The Suez Crisis began on 26 July 1956, when, following the United States' decision to withdraw its offer of a grant to aid the construction of Egypt's Aswan High Dam, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal. The governments of Britain and France secretly began planning for an invasion of Egypt. Not to be outdone, Israel soon was doing its own invasion planning, completing its final plan on 5 October. After several international mediation efforts had failed, Britain and France agreed in mid-October 1956 to undertake a joint intervention in Egypt. Aware of the upcoming Israeli plan to invade the Sinai, French officials suggested that a Franco-British force could enter Egypt ostensibly to separate the combatants, while actually seizing control of the entire Suez waterway. On 26 October, the United States learned of Israel's military mobilization, and President Dwight Eisenhower sent the first of two personal messages to Israeli Prime Minister Ben Gurion asking that Israel do nothing to endanger the peace. In the Mediterranean on the 28th, the U.S. Sixth Fleet was placed on alert. Undeterred by U.S. diplomatic maneuvering, Israeli forces began attacks in Egypt on 29 October.
The following day Britain and France began to make their move. The British government issued an Anglo-French ultimatum calling on the Israelis and Egyptians to withdraw their forces to a distance of 10 miles from the Suez Canal and demanding that Egypt allow British and French forces to temporarily occupy key positions guarding the canal. That same day, Admiral Walter F. Boone, U.S. Commander Naval Forces, Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean, ordered the Sixth Fleet to assist in the evacuation of U.S. nationals from Israel and Egypt. Coral Sea (CVA 43) and Randolph (CVA 15), the fleet's two attack carriers that were already operating in the eastern Mediterranean, were directed to keep clear of British naval units operating there. In Norfolk, VA, the Navy ordered one attack carrier, a heavy cruiser and a destroyer squadron to get ready to sail to the Mediterranean to augment the Sixth Fleet and a second CVA and a division of destroyers to be on 72-hour notice. The Anglo-French attack on Egypt began at dusk on 31 October with a series of large-scale air strikes. The following day Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Arleigh Burke signaled Vice Admiral Charles R. "Cat" Brown, Commander Sixth Fleet: "Situation tense; prepare for imminent hostilities." Brown signaled back: "Am prepared for imminent hostilities, but whose side are we on?" In classic Burke style, the CNO's return response was, "Keep clear of foreign op areas but take no guff from anybody."
The Suez Crisis increased in intensity on the afternoon of 5 November when the Soviet Union sent diplomatic notes to Britain, France and Israel threatening to crush the aggressors and restore peace in the Middle East through the use of force. President Eisenhower's reaction to these threats was that "if those fellows start something, we may have to hit 'em-and, if necessary, with everything in the bucket."
Coral Sea and Randolph and their escorts shifted to an operating area southwest of Crete in order to improve their readiness posture for a general emergency. Agreeing to a cease-fire on 6 November, Britain and France ended their military operations that night at midnight. Soviet military moves continued during the next few days, however, and on the 7th, Burke ordered attack carriers Forrestal (CVA 59) and Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA 42) to sail from Norfolk toward the Azores, together with a heavy cruiser and three divisions of destroyers, to act as a standby augmentation to the Sixth Fleet. U.S. Navy forces were directed to maintain readiness to execute emergency war plans.
Lester Pearson, the Canadian external affairs minister, suggested the creation of an United Nations Emergency Force to keep the peace between the opposing forces until a political settlement could be achieved. Tensions remained high until 15 November, when United Nations forces were brought into Egypt to provide a buffer between the Egyptians and the invasion forces. From that point on, the Soviet intervention threat gradually dissipated. Pearson won the 1957 Nobel Pace Prize for his efforts at creating U.N. peacekeeping forces.
- Adapted from "Answering the Call: Carriers in Crises Response Since World War II," By Jeffrey G. Barlow NAVAL AVIATION NEWS January-February 1997
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