Operation Musketeer: A Military Success Ends In Political Failure
SUBJECT AREA Topical Issues
WAR SINCE 1945 SEMINAR
Operation Musketeer: A Military
Success Ends in Political Failure
Major R. W. Rathbun
2 April 1984
Marine Corps Command and Staff College
Marine Corps Development and Education Command
Quantico, Virginia 22134
I owe sincere appreciation and gratitude to many students
and staff at the Education Center who assisted me with insight
and willingness to listen as I formulated the ideas of this
paper. In particular, I owe a debt of thanks to Lieutenant
Colonel Tim Kline, U.S. Air Force, who edited the paper and
got me to express my insights more succinctly.
I also need to thank Mr. Dave Brown of the Education
Center Library and his marvelously professional staff who
patiently showed me how to use the research facilites and
permitted me to retain numerous overdrawn books. Also thanks
to Mrs. Cheryl Kull who uncomplainingly prepared new copies
as I changed happy to glad and back to happy again.
Finally I wish to thank my family for putting up with me
during the five months I "took off" to prepare this paper.
Synopsis: Operation Musketeer - 1956
Author: Major R. W. Rathbun, USMC
The premise behind the assignment of this topic is that
study of a post-World War II amphibious operation will
provide insight to officer students who could someday be
assigned the mission of conducting an amphibious operation.
This premise is not invalid. Another premise has emerged,
however, that is every bit as important: Specifically, modern
warfare is intensely political. Political overtones in turn,
can be so predominant that they overshadow actual results on
the battlefield. This is precisely what happened during
Operation Musketeer is the story of the 1956 British and
French attempt to seize the Suez Canal from Egypt. Britain
and to a lesser extent, France, relied on the Suez Canal as
the economic lifeline to the oil fields of the Middle East.
For almost 75 years, the canal had been administered by a
British dominated company. In July 1956, Egypt's president,
Gamnel Abdel Nasser, upset this arrangement when he nationalized
the canal. To British Prime Minister Anthony Eden and French
Premier Guy Mollet, the act was unacceptable because Nasser,
to quote Eden, now had "his thumb on our windpipe." To be
sure, the nationalization of the canal was only the final
straw. Both men hated Nasser and wished to be rid of him:
The Briton because Nasser was a threat to British influence
in the Middle East and the Frenchman because he saw Nasser as
the source of all trouble in Algeria.
Neither power was prepared to respond immediately.
France's amphibious capability was lacking and Britain's was
hopelessly out of date. Obviously, a lengthy period of
preparation was in order.
The story of the allies preparation for the invasion is
also the story of their attempt to persuade international
opinion, specifically that of the United States, that resort
to military force was necessary. They never succeeded in
As the preparation or planning stage developed, a new
player entered the drama. Israel had resolved to attack
Egypt before the latter could flush out her rapidly growing
arsenal of Soviet arms. When the British and French learned
this, their rational for seizing the canal evolved from one
of regaining lost property to one of safeguarding a vital
waterway from hostile neighbors. The three powers subsequently
agreed on a schedule of events to prosecute the war.
Musketeer, with all functioning properly, would have been
extremely difficult to pull off. The British magnified their
difficulties, however, by a massive failure of intelligence
that had political rather than military repercussions. The
British Chiefs of Service insisted that a World War II style
amphibious operation was essential if Egypt were to be defeated.
The French pleaded for a rapid seizure of objectives from an
obviously feeble opponent. The British prevailed and their
week long air offensive fueled a period during which their
fragile economy undercut their ability to continue the war.
In late October, Israel attacked. Her army seized
strategic objectives so rapidly, however, that the threat to
the canal had ebbed before the allies were ready to act.
When England and France finally did invade, tri-power collusion
The operation once begun, went according to plan. On
November 5, British and France paratroopers landed at key
positions in Port Said and seized strategic objectives.
Additional drops were made that afternoon. The following
day, the allies conducted a surface assault. This stage
witnessed the first combat ship to shore heliborne movement.
These attacks also succeeded splendidly, but the war was
Britain's economy was collapsing. In order to gain
American aid, the British government was forced to accept
the American call for a cease fire. France had no choice but
to go along. 44 hours after the first paratroopers landed,
the war was over. The allies held only the northern end of
the Suez Canal.
The British defeat was primarily political. At first,
defeat seemed profound, but internal political effects were
short-lived. Nasser's later political miscalculations had
the effect of lessening long term international consequences
not only for Britain, but the West as well.
The French shrugged off the entire episode. Algeria was
the real issue. Egypt was a momentary and insignificant
sideshow. If they chose to, the French could take comfort in
the performance of their armed forces. The men proved tough,
well trained and well led. Equipment was modern and tactics
were effectively and efficiently applied. In every respect,
the French army was the paragon of a modern fighting force.
Egypt had fought poorly. Nasser, however, did nothing to
correct the obvious inadequacies of his forces. The military
debacle would be repeated in 1967 but on a larger scale.
For the British, military lessons were more complex.
Britain's Mediterranean system of military bases demonstrated
little value. Her forces had to rely on the aircraft carrier
as the principal means of combat support. Operational control
was muddled and actual operations were hindered by outdated
equipment. The helicopter was a welcome addition to the
amphibious operation, but it mandated a modification of
British military success was severely limited by political
failure, economic weakness and intelligence short sightedness.
None of these failings could be attributed to the British
fighting man. In the limited time permitted, he had done
more than was asked. The successes that England achieved are
a tribute exclusively to him and the first rate quality of
his small unit leadership.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. A Focus on Nasser (The Historical and 3
II. The Knives Come Out (The Birth of the 19
Crisis and the Beginning of planning)
III. "Out of the Frying Pan..." (Military 27
IV. "...And Into the Fire" (Collusion with 61
V. The Policeman Arrive (The War in Sinai 73
and the British Air Offensive)
IV. The World's Shortest War (The Invasion 99
of the Suez Canal)
VII. After the Ball Was Over (Aftermath and 123
Chapter Notes 139
ANNEX A Comparison of Military Aircraft A-1
MAPS AND CHARTS
The Suez Canal 6, 52
European Oil Routes 8
France and Algeria 10, 38
Israel and Egypt 15
Britain in the Mediterranean 20, 74
Lower Egypt 30, 32, 42, 44
The Northern Canal 36, 116, 120
Sinai Operations 46, 62, 66, 76, 78, 80, 86
Port Said 56, 100, 102, 104
Royal Marine Operations 108, 110, 112, 114
Operational Command Structure 40
Assault Phases 98
On November 5, 1956, Britain and France launched an
invasion of the Suez Canal. This brief war, known also as
"Operation Musketeer" witnessed less than 42 hours of ground
combat and represented the dying gasp of history's most far-
flung colonial empire.
In the United States, many have condemned this incident
as typical colonialist behavior while others have cynically
dismissed it as the world's shortest war. Such perfunctory
analyses are extremely short-sighted as this war, however
brief, marks a milestone of enormous import to our postwar
world. The careful student of Musketeer can receive powerful
insight into the evolution of modern warfare and a broader
understanding of our current world.
Britain, in an attempt to safeguard her perceived economic
well-being, joined a nascent conspiracy with France and Israel
to attack Egypt. In the past, use of military force had
proven a highly successful means for creation and maintenance
of Britain's 19th century empire. Now, this method seemed to
act as a catalyst that accelerated the dismemberment of its
20th century successor. To be sure, the allies possessed
overwhelming military strength and were on the verge of
delivering a crushing military embarassment to Egypt and her
president, Gamel Abdel Nasser. Yet, they suffered a humiliating
political defeat, the repercussions of which are felt to this
The allies and the United States learned that within the
Arab world lives a spirit of nationalism that, given proper
circumstances, can transcend military defeat. Britain learned
the profound and sobering truths that her economy lacked the
vitality and her political process the unity to withstand the
censure that greets aggressive war in the modern age.
The student of purely military events can also reap
rewards. This brief combat demonstrates clearly to him the
necessity of carrier aviation and the indispensability of the
good soldier. It also saw the birth of a soon to be dominant
feature in modern amphibious warfare: The heliborne ship to
Our world has clearly become more complex. Musketeer can
aid one to understand some effects of this complexity. This
war, like most, began as a result of failure by politicians.
