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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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needed to deploy up to two divisions. 38 Dean Rusk, with more than a nod to the concept of overwhelming force, suggested between six and eight divisions might be required. 39 Clearly, then, substantial numbers of troops would have been required if the British decided to intervene in Rhodesia with any degree of assurance that they could deal with all eventualities. Douglas Anglin acknowledged: ‘The larger the British expeditionary force, the less resistance there would likely have been, the shorter the campaign, the fewer the casualties, and the less explosive the domestic political repercussions.’ 40 However, the problem was that by 1964 Britain’s armed forces were seriously stretched by multiple commitments around the world. In particular, by the time that Harold Wilson entered office, Konfrontasi (the protection of Malaysia against Indonesian subversion) was absorbing a substantial proportion of Britain’s military resources, including over 50,000 troops and more than a third of the Royal Navy’s surface fleet. 41 This meant that many of the units that had been earmarked in earlier plans for deployment to Rhodesia were no longer available. Robert Good suggested that any shortage of troops might have been overcome by detaching some units from the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR).

There was a precedent for this, as the French had ‘borrowed’ some of their NATO forces for their operations in Algeria. 42 In fact, British commanders did not consider BAOR units to be suitable for operations in Rhodesia, but the DPS had suggested that any Anglin, ‘Britain and the Use of Force in Rhodesia’, p. 69; Good, UDI, p. 58.

NAA: A1838, 190/10/1, Part 5, Plimsoll, AMUN, New York, to DEA, Canberra, Cable No. UN1468, 9 October 1965.

Anglin, ‘Britain and the Use of Force in Rhodesia’, p. 69.

Ibid.; and Eric J. Grove, Vanguard to Trident: British Naval Policy Since World War Two (London:

Bodley Head, 1987), pp. 265-67.

Good, UDI, p. 59.

shortage of troops might be met by using the UK Strategic Reserve, which was maintained to meet emergency situations. 43 It can therefore be argued that lack of adequate forces was not a convincing reason for non-intervention in Rhodesia.

(ii) Logistical Support The logistical situation was considered to be an insurmountable obstacle to military intervention in Rhodesia. Denis Healey observed that Aden was the nearest British base and that was as far away from Rhodesia as Cairo is from London. 44 Similarly, Colonel George Wigg, Harold Wilson’s self-styled security expert, advised the Prime Minister: ‘It is obvious when looking at the land locked nature of Southern Rhodesia and geographical dispersal of its airfields that military intervention by our Armed Forces is out of the question.’ 45 Certainly, the initial deployment of British forces would have been difficult because the numbers of troops required was relatively large, lines of communication were very long and Rhodesia enjoyed a favourable strategic location, with South Africa and the Portuguese colony of Mozambique protecting its southern and eastern flanks. The only land route into Rhodesia was through Zambia, and although President Kaunda was very willing to allow British forces to use Zambian facilities, there were some complicating factors involved in establishing a large intervention force there.

TNA: PRO, DEFE 32/17, DP 83/64 (Final), ‘Operations in Central Africa’, para. 20, 19 June 1964.

Denis Healey, The Time of My Life (London: Michael Joseph, 1989), p. 331.

BLPES: Papers of George Edward Cecil Wigg [hereafter Wigg Papers], WIGG 4/68, ‘Military Situation Southern Rhodesia’, 4 November 1965.

To begin with, the movement of British troops to Zambia and their subsequent supply would have absorbed the total capacity of RAF Transport Command. Its 56 Argosy aircraft were capable of carrying around 70 men or 15 tons of stores each, and to move a single Brigade Group to Lusaka via a staging post in Dar Es Salaam would have taken between a week and ten days. 46 If a larger British force was required it would have been necessary to supplement the transport capacity of the RAF by commandeering civilian aircraft, or requesting assistance from the United States Government, which would probably have been forthcoming. 47 American help would certainly have been desirable given the complications that would have been inherent in maintaining British forces in southern Africa. When the DPS drew up its plans for Operation Mattock, it emphasized that British forces would be reliant upon the co-operation of the Federation for the supply of engineer plant and stores; fresh rations; petrol, oil and lubricants; a limited number of civilian vehicles; accommodation; use of railways; and limited aircraft handling facilities and servicing systems. It suggested that protracted operations would require a surface line of communication and it would therefore be necessary to arrange this with either the Neville Brown, ‘Military Sanctions Against Rhodesia’, Venture, Vol. 17, No. 12 (January 1966), p. 12;

William Gutteridge, ‘Rhodesia: the use of military force’, The World Today, Vol. 21 (December 1965), p.

