In the late nineteenth century a combination of increasing European industrialization, expanding trade and finance from growth centers in North America and Western Europe, and developing technological advances in transportation and communications fostered a global expansion of the imperial powers’ political and military domination.
In the late nineteenth century a combination of increasing European industrialization, expanding trade and finance from growth centers in North America and Western Europe, and developing technological advances in transportation and communications fostered a global expansion of the imperial powers’ political and military domination. In Asia, China’s military and industrial underdevelopment allowed Britain, France, the United States, and Japan to assert colonial control over such former Chinese tributary states as Burma (1824-1885), Indochina (1862-1895), and Taiwan (1895), while also creating neocolonial spheres of influence in Thailand (1896) and in China itself (1839-1945). The vast interior of Africa, meanwhile, was visited by semiofficial European explorers and missionaries and was conquered by European troops operating from coastal bases beginning in 1880. Earlier European coastal encroachments that facilitated the slave trade, such as those of Portugal, were expanded.
A European-based alliance system preserved international balances of power in Europe, Asia, and Africa until the start of World War I
Although colonial powers had various purposes for waging colonial wars, they generally sought to extend or preserve a global presence unfettered by the geographic limitations of their metropolitan homelands. In the late twentieth century this impulse came into conflict both with evidence of the military vulnerability of the European powers, many of which suffered defeat during World War II
As time passed, the motives of colonial powers changed. In the 1950’s Britain and France deployed troops to certain colonies to protect expatriates from violence launched by local nationalists and to preserve sufficient order to allow a smooth transition of authority to local elites sympathetic to the West.
Networks of anticolonial nationalists readily evolved, including the Pan-African Congress
For their part, local
Transitions to independence typically required the complete military withdrawal of the colonial power. Metropolitan powers elected to withdraw for many reasons: the financial and other costs of long-lived colonial wars, as in the French withdrawal from
Although few colonial wars produced clear military results for either party, there are important examples of decisive battlefield victories that prefigured political change. Colonial powers thoroughly suppressed mid-twentieth century armed rebellions in both Madagascar and Malaya, allowing gradual transitions to independence in each case. Similarly, certain nationalist forces were able to force colonial administrations to withdraw after inflicting military defeat upon colonial troops. This occurred in Indochina, where Vietnamese forces engineered the collapse of the fortified French position at Dien Bien Phu and in Algeria, after a less disastrous but equally costly six-year conflict (1954-1962).
For both colonial and nationalist militaries, one of the great challenges of anticolonial conflict lay in asserting cohesive command over multinational and
In almost all colonial wars, nationalist forces initially armed themselves with crude weapons fashioned from local materials by local manufacturers. Knives, machetes, and small bombs filled with bits of wire or glass were devised for urban conflicts. In jungle and bush terrain camouflaged pits concealed sharpened punji
In Southeast Asia arms stored by anti-Japanese guerrillas during World War II supplied anticolonial insurgents in the late 1940’s. Weapons were also purchased in neutral Thailand and smuggled to insurgent units in unguarded coastal areas in Indochina, Malaya, and Indonesia. Later, more advanced armaments were captured from colonial forces and received from external allies. Colonial wars in central and sub-Saharan Africa in the 1950’s were characterized by insurgents’ use of antiquated and in some cases primitive weaponry, deployed against European forces wielding automatic guns, explosives, and aircraft. In
Anticolonial forces typically had greater difficulty obtaining ammunition for their varied weapons stock than in obtaining the guns themselves. As a result self-activating weapons such as
Asian and African anticolonial forces’ uniforms were seldom standardized but usually consisted of dark-colored cotton shirts, trousers, and rubber-soled shoes with cotton uppers, or sandals. Exceptionally, PAIGC forces in Guinea-Bissau in 1964 received shipments of lightweight khaki camouflage uniforms made of Chinese cotton sewn in Cuba. Colonial troops were universally better clothed and equipped that their anticolonial counterparts. Typical uniforms were European summer-weight issue, with mosquito netting, wide-brimmed cotton hats, and rubberized boots as appropriate for deployments into jungle, desert, or riverine environments. In Kenya white combatants blended into the local African population by
Conventional equipment and weaponry found new uses in colonial wars, and new weapons were introduced. British troops used explosives and mechanical saws to prepare landing “pads” for
In 1950 helicopters were introduced by Britain in Malaya for troop transport, reconnaissance, and liaison where mountainous terrain interrupted wireless communications. Despite functional problems caused by heat, humidity, and high-altitude operations, the helicopter’s utility was fully demonstrated in Malaya. Helicopters were used by the British in Cyprus and Kenya, by the French in Indochina and Algeria, and by the Portuguese in Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, and Angola. In each case only colonial troops deployed helicopters, guaranteeing their forces important mobility, reconnaissance, and tactical advantages.
