1st Battalion

The Argyll and Sutherland

Highlanders

 

 

 Aden 1967

The Re-entry into Crater

 

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The Re-occupation of Crater

By the 3rd July, as a result of the information brought back by the Reconnaissance Patrols, and reports from the observation posts ringing Crater, the Commanding Officer considered that the current intelligence appreciation was over-pessimistic. Apart from the evening "hate" by small groups of terrorists, who first recced from Sera Island and the Crater side of Main Pass, there was no apparent opposition in the true military sense. He proposed a more enterprising operation than that contemplated, which was accepted with a few minor alterations as to the depth of our initial thrusts.

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The Plan

B Company (Major Palmer) were selected to lead the attack, and move in from the Marine Drive entrance to seize the axis up to the old Legislative Council Building and the Chartered Bank. A Squadron of the Queens Own Dragoon Guards, equipped with Saracens, Saladins and Ferret Scout Cars, were to operate in close support. A Company (Major Robertson) were then to pass across the rear of B Company and secure Sera Island, and then a line up Banin Street which would include the Treasury and Grindlays Bank building known to be guarded by Armed Police. Coincident with the B Company assault from Marine Drive, a further force of B Company, under Captain Buchanan, was to come from the Ras Marshag feature to the South of Crater and take the line of the old Turkish fortifications by Brown's House and the Cinema. The B Company force had been pre-positioned that afternoon by Wessex helicopters. Throughout the operation, Lt Clark's Platoon (5 Platoon) continued to supply observation and fire support from the area of Aidrus Hill.

       

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The Attack

At 1900 hrs, after the usual evening recce by terrorist cars on Sera Island had taken place, the Commanding Officer gave the order to advance and at the same time instructed the Pipe Major to sound the Regimental Charge, and continue with the Regimental Marches and Glendaurel Highlanders, the 3 Company March Pasts. This produced a dramatic setting for the return to Crater and reminded all ranks of our great fighting tradition. Pipe Major Robson came under fire, together with the leading elements of B Company, and Tac HQ, which necessarily had to travel well forward to exercise the direct and personal leadership vital for the control of this battle. Because of the dark, only the armoured cars were ordered to return, the fire, which they did with the immediate effect of silencing the two machine guns which engaged the leading Argylls from the area of the Sultan of Labej's Palace. A single sniper on the Palace roof continued to fire, but the Commanding Officer ordered no retaliation using the phrase "play it cool!" The need for effective fire control was absolute in view of the expected enemy positions believed to be in the centre of Crater.

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            B Company, from the Marine Drive entrance moved cautiously, but by 2000 hrs had secured observation posts on the Legislative Council Buildings

and the Chartered Bank. Captain Buchanan's group were very quick, and reached their objectives with no casualties and the need to shoot only one escaping

terrorist in the area of the Cinema. At this point, Major Robertson was ordered to move across the rear of B Company with an armoured/infantry force to take Sera Island. This was accomplished with dash and vigour.

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            The next part of the operation was to take the Treasury. The building was guarded by the Armed Police, and there was no indication which way they

would react to our appearance in front of their posts. The Second in Command, Major Crowe, with Sgt Allison of the Intelligence Section, was ordered to

accompany the D Company party, which was to seize the Treasury, so that he negotiate with the Armed Police in Arabic and try to avoid bloodshed. This

was a complete success, and after a certain amount of nervousness the Armed Police accepted our entry. The Battalion had now run out of the agreed limits

of exploitation. The Commanding Officer asked for and obtained permission to carry on with Phase 2 of the original plan, the move to Crater Police Station. He was convinced that the initiative was firmly in our hands and should not be lost. Major Robertson was ordered to take a mixed infantry/armoured force, together with the 2 i/c's Arabic speaking group, to negotiate with the Civil Police. This part of the operation was again accomplished without a hitch except that during the complicated re-grouping of A Company and the armoured cars, A Company Headquarters came under fire from an armoured car which mistook them for a group of terrorists. It was of great credit to Major Robertson that he quickly restored the situation and completed the regrouping without imposing any delay or halting operations. The risk of further mistakes of identity was very real in the circumstances.

            By the early hours of 4th July, it was obvious that the spirited and aggressive behaviour of the Battalion had frightened the life out of any potential enemy.   More important, the Commanding Officer considered that the feel of the Battalion was good and that we were capable of exploiting our initiative to the full. The acting Brigade Commander took the point that we should be allowed to "get up and go"!

