Operations in
Aden & Radfan

RAF Beverly at Thumier, Radfan 1964

Operations in Aden and the RAFDAN

Communications Tent and Mast, Thumier Airfield,1965
22 TSU signaller Aden
22 TSU FFR Landrovers, Fujairah 1971

Aden, situated on the south coast of what is now Yemen, had been a British colony since 1839. Commanding the southern entrance to the Red Sea, it was an important British air and naval base on the route to India. It was also crucial for safeguarding access to Middle Eastern oil supplies. Aden was originally of interest to Britain as an anti-piracy station to protect shipping on the routes to British India. With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, it further served as a coaling station. Over the period since the annexation of Aden, the British had signed many protection treaties with the emirs of the inland to secure British rule over the area. Following the independence of India in 1947, Aden became less important to the United Kingdom.

The Emergency was precipitated in large part by a wave of Arab nationalism spreading to the Arabian Peninsula and stemming largely from the socialist and pan-Arabist doctrines of Egyptian leader Gamel Abdel Nasser. The British, French, and Israeli forces that had invaded Egypt following Nasser’s nationalisation of the Suez Canal in 1956 had been forced to withdraw following intervention from both the United States and the Soviet Union. 

In January 1963, in response to growing nationalist unrest in the region, inspired by Gamal Abdel Nasser’s pan-Arab nationalism, the British persuaded the sheikhdoms of the Aden Protectorates to merge with the Colony of Aden and form the Federation of South Arabia (FSA). These surrounding territories had always been semi-independent. But the British were able to influence their external relations and establish local garrisons in return for military protection. In 1964, continuing to reduce its imperial commitments, the British Government announced that independence would be granted to the newly formed FSA by 1968. However, some British forces would stay on in Aden.

22 TSU, provided UHF, HF and VHF communications and Tasking Nets to RAF units deployed across the Theatre. 


RAF Whirlwind Steamer Point Aden

On 14 October 1963 with the throwing of a grenade at a gathering of British officials at Aden Airport. A state of emergency was then declared in the British Crown colony of Aden and its hinterland, the Aden Protectorate. The emergency escalated in 1967 and hastened the end of British rule in the territory which had begun in 1839. 


On 30 November 1967, British forces withdrew, and the independent People’s Republic of South Yemen was proclaimed. Arab nationalists had formed the National Liberation Front (NLF) in Yemen, which itself had designs on Aden and its surrounding territories. Their insurgency against British rule began with a grenade attack on the British High Commissioner on 10 December 1963, killing one person and injuring 50.



Trouble then developed in the mountainous Radfan region, where dissident local tribesmen raided the road connecting Aden with the town of Dhala near the Yemen border. In January 1964, three Federation Regular Army (FRA) battalions, with British air support, restored order. But when they withdrew, trouble flared up again, with the rebels receiving NLF support. On 29 April the authorities mounted a second expedition, this time with British Army soldiers. Together with two FRA battalions they advanced rapidly through difficult terrain, capturing the ridges and hills that dominated the tribal areas. By 26 May 1964 they had taken the main rebel stronghold in the Wadi Dhubsan and suppressed the tribal revolt.


Austin K9 Comms Fit and Siemens 100 Teleprinter

From November 1964, the NLF switched its efforts to Aden itself, where it began an urban terrorist campaign. British troops and their families, members of the local security forces and supporters of the government were all attacked. Utilising RAF helicopters, Special Air Service (SAS) operatives were covertly deployed against the terrorists. The NLF’s campaign of intimidation made it difficult for the security forces to gather intelligence as the local population was unwilling to co-operate.




Front for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen, FLOSY

Operations and Signals Tents, Radfan

In 1966 the British Government announced that all British forces would be withdrawn immediately on independence. Few locals in Aden believed that the existing FSA government would survive without British support and were therefore wary of being seen to support it. As the NLF escalated their attacks, a second nationalist group the Front for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen (FLOSY) also began terrorist activities against the security forces.



Thumeir Airfield with Auster Aircraft and K9 Communications Vehicle, Radfan

In January 1967, there were riots by the supporters of both groups in the old Arab quarter of Aden. These continued until mid-February, despite the intervention of British troops. Morale amongst the local security forces was now at an all-time low. On 20 June 1967 a mutiny in the Federation Army spread to the local police. Eight soldiers of the Royal Corps of Transport were killed when mutineers fired on their lorry. Order was quickly restored, but rumours that the British were shooting mutineers led to several ambushes in the Crater area of Aden. This resulted in the deaths of a dozen more soldiers, including men from The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers and The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Two weeks later, Lieutenant-Colonel Colin Mitchell led the Argylls back into Crater which was re-occupied in a blaze of publicity.


End of the Empire

RAF Steamer Point, Aden -MCVF equipment
TSU unloading RAF Beverly

As the November 1967 date for the British withdrawal approached the NLF and FLOSY began fighting each other for control of Aden, with the NLF gaining the upper hand. In the last week of November, the remaining 3,500 men of the British garrison were evacuated. Following a short civil war, Aden and the rest of the FSA became part of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. In 1990 this merged with North Yemen to form the Republic of Yemen. 

Aden was the British colonial counter-insurgency campaign and one of its least successful. However, the use of RAF helicopters, transport aircraft, 8 Sqn Tempest’s and 1 Sqn Hunters, providing CAS, PsyOps support and Canister drops supported by 22 TSU proved to be a key element of the prolonged operation.

The British withdrawal from southern Arabia completed its retreat from Empire, which had started 20 years earlier with the independence of India and Pakistan.

Video: The Aden Emergency, RAF