499; and Good, UDI, p. 59.

Thomas Mann, the U.S. Undersecretary of State for Economic Affairs, advised President Johnson that any British request for American troops in Rhodesia should be refused but a request for an airlift to move and support British troops should be treated sympathetically. Lyndon Baines Johnson Library, Texas [hereafter LBJL]: White House Confidential File, Mann to the President, 22 December 1965. The Joint Chiefs had by this time ordered a military study of Rhodesian military capabilities and an estimate of whether the United States could meet a British request for up to three squadrons of transport aircraft.





LBJL: National Security File [hereafter NSF], Rhodesia Country File, Box 97, ‘Cables, 12/63-1/66’, JCS to U.S. C-in-C Middle East, Cable No. 071558z, 7 December 1965. This document was declassified in September 2005 pursuant to a Mandatory Review request.

South African or Portuguese authorities. The plan relied on over-flying Tanzania, or Mozambique, in which case it would be necessary to obtain authorisation from the relevant authorities. 48 However, if British forces had been deployed to prevent or end a UDI they could not have expected a great deal of co-operation, in which case military intervention would have been much more difficult. In 1961 British planners estimated the supply requirements for a force consisting of three brigades at between 60 and 90 tons per day, 49 and in the event of a UDI this would have to be airlifted into Zambia, which would have been no small undertaking. A further logistical problem that would have been involved in British operations out of Zambia concerned the movement of troops into Rhodesia. The Zambezi formed a natural barrier and it was only bridged at three points.

This meant that British offensive operations would have been dependent upon helicopters, but these were in short supply because of British operations in Malaysia. 50 The logistical problem would also have been exacerbated by the need to maintain the Zambian economy against Rhodesian retaliatory action. 51 A major concern for the British and Americans was the security of the Kariba dam and power station, which supplied Zambia with the electricity that was essential to keep its copper mines functioning. 52 TNA: PRO, DEFE 25/22, COS (61) 476 [n.d.] TNA: PRO, DEFE 32/17, ‘Internal Security Reinforcement of Northern Rhodesia’, para. 11, 9 February 1961.

Brown, ‘Military Sanctions Against Rhodesia’, p. 12; and Good, UDI, p. 59.

This problem was discussed at both the official and political levels in London and Washington from late 1964 throughout 1965, and created considerable strains in Anglo-American relations. See below, Ch. 6, pp.

316 ff.

A few weeks after UDI the U.S. Consul General in Salisbury warned that Kariba remained the ‘Most immediate Sword of Damocles’ despite the fact that Ian Smith had rejected press speculation that However, Kariba lay on the Rhodesian side of the Zambesi and when the DPS considered the possibility of a British deployment to seize control of the installation they recognized a large number of factors inhibited such an operation, not least their lack of confidence that surprise could be maintained. 53 Harold Wilson was prepared to deploy British troops along the north bank of the Zambesi in a purely defensive capacity, but the proposal foundered when Kenneth Kaunda insisted that they should seize control of Kariba.54 Next, Wilson suggested that a Commonwealth force might be used to protect Kariba, but this generated no enthusiasm in Australia. 55 In the event Kariba remained safe, probably because the Rhodesians recognized that any action taken against the installation might have provoked British military intervention. 56 However, once economic sanctions against Rhodesia escalated the British and American Governments were compelled to mount a massive airlift to maintain the Zambian economy, which would otherwise have been crippled by Rhodesian economic retaliation. 57 Rhodesian forces might take action against the installation. LBJL: NSF, Rhodesia Country File, Box 97, ‘Cables, 12/63-1/66’, McClelland to State Department, Cable No. 480, 4 December 1965.

TNA: PRO, DEFE 32/17, DP 17/65 (Final), ‘The Kariba Dam. Note by the Directors of Defence Plans’, 22 February 1965. These contingency plans were drawn up following State Department enquiries in early February. TNA: PRO, DO 183/619, N. C. C. Trench, British Embassy, Washington, to Mr. C. M.