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Events of 4th July

During the morning of 4th July, consolidation took place. The GOC visited Tac HQ and was taken on a tour of that part of Crater which had been re-occupied. In the afternoon, the Second in Command made contact with Superintendent Ibrahim of the Armed Police. In this discussion he mentioned that we would want the guilty men of the 20th June plot brought to justice. The acting Brigade Commander was informed of this contact, and the Commanding Officer suggested an early occupation of the rest of Crater. Permission was given to move nearer the Armed Police Barracks, and at 1850 hrs A Company were ordered to move up to the line of the Haddadin Bazaar with orders to patrol extensively to the South West but no nearer to the Armed Police Barracks. This operation went off without a hitch, and set the scene for the final act.

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Action on 5th July

        A Company of 1 PWO took over the High Mansouri and Inscription Hill OP commitment from the Recce Platoon. The Marine Drive road block was opened to the passage of all civilian vehicles at 0500 hr despite the obvious implication that this would allow the terrorists to leave Crater. The High Commissioner visited Tac HQ and later a meeting was held between the Commissioner of Police, the DGS, Superintendent Ibrahim of the Armed Police and the Commanding Officer. The Assistant Commissioner and the Gl of the SAA were also present. The GOC later joined the meeting and it was agreed that 1 A & SH could continue the re-occupation of Crater up to and beyond the Armed Police Barracks. From then on, it would be a matter of co-operation between the Battalion and the

Police. At 1600 hrs, A Company completed the occupation of Crater. The Commanding Officer went personally to the Armed Police Barracks, was saluted by the sentry at the gate, and was well received by Superintendent Ibrahim.  The two burnt-out Landrovers from the ambush of 20th June were quickly towed

away by the QDG recovery section. With a Company deployed North of the Armed Police Barracks. 1 A and SH now controlled Crater.

 

        After the Battalion re-occupied Crater, it lost two men killed, on 21st July L/Cpl Willie Orr of D Company, on 4th Aug Cpl James Scott of the Pipes and Drums, the battalion also had six Jocks wounded. When one adds the three Argylls killed on the 20th June, the battalion paid a high price indeed for maintaining law and order in the one square mile district of Aden that the battalion controlled. The Argylls killed eight, terrorists and the battalion lives in Crater cheek-by-jowl with the local population. A Company held the Northern part of Crater, from a line just north of the Chartered Bank Building. B Company held the Western and Southern part, including the main residential area alongside Holkat Bay, and the line south of Aidrus Road. Their section also included the Aidrus Mosque, a source of trouble on several occasions, which had previously been D Company's task. D Company dominated the very heart of Crater. Platoons and Sections lived in a variety of buildings which dominated each particular area of responsibility. Occupied buildings varied from schools to the Treasury Building, from the clinic to ordinary private flats. Each position was chosen for its ability to dominate its particular area, and the Argylls were masters of the rooftops. Foot, mobile, and armoured car patrols policed the streets at frequent, and varying intervals.

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            The first successful terrorist incident against the Battalion since it re-occupied Crater occurred on the 15th July, nine days after the re-occupation had been completed.  Up to the 6th August, a total of seventy seven incidents occurred, with the only pattern being the fact that Friday (the Moslem Sunday) has tended to be the busiest day. The Battalion's most successful day was on Friday. 28th July. Pte Barnett of D Company killed two terrorists carrying a third terrorist, wounded by the premature explosion of his own grenade, into the sanctuary of a mosque. At a range of 250 yards, and at a fleeting target only, this was very good shooting. Two shotstwo terrorists. The most common weapon used against Security Forces in Crater is the grenade. These are mainly of Russian manufacture, though some old British 36 grenades have been encountered. Other weapons include 2 inch mortars, spigot mortars, 94 (Energa) grenades, and belindicides (rockets).  Snipers have used automatic weapons, rifles, and pistols. Shortly after the re-occupation, a vigorous smear campaign was launched against the Battalion. There were allegations of brutality, desecration of Mosques, damage to property, and theft. All these allegations have proved to be totally unfounded, but have wasted a tremendous amount of time as each one has had to be carefully investigated. Higher formations, alarmed at the number of incidents were forced to order us to throttle back our tough IS tactics. A consequent increase in incidents resulted. In addition, the Police proved no assistance whatsoever, and information from official sources is extremely rare. The increasing imminence of Independence dried up virtually all information from anyone anticipating a healthy life in Aden after the 10th January, 1968. The only real weapon against terrorism is an increasing, professional, one hundred per cent vigilance for 24 hours in each and every day. 26th Nov the battalion evacuated Crater and began to return to Plymouth.

