South African Military History 

P.O. BOX 12926



Our speaker on 17 January 2013 was Mr Stephan Fourie who spoke on pseudo insurgency warfare, its origin, purpose and application in combat, with special reference to the Selous Scouts. He also spoke of his own experiences while serving in that particular unit. He has, on previous occasions, lectured the branch on his service in 1 SSB (Special Service Battalion) during Operation Savannah (where he was present at the Battle of Ebo but did not directly participate in the fighting; and the Battle of Bridge 14 in which he played an active role), in the School of Armour in Bloemfontein and in the Rhodesian Armoured Car Regiment.

Principles of pseudo operations

He started off by defining pseudo warfare using Sun Tzu's description "all war is deception". This form of warfare has been in use for many centuries, by the ancient Greeks and Persians, among others. In modern times, pseudo operations can best be described as the use of organised teams which are disguised as guerrilla groups for long and/or short term penetration of insurgent-controlled or enemy areas.

Forces of one power disguise themselves as enemy forces. These pseudo forces, with the aid of defectors, infiltrate enemy-controlled areas. Their job is to gather long- and/or short- term intelligence and, often, engage in active operations which could include assassinations of important enemies. Usually both of these are involved as the risk of exposure rises with the time spent, thus intelligence gathering often leads to violent confrontation with response forces getting involved.

Police or intelligence gathering by infiltration of guerrilla or criminal organisations is done by individuals. Pseudo teams, on the other hand, are formed as required from organised military or para-military units. The use of pseudo teams has been a hallmark of many counter-insurgency campaigns.

Governments will usually apply the principle of plausible deniability for pseudo teams and, if such teams are captured in an enemy-held area, they would seldom be regarded as belligerents protected in terms of international law. A case to point was Otto Skorzeny's German forces who operated behind American lines during the Battle of the Bulge - those captured were shot as "spies" while OSS operatives working behind German lines in German uniforms were regarded as legitimate.

The use of false flags in naval warfare has long been accepted, provided that the false flag is lowered before opening fire. This was common during the Napoleonic Wars. This principle is also used in land warfare where covert military or para-military operations are designed to deceive in such a way that they appear to have been carried out by other organisations, i.e. false or black flag operations. This principle was used during the Malayan Emergency and was later adopted in Rhodesia, leading to the formation of the Selous Scouts.

A similar process was used in land warfare but here the lines of what was acceptable were more blurred. The system was used during the American Civil War where Federal scouts engaged in covert scouting while wearing Confederate uniforms. The Confederates used similar scouts.

During the Anglo-Boer War the National Scouts sometimes masqueraded as Boer Commandos to try and identify farmsteads and their inhabitants sympathetic to the Republican cause and informed on such sympathisers to the British military and as such assisted in the scorched earth policy as these farms, cattle and any form of sustenance were invariably destroyed and the hapless inhabitants deported to the notorious British concentration camps. Members of the Theron Verkenners Korps (TVK) masqueraded as British officers and infiltrated British camps to gather information. The Bolsheviks used this type of operation during the Russian Civil War and afterwards to identify and exterminate opponents of the Red revolution. These tactics were used during World War 2 by both sides.

US Marines disguised as Haitian guerrillas operated behind the lines in Haiti in 1915. They assassinated Haitian insurgent leaders.

In the post-World War 2 period the British started to use pseudo gangs to help them track down Chinese Communist terrorists during the Malayan Emergency in 1948. The Malayan Scouts were formed for this purpose and they became the resurrected Special Air Service, disbanded after World War 2. Some Rhodesians served with the SAS and brought the idea to Rhodesia.

During the 1950's, this pseudo gang idea was used during the Mau Mau uprising to form Pseudo gangs consisting of captured Mau Mau members who switched sides with selected British troops, which were used to hunt down Mau Mau gangs. The process was recorded in a book written by Frank Kitson, later a General, and this became the bible of the devotees of this kind of warfare. Many of the principles set out in this book were adapted for use in Rhodesia and resulted in the formation of the Selous Scouts and the development of their highly successful doctrine of small unit pseudo operations.

