View Full Version : Dirty War: Rhodesia and Chemical Biological Warfare 1975-1980

09-23-2016, 09:50 PM
Notice landed today that this book 'Dirty War: Rhodesia and Chemical Biological Warfare 1975-1980' is due out in April 2017, publihed by Helion Books (UK). From Amazon's summary:
At times in the conflict, the Rhodesians thought that their poisons effort would bring the decisive blow against the guerrillas. For months at a time, the Rhodesian use of CBW accounted for higher casualty rates than conventional weapons. In the end, however, neither CBW use nor conventional battlefield successes could turn the tide.

From the author's bio:
Dr. Glenn Cross currently works for the US Government on WMD issues. Since the early 1990s, he has worked on biological weapons (BW) issues for several U.S. intelligence agencies....He also was a post-doctoral fellow at Georgetown University where he conducted an exhaustive study of the Rhodesian CBW program as an example of a CBW program that had slipped under the radar of most other nations.

In the UK publication is November 2016:https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dirty-War-Rhodesia-Biological-1975-1980/dp/1911512129/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1474667221&sr=8-1&keywords=Dirty+War%3A+Rhodesia+and+Chemical+Biolog ical+Warfare+1975-1980

When I was in Zimbabwe in 1985 there was very little known, rumours abounded and the guerillas had their own memories.

09-23-2016, 11:59 PM
Having read as much as I can about the Rhodesian Bush War and the related Selous Scouts the two anecdotal examples that stand out to me include embedding contact poisons into clothing to be injected into ZIPRA/ZANLA supply chain and the poisoning of water sources along infiltration routes during the dry season.

I also found this and in July 2018 the link was not working:


09-24-2016, 10:34 AM

Good catch there!

Peter Baxter's hitherto unknown - to me - website has plenty to read. I have emailed him to ask for details of the 2017 Rhodesian Military History & Tactics speaking tour with Chris Cocks and him - which I know will be of interest here. See:http://peterbaxterafrica.com/

His Amazon bio:
Peter Baxter is an author, amateur historian and African field, mountain and heritage travel guide. Born in Kenya and educated in Zimbabwe, he has lived and travelled over much of southern and central Africa. He has guided in all the major mountain ranges south of the equator, helping develop the concept of sustainable travel, and the touring of battlefield and heritage sites in East Africa. Peter lives in Oregon, USA, working on the marketing of African heritage travel as well as a variety of book projects. His interests include British Imperial history in Africa and the East Africa campaign of the First World War in particular. His first book was Rhodesia: Last Outpost of the British Empire; he has written several books in the Africa@War series, including France in Centrafrique, Selous Scouts, Mau Mau, SAAF's Border War and Somalia: US Intervention, 1992-1994.In the recent Selous Scouts thread I added two references to the use of poisoned clothing: Google search on poisoned clothing + Rhodesia finds many references to this activity; accounts appeared later in Rhodesian memoirs and became very controversial, for examples view http://everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=1347508 (http://everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=1347508) and http://www.zimbabwesituation.com/sep3_2006.html (http://www.zimbabwesituation.com/sep3_2006.html)

01-02-2017, 05:38 PM
It appears the book has yet to reach the printer, due to production difficulties over copying original documents - via Amazon.co.uk

03-12-2017, 05:36 PM
This book is now available in the UK and from May 2017 in the USA from Helion Publishing. The UK price is just under 20.

Link to Helion:http://www.helion.co.uk/dirty-war-rhodesia-and-chemical-biological-warfare-1975-1980.html

There is a second USA publisher, details in the next post.

From a BSAP History email it appears that two senior BSAP SB officers helped with documents, plus some papers held by the Selous Scouts have been traced.

03-13-2017, 08:23 AM
Yesterday I posted (in part):
There is a second USA publisher, but details have gone astray and an inquiry is underway.

There is distributor in the USA for Helion; they are Casemate Publishers, from Pennsylvania and their website is:www.casematepublishing.com (http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/www.casematepublishing.com)

The book is priced at just under US$40.

