Operation Anvil was a British military operation during the Mau Mau Uprising where British troops rounded up over 20,000 suspected Mau Mau freedom fighters from Nairobi and placed them in detention Camps where they were tortured for information and forced to renounce their patriotism.
The operation started on the 24th of April 1958 when British military forces commanded by George Erskine sealed off every road leading in and out of Nairobi and then surrounded locations which were home to substantial Kikuyu populations in the city to prevent Mau Mau from escaping.
Within 48 hours of operation Anvil, the British had detained 206 known freedom fighters. The first badge of prisoners were then tortured to extract information and forced to renounce their patriotism.
In the following weeks, over 50,000 Kenyans were detained in prison camps, there they were questioned and brutally tortured by special teams. Those who were deemed harmless were safely released and returned to their homes, while those judged to be a danger to the British throne were detained.
The British authorities also detained underaged children, newborn babies and their mothers and efforts were made to convert them to the political views of the government.
The British came up a three-tiered classification system to handle their prisoners. The “White” grade which consisted mostly of trusted members of the colonial administration were set to be released, the “Grey” grade was made up of prisoners believed to be passive Mau Mau sympatherisers, the last category, “Black“, was reserved for detainees identified by informers as potentially violent insurgents.
While a few of the “black” grade prisoners were prosecuted by the government, the majority of them were funneled through a system of brutal work camps.
One of the camp established to house detainees classified as “hard-core.” was the Hola camp.
The remote camp was reserved for the most uncooperative of the detainees who were headstrong and often refused to join in the colonial “rehabilitation process” or perform manual labour or obey colonial orders.
The camp commandant outlined a plan that would force 88 of the detainees to bend to work. On 3 March 1959, the camp commandant put this plan into action – as a result of which 11 of the detainees were clubbed to death by guards. All the 77 surviving detainees sustained serious permanent injuries.
Operation Anvil marked a turning-point in the British campaign against the Mau Mau. The action left the insurgents mostly isolated in the forested mountains of Nyandarwa and Kirinyaga without access to supplies and the assistance of passive supporters.
At the height of the operation, over 80,000 Kenyans were detained in camps and many hundreds of thousands were resettled in new fortified villages, cut off from their surroundings.￼
The Mau mau rebellion survived until after Kenya’s independence from Britain, driven mainly by the Meru units of the insurrection group.
Suppressing the Mau Mau Uprising in the Kenyan colony cost Britain over £50 million and caused at least 20,000 deaths among the Mau Mau and other forces, with some estimates considerably higher.