The principles of pseudo warfare were brought to a high level by the Rhodesians with the formation of the Selous Scouts in 1973. The police Special Branch started using "turned" terrorists and local population to gain information about the enemy. Although successful, they did not have the resources to fully develop their ideas and an Army unit named the Selous Scouts was formed. Some 68% of all enemy casualties are attributed to the Scouts, either through direct contact or initiated by other Army units from intelligence supplied by the Scouts.

The South Africans adopted the principles of Pseudo warfare and adapted them to conditions in South West Africa/Angola. They used former Angolan FNLA freedom fighters, familiar with the indigenous people, the land and culture and they could easily infiltrate deep behind enemy lines wearing enemy uniforms to carry out counter insurgency operations.

Similar operations were carried out in the Balkans in the wars resulting from the breakup of Yugoslavia. Many of these operations were of a terrorist nature, aimed at the civilian population.

Informal warfare may often result in opportunistic imposters gaining a tactical advantage resulting in unethical conduct or atrocities. There is a thin line between legitimate military action and illegal warfare.

Future use of pseudo warfare

Warfare in the future will include increasing levels of irregular warfare, fought by Special Forces and pseudo groups for the reasons set out below:

Selous Scouts - formation, organization and development

Our speaker now briefly discussed the Selous Scouts. Forming such a unit was the brainchild of a couple of Special Branch officers struggling to gather intelligence about terrorist infiltration into Rhodesia. They formed a small group of "pseudo warriors" consisting of themselves with some "turned" terrorists but received little support from the BSAP.

This was based on Sun Tzu's dictum "It is essential to seek out enemy agents who have come to conduct espionage against you and to bribe them to serve you. Give them instructions and care for them. Thus doubled agents are recruited and used."

The army became interested and a small number of SAS NCOs joined the unit. Their successes resulted in the formation of the all-volunteer Selous Scouts by Gen Peter Walls who had served in Malaya. Command was give to the retired RSM Ron Reid Daly, a hard-bitten veteran of the RLI, who was promoted to Major and told to get his unit up and running as fast as possible. Full support was promised by Gen Walls.

The unit was set up as a combat reconnaissance force to infiltrate the tribal population and terrorist networks and pinpoint rebel groups. They would then advise the conventional forces or attack the terrorists themselves. They operated in small-, under cover-, clandestine groups, working independently in the bush for long periods

This did not go down well with the more traditional-minded officers at Defence Headquarters and the situation was not improved by Reid Daly's impatience with bureaucrats. Many people joined the Scouts from the SAS, who were not too happy with this but accepted the need for such a unit.

Volunteers were called for but had to undergo the selection process lasting up to 17 weeks to identify the people the unit wanted - a person who could endure incredible hardship and who would have the willpower to carry out their given mission no matter what. Black and white were subjected to this process. Thereafter training followed in bush warfare, the customs, culture and language of the local populace and survival in the bush (animals, finding food in the bush, etc) and weapons training - the Scouts used enemy weapons almost exclusively. Team players and not individualists were sought.

The unit was organised into groups consisting of detachments of one white with five black ex-terrorists. The white had to be accepted by his black comrades or he was withdrawn. The unit had to trust one another totally otherwise the concept would not work. The scouts were 78 to 90% "turned" terrorists, the rest of the unit were white.

Initially, they were used inside the country to find and identify terrorist groups and advise the Army units (SAS, RLI and RAR) who would attack and destroy the enemy. Some tragic "blue on blue" (friendly fire) incidents took place and, with the intensification of the war, the Scouts then started to hunt and destroy terrorists inside Rhodesia. Use was made of observation points, usually on gomas or small hills prevalent in the Rhodesian bush. Small teams would sit on these undetected. They would spot terrorists moving through the bush, inform either the local army unit or the scouts who would then attack the terrorist gangs.

As the war intensified, the Scouts started to operate outside Rhodesia looking for terrorist bases and attacking them, either on their own or with other army units. Some of these raids were carried out mounted on a variety of vehicles and were responsible for heavy enemy losses.

National servicemen were also recruited for the Scouts but anyone joining the Scouts had to undergo the selection course and subsequent training. These formed a valuable addition to the strength of the Scouts. The scouts were heavily involved in cross border operation as well as the internal operations as the war gained in intensity. Rhodesia had very small armed forces - the Scouts, SAS, RLI, two battalions of RAR, Greys Scouts, a field regiment and armoured car regiment and a number of Rhodesia Regiment reserve battalions, together with the police and this was not sufficient to hold off the flood of terrorist. In 1980, Mugabe came into power and the Selous Scouts were disbanded.