It marks the modern age in that it also ended through the
failure of a politician. Indeed, the backdrop to Operation
Musketeer and the lessons available for the professional officer
are so dominated by political considerations, that they cannot
be fully understood unless the story is allowed to unfold in
its political context. It is from this context that the
theme of this presentation emerges: The most grave peril for
a modern military operation lies in the evolution and currents
of the national political process.
I. A FOCUS ON NASSER
"The canal is certainly an astounding work, and it is an
extraordinary pity that it was not made by an English company
and kept in our hands because it is our highway to India."
- Edward, Prince of Wales
The twenty years after World War II witnessed the beginning
of the seemingly all encompassing economic, ideological,
political and quasi-military competition of the United States
and the Soviet Union. Even a perceptive observer can be lost
in the enormity of this struggle and fail to connect the
effect of other almost equally important interwoven strands
in the complex tapestry of our current world. Two of these
threads are the emergence of nationalism and the decline of
colonialism. When combined, they give the appearance, even
the actuality, that the burgeoning of the former inevitably
accelerates the latter. These factors are the basis of the
Suez story and create the currents that swept several disparate
The lingering colonial empires that existed at the close
of World War II were the remnants of 19th Century European
creations. To many Europeans, "empire" seemed almost an
institutional imperative. To the English, Britain was not an
island of the same name, but a mighty empire. The jingoism
of the previous century remains a precious part of the most
storied literature of a common language. La France was then
more properly conceived of as Greater France. Even the
Kaiser spoke unhesitatingly of "Our Place in the Sun." To
be sure, these empires grew primarily through the efforts of
military adventurers and economic exploiters. Still, these
men were followed by humanitarians whose effect was immense.
England extended her hegemony over much of the world, but she
also eradicated slavery and other barbarisms wherever she
found them. Underneath much of this humanitarianism lay a
darker value. The average empire builder was certain that the
natives lacked the wherewithall to progress without the
enlightened leadership of the white man. "The White Man's
Burden" may have been noble sentiment but it was clearly
patronizing and no doubt as resented as the more colloquial
"Guard your wallet, here come the wogs."
The desirability of colonialism from the local's viewpoint
is academic. The military power and apparent superiority of
European institutions had the dual effect of discouraging
revolt in colonial possessions and encouraging good behavior
by rulers in areas not yet actually subjugated by European
powers. World Wars I and II shattered the illusion and
reality of European might. Britain and France had been sorely
pressed and both had been forced to dragoon colonial levies
to prop themselves up. Even with this help, France had been
beaten and England had only barely survived. After World
War II, few of the colonials who had fought, considered a
return to their former subservience appropriate.
Her own historical inadequacies notwithstanding, the United
States became a self appointed conscience and pressured her
European allies to divest themselves of their colonies. The
world's newest menace, the Soviet Union also added to the
problem. The much weakened colonial masters, flailing amid
fermenting nationalist feelings must have seemed ideal targets
to the opportunists in the Kremlin. Russian propaganda beat
an incessant drum for world revolution. Promises of aid to
movements for national liberation were routinely given; on
occasion, these promises were kept.
In this larger context, the Suez War is more clearly
understood with an examination of the positions of the parti-
By 1956, much of the British Empire was gone or was
scheduled for independence. Curiously, where England actually
ruled, she was prepared, however reluctantly, to permit
independence. She had steered a partition course for the
jewel of her empire and sponsored the new nations of India
and Pakistan. Yet, where she did not rule in fact, she was
often unready to relinquish her power.1 One such example
was her sponsorship of the 1955 Baghdad Pact by which friendly,
if unrepresentative regimes in the Persian Gulf area were
guaranteed her presence.2 A second example is an underlying
current of this paper: The centrality of the Suez Canal to
British concerns. The canal was and remains a narrow waterway
gouged from the inhospitable isthmus that joined Africa to
Asia. To a romantically inclined student of the British
Empire, the names Port Said, Ismailia, and Suez conjure
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exotic visions that the rural surroundings of a midwest
upbringing cannot equal. A midsummer traverse of that waterway,
however, will introduce shattering reality. The shabbiness,
even putrid seediness of its banks aside, the Suez Canal was
so strategically located that its importance at the time
cannot be understated. In 1953, the following quote was
issued in a presitigous journal:
"As an international crossroads, Suez is
so important that the great world powers
must of necessity, either establish a
foothold in it or at least make sure of
its availability to them. If I know who
was to be its master ten or twenty-five
years from now, then I should know who has
mastery of the whole world as well."3
Technology has reduced this statement to ludicrous hyper-
bole. In 1956, few would have challenged the sagacity of its
author. In the period from its completion in 1869 after ten
years effort,4 until the end of World War II, the Canal was
the political lifeline if not the glue of the British Empire.
As the Empire retreated from India to Oman, the political
value of the canal diminished. While this political lifeline
was shrinking in importance, the value of the canal as an
economic lifeline was not. In the pre-supertanker days, two
thirds of the canal's tonnage was carried in small oil tankers.
In 1955, northbound tankers carried 66.9 million tons of
petroleum products. Of these, 20.5 million tons were bound
for Britain. Additionally British exports of refined petroleum
products accounted for 25 percent of southbound tanker traffic.
Britain was by far the largest user of the canal accounting
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for 28.3 percent of all tonnage. As oil consumption in
Britain increased, so did the importance of the canal to the
British economy.5 In all, approximately 25 percent of
British trade passed through the canal. Additionally, the
British Government owned 44 per cent of the Suez Canal Company
and a like share of the canal's revenue passed to the British
Exchequer. England counted on receiving these revenues of
approximately $45 million per year for the twelve remaining
years of the Suez concession of 1866.6 The Suez Canal was
also the military lifeline by which Britain could protect
the Persian Gulf oil fields, her principal source of supply.
Consequently, the canal wore an immense psychological impor-
tance for the average Briton.
In 1956, Britain remained an enormously self reliant
nation that had never shrunk from protecting herself and her
interests. If military means were required, then military
solutions were unhesitatingly imposed. This afterall was
the principal lesson of Munich. This mindset also applied
imperial solutions to post-imperial problems. Britain had
not yet grasped the new notion that her best interests could
be best swerved by able diplomacy.
France's position was entirely different. She was not
disposed at all to granting independence to colonies. So
wedded were even her socialist governments to the idea of
Greater France that she was eager to use force to maintain
her preeminance. Yet, this willingness was not sufficient.
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By 1954, France had been pushed out of Vietnam and was hunkering
down for a fight to the finish in Algeria. Loss of Indo-
China had been a blow to French pride and a genuine loss of
resources; divestiture of Algeria would be even more abhorrent.
When French politicians alluded of Greater France, Algeria
was precisely what they had in mind.7
France like England prior to the North Sea oil find,
was forced to rely on external sources of petroleum.
Algeria promised a remedy to this difficulty. Geologists
had reported that within Algeria lay potentially large deposits
of petroleum that if developed, could ensure energy self
sufficiency for France at least for the near future. Clearly
the French were prepared to expend a major effort to hold
Algeria. To this end, French politicians analyzed the political
situation in Morocco and Tunisia and determined that resistance
to burgeoning independence movements in those colonies would
only detract from the effort needed in Algeria. The politicians
concluded, albeit reluctantly, that the best course of action
was to grant independence to Morocco and Tunisia and concentrate
all resources in Algeria.8 This concern was uppermost in
French minds when the Suez crisis broke.
Into the affairs of these devolving empires stepped Abdel
Gamel Nasser. Since the early career of Napolean, Britain
had been involved in the affairs of Egypt, then a province
of the Ottoman Empire. British occupation of Egypt began in
1882 ostensibly to safeguard the canal but in actuality to
bolster the mordant Ottomans against expansionist imperial
Russia. At about this time Britain acquired her share of
the Suez Canal Company by paying the gambling debts of an
Egyptian Sultan. Egypt gained nominal independence in 1922
but Britain retained effective control.9 The British repeatedly
employed highhanded and violent methods to retain their
position. The last Egyptian King, the infamously corpulent
and decadent Farouk, weakly acquiesced to save his throne.10
At the same time, the British participated in some of Farouk's
demagoguery by permitting him to close the canal to Israeli
British violence in the 1952 canal zone riots and the
British act of reneging on a 1946 agreement to withdraw
militarily from Egypt were the last straws to ardent Egyptian
nationalists.11 In 1952 a group of Egyptian officers led
by Colonel Nasser deposed Farouk and replaced him in the
interim, with General Mohammed Naguib. Naguib was only a
figurehead and was eventually superseded by Nasser.
