Dr.Yahia Al Shaer

Mi Sergeant
MI.Net Member
Sep 14, 2020
Canal Zoners - Suez Crisis



On 13th June 1956 last British Troops left Egypt under the terms of the Anglo-Egyptian Agreement of 1954. Five day later President Nasser raised the Egyptian flag over the Port Said Navy House as his jet fighters flew overhead and a frigate fired a 21 gun salute. He then gave a heart-rendering speech to a cheering crowd and celebrations began to mark to end of foreign occupation of Egyptian soil. Nasser was completing the purchase of Soviet made aircraft, tanks and arms from Czechoslovakia, which might help him to realise one of his goals, the destruction of Israel. Israel was worried by Egypt's growing military power, the British government humiliated and the French angered by Egypt's new interference in French-ruled Algeria.

When the call for the supply of more arms came from both Egypt and Israel, both Britain and America refused so Egypt looked to Russia who obliged which incited anger within America as Egypt was obviously drifting away from the West and being influenced by the Soviets. Despite anti-western demonstrations in Egypt, in January 1956 the United States and Britain had pledged funding to help finance the construction of a new High Dam at Aswan. The US, however, became convinced that the Dam project would not be a success and wanted to reduce expenditure on foreign aid. It was also concerned about Nasser's purchase of Soviet arms. On 19 July, US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles informed the Egyptian ambassador in Washington that his government had decided that it would not provide the funding. The British foreign secretary, Selwyn Lloyd, followed suit and withdrew the British offer. The World Bank then refused to advance Egypt a promised $200 million. Eden, who recalled Britain's appeasement of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s, looked to military action which might result in Nasser's downfall and restore Britain's influence in the region. The United States, however, made it clear that unjustified military action would not be tolerated.

On July 26th Gamal Abdul Nasser, president of Egypt, addressed a huge crowd in Alexandria announcing his intention to nationalise the Anglo/French Suez Canal Company declaring that he would take the revenue from the canal ($30+ million per year) to finance his dam. In that speech Nasser chose to delve back even further into history, in a long digression on the building of the Suez Canal a century earlier. That gave him the chance to mention the name of the Frenchman who had built the canal, Ferdinand de Lesseps. This he did at least 13 times. "De Lesseps", it turned out, was the code word for the Egyptian army to start the seizure, and nationalisation, of the canal

On 2nd August 1956 the governments of the United States, Great Britain and France summoned an international conference in London to discuss further steps to secure "freedom and safety" of the Canal. They considered the Suez Canal an "international institute", and so they refused to recognize legitimacy of its nationalization. The Anglo-French political and military leadership was determined to restore the colonial status of the Suez Canal by force and they obtained support from Israel.

The United States, however, were against the use of force. Eisenhower in particular was concerned for the presidential election due that November, which he intended to win as the incumbent 'peace' president. He knew that the voters would not thank him for taking them into a war in which America had no direct interest.

On 8th August 1956 in London under the command of General Hugh Stockwell was created the Anglo-French staff for planning the war against Egypt. According to its plans, military operations had to be conducted in two stages. The first stage would start with the advance of the Israeli army in the Sinai Peninsula in order to contain the main groupings of the Egyptian army in fights. On the second stage the Anglo-French forces would carry out seaborne landings in Port Said and Port Fouad (operation Musketeer) in order to seize bridgeheads.

After concentrating sufficient forces and equipment, they had to advance along the Suez Canal and force Egypt to withdraw its troops from the Canal Zone. Therefore, to the joint Anglo-French fleet, the focal operation of the campaign was the Suez Canal landing operation.

Preparations for the operation Musketeer were thorough and took almost three months. The plan foresaw the following: launching the war by Israel, containing the core of the Egyptian forces in fights in the Sinai Peninsula, massive bombings of the military objects of Egypt, and the combined sea- and airborne landing. Big attention was attached to a quick neutralizing of the Egyptian airfields. On 5 November 1956 large airborne units had to be parachuted in the zones where they would isolate the sectors of the seaborne landing from the rest of the country.