Some of their men, both black and white, served in the SADF in 32 Battalion, the Paras and the Recce Commandos (5 Recce) after 1980.

The Selous Scouts were organised as follows:

Rhodesia was the country where the concept of pseudo operations was perfected and executed with the most success. The nearest South African equivalents were 32 Battalion (in its Recce wing under Capt Willem Ratte) and the Reconnaissance Regiments (Recces).

Our speaker's personal experiences

Mr Fourie then spoke of his personal experiences in the Scouts. After serving in the SA Armoured Corps, he went to Rhodesia and found himself in the Rhodesian Armoured Car Regiment, the only armoured unit in the Army. However, he found this to be far too British - lots of saluting and spit and polish. Being of an adventurous bent, he applied to join the Selous Scouts and found himself attending the "selection course" which was even tougher than the SAS course.

Selection took place at Wafa Wafa on the shore of Lake Kariba. The volunteers arrived and had to run to the camp, 25 kilometres away! The camp consisted of a few straw huts and the embers of a dying fire. There was no food. The intention was to starve, antagonize and exhaust the trainees and this resulted in up to 70% dropping out during this phase.

The selection course consisted of 17 days of exhausting fitness training - long runs and route marches, pole PT, etc. Those that passed this then started on the basic combat training course. This included weapons training and more fitness training, including a very nasty assault course designed to overcome any fear of heights. This phase ran from dawn to nightfall. When darkness fell, night training started. During the first five days no food was issued and thereafter only rotten animals!

Mr Fourie explained that their animal was a baboon which had been hanging from a tree for two days - in the Zambezi valley in summer with a daytime average temperature of 45° Celsius! He noted that you can eat anything if you are starving - as long as it is boiled for a suitable time in water. Some members of the audience found this difficult to visualise. At the end of this phase of training, there was an endurance march of 100 km, carrying a rucksack loaded with 30 Kg of red painted rocks -- so painted that trainees could not cheat! This was followed by a speed march to be completed in two and a half hours.

Those who survived all of this then had a week's leave. They then went to a special camp for the "dark phase" of their training. Here they were taught to behave, move, think and talk like the enemy. The camp was set up as a terrorist camp and the instructors were on hand to turn the recruits into fully-fledged insurgents. The recruits were also trained in bushcraft - tracking, how to move through the bush quietly and without being noticed, the wildlife, which animals were dangerous, which plants, animals and birds could be eaten. Very important was the emphasis placed on not leaving any rubbish in the bush as this was a beacon to the enemy. They were taught to stop washing, shaving, smoking, drinking and cleaning their teeth while in the bush - in short to act like insurgents. This last phase of the training explained why white Scouts had large bushy beards - most un-regimental! The air force used to complain about the smell when they picked up Scouts after lengthy patrols - apparently the smell of a white Scout was worse than that of a black Scout!

Within a week of completing this phase of training, the new Scouts were in the bush on patrol. They were still on probation as the black Scouts still had to accept them. There was no laid-down time for this to happen but those not accepted by the black members would not be accepted by the Selous Scouts.

Mr Fourie explained that most of their work involved either observation post work or trying to infiltrate terrorist groups and ascertain who their supporters were in the local kraals.

Observation posts were usually situated on gomas or small hills dotted around the veld. Some were bare and others had bush and trees on them. The latter were chosen but, as Mr Fourie explained, these gomas were "inhabited", usually with baboons. You had to share the goma with these so you had to behave like them! The trick was to climb up onto the goma and sit quietly with your head lower whilst avoiding eye contact, until the troop leader accepted you and the rest of the clan did likewise.

All of your equipment had to be securely packed away as the young baboons were very playful and inquisitive. On one occasion a female baboon took a liking to our speaker showing her affection by "flashing" him - the leader took serious umbrage, grabbed the female and gave her the thrashing of her life and Mr Fourie noted that he had to sit very humbly with his head hanging until the boss accepted his apology!

