Zimbabwe National Army

The Zimbabwe National Army or ZNA was created in 1980 from elements of the Rhodesian Army, integrated to a greater or lesser extent with combatants from the ZANLA and ZIPRA guerrilla movements (the armed wings of, respectively, ZANU and ZAPU.

Following majority rule in early 1980, British Army trainers oversaw the integration of guerrilla fighters into a battalion structure overlaid on the existing Rhodesian armed forces. For the first year a system was followed where the top-performing candidate became battalion commander. If he or she was from ZANLA, then his or her second-in-command was the top-performing ZIPRA candidate, and vice versa. This ensured a balance between the two movements in the command structure. From early 1981 this system was abandoned in favour of political appointments, and ZANLA/ZANU fighters consequently quickly formed the majority of battalion commanders in the ZNA.

The ZNA was originally formed into four brigades, composed of a total of 29 battalions. The brigade support units were composed almost entirely of specialists of the former Rhodesian Army, while unintegrated battalions of the Rhodesian African Rifles were assigned to the 1st, 3rd and 4th Brigades. The notorious Fifth Brigade was formed in 1981 and went for retraining in 1984 after allegations of brutality and murder during the Brigade's occupation of Matabeleland. Contrary to popular belief, the Zimbabwe National Army still has a 5th Brigade.

The ZNA is under the command of Lieutenant General Philip Velario Sibanda, who took over from General Constantine Chiwenga following his elevation to the post of Commander Zimbabwe Defence Forces in December 2003.

The ZNA currently has an active duty strength of 30,000.


The bulk of the formations are motorized, but several are more specialized.


1 Brigade - Brigadier General Chris Mupande

2 Brigade - Brigadier-General Douglas Nyikayaramba

3 Brigade - Brigadier General Davidson Manyika

4 Brigade - Brigadier General Francis Mutisi 5 Brigade - Brigadier General Charles Maredza

Tank Brigade

Mechanized Brigade - Brigadier General Daniel Sigauke

Armoured Regiment

Artillery Brigade - Brigadier General Etherton Shungu

Parachute Regiment - Lieutenant Colonel Chosen Mpatiwa

Commando Regiment - Lieutenant Colonel Tamuka Shoko

Special Air Service - Lieutenant Colonel Panga Kufa

Presidential Guards - Brigadier Armstrong Gunda(passed away)

Mounted Infantry Regiment - Lieutenant Colonel Bothwell Brian Chigaba Corps of Engineers - Colonel Jardinious Garira

Corps of Intelligence - Colonel M. Mzilikazi

Regiments and Battalions

  • The Presidential Guard: Three battalions at Dzivarasekwa barracks led by Brigadier Armstrong Gunda. Also known as the Presidential Guard Group or the Presidential Guard Brigade
  • A number of infantry battalions (possibly between ten and twenty battalions)
  • The Tank Regiment
  • The Mechanized Regiment (IFVs)
  • Two Field Artillery Regiments (one equipped with Chinese field artillery, one with AA guns & shoulder-launched SAMs)
  • 1 Air Defence Artillery Regiment based at Redcliffe
  • Two Combat Engineer Regiments at Pomona Barracks
  • The Commando Regiment (part of the Special Forces of Zimbabwe)
  • The Parachute Regiment (also known as the Parachute Group or Parachute Battalion) (part of the Special Forces of Zimbabwe)
  • The Special Air Service (part of the Special Forces of Zimbabwe)
  • The Boat Squadron (part of the Special Forces of Zimbabwe)
  • The Zimbabwe Mounted Infantry (a horse-mounted unit indirectly derived from Grey's Scouts) (part of the Special Forces of Zimbabwe)

There is also an independent Armored Reconnaissance Squadron

Infantry Brigade Organisation

Each infantry brigade has:

  • Three infantry battalions with 31 APCs each
  • Reconnaissance Company (12 EE-9)
  • Signals Company
  • Mortar Battery (6 81/82mm or 120mm)
  • AA gun battery
  • Engineer company
  • Supply and transport
  • Workshop
  • Medical units



  • Norinco Type 59 MBT - 35
  • Norinco Type 69 MBT - 10
  • Type 63 light tank - 20 received 1983/1984 from China
  • T-54 - 20 tanks received from USSR in September 1984.
  • T-54/55 ARV
  • T-55 tanks - 12 from North Korea, 1981
  • EE-9 Cascavel Armoured Car - 90
  • EE-11 Urutu - 7
  • Panhard AML Armoured Car - 30
  • Eland Mk7 - 20
  • EQ2050 Armoured Car (Chinese version of the American M998 (HMMWV) - 100
  • YW 531 Armoured Personnel Carrier - 30 (8 from China and 22 Korean VTT-323 version)
  • Unknown type Armoured Personnel Carrier - 22 donated by China in January 2005
  • UR-416 Armoured Personnel Carrier - 36
  • Crocodile Armoured Personnel Carrier - 40
  • BRDM-1 Armoured Personnel Carrier, from North Korea in 1984 - 20
  • BRDM-2 Armoured Personnel Carrier, from USSR - 1980
  • BTR-152 Armoured Personnel Carrier, from North Korea - 1983
  • BTR-50 Armoured personnel carrier, from Syria - 1984 - 40
  • ACMAT TPK 4.20 VSC Armoured Personnel Carrier 260
  • Steyr-Daimler-Puch 4x4 Armoured Personnel Carrier (exact type not known)- at least 66

