Rhodesian Cover Shooting (The Drake Method)

Max Velocity Tactical

I have mentioned in a couple of previous posts the Rhodesian method of ‘cover shooting’ (The Drake Method). In response to that, a reader sent me a link to a good article on it. I am going to provide that link, some excerpts, and commentary.

Main article Link:  

Rhodesian Cover or Drake Shooting – Small Wars Journal

Previous posts mentioning this or related topics from me:

Fight Through! Fight Through!

React to Contact – Solid Drills to Keep You Alive

Here is an excerpt from the article:

Also known as Drake Shooting, Rhodesian Cover Shooting may be defined as the shooting technique employed to quickly kill concealed insurgents through the various phases of close quarter combat in the African savanna and jesse bush. The method did not replace “fire and movement” procedures, but was rather the primary activity of them. Cover shooting has also been described as a “flushing” action, but this is not strictly accurate. While flushing terrorists from their concealment has obvious advantages, particularly when working with close helicopter support, the first objective of cover shooting was to kill the enemy without the need to see him or locate his exact position first. Likewise the method should not be confused with other foreign practises such as walking suppression fire directed “at the jungle.” Cover shooting was not a random spraying of bullets, but a deliberate and methodical routine designed to elicit maximum effect for the least expenditure of ammunition.

So, to put this in context, Rhodesia used to be a British Colony and following the Universal Declaration of Independence (from the UK) in 1965 the Rhodesian war continued for another 15 years. Rhodesian tactics developed out of British Army tactics and were adapted as the war continued to the specific type of bush fighting against cross-border insurgents (‘terrs’).

In this way, you will see reference in the excerpts below to the ‘RTR‘ procedures that I teach, while the locating of the enemy and winning the firefight portions of the battle drills were adapted to include this cover shooting, or Drake Method.

There are some assumptions and caveats here:

1) These tactics were developed specifically for the terrain that was being fought in – the Southern African bush/Savannah – and also against the type of ‘terrs’ that were being fought. These terrs were generally less tactically competent than the Rhodesian security forces and tended to shoot inaccurately and high.

2) The described cover shooting method will not be appropriate in all situations. It is designed for use in a ‘free fire’ environment were background and friendlies in depth are not considerations to worry about. In an SHTF environment you may or may not have to worry about background and innocents, depending where the battle is taking place. In such situations you will need to ensure you PID the enemy in detail and only fire aimed shots. Not that cover shooting is not aimed, it is just less discriminatory over where the rounds actually go, which is kind of the point.

One of the key problems with battle drills is ‘locating the enemy’. Once you come under fire and carry out your immediateRTR response, before you can move on to the ‘winning the firefight’ phase, you have to first locate the enemy. Traditional procedures for doing this are by observation – fire – movement.

