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"Sir Ian Douglas Smith" by Steve Payne

Author says: what if Rhodesia was the front-line on African Communism during a more intense and global variant of the Cold War? Please note that the opinions expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of the author(s).

April 8th 1919,

on this day Sir Ian Douglas Smith was born in Selukwe, a mining town two hundred miles south west of the city of Salisbury where, as the first Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Rhodesia, he would later direct a successful "Bush War" against African Marxists.

He was educated at Chaplin School nearby with moderate academic achievement, captaining the first XV and running the 100 yards in 10 seconds. He began a bachelor of commerce degree at Rhodes University in South Africa in 1938, establishing an impressive academic record and rowing for the university.

War broke out in 1939 and in 1941 he joined the RAF Empire Air Training Scheme at Guinea Fowl in central Rhodesia. He was posted to 237 (Rhodesia) Squadron in the Middle East, flying Hawker Hurricanes.

Taking off from Alexandria on a dawn patrol in 1943, his throttle malfunctioned, he lost height and clipped the barrel of a Bofors gun. He crashed and rammed his face against the Hurricane's gunsight. He suffered severe facial injuries, broke his jaw, a leg and a shoulder, and buckled his back. Surgeons at the 15th Scottish Hospital in Cairo reconstructed his face and, after only five months, he rejoined his squadron in Corsica. He realised his dream to fly Spitfire Mark IXs, carrying out strafing raids and escorting American bombers.

In mid-1944 Smith was leading a raid on a train of fuel tankers in the Po Valley when he made the mistake of going back for a second run.The Spitfire was hit by an anti-aircraft shell, caught fire and he baled out. He was soon picked up by the partisans. The five months he spent with them near Sasello, learning Italian, reading Shakespeare and working as a peasant, he regarded as one of the best times of his life. Near the end of the war, he and three other Allied fugitives made their way through occupied Italy to the Maritime Alps. At one point the conspicuously tall, fair-haired Rhodesian strode unhindered through a German checkpoint. He led his tiny group over the mountains, walking barefoot on ice, until they reached an American patrol on the other side.

Smith became active in politics when he successfully ran as a candidate for the right-wing Southern Rhodesia Liberal Party in the 1948 general election for a seat representing the Selukwe district in the Legislative Assembly. He was initially reluctant to stand due to his youth and the fact that he was establishing a farm. Indeed, he was the youngest MP in the history of the Southern Rhodesian Parliament. In 1953, he supported federation of Southern Rhodesia with Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland and joined the United Federal Party set up by Prime Minister Godfrey Huggins.

"Our policy in the past has always been that we would have a government, in Rhodesia, based on merit and that people wouldn't worry whether you were Black or whether you were White" - Ian Smith, 1961In the federal general election he was elected as Federal Party member for Midlands, and therefore stood down from his seat in the Southern Rhodesian legislature. From 1958, Smith served as Chief Whip for the United Federal Party in the Federal Assembly, but grew increasingly disillusioned with the party and the new Prime Minister Sir Roy Welensky.

At a UFP congress in 1961, Smith publicly denounced the party's platform on Southern Rhodesia constitutional proposals. He opposed the proposals on the basis that they would usher in racial discrimination to the Constitution. He explained: "Our policy in the past has always been that we would have a government, in Rhodesia, based on merit and that people wouldn't worry whether you were Black or whether you were White".

Smith was re-elected to Parliament as an RF member for Umzingwane in the 1962 general election, in which the RF won a slim majority and formed a government. He became Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Treasury under Prime Minister Winston Field. Smith accompanied Field to the Victoria Falls Conference in December 1963, where an agreement was reached to dissolve the Federation with Rab Butler, the British Foreign Secretary. Butler grandly declared that Britain was "very happy to agree" to independence for Southern Rhodesia, at least at the same time as Zambia and Malawi. A distrustful Smith asked Butler for the undertaking in writing. Butler demurred with: "There is trust between members of the British Commonwealth". Smith wagged his finger at Butler, and said: "If you break that, you will live to regret it". In fact there was no cause for concern in London or Salisbury, and Smith (who was soon to succeed Field as Prime Minister) was being characteristically belligerent.

"There is trust between members of the British Commonwealth" - Rab Butler, 1963When Smith came to office the general expectation was that he would immediately assume independence, but he first turned his attention to gaining support in Rhodesia, and toured the country, addressing scores of gatherings. His theme was independence, and the need to explore peaceful avenues open to Rhodesia.

Negotiations between Rhodesia and the British Government were resumed. Smith visited London in September 1964 for talks with Home and Sandys, but the matter of testing African opinion proved to be the stumbling block to a concensus between the two governments. Smith returned to Rhodesia, optimistic that agreement could be reached with Britain. In October 1964 the Conservative Party led by Alec Douglas-Home narrowly retained power after a close fought general election, defeating the Labour Party led by Hugh Gaitskell.

The British Government's fateful decision to grant independence without black majority rule was described as the "Great Betrayal" by the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU). With the vigourous support of the Soviet Union, the party rapidly drifted towards Marxism, launching a twelve-year long insurgency under the leadership of the terrorists Joshua Nkome and Robert Mugabe. The Western Cold War allies provided indirect support via the Portugese Colonies in Mozambique and Angola, whilst South African Prime Minister John Vorster dispatched additional police units to secure the northern border from terrorism.

On 3 April 1977, General Peter Walls announced the government would launch a campaign to win the "hearts and minds" of Rhodesia's black citizens. In May Walls received reports of ZANLA forces massing in the city of Mapai in Gaza Province, Mozambique. Prime Minister Smith gave Walls permission to destroy the base. Walls told the media the Rhodesian forces were changing tactics from contain and hold to search and destroy, "adopting hot pursuit when necessary". On 30 May 1977, 500 troops passed the border and travelled 60 miles to Mapai, engaging the ZANLA forces with air cover from the Rhodesian Air Force and paratroopers in C-47 Dakotas. The Rhodesian government said the military killed 32 ZANLA fighters and lost one Rhodesian pilot.

The so-called Bush War, was over, and in recognition of his role in fighting Communism in Southern Africa, Ian Smith would receive a knighthood from the British Government in addition to being named Time Magazine's "Man of the Year" for 1977.

Author says in this ATL we will partially explore a POD where White Governments perceived Rhodesia to be fighting on the front-line against Communism. Please note that significant content has been repurposed from both Wikipedia and also Rhodesia and South Africa - Miliary History. To view guest historian's comments on this post please visit the Today in Alternate History web site.

Steve Payne, Editor of Today in Alternate History, a Daily Updating Blog of Important Events In History That Never Occurred Today. Follow us on Facebook, Myspace and Twitter.

Imagine what would be, if history had occurred a bit differently. Who says it didn't, somewhere? These fictional news items explore that possibility. Possibilities such as America becoming a Marxist superpower, aliens influencing human history in the 18th century and Teddy Roosevelt winning his 3rd term as president abound in this interesting fictional blog.


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