On 6 November at dawn, after a powerful artillery barrage, the main forces had to land on the Egyptian coast. The landing had to apply the tactics of the "vertical envelopment", it means that within the tactical zone of the coastal defence would land helicopter groups, which would prevent Egyptian troops from moving to the coast. The near objective for the British airborne troops was to seize and hold the Gamil airfield, and for the French troops - to grasp road and railway bridges south of Port Said.

Their landing zones were chosen accordingly near their objectives. From the point of view of the goals of the campaign the place best fit for the seaborne landing was considered the zone of the Suez Canal. So it was decided to disembark the troops in Port Said and Port Fouad. That area constitutes a bridgehead almost completely isolated from the hinterland, and linked with the rest of the country by a narrow, artificial isthmus, whose seizure would make the isolation of landing zones from the rest of Egypt complete. There were two landing sectors designated in the British zone (Port Said), and one in the French zone (Port Fouad). The total front of the seaborne landing stretched over 6 kilometres.

The Israelis provided a way out. On September 30th a delegation secretly presented the French with a fabricated casus belli: Israel would invade Egypt and race to the canal. The French and British could then invade, posing as peacekeepers to separate the two sides, and occupy the canal, ostensibly to guarantee the free passage of shipping. When this plan was presented to Eden, he jumped at it. Thus was collusion born. The details were agreed on at a secret meeting in Sevres, outside Paris,

The British and French forces now had a pretext to invade. For the Israelis, it would punish Egypt for its escalating incursions into Israel from Gaza. It would also hitch the major European powers to the cause of Israel: up to that point, the French had tried to be even-handed between Israel and its neighbours; the British had leaned towards the Arab states.

Only a handful of people were let in on the collusion. Most of them thought it was mad from the start, arguing, quite correctly, that the cover for the invasion was so flimsy it would soon be blown. To disguise what was going on, the British, in particular, were drawn ever deeper into a bog of lies and deception, particularly with the Americans.

Parliament was also deceived. Both Eden and Selwyn Lloyd, his foreign secretary, told the House of Commons that, as Lloyd put it, "there was no prior agreement" with Israel.

The general command of the invasion was exercised by the joint Anglo-French headquarters in Cyprus -with Malta also being used - by chance the Mediterranean fleet had assembled at Malta awaiting the First Sea Lords' (Earl Mountbatten) inspection. The British General Charles Keightley became the commander-in-chief, and the French Vice-Admiral Pierre Barjot became his deputy. Apart from regular structures, the headquarters had also accommodated a psychological warfare division. There were no Israeli representatives in the headquarters, but the Israeli command followed the general plan of the campaign. It attached a big role to such activities like intelligence and masking.

HMS Tyne was to be the Headquarters Ship of the Joint Task Force. Built as a destroyer she was fitted out for her new communications role with the Royal Navy Communication Branch as her main ships company, supplemented by RAF and Royal Corp of Signals signallers and, later, French personnel.

British Aircraft Carrier Task Group comprised Eagle (as the flag ship), Albion and Bulwark. All three were to provide air cover and ground strikes, using Sea Hawks, Sea
Venoms and Wyverns. The Helicopter Group - Ocean (flag) & Theseus - were to lift the Royal Marine Commando's ashore on the landing assault.

The First Cruiser Sqdn support were Jamaica and Ceylon. Newfoundland was joined by the Daring class ships Diana, Duchess, Decoy, Diamond, Defender and Daring.

Flotila comprised Chieftain, Chaplet & Chevron from the 1st Destroyer Sqdn, Armada, St. Kitts & Barfleur from the 3rd and HMS Alamein from the 4th. Cavendish, Comet & Contest of the 6th Sqdn to be in the East Mediterranean. Whirlwind &Wizard of the 5th Frigate Sqdn along with Undine, Ursa & Ulysses from the 5th and Urania, Crane & Modeste from the 3rd were to be positioned in the Red Sea.

