abandon the position and run, or should it stand and fight? A small force, traveling in the open, and burdened with the sick and wounded, would be overrun before evening, and judging by what had taken place at Isandlwana, there would be no survivors.

There was nothing for it but to fight. The garrison quickly set about fortifying the position with biscuit boxes, corn sacks and crates of tinned meat. By 16h30, an hour and a half after the last shot was fired at Isandlwana, the first Zulu arrived on the scene.

They did not arrive in force, and in fact, their mobilization gathered over hours. Nonetheless, several thousand men bore down on the lightly fortified camp. Some were armed with captured firearms, but the majority were traditionally armed. In one of the great epics of war, the Zulu mounted their traditional set-piece charges against this small force of men armed with Henri-Martinis. In the first wave, many were shot down at point-blank range, but many others reached the wall, and were beaten off in hand to hand fighting using swords and bayonets.

As fighting along the perimeter raged, the thatched roof of the hospital was torched, and a smaller battle raged in the tight corridors of the building as the Zulu attempted to break-in. They were fought off largely with bayonets as the surviving injured hacked through the walls and made their way through into the barricaded yard. As night fell, the British withdrew to the center of the yard were a final defensive position had been established. After twelve hours of solid combat, the Zulu eventually broke off the attack. Seventeen British soldiers and four-hundred Zulu lay dead on the battlefield.

The heroism of the moment offset somewhat the blunder of Isandlwana, and eleven Victoria Crosses were awarded, the highest ever in a single action. The Zulu were broken, however, and while the war limped on for a few more actions, the deed was done. Cetshwayo was exiled, and the Zulu ceased to be an independent nation.

10 of the Most Blood Soaked African Battles and Conflicts the World Has Ever Seen
Boer Commando during the Anglo-Boer War. The first proponents of guerrilla warfare. Wikicommons.

The Anglo-Boer War

Once the British and the Boer (white South Africans of Dutch origin) had finally defeated the Zulu, and subjugated all the black tribes of the sub-continent, they set to work waging war against one another.

The dynamics of the Anglo-Boer War are, again, both simple and complex. The simple version is that neither party – British or Boer – could get on. The Dutch arrived on the southern tip of Africa in 1652, and so, as far as European colonists were concerned, they felt that they were the senior partners. The British, on the other hand, acquired the Cape from the Dutch as a consequence of the period Anglo/French wars, and so no particular love existed between them. The British then went on to impose their system of administration, which irritated the Dutch, after which they mandated emancipation, which soured relations further.

By the time gold and diamonds were discovered, towards the end of the 19th century, relations between the two white language groups were so poor that war was inevitable. The essential dynamic of war was the steady British erosion of Dutch/Boer sovereignty. The gold and diamond rushes of the 1870s and 1880s introduced English-speaking immigrants by the tens of thousands, and through the 1890s, steady British demands for political rights in the Boer republics exacerbated tensions.

In much the same way as the British could not tolerate an independent Zulu, they could not tolerate an independent Boer. The Boer was pro-German, and as WWI loomed large on the horizon, that was a problem.

The British, therefore provoked a war, and the Boer, pushed into a corner, issued an ultimatum. On October 11, 1899, war was declared. South Africa comprised two Boer republics (Transvaal and Orange Free State) and two British colonies (Natal and Cape). The Boer held the initial advantage and invaded Natal, but they failed to secure the ports, and instead were drawn into a number of pointless sieges. As they were holding these sieges, the British were able to introduce a massive expeditionary force. Once this was in place, the conventional war shifted, and by the end of the first year, the British were in effective occupation of all of South Africa.

The Boer, however, fought on for another two years as a guerrilla army, and a long and bloody conflict played out. The British deployed scorched earth, concentration camps and massive sweeps, and eventually, an exhausted and demoralized Boer army surrendered.

At the end of May 1902, peace was brokered, and South Africa became four British colonies. In 1910, it was unified, and the Union of South Africa became a British Dominion. This remained until 1961 when South Africa was declared a republic.

10 of the Most Blood Soaked African Battles and Conflicts the World Has Ever Seen
German Schutztruppe Askari during WWI. BBC

The East Africa Campaign of WWI

It is a little-known fact that the longest-running campaign of WWI was the East Africa Campaign. It began at the moment war began, and continued until several weeks after the Armistice. It was a truly international effort, using Allied and Commonwealth troops from every corner of the world, and native African troops from almost every colony on the continent.

The Germans held two significant African colonies. German South West Africa, or modern-day Namibia, and German East Africa, known today as Tanzania. At the outbreak of war, these two territories posed a significant risk to Allied shipping in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, thanks to deep-water ports. As such, they had to go.

Initially the British lacked the manpower and organization to take care of this themselves, and South Africa, a newly minted British Dominion, was given the task, in the first instance, to deal with neighboring German South West Africa. The Germans did not mount much of a defense. They held to the view that victory would be achieved in Europe, after which they would get all of their colonies back, and everyone else’s too.

