The British Empire Library

The Dar Mutiny Of 1964

by Tony Laurence with Christopher MacRae

Courtesy of OSPA

Tim Tawney (Tanganyika Administration 1958-64)
On the night of the 19/20 January 1964, at Colito Barracks in Dar es Salaam, the 1st Battalion of the Tanganyika Rifles mutinied. The mutineers had three main aims - a very substantial pay rise for soldiers; the immediate dismissal of all the British officers; and assurances of no subsequent victimisation of the mutineers. In addition to all the usual acts of mutiny - the taking of key buildings, the seizure of the airport and media outlets, and the setting up of roadblocks - efforts would be made to induce the 2nd Battalion in Tabora to join the mutiny.

However, things didn’t quite turn out as planned. The then President of Tanganyika, Julius Nyerere, called in a British force comprising 45 Commando Royal Marines and HMS Centaur to re-establish constitutional government.

Some twenty years later Nyerere challenged the Tanzania People’s Defence Force (TPDF) to write a detailed account of what had happened, since the embarrassing events of 1964 had until then been glossed over in Tanzanian history books. This account, Tanganyika Rifles Mutiny January 1964, which understandably reflects a somewhat slanted view of the events and its underlying causes, has been the only record until now.

Tony Laurence was serving as Signal Communications Officer in HMS Centaur at the time the intervention was launched. He was therefore well placed to have an overview of what was happening off Dar es Salaam during the dramatic few days of the operation. At the same time Christopher MacRae was serving in the British High Commission in Dar es Salaam; he not only played an important role at the start of the operations, but also helped Laurence some forty years after the mutiny by accessing FCO files in the PRO, and by drafting most of the final summing-up chapters.

Laurence contacted more than 100 marines, sailors and civilians who were caught up in the chaotic events in January 1964. He has marshalled, and mastered, a highly complex set of data, and relates a fast-moving story with admirable clarity, a story which while centred on Dar es Salaam, also involved London, Aden and Kenya.

Barely 24 hours after the outbreak of the mutiny. Centaur and its accompanying destroyer, HMS Cambrian, left Aden for East Africa; Centaur was commanded by Captain Ottoker Harold Mojmir St John Steiner. Aboard Centaur was 45 Commando, commanded by Lt Col Paddy Stevens. Both officers had seen distinguished service in WWII. The speed of this deployment was remarkable and an extraordinary logistical feat. Over the next three days, during the passage to Dar, intensive planning meetings took place. On the 25 January the assault on Colito started with a dawn bombardment by Cambrian and the Marines were lifted ashore by helicopter. Once the focal point of the resistance, the guardroom, had been neutralised, the rest of the camp was swiftly overcome.

The political and military situation in Dar was very confused and uncertain. Laurence pulls together the many threads and personalities with skill, and summarises with MacRae the aftermath and the re-establishment of law and order in a highly delicate and febrile atmosphere.

This account of an almost forgotten episode is highly recommended both to exmilitary men and to those who served in East Africa in a civilian role. Its level-headed, detailed and comprehensive telling of an incident in the final stages of colonialism, and the dawn of African independence, adds lustre to the annals of the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines, and credit to the co-authors.

British Empire Book
Dr Tony Laurence with Christopher MacRae
The Book Guild
978 1 84624 081 2


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