Field Artillery

  • 2S1 122mm Self-propelled howitzer - 12
  • D-30/2A18M Towed Artillery (122mm) - 4
  • Type 60 howitzer - Towed Artillery (122 mm) - 18
  • PRC Type-54 - Towed Artillery (122 mm) - 12
  • OTO Melara Mod 56 105mm Pack Howitzer - 18
  • L118 Light Gun 105 mm towed howitzer - 12
  • PRC Type 63 Multiple Rocket Launcher - 18
  • RM-70 Multiple Rocket Launcher - 60
  • BM-21 Grad - 25
  • 81 mm / 82 mm Mortar - over 600. Includes L16 81mm Mortar and Chinese W91 81mm Long Range mortars. 98 W91 tubes were on the An Yue Jiang. These weapons did get to Zimbabwe.
  • 2B11 120 mm Mortar - 140 (60 2B11s received from Hungary in 2000 )

Air Defense Artillery

Light Infantry Weapons


  • KG VI (Harare) - Defence Forces HQ, Zimbabwe Staff College
  • Inkomo (Harare) - Armoured Brigade, Parachute Group
  • Dzivarasekwa (Harare) - HQ Presidential Guard
  • State House (Harare) - 1 Presidential Guard Battalion
  • Kabrit (Harare) - Military Intelligence
  • Pomona (Harare) - School of Combat Engineering
  • Old Cranborne (Harare) - HQ 2 Brigade
  • Cranborne (Harare) - HQ Commando Regiment
  • Ingezi (Harare) - 2 Mechanized Battalion
  • Darwendale (Darwendale) -
  • Elfrida - Zimbabwe Defence Industries
  • Induna (Bulawayo) -
  • Imbizo (Bulawayo)
  • Llewelyn (Bulawayo) - School of Infantry
  • Brady (Bulawayo) - HQ 1 Brigade
  • Mbalabala (Bulawayo) - 1.1 Infantry Battalion, School of Infantry
  • Plumtree (Plumtree) - 1.3 Infantry Battalion
  • Chikanga (Mutare) - HQ 3 Brigade
  • Masvingo (Masvingo) - HQ 4 Brigade
  • Dadaya (Zvishavane) - 5.1 Infantry Battalion
  • Connemara (Gweru) -
  • Guinea Fowl (Gweru) - HQ Mounted Infantry
  • Kutanga Range - Training School (artillery, armour and airforce bombing range)
  • Zimbabwe Military Academy (Gweru) -
  • Border Battle School (Nyanga) - Combined Arms Battle school
  • Lazy Nine (Shurugwi) - Combined Armes Battle School
  • Battlefields (Kadoma) - 5 Brigade
  • Nyami-nyami (Kariba) - Boat Squadron
  • Wafawafa (Kariba) -
  • Magunje (Karoi)
  • Rusape (Rusape) - 3.2 Infantry Battalion

Past Operations

Raids On Gorongosa

Some Renamo elements had crossed from Mozambique into Zimbabwe several times, had robbed some shops along the border and had burned down a timber factory. After several meetings with Mozambican officials it was agreed that the ZDF could pursue into Mozambique any Renamo elements that might have committed atrocities in Zimbabwe. This was the basis on which the ZDF started planning follow up operations which took them deep into Mozambique and all the way to Gorongossa.

Operation Lemon. The first of these Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) follow up operations was launched from Katiyo and Aberdeen and it was code named Operation Lemon. The operation lasted from the 5-9 December 1984. It comprised elements of 3 Brigade, the Parachute Group, Special Air Service (SAS), and was supported by the Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ). Bad weather conditions and the difficult mountainous terrain reduced the use of aircraft, and all the trooping had to be done by helicopters. The movement of troops on the ground was also difficult. Four contacts were made and two Renamo bases were destroyed. However, most Renamo elements in the bases managed to escape and only eight were captured.

The ZDF considered this operation as a major failure and the code word Lemon was corrupted to mean any failure in all subsequent operations. It was further established that there were no other permanent bases in the area, only some advance posts and temporary bases used by Renamo as launching pads for food raids into Zimbabwe. It was also revealed for the first time that the main Renamo bases were at Messinse, Chito, Nyazonia, Buetoni, Gorongossa, Central Base and Cassa Banana.

Operation Grape Fruit. The report for Operation Lemon was taken seriously by the commanders of the ZDF, and in July 1985 preparations for major offensive operations were started. Rehearsals for a FireForce operation were carried out at Inkomo Barracks near Harare. Three infantry brigades were mobilised together with the Parachute Group, One Commando Battalion and the AFZ. Men and equipment were moved to Chimoio in Mozambique, with a Forward Replenishment Point (FRP) being established at Grand Reef near Mutare.