03-18-2017, 06:32 PM
From the author in an email exchange:
The book is the culmination of nearly two decades of painstaking research, involving interviews with senior BSAP, CIO, Rhodesian Intelligence Corps, and Selous Scout officers on four continents. In the end, dozens of former personnel from the Rhodesian Security Forces were contacted. Also uncovered the few remaining documents related to the CBW effort. In end, this book is the most comprehensive and thorough book on the top secret Rhodesian CBW effort possible. Although many gaps still remain, the book illustrates how the Rhodesians were able to use CBW agents for years in a program that often surpassed the effectiveness of Rhodesian conventional arms.

04-28-2017, 08:33 PM
Alas the publisher has sent all the first batch to South Africa, so I am waiting and will add a review one day.;)

06-29-2017, 06:24 PM
The book's author has been interviewed (28 mins) by a Florida-based e-news site that appears to specialize in such matters (civil mainly). Short of time and know Rhodesia's history skip the first twelve minutes.

10-07-2017, 04:22 PM
Dirty War: Rhodesia and Chemical Biological Warfare 1975-1980 by Glenn Cross, published by Helion & Company 2017 (290 pgs.).

For many reasons the counter-insurgency war in Rhodesia (1964-1979) attracts attention and often admiration – how did such a small country, governed till April 1979 by a white minority government, which rebelled against British colonial rule, facing tens of thousands of nationalist, African guerrillas backed by the Soviet Union and China with a relatively small police and military capability, hamstrung by sanctions and dependent on variable South African support last so long?
During the later stages of the war allegations were made by the nationalists that chemical and biological weapons were being used; allegations that simply did not gain traction internationally. After 1980 a number of books by ex-Rhodesians appeared, a few touched upon the allegations and in particular reported clothing had been laced with a contact poison supplied to the guerrillas. Notable was Henrik Ellert’s ‘Rhodesian Front War’.
Rightly the author asks how this small nation, under international scrutiny, primarily by the UK & USA – albeit from afar – and isolated by sanctions plus develop such a secret programme without being noticed? When I visited Zimbabwe in 1985, a former Selous Scout officer readily referred to the use of contact poisons and more. Perhaps the programme was known to the watchers and they decided to keep it secret?
This book is the result of twenty years research by an American national intelligence expert on CBW, Dr Glenn Cross. He had the generous assistance of many Rhodesians. In particular a now deceased, key participant – Michael ‘Mac’ McGuiness, a police officer seconded to the Selous Scouts (who have their own history and reputation).
For many ex-Rhodesians and other participants the CBW episode is an ‘unseemly, ungentlemanly footnote’; when they prefer to see the war as a struggle by heroes.
How relevant is this episode today?
Simple, the Rhodesian CBW was an effective weapon in a bitter counter-insurgency campaign and other nations in similar circumstances – regime survival - could use them. Syria CW use is the only other example cited where a regime has used them against its own population and insurgents. Not to ignore Iraqi use against the Kurds, this was not a regime survival episode.
There is an ample introduction and a chapter on Rhodesia’s deteriorating security environment. Importantly he stresses the guerrillas were dependent on supporters in the African villages and thefts from stores (there was little urban activity). By 1976 the final phase had begun and the Rhodesians had lost the “hearts and minds” of the majority of Africans living in the countryside.
One option for the Rhodesians was to launch external raids on guerrilla camps in neighbouring Mozambique and Zambia. These were often lethal combined forces actions, but thousands of recruits were still arriving and only at the end in 1979 do some contend the guerrilla’s capabilities were weakened – leading to the Lancaster House negotiated settlement.
The key chapter is ‘The Rhodesian CBW Effort’, pgs. 72-152; includes 252 footnotes).
A tiny, almost amateur team of scientists – possibly less than half a dozen - was assembled in 1975-1976, with political approval (note Prime Minister Ian Smith denied this much later), with the police (BSAP) and intelligence (CIO) sharing responsibility, funding was available (from CIO, South Africa and Saudi Arabia), and South Africa gave some other assistance. The need for secrecy meant most activity was at a relatively remote police ‘fort’.
There is a description of the agents used: Parathion, Telodrin, Thallium, Warfarin and one biological agent Cholera. Enough for anyone to research further.
How effective was their use? One official document in June 1977 refers to 809 deaths and many thought then this was more than conventional military operations – especially the Fireforce contacts. Two historians later concluded ‘perhaps thousands of guerrillas’ died. The author’s own calculation is that the poisoned clothing, beverages and food could have killed more than a thousand. So he estimates CBW accounted for 15% of insurgent deaths; sometimes with guerrilla groups having 30-100% casualties.
Did the use of CBW damage relations between the guerrillas and their rural supporters? Yes there was a violent reaction to mysterious deaths, witch hunts, targeting the last people who had supplied the guerrillas, but restraint was ordered so it is unclear what the overall effect was.
It is important to note – as the author explains – that the use of poisons and witchcraft was very significant for the rural African population. Indeed only recently a senior Zimbabwean politician claimed he had been poisoned – as the contest to succeed President Robert Mugabe gains momentum. See: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-41530924
Did CBW use end the insurgency on favourable terms for the Rhodesians? Judge for yourself I say, certainly this book helps.
There is a small chapter on South Africa’s role. Intriguingly CBW was not used in the counter-insurgency war in South-West Africa, now Namibia by the South African police’s main COIN unit, Koevoet. Yes questions remain and helpfully the author provides a list of them.
The disease Anthrax naturally occurs in Rhodesia and in starting in November 1978 there was one of the largest outbreaks in recorded human history. Was this the result of a deliberate act by Rhodesian forces? The author examines the evidence and concludes no.
The last chapter ‘Lessons and Legacy’ examined the wider implications in the use of CBW, not just in an insurgency and the factors that inhibit states using them.
The author has a short article available elsewhere on this aspect on: https://warontherocks.com/2017/08/long-ignored-the-use-of-chemical-and-biological-weapons-against-insurgents/
The two appendices detail the CBW Agents and the very few Rhodesian documents acquired.
The author has assembled a detailed analysis of Rhodesian CBW in the counter-insurgency war and weighed up all the factors involved. Many of those factors, such as South Africa’s role, remain hidden and quite possibly for ever now. I doubt there will be another book on the topic, quite an achievement for the author.
Personally I do not think the use of CBW helped the Rhodesians, it may though have postponed for a short time the eventual end. Rhodesia may have won virtually every engagement with the guerrillas, they ignored for too long the political factor and as we now know Zimbabwe has succumbed to a dictatorship, with millions of Africans leaving.

