Aden Insurgency: The Savage War in South Arabia 1962–1967

Aden Insurgency: The Savage War in South Arabia 1962–1967

by Jonathan Walker

Spellmount Publishers, Staplehurst, Kent TN12 OBJ. Pp.xx + 332. Illus. Maps. Bibliog. Glossary. Appendix. Index. Hb. £25. ISBN 1-86227-225-5.

Britain and The Yemen Civil War 1962–65: Ministers, Mercenaries and Mandarins; Foreign Policy and the Limits of Covert Action 

by Clive Jones

Sussex Academic Press, Brighton, 2004. Pp.273. Illus. Bibliog. Index. Hb. £50. ISBN 1-90390-023-9.

These two recently published books cast new light on the last five years of British ‘rule’ in Aden. In addition to new documentary source material, Jonathan Walker has made use of ‘oral testimonies’ from a number of former servicemen, civil servants and British civilians who had lived and worked (and, in some cases, fought) in Aden and the Federation during the period he covers. Like Clive Jones he has managed to access formerly closed intelligence material; and both writers, although unable to penetrate Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) documentation, have, as Walker puts it, managed to piece together the mechanics of the ‘secret war’ in South Arabia.

Dr Jones’s ‘secret war’, although aided and abetted from British South Arabia, is more about what happened next door in Yemen, a country thrust into one of the 20th century’s ‘great games’ of international realpolitik by Abdullah Sallal’s overthrow of the Imamate in 1962 and the (almost certainly previous) invitation to President Nasser to send Egyptian troops to support Yemen’s fledgling republic. Such support was needed as the Royalist forces led by senior members of the ousted royal family fought back with great tenacity, and a counter-revolution was probably only prevented by the Egyptian expeditionary force which at one time consisted of 60,000 men. Clive Jones describes how British covert – official and unofficial – involvement, providing cash and materiel to Royalist forces, had the objective of keeping the Republican government and its Egyptian backers so preoccupied with a civil war of attrition that Nasser in particular would be frustrated in his attempts to rid the region of both the British military presence and HMG’s protégé, the Federation of South Arabia.

For this writer, as a former political officer in the Aden Protectorate at the time covered by these two books, the main interest is not so much what was happening on the ground but the description of the inter-departmental machinations in Whitehall, of which I then knew very little. Both authors describe in some detail the strong differences of opinion between the High Commission in Aden, with support from the Colonial Office, and the Foreign Office and SIS over the wisdom and feasibility of frustrating hostile Egyptian policies by helping the Royalists not only with supplies of arms and cash but also through officially sanctioned cross-border counter-terrorist operations; and by turning a blind eye to the activities of mercenaries, some of whom were British. The Foreign Office and apparently Sir Dick White, then ‘C’ of SIS, were very reluctant to be dragged into such murky waters. According to Dr Jones, White felt that SIS should avoid entanglements ‘beyond the arena of Cold War competition in Europe’, while the Foreign Office wistfully pursued the chimera of pro-active co-operation with President Nasser in the hope that this would ease Britain’s path in achieving peaceful de-colonisation in southern Arabia. As part of their wish to ‘engage’ with Nasser – an oxymoron if ever there was one – the Foreign Office had strongly supported an early recognition of the republican regime in Yemen. As Jones describes, this was strongly opposed by the Aden (colonial) authorities and frustrated mainly due to the influence of the ‘Aden Group’ of senior Tory backbenchers, most notably Lieut-Colonel ‘Billy’ McLean and Julian Amery. McLean was a strong supporter of the Royalists and spent some time with them in the field. Clive Jones’s account of the activities of foreign mercenaries (a majority of whom were French, not British), and of the machinations of the Saudis and Jordanians is all derring-do and a rattling good yarn: a rare combination of sober academic study and riveting page-turner!

Jonathan Walker focuses on the internal Aden and Federal scene as the British lost their grip on South Arabia. There are also stirring scenes of action here in what is primarily a military book. His depictions of the campaign in Radfan and internal security operations in Aden itself are the most comprehensive and authoritative that I have come across. I particularly enjoyed the account of Colonel ‘Mad Mitch’ Mitchell’s re-occupation of Crater following the savage fighting on the back of the ‘mutiny’ of 20 June 1967 – an event which was the final nail in the coffin of the tottering Federal government. He has made good use of previously unavailable information from security sources (much still anonymous) to describe the battle for useable intelligence in counter-terrorist operations in Aden. Moreover, he has nice words for the work of political officers in the wilder reaches of the protectorates – well deserved in the case of many of my former colleagues, including one, Tim Goschen, tragically killed in a terrorist incident.

Both books are essential reading for all those interested in British colonial and military history. And one item which escaped the eagle eye of Dr Jones’s editor still makes me chuckle. On one page the then ubiquitous ‘Maria Theresa Dollar’ is described as the ‘Mother Theresa Dollar’! How I wish I had thought of that when I was doling them out to indigent tribesmen in the hope that they would be used for good works rather than for the more probable pursuit of traditional warlike activities. It’s a nice thought, anyhow.

Peter Hinchcliffe

Author: 
Jonathan Walker