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"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."  

Henrik Ellert

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."


Verified purchaser

"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."

Mark Adams

Captain, Rhodesia Light Infantry 

"Thoroughly enjoyed your book, John...a fantastic effort and great publication...know it will sell well. Your marketing is excellent and it is certainly the talk of the town. Well done indeed."

Barry Woan (1951 -2022,)

L/Insp. Bar, MLM, BSAP Support Unit.

"Padbury’s book is a well written document of the life of a dedicated young policeman who was totally loyal to his job and country.


I first came into contact with him mid-1977 at Rusape where, as a Patrol Officer, I was attached to Special Branch operations. Padbury was one of a team of exceptionally successful special branch operators. Whilst his primary function was intelligence gathering, he was always involved in the follow-up of intelligence gathered to ensure the most was gained from the operation. As a young man, I always viewed John as a fearless operator who earned respect from all those he came into contact with.


In the latter stages of the war he got involved with a new way of thinking on how the war could best be dealt with in the Hurungwe TTL.


This successful strategy of mobilising and arming the people was unfortunately too late to impact the country. Again John gave his all.


I recommend Battle For Hurungwe."

Charlie Hand

P/O attached to BSAP Special Branch

"I must congratulate ex SB officer John Padbury on his Battle For Hurungwe which I

enlightening, and extremely well researched. His grasp of counter-insurgency operations

could ultimately have been a game changer had this been expanded throughout the country. What emerges very clearly as one reads the book, is how absolutely imperative it was to have the rural people onside. To use General Sir Gerald Templer’s 1952 cliched quote in Malaya; 

‘The answer lies not in pouring more soldiers into the jungle, but in the hearts and minds of the Malayan people … The shooting side of this business is only 25 percent of the trouble and the other 75 lies in getting the people of this country behind us.'


Templer’s words were equally applicable to Rhodesia, and SB officer John Padbury 

clearly understood this. He was also fully prepared to look at a more unorthodox, albeit winnable counterinsurgency option, lingering

just below the surface. What became obvious too, was how like all wars, Rhodesia’s was a tragic, protracted event, made worse by the total lack of any form of strategic vision by our political leadership. Surely, a recipe for failure. Padbury’s Battle For Hurungwe will undoubtedly become a valuable addition to the library of any serious student of counter-insurgency, and it makes for an ideal stand alone research reference."

Kevin Thomas

Ex National Parks Dept, Freelance

"During the Bush War conflict in the 1970's, I was accustomed in my role as an Army Commander in the Fire Force to meeting new faces on a daily basis as we traversed the country in response to calls by deployed Security Forces for our assistance.


I met John Padbury three or four times during the course of my travels, the first time when we were based on a forward airfield at Montesuma Farm, a short distance south of Karoi in December 1978. Apart from the irregular forces under Padbury' s control, there were few other intelligence gathering agencies in the area and ZIPRA were dominant in the area.


Padbury came to see me as soon as we arrived and we went on indications in a PRAW aircraft together with an African male. Flying north for about 10 minutes, the man indicated with certainty an area of supposed enemy occupation. I was initially skeptical of this as experience had taught me that very rarely were these indications fruitful. However we deployed the Fire Force to the map area plotted and were soon after in contact with a ZIPRA gang , eventually eliminating most of them.


This was a pattern set to repeat itself over the next few days, and I developed a healthy respect for Padbury and his unconventional methodology that were responsible for our success. This modus operandi was repeated afterwards when we were again deployed to Karoi Country Club following the downing of Viscount Umniati in early 1979.


I have read with some interest this book and compliment the author on his meticulous research, not only during its compilation, but also for the professional and innovative manner in which he executed his duties nearly 45 years ago.


The author's views on the conduct of the conflict and the political climate will not necessary find resonance with many of those involved, for the passage of time will have only entrenched their views.


I too have expressed much disquiet about these issues in my book and in other media, for the paucity of long term planning on both these fronts merely added to the burden that those in the field were expected to shoulder.


Nevertheless. those seeking to explore further the many issues that dog opinion today will find this book fertile ground to till.


A good read! Well done!"