10-08-2017, 12:24 PM
A response from an ex-Rhodesian "lurker":
A sobering read. I share your view not really effective and probably quite counterproductive: it was a small effort but quite lethal, But not strategic like so much else in the war. What disturbs me most is that all the anti-Rhodesians can point to the illegal use of chemicals and bracket us with Bashir Assad and Saddam.

03-31-2018, 12:12 PM
A review of the book by Paul Moorcraft, a writer on wars and for a time resident in the region IIRC, via CBRN magazine website.

There are some remarks I am not familiar with, e.g. Anglo-US removal of South Africa's CBW weapons. Anyway I digress and so his last paragraph as a "taster":
or specialists, Dr Cross’s book is very impressive. He is no stylist, however, and lack of hard documentary evidence enforces necessary speculation and some unnecessary repetition. or specialists, Dr Cross’s book is very impressive. This is likely to be the last word on the subject. Few
Few care about the white supremacists’ last stand in southern Africa, and yet the subject is very pertinent. It shows how a very basic and amateurish programme can inflict thousands of deaths in an asymmetric war. No wonder al-Qaeda and Daesh have been so fixated on the same type of evil endeavour.
Link:http://www.cbrneworld.com/_uploads/download_magazines/Book_review_Rhodesia.pdf20,678v (http://www.cbrneworld.com/_uploads/download_magazines/Book_review_Rhodesia.pdf)

07-26-2018, 12:32 PM
I have closed this thread, pending any updates spotted and after thought it has not been merged into the main thread on Rhodesia:http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/showthread.php?2090-Rhodesian-COIN-(consolidated-thread-inc-original-RLI)