In East Africa, in the meanwhile, a gifted German commander by the name of Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck dug in, and began harassing the British across the border in what would later become Kenya. His objective was not so much to try and win a war, but to provoke the British into committing troops and resources into an unnecessary theater. He too maintained that the war would be won in Europe, and victory in Africa could be achieved simply by avoiding defeat.

As soon as South African troops had wrapped up the South West Africa Campaign, they arrived in East Africa in force. Led by the great South African General Jan Smuts, British forces, comprising mainly white South Africans, but also large numbers of Indians and native Africans, and much else besides, were amassed in Kenya and prepared to invade.

Now all that von Lettow-Vorbeck needed to do was stay on the run. Using a large force of African Askari, commanded by white German officers, he commenced a brilliant guerrilla campaign that devolved almost into a vast game of chess between him and General Jan Smuts. The Campaign ranged across the entirety of east/central Africa, through Kenya, the Tanganyika territory, Belgian Congo and Portuguese East Africa. It was, in many respects, a war of maneuver against the weather and physical conditions. To every one man killed in battle, thirty died of disease.

Von Lettow-Vorbeck surrendered to a British officer at the settlement of Abercorn in modern-day Zambia. The date was November 25, 1918, two weeks after the Armistice. Von-Lettow did not hear about the German surrender until then. He and General Jan Smuts later became friends, with each man professing a deep admiration for the other. It was a chivalrous age of warfare.

10 of the Most Blood Soaked African Battles and Conflicts the World Has Ever Seen
A British SAS Mobile Patrol in the Western Desert. The first use of ‘special forces’ in modern war. Wikicommons.

World War II in Africa

World War II on the great continent of Africa was a sweeping affair. It ran from the Northern Territories of Kenya to the Tunisian peninsular and involved some of the greatest land battles of human history.

When war in Europe broke out in September 1939, Adolf Hitler had no interest in Africa at all. His ally, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, had that covered. The Italians controlled Libya, Ethiopia and Somalia, and bearing in mind how weak the British were, struggling to survive the Battle of Britain, there seemed no reason why the Italians should not march into Egypt and lift the Suez Canal out of British hands. They could have, and they really should have.

The first shots fired were in Somalia. Somalia was divided into British and Italian spheres, and in August 1940, the Italians launched an invasion of British Somalia, a territory congruent more or less with modern Somaliland. This was achieved reasonably easily, after which Mussolini looked south, picturing all of British Africa in Italian hands. He also pictured Egypt in Italian hands, and so for the time being, the Italians in Somalia adopted a defensive position. In September 1940, as the opening act of the Western Desert Campaign, the Italians dropped the drawbridge on Italian Libya, and swarmed into Egypt.

It is generally understood that the Italians should, without difficulty, have taken Egypt. However, a few miles into Egypt, they dug in and waited. Mussolini was beside himself, but his general on the ground, Rodolfo Graziani, simply would not advance.

This gave the British a chance to regroup, and in December 1940, they launched Operation Compass, which routed a vastly superior Italian force, and drove them back deep into Libya. Some 135,000 Italian prisoners of war were taken, and astronomical amounts of fuel and equipment.

Adolf Hitler, when he heard the news, was abruptly made aware that the Italians, for all of their weight and bravado, were not capable of dealing with North Africa unassisted. German troops were diverted from the Eastern Front to fortify the Italians in Libya, introducing the great name of General Erwin Rommel onto the battlefield.

Things began to turn around immediately. As the Italians were steadily being pushed out of Ethiopia and Somalia, in another abject military performance, Rommel launched a counter-offensive in North Africa. At the end of long supply lines, the British advance was rolled back into Egypt. Thus began the see-saw struggle of Axis and Allied forces battling in long-range engagements along the North African coast.

The change came with Operation Torch, the US entry into the War, which began in November 1942. In March 1943, the Axis alliance in Africa surrendered. The reason was a combination of German reverses on the Eastern Front, and the overwhelming balance of power offered by the United States. Italian military prowess was roundly disproved, and in May 1941, after a racing retreat across Ethiopia, the Italians were defeated and King Haile Selassie returned to power.

The War, of course, then shifted to Europe.

10 of the Most Blood Soaked African Battles and Conflicts the World Has Ever Seen
Mau Mau Fighters in the Aberdare Forest of Kenya. The first authentic ‘Liberation Struggle’. Libcom.

The Mau Mau Uprising

Enormous numbers of young, black Africans fought on the Allied side during WWII. Many of these were involved in campaigns in Southeast Asia, in particular the Japanese retreat from Burma. Many were stationed in India, and the Indian independence movement, led by the likes of Mohandas Gandhi, inspired them deeply. The defeat of fascist totalitarianism also promised a new future, and many young blacks returned to their colonies, only to be disappointed to discover that none of these lofty principles applied to them.