Nasser was something that the British had not previously
encountered. He was a rabid nationalist rather than a dynast
and he belonged to a clique of totally unpredictable officers
who were known in the language of the day as "unguided
missiles."12 He and the officers who deposed Farouk were
undisguised anglophobes. They saw England as Egypt's foremost
enemy, an evil to be confronted and taught a lesson.13 To
this end, Nasser, a dark skinned man, never tired of relating
his personal shame at racial slurs he claimed to have received
from British officers.
Born in 1917 in upper or southern Egypt, he was a true
son of the Nile who longed for the opportunity to harness
the river for his country's good. But his designs did not
end with internal development or nationalism. Nasser ardently
pursued a state policy called pan-arabism that featured a
strict devotion to Islam. Since Algerians were Muslims and
brother Arabs, their national liberation became a natural
Nasser immediately confronted the French government and
the French Army, both of whom viewed pan-arabism as a force
designed to undermine the entire position of France in the
Mediterranean. French Premier Guy Mollet saw very early
that rapproachement with Nasser over the question of Algeria
was impossible.14 And as the situation in Algeria became
more and more difficult, France began to blame Nasser for all
her colonial troubles.15 Ironically, the French deluded
themselves. Nasser had provided considerable moral support
from Radio Cairo but his physical assistance did not become
truly significant until after he had been attacked by Britain
Britain and, to a lesser extent, the United States and
France attempted to pursue a policy of appeasement toward
Nasser. They had hoped he would eventually cease his torrent
of anticolonial harangues as well as his flirtation with the
Soviet Union.17 These attempts took form in the evacuation
of British troops from Egypt, a process finally completed in
1954,18 and promises of joint Anglo-American aid to finance
Nasser's coveted Aswan Dam.19
These were not enough. Nasser desired modern arms. France
obviously was not a logical source. President Eisenhower
was unwilling to sell Nasser arms unless they were accompanied
by a U.S. advisory group. Eisenhower apparantly wanted such a
group to prevent American arms from being used against Israel.
Nasser refused to accept any controls. Britain still hoped
to outbid the Soviets for Nasser's favor. France also began
to offer subtle hints of aid.20 On September 27, 1955,
Nasser dashed all expectations by announcing a massive arms
deal with Czechoslovakia.21 Additionally, observers in Cairo
began to report that a widespread Soviet cultural presence,
especially in the cinema, was replacing previous western
influences.22 Attempts to placate Nasser were ended completely
when on July 19, 1956, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles
announced that the United States would not finance the Aswan
project. Two days later, Britain announced that they also
would not support Aswan.23
The final player in this drama was Israel. Although this
paper is restricted to the Anglo-French intervention, the
political and military maneuvering of the antagonists make
separation of that conflict from the Sinai war that immediately
preceded it impossible.
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Israel is a unique phenomenon in this century. It is a
country established by immigration in response to an ideal
created in another time and place. Reflection on Israel will
never produce consensus. While most Israelis see their
country as the result of legitimate aspirations by a persecuted
people, most Arabs hold a far different appraisal. Nasser,
of course, was not reticent in expressing his opinion:
"Israel is a stooge of Imperialism. They
(the west) strengthen Israel so they can
annihilate us and convert us into a state
Nasser's aspirations and the unending round of Arab
guerrilla warfare and Israeli reprisals marked Nasser in the
Israeli mind as the gravest threat to Israel's survival.
Selected comments by Israeli leaders show their concern about
the unliklihood of any rapproachement with an Egypt under
Nasser. From Abba Eban:
"His policy was one nation, one empire,
one leader and there was little difficulty
in determining who that leader might be."25
From David Ben-Gurion:
"Nasser has the capacity, the vision and
the means to solve his people's problems.
He lacked the courage, however, to solve
real problems. He allowed himself to be
seduced by the glitter of armaments. Now
it is too late and he is caught in his own
From Golda Meir:
"Nasser incessently encouraged the Fedayeen.
Radio Cairo trumpeted violent anti Israel
propaganda. 'Weep, oh Israel, the day of
extermination draws near.'"27
As 1956 progressed, the influx of Russian arms to Egypt,
the increasing level of mideast violence and Nasser's propaganda
left a worried circle of Israeli leaders. They shared with
the leaders of Britain and France. hope for a chance to
strike at Nasser while it was advantageous for them to do
so. In late July, Nasser rashly granted them an opportunity.
II. THE KNIVE'S COME OUT
"We can't have this swine sitting across our communications."
- Winston Churchill
The case has been made that the Suez incident of 1956 was
the result of a collision of two men who felt only the deepest
personal loathing for each other.1 To be sure the events
incidental and subsequent to the nationalization of the canal
intensified these feelings, but ample evidence exists that
British Prime Minister Anthony Eden as early as 1955 was looking
for an excuse to destroy Nasser.2 Eden had been preparing an
elaborate case. He had declared that in every area of the
mideast where unrest occurred, strong evidence of Egyptian
involvement existed.3 Guy Mollet needed no convincing. He
shared Eden's obsession with Nasser and was not at all hesitant
to liken the Egyptian to Adolf Hitler.4 Mollet and the French
army also anticipated a showdown as they were certain that
Nasser was the root of all of France's colonial problems.5
On July 26, 1956, Nasser gave everyone an excuse. On that
day while delivering an emotional address in which he decried
the imperialism of the west, he announced that Egyptian officials
had taken control of the Suez Canal.6 The concession to the
canal company still had a full twelve years to run.
Nasser's motives for seizure are open to question. Most
speculate that he saw revenues from the canal as a substitute
for the Aswan funding he had lost one week prior.7 Most likely
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this is the case although Nasser later related he had done
this to show the western powers that Egypt could not be
intimidated.8 It is important to note that his statement of
defiance came long after he had survived the Suez intervention.
Eden moved promptly. That same day, he ordered all
departments that would be concerned in a strike against Egypt
to prepare an immediate analysis of the effort required to
seize the canal.9 There is no evidence that at any time
prior to the actual beginning of hostilities, Eden ever
considered not using force.
On July 27, Eden met with the service chiefs to receive
their assessment. What he heard did not make him overly
hopeful, for the chiefs advised that England could not mount
a sufficiently powerful expedition for two months.10 The
reasons for this shocking delay were many. The Navy was
considered combat ready,11 but she had only two landing ships
that could be pressed into an amphibious operation.12 The
parachute forces had become ill-prepared as a result of
numerous other duties that had precluded training in their
primary role.13 The three parachute battalions in Cyprus
had no training parachutes and would have to be flown to
England for refresher training.14 Additionally, Britain
possessed only five squadrons of troop carrying planes. These
were only enough to transport one parachute battalion with
its equipment.15 The eight infantry battalions in Cyprus
had no landing craft. The nearest supporting artillery
would have to be drawn from NATO forces in Germany and another
armored division stationed in Libya was unusable as a result
of a lack of tank transporters16 and the anticipated refusal
of the Libyan government to permit these tanks to cross the
Egyptian border to attack Egypt.17
To Nasser's credit, he and his intelligence analysts had
also concluded that England could not act against them within
two months. They were short sighted, however, in that they
excluded the possibility of any source of attack other than
England.18 There were enemy forces much nearer.
Nasser had overlooked both France and Israel. France
had strong post-war ties to Israel; Britain did not. In
the early stages of the operation, Britain undoubtedly wanted
no help from Israel. Such an arrangement might injure her
Anglo-Arab alliances.19 France on the other hand was indif-
ferent to the Arabs but did not initially believe she could
act independently of Britain. Mollet rationalized, and
probably correctly, that France and Israel together could
pull off the operation, but without England, could not
withstand the combined force of U.S. and Soviet disapproval.20
As the French were anxious for action against Nasser, they
opted to stick with Britain.
Unlike the British, the French were not at all displeased
by the Egyptian seizure of the canal. Their analysis was
more reasoned and distinctly more pragmatic. They saw
nationalization as the casus belli that would finally enable
them to be rid of Nasser.21
Unlike the British, the French began planning with clearly
defined political objectives. These were:
1) Ensure sources and routes for imported petroleum.
2) Protect Israel.
