COS 4/71




Note by the Secretary

1. The Chiefs of Staff have approved (1) the report (2) at Annex A.

2. In approving the report the Chiefs of Staff agreed that the Directive at Appendix 1 to Annex A should be forwarded to the Senior Naval Officer West Indies.

Chiefs of Staff Committee
  1. Command in the Caribbean (12 pages).
  1. COS 3rd Meeting/71, Item 103.
  2. DP 14/70 (Final).
Ministry of Defence
Main Building
Whitehall, SW1

12 January 1971

COS 4/71




1. On the rundown of UK forces in the Caribbean in 1962, the remaining Army garrisons and troops were placed under the operational command of the Senior Naval Officer West Indies (SNOWI) who for this purpose was designated Commander British Forces Caribbean Area (CBFCA) and who continued to exercise his command from afloat or his office in Nassau or Bermuda as appropriate. No RAF units have been permanently stationed in the Caribbean since the Second World War.

2. Following the 1966 Defence Review it was decided (1)(2) that the appointment of CBFCA should lapse in September 1966. Since then naval forces stationed in the West Indies have been under the full command of the Commander-in-Chief Western Fleet (C in C WF) with operational command delegated to SNOWI; the land forces in British Honduras have been under command of the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Army Strategic Command (GOC in C STRATCO) through the Commander, British Honduras Garrison. The Commanders-in-Chief Committee (West) (CICC(W)) is responsible for contingency planning in the Caribbean area. When CICC(W) contingency plans are implemented, SNOWI (or the Garrison Commander, British Honduras, for operations in that country) will normally be directly responsible as the operational commander to the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS).

3. We last reviewed (3) these command arrangements in June 1969 together with SNOWI's and his Army Staff Officer's (ASO) responsibilities in the area. No changes were considered necessary and the opportunity was taken to define the channels through which requests for military assistance should be made.

4. Last year British forces were sent to Anguilla where they remain committed. In the initial phase of this operation we appointed SNOWI the Joint Force Commander (JFC); at a later stage the local army commander was placed in command of the forces under the operational command of SNOWI but with direct access to CDS; although the situation is quieter and the size of the force is now reduced the local army commander continues to have direct access to CDS. A Royal Marine force was also sent to Bermuda where it came under SNOWI's operational command, but was not in the event involved in operations.


  1. COS 94/66.
  2. COS 97/66.
  3. COS 1411/25/6/69.

5. More recently both frigates stationed in the West Indies were separately deployed in connection with disturbances in Trinidad and Grand Cayman, and in both these cases preparations were made to reinforce with British troops if the need arose. At the same time there was a threat of trouble in Antigua and Barbuda. As a result we placed SNOWI in overall operational command in the Caribbean (including Anguilla but excluding British Honduras) and instructed him to report direct to CDS for the time being (4). However, we have not rescinded the right of the Commander of the Anguilla Forces to report directly to CDS.

6. It can be seen that since 1969 it has been found necessary to alter piecemeal the command structure in the Caribbean to meet the demands of specific events. This structure will not necessarily continue to be suitable after those events have subsided; and in any case it is clearly preferable that the command arrangements should be such that it will not need revising to meet each particular operational situation. It is therefore appropriate to examine what command arrangements will best be able to deal with future situations in the area, and in particular whether there is a case for the reinstitution of a CBFCA responsible direct to CDS.


7. The aim of this paper is to recommend the most suitable command arrangements for the Caribbean in the 1970s.


8. Following normal naval practice, SNOWI does not have a formal directive; his responsibilities have been established by precedent and usage. His staff and its limitations in exercising joint command are described in Appendix 2.

9. In his single service capacity SNOWI is delegated operational command and local administration of HM Ships specifically assigned to him in the West Indies. He is responsible to CINCWF for arranging a balanced programme for these ships, covering political commitments while also providing sufficient opportunity for maintenance and sustaining operational efficiency by weapon training and exercises. SNOWI has two subordinates in RNO Nassau and RNO Bermuda and in a NATO context is Island Commander Bermuda (ISCOMBERMUDA) under CINCWESTLANT.