Major Nigel Henson 

RLI Fire Force Commander

I have enjoyed reading your book/ memoir, especially your critique of the Rhodesian strategy on the liberation War. The text shows the limits of the Rhodesian propaganda and also the intolerance for alternative view points displayed by the Smith Regime. For me as a historian this is quite interesting because this intervention bursts the convenient white/black binary common in Zimbabwean history. As you show, viewing Rhodesia's white community as having been a homogenous and largely pro-Smith group is quite misleading. It's a big historical fallacy. I also found your post-war experiences quite harrowing - Your family and identity disrupting exit from the country you had fought so hard for and the numerous challenges in adjusting to the post-war situation as an alienated migrant in different parts of the world. Because of these disruptions, it seems writing the memoir was a cathartic process for you.

Dr Mashangiedze

Campus Director, Midlands State 

University, Zimbabwe.

I started reading your book then had to stop due to it bringing back serious memories that were not so healthy, but with time and some great intervention from some christian veterans, I am moving in the right direction. In fact getting involved in a program where I take people with serious PTSD on a series of adventures from sailing, sea kayaking , whitewater rafting and biking while teaching them that PTSD is no a mental illness but rather a moral injury.


Going back to your book and our time together. 1977 for me was with Sierra troop, support unit based out of 151A with either Fred Mason or Tom Naude keeping us busy. I remember many a briefing we went to that you gave which always resulted in a punch up. We always knew that we could expect action and were never disappointed. At the time I was 18 years old and it was just myself and Steve Pilkington - Williams in S Troop, with no adult supervision! Our troops were some of the finest men I have ever had the pleasure of working with .

I ended up after the war becoming friends with a number of ex terrorists who were very angry with Mugabe due to Tongagara’s death. One of them ended up as a Brigadier general in the DRC and died in 2020 from covid. He was interesting to talk to about the war and held support unit in very high regard.

I totally agree with your conclusion, and like so many others suffered because of some of these selfish politicians. 

All in all a great read and good that the truth is now out there. My biggest regret like yours is not knowing where the guys I served with ended up. They were the real casualties and heroes of that war. I have no regrets because it made me the person I am today and my success today is largely built on the leadership skills I learned as an 18 year old in one of the toughest environments in the world.

Mike Stewart

NSPO Support Unit

"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."


Robin Padbury

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."

Vernon Loker


"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."

Anne Samson

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.

Paul Hodges

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."

Darryl Roberts

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."

Allan Johnston

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."

Graham Brand

Former Detective Inspector 

"John Padbury, thank you for this book. It was a lot to take in but made me reconsider what I have believed in for all these years. I was only 15 when the war started on the outskirts of Sinoia in 1966 and I saw the first CT bodies being brought in after the Battle of the Hunyani,in which my Step father fought. That coloured my beliefs about the Smith government for the rest of the war and beyond but this book made me realise that I had not considered any other possibilities even though I was always concerned about the local people caught between the CTs and the security forces. By the end of the war I thought that Britain was the bad guys but I see now that the Rhodesian government was just as much to blame. Thank you for opening my eyes. A very interesting and informative story. Well done."

Hilda Lawrence Olivier

Rhodesian Bush War enthusiast

"It is so good to meet you, thanks to Stephen, and to read such an interesting - indeed, fascinating - summary of your career. So many points resonate with me as an historian and your sophisticated and balanced reflection is clearly in a wholly different category from standard Rhodesian war memoirs.


Your experience with the Security Force Auxiliaries, in particular, fills an important gap in accounts of that aspect of the conflict. Field Marshal Walker's review is clearly well deserved. I'll be sure to publicise your book among scholars with whom I am in contact as an editor of the Journal of Southern African Studies.


I was in Rhodesia in the aftermath of the downing of the first Viscount "Hunyani" and recall that time very vividly. Some years afterwards, at Rhodes University, I knew Cindy Dardagan, from a Greek family based in Banket, who lost more than one member of her family in - I think - the first of those tragedies.


Thank you also for your fascinating and informative website, which I'll be sure to circulate to interested friends."

Kindly note that this review arrived shortly before Dr Lowry's tragic passing.

