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I ran across an item the other day mentioning, without detail, that the Rhodesian army used a saddle based upon the McClellan during the war there in the 70s. The only photos I've ever seen of Rhodesian mounted troops have shown them riding UPs, but I've ran across to this reference before. The saddles were basically McClellan in design, but used a fiberglass tree, and used by the Grey's Scouts
Does anyone have any more information on this?
There is a saddle tree company in France called Arconnerie (SP?) and they make the Mac tree in laminated beech and a polymer. Rhodesia bought quite few military items form france and it is "possible" that those trees came from there.
This is purely speculation though and not based on any fact other than they make trees and France sold to Rhodesia.
I did a net search using the words Rhodesian, army, McClellan, saddle and came up with this link:
I haven't looked through the rest of the site yet, so I don't know anything about its content whatsoever, so caveat viewer, so to speak. Anyhow, they mention fiberglass treed McClellans here also. There's several photos of mounted soldiers here, but I can't really get a good look at the details.
If this is correct, it might mean that, oddly enough, Rhodesia was the last nation on earth to produce a McClellan saddle for combat purposes.
I read an ad from an outfitter in South Africa that runs trail rides. Their saddles are Macs, according to their website. I found this by googling for Macs a year or so ago.
Now that you mention it, I have a book around here by someone, Bartle Bull I think, regarding hunting in southern Africa. It is a relatively recent book, and depicts him afield on horseback, and he's riding a McClellan.
If the website linked in above depicts a McClellan version, it would appear to be 28 like in using an English type girth.
This entry on an endurance rider forum mentions using a South African made McClellan modified for Arab horses:
http://www.endurance.net/ridecamp/archi ... 00382.html
If you scroll up on the main thread index there are a number of other entries on Macs. The consensous seems to be that fit is a problem length and narrow esp.
Regarding the recent thread on Rhodesian saddles, the following is a little item I wrote a couple of years ago. As will be
seen, the standard saddle used by the Rho security forces had nothing to do
with the McClellan saddle.
I have since I wrote this (Jan 2002) been given a substantial amount of
information on the Grey's Scouts, everything from regimental standing
orders, operational reports, a copy of the war diary, a scrapbook with
everything that was published in the Rhodesian press during the units
existance, and some twenty taped interviews of personnel that the daughter
of one of the regiments founders did. When (IF) I get the time I will put
it all into book form (I also have recently been given all of the citations
of honours and awards for the Scouts), I have been promised several hundred
photos of the entire period from the same lady, so it could well be a good
I will scan and send some relevent pages from : HAMLEY Richard. The Regiment
: A History and the Uniforms of the British South Africa Police. Covos Day,
Johannesberg, 2000. SC, iv, 134p., paintings.
HORSE MOUNTED UNITS OF THE RHODESIAN SECURITY FORCES
Following the experience of officers of the Rhodesian Army attached to the
Portuguese in Angola and Mocambique in the late 1960-early 1970's, and
having seen their very effective use of mounted troops, the southern part
of both countries being tsetse-free. The 'Dragoes" - dragoons, were first
formed in 1966, by 1968 in Angola Grupo de Cavalaria No.1 (of three
squadrons) had been formed with a similar unit in Mocambique. The cost of a
French Berliet 4 tonne truck was equal to the purchase of a platoon of
horses from South Africa, while mounted troops could cover 50 kms per day,
better able to detect terrorists in the bush than a helicopter borne force,
and less vulnerable to mines and ambushes (a good horse, which the rider
could identify with, could become aware of both before entering such a
After discussion in the Salisbury Army HQ, it was decided to raise in in
late1974 a small mounted infantry unit (No 1 Mounted Infantry Unit) which
became Grey's Scouts in 1976.
This unit named after one of Rhodesia's national hero's, George Grey. He
arriving in Mashonaland in 1891, served in the Matabele War of 1893, and was
visiting mining properties when the Matabele rose in 1896. After hard
riding, and having seen the various sites overrun by the Matabele, he
reached Bulawayo on the 23rd March. Raising 23 mounted men, he rode out
again that night, in the next 13 months Grey's Scouts had a reputation for
The first men and animals (12 horses) of No 1 MIU came from a provisional
unit raised during the disastrous rains of 1973-74 to provide pack transport
to Rhodesian Security Forces base camps that were unable to be resupplied by
road or air due to the weather. Officially named No 1 MIU in July 1975 (100
strong, HQ of 22, 3 26 man troops), it was co-located at Inkomo Barracks
near Salisbury, with the Selous Scouts. They a Special Forces unit
initially raised for pseudo-gang work, this following the ground breaking
work in Kenya during the Emergency by one Major Kitson, MC, Rifle Brigade,
when groups of Europeans, with local security forces and turned Mau Mau
terrorists became pseudo Mau Mau gangs, and hunted and killed the terrorists
in their safe havens. Selous Scouts raised by Major Reid-Daly having
initially an identical role, subsequently evolved, and added additional SFs
roles, becoming in the process probably one of the best SFs units the world
has ever seen. It was decided to co-locate the mounted infantry with the
Scouts to enhance their cover story of being a specialist tracking unit.
