As one could imagine, early settlers to the island of Barbados needed to find a way to defend themselves should the need arise. Once you were in good shape, you were expected to serve even if you were a free coloured man.
The militia included three regiments of calvary and six of infantry as well as a troop of Horse Guards in attendance on the Governor in the mid 18th century. A system of militia tenants came into fruition where plantations gave plots of a few acres to men who paid no rent but were obliged to serve in the militia instead. In 1839, the system was abandoned and the militia tenants formed a considerable part of the poor white population. A few free coloureds also served as militia tenants.
Barbados had a huge advantage with regards to resistance from attack as they were shielded by the difficulty sailing ships encountered when going against the wind. Admiral de Rutyer commanded a Dutch force that entered Carlisle Bay in 1665 but subsequently pulled out when the flagship was exposed to some measure of damaged by fire from the shore batteries and an American privateer fired a few shots at Speightstown in the War of Independence. Up until a German submarine torpedoed a Canadian merchant ship in Carlisle Bay in 1942, these were the only two occasions that foreign attacks came about on Barbados' territorial waters. Nevertheless, the possibility of an attack was always prevalent in the minds of the authorities and so from the earliest days, Barbados had a military force in place. One of the functions of the military in Barbados was to man the chain of forts which extended from the south of the island along the West Coast to the northern tip. The militia also contributed to ensuring that the slave population was kept in repression. It assisted with actioning restrictive freedom measures following the discovery of escape plots by slaves in the 17th century and together with the other troops strategically based on the island, it was able to conquer the 1816 Slave Rebellion.
British men-of-war visited Barbados quite often as their troops were sent to the island from periodically in the war. However, it wasn't until 1780 that Britain maintained a garrison here and not until the Napoleonic war that Barbados had a naval establishment. Rodney and Nelson are two British naval commanders whose names are vividly remembered in the West Indies despite the fact that neither had any close connection with Barbados.
Barbados may have well been easily saved from the occupation of the French as a result of Rodney's victory over the French Admiral de Grasse at the battle of the Saints in 1782. Nelson was based for several years on English Harbour, Antigua and called at Barabdos in 1805 in the course of his futile pursuit of the French Admiral Villenuve. Due to the fact that he was a frequent visitor to Barbados and because the fleet under his command seemed to be all that stood in the way of the French attack, Nelson's death rivited through Barbados and so the island erected a statue of him that still stands in Heroes Square in Bridgetown.
The British garrison in Barbados was quartered in buildings erected for it close to St. Ann's Fort on the outskirts of Bridgetown. Built mostly of brick that was bought from England and sited around a large open space that is now a race track, the buildings form an entity that is one of the finest architectural treasures of the island. The buildings were in full use until the British garrison was withdrawn in 1905. At Gun Hill in the parish of St. George, the army had a rest camp where soldiers could convalesce after the bouts of illness that were all too frequent in the early part of the nineteenth century.
The sole purpose for the militia was lost by the end of the 1860s after the introduction of the Police to Barbados. The withdrawal of the imperial forces led to the formation of the Barbados Volunteer Force, which came into being in July 1902.
During World War I, the Barbados Volunteer Force was mainly concerned with the defence of the island but had to called out during the 1937 riiots.
In 1942 the Volunteers became part of the Barbados Battalion South Caribbean Force. The First Battalion Caribbean Regiment was also formed and after training in the US, the Barbadians and other West Indians in the Caribbean saw service in the Mediterranean including Egypt and Italy.
The Barbados Battalion of the Caribbean Regiment was disbanded in 1947. In 1948, the Volunteer Force was resuscitated and renamed the Barbados Regiment. The Queen's COlour and the Regimental Colour were presented to the Regiment by Her Royal Highness The Prince Royal in 1953 and the Regimental Colour was trooped for the first time in 1957. Another Trooping of the Colour marked the 21st Anniversary of Independence in Barbados. Women were enlisted in the Regiment for the first time in 1974.
The Barbados Defence Force was formally established in 1978 as a full-time organisation. The Barbados Regiment continues to exist as the volunteer reserve fo the Defence Force. The Defence Force also includes the Coast Guard which was originally established as a separate body in 1974. A contingent of the Barbados Defence Force went to Grenada as part of the intevention in 1983 United Stated led intervention in Grenada.
Barbados is the Headquarters of the Regional Security System which was established in 1982 through a Memorandum of Understanding between Barbados and four OECS countries to provide for 'mutual assistance on request'.
The US Naval base was based near Harrison Point in St. Lucy but after the lease was due to expire after Barbados became independent, the Barbados Government declined to renew the agreement. The base was subsequently taken over in the late 1970s by the Barbados Defence Force and later used in the Barbados Youth Service programme.