3) Attack the source of supply for the Algerian
France had in all reality been at war continuously for 17
years. Consequently her state of readiness was quite high,
especially when compared to Britain. Still, her liabilities
tied her to Britain. Short range Mystere fighter squadrons
needed bases almost within Egypt's borders. Long range
fighters were available in Germany, but they would need
bases in Cyprus. Eight infantry battalions in southern
France were combat ready but these lacked the necessary sea
transports. French Defense Minister Maurice Bourges-Maunoury
wished to act with utmost speed, but he estimated that France
could not be ready for four weeks. If she had to wait on
Britain, it would be six weeks.23
Time weighed heavily on every possible plan. The
politicians who governed England understood this and haggled
at some length with their more methodical service chiefs for
prompt military action.24 The government realized that a
fast operation in the face of Nasser's action would meet
with protest but would retain the political and public support
that was necessary to sustain it.25 Someone suggested to
the chiefs that they consider an immediate paratrooper drop
to seize and hold the canal until follow-on supporting forces
could arrive. The chiefs estimated that such a force could
not hold on longer than 10 days and as such could not be
supported. They concluded their analysis with a not too
subtle hint that they would resign if the cabinet insisted
on immediate use of airborne troops.26
The generals proposed a World War II type amphibious
operation. It is still not clear why they opted for such an
elaborate procedure in a situation where politics clearly
called for utmost speed. Perhaps they remembered the success,
that followed the detailed planning and methodical execution
of El Alamein. Certainly they remembered Arnheim. In any
event, they were insistent that if they had to attack Egypt,
they would attack her their own way.27 Moshe Dayan suggests
that they had clearly overestimated the capabilities of
their opponents.28 Certain French circles are less charitable.
They accused the British service chiefs of adopting a deliberate
approach for more petty reasons. Britain was clearly not
ready. A methodical operation, using British naval transpor-
tation and a preponderance of British fighting men would
be commanded by British officers. A hasty action would of
necessity use mostly French troops. The British, as their
critics reason, were reluctant to accept an operation where
the superior preparedness of the French would make them the
Despite serious reservations, the French entered enthusiasti-
cally into planning. Even as Britain was organizing her
planning staff, the French advised that two combat ready
divisions, the 10th Parachute and the 5th Light Mechanized
would be provided for the operation.30
Three other domestic issues of significance were discussed
during this initial series of planning conferences. All three
would collectively injure the government's effort.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer reported that the treasury
could endure the cost of the operation without undue strain.
If, however, the oil pipelines across Syria were cut or the
canal was blocked - well, Mr. MacMillan didn't know what
would happen then.31 Eden directed his planners to prevent
the latter; the former was beyond his control.
The second issue was one that the Prime Minister could
only tough out. During his meeting with the service chiefs,
Eden was astonished to learn that all the chiefs did not
support his intention to invade Egypt. The foremost dissenter
was none other than First Sea Lord, Earl Mountbatton, a member
of the Royal Family.32 Mountbatton's initial objection was
mainly political. He was concerned that the opposition leader,
Mr. Hugh Gaitskell, was not involved in initial discussions.
This was not an oversight. Eden had been alarmed at the
degree of pacificism rampant in Labour ranks and surely sus-
pected that some members placed devotion to socialism above
love for Britain. Further, he believed Gaitskell was too
weak to preserve secrecy if Labour were included in the
A last objection came from the government's experts in
international law. They advised the Prime Minister that
unless Nasser closed the canal, any legal brief that Britain
might prepare to justify a forceful repossession would be
feeble and virtually unsupportable. Eden literally shredded
the opinion and threw it in his lawyers' faces.34 His contempt
for their opinion would prove to be extraordinarily harmful.
So ended the initial phase of the crisis. The decision
had been made. Nasser - he more so than Egypt - would be
attacked. Yet, the ability to respond immediately in a
forceful way was almost nonexistent. A signal was needed.
To demonstrate their concern, the British announced that a
task force contaning the carriers Bulwark, Theseus and Ocean
would maneuver in the Eastern Mediterranean. Simultaneously,
France announced the formation of a carrier battle group at
Toulon consisting of the carriers Arromanch and Bois-Belleau
and the battleship Jean Bart.35
Concurrently both governments took another step that did
not go unnoticed. Britain suggested to her subjects in Egypt
that they leave as soon as possible. France ordered her
citizens to leave immediately.36 The more forceful directive
of the French should have alerted Eden to the degree of
resolve with which his partner had entered this adventure.
III. OUT OF THE FRYING PAN...
"I must confess to the feeling that, save for the Almighty,
only the British are capable of complicating affairs to such a
- Moshe Dayan
The lack of preparedness and the resultant inability of
Britain and France to hit quickly at their antagonist was
undoubtedly galling to Eden and Mollet. Yet, the situation
did not permit them the luxury of idleness. If they could
have struck immediately when the canal was nationalized,
they might have avoided the overwhelming opprobrium of inter-
national opinion. As time passed, the necessity for resorting
to force would obviously diminish, once the Egyptians demon-
strated that they could efficiently operate the canal. The
problem of the allies was obvious. They would have to sustain
the image of the aggrieved party who only resorted to force
after every possibility for peaceful arbitration had been
Eden's primary obstacle to achieving a forceful solution
was the American Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles.
Dulles clearly despised Nasser but not to the extent that he
would enthusiastically endorse any use of force against him.
Eden sought to neutralize Dulles by going over his head. He
immediately importuned Eisenhower by urging "a firm stand."
He claimed that "our interests and yours throughout the Middle
East will, we are convinced, be irretrievably undermined." He
went on to state to the American president his doubts that
Nasser had any intent to manage the canal with any sense of
international obligation.1 When he ascertained that the
American interpretation of "a firm stand" would probably
preclude support for armed intervention, he ressurrected an
old bugaboo certain to gain their attention. He put a monetary
value of approximately $500 million on the Soviet equipment
then in Egypt. He claimed that the presence of this equipment
and Soviet advisors had emboldened the Egyptians and made
them agressive and expansionist.2 As the intervention
approached, he wrote to Eisenhower and defined his perception
of the Soviet-Egyptian relationship:
"There is no doubt in our minds that Nasser
whether he likes it or not, is now effectively
in Russian hands, just as Mussolini was in
Hitler's. It would be ineffective to show
weakness to Nasser now in order to placate
him as it was to show weakness to Mussolini.
The only result was and would be to bring the
In light of hindsight, Eden's inaccurate appraisal of
Nasser's opportunistic neutralism seems grossly unfair.
Nonetheless, it would be most unfair to Eden to suppose his
sentiments were dishonest. Eden was a patriot of the first
order. In 1915, he had left school at the age of 18
the war as a brigade major. His achievements were not without
personal sorrow. His two brothers were killed in that conflict,
just as his older son Simon perished in the second war. In
1924, he was elected to Parliament and by 1931 was marked as
a potential Prime Minister. In 1938
resigning as a matter of principle over Chamberlain's policy
of appeasement.4 As someone so quickly proven right, he
faced life with a confidence others do not possess. He had
dedicated his life to opposing dictators and when he encountered
a dictator, he knew how to deal with one. Even when he must
have realized the failure that his policies had wrought, he
could sum up his actions in one basic apology: "A man with
Colonel Nasser's record could not be allowed to have his
thumb on our windpipe."5
Eden had another problem of international importance that
could not blow up in his face if he were to continue with the
assault on Egypt. If Egypt relied on Soviet technicians to
operate her modern arsenal, these technicians could become
casualties when fighting began. Warning the Soviets to
stand aside would tip his hand. Saying nothing might mean
the intervention of Soviet citizens with the full range of
unsatisfactory ramifications. Fortunately for all concerned,
the Russians solved that problem by withdrawing to Khartoum
when the war began.6
French pleas to Washington were also immediate but more
emotional. Foreign Minister Christian Pineau drew the parallel
of Hitler occupying the Rhine land for Ambassador Douglas
Dillon. After expressing alarm about the evils ahead, Pineau
demanded Washington's approval within twenty-four hours for
diversion from NATO of two squadrons of Mystere IV aircraft
to Israel. (At this time, there is no evidence of collusion
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with Israel, this paragraph not withstanding.) He then
informed Dillon that a plan to seize the canal zone was
Britain and France were not maneuvering in a vacuum.
Nasser was uncertain what Eden's reaction to nationalization
would be, but he knew it would be violent. But, as stated
earlier, he knew no feasible reaction could be forthcoming
for two months. He was certain that given time, diplomacy
would carry the day.8 He knew that to accomplish this he
would need to do two things:
1) Ensure that the United States opposed the use of
force by Britain and France.
