COS 6/71

Special Distribution





Note by the Secretary

1. The Chiefs of Staff have approved (1) the note (2) as amended at Annex A.

2. In approving the note, the Chiefs of Staff agreed:

  1. To forward it to the Secretary of State as an expression of their views.
  2. To authorise the Ministry of Defence representatives on the Committee of Officials (3) to draw on the factual elements of the note as required.

Chiefs of Staff Committee


  1. Sale of Arms to South Africa - Protection/Intervention Contingency Planning (7 pages).

  1. COS 3rd Meeting/71, Item 2.
  2. DOP 702/71/
  3. COS 1006/6/1/71 paras 2 and 3.

Ministry of Defence
Main Building
Whitehall, SW1

13 January 1971

COS 6/71



1. We have concurrently a study (1) on Services-assisted evacuation of Commonwealth African countries, related to the issue of arms sales to South Africa. However, at the request of the Secretary of State we have carried out a study of the military action, additional to evacuation, that might be called for to provide.

  1. Possible deterrent action against threats to British lives or property in Africa.
  2. British military intervention to safeguard British lives.


Military Measures

2. Military measures for providing a show of force with the aim of deterring possible action against British citizens or property fall into 2 categories. Firstly, measures which are entirely psychological and which would be reported by news media or by diplomatic means. These would include the open alerting of ships and forces and their intended deployment nearer Africa, all with the maximum publicity; the intended deployment of ships offshore could be announced after they had been sailed without initially revealing their deployment. The second possibility is a show of force either within view of the coast by HM ships or by overflying the country in fixed wing aircraft or helicopters. The aim of this would be to provide a visible show of force in order to intimidate the locals and make them believe that should they interfere with British citizens or property they would be firmly dealt with; it should be noted however that providing a show of force by overflying would infringe national airspace and might provoke other countries.

3. Measures that could be taken by the Services, with the maximum of publicity, could include the following:


  1. COS 5/71

  1. Royal Navy
    1. The recall of ships companies and preparations for sea.
    2. Embarking RM commandos in ships.
    3. Sailing ships from the UK and Far East to positions off the coast of the countries concerned and patrolling within sight of land.
    4. Flying fixed wing aircraft or helicopters inland. However, this would infringe national airspace and might provoke other countries.
    5. Weapon training.
    6. Announcing the intended deployments of ships off-shore after they had been sailed without initially revealing their deployment.
  2. Army
    1. The recalling of units and men on leave, exercises, etc.
    2. An intensification of parachute and other training.
    3. Cancelling the move of a parachute battalion to Northern Ireland.
    4. Deploying units to overseas bases nearer Africa, such as Cyprus, Masirah, Mauritius or Ascension Island.
  3. RAF
    1. Cancelling scheduled flights.
    2. Concentrating aircraft.
    3. Prepositioning aircraft in overseas bases.
    4. Activating intensive parachute and air drop training, including night drops.

Possibilities and Limitations of a Show of Force

4. Although the above military measure are physically possible it is extremely unlikely that they would deter any locals who intended to cause trouble. It has been represented that ships might have a deterrent effect. Nevertheless we are advised by the FCO that a show of force would probably have the reverse effect, as

well as probably provoking wider international repercussions. Furthermore, all these measures are overt; trouble is most likely to occur immediately an announcement is made and to stand any chance of these measures being effective, they would have to be taken prior to an announcement. This would inevitably prejudice security except that certain ships could be sailed with little risk of speculation.

5. For a show of force to be effective, an intervention force should be readily available to back up the threat should its putative deterrent fail. The possibilities and limitations of such intervention are discussed below.


Current Plans

6. Plans exist for military intervention with forces of up to a brigade group to protect UK citizens in Zambia, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi and Kenya. The Evacuation Plan for Nigeria also includes an intervention force of up to a brigade. These Plans were written on the assumption that there would be no organised resistance to our intervention, although minor sporadic opposition was allowed for. However, it has been considered for some time in the MOD and we are advised that, in the political and military circumstances that are likely to prevail, these Protection Plans are unrealistic.

Possible Situations

7. It is possible that agitation against a British intention or decision to sell arms to South Africa could lead to the lives of UK citizens being jeopardised or lost. This could happen simultaneously in several countries, the highest risks being in Zambia and Uganda. Alternatively, one country only could be involved, and the incidents could be isolated. However, in any of these situations it is inconceivable that the local governments would permit British forces to intervene to redress the situation, even if it was clearly beyond the power of the local government to contain. An opposed entry must therefore be allowed for. To given any plan the best chance of succeeding, there would need to be detailed planning and the prepositioning of forces. However we have discounted the latter in paragraph 6 as being dangerously counter-productive. We now examine the kind of military intervention that might be possible.

