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Uganda's Army in World Wars

The Great War transformed Uganda's military establishment. Its personnel grew from 1,058 to 8,190. Emergency legislation upgraded the Fourth Battalion to a regiment. Former Fourth Battalion personnel became part of the new Uganda Regiment, which eventually comprised six battalions. By the end of World War I, 16,000 Africans had served in the KAR and 178,000 had worked as laborers in the carrier corps, primarily in East Africa. The British government awarded decorations to 155 soldiers and mentioned the valor of many others in dispatches to the crown. Casualties in the Uganda Regiment included 225 deaths in battle or as the result of injuries; in addition, 1,164 died from disease and at least 760 were wounded.

Ugandan soldiers saw little action during the interwar years but provided garrison duty on Uganda's northern frontier and at Meru and Lokitaung (both in Kenya). The colonial authorities reorganized the Uganda Regiment several times, however, and reduced its size to about 400. It included two rifle companies, a machinegun platoon, a marching band, and a battalion headquarters staff at Bombo. In addition, 169 soldiers made up a reserve force.

In 1930 British officials on the Committee of Imperial Defence combined the remnants of the Uganda Regiment with the Third Battalion in Kenya to form the Northern Brigade, headquartered in Nairobi. In the late 1930s, as World War II approached, Uganda's governor, Sir Philip Mitchell, established the Seventh Territorial Battalion to bolster security in Uganda while other troops conducted operations in Kenya. Northern Ugandans dominated the army, although all major ethnic groups were eventually represented in the fighting forces.

World War II again revolutionized the military. The colonial administration recruited 77,131 Ugandans to serve in nine infantry units, two field artillery batteries, and several auxiliary battalions. Ugandans served outside Africa for the first time, seeing action in the occupation of Madagascar in opposition to the Vichy government in France and the reconquest of Burma from the Japanese.

In addition, Ugandans helped defeat the Italians in Ethiopia (then part of Italian East Africa) and worked as part of a military labor force in Egypt and the Middle East. They also garrisoned on Mauritius and at Di~go-Suarez on Madagascar and helped build defenses in Mombasa, Kenya. As in World War I, Ugandan soldiers made important contributions to the war effort and received many awards, including the Distinguished Conduct Medal, the Military Medal, and the Member of the British Empire Medal.

Following the allied victory in 1945, protectorate officials again reduced the army's size, demobilizing 55,595 of the Ugandan troops by March 1948. The remainder belonged to the Fourth Battalion. During the late 1940s, Ugandan troops deployed to British Somaliland and Kenya to contain local uprisings. In the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya, Ugandans served in the Kenyan towns of Nakuru, Kinangop, Fort Hall, and Nyeri. As independence approached in both nations in the 1960s, Ugandans participated in joint police-army sweeps against cattle rustlers in rorthwest Kenya.

In 1948 Britain established the East Africa High Commission to administer its possessions there-Uganda, Kenya, and Tanganyika (which merged with Zanzibar to form Tanzania in 1964) - as one territory. The military arm of the High Commission, the East African Defence Committee, coordinated military policies, but the War Office in London retained ultimate responsibility for military affairs. In 1957 the High Commission assumed all responsibility for administering East Africa's military organizations and changed the name of the King's African Rifles to the East African Land Forces. This unification scheme was shortlived, however, and in 1958 Uganda's Legislative Council created the Military Council to help Uganda's governor administer the army's finances and returned responsibility for the military to London.

As Uganda moved toward independence, the army stepped up recruitment, and the government increased the use of the army to quell domestic unrest. The army was becoming more closely involved in politics, setting a pattern that continued after independence. In January 1960, for example, army troops deployed to Bugisu and Bukedi districts in the east to quell political violence. In the process, the soldiers killed twelve people, injured several hundred, and arrested more than 1,000. A series of similar clashes occurred between troops and demonstrators, and in March 1962 the government recognized the army's growing domestic importance by transferring control of the military to the Ministry of Home Affairs.

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