"Your book in my judgement has a lasting value. You have a lot of information about building a
people’s army that is very interesting. What is important is that your writing will contribute hugely to an overall understanding of what was actually happening on the ground in Rhodesia from 1973-79."
Lord David Owen
British Foreign Secretary, 1977-1979.
"The recording of Rhodesian counter-insurgency history from the experiences of a member of the former Rhodesian Special Branch, supported by his diaries and extensive research, will make this book stand the test of time."
Dr Joshua Chakawa,
Head of the Department of History, Midlands State University, Gweru, Zimbabwe
"Padbury was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland but grew up in Africa raised as a ’proud colonial Rhodesian’. His background is remarkably similar to my own – we were both born in Europe but grew up in Africa. We both attended Mount Pleasant school before enlisting in the BSAP in 1964 and 1969 respectively serving mainly in the Special Branch (SB). After a short spell in the CID, Padbury transferred to SB – the security and intelligence unit of the BSAP. In the mid-1970s, whilst at Rusape he pioneered unorthodox anti-terrorist operations working with captured ‘mujibas’ (youngsters who provided limited military, logistical and intelligence for ZANLA guerrillas in a specific area.) After helping the Rhodesians to kill guerrillas, a turned mujiba was soon compromised and unable to return to his home area so many were incorporated as irregulars managed by Special Branch. The strategy proved highly successful and a series of ‘mujiba farms’ (training centers) run by Special Branch to provide the military with operational intelligence, were established.
This led to the formation of the Security Force Auxiliary concept in late 1976 – effectively the armed wing of moderate African nationalist parties - of which the UANC was the most successful.
Padbury was appointed to run the operation in the Hurungwe district to the west of Karoi in 1977. Drawing on his experiences from Rusape Padbury focused on evolving an open ‘home-guard’ concept with a clear agenda to serve and protect their own community with the support of the moderate UANC. The strategy rested on enabling the largely ethnic Shona speaking people of Hurungwe to protect themselves against marauding ethnic Ndebele forces of ZIPRA.
The idea of arming rural Africans in the Rhodesian anti-insurgency campaign was first proposed by Special Branch in 1973 but dismissed by the Rhodesian Front government for whom the very idea of ‘arming blacks’ was an anathema.
As the nationalist guerrilla campaign - spear-headed by ZANU’s ZANLA and ZAPU’s ZIPRA - gained momentum Ian Smith reluctantly agreed to a power sharing deal with the moderate African nationalist leaders on 3 March 1978. The agreement led to the creation of an interim government in which Africans were included in leading positions for the first time and in March 1979 the moderate UANC party came to power.
John Padbury threw himself 110% into the mission and achieved extraordinary results in a micro theatre of war. In the space of a year the security situation in the ethnic Shona Hurungwe enclave stabilized and normal life returned; schools and clinics re-opened, cattle dipping restarted, and roads kept clear of mines, and best of all, villagers came to report the presence of the intruders enabling the SFAs (people’s own militia – the Phumo re Vanhu ) to deploy against the ZIPRA enemy. This was a remarkable achievement – something the Rhodesians had failed to do since the insurgency started in 1970. Rhodesian response in the early stage of the war was to herd people into collective villages – a strategy that proved counter-productive – alienating the people. Success was largely measured in terms of number of enemies killed in an ‘unwinnable war’ where time and demographics were against the Rhodesians.
Rhodesians living in Karoi observed with concern how Padbury and his team of operators mixed freely with veteran nationalist leaders and fighters like James Chikerema (ex ZAPU and FROLIZI) and Grey Mtemasango (ZAPU) who believed in a future Zimbabwe under the leadership of the moderate UANC. There were raised eyebrows amongst the more conservative elements of the Rhodesian Security Forces (SF) and Civil Administration. In fact, Padbury banned the Rhodesian District Administrator who wanted to visit the area that was now secure.
Padbury demonstrated it was possible to gain the support of the ‘masses’ (the people) by employing the ‘armed home-guard’ with a political agenda, despite the opposition of the RF Government and many senior SF personnel. With the logistical and financial resources of the Special Branch and the political ideology provided by the UANC, Padbury and his team had achieved what no other Rhodesian units had done before. The Hurungwe operation became a model upon which a similar operation in the Kana area of western Rhodesia, a predominantly Shona speaking enclave surrounded by Ndebele loyal to ZIPRA. But it was all too little and too late as events were moving fast with the Americans and South Africans putting pressure on Smith to reach a settlement with ZANU and ZAPU that culminated in the Lancaster House Agreement.