Dr Donal (late), Lowry FRHistS

Senior Member, University of Oxford

"This well-researched book covers the period in the Rhodesian (now Zimbabwe) bush war during the period 1965 to 1979.  John Padbury, first from a CID point of view in the British South Africa Police (BSAP), and then Special Branch, paints the picture of incursions into Rhodesia by both ZAPU (entering Rhodesia from Zambia and Botswana) and ZANU (entering Rhodesia from Mozambique and Zambia) guerilla forces, intent on terrorising the local population and overthrowing the Rhodesian Government of Ian Smith and then that of Rev Abel Muzorewa as Zimbabwe-Rhodesia.

Padbury was responsible for intelligence gathering, running informers for information, and developing a counter force militia to combat the rise of Nationalist insurgents in the areas that he operated in.  To all accounts, whilst political dilly-dallying delayed the inevitable, he and his team pressed on with almost their private war against the guerillas of Joshua Nkomo of ZAPU and Robert Mugabe’s ZANLA forces.  Numerically outnumbered, they had many successes.  


The book is well-written, and attention to detail is to be applauded.  This is especially the case, when good arguments are presented by other parties to the conflict, as to their version of events.  Detailed original Special Branch reports and air force flying logs, plus interviews with parties to both sides of the conflict, give an undeniable gravitas to this work."

                 Prof Tony Granger                 Shrewsbury, UK

"As someone who served as a TF officer in the Rhodesian army training police, special branch and SAS volunteers in the original GATU (Guerrilla Anti-Terrorist Unit), and commanding the TCU (Tracker Combat Unit) that morphed into the Selous Scouts, as well as leading one of the four political parties in this tragic and unnecessary war, I have no hesitation in highly recommending Battle For Hurungwe. 


I found Padbury’s account of this particular operation refreshing in its honesty. I believe the approach Padbury and those operating with him took was correct although, through institutional opposition, too little too late.  Particularly refreshing is his acknowledgement of the blunders and mistakes made by senior commanders who had bought into the Ian Smith racist propaganda after those opposed to UDI had been removed and replaced with compliant officers.  Such honesty and candour contrasts with so much that has been written about the war. Where others writing of the Rhodesian war covered up our mistakes and blunders and write in a bragging manner, Padbury tends to tell it as it was, warts and all.  


As Padbury describes, this was an unnecessary unwinnable war.  It was brought about by Ian Smith who had come to power in an internal coup against Prime Minister Winston Field, who was opposed to unilaterally declaring full independence (UDI). This ill-considered act and racist policies of Smith lost Rhodesia’s status as a self-governing colony similar to the Dominions such as Canada, Australia and Zealand.  And, as Padbury describes, the loss of many lives of brave people on both sides of this tragic unnecessary civil war resulting in today’s chaotic and badly governed country.  


In my view, and as Padbury describes, all moderate non-racial/tribal Rhodesians were betrayed by their government. In addition, the proud records of fine regiments that had served so well from the pioneer column ending the slave trade in the region through two world wars were sullied by commanders who broke our oaths as officers of loyalty to our constitution in favour of loyalty to a political party – a blight still adversely affecting Zimbabwe."

Alan Savory

TF Training Officer with Rhodesian Tracker Unit

Dr Mashingaidze

PhD University of Minnesota, USA.Campus 

"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."

Edward Sheriff

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."

Alan Doyle, 

Author, historian.

"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


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:"

Andrew Field

Former D/Insp Special Branch

"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. 

George Perkins

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’. "

Neil Grange

Researcher and amateur military history enthusiast of the Rhodesian bushwar

"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 .”

Geoffrey Burrows

Former BSAP Reservist.

Hi John.

Loved your book and enjoyed your attention to detail well done! 2 comments. I was born in 1944 and worked for Greaterman's in Nigel in the December holidays in 1960 and 61. Went to Malawi on holiday and stayed in the house next door to Club Makakola on Lake Malawi. I had the same experience with a indigenous pilot. He did the best landing I ever had.  Small world. God bless!

Barbara Currie

Read over 90 Rhodesian Bush War books

“The masses are the key to survival and victory in a people’s revolution and there is a need for their unequivocal support”.


