Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Three Sips of Gin – Dominating the Battlespace with Rhodesia’s Elite Selous Scouts - Tim Bax

This review has been submitted to British Army Review. 

Title: Three Sips of Gin – Dominating the Battlespace with Rhodesia’s Elite Selous Scouts
Author: Tim Bax
ISBN: 978-1-909384-29-3
Publisher: Helion and Company
Year: 2014
Pages: 423
Photos/ Maps: 134/1

The Selous Scouts were an organization that acted as the forward eyes and ears of the Rhodesian military during their long and brutal bush war with the ZIPRA and ZANLA revolutionary groups. This autobiography of the experiences of the author as he made his way into the Rhodesian military first as a member of the Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI) and then as a member of the Selous Scouts is multifaceted as he discusses his personal experiences, the doctrine of the two units in which he served, the larger challenges of the national and international environment during this period and the leadership styles of those with whom and for whom he served and their immediate effect upon his life and character.

One of the key themes that runs throughout the book is the paradigm with which the RLI and Selous Scouts approached their operations. Dynamic, out of the box thinking and a recognition of the need for leadership that could make decisions at the very lowest level combined with a high degree of aggression and expertise were hallmarks of these Rhodesian units. Bax recounts numerous operations that were successful due to the unorthodox nature of their execution and the confidence of the command structure in allowing for a broad span of independence amongst members. His willingness to relate tales of failure and embarrassment about himself and those who were seen to be some of the finest leaders within the RLI and Selous Scouts, provide balance and recognition that even the best will not succeed at times; lessons in humility that are never reiterated enough.

His discussions about particularly successful commanders reinforce both the primary strength and weakness of these asymmetric units – that being the extremely rare number of individuals who can truly lead in these environments and the critical loss of capability when they are not present. His narrative also reveals the challenge that governments and conventional forces have in fully appreciating and utilizing these units to their full potential.

Bax also provides excellent descriptions and analysis of the effectiveness of the ‘fire-force’ doctrine built around the Alouette 3 helicopter and the four man tactical unit or ‘stick’. His discussion about the international embargo necessitating Rhodesia’s unique tactical and operational doctrine clearly displays the influence of external factors on capability. His discussion plainly show that Rhodesia’s dominance lay not in equipment but the training of its soldiers and the methodologies developed to use the equipment that it had to greatest advantage.

His numerous renditions of the hijinks and trouble that he and his fellow soldiers got into while off-duty and the results would never be tolerated in today’s more politically correct militaries but they speak to an issue that has been subsumed beneath the mantle of acceptable behaviour; this is the nature of esprit des corps and morale. An entertaining and useful book.   

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