1st Battalion The Royal Irish Rangers, Belize

Tue, 09/01/1981 - Sun, 05/30/1982
Belize, 1 R IRISH 1982
Map of Belize and its border with Guatemala.

In 1964, the colony of British Honduras was granted full internal self-government and the official name of the territory was changed to Belize in June 1973. However, Guatemala claimed that Belize was a legacy of the Spanish Empire’s Guatemalan territories and alleged that as a result of the failure by the British to fulfil previous (1859) treaty obligations, including the building of a road to the coast, Belize must ‘revert’ to Guatemalan sovereignty. In 1972 Guatemala broke off negotiations and mobilized its troops along the border. By 1975, the increased tension was such that the British government included a Royal Air Force Harrier group in the overall increased deployment.

British Forces were deployed in six permanent camps in support of The Belize Defence Force (BDF). R IRISH deployments were adjusted both between and during their tours but typically, they were, from north to south, as follows:

Airport Camp (APC) near Belize City was located adjacent to the International Airport. This was the location for the ‘One Star’ (Brigadier) commanded British Force Headquarters, the RAF detachments (Harrier jets, Puma support helicopter and Rapier air defence) and an RAF Regiment Company for RAF ground defence. The R IRISH provided a duty guard company for APC with a platoon on short notice to move.

Holdfast Camp was near the Cayo district capital of San Ignacio. This was a R IRISH Combat Team (CT) location which included the Royal Armoured Corp’s armoured Scimitar/ Scorpion light tracked reconnaissance vehicles and Royal Artillery Regiment 105mm Artillery guns. The R IRISH infantry tasks included forward jungle patrolling and manning Observation Posts (OP) such as the Cayo OP watching the cross-border approaches from the Guatemalan border town of Ciudad Melchor de Mencos.

Plassey Camp, also located near San Agnacio in the Cayo District, was smaller than Holdfast. This was the location for the R IRISH Reconnaissance Platoon and other Support Company elements including the Mortar and Anti-Tank Platoons. This group was under the command of the Holdfast CT Headquarters and it shared the infantry tasks for Holdfast.

Cattle Landing Camp was located several kilometres north on the coast from Punta Gorda in Toledo District. This watched over sea approaches and the Oerlikon guns were guarded by a R IRISH detachment of the Anti Tank Platoon of Support Company.

Salamanca Camp in Toledo District was the southern R IRISH company equivalent of Holdfast Camp. Its tasks included forward jungle patrolling near Pueblo Viejo and manning the Cadenas OP located some 185 meters above and watching approaches from the Guatemalan town of Puerto Modesto Mendez on the Sarstoon River.

Rideau Camp was 5 kilometres from Punta Gorda and the largest camp in the southern district. The R IRISH battalion headquarters was located there along with elements of Royal Engineers and Royal Artillery. There was also a R IRISH infantry company whose main task was patrolling some of the remotest rainforest areas in the southern Toledo district. These foot patrols were often deployed or collected by riverboat and helicopter.

Fears over border security and the threat of invasion by Guatemala delayed independence until 21 September 1981. Britain’s declaration that it would defend Belize’s territory and sovereignty post-independence satisfied the government of Belize and fulfilled the United Nations resolution in 1981 demanding secure independence for Belize by 1982. The presence of the troops represented an exception to the long-standing British policy of not making military commitments to former colonies. British forces were also to deter Guatemalan guerrillas from using Belize as a safe haven for launching attacks against Guatemala. It was not until 1992 that Guatemala eventually recognized Belize as a sovereign and independent state notwithstanding unresolved territorial disputes. The British government announced in 1993 that it would begin the withdrawal of its operational military forces and offered military training assistance to the BDF.