Force Branch Structure

Like most organisations, the BSA Police had a traditional hierarchical structure for command and control of the force which policed the nation, but it also had a diverse range of disciplines resulting in the opening up of various branches or departments/sections of the organisation, creating a complex matrix. This page provides a broad listing of the structure of the force and where its branches were placed in the hierarchy. The emphasis is on broad, simply because with time the structure of the organisation was fluid and a 'snap shot' view will raise more queries than the web site administrator might want to answer.

BSA Police General Headquarters (PGHQ)

Police General Headquarters

Police General Headquarters in Montague Avenue was the hub of control and command within the British South Africa Police

  • Commissioner of Police responsible to the Minister of Law and Order for the efficient policing of the nation.
  • Deputy Commissioner (Administration) : The rank of Deputy Commissioner was first introduced in 1958, following the recommendations of the Mundy and subsequent commissions, which reviewed the structure and remuneration of the entire force. The Deputy Commissioner (Administration) was responsible to the Commissioner for administration of the following portfolios :
    • Administration
    • Finance
    • Personnel
    • Establishments
    • Press Liaison
    • Quartermaster's Section
      • Armaments
      • Ordnance Stores
      • Pioneers (building and construction)
      • Printers
      • Saddlers
      • Tailors
    • Transport
    • Recruiting
    • Training
    • Welfare and Sport
  • Deputy Commissioner (Crime and Security) was responsible for all matters handled by:
    • Criminal Investigation Department
    • Duty Uniform Branch under the control of a Chief Staff Officer (Police) who oversaw:
      • Duty Uniform Operations
      • Police Reserve
    • Special Branch (Internal) although Officer Commanding Special Branch also had the title the Director Internal (DIN) Branch 1 and reported to the Director General (DG) of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO). 
    • Signals
Criminal Investigation Department

CID Fingerprint Bureau

The Criminal Investigation Department (CID), also referred to as the plain clothes branch, was the core of the force's serious crime detection and prevention initiatives. Plain clothes work appears to have its origins within the Southern Rhodesia Constabulary, circa 1911 and there is evidence of a fingerprint bureau having been established as early as 1907. Immigration control had been implemented in 1903 and by 1913 the Officer Commanding the CID was the de facto Chief Immigration Officer. Since inception, the CID had its headquarters in Bulawayo. This was changed in February 1959, when the Headquarter element was moved to Salisbury to a set of offices within Morris Depot. The general structure of the CID was as indicated below:

  • Headquarters Section
    • Forensic Science Laboratory
    • Central Criminal Bureau (Fingerprint Bureau)
    • Criminal Records Office
    • Firearms Registry
    • Deportations Section
    • Scenes of Crime Examination Section (Photographic Sections at major CID Stations)
    • Questioned Document Examiner
  • Crimes of Violence (also known as Homicide Section in earlier times)
  • Law and Order Section (created in the early 1960's)
  • Immigration Section (until 1954)
  • Property Section
  • Illicit Gold Dealing Section
  • Drug Section - illicit and illegal drugs control
  • Fraud Section - dealing in falsitas crimes
  • Photographic Studio (major centers for scenes of crime photography)

Provincial Stations and those in the smaller towns would deploy detectives to investigate crime across the spectrum of the above disciplines. Each province was commanded by a Provincial Criminal Investigation Officer (PCIO) responsible to the Officer Commanding CID.

Duty Uniform Branch

Officers chat in Baker Avenue

The Uniform Branch was, naturally, the mainstay of the BSA Police. Originally the force was split by distict partition between the District and Town Branches, but later provincialisation of the force brought both district and town stations under single commands in geographic areas. More specialisation occurred on the larger town stations, giving rise to a number of sections, while district branch policemen often became 'jacks of all trades'. The first line of call by the public to report crime or seek assistance was the, ominously named, Charge Office. The larger cities which deployed roving motor vehicle, B-Car, patrols had call receptions centres referred to as Information Rooms or Control Rooms. These were the hub of the force. Behind this facade lay several sections all involved with objective of policing in Rhodesia, including:

  • Urban and District police stations formed the core of the Uniformed Branch structure in almost every town in Rhodesia, no matter how remote;
  • Enquiries Sections - involved with follow-up on original reports of crime;
  • Cadet Branch - for youth under the age of 18;
  • Crime Prevention Unit - a plain clothes section utilised for under-cover work, generally involving illicit alchohol, drug abuse, and anti-social behaviour;
  • Licence Inspectorate - the inspectors of liquor licencing and other statutory licencing;
  • Sub-Aqua Section - a specialist section involved with under-water recovery of exhibits, including on occasions the bodies of drowned persons and murder victims;
  • Ground Coverage - a grass roots intellince system, generally deployed in plain clothes and mostly in the rural or 'high density' areas to seek information on popular feelings or dissent within the community;
  • Dog Section (Operational) - the Dog Section played an important role in both crime detection and prevention through the use of tracker dogs and guard dogs. As the guerilla war evolved, dogs were used in support of police units tracking terrorist gangs (see Police Animals);
  • Police Anti Terrorist Unit (Regular) - most districts affected by insurgent infiltrations deployed PATU units to track and combat terrorism in their respective areas and oftern operated in support of other police units and the military in this role.
Police Reserve

PRAW Pilots
  • Police Reserve Air Wing
  • 'A' Reserve
  • 'B' Reserve
  • 'C' - Field - Reserve
  • Special Constabulary
Special Branch (Branch 1 Internal)

SB Officer in the Field

The Special Branch was responsible to the Deputy Commissioner (Crime and Security) for the gathering of intelligence. Sections within the BSA Police have been involved with intelligence since the late 1930's dealing mostly with aliens control and immigration. In the course of the Second World War a section calling itself XB had been formed. During the period of the Federation the British implements a Federal Intelligence and Security Bureau (FISB), which was an arm of MI5, but XB remained intact. The breakup of the Federation resultedthe introduction of an autonomous Branch of the Force, called Special Branch in July 1962 and later the formation of the Central Intelligence Organisation into which Special Branch Headquarters (also known as Branch 1) was absorbed. As noted above, the OC SB reported to two channels of command.