Opposition to this highly irregular strategy from within the highest echelons of the Rhodesian military in 1979 came as a personal blow to Padbury. Despite his fierce opposition, the SFA militia was placed under Rhodesian military discipline and Padbury saw ‘defeat knocking at the door’. The ‘Irregular’ SFA were unable to adjust and before long their moral plummeted and both ZANLA and ZIPRA quickly asserted control. Padbury faced the grim reality that the Rhodesian Front government had failed and led Rhodesia to defeat and many of her people going into exile. Having given everything to his work, even forsaking his wife and family, Padbury decided in May 1979 that it was time for him to leave his beloved Rhodesia.
This book is remarkable not only for the depth of detail that Padbury reveals about the minutiae of Rhodesian special branch operations and also for his compassionate telling of his own very human story as he struggled to recover his life, his family and make sense of it all. Padbury is to be congratulated for adding this unique chapter to a vast volume of Rhodesian war literature."
SB D/Insp., author, historian
"John good evening. I must complement you on your book. I feel that it is probably the best book written about the Rhodesian war that I have read. I have a huge collection. If only the RF Government had been as forward thinking as you . That there is a great chance that we could have won/ negotiated a much better deal than what we got. Your book and your ideas will become a go to text book for any future conflicts in years to come."
"John Padbury’s book is a welcome contribution to the record of the Rhodesian War.
What makes it more than a personal anecdote of the war is the obvious meticulous research resulting in the numerous references and the use of retained personal documents, diaries and notes supporting the narrative and as such elevates the book to the level of reference book status.
This book covers a unique aspect of the war that I, as an infantry officer in the Rhodesian Light Infantry, had hitherto little experience or knowledge of and as such has certainly been educational and informative now has a valued place on my bookshelf.
In the rural African environment where the insurgency comprised a complex mix of both tribal and political components it is quite clear that Padbury had a full grasp and understanding of these complexities together with an ability to command and control all aspects of the operations including intelligence planning and deployments. It is also clear that he would have been specifically identified for this task as he had all the necessary capabilities.
On a personal level I’m grateful that it contributes to clarifying the situation surrounding the Viscount downing which had become a bone of contention with various competing narratives emerging. Again supported by references and his personal involvement we finally are able to understand exactly what happened and are now assured that we have an accurate history of that tragic part of the history of the Rhodesian War. I sincerely thank John for providing that clarity.
Overall I therefore have no hesitation in recommending The Battle of Hurungwe as not only a good read but a valuable contribution to the history of the Rhodesia bush war and counter-insurgency warfare in general."
Captain, Rhodesia Light Infantry
"Asymmetric warfare is another type of war; war by guerrillas, subversives, insurgents, and assassins; war by ambush instead of by combat; by infiltration instead of aggression seeking victory by eroding and exhausting the enemy instead of engaging him. It preys on economic unrest and ethnic conflict. It is population-centric – the population being the ultimate key to victory for both sides of the conflict. It requires new and different strategies, different sorts of forces and different types of military training.
The Battle for Hurungwe is a formidable and detailed account of the nature of the asymmetric war in Rhodesia from 1965 to 1979. It is both a detailed diary of events during the period and an object lesson in the development of strategies to deal with this new form of warfare. It reinforces the absolute requirement to bring the local population onside at a time when much of it feels that their country has forsaken it. It portrays the irony of the country being defended by those who owe it the least. It highlights the imperative for politicians and their security forces to sing from the same song sheet and reveals what the human cost can be when they do not.
With his arrival to take over his command in the Tribal Trust Land of Hurungwe, the author was able to bring all his hard-won experience and his comprehensive understanding of the type of operations which would be successful, to running the campaign in this strange, asymmetric warfare environment. Had his techniques and approach been accepted and used more widely, the outcome of the unwinnable war might have been different.
It is a remarkable, accurate and historical narrative which all students of conflict would benefit from studying."
Field Marshall the Lord Walker of Aldringham GCB CMG CBE DL
Former Commanding Officer of the British Armed Forces.
"Battle For Hurungwe is an honest account of a young man navigating and surviving the horrors and deception of war. It is a story of finding true friendship with those we were brought up to hate, and of betrayal by the institutions we trusted.
We all can learn to be brave and to live our lives according to our convictions, even if this goes against conventional
In this historical account, we are given life lessons of people from completely different cultural backgrounds working together to fight a powerful enemy.
Not having experienced war myself, this book has helped me understand my father and those he fought with and against."
Horticulturist, musician - my son.
"This book is meticulously researched, with much of the history of the war based on John's personal diaries and journals. I recommend this work to the reader who wishes to gain insight into many of the behind the scenes dealings and manouverings of leading politicians, military personal and highly placed British and Rhodesian government officials who presided over this period of the Rhodesian/Zimbabwean history."
"Battle for Hurungwe by John Padbury is not about WW1, but rather an account of John’s involvement in the Zimbabwean civil war of 1965-1979 as part of Special Branch.
It’s not the typical ‘bush war’ type book detailing battles and engagements. Instead it traces the evolution of a group of white men who saw the cause they were employed to protect being one of ultimate destruction and that the way forward to a better future for all was to work and live together.
