The military rifle cartridges of Rhodesia Zimbabwe: from Cecil Rhodes to Robert Mugabe.
The African country known today as Zimbabwe first came to the attention of Europeans in 1511 when Portuguese explorers traveling inland from Mozambique encountered the Munhumutapa kingdom. For the next three centuries contact with the Portuguese, which consisted primarily of trading ivory and some gold, remained sporadic.
During this time the Ndebele (or Matabele)--a branch of the Zulus who split from Shaka's kingdom in the 1820s under the leadership of Mzilikazi--entered the region and, in the course of their migration, large numbers of local clans were conquered and absorbed by the Ndebele.
In 1837 Boers from South Africa drove the Ndebele northward into present-day Zimbabwe, where they conquered the Shona, eventually carving out a territory now called Matabeleland, encompassing the west and southwest region of the country.
In the last quarter of the 19th century, the driving force behind British colonial expansion in Africa was Cecil Rhodes. In the 1870s he became a successful entrepreneur in the Kimberly diamond mines and later the Transvaal gold fields. By the 1890s his two companies, De Beers Consolidated Mines and Gold Fields of South Africa, dominated the South African diamonds and gold markets.
Rhodes used this wealth in an attempt to fulfill his grand vision of a continuous strip of British empire from "... the Cape to Cairo."
In 1889 he formed the British South Africa Company to extend British rule into central Africa without involving the British government in new responsibility or expense. The first step north was towards the Zambezi, where in 1888 his representatives obtained mining concessions from the Ndebele king, Lobengula, in return for 1,000 rifles--mostly surplus Snider-Enfields and later some Martini-Henrys--and a "monthly rent" of [pounds sterling]100.
* .577 Snider--the Cartridge S.A. Bail B.L. Snider Mark I used a case made up of overlapping, flat brass strips and was encased in a brown heavy paper tube for additional strength and protection. Attached to this was a drawn brass base cup with an iron rim and a centerfire primer. Its 480-grain hollow-based bullet had a hollow point that was filled with a wooden plug while a clay plug in the hollow base assured that the bullet expanded upon firing to engage the rifling. Seventy grains of blackpowder produced a muzzle velocity of approximately 1200 fps.
Rhodes sent the first colonists, who were guided by the famous big game hunter Frederick Selous, north in September 1'890, and they begin prospecting for gold. A Rhodes confidant, Dr. Leander Starr Jamie, son, was made administrator of the Territory of Mashonaland. In 1889, the paramilitary British South African Police (BSAP) mounted infantry force had been established in order to provide protection for settlers as they moved into the region. In support of Rhodes, the British government declared the area a protectorate in 1891.
While photographic evidence shows the BSAP and white settlers armed with a variety of firearms, as in most British colonies in Africa, the legendary Martini-Henry was the most common long arm.
* .450 Martini--the Martini-Henry was chambered for the Cartridge S.A. Ball for B.L. Martini-Henry which used a bottlenecked, Boxer-type cartridge with a coiled brass body attached to a rimmed, brass base, topped with a 480-grain paper-patched bullet that was driven to 1350 fps by 85 grains of blackpowder.
In 1893 the BSAP intervened in an internal Ndebele power struggle which led to the First Matabele War, during which Lobengula's warriors attack white settlements, inflicting a number of casaualties. A series of battles between the Ndebele impis and BSAP columns, armed with Lee-Metford repeating rifles and Maxim machine guns, resulted in the Ndebele being defeated. Shortly afterwards Lobengula died under mysterious circumstances.
* .303 Mark I--adopted by the British army in 1888, this cartridge used a bottlenecked, rimmed case 56mm long loaded with 75.5-grain pellet of compressed blackpowder, which pushed a 215-grain jacketed, round-nosed bullet to approximately 1830 fps.
Rhodes continued to play politics in Southern Africa, and on New Year's weekend 1895/96, Jameson led a column of BSAP into the Transvaal in an effort to overthrow the Boer government. The raid was intended to trigger an uprising by the primarily British expatriate miners (known as Uitlanders). Jameson's forces were armed with the new Lee-Enfield rifle firing the new smokeless powder ammunition.
* .303 Mark VI--adopted by the British army in 1892, this cartridge was identical to the Mark I, but was loaded with smokeless Cordite which propelled its 215-grain jacketed, round-nosed bullet to 2050 fps.
But no uprising took place, Jameson's forces were surrounded by Boer commandos and forced to surrender. Cecil Rhodes was forced to resign as Prime Minister of Cape Colony because of his involvement in planning and financing the raid.