10. In approving CICC(W) contingency plans for the area (5), we have accepted that SNOWI will normally be appointed JFC if these contingency plans are implemented. SNOWI would then be directly responsible to CDS for the operation concerned.


  1. COSWEST 04/COSWI 02.
  2. COS 63/70 Appendix 5.

11. Although normally a single service commander, SNOWI is responsible for providing general military advice to the Governors, Heads of Missions and Administrators of the islands in the Caribbean area except in the case of British Honduras, where the Garrison Commander provides such advice for the Governor. The execution of these responsibilities gives SNOWI wide-ranging knowledge, contacts and influence in the Caribbean area.

UK Commitments in the Caribbean Area

12. In our recent study of the area (5) we listed the present UK commitments in the Caribbean, which can be summarised as follows:  (A map showing the status of the Caribbean countries is at Appendix 3.)

  1. Defence and internal security of the Dependent Territories, including the Bahamas Patrol
  2. External defence of  the Associated States.
  3. Possible requirement for military assistance in the evacuation of British subjects and friendly nationals.
  4. Demonstrating to the USA the UK's ability and willingness to meet its responsibilities for law and order in the area.
  5. Disaster relief (especially in the hurricane season).
  6. Bilateral exercises with local forces.

13. We concluded that:

  1. The present force levels in the Caribbean are adequate to meet only normal requirements.
  2. In times of tension a third frigate may be required.
  3. Temporary deployment of ships, troops or aircraft on training and exercises is desirable as a deterrent and to demonstrate the UK's reinforcement capability.
  1. COS 63/70.

Command Situations

14. The UK defence commitments and obligations in the Caribbean cover a very wide range of possible situations. In the event of HMG deciding to intervene, few of these situations would be likely to develop into more than small scale military operations. However there will always be a complicated interplay of local political and economic factors which will often have repercussions out of all proportion to the scale of the military operation and size of the forces involved. The possible situations are divided into two broad categories which are:

  1. The "normal" situation when the area is relatively quiet, and the only UK forces in the Caribbean are frigates (usually two ), the garrison in British Honduras (until that country becomes independent), and units exercising or on passage.
  2. A "contingency" situation in the area, whether or not this involves reinforcement.

15. Experience since 1966 has confirmed that SNOWI has the capability of controlling the normal situation but, with his joint responsibilities on the present undefined basis, he has been at a disadvantage when required to meet a contingency situation.


16.  In discussing a command system which will meet both the normal and contingency situations, we believe that the likely scale and type of operations in the Caribbean area do not merit the creation of a Unified Area Commander with a tri-service staff and a static headquarters.  We therefore consider two options only the reinstitution of a CBFCA, or the retention of the command organisation in approximately its present form but with more closely defined responsibilities.


17. CBFCA's responsibilities were laid down in a directive (6) which gave him command of all British forces in the Caribbean area.  He commanded naval forces in his capacity as SNOWI, and the Garrison commanders in British Guiana and British Honduras were under his overall command.  He was directed to seek planning advice from the Air Force department is necessary for the planning and conduct of operations.

  1. COS 10/66 Annex F.

18.  In deciding (1) in 1966 that the appointment of CBFCA should lapse we stated that is "with the implementation of the constitutional changes in the area our commitments will become less, and that the prime factor governing the future command structure will be the level of forces available permanently in the area." Since then British Guiana, the Windward and the Leeward Islands (except Montserrat and Anguilla) have achieved independence in varying degrees.  British Honduras and the Bahamas are likely to follow suit within the next two years.  Furthermore the level of forces permanently stationed in the area has been reduced since 1966.  Thus, although there have been disturbances in the past year, we do not consider they constitute a sufficient reason to revoke our decision of 1966.  Furthermore it is HMG's policy (7) but the former colonies should be encouraged to develop their own security arrangements and rely less on the support of UK forces.  We believe that the reinstitution of CBFCA at the present time might be widely misinterpreted by governments in the Caribbean as an earnest of HMG's greater future involvement in the area.  We therefore consider that the reinstitution of a CBFCA is not an appropriate solution to the current command problem.