This being the main role envisualized for the MI, and which they were
Initially deployed in Troops, in the various operational areas, due to the
upscaling of insertions from the front-line states around Rhodesia-Zimbabwe,
their operations eventually were in complete squadrons. Their role became
virtually that of traditional horse cavalry, reconnaissance, obtaining
information from all sources, domination of areas, finding and fixing the
enemy units - holding them until stronger forces could arrive ie the
airborne 'fireforce'. One advantage (apart from rapid movement) of a horse
mounted tracker, was they could see over the bush, rather than try and
visualise the surrounding country. Although they did perform the MI role
effectivelly, in one contact a 10 man section on patrol fought a three hour
battle killing 18 ZIPRA terrorists, in another operation designed to
dominate an area they killed 51 terrorists for two casualties.
On formation the unit quickly rose to some 400 men (250 being actual
troopers, the Army's veterinary personnel also being posted to it) Regular
and Territorial. By 1979 1,000 (some 250 Regular/NSM as troopers,
Territorials, and support personnel Reg/TA) with two regular squadrons, it,
as were many in Rhodesia a multi-racial unit, it's command structure
reflecting that. The unit as with the remainder of the 'reaction' units of
the Rhodesia-Zimbabe Army being part of Special Forces, this the offensive
or cutting 'edge' of Army Troops under the direct command of Commander
COMOPS (Combined Operations), Lt Gen Walls rather than the actual Army
Commander Lt Gen Hickman. (The other units being the 1st Special Air
Service Regiment, The Selous Scouts,The Rhodesian Light Infantry, and
individual companies from the 1st and 2nd Battalions, The Rhodesian African
No 1 MIU became Grey's Scouts on 1 July 1976 (January 1977 accepted onto the
Army ORBAT), the first full time commanding officer of both units being a
Major Anthony (Tony) Stephens (1932), who had been a National Service
officer in the Irish Guards, and as a civilian in Singapore, had married the
daughter of the second in command of the Rhodesian African Rifles in Malaya
in 1957 (in Salisbury). He joining the RhoAR as a 2Lt, in 1962 transferring
to the armoured car regiment of the Central African Federation - The Selous
Scouts (no relation to the subsequent regiment), resigning in 1968 and
joining the Territorial Army. Like the majority of Anglo-Irish he was horse
mad, and when offered the job of CO (as a Major) of No 1 MIU, whilst acting
as temporary commander (on his annual TA camp) jumped at it taking a 3 year
short service commission.
His ideas and driving force made the unit what it became. Using the vet's
to develop a research programme to improve the health of horses in the bush
whilst performing extense activity, a special horseshoe for military bush
use, manufacturing their own horse furniture (saving lots of money over
civilian contractors)*, designing a special horse trailer for rough country
use (the HCVs, Horse Carrying Vehicles, these replacing police Mercedes
7.5tonne trucks), as well as a operational research section that looked at
the unit's tactics and training, and adapted them to the constantly changing
conditions of the bush war. He was forced to retire due to ill health and
was replaced by a Lt Col Michael MacKenna in late 1977 who enhanced the
units military ability.
A Sgt Roy Elderkin, was Stephens right hand man in the early years. A
former riding instructor/rough rider with the King's Troop, Royal Horse
Artillery, for six years, he had retired and was the manager of a horse
stud/riding school near Inkomo Barracks. He setting up the actual riding
programme for Regular servicemen black and white (Territorials only joined
the unit if they could previously ride, as they only did 28 days service at
a time) lasting 18 weeks (including all the military aspects, brought in by
MacKenna). He was highly successful in teaching black africans to ride, as
well as being the man who directed the construction of all the necessary
facilites (self help) for a mounted unit, paddocks, stalls, farrier shops,
harness rooms etc. The actual bush horses used were "Boereperds", a cross
bred animal of about 15 hands, that could stand up to the hardships of the
Rhodesian bush, although any animals were used which could be of use
(especially those for rider training). Very few horses were actually killed
Whilst mainly Rhodesian (black and white), it also had a substantial number
of foreign enlistee's, one being a Major Mike Williams an American who was
Stephens 2IC. Also a large number of members of the Rhodesian Womens
Service (commonly known as Raws) who worked the horses and also acted as
kennel maids, as Grey's also became responsible for the training of tracker,
explosive/mine and guard dogs for Rhodesian Army and Air Force.