With most of the BSAP involved in the Transvaal, the Ndebele revolted under the leadership of Mlimo, the tribe's spiritual leader. The Second Matabele War was initially successful, with high casualties among the white settlers, but was suppressed by British troops rushed to the region. The territories of Matabeleland and Mashonaland became Rhodesia and both the Ndebele and Shona became subjects of the Rhodes administration.
During the Second Boer War (1899-1902), the BSAP served with British forces in the Transvaal and Orange Free State.
In 1901 there was a short-lived rebellion by the Shona led by Chief Kadungure Mapondera, which the BSAP and British troops quickly suppressed.
During World War I, the BSAP and Rhodesia Native Regiment (composed of native askaris commanded by white officers) took the field, along with British, Indian and South African troops, in a fruitless pursuit of Col. Paul Lettow von Vorbeck in German Southwest Africa. During the war, they were reequipped with the British army's standard rifle, the No. 1 Mark III Lee-Enfield.
* .303 Mark VII--used the same case as the previous .303 rounds, but was loaded with a 174-grain FMJ, flat-based spitzer bullet that 37 grains of Improved Cordite drove to a velocity of 2440 fps.
In 1920, a referendum, limited to the European population, decided that Rhodesia should become a Crown colony rather then a province of the Union of South Africa. The inter-war years proved prosperous and successful, with the European population constantly rising. Agriculture became the basis of the economy and Rhodesia became one of the primary food producing regions of the continent.
During World War II Rhodesians, including an askari battalion, the Rhodesia African Rifles, volunteered to serve with British East African forces and saw action, against Axis forces in Italian Somalia, Abyssinia, Burma, North Africa and Italy. While their primary rifle was still the No. 1 Mk III, late in the war they began to receive the new No. 4 Mk. I* Lee-Enfield.
In the 1950s, racial tensions began mounting with white Rhodesians fearing that majority rule would bring chaos, as it had in the Congo. Britain's unwillingness to compromise over decolonization led to Rhodesia unilaterally declaring its independence on 11 November 1965.
Two rival nationalist organizations emerged: the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) and the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU). ZANU's military wing, the ZANLA, was headed by Robert Mugabe and represented the Shona tribes while ZAPU and its military wing ZIPRA consisted mainly of Ndebele ethnic groups under Joshua Nkomo.
Cold War politics played into the conflict, with the USSR supporting ZIPRA and Communist China providing support to ZANLA. Each group fought a separate war against the Rhodesian security forces, and sometimes fought each other. Both groups began receiving military aid in the form of SKS carbines and AKM assault rifles.
* 7.62mm Patron obr. 1943g--the SKS and AK pattern weapons were chambered for a cartridge consisting of a rimless, bottlenecked case 39mm long whose 122-grain FMJ, spitzer bullet is pushed 2330 fps.
In the 1960s the Rhodesian defense forces replaced their Lee-En-fields with the FN-FAL rifle. As the fighting increased in scope and intensity the Rhodesians obtained, from various sources, Heckler & Koch G3A3 rifles.
* 7.62mm NATO--the cartridge used in the FAL and G3A3 rifles is based upon a rimless, bottlenecked case 51mm long loaded with a FMJ 148-grain boattail, spitzer FMJ bullet moving at 2750 fps.
As the fighting grew, the Rhodesian government enlarged its armed forces, creating two elite units, the Selous Scouts and Greys Scouts. Because of the tribal animosities endemic to all of Africa, the Rhodesian government was able to recruit large numbers of black soldiers until the entire Rhodesian Defense Force and the BSAP were racially integrated.
Terrorist activity and the costs of the war took a severe economic toll on the country. In an attempt to bring peace and garner international support, the government of P.M. Ian Smith held elections in 1979, in which black Rhodesians voted for the first time. The country was renamed Zimbabwe Rhodesia with Bishop Abel Muzorewa as Prime Minister. But the new state was not recognized and the war continued, forcing the government to ask for international intervention.
Britain negotiated the Lancaster House Agreement with all parties, which returned Rhodesia's status to an English colony in preparation for elections to be held in the spring of 1980. These were won by ZAPU, which changed the country's name to Zimbabwe. One of its first actions was to break up many of the large, white-owned farms--upon which the economy depended--and distribute the land to supporters.
In 1988 Robert Mugabe became president, and since then he and his Ndebele cronies has ruled with an iron fist. Most whites have fled the country, the economy has collapsed and persecution of the Shona people by the Ndebele is rampant. From being one of Africa's richest countries, Zimbabwe has become an economic and political basket case.
Photos by: Nathan Reynolds, James Walters & Lou Behling