2) Operate the canal effectively.
He announced immediately that "The nationalization in no
way affects Egypts international obligations. Freedom of
shipping will in no way be affected. There is no one more
anxious than Egypt to safeguard freedom of passage and the
flourshing traffic in the canal."9 When his Foreign Office
pointed out to Mr. Eden that it was in Egypt's best interest
to operate the canal efficiently and not deny access for
British and French shipping to ensure continuing revenues,
Mr. Eden was not amused.10
Nasser also used his two months to make military pre-
parations. Within a week of nationalization he redesignated
the military administrative districts of Cairo, Alexandria,
the Delta and Suez as operational commands. Two days later
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he provided some muscle for these commands by withdrawing
30,000 troops from the Sinai. These were relocated in the
approaches to Cairo in anticipation of a seaborne assault in
the Nile Delta.11 Also withdrawn was the preponderance of
his Sinai armor. These he put on the west bank of the Suez
Canal from where they could support one of several defensive
plans.12 This left Nasser with but six brigades in the
Sinai.13 By October 29 1956, the date of the Israeli
offensive, the number of soldiers in Sinai had dwindled to a
militarily ineffective force of 30,000.14
This realignment was in keeping with Egyptian strategy to
temporarily give up Sinai and the Suez Canal if necessary,
and defend in the Nile Delta and the approaches to Cairo.
The presence of these forces, Nasser reasoned, would keep his
government in power. This was important because Nasser
assumed that as long as the government could maintain control,
world opinion would continue to exert pressure on any invader
and eventually force it to withdraw.15
He assumed also that his army, despite the recent influx
of modern arms, would be defeated.16 This assumption was based
on a realistic assessment of his military preparedness. He
had a standing army of 90,000 organized into five divisions
of sixteen brigades. (30,000 were stationed east of the Suez
Canal.) These brigades were constituted in infantry (10
brigades), coastal defense forces (1 brigade), medium machine
guns (1 brigade), anti-aircraft forces (1 brigade) and armor
(three brigades, one of which was a skeleton force). This
army was being equipped with a superb Soviet assault rifle
and with modern Russian tanks. The change in weapons, however,
would have to be accompanied by a change of tactics from a
western orientation to a Soviet orientation. This could not
be completed in a short time. Illustrative of this difficulty
was the estimate of the UN force commander that only 50 of
the 200 Soviet tanks were operational.
The situation in Nasser's air force was equally sobering.
He possessed 100 modern MiG-15 fighter planes that were equal
to or better than anything the allies or Israel possessed.
But only two squadrons of these MiGs or a total of 30 planes
could be considered operational. His remaining fighters were
27 obsolescent craft of British manufacture that were organized
into two squadrons. His 60 transports would be of dubious
value in the locally defensive conflict he anticipated. His
bomber command was even more unprepared. Only 10 of his 50
Russian made Ilyushins were minimally operational. Nasser
did not believe that this situation would markedly improve
because many of his pilots were training in the Soviet Union
and would be unavailable once a war began.17
This assessment was shared by Moshe Dayan when he informed
the French that he supported them in their insistence on
rapid movement. He was certain that a plan calling for a
swift advance and relying on flexible commanders would quickly
crumple Egypt's organized forces.18
Nasser did not anticipate an end to the fighting after
the defeat of his organized forces. He planned to set up a
guerrilla or resistance headquarters at Tanta in the Nile
Valley. To this end, he began to establish caches of small
arms throughout the country and several small radio stations
to supplant Radio Cairo.19 After fighting actually began,
Nasser confided to a newspaper correspondent that he was
prepared to resist the British and the French with a guerrilla
compaign.20 As fighting was underway at the time of this
claim, Nasser's disclosure seems curious at best and may be
interpreted as an attempt to retain some western credibility.
It could even be a manifestation of Nasser's egocentric
personality. In any event, the emergence of a seemingly
coordinated effort to reinstate Radio Cairo and the virilence
of the resistance in Port Said would indicate that Nasser's
claim was more than an idle boast.
The Egyptians considered the Port Said area to be militarily
worthless. The city had been built on a landfill created by
Ferdinand de Lesseps when he dredged the ditch that became the
Suez Canal. Access to the city from the sea was relatively
unlimited. As such, it was virtually defenseless. Nasser
envisioned no real effort to defend it because defenders
could be bottled up and annihilated. Consequently, the city
was not fortified and few anti-aircraft weapons were installed.
The only large guns were those left behind by the British.
The garrison was limited to two battalions of reserve infantry.
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If the city was a trap for the defenders, Nasser hoped to
make it so for the attackers in case Port Said were an
objective. He planned to marshal his force some twenty-five
miles south of Port Said and counter attack from the high
ground west of Qantara where the attackers would be forced
to exit from the causeway bordering the canal.21 Events
would force him to change these plans.
The canal, while it was not to be defended, possessed a
strategic importance that could not be ignored. If the canal
were operable, the invaders might possess the leverage to
continue as an occupation force. Nasser was determined to
close it if an attack were made. Originally, he possessed
six block ships. These were filled with cement, bottles and
scrap iron and moved to Great Bitter Lake. From this location,
they could be moved into position to close the canal on brief
notice.22 In time more such ships were added.
The allies as attackers, carried out far more detailed
planning. This planning would not be uneventful or uncomplicated.
As stated earlier, the British service chiefs expected the
operation would take the form of a classic World War II
amphibious assault. They immediately cast about for the
proper officer to plan and supervise such an event. They
settled rapidly on Lieutenant General Sir Hugh Stockwell, an
energetic and aggressively competent officer who was at that
time commanding an army corps in Germany. Stockwell returned
immediately to London and set up a planning staff in the
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bowels of the Defense Ministry.23 As his deputy, Stockwell
was given the colorful, hard fighting Frenchman, Major
General Andre Beaufre. Beaufre was at that time the commander
of the Algerian department that was the scene of that insur-
rection's most bitter fighting. Beaufre was a bluff, blunt-
spoken man possessed of a gift to express most consisely a
bitter and critical cynicism toward all that displeased him.
It was he who provided contemporary insight to the shortcomings
and fatal misconceptions of British planning. Beaufre was
also professionally close to Charles DeGaulle. It was to
DeGaulle that Beaufre reported, immediately after receiving
his assignment. DeGaulle had immediate misgivings about
British resolution and advised Beaufre to set up a separate
but parallel French planning staff. Beaufre took DeGaulle's
France entered planning with clearly defined political
objectives. Britain did not. Or, if she did, they were not
communicated to General Stockwell in such a way that he was
able to argue for a plan that would provide effective military
support for the realization of them. Events would show that
Stockwell would not be informed of other things that would
have a direct effect on his ability to forecast necessities
and events. The most significant of these was the eventual
inclusion of Israel in the war.25
As Stockwell and his planning group turned to, the govern-
ment as well as the service chiefs took action to speed the
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date by which the developing plan could be implemented. On
August 2, the Prime Minister mobilized 30,000 reservists.
An analysis of the categories recalled reveals a heavy grouping
of crane drivers, heavy construction and dock workers, postal
technicians and transport specialists. Mr. Antony Head,
later Minister of Defense, pointedly admitted that this was
the nucleus of an occupation force. The reservists harbored
no illusions about their destination.26 On August 4, the
Army began flying combat troops to Cyprus. By August 12,
this buildup had reached 5,000 men.27
Stockwell began planning with the knowledge that he would
be the landing force commander tasked with carrying out his
plan and that General Beaufre would be his deputy. The
commander of the Naval Task Force (a rough equivalent of the
American Commander, Amphibious Task Force) was Vice Admiral
Sir Leonard Durnford-Slater. The commander of the Air Task
Force, Air Marshal Denis Barnett, was also selected at that
time. He also was British.28 (A command schematic is at
the opposite page.) The entire chain of command would call
for British officers commanding British forces and French
officers commanding French forces. But at every level
including sea and air, the British officer would be senior.29
This placed the French in a bind; they could protest, but if
problems could not be resolved, they were stuck.30
Planning proceeded subject to limited political guidance.
The air forces were to suppress or destroy Egyptian air
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forces from Cyprus or from carriers in the Mediterranean.
