Guard Force (Rhodesia)

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Guard Force
Active1 February 1976–May 1980
DisbandedMay 1980
Country Rhodesia
Allegiance Republic of Rhodesia (1976–79)
 Zimbabwe Rhodesia (1979)
 United Kingdom (1979–80)
 Zimbabwe (1980)
BranchGround Forces
TypeStatic defence
Garrison/HQSalisbury, Rhodesia


Heckler & Koch G3
EngagementsRhodesian Bush War
First CommanderMajor General G. A. D. Rawlins (1976–1977)
Second and Last CommanderBrigadier W. A. Godwin (1977–1979)

The Guard Force was an arm of the Rhodesian Security Forces. Coming under the Ministry of Defence it was organised on similar lines to, but separate from, the Rhodesian Army. The Guard Force was set up from 1975 (and formally established on 1 February 1976) to provide security to protected villages. These had been established by the Ministry of Internal Affairs to separate black rural civilians from guerillas during the Rhodesian Bush War. Guard Force units took over security duties from Ministry staff.

From 1977 the Guard Force was reformed, becoming more pro-active. Rather than an entirely static rural force it carried out patrols and ambushes and guarded key urban points and lines of communication. Infantry battalions were introduced in 1978 to better suit its new role. By the end of the Bush War in 1979 it numbered 7,000 men. The Guard Force became redundant with the transfer to black-majority rule (as Zimbabwe) in 1980 and was disbanded.

The Guard Force was criticised as poorly trained and had low morale. Its white recruits came from classes of national servicemen and elderly reservists who failed to qualify for more prestigious duties. The men received lower pay than the army.

Creation as a defensive force[edit]

During the Rhodesian Bush War the white minority-led government resettled large numbers of black citizens into "protected villages" to isolate them from Zimbabwe African National Union and Zimbabwe African People's Union guerrillas (as in the July 1974 Operation Overload).[1] The protected villages were initially guarded by personnel from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which had been augmented with white national service men, who employed black district security assistants. By 1975 it had become apparent that the department lacked the capacity to provide ongoing security to the protected villages whilst also planning the resettlement of large swaths of the country into new villages. The Guard Force was established to assume the security role.[2]: 94 

The Guard Force was modelled on the predominantly black Kikuyu Home Guard who had served to guard local areas in Kenya during the 1950s Mau Mau Uprising.[3] The Guard Force was multi-racial with black and white personnel serving as officers and enlisted members, though the majority of its personnel were black.[4]: 81 [5] The unit took over half of the Ministry of Internal Affairs allocation of national servicemen and also absorbed many of its district security assistants as guards.[2]: 95  The Guard Force focused on former black members of the Rhodesian African Rifles for recruitment to positions as local commanders.[4]: 81 

The first recruits were brought into the Guard Force in August 1975 and were trained by former Rhodesian Army personnel at the Interior Ministry's Chikurubi training base, which became the unit's new depot.[2]: 95 [4]: 81–82  The Guard Force was officially established as part of the Ministry of Defence on 1 February 1976 with a headquarters established at Salisbury.[4]: 82 [2]: 95  The Guard Force was initially given only one duty, the security of protected villages. Guard Force's jurisdiction did not extend to all villages, some, as in the Chiweshe Tribal Trust Land, remained under the guard of the Interior Ministry.[2]: 95 

The average protected village housed 4,000 people in a fenced area measuring 4 by 4 kilometres (2.5 mi × 2.5 mi). In the centre of the village was the "keep", a concrete bunker surrounded by a defensive earth wall. The keep's garrison consisted of 20 men but as few as 12 were often on duty owing to leave and sickness.[6] The villages were widely dispersed and each keep was often commanded by a non-commissioned officer. Junior officers sometimes had command of forward command posts, controlling several keeps. Above the junior officers were group headquarters under a commandant.[4]: 82  The first commander of the Guard Force was Major General G. A. D. "Andrew" Rawlins, who had been brought out of army retirement.[4]: 81  Non-commissioned ranks were unique but similar to the army. The lowest enlisted rank was that of guard, above them were junior corporals, keep corporals, keep (or guard) sergeants, keep (or guard) senior sergeants, keep sergeant majors and keep (or guard) warrant officers in two classes (I and II).[4]: 82  The Guard Force was initially equipped with obsolete Lee-Enfield bolt-action rifles but later received worn out FN FAL automatics from the army and eventually brand new Heckler & Koch G3 rifles.[7]

Transition to more active role[edit]

Brigadier W. A. Godwin was appointed to command in February 1977, as Rawlins became director of psychological warfare in the Rhodesian Army.[8] In May the Guard Force was reorganised, moving from its purely static role into a more pro-active force that would carry out patrols and ambushes. From 1978 the force became responsible for protection of white-owned farms and later took over guard duties from the police at a number of fixed sites and lines of communication. An infantry battalion, the 1st Battalion Guard Force, was formed in May 1978 and in the same year it took over responsibility for guarding some urban strongpoints and railway lines.[2]: 95 [4]: 82  In line with these new responsibilities it grew from around 1,000 men in 1977 to 3,500 (protecting more than 200 villages) in 1978.[9][10] By the end of the Bush War in 1979 it numbered some 7,000 men.[2]: 95  By this point the defensive role in the villages had been taken over partly by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Security Force Auxiliaries, a black pro-government militia, and the Guard Force was divided into 7 battalions.[11][12] The battalions were issued 60mm French commando mortars, but these were of limited range (1,000 metres, 3,300 ft) and they were issued with only five rounds per weapon.[13] Rhodesia transitioned to a black majority government in April 1980, as Zimbabwe, and by May the Guard Force was being disbanded.[14]


