British Military Operations in Aden and Radfan: 100 Years of British Colonial Rule

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  • Author:
    Nick van der Bijl
    This book covers the period of time from 1839 to 1967, the times when Britain was the colonial power in the area, the times when a presence ‘East of Suez ‘ was a common enough phrase. It is a book that could well surprise a number of people, especially those who have little knowledge of the conflicts there.

    Aden became an important port during the first world war and that importance increased greatly in the second round between 1939 and 1945 but I suppose that it is the post war periods that have become more of a focus.

    The Crown colony of Aden began it’s life as a place from which to fight and deter pirates who were targeting the trade routes to India, then after the opening of the Suez canal, it became a major coaling port and stopping place for all manner of ships. The evolution into a British base was fairly gradual, moving from East India company troops to the regular army. The Royal Navy maintained a presence there and eventually the Royal Air Force became an important feature of life .

    The history of the colony and the proctectorate is well covered in this book, and there is a great amount of information about the conflicts with the Turks and other countries in the area.

    The part that held my interest most was obviously the emergency, and the preceding conflict in the Radfan, which is well documented and has some surprising facts. For instance, there was an official ‘British Mercenary Organisation’. That came as something of a surprise, although I was aware of the involvement in the Yemen of British Special Forces who ‘ were on leave’, and caused more than a little mayhem, however that is covered in another book.

    The amount of fighting, of ambushes, of grenade and mortar attacks on British troops may well surprise the reader. As may the responses from our side.

    Coming to the period known as ‘The Emergency’, again that could offer some suprises to those who believed that the “cold war warriors ” who are routinely dismissed as not having experienced anything similar to current soldiering. This was a time when thousands of rounds were expended, when for example, in one day, 49 grenade attacks were made on one sangar, when armoured vehicles were blown up by I.E.D and troops murdered. When air support was very limited, and body armour was a khaki drill shirt.

    On the subject of air support, the Hawker Hunter, which was the machine providing it, used an innovative device to attack enemy villages. Finding that 1000 lb bombs were not terribly helpful, they used their practice rockets, the ones with a concrete warhead, to destroy the huts so that troops could enter and search them.

    The ambush on the RCT convoy and the deaths of the soldiers on the day of the insurrection by the Armed Police is well covered, with first hand accounts from survivors, and it goes some way to putting to bed the myth that was created about Colonel Mitchell.

    I could go on, I could bore with the casualty statistics – 255 between 1963 and 1967 I could rant about how the government sold out the forces and the colony, how the then Minister of Defence used weasel words and cost lives, but instead I would just earnestly recommend that one reads this book. It is a superb history of a period that has almost been forgotten, along with so many others, and we should not allow them to fade away. We should remember the campaigns and the fallen. There are, in this book, some accounts of exemplary courage and devotion, but because it was a colony, then no bravery awards could be given, save for the MBE or a very rare GC.

    Buy this book and read it, if only to get a glimpse into why the middle east conflicts began, and how we missed a chance to if not stop the fall into chaos then to lessen the impact.
Dredd1976 and Runnybabbit like this.

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  1. overopensights
    I was a soldier in Aden from Jan 1967 until late August that year, the 'pullout' was in early September 67. We were relived in the August by the Marines who arrived from Borneo. We had held the areas of the Maalla Main, the C Class area and up to the sides of the Crater, with the additional task of guarding Almansura prison, to relieve and change the guard on that place took up to a platoon of men and additional armoured scout cars. Grenades, shootings and rocket attacks were almost daily or evening events; exciting times indeed!. However I learned more about Aden by reading the 'Six Day War,' President Nasser of Egypt played a bigger part in the Aden war than we realized at the time.

    I recall the 'Beheading' of two soldiers up country outside Aden, I thought at the time that this was an awful evil and inhuman thing to do to a captive, Years later It quite depressed me after the Drummer Rigby beheading outside the Artillery Barracks London.

    In Aden we abutted onto the Argyles tactical area, We strongly felt that 'Mad Mitch' created his own Bn incidents. The Argyles were due to be disbanded and he raised a high profile very successfully, he appeared, or his battalion did in all newspaper reports from home. The Daily Mirror lapped him up! He was successful and saved the Argyles at that time. One thing that stands out for me is the day the Aden Brigade lost either 16 or 22 men. I can't recall now how many, but there was little fuss in the media at that time. I compare this to the loss of one soldier today and the Media rush that follows.

    So sorry to rabble on!
    1. old_fat_and_hairy
      Similar dates to mine, although I was maybe a few of months earlier in arriving. Almansoura was a joy and a pleasure! Blindicides were a most regular feature of that post. The beheadings were stark and horrific, especially the parading around of the heads. barbaric in the extreme.
      I worked -mostly - out of 24 Bde HQ with a fairs stint at Alanad with a BATT and also some work in and around Maala. Interesting times.
      old_fat_and_hairy, Feb 6, 2017
      overopensights likes this.
  2. Busterdog
    Medals for bravery were awarded to soldiers and officers in the Radfan campaign and the Aden Emergency.
    1. old_fat_and_hairy
      As I said, I'm very happy to be wrong about it.:)
      old_fat_and_hairy, Feb 6, 2017
      Busterdog likes this.
  3. retread2
    Old Fat and Hairy - firstly, thanks for the review. I was in Aden as a child during the emergency and will read whatever I can get my hands on about that time.

    You might be a bit off track with your statement about bravery awards; off the top of my head I can think of an MC to an officer and MM to a soldier in PWO (names available) and there were also awards to members of RNF and the Argylls ('Mad Mitch got an MiD) and there were no doubt other awards to members of other units.

    I'll buy the book if it is available as an ebook.

      overopensights and Jaeger like this.
    1. old_fat_and_hairy
      Glad you liked the review, the book is out there but not sure if as an e book. You are probably right about the awards,I think the criteria changed mid year, or maybe there was always the the system. Although I have a niggle in my mind that this applied to the Radfan as opposed to Aden proper, but I could very well be wrong on this too.
      old_fat_and_hairy, Nov 12, 2015