In a few words, author John Padbury unequivocally defines the very nature of Rhodesia in the 1970s. Two ethnically divergent insurgency groups were fighting a parallel war of the much-coined hearts and minds; their objective the removal of the minority white Rhodesian government to ostensibly make way for a universally elected independent Zimbabwe.  This aspect of the conflict was naïvely either ignored or, out of ignorance, grossly misinterpreted by those in power. This proved to be a costly mistake.  

Few understood the fundamental importance of meeting and challenging the insurgent enemy by fighting them at their own game and on their own turf. For Padbury, then a detective inspector in Special Branch of the national Rhodesian police force, BSAP, the success of such a strategy hinged entirely on what he terms “the mobilisation of the masses.” However, Padbury found that such a strategy was both overlooked and resisted by the Rhodesian government and the security forces command.

In the first part of his book, Padbury describes the events in Rhodesia’s history that culminated in the irreconcilable polarisation between African nationalism and the right-wing white administration of the Rhodesian Front party. 

In 1969, four years after Rhodesian Prime Minister declared the country independent of Britain, the 18-year-old Padbury attested into the BSAP at a time when the nationalists had started to resort to the use of arms to overthrow the Rhodesian government. Three years later he was transferred to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the BSAP, his first tentative steps that would see him grow to fully understand the psyche and modus operandi of the insurgents in the context of rural tribespeople. 

Increasingly, Padbury discovered the imperative was to know the indigenous customs and language, which would equip him with the means to counter the rapidly escalating guerrilla war in his own capacity. The insurgents’ alien Maoist political doctrine, subversion, intimidation and horrific brutality resulted in what Padbury refers to as “the decay of the traditional African culture.”

Padbury saw how the insurgents, themselves Rhodesian citizens, exploited grievances to turn the tribesman against the white government’s administration of the so-called Tribal Trust Lands (TTLs) in which he was legally required to live. In many cases, people had been moved against their will away from their traditional and spiritual homes. Eventually, the insurgents’ strategies resulted in the administrative authorities withdrawing from large tracts of rural countryside, becoming what the insurgents referred to as liberated areas. 

Whilst operating in the northeast areas infiltrated by ZANLA guerrillas, Padbury discovered what he refers to as “the ultimate political and military intelligence network [which] superseded traditional authority.” Mujibas, “young unarmed African males”, were the eyes and ears of the insurgents. Harbingers of barbarous beatings, mutilations and murders; tactics deemed necessary by the insurgents to achieve their ultimate objective, the mujibas were much-feared.

Padbury goes into considerable detail relating his experiences during his counter-insurgency activities in the northeast tribal areas targeted by ZANLA, while maintaining an essential commentary of central government’s misguided efforts to stem the war by various means, including an internal settlement with ‘friendly’ parties within the country. All this achieved was increased pressure on the Rhodesian government from the West and a hitherto sympathetic South African ally. 

The British and Americans feared an internationalisation of the Rhodesian conflict that would draw Cuban and Russian forces onto Rhodesian soil. Padbury transcribes the full response he had received from Lord David Owen (British Foreign Secretary 1977–79) in 2019 upon being asked by the author about Britain paying Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda a large sum of money to prevent Cuban troops from using his country to launch attacks into Rhodesia. Owen’s lengthy reply is both revealing and shocking.

Against this background, their backs to the wall, Padbury reveals how the Rhodesian government did a complete turnaround in its fervent opposition (“only over our dead bodies”) to mobilising and arming the rural ‘masses’. He quotes colleague Dennis Anderson:


The potential to recruit and train locals “en masse” for deployment into the operational areas in order to gain political support for internal Political parties was suddenly required and envisaged, and the idea of the SFAs [Security Force Auxiliaries] was conceived.     


In 1978, with clear thoughts on countering guerrilla activities by emulating the mujiba system, Padbury was given the opportunity to command SFA operations in the Urungwe District, north of the capital, Salisbury (now Harare). He now enters the second part of his book, the eponymous Battle for Hurungwe.