It was said in Kenya in the late 1940s that when the white man returned from war, he was given a farm, when black man returned from war, he was given a bicycle.

As the dust of WWII settled, and as India was granted independence, the liberation movement in Africa began. The Mau Mau Uprising was the first, and only war of liberation fought by the British in Africa. It was a curious affair because it was less than a war, but a great deal more than a civil disturbance.

The Central Highlands of Kenya were known then as the White Highlands. The combination of altitude and the tropics created a perfect climate, and with deep soils, a perfect agricultural landscape. This was where white colonists settled, while the Kikuyu people, the original owners of the lands, were maintained as squatters to provide labor.

It was the Kikuyu, the most politically active of the Kenyan language groups, who led popular resistance to white land occupation, and white political domination. It began on the streets of Nairobi more or less immediately after WWII, but it became the subject of such intense police action, that in the early 1950s it began to manifest as a guerrilla movement in the heavily forested hills and mountains of the White Highlands.

The Mau Mau was a deeply traditional movement, atavistic, and looking to some improbable return to a utopian past. It was intensely violent, and its main targets were what were seen as Kikuyu collaborators. Ironically, it was a Kikuyu ‘Home Guard’ that led the fight against it, supported by a British and local ‘Police Action’. What this implies is that the British would not acknowledge the uprising as a war, but civil unrest, and so emergency courts and gallows became the main weapon of war.

It was also doomed because, as a military action, it was unsupported. The Cold War had not begun in earnest, so no Chinese or Soviet weaponry was involved, and it was linked to no sympathetic neighboring countries. It was easily isolated and destroyed, and by the late 1950s, it was an irritation rather than a threat. It nonetheless brought the question of Kenyan independence to the fore and forced the British to begin negotiations. Kenya was granted independence in December 1963, and although the incoming government was reluctant to acknowledge the Mau Mau, it has since offered it some acknowledgment as being part of the independence process.

10 of the Most Blood Soaked African Battles and Conflicts the World Has Ever Seen
French Troops pictured with a captured FLN Fighter. Return of Kings.

War in Algeria

One of the first and perhaps one of the most bitter wars of independence in Africa was the Algerian War, which took place between November 1, 1954, and March 19, 1962. It was the tipping point of French decolonization and a seminal moment in Frances evolution from an empire to a republic.

The French were occupied during WWII. This deeply compromised the France’s sense of itself as a great, global power, and it was largely thanks to General Charles de Gaulle, and the Free French movement, that a sense of French self-worth was maintained.

Algeria was not regarded as a colony, but as an integral part of France. This, of course, had to do with proximity and centuries of social interaction, but also, once again, as part of France’s image of itself as an imperial power. The French defeat at Dien Bien Phu rocked that self-image, and there was a definite sense that Algeria would not be allowed to go the way of Indochina.

Algerians, however, had other ideas. As the French celebrated VE day, independence activists in Algeria began demonstrating. What began as a march ended up as a massacre, and almost 100 French settlers, or pieds-noirs, were singled out and murdered. In November 1954, soon after Dien Bien Phu, the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) launches armed revolts throughout Algeria, issuing a proclamation calling for a sovereign Algerian state. Before long, French troops were on the ground.

As befitting the reputation of the French armed forces, they took no prisoners. As French civilians were targeted by the FLN, the French army responded with disproportionate force, and very quickly the bodies began stacking up. Bombings and attacks against civilians continued, and heavy reprisals followed.

The French Fourth Republic, implemented after WWII, was imperiled for numerous reasons, but it certainly won no friends in its response to the war in Algeria. French pieds-noirs agitated for the great General Charles de Gaulle to be installed in power. It was imagined that de Gaulle, as a staunch nationalist, would bolster the French position in Algeria, but he did not. What he recognized instead was that the days of French empire were over, and that not only would Algeria inevitably gain independence, but so would the rest of Africa.

After an attempted coup d’état, and deep expressions of discontent, the French military and settler establishment bend to the inevitable. In May 1961, negotiations began. By July 1962, elections are underway, and six million Algerians put their mark on an independence ballot. Thus commenced the beginning of the end of the French empire in Africa.

10 of the Most Blood Soaked African Battles and Conflicts the World Has Ever Seen
UN Troops getting down to business during the 1960 Congo Crisis. Pininterest.

The Congo Crisis

The Belgians were always reluctant colonizers. The vast territory of the Belgian Congo was inherited as part of the discredited legacy of King Leopold II. When, in the late 1950s, African nationalist movements began agitating for independence, the Belgians were only too glad to give it to them. Fearful of an Algeria-style civil war, power was handed over to the first candidate to hold his hands out for it, and that someone was a firebrand idealist by the name of Patrice Lumumba.