The only British submarine to play a part was HMS/M Tudor, who along with the French submarine La Creole, was to carry out Search & Rescue patrols. Minesweepers from 104th 105th & 108th Minesweeping Sqdns were engaged with the Minesweeper Support ship Woodbridge Haven.

Tankers were made available both for fuel and water - should the water supply be
contaminated once ashore (the French even washed out a wine ship for this purpose). Stores & supplies were available but a problem arose in finding an armament supply ship that could carry out transfers at sea. Retainer and Fort Dunvegan were employed for the replenishment of the three carriers.

While preparing the seaborne landing, British & French air forces conducted systematic reconnaissance; in order to conceal the objectives of the pending operation, the reconnaissance enveloped vast areas - practically the whole Mediterranean coast of Egypt. Intelligence also supplied the Anglo-French command with information concerning the Egyptian defence installations in the areas of planned landings. Concentration of the Anglo-French naval forces was disguised as common manoeuvres.

Originally the areas of concentration were kept secret; once the secrecy could not be maintained any more, there were applied demonstrations that had to convince the Egyptians that the seaborne landing would be staged in the vicinity of Alexandria. Many Allied aircraft were painted in yellow and brown colours, and bore identification markings of the Egyptian air forces.

It was considered indispensable to achieve superiority in forces and equipment. The Anglo-French fleet numbered more than 130 ships, including 7 aircraft-carriers, 3 light cruisers, 13 destroyers, 14 patrol boats, 6 submarines, 11 landing crafts, 8 mine-sweepers, 60 transports, and other ships and vessels. The ships were grouped in the Task Force 345, divided into tactical groups of different designations. A minesweeping group was created to make passages in possible minefields.

The Anglo-French air forces possessed 461 aircraft, including 70 bombers, 228 fighters, 81 reconnaissance planes and 82 transport planes. The air forces were grouped in five wings: two bomber, one mixed, and two transport ones. Moreover, more than 290 aircraft were based on the carriers. Altogether the invading forces had 751 aircraft.

For the landing forces Great Britain had detached an infantry and an armoured division, three infantry and one airborne brigade, two independent tank regiments, two army artillery groups, an independent armoured regiment, six independent artillery regiments, and three independent infantry battalions. Altogether the British contingent numbered about 45 thousand men.

The French forces comprised a mechanized and an airborne division, an independent airborne brigade, and an independent tank regiment. Altogether the French contingent numbered more than 20 thousand men. For the helicopter operation was created a separate group comprising two aircraft-carriers {Theseus and Ocean) with 22 helicopters aboard. They had to carry the Commando No.45 of 600 men.

They achieved their readiness on 4 October. While preparing the Suez landing, the Anglo-French command staged in various places of the Mediterranean 10 exercises in seaborne landings with their seaborne and minesweeping forces, and two exercises in airborne landings. Simultaneously the troops were trained in the communications. The plan of the operation also foresaw decoy landings, in particular in the Red Sea, near Suez (operation Toreador).

Once the Egyptian command received reliable information about the pending invasion, it undertook a number of measures aimed at consolidation of the country's defences. The troops were put on alert, a partial mobilization was announced, and the civil population was submitted to military training and service in the popular militia. Yet Egypt's capabilities of repelling the aggression were limited: it lacked professional military cadres, and did not have enough modern weapons and equipment.

A seaborne landing at Port Said was deemed unlikely and no defences were organized there. The military equipment, and particularly aircraft, were not dispersed or camouflaged. Out of approx. 200 aircraft, the Egyptian air forces possessed, only about half were fit for combat actions and lacked trained pilots on the newly acquired Soviet planes a problem. Nasser moved many of his planes and hid them in Syria, allegedly replacing them with wooden dummies but all "hits" recorded were actual planes.

