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Warlike Noises

British Honduras

British Honduras is a small colony on the east coast of Central America, gained in the Anglo-Spanish treaty of 1786. Initially a vital asset because of its vast resources of mahogany used for building the ships of the Royal Navy, by the end of the Second World War it was a sleepy corner of the empire. Both Guatemala and Mexico have laid claim to British Honduras since the early 19th century. Mexico has never pressed its claim to the north of the colony, but in 1945 Guatemala published a new constitution, which referred to British Honduras as an integral part of the State of Guatemala. At the time the only British military presence in the Caribbean was one infantry battalion stationed in Kingston Jamaica with one company detached to Bermuda under HQ Caribbean area.

H.M.S. Devonshire

In late February 1948 the Guatemalans threatened to invade. The British Government ordered HQ Caribbean Area to dispatch troops, 2nd Battalion the Gloucestershire Regiment to the colony. Two companies from the Battalion landed in Belize City from HMS Devonshire on 2nd March. One company was deployed to the border and found no sign of a Guatemalan incursion but the threat was taken seriously and it was decided to station one company in Belize City permanently.

There was a second scare in 1957 when Guatemala threatened to invade once more and an additional company of the Worcestershire Regiment was despatched from Kingston aboard HMS Ulster. On their arrival, the Guatemalans denied there was a problem. The additional company stayed briefly and carried out some jungle training before returning to Kingston.

On 31st October 1961, Hurricane Hattie hit Belize City, with some 400 people killed and 65,000 made homeless. A company of the 1st Battalion the Hampshire Regiment stationed at Airport Camp just outside Belize City worked ceaselessly for days afterwards to restore the situation until the Royal Navy and US Navy brought in reinforcements. 1st Battalion the Worcestershire Regiment and 12 Field Squadron of the Royal Engineers were rushed out from England in mid-November to provide additional relief, before returning home for Christmas, their task complete. Following the devastation the capital was moved further inland and rebuilt at Belmopan.

On 21st January 1958, the Hampshires, at strength of one company, received news that a small force from Guatemala had crossed the border and raised the Guatemalan flag on British territory. A platoon was sent out, located the intruders and exchanged some fire with them. The intruders were actually Belize Freedom Fighters who had no doubt been aided by Guatemala and encouraged, but were badly organized and ineffective. Some twenty members of this Belize Liberation Army were rounded up and sent for trial.

HQ Caribbean Area ceased to exist when Jamaica became independent in 1962. A battalion in England now provided the company in British Honduras. The Duke of Wellington's Regiment provided the initial unit, followed by the King's Shropshire Light Infantry and the Staffordshire Regiment. In 1970 the Guatemalans became active again, and a spearhead battalion, the Gloucesters, was flown to Belize so that a reinforced battalion was in situ to defuse the situation. For some years the troop level remained at an infantry battalion reinforced by an additional company.

1975 saw the Guatemalans actually move troops to the border. A second battalion was immediately despatched to Belize, supported by a close reconnaissance troop of Scimitar and Scorpion armoured vehicles, one field battery of 105mm Light Guns, several Blowpipe SAM detachments, a squadron of engineers and six Harrier VSTOL fighters, which were accompanied by an RAF regiment Rapier battery. A Royal Navy frigate on the Caribbean Station moved in close to the coast to provide cover against air attack near Stann Creek for the Battalion Group stationed in the South. When the Harriers landed, the Guatemalans ceased their warlike noises.

Thanks to David Griffin for provided the following information:
The Guatemalans moved first in 1975. I was an armourer attached to No.1 Squadron Harriers and we flew out from Wittering on an RAF C-130, as Main party on November 5th 1975 (I remember watching the unlit station bonfire on the double-spectacles pan as we taxiied out and thinking that we would miss the fun). Routing was Wittering over Prestwick to Gander (A few hours stopover in minus temperatures) then down to the Bahamas (Heat and warm rain!) before heading out to Belize. Harriers operated out of Belize International Airport with accomodation over at Airport Camp. I was on Hotel Hide down near the airport fire station and billetted in the Williamson Hangar. Juliet Hide was up on the airport apron, Foxtrot/Golf Hide was in a complex on the airport approach road and Charlie/Delta was up near the CocaCola and Belikin Beer factories on the road to Airport Camp.

We were given a daily sitrep briefing that was very strange; we were told that a Royal Navy frigate off the coast was patrolling in the company of a Soviet frigate out of Cuba, that we were on the same side. Awkward as the Guatemalans were being supplied A-37 aircraft by the US and US Army Rangers were training the Guatemalan Army. It was, however, an earthquake that ended that little war - many of the Guatemalan conscripts deserted overnight and returned home to their villages. No.1 Sqn rotated out and No.3 Sqn from RAF Gutesloh in Germany came in to take over.

When, in 1977, the Guatemalans made further moves against Belize, the Harriers were already there as No.1417 Flt.

Since 1977, the border has been patrolled regularly and permanent observation posts monitor key points. The Guatemalans have made some unintentional incursions due to the ill-defined original border between the two countries but most problems have been solved by tactful negotiations between British officers and the Guatemalan sappers building a road to the Belize border. A brief scare occurred in April 1982, when it was thought the Guatemalans might attempt to take advantage of the Falklands War to invade, but all remained quiet. Belize, having been granted independence in 1981, allows the British Army remaining to train and strengthen the Belize Defence Force until the country is comfortable defending itself.

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