The Belgians, however, made the same mistake as many other colonial powers, and that was to construct a glass ceiling above which no indigenous African could rise. The result was a civil service with no senior black bureaucrats, and a defense force with no black officers. Handing over power, therefore, to a black political elite was all well and good, but as whites began to leave, the administration was staffed at a senior level by those without any training to govern.

In the case of the Army, Belgian officers were retained, simply because no indigenous officers existed, and the army could not be handed over to a corps of major generals who had been corporals a week earlier. Within a month, the Force Publique mutinied, which set the spark to the tinder of probably one of Africa’s ugliest wars.

The armed forces mutiny set in motion a series of secessionist declarations, that each devolved very quickly into a civil war. The southern province of Katanga, the mineral-rich region of Congo, was quick to declare separate independence, but because of its mineral wealth, and the weight of Belgian investment, Belgian boots were on the ground fairly quickly. Into the picture dropped a United Nations multi-national forces, and suddenly the world body found itself in the only hot war of its existence.

In the meanwhile, central government began to crumble very quickly. Lumumba was dismissed by his deputy, who was in turn dismissed by Lumumba. When his appeals for Western military support were ignored, Lumumba began talking to the Soviets. That certainly did not go down well, and before long, Lumumba was arrested, and held incognito while significant damage was done to his person.

Who was behind it has never been fully ascertained, but by February, Lumumba was dead, with fingers pointing at the US, at the Belgians and at the UN.

The bloody chaos continued until 1965 when a massively over-promoted staff officer of the army called Joseph Mobutu seized power in a military coup. The country became Zaire, and Mobuto its de facto king. Mobuto would define African kleptocracy and would rule Zaire as his personal bank for over thirty years. The Congo never recovered and is still the original African basket case.

10 of the Most Blood Soaked African Battles and Conflicts the World Has Ever Seen
A suspected guerrilla held by Rhodesian mounted infantry Source: Medium.

The Rhodesian War

The Congo borders Zambia in the south. At the time of the Congo Crisis, Zambia was known as Northern Rhodesia, and it was part of a large complex of British colonies that included Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland. As the Congo Crisis unfolded, panicked Belgian refugees flooded south, convincing white Rhodesians that any concession made to black nationalism in their colony would result in precisely the same thing. Nyasaland became Malawi in 1964, and Northern Rhodesia Zambia a few months later, but Southern Rhodesia, the future Zimbabwe, committed itself to fight.

Suspicious of the intentions of the British Government, which seemed determined to hand over its colonies in Africa to the Africans whatever the consequences, Southern Rhodesia declared unilateral independence from Britain in 1965. The result was that Rhodesia became a rebel republic, unrecognized by any major country, and sanctioned by the United Nations. Rhodesia hoped that this would result in a fait accompli, but it did not. The tide of history was against it. What occurred instead was war.

Nationalist groups formed up in exile in Zambia, and began a guerrilla campaign against a well-organized and well-armed Rhodesian security force. The result for a long time was a bloody, but one-sided war. Nationalist guerrillas were forced to cross the Zambezi River to enter Rhodesia, and they were easily identified, tracked down and killed. They were killed in large numbers.

In 1975, however, a long-running war of independence in Mozambique came to an end. Exhausted by years of war, Lisbon lost its resolve and capitulated, and suddenly Rhodesia had on its eastern frontier a 400-mile hostile front. The war was no longer one-sided. Nationalist groups, led mainly by Robert Mugabe, adopted a human wave approach, flooding the country with poorly armed and trained cadre, who nonetheless stretched the capacity of the Rhodesian security forces beyond its functional capacity.

Rhodesian tactics then switched to domestic security containment and heavy cross-border raids that wreaked a massive cost in enemy manpower. Nonetheless, the trajectory of the war was unchanged. The loss of an entire revolutionary brigade counted less than the loss of a single Rhodesia combat group, and the end was inevitable.

The war reached a negotiated conclusion at the end of 1979. Although undefeated, the Rhodesian Security Forces could no longer sustain war. The transfer of power came in April 1980, as the Union Jack was lowered, and the flag of the Republic of Zimbabwe was raised in its place. The cost of life of this war was astronomical, but as its first indigenous leader, Robert Mugabe took the oath of office, harder times still were yet to come.

 

Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Zulu: The True Story”. BBC, Dr. Saul David. February 2011.

“Isandlwana.” National Army Museum.

“A Chronology of the Algerian War of Independence”. The Atlantic, Christopher Hitchens. November 2006

“Congo Civil War (1960-1964)”. Black Past, Ryan Hurst

“Second Anglo-Boer War 1899 – 1902”. South African History

“An Overview of the East Africa Campaign”. Peter Baxter. Peter Baxter History, August 2011

“East African Campaign. An Archive of WWII Memories.” Written by the Public and Gathered by the BBC

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