The effectiveness of the Guard Force has been questioned by historians. Peter Baxter, writing in 2014, described it as a "a modestly trained paramilitary unit" that was intended for rearline duties but often found itself in action as the protected villages became targets for attack by the guerrillas, who were less keen on engaging the Rhodesian Army.[15] As the inhabitants of the villages endured poor living conditions and an often tyrannical rule by the Guard Force, they often welcomed their "liberation" by the guerillas.[16] Historian Paul L. Moorcraft states that the Guard Force "often committed crimes against the populations they were charged with protecting" and concurs with Baxter's assessment of them as a rearline unit: "had they stood against a determined, well-trained enemy they would have had little chance".[12] Standards were different in villages guarded by other units, such as the Ministry for Interior Affairs.[2]: 95 

The Guard Force suffered from morale and disciplinary problems.[2]: 95  They were not helped by the quality of the men they received and the general reputation of the unit as inefficient.[12] The national service men they were assigned were usually the lowest quality from that particular draft, including those deemed unfit for regular service, and reservists attached to the unit were often elderly.[12][17] As such the white members of the unit were considered the "dregs of society." White men assigned as keep commanders, whose official acronym was KD, were given the derogatory nickname of "Kaffir Dog" because they worked closely with black soldiers.[17] The efficiency and morale of the Guard Force was not helped by the fact that the men were usually posted outside of their home districts and received no pension benefits, unlike the police, army or air force, and lower pay than equivalents in these branches.[2]: 103 [2]: 95 

In its later years the quality of Guard Force training increased.[12] In June 1978 a combined Protection Brigade was formed of territorial Rhodesian Defence Regiment troops and members of the Guard Force, in an attempt to use veteran officers of the former to bring up standards in the latter.[2]: 95 


  1. ^ Military Review. Command and General Staff School. 2011. p. 39.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Cilliers, Jakkie (17 April 2015). Counter-Insurgency in Rhodesia (RLE: Terrorism and Insurgency). Routledge. ISBN 978-1-317-49925-1.
  3. ^ Evans (M.A.), M. (1981). Fighting Against Chimurenga: An Analysis of Counter-insurgency in Rhodesia, 1972-9. Historical Association of Zimbabwe. p. 12.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Abbott, Peter; Botham, Philip (20 July 2011). Modern African Wars (1): Rhodesia 1965–80. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84908-962-3.
  5. ^ Commons, Great Britain Parliament House of (1977). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard).: House of Commons official report. H.M. Stationery Office. p. 1065.
  6. ^ Marston, Roger (2010). Own Goals. Paragon Publishing. p. 142. ISBN 978-1-899820-81-8.
  7. ^ Thompson, Leroy (21 May 2019). The G3 Battle Rifle. Bloomsbury USA. p. 34. ISBN 978-1-4728-2862-0.
  8. ^ Moorcraft, Paul L. (1981). Contact II. Sygma. p. 165. ISBN 9780868760063.
  9. ^ Focus on Political Repression in Southern Africa. International Defence & Aid Fund. 1977. p. 9.
  10. ^ Walker, Sir Walter (1978). The Bear at the Back Door: The Soviet Threat to the West's Lifeline in Africa. Valiant. p. 63. ISBN 978-0-86884-032-1.
  11. ^ Ellert, H. (1989). The Rhodesian Front War: Counter-insurgency and Guerrilla War in Rhodesia, 1962-1980. Mambo Press. p. 25. ISBN 978-0-86922-436-6.
  12. ^ a b c d e Moorcraft, Paul L.; McLaughlin, Peter (2010). The Rhodesian War: A Military History. Stackpole Books. p. 58. ISBN 978-0-8117-0725-1.
  13. ^ Gung-ho: The Magazine for the International Military Man. Charlton Publications. 1983. p. 31.
  14. ^ Assembly, Zimbabwe Parliament House of (May 1980). Parliamentary Debates. order of the House of Assembly. p. 403.
  15. ^ Baxter, Peter (19 July 2014). Bush War Rhodesia 1966-1980. Helion and Company. p. 42. ISBN 978-1-910294-86-4.
  16. ^ Weitzer, Ronald John (1 January 1990). Transforming Settler States: Communal Conflict and Internal Security in Northern Ireland and Zimbabwe. University of California Press. p. 93. ISBN 978-0-520-06490-4.
  17. ^ a b Ginsburgh, Nicola (18 August 2020). Class, work and whiteness: Race and settler colonialism in Southern Rhodesia, 1919–79. Manchester University Press. p. 207. ISBN 978-1-5261-4389-1.