 

There can be no doubt in anybodies minds that the Battalion did a good job in Aden. "Crater is Aden" in the minds of the South Arabians and the domination of Crater from the re-entry on the 3rd July, through the period of attrition throughout July and August, into the period of comparative peace from September onwards, was undoubtedly a major factor in the negotiation of a final acceptable, if macabre, political solution. The battalions success in Crater was achieved because the Battalion, from the Commanding Officer to the latest joined Jock, had trained hard and realistically, knew what it was on and, collectively, had more general operational experience than any other battalion in the British Army. Good emerged from tragedy because unlike other units the Battalion never had a handover of its operational area (because of the "twentieth of June") and therefore never mirrored previous tactics or procedures but used brains, backed by resolution, to tackle every event and individual incident as it occurred.

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    If anyone can put names to faces with rank, company, date and location. Please e-mail with page name, row number and picture letter to

ayoung287@msn.com

 

 

            There is a tendency in the British Army to abide slavishly by principles and procedures long after they are irrelevant. Aden was no exception. The Green

Pamphlet on Internal Security postulates four guiding principles which may be excellent in a true IS situation. But it was clear from the moment the Advance Party arrived that the situation in Aden was not IS.  It was counter-terrorism. The Green Pamphlet, excepting minor tactical procedures, was therefore largely irrelevant. Fortunately the Battalion had trained against a background of the Commanding Officer's seven principles which were: Supervision, Self Control, Offensive Mindedness, Quick and Accurate Shooting. Well Tried Operational Drills, Intelligent Interest and Security Consciousness. The tactical lesson of Aden was that these seven principles were the right ones.

            The domination of Crater was not achieved without cost. The battalions casualties in Aden, five killed and twenty-four wounded, were higher than those suffered by the Battalion during Suez, Cyprus and Borneo combined. The death of Major Bryan Malcolm and Ptes Moores and Hunter, who were tragically murdered on the 20th June, gave a crusader spirit to the reoccupation of Crater. The lives of Cpl Scott and Pte Orr were the price the Battalion paid for controlling Crater. These five are the real heroes; and we all remember with sympathy those who are not so fortunate.

            One feature of our everyday life in Crater was the continual contact with the Press. Six months ago many probably looked upon a journalist or a TV

cameraman with suspicion. No Argyll who was in Aden now has this attitude. The Press Corps are all first class chaps with an important job of work to do. The battalion had the story they wanted and the battalion did its best to give it to them. Every Jock became a professional TV subject, acting naturally and avoiding looking at the camera. It was best to tell all, to show and explain everything to the Press. On the rare occasions when there was something that we would rather the Press should not publish we found they played ball and our confidence was never misplaced. However, there are exceptions to everything. Whilst none would criticise the accuracy of reporting of the journalists and correspondents who were there and saw for themselves it is noticeable that the truth is rarely in the armchair commentator who stays at home.

 

Awards

The following awards were made to members of the 1st Battalion for services during the operations in Crater:-

 

Military Cross                                                                     Major I. MacKay, MBE.

 

Military Medal                                                                    Sgt J. Harkins.

 

Mentioned in Despatches for Distinguished Conduct            Lt-Col C. C. Mitchell, Major N. D. L. Crowe, Major (QM) R. Smith, Lieut D. P. Thomson, MC,

                                                                                          WOII J. Kennedy, C/Sgt J. Mutch.

 

Mentioned in Despatches for Gallant Conduct                     Major I. B. Robertson, Lieut W. D. Watson, Lieut H. D. Clark, WOII W. J. Wilson, Cpl G. G.

                                                                                          Sheridan, Cpl T. Grant, Cpl A. G. McLaren, Pte T. D. Dickson, Piper H. J. N. Oakley.

 

 Sources -  RHQ Argylls and Thin Red Line Magazines

 

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Updated: 02 September 2011