The trick was to let them carry on with their lives while you observed the locals, checking for visitors, unusual cooking activity or movement of livestock and toilet track patterns - any change in patterns could denote the presence of terrorists. The black Scouts might have to visit the kraal to check it out.

The other main activity was patrolling an area to make contact with either terrorists or terrorist supporters. This meant that the white member of the patrol would usually have to stay hidden while the black members did the talking. The use of passwords and codes was prevalent and the Scouts had to be very circumspect in their dealings with locals and terrorists alike to avoid being compromised. Information would be sent back by radio for the fire forces to strike, but at times the Scouts would do the job themselves. Careful control was required to ensure that there were not skirmishes between own forces and Scouts. Cooperation between fire forces, the scouts and the air force became very good as trust between the various units grew. The efficiency of the response to callouts became very good as time passed.

Mr Fourie noted that operating in the bush was a source of great enjoyment as there was ample wildlife and many species of bird to be seen. In his opinion, hippos were the most dangerous animals, more dangerous than rhinos - fast, ill- tempered, unpredictable and often found grazing up to 5 km away from rivers at night. Female elephants were more dangerous than males and their charges were never mock charges. Most animals will ignore a human if you do not provoke or annoy them.

At a later stage of the war, the Scouts became parachute-trained, like the Special Air Service (SAS), the Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI) [who, with the SAS, became the experts] and the Rhodesian African Rifles (RAR). This gave them considerable mobility. The Scouts were also involved in cross-border raids (aimed chiefly at terrorist transit and training camps) during which the terrorist cadres incurred heavy casualties. They also joined the SAS in sabotage raids into Moçambique and Zambia. The SAS were credited with some 68% of all terrorist casualties.

The Selous Scouts reported to Special Branch and to Gen Walls directly, and not to Army HQ which caused much bad blood, not helped by the rather abrasive relationship between Army HQ and Lt Col Reid Daly. There was also an enemy agent in the Rhodesian Intelligence and special branch organisation and Reid Daly often organised operations approved only by Gen Walls. As it transpired later, the suspicions were confirmed with the identification of a traitor working for the British MI6 department.

The Reconnaissance Troop included some exceptional people including Capt Chris Schulenberg, a South African, whose forte was lengthy solo trips into Moçambique to pinpoint terrorist training camps. He eventually agreed to take one African Scout with him and the two became inseparable. The two of them on occasion infiltrated enemy camps to gain more information about enemy numbers.

Mr Fourie then answered questions and our Chairman thanked him for another enthralling and informative talk and presented him with the customary gift.


by Alan Mountain

February's talk is the third and final delivery in a continuing series on the rise and fall of the Zulu Empire by fellow-member Alan Mountain. His talk opens with a brief discussion on the reasons for the war. It then expands on what happened after Zulu defeat at Ulundi with particular regard to King Cetshwayo whose ambition was to refurbish the Old Shakan Order. This did not suit either imperial Britain or colonial Natal and was used to provide their reasons for going to war. Sir Garnett Wolseley took command after the Zulu defeat and decided to divide Zululand into 13 chiefdoms. In doing so he laid the foundations for probably the bloodiest civil war in Southern African history. Cetshwayo was incarcerated in the Castle in Cape Town and the talk deals with his efforts and eventual success to return to Zululand and his re-installation as King of what had become an emasculated Zululand. This was a period of intense imperial and colonial machination, compromise and intrigue. The eventual outcome was civil war, uSuthu defeat and Cetshwayo's death. And with his death so died the Old Order.

The talk will be concluded [if time allows] with a brief overview of the uSuthu (the Royalists) regaining power (at the battle of eTshaneni) and the relevance of this to Pax Zumania and Nkandla.

As Alan Mountain is known for his masterful and professional blending of video and audio input in his talks, his final lecture in the series should prove to be one of the highlights of this year's programme and has therefore been selected to serve as the Ken Gunn Memorial Lecture of the Cape Town Branch.

