«THE RHODESIAN CRISIS IN BRITISH AND INTERNATIONAL POLITICS, 1964-1965 by CARL PETER WATTS A thesis submitted to the University of Birmingham For the ...»
them in the event of a UDI. Slade reported that the Chief of the Air Staff in Rhodesia, Air Vice Marshal Bentley, had ‘taken great exception to this being done’ and had made this clear to Ian Smith ‘in no uncertain terms.’ 63 Just before the end of his tour, Slade wrote to Air Vice Marshal Sir Peter Fletcher, Assistant Chief of the Air Staff (Policy), in London, commenting on the likely reaction of the Rhodesian Chiefs of Staff in the event of a UDI: ‘I have never found it difficult to state where the Armed Forces would stand.
As you know I have never had any doubts whatsoever about Bentley’s position or reactions; similarly my Army colleague has had no doubts about the Army.’ 64 However, Slade suspected that Bentley would be removed before his official retirement in July
1965. On the following day, the General Officer Commanding Rhodesia, Major General John Anderson, was ‘retired’ on the grounds of age (at 51). Anderson, who was known to oppose a UDI, was reported to have said: ‘I have been represented politically as being the only stumbling block. But I do not believe that this is so. I think I have the support of some members of the other services and Security Forces in my attitude.’ 65 There was some questioning in the British Cabinet about the loyalty of the Rhodesian armed forces. Healey was tasked with improving intelligence on this issue, but there does not appear to be any evidence that the matter was discussed further, either in the Cabinet TNA: PRO, AIR 20/11189, Slade to MOD (Air Department), 31 August 1964. George Ivan Smith, the personal representative in southern Africa of UN Secretary General, U. Thant, also reported that he had heard of these Rhodesian Front enquiries. Centre for Southern African Studies, Borthwick Institute of Historical Research, York: SMI 9, Smith to Thant, 17 April 1964.
TNA: PRO, AIR 20/11189, Slade to Fletcher, 23 October 1964. The Army Historical Branch, Ministry of Defence, confirms that the records of the BDLS (Army Element) have not survived (in common with many other overseas records). Mr I. Goode to author, 8 March 1999.
Rhodesia Herald, 24 October 1964. Slade included a cutting of the front page in his letter to Fletcher.
Anderson’s replacement, Major-General Rodney Putterill, held similar views to those of his predecessor. 67 Air Vice Marshal Bentley was retired slightly early in April 1965, as Group Captain Slade had predicted. Air Vice Marshal Harold Hawkins replaced Bentley, who quickly assured Slade’s successor, Group Captain Johns, the relationship between the Royal Air Force and its Rhodesian counterpart would not change. 68 In his report for the period from April to August 1965, Johns commented: ‘On the surface the attitude of the Rhodesian Defence Forces has not changed. They continue to be friendly and cooperative.’ 69 In November 1965, Hawkins actually advised Johns that UDI was imminent and, further, ‘he had told his stations that he would not issue any illegal orders i.e. orders
TNA: PRO, CAB 130/206, Minutes of Meeting, 28 October 1964. In fact, British intelligence on Rhodesia was extremely weak; the Joint Intelligence Committee did not even task MI6 with obtaining intelligence on Rhodesia. See Stephen Dorril, MI6. Inside the Covert World of Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service (New York: Touchstone, 2002), p. 725; Leigh, The Wilson Plot, p. 106; and John Young, The Labour Governments 1964-70 Volume 2: International Policy (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003), p. 179.
Putterill told the Chief of the Rhodesian Central Intelligence Organisation that he would support the Governor if so requested. Ken Flower, Serving Secretly. An Intelligence Chief on Record: Rhodesia into Zimbabwe, 1964-1981 (London: John Murray, 1987), p. 56. When Putterill retired, he joined the multiracial Centre Party in protest against the Rhodesian Front’s racial Constitution of 1969; he also opposed the regime’s efforts to make Rhodesia a republic. See Elaine Windrich, Britain and the Politics of Rhodesian Independence (London: Croom Helm, 1978), p. 28; and Good, UDI, p. 57.
TNA: PRO, AIR 20/11189, Johns to MOD (Air Department), 1 April 1965.
TNA: PRO, AIR 20/11189, Johns to MOD (Air Department), 4 September 1965.
