Qualifying as paras was probably the easiest part of the course.
The Selous Scouts formed in 1973 as the special forces regiment of the Rhodesian Army. They were active until 1980 but in that small window of time, they had an elite level of soldiers join their ranks. Men who wanted to join the combat reconnaissance force had a tough time ahead of them with the training said to have been harder than the Rhodesian Special Air Service training.
Only the best soldiers would pass, with former members of the British SAS and American Special Forces both saying the training was the hardest they had done. They had certainly been through some shit so we can only imagine how hard it actually was.
The selection course started with about 60 men. These men arrived for the 17-day selection course with all their kit that was needed for the duration. Turning up at Inkomo Barracks, they were issued with a one-day ration pack and told to board the transport.
A mix of white and black course instructors was on board with them, usually one officer and seven NCOs. The recruits didn’t head straight to the training camp though. They drove around nearly all day first and stopped just before nightfall. The recruits got out of the transport. They were told to grab their kit and equipment and run the last 2ok to the training camp. The recruits could dump any kit they considered the least important if the weight was too much but it would be the last they saw of it for the duration of the course.
When the recruits arrived at the camp it was not what they expected. They thought it would be a nice camp with a canteen and toilets and some slight home comforts. Wrong answer. They faced a few grass bashas and the remaining embers still burning from a campfire. Putting themselves through this was still their choice. Quitting at any time was allowed, you toyed with the idea in your own head and if it was too much, then you could leave.
The focus of the course was to break you. Like most elite military forces training, the way to break someone is usually mental. People who join are usually very fit and making them run all day with weight could do the job, but taking away the other comforts at the same time will weed out those who aren’t up for the battle quicker. Jim Parker says in Assignment Selous Scouts, “From then on pressure was mounted to break their morale using food deprivation, disorientation, lack of sleep and sheer physical exhaustion. To aggravate their plight it was revealed that the one-day ration packs issued at Inkomo Barracks would have to last them for the first five days of selection.”
Along with their one-day ration pack, they had to fend for themselves, eating roots, berries, rodents and birds that they could catch. The recruits were not allowed to shoot the birds or rodents and no game animals were allowed.
The next 16 days were designed to weed out the ones who shouldn’t be there,
For each of the next 16 days, the recruits were out of the sack at first light for a road run, followed by physical training until 07:00. At 08:00 they again paraded and for most of the day were put through training courses in musketry, bushcraft, minor tactics, ambush and counter-ambush drills, and search-by-fire tactics designed to detect and kill guerrillas in thick bush.
After dark, the training continued with marches, night shooting and more bushcraft. After five days when their one-day ration box should have just been running out, the men faced a baboon hanging from a tree. It had been shot a few days before and strung up, now alive with maggots and a putrid smell emanating from its corpse.
The rotted meat was now supplied as supplementary rations, it’s edible if it’s boiled thoroughly enough. The lessons of the training were creeping into their lives by eating rotting meat without being sick. Just five days ago most of the men wouldn’t ever have imagined themselves behaving like this.
Limited rations were issued for the next 12 days so daily foraging into the bush was still required to get the extra calories their bodies craved with the arduous training. The last three days saw most recruits reach breaking point. Many recruits were already gone of course, but those that remained faced an endurance march of 90km over horrendous terrain in 40 degrees heat.
Rocks that were painted and numbered were loaded inside their bergens, this way they couldn’t drop some weight and replace it closer to the end. Their bergens weighed 30 kg. Extra weight was issued in the form of ammunition. Rations comprised of 250 grams of mealie meal and a small 12 gram tin of meat.
A final mental test was handed out to the recruits. 16km from the finish of the march the training staff met the recruits. The staff took their bergens and checked the right amount of rocks were still in their kit. The men were fucked. Many of them dropped to the floor with sheer exhaustion, and some relief, thinking they had finished the march.
Training staff then told them to get up and continue the final 16km. They had two and a half hours but this time had earth-filled sandbags instead of rocks. The recruits that finished the last step had a few days to recover before a two-week bushcraft and tracking course started.
A 15% pass rate was considered highly satisfactory. The men who did pass were issued with chocolate brown beret and green stable belt with its silvery Selous Scouts’ clasp.