Intelligence sources had indicated that Renamo's main regional base in Manica province was at Muxamba and that Cassa Banana was the national stronghold of Renamo. Both bases had to be attacked and Muxamba was targeted first, being only 70 kilometres south of Chimoio. The most important consideration however, was the hope that activities around Muxamba might divert Renamo's attention from monitoring too closely the movement of the heavily armed three Zimbabwean infantry battalions marching from Chimoio towards the Gorongosa Mountains.

Muxamba was believed to hold at least 400 Renamo elements commanded by Major General Mabachi. The attack on Muxamba was launched on the 20th of August 1985 by elements of 3 Brigade, supported by the Parachute Group and the AFZ. The operation went on for four days with minor problems for the ZDF. One helicopter was riddled with small arms fire but managed to get back to Chimoio.

Raid on Cassa Banana. Intelligence sources had indicated that Cassa Banana, Renamo's national headquarters had a strength of 400 elements. However, the organisation maintained a string of other smaller bases along the Gorongossa Mountains, which were considered as part of the main base. This raised the total estimated strength in the area to 1 000 elements. During the night of the 27th of August 1985, three Zimbabwe infantry battalions were established in their Form Up Points (FUP) with the help of the SAS and Commando elements. At Chimoio a FireForce was being given final briefing, and five AFZ planes were given orders for a first light take off for Gorongossa on the morning of the 28th of August.

Although the Renamo elements captured at Katiyo had given a grid reference for Cassa Banana, further intelligence had cast some doubt as to which of the several Renamo bases scattered on all sides of the Gorongossa Mountains was the actual headquarters of Renamo. It was because of this uncertainty that the FireForce was divided into three sections each with one helicopter gunship, two transport helicopters and two transport aircraft with paratroopers.

Each FireForce section was detailed to attack specific suspected Renamo positions around the Gorongossa Mountains. It was during this three pronged attack that one helicopter flew overhead Cassa Banana airstrip and the pilot noticed a green pickup truck disappearing into some bushes. It was then that the pilot recognised the place as that given at the briefing as Cassa Banana. The jets from Thornhill, which were already orbiting overhead a predetermined Initial Point (IP), were then talked on to the target, and the raid on Cassa Banana began.

The aircraft attacked the target, knocking out several Anti - Aircraft gun positions. Two helicopter gunships continued to hit suspected strategic positions and managed to flash out several pockets of resistance. A third helicopter was directing the dropping of the first wave of paratroopers. When the paratroopers had entered the base, the infantry battalions, which were close by, were ordered to move in and occupy strategic positions. The FireForce then moved on to deal with the several pockets of resistance from the smaller Renamo bases all along the Gorongosa Mountains. It took the whole day to silence all of these pockets of resistance. Operation Lifeline-Tete Corridor

This corridor is a tarred 263-kilometre road running from Nyamapanda on the Zimbabwean border through the Mozambican city of Tete to Zobue on the Malawi border. After UDI in 1965, this route carried Rhodesian goods to and from Malawi, which had not applied United Nations sanctions against the Smith regime. After the independence of Mozambique in 1974, the bulk of Malawi's trade with South Africa went through Rhodesia by road via Tete. It was only in 1984 that trade via this route declined because of Renamo attacks.

It was in the wake of these developments that in June 1984 the governments of Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe formed a joint security committee 13 . The aim of the committee was to monitor operations on a day - to - day basis and to attempt to remove all security threats along the Tete Corridor. Zimbabwe's First Mechanised Battalion was ordered to move into Mozambique and they established their headquarters in Tete thereby securing the strategic bridge crossing the Zambezi River. In 1985, President Samora Machel of Mozambique formally requested the governments of Tanzania and Zimbabwe to contribute troops for "the restoration of law and order" in Mozambique. Following this request, Tanzanian troops were deployed into Mozambique in the provinces north of the Zambezi River while Zimbabwe undertook to help restore law and order in the provinces south of the Zambezi River.

The decision to send Zimbabwean troops to help restore law and order in Mozambique was partly influenced by Zimbabwe's close relationship with the Mozambican government which dates back to Frelimo's assistance during Zimbabwe's war of liberation. There was also the underlying fact that Frelimo and ZANU shared a common Marxist ideology of scientific socialism. The South Africa-backed Renamo professed to be an anti - communist movement, just like Jonas Savimbi's Unita movement, which was fighting against the Marxist MPLA government of Angola. There was thus an ideological alliance of the Maputo - Harare - Luanda axis, with support for these governments from the Soviet Union. The fact that the United States of America was providing covert and overt support to opposition movements such as Unita in Angola and Renamo in Mozambique reflected the extension of the Cold War to Southern Africa. It was Zimbabwe's involvement in this complicated situation that deteriorated into what some critics have called "Zimbabwe's Vietnam"

There is no official Zimbabwean record of the number of casualties on the first raid on Cassa Banana. However, considering the amount of effort, the numbers of troops involved on both sides, and the time it took to capture the base, there must have been a lot of deaths and injuries on both sides.


  • Rasmussen, R. K., & Rubert, S. C., 1990. A Historical Dictionary of Zimbabwe, Scarecrow Press, Inc., Metuchen, NJ, United States of America.
  • Demonstrates ATGM

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