TNA: PRO, AIR 20/11189, Johns to Commonwealth Relations Office, Emergency Cable, 9 November 1965.
considered slightly ambiguous, but Hawkins also referred to the hard-liners in the Rhodesian Front as ‘madmen’, which is a reasonable indication of his hostility to UDI. 71 The attitude of the Rhodesian Service Chiefs, even after the purge of Anderson and Bentley, might therefore have helped to prevent a full-scale confrontation between British and Rhodesian forces.
Attitudes among senior Rhodesian Army officers were not sympathetic to the Rhodesian Front regime. On the morning of UDI the Governor in Salisbury, Sir Humphrey Gibbs, received a visit from four Army officers who arrived armed at Government House. They informed Gibbs that if he provided them with a warrant for the arrest of Smith as a rebel against the Queen, they would do their duty. The Governor refused, and the soldiers left.
In Gibbs’ obituary Patrick Keatley commented that ‘This was the fatal moment of hesitation.’ 72 The Governor had in fact considered the possibility of resisting UDI. He consulted Ken Flower, Chief of the Rhodesian Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), to
ascertain his views. Flower recalled in his memoirs:
Although I considered that the loyalty of the Chiefs of Staff, Putterill and Hawkins, was not in doubt and that many of their senior officers would follow their lead, I advised Gibbs that an appeal for their support would Hawkins’s comment referred, in particular, to the Minister of Law and Order, Desmond Lardner-Burke, and Commissioner of Police Barfoot. Hawkins also told Flower that he was fully in support of the Governor. Serving Secretly, p. 56.
Patrick Keatley, Obituary of Sir Humphrey Gibbs, Guardian Weekly, 18 November 1990. Quoted in Alan Megahey, Sir Humphrey Gibbs: Beleaguered Governor (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1998), pp. 110-11.
In his autobiography Wilson’s security adviser, George Wigg, suggests that he was in favour of demanding Ian Smith’s arrest. George Wigg (London: Michael Joseph, 1972), p. 326.
put them in an almost impossible position, between the government that
Flower also advised that the possibility of bloodshed could not be discounted because the attitude among middle and junior ranks was more belligerent, especially in the Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI), which Flower said ‘would willingly “jump into the Makabusi (a muddy river on the outskirts of the city [Salisbury]) for Smith, even if this meant going against their seniors.’ 74 Some former RLI troops have since expressed a view that they would, without question, have fought against British troops or any other invading force. 75 Victor Lee Walker, a Captain in 1RLI who at the time of UDI was seconded to the
Military Intelligence Section of the CIO, has commented:
Flower, Serving Secretly, p. 55. Lieutenant General Peter Walls, who commanded the RLI in 1965, has suggested to one historian that his orders were to resist any invading force. Walls said it would have been a ‘sad duty’ to fight against the British, but any reservations would have disappeared after the first casualties had been sustained. Interview with Donal Lowry, Johannesburg, 8 July 1983. Cited in Lowry, ‘Ulster resistance and loyalist rebellion in the Empire’, in Keith Jeffery (ed.), ‘An Irish Empire’? Aspects of Ireland and the British Empire (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996), p. 213, n. 69.
Dennis Croukamp, 13 Troop, 3 Commando RLI (1965-1980) to author, 28 September 1999; Peter Eldridge, RLI Support Group (1961-1975), then 2 Rhodesian African Rifles (commissioned, 1975), to author, 23 November 2004; Leopold James Bergoff, RLI, to author, 14 and 15 April 2005. Jim Bergoff joined the RLI as a recruit in 1960, rose through the ranks to become a WO1, and was later commissioned in the Rhodesian Army Medical Corps, retiring as an acting Captain in October 1981. He commented: ‘I consider that I was a well disciplined soldier – and loved my country – I believe that many of us would have died for “Rhodesia”.’ The general feeling within the RLI, and other Rhodesian Defence organisations was one of intense loyalty to the country and its government and all members were prepared to fight for Rhodesia (this was later proved during the terrorist campaign). I was prepared to resist any intervention in our country’s affairs as were all my fellow officers who were still serving
The Rhodesian Front could also have counted on the support of the Territorial Force and reservists, who reflected the political mood of the European population in Rhodesia and were therefore likely to offer some resistance to British military intervention. 77 Yet in
other units the mood was not quite so clear-cut, as one commentator pointed out:
It should not be forgotten, however, that there is a regular African battalion, whose reputation is not particularly high and whose conduct would be unpredictable in the event of a serious African rising. It has European officers but is otherwise largely a mixed Matabele and Mashona unit. In some circumstances a mutiny presumably could not be ruled out,
possibility if it exists. 78 Victor Lee Walker, RLI, to author, 26 November 2004. Walker served in the Rhodesian armed forces from October 1960 to December 1981, and was badged to the RLI from 1963 until his retirement. At the time of UDI Walker was responsible for intelligence gathering on terrorist training in Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. He later went on to serve in various staff positions and finally became a Brigadier, commanding 4 Brigade at Fort Victoria (now Masvingo).
