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«THE RHODESIAN CRISIS IN BRITISH AND INTERNATIONAL POLITICS, 1964-1965 by CARL PETER WATTS A thesis submitted to the University of Birmingham For the ...»

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2383, 7 October 1965. Wilson’s reply was based on the advice of the Joint Intelligence Committee, contained in JIC (65) 69, 1 October 1965.

of intervention in Rhodesia by a ‘Red Army in blue berets’. 16 He did this first, in order to apply pressure on Smith; 17 and second, to justify keeping the issue out of the hands of the United Nations for as long as possible. As the following discussion demonstrates, the real reason why the British Government feared UN involvement in the Rhodesian Crisis is that it could have created a precedent for UN action against South Africa, which would have had far graver consequences than UN action against Rhodesia.

In May 1965 the Defence and Oversea Policy Committee (DOPC) determined that in the event of a UDI the British Government should take the initiative in bringing the Rhodesian Crisis before the United Nations. 18 Ministers gave no further consideration to this for some months, but as the likelihood of a UDI increased, Foreign Office officials became increasingly worried about the potential linkage at the United Nations between the Rhodesian Crisis and apartheid in South Africa. In September 1965, the West and Central Africa Department sought advice about whether the imposition of economic sanctions by the British Government against Rhodesia would constitute a ‘damaging precedent’ that could be used against the British Government in the United Nations by those who advocated the imposition of sanctions against South Africa in the context of Wilson used the phrase in the House of Commons on 12 November 1965. Cited in J. D. B. Miller, Survey of Commonwealth Affairs: Problems of Expansion and Attrition, 1953-1969 (London: Oxford University Press for The Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1974), p. 211.

This did not impress Smith, who was convinced that the Rhodesian Government was a bastion against the spread of Communism in southern Africa. For a brief discussion of Smith’s anti-Communism and how this conditioned his attitude towards the Commonwealth see below, Ch. 5, pp. 268-69.

TNA: PRO, CAB 148/18, Minutes of OPD (65) 24th Meeting, 5 May 1965, para. 6.

apartheid. 19 Legal advice suggested that it depended on whether the issue was brought before the Security Council in Chapter VI or Chapter VII terms. If it became a Chapter VII matter then it would establish a precedent that could be used against the British Government in the context of South Africa. 20 Foreign Office officials therefore advised ministers that Britain could not bring the situation before the Security Council under Chapter VII because the British Government would then have to admit that the internal situation in the territory of a member state, which had international repercussions, could constitute a threat to the peace. They pointed out that this would be contrary to the line that the British Government had consistently adopted in relation to apartheid in South Africa, and warned that if the UN extended economic sanctions to cover South Africa it could have ‘exceedingly damaging’ consequences for Britain. 21 Even if the British Government took the matter before the UN of its own volition – whether or not it required action by other member states – the British Government would have conceded that the UN had some competence in the matter. It would therefore be difficult to argue that the British Government retained ‘sole responsibility in any subsequent constitutional negotiations.’ 22 The fact that the Foreign Office highlighted these concerns over a range of other considerations associated with the UN dimension of the Rhodesian Crisis clearly explains why the British Government did not consider a solution by handing the matter over to the United Nations. Yet this was not the only alternative that the British TNA: PRO, FO 371/181879, C. M. Le Quesne, WCAD, to Joyce Gutteridge, Legal Department, 15 September 1965.

TNA: PRO, FO 371/181879, Joyce Gutteridge, Legal Department, to C. M. Le Quesne, WCAD, 17 September 1965.

TNA: PRO, CAB 148/22, OPD (65) 132, Annex II, ‘Immediate Action in the UN: Note by the Foreign Office’, 21 September 1965, para. 2.

Ibid., para. 3 (ii).

Government could have considered. The second option on Bottomley’s list was the use of force, but this was given very short shrift across all Government departments.

