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The Beira Patrol: Britain's Broken Blockade against Rhodesia

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Journal article

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Between 1966 and 1975, the Royal Navy, primarily, conducted one of the more unusual blockades of modern history--a maritime-intercept operation that became known as the Beira patrol. The Royal Navy and Air Force monitored shipping in the Mozambique Channel in an attempt to ensure that no oil reached landlocked Southern Rhodesia today Zimbabwe via the port of Beira, in the Portuguese colony of Mozambique. Although the military executed these operations skillfully, Britains overall oil embargo against Rhodesia, which had unilaterally declared its independence in 1965, failed. Well aware of oil seepage to Rhodesia, London did not and could not extend maritime interception operations to other ports in Mozambique or elsewhere. On the other hand, it refused to abandon a mission that was, because of substantial and growing resource constraints, increasingly unpopular within the Navy. The Beira patrol had become too visible a component of Londons commitment to the maintenance of United Nations sanctions against its rebellious colony. Whitehall that is, the British government would relieve the Ministry of Defence of this mission only when Mozambique gained independence from Portugal in 1975 and could credibly assure the UN that no oil would cross its territory to Rhodesia. Today, in the light of dozens of recently declassified British documents, the Beira patrol is a cautionary tale for states that must decide upon, and commanders who must then orchestrate, maritime interception operations. It illustrates the challenges of shaping an appropriate force for maritime sanctions and shows vividly how demanding even a small blockade can be, especially if prolonged. It reveals the difficulties of fashioning credible rules of engagement and the complexities of the interplay between rules and force posture. It also exemplifies the legal, resource, and political obstacles to modifying a blockade once it has started.

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  • Military Forces and Organizations
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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