At the outbreak of the hostilities the Egyptian army numbered about 140 thousand men, and together with the National Guard and volunteers - 240 thousand. They were organized in infantry, armoured and artillery brigades. In general in the vicinity of Port Said the Allies enjoyed five-fold superiority over the Egyptians in the troops, and absolute superiority in naval and air forces. At the end of October the Allied forces completed their deployment in the eastern Mediterranean and were ready to start the war.

On October 29th, Israeli paratroopers, led by a zealous officer called Ariel Sharon, were dropped into Sinai to fulfil their side of the bargain. Feigning surprise, the British and French issued an ultimatum to both sides to cease fire. When the Egyptians rejected this, British & French planes based in Cyprus started bombing the Egyptian air force on the ground during the night of 31st Oct/1st Nov.

However, it soon became apparent that the night bombing had not been successful as photographic evidence showed targets were missed. At 05:20 the planes took off from Cypress once again, their targets Kasfareet, Kabrit, Abu Sueir, Fayid, El Firdan & Deversoir. By the end of the day the three Venom squadrons had flown 104 sorties and jointly claimed 59 Egyptian aircraft (mainly MiGs) destroyed on the ground, 11 probables and 37 damaged, along with damaged to airfields and hangars. The French F-84Fs flew a total of 75 sorties claiming 16 aircraft (mainly MiGs) destroyed, 9 probables and 4 damaged, along with airfield and hangar damage.

Meanwhile at 05:20 the Fleet Air Arm began its assault - targets were the airfields at Cairo West. Almaza and Inchas. 36 Sea Hawks, Sea Venoms & Wyverns were launched from the three carriers with others flying on protection patrols over the carriers. By the end of the day squadrons for the three carriers claimed 80 aircraft destroyed (22 MiGs), 9 probables and 85 damaged. Seahawks also bombed the Egyptian blockship Akka to prevent it being sunk in the buoyed channel.

It had first been seen moored in Lake Timsah but later observed moving erratically to the southern end of the lake. A strike by twelve Sea Hawks failed to sink the ship so when seen again under tow by tugs a second strike was called for, this time making a direct hit. Presuming the ship would now sink, the Sea Hawks continued to their target at Abu Sueir, not realising that the Egyptians would succeed in towing her to the main channel where she finally sank.

These raids continued throughout the next few days with targets including, not only airfields, but military camps, especially Huckstep Camp east of Cairo which was estimated to have 85 tanks and some 500 vehicles housed there. Gamil Bridge was another target but despite near misses it remained intact until 16:20 when bombs were struck "dart-like" into the bridge with delayed action fuses and one third of the bridge at the west end was destroyed.

On 5th November, the Anglo/French assault on Suez was launched. Soon after dawn, 668 men of 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment and 16th Parachute Brigade Tactical Group, dropped onto El Gamil airfield, while 492 French paratroopers landed south of the al-Raswa bridges at Port Fouad - the capture of these bridges would open the road to Suez but the French paratroopers met much opposition by heavy automatic fire. French air support came to their rescue, managing to also set alight two oil tanks in the strike, the smoke of which hung over Port Said for many days.

After 45 minutes, all Egyptian resistance on the airfield had been overcome and Royal
Naval helicopters were bringing in supplies and taking away any wounded. With El Gamil secured, the British Paras moved eastwards towards Port Said, meeting their first serious opposition en route. With air support, they overwhelmed the Egyptian forces then stopped and dug in overnight as the beach area of Port Said was to be bombarded the next day during the seaborne landing.

On 6th November, with Ocean and Theseus fitted out identically to carry any of the 22 helicopters, troops and for the use as hospital ships (75 casualties each), the sea and On 6th November, with Ocean and Theseus fitted out identically to carry any of the 22 helicopters, troops and for the use as hospital ships (75 casualties each), the sea and helicopter borne assault went in.