  • Observation: this is literally observing visually and by sound to try to locate the enemy firing points(s). The S’s, movement, muzzle flash, kicked up dirt (muzzle blast) etc are all utilized observation methods.
  • Fire: failing observation, fire control orders are issued to designate fire into likely enemy cover or positions. The idea is to elicit a response which can then be followed up on.
  • Movement: this is where the squad observes while one or two riflemen dash forward, changing position, to try and draw fire. This is used when enemy fire has stopped. If there is no response at this point, it may be because the enemy has used ‘shoot and scoot’ tactics and movement may be continued cautiously at first, using bounding overwatch. If still nothing, continue movement as appropriate.
Effectively, Rhodesian Cover Shooting fits into this context as a specialization of the RTR procedure/winning the firefight, adapted to the bush conditions – almost skipping or short-circuiting the locating the enemy drill. If the enemy was seen, he would be rapidly killed as part of the initial return fire reaction (controlled pair or appropriate response to put him down). If the enemy was not seen, time would not be wasted observing to try and find him in the relatively close bush conditions – riflemen would simply as SOP go into a methodical cover shoot. They would expend a couple of magazines rapidly shooting up cover close – near – far. Vitally, this was not just to flush enemy, which it may occasionally do, but really to simply kill the enemy in place. Once the cover shoot was complete, skirmish line type movement could commence to fight through the terr positions.
Here are a couple of the most relevant excerpts from the article:
The “Bottom Line” of Rhodesian Combat Ops:
11) The stick will be out numbered. It was not uncommon to make contact with 10-30 opponents, or more.
12) While the general area of incoming fire would be known, the exact location of individual terrorists may not. It takes too long to locate their exact position.
13) It was absolutely essential from the moment of “Contact” to react with immediate, accurate, and overwhelming return fire (Referred to as “Winning the Fire Fight”).
15) Poorly trained terrorists always tend to group too close together. When one is sighted, there may well be others concealed in close proximity. While insurgents would often break and scatter (in Rhodesianese: “take the gap”) on hearing an aircraft especially a helicopter, when caught in groups the bunching effect would get worse as pressure from incoming fire and the anti-clockwise whirl of helicopter support took effect. This bunching increased the effectiveness of the cover shoot.
16) Terrorists generally fired on fully automatic – “spray and pray.” This would often start high, and would rise. The indiscriminate use of ammunition on fully automatic usually meant they would run out long before the Rhodesian troops.
17) Terrorists fleeing a scene were trained to fire their AK47`s resting on their shoulders pointing backwards.
18) A wounded terrorist in the path of a sweep or patrol would often wait until the “point of inevitability” was reached, before opening fire at very close range. The same can be said for non-wounded terrorists attempting to hide from sweeps, patrols, or helicopters. These were responsible for many of Rhodesia`s casualties. In areas of known incursion, helicopters on search missions have fired into very thick cover just to see if anything foolishly fired back.
Fire and Movement
21) Other than employing the normal visual search attributes of, “Shape, Shadow, Shine, Silhouette and Movement,” frequently terrorist positions could be detected simply because “something” just did not look right, even though the viewer might be hard pressed to say exactly what he saw. This ability is very  instinctive, and develops with “bush time.” RLI`s troops were trained to look THROUGH the African bush and to visualize from the shapes and shadows etc as to what might be lying in it, rather than just looking AT the bush and so seeing only the obvious. Sometimes terrorists would wear their camouflage uniforms over civilian clothing in order to become “civilians” in a hurry if needed, while many simply crossed the border to do battle with no camouflage uniform at all! Another irregular practise among terrorists was to place bunches of elephant grass or small, leafed branches, into their clothing or webbing, apparently to increase the “camouflage” effect. While useful for ambushing as long as the terrorist did not move at all, normal camouflaging techniques were intended to blend the Rhodesians into the African bush, not to make them appear as an object of that bush! In a cover shoot, increasing the natural foliage content of one`s camouflage was merely guaranteeing to have it hit even sooner, as all natural flora capable of hiding a terrorist within the active arc of fire was “killed” as part of the cover shooting technique. Moving, flinching, or twitchy bushes and grass tussocks only served to “flag” the terrorist, and were killed on the spot.
22) When patrolling it was usual to carry out “close to contact” drills when shortening the range to an otherwise oblivious terrorist or group, before making contact, cover shooting, and skirmishing their position. However any targets suddenly sighted within effective range were taken out immediately, usually by snap-shooting from the shoulder with a single round or double tap (usually double). Soldiers would then drop to take cover, roll or “crab” away from the drop position, cover shoot the same terrorist position again, and then cover shoot any other clumps of cover in the near area capable of hiding a terrorist. For those unfamiliar with southern Africa`s bush, “other clumps” included the base of trees, rocks, bushes, ant-hills, areas of elephant grass and so on.
23) When no clear indication of a terrorist`s general position could be ascertained (i.e a “one burst wonder”), the practise was to “kill” any cover within the active arc to the front of each soldier, beginning with cover nearest to that soldier before moving further out. In the case of a sweep line, once a member “walked into” or sighted a terrorist, he immediately shot him, while the other members of the sweep would react to the rifle shot and cover shoot into their OWN arcs of responsibility directly to their front. In all situations the command “Watch my Tracer” (or just, “Tracer” or “Visual”), allowed the rest of the stick to switch their attention to a problem – This did not mean that other areas of possible concealment were then ignored. The affirmative reply to “Watch my Tracer” was, “Seen.” Other verbal methods of indicating a target position would be employed if a tracer shot etc would blow the sticks own closing position or ambush.
24) In responding to sudden incoming fire, a sweep or patrol would immediately return fire from either the prone position or from down on one knee, depending on the nature of the surrounding bush. By dropping onto the knee, soldiers often placed themselves below the level of fire from badly trained terrorists, however remaining in position would not be maintained, especially as terrorists usually deployed an RPD machine gun. This fires at effectively the same cyclic rate as an AK47 (650 rpm instead of 600), but the RPD is far more accurate. The Rhodesians spent some time in live-fire training identifying different weapons and their position from the different sounds that they made.
25) While immediate actions drills, the distance to the target, and the nature of the intervening bush and terrain largely dictated the overall response to an attack, where possible a contact at very close range always resulted in an immediate run through of the terrorist position – sometimes difficult or impossible in the thorn scrub of the jesse found in the Zambezi Valley, for example. It remains obviously unacceptable to remain within the killing zone of an ambush. When the range of the terrorists was more substantial, the use of the “crack and thump” method to determine the distance and direction of their position was a useful technique.
26) Skirmishing: At some appropriate point after the initial stages of the fire fight, a deliberate attacking movement called a Skirmish was carried out, ending in a run through of the terrorist position. Three basic skirmishing techniques were employed, usually by sweep lines containing a few sticks. The first method of skirmishing involved splitting the sweep line into two equal sections, called flanks, with one flank moving forward (say 2-5 meters as an example) while the second flank covered the first. When the first flank went prone and restarted cover shooting, the second flank would then run forward until some meters passed the line of the first, and so on. This method is the least likely to result in a “friendly fire” incident, but it is also the easiest to counter. All soldiers running forward did so using open-sighted snap shooting (both eyes open),
from the shoulder if a rifleman, or forward of the hip if a gunner. The second skirmish option had every second member of the sweep line designated as one of the flanks, with each member of that flank passing between and through members of the other, leap frogging forward so to speak. Obviously the covering flankers stopped shooting as those moving forward passed them. The third option was called a Pepper Pot, and was usually what option two “degenerated” into as a consequence of the difficult situation. This involved individuals of the sweep line or stick, randomly getting up and moving forward, or going prone and covering, and so on. It is more difficult to implement when in larger numbers, but is also the hardest to counter because prone troops rise from their positions in a very random and seemingly “uncoordinated” fashion. Sticks of four always used something resembling the Pepper Pot when on the assault, or split pairs if a serious attempt at out-flanking the terrorist position was intended, and so on.
27) At no time in the fire fight was any stick member to stop and attend to another wounded member. To do so increased the likelihood of the soldier lending assistance getting hit, and prevented him from continuing with the attack while tending to the wounded man. The exception was a silent MAG in a 4 man stick, this was to be restarted ASAP.
29) For the run through, on command the entire skirmish line would rapidly assault the terrorist position by literally running right through it, firing from the shoulder using open sights and with both eyes open. The practise was to aim over and along a line of a “sweeping” barrel and kill anything within the arc of responsibility as the soldier sprinted through the position and out the other side.
28) Having run through a terrorist position, a head count of friendlies and a return slow sweep was conducted. A particular difficulty arose when the head count came up a stick member short.