Increased Responsibility in Joint Matters for SNOWI

19.  It is clear from present contingency plans for the area that, in most circumstances, SNOWI will be the most suitable officer to act as JFC.  However, his ability to exercise extended command responsibilities for any length of time is limited by lack of staff and facilities (see Appendix 2).  We do not think it likely that substantial forces will be deployed in the Caribbean area, but should this occur we would see the appointment of a JFC from the UK.  In this situation it would still be appropriate (as events this year have shown) for SNOWI to retain his right of access to CDS so that, with his special knowledge and experience, he can tender military advice as to the effects local UK operations might have on the Caribbean area as a whole.  The co-existence of SNOWI and a JFC would be possible without overlap provided the latter were given a limited and clearly defined operational task and control those of forces, including naval forces, involved in it.

20.  We therefore consider that the requirements of the normal and contingency situations can best be met by giving SNOWI further responsibility for joint matters and providing with a formal directive from CDS.  Under this arrangement SNOWI would usually be given operational command of naval.

  1. COS 94/66
  2. DOP(70) 11th Meeting, Item 2.

army and air force units sent to reinforce the area.  It is important that the additional responsibility for joint matters should not enlarged SNOWI's staff to an extent which would impair the mobility which allows him to exert influence and keep abreast of events over a wide area.  The only addition we consider necessary is an Air Staff Officer drawn from Air Support Command to should be appointed to SNOWI's staff on a regular visiting basis.  Either this same officer, all officer conversant with the type of operation to be mounted, should be available for time when appropriate.


21.  It could be argued that, to reflect SNOWI's joint responsibilities, he should be given a new title, or at least an additional "hat" as Senior British Officer Caribbean.  However we do not consider that he should be given a new title since the officer SNOWI has become something of an institution in the area.  Our advice from the area is that it would be a pity to do away with the euphonious abbreviation which is well understood, well liked and is in clear contrast to the more ponderous American-style nomenclature.  Neither do we consider that he should be given an additional "hat", since there would be a risk of confusion arising if he changed his title on assuming joint command at what would probably be a moment of crisis.  Furthermore we have already pointed out that we believe that a change to a joint title might give a wholly wrong impression of HMG's intention in the area.


22. We conclude that:

  1. The UK defence commitments and obligations in the Caribbean area continue to cover a very wide range of possible situations.  In the event of HMG deciding to intervene, few of these situations would be likely to develop into more than small-scale military operations.
  2. The reinstitution of  CBFCA is not an appropriate basis for future command arrangements.
  3. Command arrangements in the Caribbean can best be met by giving SNOWI increased responsibility for joint matters, permanent right of access to CDS on joint matters, and an Air Staff Officer on a visiting basis.
  4. In the event of large-scale prolonged operations it would be necessary to appoint a JFC from the UK; there would be no risk of overlap between SNOWI and the JFC provided the latter were given a limited and clearly defined operational task.


23.  We recommend that:

  1. SNOWI be given formal responsibility for joint matters in the Caribbean area under the terms of a directive from CDS as at Appendix 1.
  2. An Air Staff Officer from Air Support Command should be appointed to SNOWI's staff on a regular visiting bases, and a full-time adviser conversant with the type of operation to be mounted should be available when appropriate.

COS 4/71



1.  This directive defines your responsibility for joint service and other matters additional to your single service responsibilities as the Senior Naval Officer West Indeed (SNOWI).  It is to take effect on receipt and will remain in force until further notice.


2. Your geographical area of responsibility comprises the sea area and the British dependent territories, associated state and independent countries within the Commonwealth that lie within the following boundaries:

  1. Latitude 40° N
  2. Longitude 40°W
  3. The Equator
  4. Longitude 120°W

British Honduras is excluded; but this country is likely to be added when the UK garrison there is withdrawn.