Using Mao’s Little Red Book, John discerned the thinking behind communism and used the same methods against the ‘terrorists’. A policy which bore positive results in the area of Hurungwe until politics denied Bishop Muzorewa an African solution to the struggle and the situation dissolved into a different violence.
This is a detailed, meticulously referenced book, verified by independent research conducted by Joshua Chakawa. In a few places, clearly annotated, the names and identities of individuals have been changed to ensure their and their families’ safety. Numerous maps, reports, air logs and photos are included. Apart from the strategies and tactics employed, John also covers the role of the Viscount planes shot down.
What appeals with this account is the striving for peace within the armed struggle – changing minds and building trust in the face of counter-propaganda is no easy task. The book contains a blue-print to help bring other conflicts to a win-win conclusion. A point summed up in ‘politics is war without bloodshed; war is politics with bloodshed’ – and as Kitchener discovered, all the progress that soldiers make towards peace is so often undone by politicians.
And for politicians wanting an insight to what they have to overcome, perhaps a reading (and intellectual digestion) of The Challenge for Africa by Wangari Maathai might help."
Historian, TSL Publications.
Having recently finished the book, which I found difficult to put down, I thought I would drop you a line.I found the book really comprehensive and very well balanced. I believe it will be a 'go to book' for future historians.
I knew very little of operations in Mashonaland and Manicland. Matabeleland sometimes seemed like a different country.
I was impressed by your philosophical change when at the time, as I recall, to waver from the Government line was unpatriotic.
I too had some special friends amongst our black colleagues and went out of my way to assist them where necessary.
The main thing I will remember from the book is how you became a true African with your language skills and knowledge of African society. You could see the world through their eyes!
No wonder you went through much pain in the immediate years after relocating.
I believe you would have been a great CID Officer in any police service.
Former BSAP member 7475
"John, the Battle for Hurungwe is one of the finest books on the Rhodesian War. It clearly details, via your extensive research, the significant events of the final years of war in the Hurungwe. Your brave and unique approach using the political dimension and the local citizens to overcome the enemy clearly illustrates the tragic flaws of the Rhodesian's lack of strategy. Thank you for this not to be missed piece of the history of the Rhodesian War."
Corporal 2 Inep. Rhod. Reg.
"John you published a fine book. You captured the art of an intelligence war few including myself understood. You revealed much about a covert war that was running parallel with conventional war tactics of its day and in the process found yourself. Your impact on me to this day is profound. Thank you. A book you can be proud of and a testament to SB, your colleagues in SB and all who served. Its a study in reverse psychology which challenged my paradigm whilst reading it. A sad ending but one which has been captured for those who follow and study covert operationds and unconventional thinking. It now occupies prime space for friends and family who visit...see it and ask "Hurungwe".. whats this about. I am proud of you mate."
BSAP N/S/P/O (see chapter 5)
"Having read Battle for Hurungwe, it brought a refreshing and honest account of a Special Branch operatives far reaching foresight into how and what needed to be achieved to counter the onslaught being waged by insurgents in the rural areas of Rhodesia.
John's meticulous record keeping and astute assessment of intelligence gleaned was of the highest order, thus allowing him the ability to keep one step ahead of the enemy at every turn.
Of particular interest, to me personally, was his interaction with his colleagues, black and white. John did not see colour but the best man for the job. He was not a top down manager but encouraged input from all, thereby making strategic decisions collective. Whilst stationed at Police Rusape, circa 76, I had many discussions with the black court interpreter, an astute, bright well educated individual who could easily have integrated into our 'society' yet was unable to due to his race. Such a pity the Government was so intransigent to change, although there were many members in the Police and Security Forces who advocated for integration and promotion of our black colleagues.
John's operational style should have been the 'blue print' for all operational areas - home grown and operated militia to combat insurgent threat and get civil society in the rural areas back up and running.
Battle for Hurungwe is a must read."
Former Detective Inspector
"Battle for Hurungwe is a reliable, accurate and true account of people and events by a former Special Branch Security Officer who served in the British South Africa Police. This book has been written without fear of disfavour. He has shown an unwillingness to make concessions and maintained a bold and shameless approach when deciding events of both terrorists and security force members.
The book can be classified as a study of history, undisputed in the stating of events that circumnavigated the events of the terrorist war in the Hurungwe Tribal Trust Land in Rhodesia."
Former Senior Assistant Commissioner, British South Africa Police
"John's book is an excellent read. I have just finished it, and I am sure I will read it again. Apart from the meticulous referencing, the text reads "true" and "factual", and is intertwined with John's personal story. Excellent. Simply excellent."