The Rhodesian Cover Shoot – “Kill” the concealment, kill the terrorist.
29) In general, Rhodesian cover shooting was the deliberate “killing” of probable cover used by terrorists. No actual visual sighting of terrorists was therefore needed to “take them out,” and no time was wasted attempting to identify the exact location of individual terrorists by first searching for muzzle flash or blast, a movement, a shape, and so on. Rather, careful observation of the terrorist`s position was carried out while “killing” their cover.
30) When cover or “drake” shooting, riflemen were to shoot directly into and through the terrorists position, keeping their aim deliberately low, while gunners were required to aim at the ground immediately to the front of that cover – Tumbling rounds, dislodged stones, or fragments of smashed rocks and trees do great injury to those lying in cover, while the earth that MAGs can kick up has excellent distraction and demoralizing value. The basic action was to draw the barrel of the rifle or machine gun across the cover area, usually beginning left to right, while squeezing the trigger at appropriate moments so as to “rake” it from one side to the other. Each round or burst is fired in a deliberately aimed fashion. Experienced riflemen sometimes used two, but no more than three round bursts on fully automatic when snap or cover shooting. Again the first
round was aimed deliberately low because the design and power of the FN causes the barrel to rise rapidly on fully automatic. By aiming low, the first round was intended to “skip” and strike a prone target, while the second would go directly home as the barrel lifted. Obviously with a standing target, the terrorist would be “stitched” by the burst. Squeezing off two or three round bursts on fully automatic was also useful for dealing with positions on rising ground or hills.
31) FAL 7.62 long rounds have the power to punch through the tree trunks generally found in the African savanna and jesse bush! AK47`s using 7.62 short, on the other hand, generally did not. This fact was used to great effect by the Rhodesians. When firing into an area that included trees, rocks or ant hills etc, a single round down the left hand side of a solid object was good practise (not forgetting most opponents are right handed), then double tap the base of the tree and continue to the right, squeezing off single (or double) rounds in fairly close proximity (In a Conventional situation, moving from left to right takes out the trigger man before the machine gun loader or second.) Smallish rocks, strange “lumps”, or “bundles of rags” were to be killed. In fact anything out of place was to be dealt with – the “rocks” may be heads, hands, or a pattern on a camouflage uniform etc. The soldier then moved his aim to the next area of cover and repeated the process.
32) To “Win the Fire Fight,” riflemen would consume the first two magazines as quickly as it remained practical to maintain accuracy, using single rounds or double taps (While trained to use the double tap, my Commando`s policy was the use of single rounds – Aim, Squeeze and Switch). As with the rifleman`s use of magazines, the gunner was free to offload the first one or two belts. Each stick member was responsible for monitoring his own ammunition usage during the fire fight, and running out was an unforgivable sin!

