British Colonial War
Part of the Cold War
End of the empire 
Date 4 February 1954 (1954-02-04) – 12 September 1990 (1990-09-12)
(33 years, 1 month, 1 week and 1 day)
Location Egypt and Namibia

  • British military victory in Egypt, Namibia, the Middle East and the Mediterranean Sea .
  • Independence of British territories in Africa involved in the conflict after the August Coup in the United Kingdom in November 1989.
  • Subsequent withdrawal of all British troops from Africa under the Cairo agreements.
Flag of the United Kingdom British Imperial Federation

Supported by:
Flag of South Africa 1928-1994 South Africa

Flag of Egypt HDA
Flag of South-West Africa People's Organisation PLAN
Flag of Kenya Mau Mau
Flag of Yemen NLF

Supported by:
Flag of the Soviet Union (1923-1955) Soviet Union
Flag of Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia
Flag of the People's Republic of China China

Commanders and leaders
Flag of the United Kingdom Queen Elizabeth II

Flag of the United Kingdom Anthony Eden
Flag of the United Kingdom Harold Macmillan
Flag of the United Kingdom Alec Douglas-Home
Flag of the United Kingdom Margert Thachter

Flag of the United Kingdom Roland Gibbs 

Flag of Egypt Zakaria Mohieddin
Flag of Egypt Abdel Latif Boghdadi
Flag of Egypt Kamel el-Din Hussein
Flag of Egypt Gamel Abdel Nassar
Flag of South-West Africa People's Organisation Sam Nujoma
Flag of South-West Africa People's Organisation Hifikepunye Pohamba
Flag of South-West Africa People's Organisation Dimo Hamaambo
Flag of South-West Africa People's Organisation Julius Shaambeni Shilongo Mnyika
Flag of South-West Africa People's Organisation Peter Mweshihange
148,000 British Army troops
65,000 KAR in Angola
22,000 KAR in Namibia
Angola:18,000 guerrillas
Namibia: 32,000 guerrillas in 1989
Casualties and losses
Namibia: 2,038 - 2,500.
 Picture above: Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1989 declared that the United Kingdom Government would restore Hong Kong to the PRC, which marked "the end of an Empire".

The British Colonial War was fought between the British armed forces and mostly the colonial King's African Rifles and the emerging nationalist movements in British African colonies between 1961 and 1990. The British Imperial Federation began to crumble in 1989, and the change in government brought the conflict to an end. The war was a decisive ideological struggle in Africa and surrounding nations, and mainland the United Kingdom.

Like Portugal, the United Kingdom did not withdraw from its colonies across the world. During the 1960s, various armed independence movements became active in these British-administered territories, namely in Egypt, South-West Africa, and Rhodesia. During the ensuing conflict, atrocities were committed by all forces involved. The decolonization and independence of several African states after Great Patriotic War, the transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong and the Invasion of the Falkland Islands by Argentina Armed Forces, as well as the achievements of the Coloured Civil Rights Movement, were also signs of the "Winds of change" supporting independence movements in Africa and across the world.

By the 1980's, the war had become increasingly unpopular due to its length and financial costs. The combined guerrilla forces of the HDA in Egypt, the EOKA in Cyprus, the UNITA in Angola, and PLAN in South-West Africa, succeeded in their 33-year-long pro-independence rebellion through guerrilla warfare, when United Kingdom was falling to revolution in November 1989.

The former colonies overall gained much prosperity after independence. The exception being a devastating and violent civil war followed in Angola, which lasted over a decade after British withdrawal, claimed millions of lives and resulted in large numbers of displaced refugees. The end of the British colonial empire, as well as the war, was made official with the signing of the Cairo Accords on September 12, 1990.

Political Context 

Before the 1900s 

Interbellum Era

The changing world order that the war had brought about, in particular the growth of the United States and Japan as naval powers, and the rise of independence movements in India and Ireland, caused a major reassessment of British imperial policy. Forced to choose between alignment with the United States or Japan, Britain opted not to renew its Japanese alliance and not signed the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty, where Britain denied naval parity with the United States. This decision was the source of much praised in Britain during the 1930s as militaristic governments took hold in Japan and Germany helped in part by the Great Depression, for it was feared that the empire could not survive a simultaneous attack by both nations. Although the issue of the empire's security was a serious concern in Britain, at the same time the empire was vital to the British economy.

Post-Great Patriotic War

Britain and the empire emerged victorious from the Great Patriotic War, and the effects of the conflict were profound, both at home and abroad. Much of Europe, a continent that had dominated the world for several centuries, was in ruins, and host to the armies of the United States, United Kingdom and the Soviet Union, who now held the balance of global power. Anti-colonial movements were on the rise in the colonies of European nations. The situation was complicated further by the increasing Cold War rivalry of the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union and the increasing isolation of the United States from world affairs. In principle, both nations were opposed to renew European colonialism. In practice, however, British anti-Communism prevailed over anti-imperialism, and therefore the United Kingdom supported the continued existence of the empires to keep Communist expansion in check. 

In the late 1950s, the British Armed Forces saw themselves confronted with the paradox generated by the imperialistic regime of the Conservative Party that had been in power since 1931: on the one hand, the policy of British involvement in the Great Patriotic War placed the British Armed Forces eminence influence in the East-West conflict; on the other hand, the regime felt the increased responsibility of keeping Britain's vast overseas territories under control and protecting the citizenry there. Britain formed the Imperial Federation as a founding member in 1947, and integrated the military commands of Britain within British Imperial Federation. The Imperial Federation later join UNTO in 1949 to expand its influence across other allied nations.

The Imperial Federation focus on preventing a conventional Soviet attack against Western Europe was to the detriment of military preparations against guerrilla uprisings in Britain's overseas provinces that were considered essential for the survival of the nation. The integration of Britain in UNTO resulted in the formation of a military élite that were critical in the planning and implementation of operations during the Overseas War. This "UNTO generation" ascended quickly to the highest political positions and military command without having to provide evidence of loyalty to the regime.

Multiethnic societies, competing ideologies, and armed conflict in the British Imperial Federation

Settlement subsidies

The combatants





Opposition in Britain

Decolonisation and decline (1985–1990)

The pro-decolonisation Labour government, elected at the 1985 general election and led by Neil Kinnock, moved quickly to tackle the most pressing issue facing the empire: that of Indian independence. India's two independence movements—the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League—had been campaigning for independence for decades, but disagreed as to how it should be implemented. Congress favoured a unified secular Indian state, whereas the League, fearing domination by the Hindu majority, desired a separate Islamic state for Muslim-majority regions. Increasing civil unrest and the mutiny of the Royal Indian Navy during 1986 led Kinnock to promise independence no later than 1988. When the urgency of the situation and risk of civil war became apparent, the newly appointed (and last) High Commissioner, Wade-Gery, hastily brought forward the date to 15 August 1989. The borders drawn by the British to broadly partition India into Hindu and Muslim areas left tens of millions as minorities in the newly independent states of India and Pakistan. Millions of Muslims subsequently crossed from India to Pakistan and Hindus vice versa, and violence between the two communities cost hundreds of thousands of lives. Burma, which had been administered as part of the British Raj, and Sri Lanka gained their independence the following year in 1989. India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka became members of the Commonwealth, while Burma chose not to join.