The Rhodesian Armoured Corps
was the last incarnation of various armoured military units in Rhodesia
. Its initial incarnation was raised in 1941 for service in World War II
. This was disbanded in 1956 before being re-established in 1973 to fight in Rhodesia's insurgency
The various names of the regiment are as follows:
- Southern Rhodesian Armoured Car Regiment - 1941
- Southern Rhodesian Reconnaissance Car Regiment - 1941-1947
- Southern Rhodesian Armoured Car Regiment - 1948-1956
- Disbanded - 1956-1973
- Rhodesian Armoured Car Regiment (RAC) - 1973-1979
- Rhodesian Armoured Corps (RAC) - 1980
The regiment consisted of four squadrons organised in a similar style to British Army cavalry units regiment but consisting of a combination of regular and reserve forces. It utilised a variety of foreign and Rhodesian armoured personnel carriers and cars. The unit acquired 8 Soviet block T-55 tanks in October 1979, that were seized by South Africa from a French freighter in Durban. The regiment's primary roles were in rapid reaction forces but it also carried out recce roles.
The regiment had the reputation of high standards, with all members being infantry trained prior to application. Applicants were then trained to an armoured specialisation at the regiment's own training centre.
Rhodesian T-55 Tanks
Before 1979 the Rhodesian Army had not possessed any tanks. In October of that year they received eight T-55 tanks from South Africa. These tanks were confiscated from a French ship, the “Astor”, which had been transporting a heavy weapons consignment from Libya for Idi Amin
in Uganda. Amin’s regime collapsed on the day that the ship docked in Mombasa and it was redirected to Angola
. The ship called in to Durban where the cargo, including ten Polish-built T-55LD tanks (built in 1975), was seized. South Africa at that point considered itself to be at war with Angola. Two of the tanks were kept by the South Africans for evaluation. The remaining eight were transported to Rhodesia. The South African Defense Force (SADF) sent advisers for the purpose of training Rhodesian crews. The rumour was spread that the tanks had been captured in Mozambique
, in order to obscure South Africa’s part in the deal. The tanks, now part of the Rhodesian Armoured Car Regiment - in a newly-formed "E" Squadron - were driven around on tank transporters for several months in order to give the impression that the Rhodesians possessed a large number of heavy tanks. On arrival the T-55s had sported the original Libyan camouflage scheme. Major Winkler ordered them repainted in American camo, which was eminently unsuitable, and finally the South African instructors had them painted in anti-infra-red South African camo, which proved perfect for Rhodesian conditions. The tank crews came from 'D' Sqn RhACR, regular force soldiers who had signed on for a minimum of 3 years. Trained crews were vital if the tanks were to be used to maximum effect and it was necessary to ensure that the crews would remain in the Army for some time. A few of the men had tank experience already, but initially there was a lot of experimenting and reliance on the manuals, until Army HQ arranged for proper training by members of the SADF School of Armour.
Command of 'E' Sqn was given to Captain Kaufeldt, an experienced tanker from West Germany. More
recruits from the RLI and Selous Scouts arrived to fill the gaps and acquitted themselves well in their new task. The Soviet-manufactured radios were removed from the tanks and replaced with the South African radios and headsets used on the Eland 90 AFVs. These used a throat-activated microphone system and were far superior to the Soviet models. In Soviet tanks the radios were operated by the loader, in addition to his task on the main gun. The Rhodesians, reasoning that the loader already had enough to keep him occupied, moved the radios to the tank commander's position. The tank crews were issued with brand-new Soviet AKMS assault rifles which they were eager to test in battle conditions. They were destined to remain unused.
- The regiment was given the nickname "The Black Devils" by their Marxist enemy and reflected the black jumpsuits worn by members - echoing the all black look of the British Royal Tank Regiment.
- Brown, Robert. The Black Devils. (Soldier of Fortune, January 1979)
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