Seem familiar? If you have been on one of my training classes or read ‘Contact!’?

I will add this caveat: these drills were developed for a certain environment and enemy. The ‘run through’ talked about may not be appropriate (see my Fight Through! post on that) and in most circumstances against a well trained enemy you would be better off with more steady fire and movement, generating momentum and accurate suppressing fire, either in a skirmish line fighting though the enemy position or by sending an element to a flank supported by a base of fire. Alternatively, if the enemy is too strong and/or your patrol SOP is to break contact, then you can utilize the cover shoot method as you break contact in order to deliver fire into the enemy positions even if you have not, due to the speed and chaos, actually located all the enemy who are firing at you. You can’t not fire right, when breaking contact? No movement without fire, when under enemy fire. If you are peeling out and you can’t exactly locate the enemy firing points, then use the cover shoot method to place fire into where you think they will most likely be.

Live Hard.

Die Free.



2 thoughts on “Rhodesian Cover Shooting (The Drake Method)

  1. An excellent article indeed, the Rhodesians certainly bloodied our noses and brought home again that Britain was far too complacent and non observing of its territories, it should have ceded independence in 1965 when other colonies got theirs but because of Rhodesian copper, it wasn’t allowed to and of course history followed. Incidentally a lot of people made vast fortunes out of Rhodesia’s war, the copper prices literally went through the roof and then some, scrap yards were scoured for the stuff as it attracted precious metal prices.

    Point 21 is something only a soldier will know about, that sweep of the eyes, you stop and look back and just cannot spot at first what piqued your senses but its there, a shadow out of place, the wind not quite rustling a bush when others are swaying, wildlife show interest or steer clear or seem startled for no reason, it is these skills that maketh the soldier.

    One of the issues of course is that Britain and the US went down two different paths, America placed on a lower priority guerilla warfare instruction whereas the UK put guerilla tactics in equal importance to infantry combat training, reliance too on technology is another area of difference, the US becoming more and more reliant on gadgets, satellite pictures, laser this and fancy that, not ever having to patrol say the border areas of Hong Kong to stop smugglers and illegal entry, the infamous tough Irish border areas which soon weeded the men from the boys, these skills would have made Iraq and Afghanistan a different game for the US and winnable by working on the enemies own terms but sadly them people in the White House, the Pentagon knew better and fed young lives wastefully into the grinders of Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Sadly for the British, our politicians perhaps through some bribery by the military industrial complex are now following the gadget, yee-hah, gung ho path and abandoning the older ways and because of this, Britain saw crippling casualties that could have been avoided in Afghanistan if they taught from their own history, from the borders of Ireland and Hong Kong, from the long fight in Rhodesia and across Africa and that is why the above method of warfare will always, always defeat technological armies, these are the basics of modern warfare and until the politicians in the UK and US realise you cannot fight a ground war from the air, from a remote location, then they will continue to lose, lose and lose again.

  2. You’re making false equivalences all over the place. One easy example being on tech.

    Grunts performing patrols likely have never even seen the satellite pictures or used half of the fancy gadgets you’re implying. So how exactly have those grunts’ patrol skills degraded because of satellite photos? You’re sowing non-sequiturs all over the place.

    What the intel soldiers use to identify enemy training camps, or the pilots use to see a technical at night has little to do with the patrol skills a grunt gains in the field.

    I can’t think of a single actual combat engagement in Iraq or Afghanistan that U.S. forces didn’t win majorly. So obviously whatever failings you see those wars were not combat level failings…so why are you talking about combat skills and tactics being failures in those wars?

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