The Aden Emergency

A Blackburn Buccaneer S1 of 800 Naval Air Squadron flies over Aden during the withdrawal period, November 1967; Security in Aden was increasingly threatened by nationalist groups from within the protectorates and also from neighbouring Yemen, which had, since its independence in 1918, conducted cross-border raids. After British humiliation in Suez in 1956, Egypt’s Nasser pushed to evict Britain from Arabia by using Yemeni tribesmen as well as training nationalist fighters to attack Aden. In the early 1960s, as Britain tried to create a Federation, violent opposition from nationalists foretold what was to come.

A Blackburn Buccaneer S1 of 800 Naval Air Squadron flies over Aden during the withdrawal period, November 1967

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Security in Aden was increasingly threatened by nationalist groups from within the protectorates and also from neighbouring Yemen, which had, since its independence in 1918, conducted cross-border raids. After British humiliation in Suez in 1956, Egypt’s Nasser pushed to evict Britain from Arabia by using Yemeni tribesmen as well as training nationalist fighters to attack Aden. In the early 1960s, as Britain tried to create a Federation, violent opposition from nationalists foretold what was to come.

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In 1839 Britain established a territory in Aden, 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...

In 1839 Britain established a territory in Aden, 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.

By 1963 the new Federation of South Arabia faced twin threats - internally from the National Liberation Front (NLF) and tribes in the Radfan area of the country, and externally from Egyptian-backed Yemen. Between late 1964 and the British withdrawal in 1967, the NLF and its sister organisation Federation for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen conducted a violent terrorist campaign in Aden. This seriously affected morale amongst the Federal Regular Army and later South Arabian Army personnel.

In June 1967 South Arabian police officers mutinied and attacked British troops, and in the resulting action the British temporarily withdrew from the Crater area of Aden Colony. 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, and the last British troops left Aden in November 1967 after months of fierce street fighting.

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  • A member of the Federal Regular Army

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    A member of the Federal Regular Army; A member of the Federal Regular Army stands outside a base in the country north of Aden, during the Radfan Campaign of 1964. Until 1961, Aden’s defence came from the Aden Protectorate Levies, a local force commanded by the British. This was reformed as the Federal Regular Army (FRA) while the Government Guard became the Federal National Guard (FNG), both manned along tribal lines. In June 1967 the FRA merged with the FNG into a single force, the South Arabian Army. The resultant tribal division in the new force was contrary to what was intended and led to it being increasingly distrusted by the British.
  • A combined service police patrol in Crater, Aden c. 1963

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    A combined service police patrol in Crater, Aden c. 1963; Towards the mid-1960s, British forces increasingly found themselves acting as soldier and policeman. Stop and search operations were used in order to identify rebels and to prevent the transportation of weapons. Regular patrols of the streets of Aden and Crater were conducted, initially on foot but later in armoured cars. The harsh methods used by British soldiers caused resentment by the local community. Patrols were often ambushed and subjected to attacks with rocks.
  • The Radfan Campaign, 1964

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    The Radfan Campaign, 1964; A Hawker Hunter of No. 43 Squadron RAF fires a salvo of rockets at a rebel target during the Radfan Campaign. In 1963 the Egyptian-backed 'Red Wolves of Radfan', working with the National Liberation Front, began an insurgency against British and Federal Regular Army (FRA) forces in the Radfan region. In response, the FRA conducted Operation 'Nutcracker' in January 1964, and while initially successful they were unable to hold land secured from the rebels. From May to June 1964, a British force known as RADFORCE, operating from Thumeir, succeeded in pacifying the region, though it was unsuccessful in defeating the wider nationalist threat.
  • FLOSY sign

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    FLOSY sign; The National Liberation Front (NLF) formed in 1962 as a radical movement aimed at expelling Britain from what they called South Yemen. The NLF was organised around a secret cell structure and through this was able to operate in all levels of local government unknown to the British. Federation for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen (FLOSY) was formed in 1966 as an Egyptian attempt to unify nationalist groups. However, elements of the NLF opposed FLOSY, creating tensions between the groups.
  • Fragments of an F1 grenade

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    Fragments of an F1 grenade; Fragments of an F1 grenade from an attack on the Red Sea Hotel, Aden on 23 January 1967. From 1964 the National Liberation Front (NLF) began to conduct terrorist attacks against British interests. The campaign was marked by a series of bombings, shootings and grenade attacks on members of the civil administration, military personnel and civilians. British retribution for attacks was swift, harsh and often indiscriminate. Whole communities were suspected. Adding to the complexity of policing Aden, the British were also faced with street fighting between the two principal nationalist groups.
  • Sir Hugh Trevelyan

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    Sir Hugh Trevelyan; His Excellency Sir Hugh Trevelyan boards an RAF aircraft at RAF Khormaksar after a short handover ceremony, 28 November 1967. By June 1967, British forces had withdrawn from the outer parts of the Federation, with the National Liberation Front (NLF) assuming control. By August the NLF were in charge in 12 states. The Federal government ceased to exist in September, and High Commissioner Trevelyan sought negotiations with the nationalist groups over Britain's inevitable withdrawal. Yet attacks on British forces continued, forcing the quickening of the evacuation. Trevelyan, and therefore the British government, left Aden on 28 November 1967.
  • Task Force assembled at Aden

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    Task Force assembled at Aden; The evacuation from Aden, November 1967. The British withdrawal from Aden was covered by 42 Royal Marine Commando and 1 Para. Lieutenant Colonel Dai Morgan, Commanding Officer of 42 Commando, is commonly believed to have been the last British serviceman to leave Aden on 29 November 1967.
  • Task Force assembled at Aden

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    Task Force assembled at Aden; The Task Force assembled in the Gulf of Aden, prior to the evacuation, November 1967. With civilian government gone, a massive task force assembled in the Gulf of Aden in preparation for the withdrawal of the last military units. This task force included Sea Vixen- and Buccaneer-equipped aircraft carriers, commando carriers, several destroyers, frigates and a submarine.
  • Soviet RPG 7V Rocket Launcher

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    Soviet RPG 7V Rocket Launcher; A Soviet RPG 7V Rocket Launcher used by the National Liberation Front (NLF) in Aden. Although principally a local campaign, the fight against Arab nationalism in Aden can be seen to be part of the wider Cold War. At the same time as Britain was withdrawing from empire in the Middle East, the Soviet Union was looking to expand its influence in the region. As with many other Arab nationalist uprisings, Russia heavily supplied arms and finances to Egypt for their support of the National Liberation Front.