United Kingdom: Kenya Insurgency 1952-1956 Units and Operations
v.2.0 February 24, 2002

Graham Watson contributed the research for 39th and 49th Brigades.


(1) War Since 1945  Michael Carver (Field Marshal) 1980
(2) www.regiments.org

Army Operations were conducted 1952-56, though the official end of the Emergency was 1960.


To our 21st Century world, the Kenya insurgency is a barely known insurgency from the waning days of the British Empire.  It was, however, held up in subsequent years as a model counter-insurgency that relied mostly on sound police work backed up by the army. The British were also at that time fighting in Malaya.  Both counter-insurgencies were used to show the superiority of the British method of fighting guerillas over the American method used in Vietnam; because of its Southeast jungle environment, Malaya was cited more often than Kenya, with its jungles and grasslands.  It is entirely true the British have an excellent track record with counter-insurgencies. By the time the US began major combat operations against the VC/PAVN, however, Vietnam was not an insurgency as most understand the word.  It was an all-out conventional war with one side using guerilla tactics of engaging when it was advantageous, and withdrawing when it was not.  The Americans could have learned much from the British about the importance of police work and civilian security in counter-insurgency operations; as can be seen below, however, there simply is no comparison between Vietnam and any insurgency fought by the British.  In Kenya the armed enemy numbered 1,500 with personal weapons, and no source of external support.  Still it took 56,000 security forces four years to substantially defeat the Mau Mau.

Higher Command

Chief of the Imperial General Staff[1952 General Harding]

General Headquarters Middle East [1952 General Sir Brian Robertson]

East African Command [1952 Lt.-General Cameron]

Chief Staff Officer to Governor [late 1952 Maj.-General ‘Looney’ Hinde]

East African Command controlled forces in:

·        Kenya
·        Uganda
·        Tanganyika
·        Mauritius

In 1953 East African Command was upgraded and a four-star officer, Sir George Erskine, took over as Commander-in-Chief. He was succeeded by Gerald Lathbury in 1955. General Lathbury is better known to the public as OC 1 Parachute Brigade, one of the brigades of the ill-fated 1 Airborne Division destroyed at Arnhem in 1944. He was later knighted and in the mid-1960s served as Governor of Gibralter during the minor dust-up with Spain.


39 Infantry Brigade (4.1953)

1 Lancashire Fusiliers (First UK battalion in country)

Replaced 8.1953 by 1 Black Watch

Replaced 1.1955 by 1 Royal Irish Fusiliers, who were withdrawn 11.1955

1 Buffs (arrived from Egypt)

Replaced 12.1954 by 1 Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, who were withdrawn 8.1955

1 Devonshire (arrived from Libya)

Replaced 1.1955 by 1 Rifle Brigade, who were withdrawn 12.1955


49 Infantry Brigade (raised 9.1953 in Kenya, disbanded in Kenya 11.1956)

1 Northumberland Fusiliers arrived 9.1953 and withdrew 4.1956

1 Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers arrived 9.1953

 Replaced 6.1955 by 1 King’s Shropshire Light Infantry, who were withdrawn 11.1956

1 Gloucestershire, arrived 6.1955, and were withdrawn 4.1956


70 (East African) Infantry Brigade

3 King’s African Rifles (Kenya)

4 King’s African Rifles (Uganda)

5 King’s African Rifles (Kenya)

6 King’s African Rifles (Tanganyika)

UI Battalion, KAR (Kenya)


UI Engineer Regiment

UI Armored Car Squadron

UI Heavy AA Battery


Kenya Regiment (1 volunteer European battalion)

Kikuyu Home Guard

Tribal Police

Colony Police


? Squadron, RAF (Harvard) Training

? Squadron, RAF (Harvard) Training

? Squadron, RAF (Lancaster) Detachment of a Malta-based PR squadron

70 Brigade had five KAR battalions. The presence of 3, 4, 5, and 6 KAR is confirmed; since 1 and 2 KAR belonged to Nyasaland, which at that point was being merged with northern Rhodesia into the Central Africa Federation, the third Kenyan battalion must have had a number 7 or higher.

The Mau Mau numbered 12,000 at their peak, with an estimated 20,000 passive supporters, but only 1,500 Mau Mau had weapons.

British forces in 1953 included:

·        10,000 British troops
·        21,000 police
·        25,000 Kikuyu Home Guard

Casualties for the Mau Mau were very heavy:

·        10,527 killed
·        2,633 captured
·        26,625 arrested
·        2,714 surrendered
·        50,000 passive supporters detained

In contrast, casualties caused by the Mau Mau were:

·        63 Europeans killed
·        534 Africans killed
·        1,826 African civilians killed
·        32 Europeans killed


British forces launched four operations during the Kenya Insurgency:

.        Anvil (5 battalions, began April 24, 1954, lasted for two weeks)
·        Hammer (January 1955)
·        First Flute
·        Dante (July 1955)

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