The maintenance of political control over armed activists was critical for the coherent management of independence movements. In
Escalating levels of armed conflict required insurgent forces to broaden their recruitment efforts and adopt more complex organizational schemes. In
Auxiliary noncombat organizations could play key roles in the success of guerrilla operations. In
Cohesive command systems were also crucial to the success of anticolonial armed struggles. Lack of central organization by insurgent forces in
A similarly organized insurgent force was developed by
Some insurgent organizations developed larger armed units to confront colonial main-force troops. In response to the influx of thousands of Portuguese troops, the PAIGC in Guinea-Bissau reorganized its guerrilla fighters into main-force troops and created a system of regional “fronts,” or interzonal command centers, to replace the small autonomous zones that had been previously occupied by its guerrillas in 1964. In Indochina in the late 1940’s the Communist-led Viet
Men suspected to be Mau Mau rebels are retained in a barbed-wire compound in Kenya, circa 1955.
The Mau Mau Rebellion
In the pursuit of independence and self-government, anticolonial movements cultivated the support of the general populations. The KCA-led Mau Mau Rebellion, for example, exploited long-standing resentment about the British seizure of land from local people and its distribution to white settlers. Such popular support was not always forthcoming. In Guinea-Bissau the PAIGC was led by formally educated civil servants with few links to the peasantry, yet its armed forces required food, equipment, shelter, and recruits from peasants to fight the Portuguese. PAIGC leaders looked to the Chinese Civil War for doctrinal direction, embracing Mao
A Turkish army tank rolls through the Turkish section of Nicosia, Cyprus, in July, 1974, part of an invasion sparked by an abortive coup by supporters of union with Greece.
Most colonial wars began with a political decision by nationalist leaders to confront colonial power with local violence. Small-scale, low-intensity violence was then directed against targets of symbolic importance. As the metropolitan power responded, isolated instances of violence expanded into an insurgency, with more and better-armed guerrilla units operating over wider areas and attacking larger targets, often of administrative or military importance to colonial authorities. The transition to widespread insurgency often required new tactics to supplement the armed struggle. In Cyprus a broad program of boycotts and passive resistance to British authority developed under EOKA guidance. In both Guinea-Bissau and Kenya, tribal customs, such as the Kikuyu tribe’s complex oath rituals, were incorporated into the nationalist forces’ recruitment process. In the early 1970’s small arms were distributed to the civilian population as part of Frelimo’s popular mobilization effort to counter the Portuguese military’s distribution of weapons to white settlers.
In certain independence struggles guerrilla warfare escalated into the deployment of conventional main-force units. In
Many anticolonial military organizations sought tactical advantages over metropolitan forces by utilizing military base areas located outside colonial borders, and thus beyond the operational theater of the colony itself. FLN forces in Algeria received weapons, supplies, and reinforcements from cross-border camps in Tunisia from 1956 to 1957. Frelimo forces from Mozambique operated bases in Tanzania.
Elsewhere guerrilla organizations made tactical decisions to concentrate their operations in terrain that offered them operational advantages over colonial regular forces. In Cyprus EOKA guerrillas concentrated in the mountains on the western end of the island, where British troops’ mobility was impaired. In Malaya MRLA guerrillas retreated into deep mountainous jungle territory to avoid British air reconnaissance and “sweep” operations. Upland Mau Mau guerrillas led by Dedan Kimathi eluded British troops for years.
Colonial powers’ military planning was influenced by such strategic concepts as the “domino
Colonial powers saw as a strategic imperative the separation of guerrilla forces from their civilian sources of supply. In Malaya British commanders implemented a “food denial”
Another common segregation
The elimination of cross-border bases was a key colonial military objective. In 1958 French forces in Algeria built a 200-mile-long controlled barrier, known as the Morice
In deploying the
Most insurgent movements made extensive use of radio broadcasts to deliver political instructions,
Political leaders and other combatants have also published polemical tracts and memoirs on colonial warfare. Among polemicists, one of the most important was socialist lawyer and Indonesian nationalist
Participant memoirs of colonial warfare constitute a growing literature. Vietnamese Communist leader Hoàng Van
Few journalistic accounts convey the full scope of anticolonial armed conflict, but the works of two exceptional reporters merit study. A French specialist on revolutionary warfare, Gerard Chaliand, published a firsthand account of PAIGC guerrillas’ daily life and operational activities in Lutte Armée en Afrique (1969; The Armed Struggle in Africa: With the Guerrillas in Portuguese Guinea, 1969). The prolific journalist and former British intelligence officer Basil Davidson has produced a body of work detailing anticolonial warfare in Africa, including In the Eye of the Storm: Angola’s People (1973), The People’s Cause: A History of Guerrillas in Africa (1981), and The Liberation of Guinea: Aspects of an African Revolution (1969). The latter volume includes a foreword on revolutionary politics by PAIGC leader Amilcar Cabral, as well as detailed statements on political and military tactics by Cabral and by the Chinese-trained PAIGC commander in northern Guinea-Bissau, Osvaldo Vieira.
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China: Modern Warfare
The Cold War: The United States, NATO, and the Right
The Cold War: The Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact, and the Left
The Cold War: The Nonaligned States
Warfare in Vietnam
Warfare in Afghanistan: The Soviet-Afghan Conflict