They were also ordered to knock out Radio Cairo at an early
date and keep it off the air.31 They were constrained by
the understanding that weather could in all likelihood make
amphibious operations in that portion of the world impossible
after November 15.32 Additionally, the majority of shipping
would sally from Algeria and Malta, thereby necessitating a
movement phase of at least six days. During this time, the
force would be out in the open and the intentions of the
allies would be obvious.33
Stockwell and his group found that many of the factors
making Port Said defenseless also made it an undersiderable
initial objective. In addition to limited routes of egress
to Egypt proper, Port Said had a very limited port facility
and could easily be deprived of fresh water. Additionally,
the only airfield capable of handling the envisioned support
traffic was at Abu Suwweir, fifty miles to the south. Port
Said palled in comparison to Alexandria with its fine port,
readily accessable larger airfield and fine roads. It was
by these roads that Stockwell imagined his force would move
against the Egyptian army and eventually occupy Cairo and
Suez.34 Such was the basis of the outline plan that he
presented on August 10 to an unofficial and secretive inter
governmental committee consisting of Eden, Mollet, Foreign
Secretary Selwyn Lloyd, Pineau, Antony Head and Defense
Minister Maurice Bourges-Maunoury. The plan called for an
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assembly of forces near Cyprus, a rehearsal at that island
and an assault over the beaches of Alexandria on September
15. The army would march on Cairo, defeat the Egyptian army
and occupy the canal. The committee rapidly approved Stockwell's
plan.35 This was certainly a conventional approach to a
problem that Stockwell (who in all likelihood had divined
Eden's purpose) attempted to resolve by a military process.
He had chosen to land his force in the area where it could
most rapidly be built up. Then, he focused immediately on
eliminating the principal threat to the seizure of his assigned
objective. The objective could then be seized and restored
to working order free from Egyptian military interference.
It knowingly or unknowingly aimed at knocking the chief prop
from under Nasser, specifically his army.
Perhaps it is unfair to Eden and Stockwell given their
origins in imperial Britain, to chastise them for failing to
see that the world would not sit still for this and that
Britain had neither the internal political strength nor the
international economic wherewithall to contain the power of
the storm they would unleash. In any event, the decision
had been made and Eden only began to perceive his danger
once he determined that it was too late to pull out.
The next day, General Sir Charles Keightly, British
commander in the Middle East was named supreme commander for
the operation, now code named "HAMILCAR" after the father
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of the legendary Hannibal. True to the British spirit of
cooperation (without loss of control), the portly French
Admiral Pierre Barjot was selected as deputy commander.36
The choice of military objectives was hardly settled.
The French had no problem with Alexandria but pressed the
British to be more aggressive. Their boldness was based not
just on their appraisal of the Egyptian army but on a greater
depth of political intelligence. They knew, for example,
that they would not be the only players in this drama. The
then commander of the Israeli Defense Force, General Moshe
Dayan, had stressed earlier to Bourges-Maunoury that Israel
could neither tolerate Nasser's support of terrorism nor his
closing of the Straits of Tiran. He stressed that an attack
on Egypt was inevitable. Obviously, that attack must be
made before any influx of modern Russian arms could overwhelm
the Jewish state.37 Without betraying Dayan's revelation,
the French argued that Egypt was in reality a weakling and
that all objectives could be won by suddenness and speed.
They knew that if Israel became involved, the political
situation would change. Then the positions of both Britain
and France would became rapidly unsupportable.38
The British persisted in their World War II mindset.
They insisted that an aerial bombardment phase of from eight
to ten days was essential. In the initial 48 hours, the
Egyptian Air Force would be destroyed. Following bombardments
would be directed against economic targets such as petroleum
dumps, railway stations, and bridges. A major psychological
operations effort would be launched to break the will of the
Egyptian people.39 This fixation is curious in light of post-
war British denigration of Egyptian leadership and fighting
capability. To be sure, British officers parroted Napolean's
dictum that there are no bad soldiers, only bad officers.40
Yet, the majority of Egyptian officers, including Nasser and
Amer, were trained by the British. Certainly, someone involved
in this training process must have gained an appreciation of
Yet the British persisted that immense preparations were
necessary. For their efforts, they were rewarded by the
withering scorn of General Beaufre:
"Indubitably, we were now in cloud cuckoo-
land. The theory was that under this pres-
sure, the defense would collapse and signs
of war weariness would appear."41
The General was assured that the allies would use technology
to "land without opposition." One can almost perfectly imagine
his gallic sneer as he continued:
"..., I could hardly believe my eyes. We
were going from one extreme to the other.
How could one hope to reduce resistance
to nil and how could on know the result
before-hand? Finally, and even more
important, how could one expect world
opinion to leave us free to bomb Egypt for
'eight to ten days, at least' without
intervening? It all seemed to me perfectly
childish and very dangerous."42
Nevertheless actual preparations continued. Britain
began flying long range reconnaissance flights over Egypt
with Canberra bombers.43 Strong evidence exists that U-2
flights were diverted to Egypt and the photographs were made
available to the British.44
A large naval task force was assigned the mission of
supporting the operation. It too was predominantly British.45
This force included seven aircraft carriers (five British,
two French)46 and was supported by 80 merchant ships and
hundreds of landing craft.47
This armada was augmented by a stream of air transports.
By September 10, the force was in position at Malta, Cyprus
and Algeria and consisted of 50,000 British and 30,000 French
Troops.48 The force was supported by an estimated 20,000
Landing this force would be a formidable task. The
Royal Navy had maintained a creditable state of readiness in
many areas, but her amphibious capability had eroded shockingly.
There was an absolute dearth of landing vehicles. This
problem was only solved when World War II vintage DUKWs were
temporarily appropriated from British amusement parks.50
Additionally, there was a pronounced shortage of tropical
clothing.51 This problem was never solved in its entirety.
French problems were similar but also included availability
of their overextended forces. The French persuaded the Americans
to let them "borrow" new anti-tank weapons to combat Nasser's
Soviet armor.52 All land vehicles were to be painted desert
yellow During the past year, however, all of French industry
combined had not produced enough of this yellow paint to
meet such a requirement. Once again, the French scrounged
and borrowed.53 One final problem had potentially more
serious ramifications. In late August 1956, three long
range fighter squadrons on duty with NATO in Germany simply
"disappeared." NATO commanders were unable to locate them
or explain their loss.54
To be sure, some problems were not corrected or properly
solved. When the centurian tanks from England were put aboard
ship, they were administratively loaded. Aircraft for the
paratrooper drop were obsolete.55 Neither deficiency proved
Other problems peculiar to combined operations had to be
surmounted. Language was a problem at all levels; equipment
was not interchangeable; the British used Fahrenheit and the
French Centigrade.56 Illustrative of this problem was the
very name of the operation. The British began to code vehicles
for operation Hamilcar with a capital "H." In French, Hamilcar
is Amilcar. The problem was obvious if petty. The endeavor
was rechristianed "MUSKETEER."57
At Cyprus and Malta, training and detailed planning went
on. So detailed was this planning that the Naval disembarkation
orders became as thick as a London telephone directory.58
Still progress was made. So rapidly, in fact, did the allies
proceed that on September 4, Stockwell returned to London
from a visit to Cyprus to pronounce that preparations were a
full week ahead of schedule.59 Then real trouble stuck.
Eden was embroiled in a fast changing political situation.
In the six weeks since Nasser had seized the canal, the
world had not come to an end. Public support for Eden's
belligerent stance had steadily eroded. He was also certain
that he would never gain bipartisan support from the political
opposition. A vote of confidence in late September sustained
him by a vote of 319 to 248, but it was an almost straight
party line vote. Eden struggled to hold the support that
remained. He perceived that a rash of military and civilian
casualties would cause further erosion. Consequently, he
ordered the military objective changed from Alexandria to
One observer, Mr. Kennett Love argues that from September 1,
Isreal was aware of Operation Musketeer. He concludes that
Eden's shift had the additional motive of supporting a collusive
effort by three countries.61 Available evidence does not
support this thesis. At that time, Eden and his government
had not warmed to the idea of cooperation with Israel. This
would only emerge in October. In any event the operation
was first delayed until September 19 and once again until
September 26 to compensate for the change of objectives.62
Other factors intervened to slow Eden and Mollet's momentum.