Notwithstanding experiences gained in the guerrilla mujiba system to the east, Padbury recognised the fresh challenges, which operating in ZIPRA insurgent-controlled areas were going to present. It was common knowledge that this group was considerably move aggressive and active than ZANLA, with whom there was in fact no love lost. But more importantly, Padbury knew he had to abandon his “allegiances to the ruling white minority and military/intelligence forces, which [as he saw it] were opposed to much-needed progressive change in strategies and tactics required for victory in the war.” The war could not be won without the support of the local population.  


Crucially, Padbury correctly identifies African Socialism as being at the very core of indigenous African life. This was not some acquired dogma, but a centuries-old, fully ingrained philosophy very dissimilar to the communist doctrines the guerrillas were imposing by force.


To facilitate an all-encompassing strategy to reclaim land lost to insurgents, Padbury established a ‘Ground Coverage’ intelligence gathering network across the district. His next step was to develop a “political landscape to reconnect with the people,” offering, with military back-up, a more attractive platform for the airing of grievances. Bishop Abel Muzorewa’s United African National Council (UANC) political party and the raising and deployment of armed and trained SFAs inside ZIPRA-controlled territory provided Padbury with the means to achieve his objective. The SFAs would have a strong former-insurgent element throughout the command structure and ranks. 


By late 1978, Rhodesian special forces reacted to the fresh flow of intelligence in Urungwe, kickstarting Padbury’s twin-pronged counter-revolutionary introduction among the population of a people’s army and a trusted political infrastructure. SFAs were deployed alongside Rhodesian rapid-reaction security forces to take the war to the insurgents, and by early 1979, government civil administration started to return to certain areas of the district where Padbury’s strategies were gradually paying dividends.   


Padbury’s counter-revolution was an unmitigated success. However, the central seat of power in Salisbury failed to exploit this success to comprehensively defeat the insurgency. The tragic outcome of ignoring the Urungwe victory resulted in the erstwhile enemy assuming power in the form of a one-party state and a communist doctrine that alienated African society in Zimbabwe.   

Padbury’s meticulously planned and executed strategy of how to win a people’s war is well-documented in his book. This extremely well-written and illustrated tome is a must-read for academics, historians and military strategists alike.  

Gerry van Tonder

Military Historian and published author 

"I first met the author John Padbury in 1969 when we were both young recruits at the BSA Police, Morris Depot. We became good friends which was enhanced by our love of rugby. John and I played for the  Police, the former reaching considerable success at a young age when he played for Rhodesia Under 20 for two consecutive years. Like everything else he undertook in life he gave 110% commitment and enthusiasm. Our careers and lives followed similar paths in the CID and Special Branch and later as neighbours in Cape Town, South Africa. We remain firm friends today forty three years on.

I was honoured when John asked me to write a review of his book ‘Battle For Hurungwe’, particularly in view of the fact that he knows I do not agree with some of the political views he expresses in the book. What I do know is that John spent many years compiling this book. His attention to detail and the manner in which he has compiled all the information is commendable.


The book covers John’s earlier days whilst he was stationed at Rusape, initially with the CID and later with Special Branch, involved in gathering intelligence on the ever increasing infiltration of ZANLA  insurgents from Mozambique. He soon gained the reputation of being an outstanding SB operator and was well respected both amongst his colleagues and the military. His use of the ‘mujibas’ was very successful and his success rate using the Mujiba system became legendary. John’s success can be attributed to many long days, weeks and months in the bush, his knowledge of the local customs, their language and persistence with the job at hand.


John spent the latter years of the war in Hurungwe Tribal Trust in the North West of the country. Here he was again very successful in training locals and captured insurgents to gather intelligence and also to protect themselves. These trained personnel were called Security Force Auxiliaries. The use of Auxiliaries was very unconventional and, although proving to be successful, was not popular with some of the military and Police. John experienced a lot of frustration in implementing his successful Auxiliaries in Hurungwe. Unfortunately I believe John’s ideas in Hurungwe came too late and if implemented a few years earlier could possibly have changed the outcome of the Rhodesian war.


On 8th June, 1978 John was awarded The Silver Baton Special Commendation by the Commissioner of Police.


I recommend ‘Battle For Hurungwe’ for anybody who was involved in the war in Rhodesia and for that matter anybody who is interested in counter insurgency."


Lawrie Mabin

Former D/S/O Special Branch

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