«THE RHODESIAN CRISIS IN BRITISH AND INTERNATIONAL POLITICS, 1964-1965 by CARL PETER WATTS A thesis submitted to the University of Birmingham For the ...»
(v) The British armed forces and the ‘kith and kin’ factor Healey alleged in his memoirs that the British armed forces could not be trusted to execute orders for a military intervention against their Rhodesian ‘kith and kin’. Healey recalled that he reprimanded the Chief of the General Staff, Sir James Cassels, over ‘mutinous muttering among senior army officers.’ 115 There is no doubt that the Defence Secretary was made aware of the reservations of the military on several occasions. The J. R. T. Wood to author, 18 January 2006.
Anglin, ‘Britain and the Use of Force in Rhodesia’, p. 71.
Healey, Time of My Life, p. 332. This allegation was repeated on British television in 1999: ‘I remember Jim Cassels did warn me... that there would be real difficulty... I said “Tell them to keep their traps shut.
I’m not going to have this sort of chatter. Public chatter would be mutiny, or the threat of mutiny. This is a political matter in which politicians take decisions and not the military.” I didn’t add, of course, that a wise politician takes notice of the views of the military on these issues.’ Rebellion! (BBC Television, 1999), Part 1, ‘Treachery’.
contingency plans submitted by the DPS during 1964 and 1965 contained warnings that military intervention ‘would give rise to an almost intolerable strain on the loyalties and morale of British troops involved.’ 116 Officials in the Ministry of Defence also reinforced this message. When Arthur Bottomley, the Commonwealth Secretary, enquired about the possibility of military intervention to protect Zambian copper production, the Defence Secretary was advised that ‘Action against Rhodesians of British origin would be a task deeply repugnant to our forces.’ 117 These opinions were supplemented by rumours that some commanding officers had consulted their officers to ask whether they would fight if ordered into Rhodesia. The results were allegedly negative; many apparently cited the precedent of the Curragh ‘mutiny’ in 1914. 118 Hew Strachan has observed: ‘The evidence for this is largely anecdotal. Some officers serving in 1965 are categorical that they were consulted on these issues; some equally clearly state that they were not.’ 119 Nevertheless, TNA: PRO, DEFE 32/17, DP 83/64 (Final), ‘Operations in Central Africa’, para. 34, 19 June 1964; DP 17/65 (Final), ‘The Kariba Dam. Note by the Directors of Defence Plans’, para. 49, 22 February 1965.
TNA: PRO, AIR 20/11189, ‘ Rhodesia’, para. 7, 28 January 1965. DS 17 prepared this brief for OPD (65) 6th Meeting on 29 January 1965.
Good, UDI, p. 60; and Hew Strachan, The Politics of the British Army (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), p. 178. In 1914 57 officers of the 3rd Cavalry Brigade stationed at the Curragh Barracks, near Dublin, said they would resign their commissions rather than impose Home Rule on Ireland against the wishes of the people of Ulster. The significance of this precedent was also highlighted in the ‘Rhodesian UDI’, ICBH Seminar, 6 September 2000, Session Two Transcript, p. 54. http://www.icbh.ac.uk/icbh/witness/rhodesia On the other hand, Healey suggested to one historian that the precedent of the Curragh incident ‘had not the slightest effect on the British Government’s decision against the use of force’. Healey to Donal Lowry, 19 March 1991. Cited in Lowry, ‘Ulster resistance and loyalist rebellion in the Empire’, pp. 212-13, n. 69.
Strachan, The Politics of the British Army, p. 286, n. 4. According to Paul Moorcroft, a lecturer at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst (1973-75), 90 per cent of junior army officers said that they would be unwilling to fight against Rhodesians. Moorcroft, A Short Thousand Years: the end of Rhodesia’s rebellion although hard evidence of such consultation is lacking, the political significance of these rumours is that they ‘tended to serve as an alibi for inaction.’ 120 Military intervention might have been distasteful to some senior British officers, particularly those who had close personal links with Rhodesia. The Assistant Chief of the Air Staff (Policy and Plans), Air Chief Marshal Sir Peter Fletcher, had been educated in Southern Rhodesia, trained in the Rhodesian Air Force, and during the Second World War served in the Rhodesian Air Training Group at Belvedere, Salisbury. 121 MajorGeneral John Willoughby, British GOC Middle East Land Forces (who would probably have commanded any British military intervention), enjoyed a close relationship with Major-General Rodney Putterill, GOC Rhodesian Army. 122 Such links tended to shape the perceptions of some on the Rhodesian side. Brigadier Andrew Skeen, the Rhodesian High Commissioner in London, told his Government shortly before UDI that he had been assured by senior British officers that they would refuse to fight against Rhodesia.123
However, the head of Rhodesian intelligence, Ken Flower, was not convinced:
I doubted Skeen’s claim that most British Commanders would refuse to fight against Rhodesia; on the contrary, CIO knew for certain that some of the senior commanders would willingly use force against Rhodesia.
