Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Radfan Radicals

On the day I normally write an article I had to go to an archive for some research, so for this week and next, we'll be doing a two parter.

There is a common theme in the history of Arabia. The country that claims ownership over the land has trouble with its indigenous peoples. Generally, this has led to what are seen as revolts. In the 1960's, in Southern Arabia (currently Yemen, which at the moment is undergoing another cycle of revolt) there was the British Aden Protectorate. Within this Protectorate there was a wild, rocky, hilly area with peaks up to about 6,000 feet. This area is known as the Radfan. Inside this tangle of jagged rocks there are two fertile areas, the Danaba Basin and the Wadi Taym, where the vast majority of the large Radfani population lie. On the hills themselves there are well constructed terraces cut into the landscape to provide room for cultivation. Apart from these crops there is very little in the way of vegetation.
Photograph showing the typical features of the Radfan area.
The area of the Radfan was surrounded by important geographical features. On the western side was the main Dahla highway. To the south was a desert that stretched to the city of Aden, and to the East ran the Wadi Bana. There were also political considerations to the area, in the north were the Hallmain tribe, who were neutral to the British, over the Wadi Bana were the Yafi, who were aligned with the British. The British had tried to improve the area by driving a road along the Wadi Rawba which led to the Danaba basin, however this lasted about a month in January 1964, as the Radfanis immediately demolished it and blocked it with rockfalls. The only other routes in the hills was by trail.

These factors were of importance when the British began to consider an operation in the area. The main reason for the action were the Radfan tribe itself. Many Radfanis would, under encouragement from the Yemen government, cross the border and enlist in the Yemen army. After training they would be issued with small arms and sent back to their homeland and be encouraged to attack Protectorate officials, and any British they could find. The Yemen government would pay for any success. Thus, by April 1964, the Dahla road was so heavily mined and had so many ambushes on it civilian traffic had to be stopped, and even escorted convoys had difficulty getting through. This was put down to about an estimated 500 fighters armed with small arms and mines. To prevent the breakdown of control spreading to other neighbouring tribes, which would have led to internecine slaughter the British Army decided to intervene in force.
British patrol searching for mines.
The forces available for action where seemingly quite overwhelming. The British had at their disposal 45 Commando reinforced by a company from 3 Para. 1st East Anglians, a squadron of SAS, two battalions of local government troops, a squadron from 4th Royal Tank Regiment, a battery from 3 Royal Horse Artillery, a squadron of Westland Scouts and the 26th Squadron from the RAF. The latter was a transport squadron equipped with five Bristol Belvedere helicopters. The RAF also promised support from Hawker Hunters based at Aden. In addition, the King's Own Scottish Borders were being flown in to support the operation.

The British plan called for the fertile areas to be seized first, and the obvious route, up the Wadi Rawba was considered. However, as this was soundly blocked with the enemy well dug in overlooking the area the line of approach was rejected. A Wadi further north was selected as the axis of advance, but this would need a road laying along its length, and until it was done the entire force would be resupplied by the Belvedere's. As well as flying multiple sorties a day these few helicopters would have to fly in water for the troops, which was set at the limit of two gallons per man, per day. These factors meant that the size of the force that could be deployed was limited by the lift capacity. Equally the fragile nature of the helicopters and their limited flight time before needing to be withdrawn for maintenance would impose a time limit on the initial operation.
British troops loading into a Belvedere
To start things off 45 Commando marched through the Danaba Basin overnight and seized the highest hill overlooking the area, this was code-named Coca Cola. A similar operation was planned to capture the high ground overlooking the Wadi Taym, which was code-named Cap Badge. The capture of this height was to be made by a 45 Commando attack frontally at dawn, however in the previous dusk the company of Para's were to be dropped in the Wadi Taym. To secure the Para's drop zone the SAS were sent in.
British patrol heading in to the mountains. Note these are not SAS troops, just regulars.
On the 29th of April the SAS moved into the area, with a single nine-man patrol landed in a quiet area by a few of the Scout helicopters. They would patrol the area, then lie up during the day before moving out to mark the drop zone. They found the area saturated with rebels. However, these rebels were all wearing uniforms and moving about in organized formations. Things got even worse when one SAS team, whom were lying up in some low ground, were discovered by a shepherd who accidentally walked into the SAS position. Soon about 100 rebels approached and began to attack. The nine SAS men held off the attack until dusk, when they saw signs of a much more coordinated and dedicated assault being prepared.

The SAS patrol by now had one man killed and one wounded and unable to walk. So, they decide to launch their own breakout under the cover of darkness. Carrying their wounded comrade, the patrol starts to use bounding overwatch to withdraw. One party conducts a firefight with the pursing force, while the other retreats, and sets up, then the first party withdraws. On the first movement another SAS soldier is hit and killed. At least twice the pursing force catches up with the retreating six men, two of whom would have been needed to move the casualty. That would mean that in each battle the combat is two SAS men against 100 odd rebels. The SAS men managed to avoid getting overrun, and broke contact during the night, around 20-30 rebels were killed in action. The two dead SAS men were mutilated and displayed in a town until a British patrol arrived and recovered both soldiers bodies.

Part two is here.

Image credits:
www.nam.ac.uk, iwm.org.uk and sofrep.com