In 1839 Britain established a territory in Aden (now part of Yemen), a small area in the south of the Arabian Peninsula, to provide a base for ships heading to India. In 1931 Aden was made a Crown Colony in defiance of neighbouring warlords who sought to reclaim old territories.
By the 1960s, Britain sought to create a federation between Aden colony and the surrounding protectorates in order to stabilise the region, which had been dogged by years of unrest. In 1962 the British government announced that Aden would be maintained as a permanent British garrison east of Suez. Yet by 1967, the British were forced to withdraw from the colony.
Throughout the mid-1960s, the new Federation of South Arabia faced multiple threats – internally from the National Liberation Front (NLF), which formed in 1962 as a radical movement aimed at expelling Britain from what they called South Yemen, and tribes in the Radfan area of the country, as well as externally from Yemeni tribesmen backed by an Egypt emboldened following Britain's humiliation in Suez in 1956.
From 1961, Aden was defended by a locally raised Federal Regular Army (FRA) and Federal National Guard (FNG), both manned along tribal lines and infiltrated by the NLF. In June 1967 these were merged into a single force, the South Arabian Army, which was increasingly distrusted by the British.
Between late 1964 and the British withdrawal in 1967, the NLF and another organisation – the Federation for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen – conducted a violent campaign in Aden that was marked by a series of bombings, shootings and grenade attacks on the civil administration, military personnel and civilians. British retribution for attacks was swift, harsh and often indiscriminate. Whole communities were suspected.
British forces increasingly found themselves acting as soldier and policeman. Stop and search operations were used to identify rebels transporting weapons. Regular patrols of Aden were conducted, initially on foot but later in armoured cars. The harsh methods used by British soldiers caused resentment and inspired attacks by the local community.
By June 1967, British forces had withdrawn to the centre of the Federation. South Arabian police officers mutinied and attacked British troops, who temporarily withdrew from the Crater area of Aden. Though British troops re-entered Crater two weeks later with some force, the insurgents were emboldened and fighting intensified.
Britain realised that its presence in Aden was to end sooner rather than later. The Federal government collapsed in September and negotiations were sought with the nationalist groups over Britain's withdrawal. The last British troops left Aden in November 1967 after months of fierce street fighting.