Killing kith and kin: the viability of British military intervention in Rhodesia In the previous chapter it was noted that very soon after the Labour Government was elected a small group of ministers agreed that ‘there could be no question of military intervention in Rhodesia unless we were asked to intervene by the Governor and could rely on the co-operation of the Rhodesian regular forces and on the availability of Salisbury airfield as a point of entry.’ 23 The British Government was advised that such conditions were unlikely, which meant that the use of force against Rhodesia in the event of a UDI had effectively been ruled out within two weeks of the Labour Government taking office. This partly reflected the continuity in advice from the Chiefs of Staff, who had concluded three years earlier that military intervention, in what was then the Central African Federation, was not viable in the face of opposition from Federal forces. 24 In This agreement reflected the advice of the Secretary of State for Defence. TNA: PRO, CAB 130/206, MISC 4/2 ‘UDI: Defence Implications’, 27 October 1964. This view was repeated like a mantra throughout meetings of the Defence and Oversea Policy Committee during 1965. TNA: PRO, CAB 148/18, passim.





The Prime Minister of the Central African Federation, Sir Roy Welensky, was at this stage struggling to preserve the Federation by pressuring London not to concede to the demands of African nationalists for Northern Rhodesian independence. Welensky hinted that if independence were conceded, it would result in a coup by Federal forces and a UDI by the Federation. The Joint Planning Staff advised in June 1961 that ‘We see no military solution of the dispute between Sir Roy Welensky and H[er] M[ajesty’s] Government short of war with the Federation.’ TNA: PRO, DEFE 32/17, JP (61) Note 19, para. 12, 14 June 1961. This advice was based on an earlier report, JP (61) 23 (Final), ‘Outline Plan for Deployment in Northern Rhodesia’ (Operation Fume), 2 March 1961. These planning papers were withdrawn, which is an indication of the sensitivity of the issue. For a discussion of the antecedents of British military planning see January 1962, officials in the Ministry of Defence raised a query concerning British plans for meeting internal security problems in Northern Rhodesia. The Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff, Major-General D. S. S. O’Connor, advised officials that there was no plan for that contingency. There was only one plan, Operation Mattock, which had been designed to provide assistance to the Federation in the event of external aggression. 25 In

the final paragraph of his paper O’Connor warned:

If there is any thought of operations in Northern Rhodesia in the face of active opposition from the Federal Forces, you need no reminder of the results of our anguished examinations last February when it became clear that we would have to resort to war if H[er] M[ajesty’s] G[overnment]’s

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The Chief of the Defence Staff, Lord Mountbatten, also echoed these warnings, and the Conservative Government was left in no doubt that British military intervention depended upon Federal co-operation and there was no workable plan in the event of opposition from Federal forces. 27 This advice informed the position of the Macmillan Government when the Americans asked what the British response would be in the event of a UDI by Southern Rhodesia. When Adlai Stevenson visited London in March 1963, the former also Philip Murphy, ‘“An intricate and distasteful subject”: British planning for the use of force against the European settlers of Central Africa, 1952-1965’, English Historical Review (forthcoming, 2006).

TNA: PRO, DEFE 25/22 COS (61) 476 [n.d.] TNA: PRO, DEFE 25/22, Major-General D. S. S. O’Connor to Mr C. W. Wright, MOD Division 5, 9 February 1962.

TNA: PRO, DEFE 25/22, Lord Mountbatten to Harold Watkinson, 6 February 1962. The Secretary of State for War reported Mountbatten’s comments to the Cabinet on 26 February 1962.

Colonial Secretary, Iain Macleod, told him that British military intervention was ‘inconceivable’ due to the strength of the armed forces at the disposal of the Federation. 28 As noted below, Conservative and Labour politicians advanced this argument against British military intervention consistently before and after UDI.

Shortly before the Labour Government was elected, the Defence Planning Staff (DPS) prepared a report ‘To set out an outline plan for, and to examine the implications of, the introduction of British forces into Southern Rhodesia at the request of the Governor in circumstances when the Southern Rhodesian Government declared independence.’ 29 The DPS assumed that the Governor would be assured of the support of the Rhodesian Chiefs of Staff and the bulk of the armed forces, that the loyalty of the Territorial Force and the Police could not be guaranteed, and that inter-racial disorder might occur. 30 It was argued in the report that a military operation in these circumstances ‘would place a severe strain on the loyalties and morale of British troops’ and warned that intervention in less favourable circumstances would be impracticable. 31 The report concluded that military intervention was likely to lead to action against both whites and blacks, which might have repercussions in other African and Asian countries; it would place a burden on the armed forces, which were already overstretched; and it would represent a volte face from recent policy statements which could lead to severe international criticism, despite the legality of TNA: PRO, FO 1109/535, I. Macleod to R. A. Butler, 1 April 1963. Cited in L. J. Butler, ‘Britain, the United States, and the Demise of the Central African Federation, 1959-63’, The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, Vol. 28, No. 3 (September 2000), p. 145.