LeQuesne, WCAD, Foreign Office, 5 February 1965; and John Wilson, WCAD, to Trench, 12 February 1965.

Anglin, ‘Britain and the Use of Force in Rhodesia’, p. 63; Wilson, The Labour Government, p. 182.

NAA: A1838, 190/11/1, Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee Decision No. 1445 (FAD), 7 December 1965; and Sir Robert Menzies to Harold Wilson, 9 December 1965.

It has been suggested that British intelligence conveyed a warning to the Rhodesian Government that any Rhodesian action would be met by unspecified reprisals. See D. Leigh, The Wilson Plot: The Intelligence Services and the Discrediting of a Prime Minister (London: Heinemann, 1988), p. 106.

See below, Ch. 6, p. 326, n. 48.

It may be argued that the complexities of the logistical situation militated against British military intervention but they were not insurmountable (as the Anglo-American airlift proved). Indeed, the logistical obstacles should not have been insurmountable, as the Labour Party’s Commonwealth Officer, George Cunningham, pointed out: ‘If we do not have the power [to use troops] we have no right to have colonies in our charge and our military planners deserve hanging for spending $2,000 million a year without being able to compel a population the size of that of Harrow to stick to the law.’ 58 (iii) The likely extent of Rhodesian resistance In 1965 there were all sorts of dire predictions about the likely scale of the fighting that would result from British military intervention in Rhodesia. Shortly before UDI, for example, Harold Wilson told President Kaunda that Britain could not send troops into Rhodesia because the Rhodesians would ‘resist bitterly any British forces and would fanatically try like Hitler to defend their “standards”.’ 59 No doubt there was an element of hyperbole in Wilson’s remarks, as he was trying to dissuade Kaunda from pressing for military intervention, but there was – and still is – a deep conviction in Britain that the Rhodesian armed forces would not have hesitated to resist British military intervention.

Sir John Pestell, Controller and Secretary to the British Governor in Rhodesia at the time of UDI, was adamant on this point: ‘I knew lots of army and air force … I don’t believe that when the balloon went up the Rhodesian forces would not have opposed G. Cunningham, ‘Rhodesia – An Indictment’, Venture, Vol. 17, No. 11 (December 1965), p. 3.

TNA: PRO, FO 371/181881, Sir L. Monson, British Embassy, Lusaka, to Commonwealth Relations Office, Cable No. 1659, 31 October 1965.

vehemently.’ 60 Yet until now there has never been any research published on the question of whether Rhodesian forces would have resisted British troops. It appears that the picture is rather more nuanced than politicians, civil servants or the military admitted at the time or since. 61 Similarly, there has never been any informed assessment of whether Rhodesian forces were properly equipped to fight against Britain, which is surely a critical factor in any discussion of the viability of British military intervention.

(a) Rhodesian attitudes The attitude of the Rhodesian Service Chiefs can be assessed on the basis of the reports of the British Defence Liaison Staff (RAF Element) in Salisbury. 62 In his report for the period from June to August 1964, Group Captain Slade advised that members of the Rhodesian Front Party, including Ministers, had been meeting officers and airmen informally and socially to casually enquire if the Rhodesian Government could rely upon Sir John Pestell in ‘Rhodesian UDI’, ICBH Witness Seminar, 6 September 2000, Session Two Transcript, p. 56. http://www.icbh.ac.uk/icbh/witness/rhodesia Bottomley wrote in his memoirs: ‘Smith possessed a well-trained army and police force, which were completely loyal to him.’ Commonwealth, Comrades and Friends (Bombay: Somaiya Publications, 1985), p. 141. Yet not everyone who examined the issue at the time was convinced of the loyalty of the Rhodesian armed forces to the Rhodesian Front. Shortly before the Labour Government was elected George Cunningham advised the National Executive Committee: ‘The loyalty of the armed forces must be in doubt

and must be Mr. Smith’s biggest worry.’ National Museum of Labour History, Manchester:

Commonwealth Papers, Southern Rhodesia Documents, 1963-1966, Paper No. OV/1963-64/29, 21 July 1964.

TNA: PRO, AIR 20/11189. Group Captain H. G. Slade was the RAF Liaison Officer and Air Adviser to the British High Commissioner in Salisbury from 1962 until November 1964. Group Captain G. B. Johns then succeeded Slade.



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