"I found Battle For Hurungwe a refreshing and honest account of John Padbury's involvement in the bush war, backed up with facts and documentation from the various parties involved at the time. It makes a very interesting read and does not pull any punches. John placed his life on the line on numerous occasions, following what he, and in fact most of us who were involved in the Rhodesian Bush War, thought was right at the time.
The book obviously took a hell of a lot of research and time to put it all together and John has interviewed several very interesting people from all sides of the political divide and, in my opinion is open and frank about the beliefs held by the author and how his views changed as the circumstances and war changed. During the book, one can see how the author adapted his thoughts and methods in trying to find the right solutions and the best way to win the war in the areas he was responsible for.
Included are a number of accounts of John’s involvement with two of my old units, namely the BSAP tracking dogs and the BSAP Support Unit and will make interesting reading for people involved with these units.
I would recommend Battle For Hurungwe to anyone interested in the Rhodesian Bush War and particularly people that are interested in winning a war with the help of the local civilian population, or losing it without their help."
Roger “Lee” Le Crerar.
Former S/O, BSAP Support
"This is a book which had to be written.
Part I covers the bush war in North Eastern Rhodesia and includes John Padbury’s personal involvement. Of most importance is the analysis of the political and philosophical views of the white politicians and white Rhodesians during this time.
Part II explains the novel implementation of a method to counteract the guerrillas in Hurungwe during the latter part of the war.
The conclusion in Part I, which I suspect will be daunting to many surviving white Rhodesians, is most revealing. The lack of understanding of local culture, language and philosophy plus the then ruling white politicians’ true ideals and the subsequent hardening of attitudes during those trying times were not conducive to any successful outcome for Rhodesia.
Part II of the book describes a successful method to counteract a guerrilla insurgency. This method should be prescribed reading for all military intelligences and senior military officers around the world.
Few people, if any, pass through an armed conflict without scars whether they be emotional, physical or both. John Padbury offers an understanding to “those who wonder why”. He also provides a detailed narrative of parts of the war in Rhodesia. He then gives a peoples’ answer on how to prevent and succeed against a guerrilla war.
I commend John for his bravery in putting pen to paper to help people understand the war in Rhodesia and in fact other similar conflicts. He offers a workable, likely the only solution, to this and similar wars.
Dr Louis Shulman
FRANZCR LRCP MRCS MBCHB
Former Captain Rhodesian Medical Corp and 2RR
"John Padbury has put together a captivating read detailing an aspect of Rhodesian intelligence work that is yet little related. The modus operandi of his operations, had they been more broadly disseminated and implemented, especially during the earlier part of the war, may well have been the ultimate methodology to pursue the counter-insurgency.
John Padbury’s account of how he set up and ran his Auxiliary operations in the Hurungwe is a fascinating read and much of it is based on his meticulously maintained diaries and documentary evidence. For example, he dispels claims of glory or heroism in false accounts claiming elimination of the Viscount Strela gang in a fiction turned non-fiction work; that has not been without its controversy in Rhodesian circles.
Padbury’s book has been extremely well researched, over several years, involving many authentic documents and extensive interviews. His liaison with prominent ‘struggle’ historians and a British politician opened new avenues to the story being told. The Battle For Hurungwe is a well recommended read and students of insurgency conflict and more specifically Zimbabwe’s liberation history or the Rhodesian Bush War will find this book interesting. It’s a refreshing change to the generally definitive regimental histories, but perhaps goes a little against the grain of “Rhodie-think". Read Andy's full review at: https://justandrewinzimbabwe.wordpress.com/2022/05/20/book-review-battle-for-hurungwe."
President, BSAP Regimental Association
"I would like to thank John for writing this book. I grew up in Umtali, and as you say we were brainwashed to go straight to the army after school to defend our country. I learned a lot I didn’t know about special branch, Pfumo Revanu and many other things. Still interesting to read after such a long time.
And yes I agree Ian Smith should have listened and got down to serious negotiations and peaceful orderly transition to majority rule. He could have saved thousands of lives and much pain and misery.
Cpl. SAS, war ended before he deployed.
"John Padbury has crafted a meticulously researched analysis of a lesser-known but critical aspect of the Rhodesian bushwar. In my opinion, this should be essential reading for the student of COIN warfare; a book that adds a completely different dimension to the broader understanding of Rhodesia’s civil war. Highly detailed, with much reference material, and well-researched by the author who was in the frontline of the events he describes. This book will stand the test of time in an academic sense, yet is highly readable. I highly recommend ‘Battle for Hurungwe’. "
Researcher and amateur military history enthusiast of the Rhodesian bushwar
Former BSAP Reservist.
"This is a book that needed to be written and is proof of the closed minds of the RF government and illustrates the tragedy of brave intelligent men denied equal pay and rank.
However I have nothing but admiration for the BSAP. As reservists they treated us well and, when they could, looked after us. This is a book that vividly brings my service to mind and the small part I played in the overall scheme of events .”