(Salisbury: Galaxie Press, 1979), p. 18. Cited in Lowry, ‘Ulster resistance and loyalist rebellion in the Empire’, p. 212, n. 68.
Adam Roberts, ‘The British Armed Forces and Politics: A Historical Perspective’, Armed Forces and Society Vol. 3, No. 4 (Summer 1977), p. 541.
Obituary, The Independent, 6 January 1999.
Flower, Serving Secretly, p. 57.
Ibid., p. 50.
British military tradition – loyalty to the Sovereign and a high sense of military discipline and national pride – would override any other
The armed forces of both countries owed their loyalty to the Crown and were trained in the tradition that politics is not the concern of the military. Lack of hard evidence makes it difficult to argue conclusively whether British forces would have fought, but it is certainly true that ‘the kith and kin factor was inflated to cover a general aversion to a military solution arising from other more compelling reasons.’ 125 It is therefore essential to consider the economic and political situation in order to understand why the Labour Government eschewed the use of force.
Economic and political constraints on the use of force The decision not to use force in the event of a UDI departed from the established use of the military during Britain’s disengagement from Empire. Peter Nailor has observed that ‘The type of military involvement was, classically, to threaten the use of, or to use, military force to delay the pace of political change; or, more simply, to keep some sort of order while political change was being negotiated.’ 126 British troops were deployed in Ibid.
Good, UDI, p. 61.
Peter Nailor, ‘The Ministry of Defence, 1959-70’, in Paul Smith (ed.) Government and the Armed Forces in Britain, 1856-1990 (London: Hambledon Press, 1996), p. 242.
this capacity in Malaya, Cyprus and Kenya, for example. 127 British forces were also deployed in East African states after they achieved independence; in early 1964 the Governments of Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya called upon Britain to suppress mutinies in their armed forces. 128 Further, the extent of British military support for the Malaysian Federation in its confrontation with Indonesia demonstrated Britain’s continuing capacity to act on a global scale, which the Harold Wilson initially had no intention of changing.
In his first major foreign policy speech Wilson declared ‘We are a world power, and a world influence, or we are nothing.’ 129 In December 1964, Wilson told the House of Commons that the Government would not preside over any dramatic scaling-down of
Britain’s military commitments:
effectiveness, value for money and a stringent review of expenditure, we cannot afford to relinquish our world role - our role which for shorthand purposes is sometimes called our ‘East of Suez’ role. 130 Malaya became independent in 1957; Cyprus achieved its independence in 1959, but with a British military presence ‘in perpetuity’; Kenya became independent in 1963. See Robert F. Holland, European Decolonization, 1918-1981: An Introductory Survey (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1985).
Waldemar Nielsen, The Great Powers and Africa (New York: Praeger, 1969), pp. 60-61.
The Times, 17 November 1964. Quoted in D. J. Reynolds, Britannia Overruled. British Policy and World Power in the 20thCentury (London: Longman, 1991), p. 227.