3. Your national command responsibilities will normally be confined to those which devolve one you in your capacity of SNOWI. However, except adding paragraph 4 below, you will usually be given operational command of RN, Army and the RAF units committed to the area under Commanders-in-Chief Committee (West) (CICC(W)) contingency plans except for those aircraft committed to the operation  in the strategic transport (ST) role. There may also be other occasions when it will be appropriate for you to be given operational command or control of Army and RAF units within your geographical area of responsibility.

4. Circumstances could arise where the involvement of substantial forces all prolonged nature of the operation naked appropriate for a JFC to be appointed from the United Kingdom responsible directly to me. This officer will be given a clearly defined operational task and will normally have operational command of all UK forces involved in that task, including naval forces but excluding aircraft committed to the operation in the ST role.

5. You are to keep me advise on any adjustment which may become necessary to command arrangements to meet both the current situation and situations which may develop in the immediate future, e.g. natural disasters. When appointed as JFC or given operational command or control of Army or RAF units, you are to give me early advice as the waning your view it will no longer be practicable or appropriate for you to continue in such command.


6. You are responsible for advising me on the wider effect of the activities of independent UK units or of the forces under an independent JFC within your area of responsibility. Conversely you should also comment on the impact which events in the Caribbean may have won the activities of these forces. Your comment should be addressed to MOD(UK) and copies to the units concerned and, where appropriate, to their high headquarters in the UK.

7. You should maintain close liaison with appropriate diplomatic and military authorities within your area. Specifically you're responsible for providing military advice to the Governors and Administrators of the dependent territories within your area except in the case of British Honduras, whether Garrison Commander provide such advice for the Government. Additionally assured, on request, advise Heads of Missions in the independent Commonwealth countries and Associated States in your area.

8. And your discretion you may give me your own assessment of any eventful trends which affect the external or internal security of the territories within your area of responsibility,furnishing in the case of the dependent territories a copy of your report to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (West Indian Department).

Contingency Planning

9. The preparation of formal contingency plans remains the responsibility of the CICC(W) who may call on you for advice based on your special knowledge of the area.


10. You are to use the title of Senior Naval Officer West Indies.

COS 4/71

Staff Officers

Lieutenant Colonel
Army Staff Officer
Assists SNOWI with the conduct of operations and staff duties, particularly for land operations and IS forces. Assists SNOWI in maintaining liaison with Governors, Heads of Missions and Administrators. He holds the post of Defence Adviser to the British Commissioner in Jamaica.

Major, Royal Marines
Staff Royal Marine Officer
Operational and Naval Intelligence. Adviser on IS problems.

Lieutenant Commander
Staff Operations Officer
Assists SNOWI with the planning of operations, particularly for Naval Operations and Forces. Responsible for communications and for organising ships and SNOWI's programmes, normally accompanying SNOWI away from Bermuda.

Lieutenant Commander
Responsible for administration, logistics, air-trooping and public relations. Acts as rear link co-ordinator when SNOWI and SOO absent from Bermuda.

Staff Officer (Intelligence) (Army)
Political intelligence, and for RAF liaison.

2. The limitations on SNOWI's ability to exercise joint command arise from the following factors:

  1. His staff is too small to allow sustained operational command of an operation of any complexity and size and has no RAF representation.
  2. In Bermuda SNOWI has secure national communication lines to UK, JRS Nassau and HM ships in his area. The last two are not usually manned continuously. When away from Bermuda, SNOWI depends on a frigate for communications even after he has begun to exercise tactical command ashore. This ties down a frigate until alternative arrangements can be provided.
  3. SNOWI has neither the personnel, office space or storage in a frigate necessary for the organisation and control of logistic support on any but the smallest scale. Although it is possible to co-opt ships officers on to SNOWI's staff, their knowledge and experience would be largely confined to purely naval matters.
  4. It might be possible to provide extra personnel, office space and storage in Bermuda, but this could not provide extra support for SNOWI who would be likely to be over 800 miles away in the main Caribbean area.

The National Archives of the UK: Public Record Office DEFE 5/188/4
© Crown Copyright 1971.
Reproduced under the terms of the Crown Copyright waiver on unpublished public records.