These mounted infantry acquired the nicknames of 'donkey wallopers', 'light
brigade' (as in charge of), and 'Thelwell's Dragoons" for which there is a
number of explanations, the one which I like being from the British
cartoonist Thelwell who illustrated many books on riding, and were extremely
popular in the 1970's (especially the childrens one's!).
They were such a successful unit that the Zimbabwe National Army in 1980
created the 1st Mounted Infantry Battalion in 1980, with many black soldiers
from Grey's going across (it used the same badge, with Mounted Infantry in
place of Grey's Scout's). The unit did not last, as it did not have the
personnel to maintain training programmes both of men and beast, nor any of
the multitude of support activities. The same with the canine side.
The South African Army and Police, having observed the effectiveness of the
unit, created their own based on Grey's and the Selous Scouts. !st South
West African Special Unit, with horse, tracker, and motor cycle wings. Used
in conjunction with their 32nd Battalion (refugees from Angola) was very
effective in similar roles to Grey's and Selous Scout's.
The British South Africa Police (the policing arm of the Rhodesian
government, also with a para-military role, and the senior service)
maintained mounted units, both Regulars and Field Reservists. These having
a very successful role in protection of the community, and in hunting
terrorists. They also had the BSAP Mounted Escort, which performed
ceremonial duties in Salisbury (equipped with the lance), and acted as a
conventional civilian police mounted unit.
The Rhodesian Corps of Engineers also used horse and mules for
the construction of the 'cordon sainitaire' along the nations northern and
eastern borders, they using them to inspect their minefields and barricades,
and also frequently chased up incursion groups of terrorists.
The Internal Affairs Department's National Service Unit, in the latter part
of the war also raised a mounted unit, as did The Guard Force, whilst No 5
Protection Company (later became part of The Rhodesian Defence Regiment)
which had responsibility for railway protection became partially mounted.
In all these cases the mounted troops were used in a tactically passive
Throughout the war in Rhodesia, Grey's Scouts obtained a fearsome reputation
among their adversaries as they were capable of enormous speed through the
bush, this combined with their superb tracking skill, this often gave them
*The horse furniture was based on the British South Africa Police items, the
saddle being 'the Universal Saddle' based on the British Army mounted
infantry saddle. All other items of furniture were based on the British
Out of curiousity I ran another search with the words McClellan, Africa, and saddle in it. I picked up more hits than I thought I might. All were to horse adventure outfits in Southern Africa, which used McClellan saddles for their horses. Some used other saddles as well. More than one interestingly noted that McClellans were useful for a "western" type seat.
I should note here that Gordon did send some scans from the book "The Regiment", just as he said he would. Given the oddities of US copyright provisions, I unfortunately cannot put upload the scans, although we could take quotes from the text in threads, from anyone who might have the book. It looks like a very interesting book.
We've had some posts on that, and I'll bump them up or link them in. I'd forgotten that Rhodesian troops had been attached to those units, and that this help inspire this idea.
Am I correct that the Selous Scouts were not mounted?
Interesting example of the use of mounted troops with a more "modern" one. In WWII the Soviets effectively combined mounted operations with armor. Here we see the combination of mounted forces with airmobile ones.
Can the trailers be described?
Gordon, I've run across several references to the fiberglass treed McClellans mentioned in the other thread. None are illustrated, other than the one I linked in, and a person cannot get any details from that. Did you find there to be any creedance to this, or is it just some sort of a myth in your opinion?
I'd forgotten this, but here's a reference to M1928s being used in Rhodesia in a post:
I take it the South African police force is no longer mounted either, although I know the South African Army sends at least some of its officers to a riding school it operates. I'm not sure how many attend, but it reminds me of the Polish practice, which seems to be maintained both for the lessons it teaches and tradition.
