Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Africa at War Series - McWilliams, Baxter, Gillmore, Wood

The information presented was written by Chris Buckham; however, it was published in The Journal of the RCAF. Therefore, the material is reproduced here by the author with the permission of the journal. If you would like to republish this information or refer to excerpts please contact the Editor RCAF Journal ( Website for the Journal is:

Title: Battle for Cassinga                            Title: Pathfinder Company
ISBN: 978-1-907677-39-7                          ISBN: 978-1920143-48-0
Pgs: 64                                                         Pgs: 160
Publisher: Helion/30 Degrees South           Pub: 30 Degrees South
Author: Mike McWilliams                          Author: Graham Gillmore

Title: Selous Scouts                                     Title: Op Dingo
ISBN: 978-1-907677-38-0                           ISBN: 978-1-907677-36-6
Pgs: 64                                                          Pgs: 64
Publisher: Helion/30 Degrees South            Publisher: Helion/30 Degrees South   
Author: Peter Baxter                                    Author: Dr JRT Wood

Title: France in Centreafrique
ISBN: 978-1-907677-37-3
Pgs: 64
Publisher:  Helion/30 Degrees South        
Author: Peter Baxter

     Africa has been witness to a myriad of colonial and domestic military operations that have served as the basis for much of the joint and asymmetric doctrine used by Western powers today. Battles and places such as Cassinga, Dingo and Chimoio are not well known in the West. They are however, very well known to the Rhodesians, South Africans, Angolans, Cubans and others who fought and died in these conflicts. Why this is relevant to the West other than as a footnote of history is easily discernible when one considers the nature of warfare in the modern world and the methodologies necessary to combat it. The authors of this series experienced firsthand the environments within which the paradigm and doctrinal changes necessary to combat these new adversaries were developed. In many cases they were directly involved in the development and implementation themselves. This is important to note as it lends additional credibility to the observations put forward.

     In effect these changes may be broken down into distinct facets:
1.       Development of Joint operational doctrine and execution involving multiple elements within the military (ie army and air force );
2.       Streamlined Command and Control structures involving multiple departmental agencies (ie police, intelligence and military);
3.        Significant improvisation utilizing homegrown technological developments; and
4.         Development of specialized units for intelligence gathering and infiltration activities.

     A clear example of this is in Wood’s book “Op Dingo” where he traces the actions of the Rhodesian military as it grapples with an increasingly violent insurgency supported by neighbouring country’s providing safe havens to the insurgents. Additionally, Rhodesia was hamstrung by an international embargo and threatened by adversaries supported by the Warsaw Pact. These challenges demanded innovation to address and overcome. As a result  they rapidly developed light, extremely mobile infantry centered on a joint doctrine involving fast air, parachute and rotary wing infil and exfil supported by flying columns of fast strike, heavily armed jeep convoys; the so-called “Fireforce” concept. Overseeing these operations was the JOC (Joint Operations Centre), an ad hoc organization consisting of senior local members of the security and intelligence community that was mandated to determine viability and scope of response or action. A JOC was only stood up during the period of the action and was responsible only for activities within their designated geographic area of the country.

     Peter Baxter’s book ”Selous Scouts” investigates the development of new and innovative units and techniques in the field of intelligence gathering. The Scouts were a highly trained unit specialized at operating both domestically and within neighbouring countries well ‘off of the grid’. Proactively recruiting turned insurgents, centering efforts on experts with local knowledge, deep penetration observation operations and infiltrating insurgent organizations formed the basis of their modus operandi.  All point towards a change in focus from traditional conventional war and the unique capabilities that this unit brought to the fight.

     Gillmore’s book “Pathfinder Company” goes into detail regarding the special South African ops group 44 Parachute Brigade. Formed following the raid on Cassinga and the identified need for a specialized pathfinder capability this unit conducted deep penetration attacks into Angola utilizing modified jeeps as their primary means of insertion. This mobility allowed for flexibility of ops and independent action that served to undermine the confidence of insurgent organization in the invulnerability of their safe havens.

     McWilliam’s book “Battle for Cassinga” represents many of the techniques and doctrinal advances made during the African wars brought to a very high state of effectiveness. Concurrent to and in conjunction with the Rhodesians, the South Africans honed their skills at vertical envelopment using parachute and rotary wing insertion supported by fast air assets culminating in a deep strike on insurgent training bases within Angola over 1000 nautical miles from their mounting airfield.

     Baxter’s book “France in Centrafrique” focuses on the events surrounding the post-colonial experience of the western powers in Africa; in this case Central African Republic. It is of interest to readers because it sheds light on the changing role that France played in Africa from colonial power to economic and military real politique  in her dealings with local dictators and governments. An insightful and eye opening appraisal of the difficult and challenging transitions that followed colonial rule.

     Each of the books in this series is a well documented and researched synopsis of the events that they are focused upon. The layouts and presentation are logical and of a very high quality. Each provides a solid overview of the regional and international climate of its respective topic area in order to provide the reader with context. The narrative is balanced with credit and criticism being given in equal parts where deserved.  Replete with photos and colour maps, these books serve to provide readers with a strong introduction to the subjects explored. While this does leave some questions for the readers, it, in my opinion, in no way detracts from the focus or quality of this series. There are definitely books available that go into greater depth and detail surrounding the units and operations discussed here; however, as an introduction to this field of operation, this series is outstanding. A definite asset for those wishing to improve their knowledge and understanding of the development of successful, multi-faceted doctrine in the fight against insurgent/asymmetric war.

No comments:

Post a Comment