Infantry Assistance From Outside Aden


Printed in The Infantryman No 84 November 1968

A little-known feature of the Aden operations was the presence of various infantry companies detached from units outside the theatre. This article is concerned with companies of the King's Own Border Regiment from Bahrein, the other units which took part at various times being the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment, also from Bahrein, and the Gloucestershire Regiment and Roya1 Irish Fusiliers, both from Swaziland.

The first company detached from the King's Own Border Regiment was under command of 3 R Anglian, who were in the main dealing with a traditional pattern of urban terrorism. Incidents were simple, with isolated acts of violence such as mining, blindicide rocket attack or the omnipresent grenade throwing at ten shillings a time for the Arab grenadier. Counter-measures were equally traditional involving crowd dispersal, presence patrols, cordon and search operations, manning static check points, providing route protection and setting up ambushes.

But this pattern changed dramatically with the visit to Aden of the United Nations Mission in early April. Overnight, free access to the streets of Sheikh Othman by security patrols became a privilege to be fought for, and rooftop observation posts became the target for small arms attacks, particularly during the first three days of the Mission's stay. The King's Own Border company suffered its share of these attacks and, with the other infantry battalions, enjoyed a short lull in the tempo as a result of internecine fighting breaking out between NLF and FLOSY after the Mission's departure. Terrorist activity was also damped down by the enforcement of a night curfew accompanied by massive cordon and search operations.

However, the lull in terrorist activity was only temporary and a new series of attacks broke out during the period of handover between 3 R Anglian and 1 Para. In one grenade attack six members of a King's Own Border platoon were wounded, one, unfortunately, losing his leg as a result. The platoon sergeant, although himself wounded in more than 50 places, was awarded the Military Medal for his handling of this incident. This new phase of activity reached a climax on the lst June when the companies operating in Sheikh Othman were attacked some 34 times, mainly by automatic and rifle fire.

The police mutiny of the 20th June has been described elsewhere so that all that need be said here is that the company played its full part in the episode. One soldier was killed and 11 wounded, and the company commander subsequently received the Military Cross.

After this, our main role was concerned with covering the withdrawal of the garrison, during which time the terrorists continued their progressive course of trying to break up British rule, law and order. That they were determined to drive us from Sheikh Othman was illustrated clearly during the three days from l0th to l2th August when the King's Own Border Company manning Fort Walsh was involved in some 80 incidents, more than 50 of which were attacks by rifle and automatic fire. As a result of this weekend's activities the company suffered one killed and six wounded with two members of the company being mentioned in dispatches. On the credit side, if local police figures are to be believed, 12 known terrorists were killed.

By this stage the terrorists were becoming markedly more professional, which is borne out by one particular incident during this weekend. A mobile patrol was lured by a suspect civilian vehicle into the centre of Sheikh Othman. The vehicle was then rapidly abandoned leaving the investigating patrol in a narrow street exposed to cross fire from six automatic weapons, two of which were in the back of a civilian truck. This truck moved into several firing positions before being destroyed by a half troop of armoured cars of the Queen's Own Hussars. The ambush resulted in the death and two of the woundings mentioned in the preceding paragraph.

On the withdrawal of our forces from Sheikh Othman on 24th September, when the South Arabian Army assumed operational responsibility, 1 Para occupied the Pennine Chain defensive line, covering Khormaksar Airfield from the North. Thus began a defensive phase of operations lasting, so far as the attached company was concerned, until early October when it left 1 Para and came under command of 42 Commando for operations in the Tawahi and Steamer Point areas. Throughout this period the NLF and FLOSY were fighting each other to gain overall power in Aden and their struggle came to a climax in November when the NLF made a concerted attempt to eradicate their FLOSY rivals in Sheikh Othman, Ma'alla, and Tawahi. Generally both sides were careful not to involve the security forces, who for their part had the difficult task of keeping main routes open without being accused of favouring one side or the other.

 During the final operations the company assumed operational responsibility for the Steamer Point area, including the British Diplomatic Mission, from 42 Commando until the South Arabian Army took over in its turn shortly before the moment of final withdrawal. The company then moved by Wessex Helicopters of 848 Squadron RN to rejoin 42 Commando as reserve on the Pennine Chain. Whilst there, it had the privilege of providing the Army element of the Tri-Service Guard of Honour for the departure of the High Commissioner, Sir Humphrey Trevelyan, from Aden. Fortunately the final withdrawal was peaceful and the company, as part of 42 Commando, was the last British Army unit to withdraw from South Arabia, leaving by RN helicopter to ships of the Naval Task Force.

 In retrospect, it can never be easy for a unit to absorb an unknown company from another area during a period of operations. That this was possible without breaking the tight cycle of operational duties is ample testimony to the infantry brick system of reinforcements and the flexibility of the British Infantry and the Royal Marine Commandos. Each company was made to feel both at home and part of the parent unit very rapidly. This welcoming attitude was much appreciated by the officers and men concerned. That such a blending was possible over the whole range of six attachments with units of such differing backgrounds speaks well for the British Military system. All infantry units in Aden faced similar experiences to those described in this article and all have a story to tell. So far as our companies are concerned, it was a privilege to be able to serve alongside those other units in a difficult Tri-Service operation that has now become history.