Mr H, in regard to your questions:
The Selous Scouts were initially just foot mobile, they quickly developed
very successful motorised tactics (especially for long range penetration
into the Border States), and as with the rest of the Rhodesian army very
efficient and effective airmobile and parachute tactical operations.
"the combination of mounted forces with airmobile ones." Actually the
concept of horse mounted units cooperating with aviation elements was first
developed by the Royal Air Force in South Russia in 1919. Refined in the
counter-insurgency operations in Iraq in the 1920's.
The horse trailers were developed because specialisted horse carrying trucks
could only do that, whilst the trailers allowed the towing vehicles to
perform load carrying tasks.. As with many of the vehicles developed by the
Rhodesian security forces there was not a standard type. Four and six
wheeled, with four to eight horses, a good suspension for cross country use,
and a degree of mine protection eg. the horses stood on a false floor
amongst other things. Trailers carried substantial resupply items, fodder,
oats, water etc. There was also developed a mobile forge for the
I have checked my notes for 1980, and examined all photos of Greys Scouts
and BSAP mounts, the only form of saddle is the universal saddle. I cannot
see any reason why the McCellan would be used, there was no tradition of
it's use, and the universal saddle was ideal for mounted infantry.
There is no such thing anymore as the South African Police, there is now
Provincial based police services, all of which are pretty inefficient and
totally strapped for cash. For instance their clear up rate for farm
murders in what was the area of the Orange Free State in 2002, had some
eight hundred farmers killed, and no one brought to trial, a hick sheriff in
the backwoods of Arkansas would probably do better! There is a mounted
escort for when the State President opens Parliament in Cape Town, but, I do
not know if it is a full time unit or not.
In regard to the Army sending officers to riding school, I would doubt this
very much. The South African Army is like the police, pretty inefficient
and broke. They received a massive influx of "freedom fighters" many of
whom became instant generals when the old regime was broken, an article in
Jane's Defence Weekly last year gave details of the general ranks, giving
them per ratio more generals than any other army in the world, for instance
the Director of Sports and Physical Training was in the previous Army a
Major's appointment, in the new a Major General! The Army did have a
company strength horse mounted unit, along with company sized motorcycle and
dog/human trackers units (these descended from The South West Africa Special
Unit), the current situation is not known? The South African media reports
that the Army has HIV/AIDS levels of between 60-70%, they cannot get rid of
the ex-freedom fighters with the result that the average age of the rank and
file is in the forties! Very few are taken as recruits or officer cadets,
and the standards have deteriorated dramatically, a recently published
history of the SA Army Parachute Brigade states that officers and men are
given the parachute badge without actually doing any training or parachute
descents!, so I do not think that they will be sending officers off to learn
how to ride!
That might make for an interesting topic.
It'd be of interest to several of us to see what these were like, if there are illustrations, as it recalls, in some ways, the portee system the U.S. Army developed immediately before WWII.
Here's the source of that information:
http://www.up.ac.za/academic/soba/SAAPA ... asmusa.htm
Not really related, but given as I linked in this item, I thought I might link in this item on the Turkish military horse school. Kind of interesting to see that there are a few of these around:
http://www.kho.edu.tr/english/ontma/adm ... /horseman/
I should have posted the South African item in its entirety. The link above is only an abstract. Here it is:
http://www.up.ac.za/academic/soba/SAAPA ... rasmus.htm
Gordon i would like to reply to your comments regarding the use of the Mc Cellan saddle by greys the SU saddle was replaced by the Mc Cellan saddle in late 1976 when it was found to be heavy and difficult to repair a local saddler was able to make a derivative of the Mc Cellan saddle using a fibre glass tree. It was sent to me initially when I was chief instructor for user trials it turned out to be an extremely good saddle, easy to maintain and light weight. We had long since thrown away the British Cavalry Manuel and opted for the old Boer commando tactics that of rapid movement and little weight.If require any further information I would be happy to reply.
I'd like more information.
First of all, let me state that I'm happy to have somebody with first hand knowledge on this topic stop in. The use of horses in various SubSahran militaries has been a frequent topic here, but up until now we only had a primary source on Portuguese Dragoons in Angola. We have, by the way, some great photos on that topic up on various threads.
There's been a lot of speculation here on what tack the Greys used, and now we actually know. Thanks for posting. I'd very much like to know more, and I'll bump up the other threads related to this topic when I get a chance.
I'm bumping this up as we actually are lucky enough to have a participant who has first hand knowledge on this, and I'm hoping for more information.
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