TNA: PRO DEFE 32/17, DP 83/64 (Final) ‘Operations in Central Africa’, para. 4, 19 June 1964.

Ibid., para. 5.

Ibid., paras. 7 and 34.

the intervention. 32 Given this excessively pessimistic advice, it is perhaps not surprising that the Labour Government ruled out the use of force at such an early stage after taking office. Whether this advice was infallible is another matter entirely.

The practicalities of British military intervention Douglas Anglin has observed that debate about the feasibility of British military intervention revolved around five factors: availability of sufficient forces; logistical support; the likely extent of Rhodesian resistance; the danger of South African intervention; and the willingness of British soldiers to fight against their ‘kith and kin’.33 These various considerations can be assessed with reference to a variety of evidence that has only become available during the last few years.

(i) Availability of forces Estimates of the size of the force required occupy Rhodesia varied considerably. A limited deployment in a coup de main operation would have required a single battalion of paratroops, which could have been dropped into Rhodesia to bolster the authority of the Governor in Salisbury. However, as Robert Good has pointed out, this type of scenario ignored a fundamental consideration: ‘No responsible commander would have embarked upon such a risky venture without a substantial reserve force at the ready.’ 34 Certainly, Ibid., para. 35.

Douglas G. Anglin, ‘Britain and the Use of Force in Rhodesia’, in Michael G. Fry (ed.), Freedom and Change: essays in honour of Lester B. Pearson (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1975), pp. 68-69.

Robert C. Good, UDI: The International Politics of the Rhodesian Rebellion (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973), p. 58. Sir Oliver Wright, Private Secretary to Harold Wilson, has commented: ‘I there is no evidence in surviving British documents that such an operation was given any consideration by the DPS, whose plans were always formulated on the assumption that at

–  –  –

conceived to defend Rhodesia against external aggression, provided for the insertion of one Brigade Group with artillery on call and an armoured car squadron, such forces to be drawn from any or all of Middle East Command, Royal Marine Commandos overseas, and the UK Strategic Reserve. 35 Operation Fume, which was designed to deal with a Congo-type situation in Northern Rhodesia, required large air, naval and military forces of up to three Brigade Groups including 3 Commando Brigade (consisting of 42 Royal Marine Commando and 45 Royal Marine Commando, from Aden; and 40 Royal Marine Commando, from Malta) 3 Parachute Battalion Group, 51 Infantry Brigade Headquarters and an armoured car squadron. 36 Similarly, when the DPS prepared its 1964 plans it estimated force requirements at one Brigade Group at light scales, with a further Brigade Group at readiness and an armoured car squadron. 37 It has also been suggested that if serious resistance were encountered (which was discounted in British plans because military intervention was ruled out altogether in such circumstances) Britain might have simply don’t believe that any politician would take the responsibility, or any Chief of Defence Staff would fail to put in a bid for anything less than overwhelming force.’ Wright in ‘Rhodesian UDI’, Institute of Contemporary British History [hereafter cited as ICBH] Witness Seminar, 6 September 2000, Session Two Transcript, p. 55. http://www.icbh.ac.uk/icbh/witness/rhodesia TNA: PRO, DEFE 25/22, COS (61) 476 [n.d.] TNA: PRO, DEFE 32/17, JP (61) 23 (Final), ‘Outline Plan for Deployment in Northern Rhodesia’ (Operation Fume), 2 March 1961. Planned naval forces included HMS Victorious, HMS Hermes, HMS Bulwark and HMS Dieppe. Three squadrons of Canberra bombers and two squadrons of Hunter fighters would have provided RAF strike capabilities.

TNA: PRO, DEFE 32/17, DP 83/64 (Final), ‘Operations in Central Africa’, para. 17, 19 June 1964.



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