One was of their own making. Eden and Mollet had contrived
to force the now virtually defunct Suez Canal company to
have its European pilots go on strike. The scheduled day
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for the strike was September 15, the original D-Day. If
Nasser was unable to accommodate shipping with his local
force, then he might have to close the canal and in so doing
give the allies cause to intervene.63 The magic date came
and went. Nasser's Egyptian pilots supported by 15 Russians
proved what most sea-faring men had already known: Navigating
the canal was a piece of cake. In reality it was a straight
ditch that required minimal attention by pilots. In the
first day, 40 ships traveled the canal. Within a week, 254
steamed through. Both figures exceeded the average.64 The
odds on Nasser's gamble had clearly improved.
Another problem was lack of enthusiasm if not outright
opposition to the venture in the United States. President
Eisenhower recognized the danger immediately and sought to
calm his allies. Like Mr. Eden's legal advisors, Eisenhower
saw the seizure as perfectly legal. He realized that to
permit Lesser to keep his prize would be to allow the prestige
of a man he so clearly hated to soar. Yet, the alternative
was far worse. Miliary occupation would be easy, but a
permanent instability with deep hostility to the west would
almost certainly result.65 In short, this was a no-win
situation that could only deteriorate through use of force.
Almost immediately, Eisenhower dispatched his Secretary
of State, John Foster Dulles, to London to try and cool the
situation. Dulles's task was to persuade the unpersuadable.
It is not unlikely that he realized this.66 He was forced
to adopt a strategy of causing the allies to delay their
plans until a recourse to arms would lack even the flimsiest
support. He hoped, apparently, that by that time, Eden and
Mollet would both see the futility of their scheme. Dulles
was neither so aloof nor so altruistic as this discussion
might suggest. In his private conversations with British
and French officials, he acknowledged that an invasion of
Egypt would be worth the risk if Nasser could be desposed.
Dulles, however, did not think this likely. He bluntly told
the allies so.67
Dulles worried that United Nations talks might dissolve
in acrimony and present a justification for Britain and France
to act. So, he stalled these talks until he could try a few
schemes guaranteed to delay. The first was an international
authority to operate the canal complete with an inaugural
conference on August 15, 1956. This failed because Nasser
was unwilling to be a party to it.68
Dulles was not easily discouraged. As the oldest child
in an influential and highly respected family with roots to
the Mayflower, he had been trained from his earliest years
to persevere. His flinty, humorless personality, in obvious
contrast to the effervescence of his younger brother Allen,
the Director of Eisenhower's CIA, marked him as a man aquainted
with but hardly defeated by disappointment. He was an early
public advocate of the League of Nations and after World War
II had been appointed to a vacancy in the U.S. Senate only
to lose his seat in the next election. He left Wall Street
to become Secretary of State with the knowledge that he was
never Eisenhower's first choice. His performance in the
handling of State, however, provided inference that he approached
his duties as if born to them.
He presented for the allies approval an incredible concoction
called the Suez Canal User's Association. The delight provided
by the various possible acronyms for this organization aside,
the allies and other nations were in light of Dulles's prestige,
forced to seriously consider the matter. Talks and organi-
zational meetings droned on until October but finally collapsed
when it became apparent that the association would have no
American military muscle to back-up any legitimate rights
the users might decide they had. Clearly Eisenhower and
Dulles regarded the association only as a means of staving
off war until after the November presidential election.69
Dulles succeeded in delaying UN talks until early October.
By then, Britain and France were faced with a new problem.
It would certainly look improper to attack another country
while talks were being conducted, ostensibly for the purpose
of eliminating the need for force. Consequently, the invasion
was pushed back to October 15. As the talks at the UN dragged
on, D-Day was postponed again, this time indefinitely.70
Dulles had not succeeded in persuading the allies to call off
their war but, from their point of view, he had accomplished
something worse. He had by means of his tactics so clearly
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undermined their position of legality and necessity that
they would be unable to attack in any guise other than brazen
Units on Cyprus and Malta used these otherwise wasted
weeks to increase readiness and fine tune planning. The
French pressed for a paratroop drop along the length of the
canal72 arguing that the entire operation could be wrapped
up in four days. The British held firm with their projection
that a minimum of ten days was required. Their plan was far
more systematic and cautious. The assault portion of the
plan dubbed "Operation OMELETTE" called for British paratroop
drops at Gamil airport, French drops at Port Fouad, and a
British heliborne assault on the Raswa Bridges. This would
be in concert with surface landings. Other paratrooper
landings would take place farther down the canal when they
could be supported by tanks and infantry breaking out from
consolidated positions.73 Then, presumably, a march on Cairo
On Cyprus, British airborne troops had been preparing
since August. They were under the command of Brigadier
Mervyn Butler, a wiry Irishman incongruously called Tubby.
The men were generally ready although the operation would
depend primarily on the individual capacity of the paratroopers
themselves. All artillery vehicles over three tons had been
left in England as a result of the shortage of shipping.
The guns did not arrive in Cyprus until late September, so
little shooting was done.74 All units, despite being present
at Cyprus, were not thoroughly rehearsed. One paratrooper
battalion had been on duty in the mountains pursuing Greek
Cypriot terrorists until ten days prior to the actual jump.
Members admitted that transition to Musketeer was "sketchy."75
At Malta, 3 Commando Brigade under Brigadier R. W. Madoc
prepared for the surface and heliborne assaults. Planning
remained flexible as a result of political shifts. Four
separate plans were developed. All participants stayed
current with the exception of one destroyer that showed up on
D-Day firing at plan one's targets.
40 and 42 Commando were selected for the surface assault
and were given ample opportunity to train with their supporting
tank force (6th Royal Tank Regiment). The two commando units
were assigned 16 LVT's of which 15 worked. The sixteenth was
cannibalized for spare parts. The units were able to
effectively waterproof the tanks but experienced more difficulty
with anti-tank weapons. Eventualy, Madoc decided that the
106MM Recoiless Rifles would be transported by helicopter
45 Commando drew the heliborne assault. This was a momentous
choice as ship to shore heliborne operations in the face of a
hostile enemy had never previously been tried. They received
an experimental squadron comprised of 14 whirlwinds and 6
Sycamore helicopters from the Royal Army and the Fleet Air
Arm. Secrecy precluded rehearsal in Malta, but air control,
fire control and forward observation officers proved to be
As D-Day approached, part of the psychological warfare
plan had to be scrapped. Only one properly equipped plane
existed and that was in Kenya. Before it could be flown to
Cyprus, someone stole the broadcasting equipment. British
plans for radio propaganda also were hurt when all the Egyptian
broadcasters quit. On such short notice, only Palestinians
could be recruited and they spoke in a dialect not easily
understood by the Egyptians.77
As the invasion drew near, British forces managed a major
success. Despite the hostile environment of Cyprus, they
were able to keep Nasser's spies from gaining any insight
into the paratroopers' activities.78
October dragged on and all was as ready as it would get.
As they waited, however, the unsuspecting British officers
saw their timetable upset by another factor for which they
were completely unprepared.
IV. ...AND INTO THE FIRE
"Very interesting, but how do we actually start this
- Walter Monckton
When planning first began, General Beaufre sought guidance
from his mentor Charles DeGaulle. DeGaulle's suspicion of
British irresolution may have been excessive, but French
officers at the highest level were very worried that the
deliberate British approach to invading Egypt would paint
the allies into a corner. The French it seems, were determined
to be rid of Nasser and were committed by this time to act,
with or without their British allies. They also knew of
Israel's intent to launch a preemptive strike. It is not
unnatural then that someone, perhaps Admiral Barjot as Dayan
reports, would suggest seeking out Israel as an alternate
Israel enjoyed a warm relationship with the socialist
governments of the Fourth Republic. This good feeling had
been fostered in the Socialist International and also by the
men who led France's Socialist Party. No Frenchman loved
Israel more than Premier Guy Mollet. Mollet was then 51 and
had experienced much. He had started his professional life
as a teacher of English and his personal appearance seemed
perfect for the part. He was shy, mild mannered, softspoken
to the point of timidity and much affected by things English.
After France fell to Germany, he rejected pacifism and joined
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the resistance. It was here that he witnessed the barbarity
of the German campaign against French Jews.2 Mollet never
quite fit the current image of a socialist. This was because,
socialism aside, he was first, last and always a Frenchman
who shared with his countrymen:
"An image of France, a kind of collective
conscience, born of the political paralysis
of the thirties, the humiliation of the
occupation, the stern prophesies of DeGaulle,
the fear of domestic communism, and the
initial expectations and ensuing disap-
pointments of the Resistance."