At 06:45 the Whirlwinds carrying six Marine Commandos and the Sycamores three, the initial assault began with landings on the beachhead near de Lessops statue - by the end of the day the helicopters had landed a total of 497 troops, 20 tons of equipment, embarked 96 casualties and made 194 deck landings.

The men flying in the Sycamores sat on the floor of the helicopter, the one in the middle with six mortar bombs in his lap holding on to the other two, who sat at the edge of the door with legs dangling over the side, each hugging a 3ft long 106mm shell. The Whirlwinds had no doors, seats or windows and the six men aboard had few or no handholds but they were able to fit inside the main body of the helicopter. In convoys of 6, the helicopters barely touched the ground before the Marines had jumped clear .

At 04:30 the LVTs assault crafts, Striker & Reggio carrying the 40 Commando landed at Red Beach and Suvla & Anzio with 42 Commando at Green Beach.

At 05:08 the 14 tanks of C Sqdn 6th RTR prepared to leave Rampart, Redoubt, Parapet
& Buttress, clattering down the ramps into some 6-7 ft of water some 150 yard off shore. LST Ravager moved in toward the Casino Jetty and soon Centurions were in action on shore. B Sqdn in Salerno were put down in the fishing harbour and A Sqdn in Ravager made its way onto the Golf Course. The French LVT made their landings at Port Fouad.

Once ashore the troops were involved in much street fighting with snipers ever present.
Air cover continued for all the troops on the ground progress was being made along the canal road, with more troops being brought ashore to Gamil airfield.

Pressure now was put Britain, France and Israel to cease immediately. Eden was facing criticism not only from his own government, but from Russia, America and the United Nations.

One letter clearly states that "The Soviet government considers it necessary to draw your attention to the aggressive war being waged by Britain and France against Egypt… in what position would Britain have found herself if she herself had been attacked by more powerful states possessing every kind of modern destructive weapon? And there are countries now which need to have sent a navy or air force to the coasts of Britain, but could use other means, such as rockets …… we are fully determined to crush the aggressors and restore peace in the Middle East through use of force. We hope at this critical moment you will display due prudence and draw the corresponding conclusions from this."

President Eisenhower wrote: "that to invade Egypt merely because that country had chosen to nationalise a company would be interpreted by the world as power politics and would raise a storm of resentment that, within the Arab states, would result in a long and dreary guerrilla warfare"

Another letter sent from Labour Party's Aneurin Bevan states "if the Government wants to impose the law of the jungle, they must remember that Britain and France are not the most powerful animals in it. There are much more dangerous creatures prowling around."

None of this pressure put on Eden had any effect but it was the United States ultimatum that brought about the withdrawal. America struck at Britain's fragile economy. It refused to allow the IMF to give emergency loans to Britain unless it called off the invasion. Faced by imminent financial collapse, as the British Treasury saw it, on November 5th Eden surrendered to American demands and stopped the operation, with his troops stranded half way down the canal.

The French were furious, but obliged to agree; their troops were under British command and the cease-fire was agreed for 23:59hrs the following day. The United Nations demanded that British French, Israeli and Egyptian forces cease hostilities immediately and agreed to a plan to rapidly send peacekeeping forces to Egypt.

General Keightley was instructed to retain an Allied hold on Port Said until U.N/ Forces arrived and prevent any attempts by Egypt to breach to Cease Fire agreement, as well as preparing for the eventual evacuation. More British troops had arrived since the cease fire bringing the total to approx. 13,500, as well as 4,400 vehicles and 10,000 tons of stores. These included men from:

  • Gordon Highlanders
    Cheshire Regt
    Parachute Regt
    Guards Independent Para
    6th Royal Tank Regt
    1st Royal Dragoon
    1st Btn Royal West Kent
    1st Btn Royal Scots
    1st Btn Royal Fusiliers
    Oxs & Bucks L.l.
    Highland Light Infantry Argyll & Sutherland Highlands
    York & Lancaster Regt
    Royal Warwicks Regt
    1st Btn West Yorks Regt
    Royal Berks Regt
    3rd Btn Grenadier Guard
    RA - 20 Fld Regt
    RA - 23rd Fld Regt
    RA - 32 Medium Regt
    RA - 33 Airborne
    RA - 33 Para Regt RA - 97 Bty
    RA - 34 LAA Regt
    RA- 41 Fld Regt
    RA - 80 LAA
    Royal Engineers
    Royal Military Police
    Royal Signals
    Royal Corps of Signals
    Royal Pioneer Corps

Evacuation finally began on the 7th December and by the 14th, more than 11,000 had boarded troopships Dilwara, Ascania and the carrier Theseus, while others flew out by air. These were followed by New Australia, Asturias and Dunera. By the 22nd December the last troops had left Port Said, the last ship leaving being the warship HMS Duchess. All that now remained in Egypt was the limited number of ships of the Allied Salvage Fleet (operating under the UN Flag) for the purposes of clearing the canal. They remained there until work was completed on the 21st January 1957.

Upon return to Britain there was no "Hero's Welcome" for these troops.

And the cost of all this - the Labour Party estimated bill stood at £328,000,000 (which included Loss of Trade)

Eden was forced to resign as Prime Minister on 9th January 1957, his reputation in tatters.

British casualties stood at 16 dead and 96 wounded, while French casualties were - 10 dead and 33 wounded. The Israeli losses were 231 dead and 899 wounded. The number of Egyptians killed was "never reliably established". Egyptian casualties to the Israeli invasion were estimated at 1000-3000 dead and 4,000 wounded, while losses to the Anglo-French operation were estimated at 650 dead and 900 wounded 1000 Egyptian civilians are estimated to have died.

(Researched by Patricia Jezzard, President, the Canal Zoners)

Back to The Suez Crisis

Dr. Yahia Al Shaer

The following forces were earmarked by the British and French Governments should operations prove to be necessary: —



Aircraft Carrier Task Group

Support Forces Group, including Cruisers, Darings, Destroyers and Frigates

Minesweeping Group

Amphibious Warfare Squadron


16 Independent Parachute Brigade Group (including 1, 2 & 3 Para)

3 Commando Brigade, Royal Marines (including 40, 42 & 45 Cdo)

10 Armoured Division

3 Infantry Division

Note: The same three RM Commandos and 2 & 3 Para fought together in the 1982 Falklands War, but then all as part of 3 Cdo Bde


Medium and Light Bomber Force

Fighter/Ground Attack Force, shore-based and carrier-borne

Reconnaissance and Transport and Helicopter Forces



Aircraft Carrier Task Group
Support Forces Group, including 1 Battleship, Cruisers, Destroyers and Frigates.
Minesweeping Group


10 Division Aeroportee
7 Division Mecanique Rapide


Fighter/Ground Attack Force, shore-based and carrier-borne
Reconnaissance and Transport Forces


The following Commanders were nominated to draw up plans and to assume command in the event of operations :—

  • Vice-Admiral D'Escadre P. Barjot - Deputy Commander-in-Chief
  • Vice-Admiral M. Richmond, CB., DSO., OBE. - Naval Task Force Commander (Succeeded by Vice-Admiral D. F. Durnford-Slater, CB., on 24th October, 1956).
    Contre-Amiral P. Lancelot - Deputy Naval Task Force Commander
    Lieutenant-General Sir Hugh Stockwell, KGB., KBE., DSO. - Land Task Force Commander

    General de Division A. Beaufre - Deputy Land Task Force Commander

    Air Marshal D. H. F. Barnett, CB., CBE., DFC. - Commander Air Task Force

    General de Brigade R. Brohon - Deputy Commander Air Task Force
  • I formed a small Allied Headquarters in London and similarly Task Force Commanders built up their Headquarters which were also located in London.

Dr. Yahia Al Shaer


Dr. Yahia Al Shaer

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