Good, UDI, p. 57; Gutteridge, ‘Rhodesia: the use of military force’, p. 500.
Gutteridge, ‘Rhodesia: the use of military force’, pp. 500-01.
The Rhodesian Front was certainly alert to the possibility, which explains why some African units were disbanded. 79 On the other hand, it has also been suggested that African troops were in fact loyal to the Rhodesian Government. 80 Beyond the Rhodesian Army, the paramilitary British South Africa Police (BSAP) also played a major role in Rhodesian security. 81 There is certainly evidence of militant opinion among the substantial European element of this force. One former BSAP officer said that he would have fought against the British, even though he later went on to join the British Army, serving as an officer in the Gurkhas! 82 Other former officers have indicated a strong belief that they were engaged in a struggle against communist insurrection. 83 This is perhaps not surprising when one considers that ‘A tremendous propaganda exercise was mounted by the Rhodesian Government for many months prior to UDI and this of course continued well after the event, if fact right up to the demise of Rhodesia in 1979/80.’84 However, this propaganda exercise was necessary because the vast majority of BSAP recruits were black Africans, and the white recruits were mainly drawn from outside Good, UDI, p. 57.
Vic Walker contended ‘Our Black troops were also behind the Rhodesian Government, in particular the 1st Battalion The Rhodesian African Rifles.’ Walker, RLI, to author, 26 November 2004.
The misleading name originated from the period when Cecil Rhodes’ British South Africa Company administered Rhodesia. In a survey of former BSAP officers conducted in 1999, I invited respondents to ‘consider whether you would personally have resisted a British intervention force.’ The survey yielded nineteen responses: eight confirmed that they would definitely have resisted a British force, three said that they would not, and eight were equivocal.
Derek Jewson, BSAP 6680, to author, 19 September 1999.
Gerry de Bruin, BSAP 7228, to author, 13 September 1999; Michael Horner, BSAP 6125, to author, 16 September 1999; Dan Hughes, BSAP 6308, to author, 14 September 1999.
BSAP Senior Assistant Commissioner Alan Rich, to author, 28 September 1999. Rich advised that the views of white officers should be treated with caution because of this propaganda exercise.
Rhodesia, many from the UK. 85 It therefore hardly seems likely that the entire BSAP could have been relied upon to oppose intervention by British troops. In fact, after UDI there was a wave of desertions by recruits from the UK. 86 An important element to consider in relation to the mood of the BSAP, and the Rhodesian security forces generally, is the fact that many Rhodesians felt conflicted by the oath they had sworn to
the British Crown, as one former BSAP officer has commented:
You should note that I was seriously concerned that, at the time I attested
subsequent to the UDI did I either renounce that original Oath or sign another Oath of Allegiance. Many of my associates felt exactly the same way. It may sound old fashioned to be concerned about such matters as
Rich to author, 28 September 1999; Ivan Smith, BSAP 7357, to author, 14 September 1999; and Gordon Johnston, BSAP 7354, to author, 21 and 28 December 1999. Smith (a Rhodesian) wrote that in his squad of about 30 only 3 were Rhodesian. Similarly, Johnston (a New Zealander) recalled that in his squad of 16 just 3 were Rhodesian. As far as propaganda was concerned, Smith and Johnston both recall that at parade on 11 November 1965 they were told that the BSAP flag was the only one to which they owed their loyalty.
cf. de Bruin, to author, 13 September 1999; Johnston, to author, 28 December 1999; Smith, to author, 14 September 1999. On the other hand, it has been suggested that the British listed only 14 deserters, which was ‘hardly a wave’. J. R. T. Wood to author, 18 January 2006.
Adrian Staines, BSAP 6633, to author, 14 September 1999. Alan Rich also commented: ‘What must be remembered [is that] we had all sworn allegiance to the Monarch and the Governor, Sir Humphrey Gibbs’.
Rich, to author, 28 September 1999.