Hmm, how to condense this baby and make it interesting? In a nutshell, Operation Musketeer was the Anglo-French invasion of Egypt following the Egyptian’s decision to throw their toys out of the pram over the (then unbuilt) Aswan Dam. The British and Americans offered to fund the building of the dam but decided otherwise. In retrospect, it would’ve worked out cheaper (in both lives and beer tokens) to build the fucking thing in the first place rather than have Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser tell them all to hoop it and nationalise the Suez Canal – a strategically vital and commercially important stretch of water that was internationally neutral.
It all started to go pear-shaped when the British withdrew from Palestine in 1948 and the state of Israel was created – causing much offence and teeth-gnashing amongst their new neighbours – notably Egypt, who shut the canal to Israeli shipping. It got worse when pro-British King Farouk was overthrown in a military coup and switched their allegiances to a ready-to-please Soviet Union, who was more than happy to bankroll the Arab nationalist cause for obvious reasons.
Throw in to the equation Egyptian-backed terrorist incursions in to Israel and the mother of all tooling-up programmes (tanks, planes, ships and associated hardware) by the Egyptians (and their Arab neighbours) and it was only a matter of time before the crap went through the air conditioning, as the Yids were, by now, itching for a scrap. This was hardly surprising what with Nasser coming out with crap like: Egypt has decided to dispatch her heroes, the disciples of pharaoh and the sons of Islam and they will cleanse the Land of Israel. There will be no peace on Israel's border because we demand vengeance, and vengeance is Israel's death. Nice, eh? And where have we heard this before?
All sorts of diplomatic wrangling was going on, but the ball was very much rolling, with secret deals going on between the Yids and the Frogs... and us. The bottom line was that Israel was given the green light to give the Egyptians a right ol’ shoeing, and we’d swan in shortly afterwards and claim a ‘police action’.
In scenes not dissimilar to those prior to the Gulf War, the forces of the (dwindling) Empire went in to overdrive and every available piece of tarmac in theatre had a fighter, bomber or transport sat on it waiting for the off – all bedecked in black & yellow invasion stripes! The airfields on Cyprus and Malta were standing room only.
The Israelis invaded the Sinai on the 29th October 1956 and the Anglo-French task force went in two days later. RAF Valiant and Canberra bombers plastered the (British built) Egyptian airfields, thus neutralising any air threat from the Egyptian’s Soviet-supplied MiG fighters and Ilyushin bombers. The Egyptian communications structure fared little better. 3 Para dropped on El Gamil airfield on the 5th November under intense fire and quickly captured it enabling a bridgehead to be formed for the incoming airlift of supplies.
The next day, 40 and 42 Commando, Royal Marines hit the beaches in grand WW2 style accompanied by a naval bombardment and RAF and Fleet Air Arm support. 45 Commando did it in even more style, arriving later in a fleet of Whirlwind helicopters off HM Ships Ocean and Theseus – the world’s first heli-borne assault.
But it was all over as soon as it was started. Though a military success, it was politically disastrous. The UN started whingeing and the Spams decided it was all rather naughty and threatened us with all sorts of dollar-based retribution. They were also quite vocal in condemning the Soviet sabre rattling in Hungary, so they could hardly condone our endeavours – especially as Khrushchev was threatening all manner of bad things on London and Paris (the cheeky cnut).
And so it was that the Prime Minister Anthony Eden resigned and a cease fire was announced on the 6th November – a mere twenty-four hours after the last British ammo boot had stormed ashore. Unfortunately, nobody informed the French and Israelis and it all turned out rather embarrassing when the UN forces pitched up to pick up the pieces the following month.
All in all a political cake & arse party of biblical proportions, but several things are worth noting: the speed of the diplomatic shenanigans (we’re talking minute-by-minute), the planning and preparation of all forces concerned, and perhaps the most staggering thing of all – the resignation of a British Prime Minister over a total fuck up. Remember those days?
Back to Operations.