Quoted in Grove, Vanguard to Trident, p. 267. It has been argued recently that ‘The nucleus of the Wilson Cabinet consisted of men from the old Labour right who fervently supported the overseas military role … The core of this Bevinite grouping included the Chancellor, James Callaghan, the Defence Secretary, Denis Healey; and the successive Foreign Secretaries of the first two Wilson regimes, Patrick
Gordon Walker, Michael Stewart, and George Brown.’ Jeffrey Pickering, ‘Politics and “Black Tuesday”:
Shifting Power in the Cabinet and the Decision to Withdraw from east of Suez, November 1967-January Behind this rhetoric, however, the foreign and defence policies of the Wilson Government were dictated by economic exigencies. The massive balance of payments deficit of £800 million, inherited from the Conservative Government, could probably have been dealt with most effectively by a devaluation of the pound, but this course of action was ruled out very quickly on political grounds. The Labour Government struggled to engineer an economic recovery with a combination of tax increases and spending cuts, including a defence review. 131 On 28 January 1965, Callaghan announced to the Cabinet his plans for reducing public expenditure by 1970. He hoped to save some £500 million, of which £350 million would come from the defence budget, which in 1969-70 would be held at £2 billion, at 1964 prices. This move towards retrenchment in defence spending was given additional encouragement by George Brown and the Department for Economic Affairs.
The National Plan, published in September 1965, argued that the defence sector was detrimental to the economy because it took up about 7 per cent of national output, 5 per cent of the labour force, and up to 40 per cent of British research and development.
Defence consumed more resources than Britain’s total investment in industrial plant and machinery, more than Britain was spending on consumer goods, and 50 per cent more than education. 132 To curb defence spending, Healey focused initially on equipment 1968’, Twentieth Century British History, Vol. 13, No. 2 (2002), p. 147. However, the Bevinite group was not entirely monolithic in its views and Wilson was increasingly out of step. James Callaghan and Patrick Gordon Walker, for example, had formed an impression well before taking office that Britain’s bases East of Suez were neither particularly valuable nor tenable. See Peter Catterall, ‘Foreign and Commonwealth Policy in Opposition: the Labour Party’, in Wolfram Kaiser and Gillian Staerck (eds.), British Foreign Policy 1955-64: Contracting Options (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000), p. 103.
Alan Sked and Chris Cook, Post-War Britain: A Political History (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987), pp.
Grove, Vanguard to Trident, pp. 268-69.
projects, which resulted in the abandonment of several aircraft programmes in favour of cheaper American alternatives, and the cancellation of the CVA01 aircraft carrier. 133 In these circumstances of economic retrenchment it became more unlikely that the Labour Government would have countenanced heavy expenditure on military intervention in Rhodesia. 134 Further, these economic considerations eventually had a strategic impact, as the cuts in the defence budget militated against the capacity of the armed forces to discharge their traditional multiple roles. In the Defence White Paper published in February 1966 the Government announced two major strategic principles that clearly
conditioned its Rhodesia policy:
First, Britain will not undertake major operations of war except in co
provide another country with military assistance unless it is prepared to provide us with the facilities we need to make such assistance effective in
With regard to the first principle, although the British Government could have asked the United States to provide logistical support for British military operations in Rhodesia, any military co-operation beyond that would have been out of the question. Similarly, there Ibid., pp. 269-76.
However, there is nothing in the Cabinet minutes or in Treasury files to indicate that economic costs of military intervention were given explicit consideration. See TNA: PRO, T 225 Treasury: Defence Policy and Materiel Division: Registered Files (DM and 2DM Series), and T 317 Treasury: Finance - Overseas Development Divisions and Successors: Registered Files.
Cmnd 2901, Statement on the Defence Estimates 1966, Part 1 The Defence Review (London: HMSO,
1966) Ch. 2, para. 19. Quoted in Grove, Vanguard to Trident, p. 277.
was no prospect that any of Britain’s NATO allies or the ‘Old’ Commonwealth countries (Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) could have been prevailed upon to share the burden of military intervention in Rhodesia. The implications of the second principle were also far-reaching because it meant that ‘seizing points of entry for an intervention force was to be avoided, as was any operation outside land-based air cover.’ 136 The strategic principles of the Defence White Paper therefore militated against the possibility of British military intervention in Rhodesia.
There can be little doubt that the policy of the Wilson Government was also profoundly influenced by domestic political considerations. Views within the three main parties and the perceived significance of public opinion acted as a powerful brake on the use of force against Rhodesia. One former Labour MP, Dr David Kerr, has suggested ‘it was very apparent in the Parliamentary Labour Party that there was no instinct for the use of force
at all’, which he thought reflected what was happening in Vietnam:
Vietnam rather captured the left wing of the Labour Party, both inside and