Photo story

10 Photographs Of 'Operation Musketeer'

'Operation Musketeer' was the codename for the November 1956 Anglo-French military operation, in conjunction with Israeli forces, to regain control of the Suez Canal, after it was nationalised by the Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. The operation, commanded by Commander-in-Chief Middle East Land Forces General Charles Keightley, aimed to capture the town of Port Said at the northern entrance to the canal, before defeating the Egyptian Army in the desert and forcing Nasser's removal from power.

Here are 10 photographs from the operation.

  • 1. Setting sail

    An image of three British aircraft carriers involved in the Suez operation, in the Mediterranean Sea.
    Three of the five British aircraft carriers involved in the Suez operation. HMS Eagle leads HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion in the Mediterranean Sea.
    A 33601

    Task Force 345, the Anglo-French naval task force assembled for the operation, was formidable. Commanded by Vice Admiral Robin Durnford-Slate it included aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, frigates, minelayers and minesweepers, and assault ships. Five British aircraft carriers were used. HMS Eagle, HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion, seen here off Malta, provided offensive air support, while HMS Ocean and HMS Theseus were used to despatch assault troops to Egypt by helicopter. This was the first time helicopters were used for this purpose. 

  • 2. The air campaign

    An image of a damaged aircraft on the deck of aircraft carrier HMS Eagle. Members of the Flight Deck crew, dressed in protective clothing, are walking towards it.
    A flak damaged Sea Venom of 893 Naval Air Squadron in distinctive campaign markings returns to HMS Eagle following a sortie over Egypt on 4 November 1956.
    A 33609

    On 31 October 1956, two days after the Israeli invasion, the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm began bombing targets in Egypt. Valiants and Canberras flying from Cyprus and Malta attacked airfields and military instillations, while rocket and cannon-armed Venoms and FAA Sea Venoms and Sea Hawks attacked troop concentrations, oil fields, aircraft and vehicles. This photograph shows a flak damaged Sea Venom of 893 Naval Air Squadron returning to HMS Eagle following a sortie on 4 November. 

  • 3. British paratroops

    An image of four men of A Company 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment walking towards burning buildings at El Gamil airfield.
    Men of A Company 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment during the assault on El Gamil airfield 5th November 1956.
    HU 4183

    At 5.15am GMT on 5 November, 688 men from A Company, 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment, part of 16th Independent Parachute Brigade, parachuted onto El Gamil airfield west of the town of Port Said. The airfield was defended by a company of the Egyptian Army, many of whom were taken prisoner. El Gamil was secured with just twelve British wounded, allowing the remainder of the battalion to be landed by aircraft. 

  • 4. French paratroops join the battle

    An aerial photograph of French paratroops dropping on Port Fuad, at the southern end of Port Said.
    An aerial view of French paratroops of 2nd Regiment de Parachutistes Coloniaux (2 RPC) dropping zone on Port Fuad, at the southern end of Port Said.
    MH 23498

    Fifteen minutes after the British dropped, five hundred French paratroopers of the 2nd Regiment de Parachutistes Coloniaux jumped at Raswa, south of Port Said, and later at Port Fuad on the eastern bank of the canal. The jump at Fuad was photographed by the commanding officer of 895 Naval Air Squadron, Fleet Air Arm, whose Sea Venoms were in the air ready to provide support for ground forces. At the end of the day the Anglo-French force stopped to wait for the sea-borne landing the following morning.

  • 5. Invasion by sea

    An image taken from a landing craft showing crew looking out to sea and other landing craft and helicopters, during the assult on Port Said.
    Helicopters and landing craft during the assault on Port Said, Egypt, November 1956.
    MH 23504

    On 6 November, Royal Marine Commandos from Nos 40 and 42 Commando landed at Port Said in amphibious Buffalo tracked landing vehicles, supported by a naval and aerial bombardment of the beaches. Slightly to the west of the town, Centurion tanks from 6 Royal Tank Regiment were landed to assist the Royal Marines. Shortly afterwards men from 45 Commando landed by helicopters from HMS Ocean and HMS Theseus.

  • 6. Egyptian forces

    An image of a Russian tank outside a building in Egypt. It's been captured by the British.
    A Russian built SU-100 tank, used to shell British forces at El Gamil airfield during the military operation. It was captured by men of the 3rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment.
    HU 4169

    Having previously received military aid from  both the West and the Soviet Union, Egypt's armed forces were reasonably well equipped at the time of the crisis. They had Soviet T-34 and IS-3 tanks, as well as a number of SU-100 self-propelled guns, like the one seen here, which was used to defend El Gamil airfield. The air force had Soviet-supplied MiG-15 fighters and Il-28 bombers as well as British-supplied Meteor fighters and Vampire fighter-bombers, while the navy had a number of British Second World War vintage frigates. However, Egyptian commanders were inexperienced and the men were ill-trained.

  • 7. The operation ends

    An image of troops and tanks in a street in Egypt.
    This photograph showing a linkup between the 3rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment and the Commandos at the Coast Guard barracks in Port Said.
    HU 4163

    Despite establishing a firm foothold around Port Said, determined resistance and consistent sniper fire from the Egyptian forces, along with poor communications between commanders and troops hampered British progress. This photograph shows men of 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, at a link up with 45 Royal Marine Commando at the Coast Guard barracks in Port Said. They are in possession of a captured SU-100 self-propelled gun. 

    There was international condemnation to 'Operation Musketeer' and Britain was forced to accept a ceasefire. On 7 November at 2.00am local time, all fighting stopped.

  • 8. Casualties

    Some of the survivors from Egyptian frigate Domiat, sunk by HMS Newfoundland 31 October, being transferred into French custody. HU 108630.

    Around 45,000 British troops were involved in Operation Musketeer. Sixteen were killed and 96 wounded at Suez. 900 Egyptian soldiers were killed and tens of thousands were taken prisoner. One thousand civilians were also killed as a result of the operation. This photograph shows some of the 69 survivors from the Egyptian frigate Domiat, sunk by HMS Newfoundland on the 31 October 1956. They are being transferred into French custody.  

  • 9. Withdrawal

    An image of troops boarding a ship for journey to Malta after their withdrawal from the Egyptian crisis zone.
    Troops, probably from the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers at Port Said Egypt boarding HMS Theseus for journey to Malta after their withdrawal from the crisis zone.
    HU 104203

    To maintain order and to ensure an internationally accepted response to the crisis peacekeepers from a United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) were sent to replace British and French forces in Suez. The first, from Denmark and Norway, arrived  at Port Said on 22 November 1956, and by the end of the month over 1,300 UN troops were present. The last British troops were withdrawn on 23 December. Here men, probably from the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, are seen embarking on HMS Theseus at Port Said 8 December, for the journey to Malta. 

  • 10. Canal clearance operations

    An image of ships and wrecks in the Suez Canal. Suez Canal Company buildings can be seen in the background.
    LCT 525 alongside the wreck of the Tug Hercule during the post-conflict wreck clearance period of the Suez Canal. Suez Canal Company buildings can be seen in the background.
    MH 23541

    Many ships were sunk by Egypt to block the canal during the crisis. Twenty two of these blockships were in the Port Said area. After the crisis these wrecks had to be cleared before shipping could safely navigate the canal. Despite Egyptian protests about British vessels being used, Royal Navy salvage teams were allowed to clear wreckages near Port Said. This photograph shows LCT 525 manoeuvring alongside the wrecked Tug Hercule. In the background are the Suez Canal Company buildings.

    The Suez Canal was re-opened to shipping in April 1957.