Special Branch stations were established in most of the larger towns throughout the provinces. The functions of the Special Branch included the following:

  • European/Counter Intelligence Desk - monitoring the inflow of immigrants or visitors to Rhodesia, from hostile or Eastern Block nations, and concerned with the influence of Communist philosophies spread by europeans, in addition to observations of unfriendly nations representation in Rhodesia (through diplomatic and journalistic infiltration);
  • Nationalist Desk - black nationalist aspirations were the core of dissent around which the liberation struggle evolved and the close monitoring and thorough infiltration of nationalist political parties played a key role in the provision of intelligence, by Special Branch, to Government;
  • Projects Section - as with most intelligence organisations of the 1960's and 70's, special projects and initiatives were abundant in the face of political dissention and guerilla warfare. This section was the initiator of psuedo operations, later to become the well known, much feared, Selous Scouts, amongst other successes;
  • Technical - a specialist division within the intelligence community concerning itself with secret communications, mail and communications interception, and the gadgetry of modern day counter espionage and terrorism operations;
  • Terrorist Desk (initially part of the Nationalist Desk) - concerned itself with intelligence gathering and support of the defence forces in their operations against terrorist gangs which commenced infiltrations into Rhodesia during the early 1960s, in the absence of credible military intelligence initiatives;
  • Trade Union Desk - initially, the trade unions played a pivotal role in uplifiting nationalist sentiment in Rhodesia, before the more well recognised nationalist parties evolved. The political sentiment of the unions was subjected to close monitoring.
Support Unit Branch

Support Unit in Traditional Fez Hats

The Support Unit's origins go back to the formation of an Askari Platoon after the First World War. Many of its men had seen action with the Rhodesia Native Regiment (RNR) in German East Africa and were of alien origins. Their function was mostly ceremonial. With the growth of nationalist unrest in the early 1960's the size of the unit was expanded to three troops and their role became a little more diverse, including riot and crowd control. The counter-gueurilla campaign extended the unit into the new role of counter terrorist operations, during which the unit developed its reputation for toughness. The Support Unit was regarded as an autonomous Branch of the force and was based in Tomlinson Depot comprising a dozen 'Troops' of platoon strength. Troops were designated alphabetically A-L, including G Troop which was the Headquarters Troop used for ceremonial and Government House guard duties.

The inflow of National Service members was directed mostly towards the Support Unit. With the escalation of the war the Unit ended up with some 31 Troops, including G Troop, and had, due to its size, moved to new barracks at Chikurubi, on the edge of Salisbury. At Chikurubi the Support Unit barracks had its own armoury, quartermaster stores, transport section, training wing, provost, clinic and living quarters for both black and white members, thus becoming an almost autonomous element of the force. Towards the end of 1978 the Support Unit restructured its Troops into Company units ranging from A Coy. to L Coy., with a Headquarters Company, by the end of the war. The Headquarters company included a mounted infantry styled unit, which fell under Support Unit control in 1978, and the Ceremonial Troop. The unit was a proud, highly decorated, yet unsung part of the BSA police, and security forces generally.

Technicians Branch

Farrier shaping horse shoe
  • Armourers
  • Pioneers
  • Printers
  • Saddlers
  • Signals Section
    • Provincial Signals (SIGPROV) Radio Stations (ZEF1 - ZEF9)
    • Provincial and District Radio Workshops
  • Farriers
  • Medical
  • Tailors
  • Transport Supervisors
Traffic Branch

Highway Patrol

The origins of the BSA Police Traffic Branch are a little vague aside from the fact that it was first establish at Bulawayo in 1944 and comprised a police reservist and six constables. The expansion of post Second World War vehicle traffic, in the larger towns saw the need for the introduction of legislation to control vehicle traffic, which in 1948 was made up of 40,600 vehicles (5,700 in 1945) of which 23,200 were private cars. Like other sections within the force, the Traffic Branch evolved with enforcing legislation, such as the Roads and Road Traffic Act. Special sections within the branch dealt with highway traffic, and there were sections involved in accident investigation.

  • Investigations Section
  • Highway Patrol
  • Station Level Traffic Sections (larger stations only)
  • Car Theft Section
  • Police Driving School (was also in the domain of the Training Branch at some time)
Training Branch

Morris Depot Recruits

Training was an essential part of the police service and recruits were trained in one of two depots. Courses were generally of six months duration and this, in the case of Morris Depot trainees, was followed by a period at Driving School situated near Cranborne Barracks.

  • Tomlinson Depot
    • Police Band
  • Morris Depot
    • Armoury Section
    • Ballistics Section
    • Musketry Section
    • Provost Section
  • Police Dog Section (Training)

Mashonaland Mounted Police Officer Uniform.


Images by Dick Hamley
author of
'The Regiment'