Tasks for an Intervention Force

8. The task that an intervention force might need to carry out include:

  1. The capture of a point of entry, either by parachute drop of by amphibious landing.
  2. The protection of the point of entry, once captured, against attack, sabotage or other interference.
  3. The repair of any damage or removal of any obstacles necessary to enable the point of entry to be used to land the follow-up forces.
  4. Depending on the situation:
    1. Opening an L of C, possibly against opposition, to the main centres of British population.
    2. Protection of British nationals in these centres.
    3. Assistance to the High Commission in collecting British nationals.
    4. Eventual evacuation.
  5. Withdrawal.

9. Follow up airlanded forces would need to be at least of brigade size, even against sporadic opposition, and very much more than this if, as seems likely, the opposition is more serious than 'sporadic'. It is very likely that unless tactical surprise were achieved the opposition that could be offered from the ground and perhaps in the air to our transport aircraft could constitute a sufficient risk as to require ground attack aircraft support. Ground attack aircraft support could initially be provided by a CVA in a selected area off West Africa. Apart from this the provision of ground attack aircraft would require a large scale mounting operation and the selection of a suitable operating base would be extremely difficult. In flight refuelling would be needed for operations in Zambia and Uganda from bases in South Africa and Portuguese East Africa.

10. The operations would be able to do little or nothing for British Nationals in isolated communities whose lives would be put at increased risk.

Availability of Forces


  1. Land Forces could be available as follows:

    1. One Commando Group currently at 7 days notice in UK.
    2. 3 Commando Brigade RM currently at 7 days notice in FEC (for transport by air).
    3. SPEARHEAD battalion group - leading elements 24 hrs notice.
    4. One parachute battalion group currently at 7 days notice.
    5. A second parachute battalion group could be made available although it is due to go to Northern Ireland on 19 January and thereafter it would be about 10 days before it could begin to deploy outside the UK.
    6. One airportable brigade group could be provided, currently at 7 days notice, with few immediate penalties.
    7. A second airportable brigade could also be provided but this would soon affect the Arms Plot and the Northern Ireland relief programme.

  1. Naval Forces. Major RN units could be available, with timing shown:

Warned 12 Jan
Warned 18 Jan
HMS EAGLE (W. Coast)
10 Vixen
10 Buccaneer
6 Sea King
10 Wessex 5
4 Gannet AEW
27 Jan
27 Jan
41 Commando could be embarked
18 Wessex 5
31 Jan
5 Feb
Elements of 3 Cdo Brigade could embark, and up to 8 Wessex 5 between both ships 24 Jan
27 Jan
24 Jan
29 Jan
  1. Royal Air Force. The following transport capability could be available:
    1. Aircraft to airlift leading element of SPEARHEAD.
    2. 75% of ASC can be generated in 72 hrs.
    3. Capability to airdrop a parachute battalion group (The second would need to be consecutive).
  2. Timings by Air. Timings would be dependent on the range of the country concerned and the route to be used, but taking Zambia and using the CENTO route, timings would be roughly as follows (assuming that a Para Battalion Group has been brought to 72 hours notice before G Day):
    Para Bn Gp landed
    G +6 days
    Inf Bde Gp landed
    G + 13 days
    Follow up Inf Bde Gp landed
    G + 25 days
    Timings for the air move of a Commando Group and 3 Commando Brigade RM are comparable.
  3. Simultaneous Operations. A reinforced brigade group could carry out only one intervention operation at a time; some amphibious operations could take place elsewhere simultaneously.


12. North African and Black African air routes would certainly be denied to us and overflying without permission would not be free of risk even if politically acceptable. The CENTO route, Portuguese and South African facilities would most probably be available.

Implications of Intervention

13. There would be a number of major implications involved in mounting an intervention operation in Black African country. There include:

  1. Military intervention would be likely to exacerbate the situation resulting in an increase rather than a decrease of risk to British lives not only in the country concerned but in other Black African countries as well.
  2. Intervention in 2 of the most likely trouble spots, Zambia and Uganda, pre-supposes the grant of overflying rights and in certain circumstances landing rights by neighbouring countries and this could not be relied on.
  3. An intervention for could almost certainly be strongly resisted and would almost certainly be strongly resisted and would have to be prepared and equipped to mount large scale operations of unknown duration. Timing would be an important factor and from the timing given in paragraph 13e above it can be seen that a brigade group could not be complete in a Black African country until about G + 13 in the best case; however, in certain circumstances, some amphibious forces could probably be introduced earlier.
  4. It would be difficult to procure the necessary up-to-date intelligence for UK military action in the face of local hostility to our representatives.


14. We conclude that:

  1. Any show of force we might make with the object of deterring hostile action against British lives or property is likely to have the opposite effect, although the known presence of ships might possibly have a deterrent effect.
  2. The limited forces that could intervene in Africa could protect British national within their immediate vicinity only.
  3. These forces could do nothing for British national elsewhere, where lives would be put at greatly increased risk.

The National Archives of the UK: Public Record Office DEFE 5/188/6
© Crown Copyright 1971.
Reproduced under the terms of the Crown Copyright waiver on unpublished public records.