The Ken Gunn Memorial Lecture has been instituted by the Cape Town Branch of the SAMHS to commemorate and honour the memory of Dr Ken Gunn who was the first branch chairman and co-founding member of the Cape Town Branch (along with fellow-member Cdr Mac Bisset). Dr Gunn was a radiologist and educated at Cape Town University. He served as a medical officer in the SAAF in Italy during World War Two. He was a keen amateur military historian with a particular interest in the Frontier Wars of the Eastern Cape during the 19th Century.

by Bob Buser

Fellow-member Bob Buser has spoken on the subject before, but in the light of new findings and the underwater investigation of the remains of both the KMS Bismarck and the HMS Hood, the findings which he has studied in detail (as is his style), will be shared with us.
His talk will cover both the birth of the new German Kriegsmarine, the building of the battleship Bismarck, the all-too-brief combat history of the pride of the German Navy that was sunk on its first - and fatal - high seas venture; the battle itself and the impact that the sinking of the Bismarck has had on current and future naval operations of both the German and British navies in WWII.


The following books have recently been released:

SAAF's Border War: The South African Air Force in Combat, 1966-1989 (Africa@War Series, Volume 8) by Peter Baxter. Paperback, 80 pages, Illustrated throughout, including 16-page colour section, with 20 colour aircraft profiles, ideal for modellers. Set against the backdrop of the Cold War, the SAAF was effectively South Africa's first line of defence against Soviet expansionism in southern Africa. 30° South Publishers. RRP R185,00

From Addis To The Aosta Valley: A South African in the North African and Italian Campaigns 1940-1945 by Keith Ford. Paperback, 192 pages, 50 b/w illustrations & maps. As a gunner, he was deployed 'up north' to East Africa and experienced his first taste of action with the 1st South African Division during the invasion of Italian Somaliland; thereafter he was involved in the Abyssinian campaign and was with the victorious Allies when Addis Ababa was liberated. 30° South Publishers. RRP R250.00

Africa's Commandos: The Rhodesian Light Infantry. Edited and compiled by Mark Adams & Chris Cocks. Paperback, 366 pages, 300 b/w photos, colour illustrations, maps. Few, if any, regiments have left their mark on the history of modern warfare as did the Rhodesian Light Infantry. Raised on 1 February 1961 the RLI first evolved into a commando unit then became involved in mundane border-control duties in the Zambezi Valley. Later as the bush war intensified the RLI was to evolve into a ruthlessly efficient 'killing machine'. 30° South Publishers. RRP R500.00

Tumult in the Clouds: Stories from the South African Air Force, 1920-2010 by Dean Wingrin. Paperback, 388 pages, 130 colour b/w photos, 8 maps. The South African Air Force (SAAF), formed on 1 February 1920, is the second oldest air force in the Commonwealth. The air arm played a major role in securing victory for the Allies during the Second World War, in the 1948/49 Berlin Airlift, and in Korea in the 1950s. 30° South Publishers. RRP R320.00

On Laughter-Silvered Wings: The Story Lt Col Ted Strever by Gail Strever-Morkel. Hardback, 176 pages, illustrated, maps. Pen & Sword Books. Publication Date: April 2013.
This well written and thoroughly researched biographical account of the life and times of a South African WW2 pilot, the author's father, is sure to appeal widely. The story is highly personal, drawing on family history and changing lifestyles as the central figure fights his way through a series of experiences, flying coastal strike missions in the Mediterranean and North Africa, then in the Far East against the Japanese.
The story gets off to a thorough and engrossing operational start, before re-tracing the personal family story to place everything in context. Images of a lost world haunt the pages that relate to an era where a decisive individual could challenge the system and get results, despite massive inflexibility within the Services. This work is sure to make a welcome addition to any discerning readers collection; the story of Coastal Command is often over-looked, the exploits recorded in this book therefore serve as an over-due reminder of the Unit, and the part they played in the Allied effort.
Ted's wartime exploits include the first midair sky-jacking in history, the daring solitary attack on the Italian fleet after losing the rest of his strike team, narrowly surviving being burnt in the subsequent inferno of a horrific air crash in the Ceylon jungle, many emergency crash landings and finally - as Commander of 27 Squadron - carrying out dangerous rescue operations behind enemy lines for members of the Indian Resistance Movement who were operating in the jungle of Burma. Written largely in the first person, and illustrated extensively, these exploits come vividly to life.

BOB BUSER: Treasurer/Asst. Scribe
Phone: 021-689-1639 (Home)

Phone: 021-592-1279 (Office)

South African Military History Society /