He feared that the obvious decline of France might not be an
historical inevitability but the failure of a people.3
Mollet lauded Israel us the socialist state to which
France should aspire and pledged his complete aid to the infant
nation. He was good to his word. Even prior to the canal
crisis, he had begun the flow of modern weaponry to Israel.4
In a specific tactical sense, Israel was a more natural
ally for France than was Britain. Unlike England, both saw
speedy operations as most important to political imperatives.
Both realized that the longer the war, the more intense the
pressure from the United States to stop fighting.5
Like the French, the Israelis found the notion of life
without Nasser appealing. Unlike the French, however, their
objectives could be realized without a change in Egyptian
leadership. This is because both objectives were local to
the Sinai region. One called for elimination of Egyptian
miliary power in the Sinai; the other required opening the
straits of Tiran6
Throughout August and September, France and Israel reached
no clear agreement to attack in concert. Nevertheless, the
French were providing Israel with Mystere IV aircraft and
were shipping on to Israel American equipment intended for
On September 26, Eden and Lloyd flew to Paris for
consultations with French leaders. They found the French
extremely bellicose but inexplicably at ease. The French
did not disclose Israeli plans but exuded certainty that
talks planned for the United Nations were now necessary only
as window dressing for attacking Nasser. They hinted that
Israel would soon give them a pretext for intervention.8
At about this time the Israelis began to plan their own
strike in detail. French aid was substantial. The French
provided in addition to Mystere IV aircraft, 200 half tracks,
100 super Sherman tanks, 20 tank transporters and 300 6 x 6
Israel's Premier, David Ben-Gurion welcomed the support
of France. But he worried about Nasser's fleet of Soviet
bombers and feared for Israel's cities if the planes were
not destroyed. He believed that only Britain with her land
based bombers could effectively neutralize or destroy the
Egyptian Air Force. He began, therefore, to urge the French
through his emmissaries to ensure that Britain was included
in any operation.10
By early October, the British began to learn of the extent
of French and Israeli cooperation. Eden no longer wanted to
rule out collusion with Israel, but he was more insistent
than his old and new partners that any collusion remain a
secret. Britain needed the continued friendship of Iraq and
Jordan and could only suffer if she were found to have
entreated with the Jewish state. The Israeli attack promised
the best of both worlds. Britain and France could pose as
policemen and separate the combatants. In so doing, they
would depose Nasser and possibly regain the canal.11
The Israelis assumed that since the plan so perfectly
suited Britain's interests, Eden had devised it. This attitude
was shared by the CIA12 and had certain validity as Eden had
insisted on an ultimatum to preserve his moral position. In
all likelihood, the French, who worked hardest to put the
consortium together, were the genuine fathers of this
brainchild. French Air Chief of Staff General Maurice Challe
related that he had given the idea to Eden in a briefing and
that the Prime Minister was "thrilled."13
Now it was Ben-Gurion who was disatisfied. He was gravely
concerned that his forces might attack and then be left in
peril if Musketeer never got off the ground. He did not
fully trust the resolution of the English or the capacity of
his own air force to defend Israel's cities. Before he would
go through with the attack, he wanted a French air umbrella
and a formal agreement of the colluders.14 He got both.
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Text of the ultimatum addressed to Egypt
The Governments of the United Kingdom and France have taken
note of the outbreak of hostilities between Israel and Egypt.
This event threatens to disrupt the freedom of navigation
through the Suez Canal, on which the economic life of many
nations depends. The Governments of the United Kingdom and
France are resolved to do all in their power of bring about
the early cessation of hostilities and to safe-guard the free
passage of the canal. They accordingly request the Government
(a) to stop all warlike action on land, sea and air
(b) to withdraw all Egyptian military forces to a
distance of ten miles from the Canal; and
(c) in order to guarantee freedom of transit through
the Canal by the ships of all nations and in order to separate
the belligerents, to accept the temporary occupation by the
Anglo-French forces of key positions at Port Said, Ismailiya
The United Kingdom and French Government request an answer
to this communication within twelve hours. If at the expiration
of that time one or both Governments have not undertaken to
comply with the above requirements, United Kingdom and French
forces will intervene in whatever strength may be necessary
to secure compliance.
A similar communication has been sent to the Government
On October 23, 1956, a secret summit was held at Sevres,
France. Present were the Prime Ministers, Foreign Ministers
and Defense Ministers of the three countries. In the course
of two days, a final accord was hammered out. It envisioned
a scenerio that ran as follows:
1) Israel would attack Egypt in the Sinai. An
Israeli papatroop drop near the Mitla Pass would be interpreted
by Britain and France as a threat to the Suez Canal.
Text of the ultimatum addressed to Israel
The Governments of the United Kingdom and France have
taken note of the outbreak of hostilities between Israel and
Egypt. This event threatens to disrupt the freedom of
navigation through the Suez Canal, on which the economic life
of many nations depends. The Governments of the United
Kingdom and France are resolved to do all in their power to
bring about the early cessation of hostilities and to safeguard
the free passage of the Canal. They accordingly request the
Government of Israel:
(a) to stop all warlike action on land, sea and air
(b) to withdraw all Israel military forces to a
distance of ten miles east of the Canal;
A communication has been addressed to the Government of
Egypt requesting them to cease hostilites and to withdraw
their forces from the neighborhood of the Canal, and to accept
the temporary occupation by Anglo-French forces of key
positions at Port Said, Ismailiya and Suez.
The United Kingdom and French Government request an answer
to this communication within twelve hours. If at the expiration
of that time one or both governments have not undertaken to
comply with the above requirements, United Kingdom and French
forces will intervene in whatever strength may be necessary
to secure compliance.
2) Britain and France would express their grave
concern for international shipping and after due consideration
would issue ultimatums, the transcripts of which are figures
4-1 and 4-2. These called on both sides to accept the following
a) Immediate cease fire.
b) Both sides withdrew to a line ten miles to
either side of the canal.
c) A temporary British and French occupation of
the Suez Canal. In Egypt's case, this temporary occupation
would be independent of any acceptance or rejection of the
3) When Egypt refused the ultimatum, Britain and
France would unleash Operation Musketer.
Several other pledges were made. Israel would not com-
plicate Britain's involvement by attacking Jordan. France
would provide 65 fighters and pilots in addition to the 45
Mysteres already in Israel's air force. These would fly
cover until the Royal Air Force, operating from Cyprus, could
join the fray. Eden insisted on one final provision: No
copies of the accord would ever be made public.15
So, the deal was made and the parties returned to put it
into action. The Israeli plan, code named Operation Kadesh
was modified to include a third Sinai objective: create a
threat to the Suez Canal.16 Other aspects of the operation
were modified so as not to expose the bulk of Israel's armor
to air attack at least until the Royal Air Force could
The British added one final touch of political deception.
The past several months had seen a destablization of the
Jordanian-Israeli frontier. The pattern of Fedayeen raids
and Israeli reprisals had become increasingly bloody and had
finally involved the Jordanian Army. Several reprisals had
resulted in pitched battles with heavy casualties on both
sides. On October 28, just one day before Israel was to
attack Egypt, and three days after Israel had agreed not to
attack Jordan, The British Charge in Israel, totally innocent
of all plotting, delivered a formal warning that further
Israeli attacks on Jordan would bring instant British
Eden was now content, it seemed he could have his cake
and eat it too. Yet, his peculiar alliance had raised a new
problem, one that in the end would doom Musketeer. His
original political objective had called for deposing Nasser.
The possibilities for successful accomplishment eroded,
however, when Eden added a military objective that lessened
his chances of eliminating the Egyptian army, the base of
Nasser's power. Now he had positioned himself so that while
his purpose remained the fall of Nasser, his stated cause
had become separation of the belligerants and permanent
reoccupation of the Suez Canal only an unspoken hope.19 He
had, in his search for a motive as pure as he wished himself
to be seen, so confused the objectives of his operation that
achievement of his original purpose, unlikely at the start of
planning, had now become impossible.
If this were not bad enough, he had failed to keep his own
commander appraised of political developments. General
Stockwell, as noted, was until October 26, unaware of any
Israeli involvement. For that matter, Stockwell had never
surmised an Israeli intent to attack. lie was at this late
date unable to exchange liaison officers or coordinate
movements.20 This omission insured that collusion was only
political and that Britain's appearance of rectitude would
shatter when Operation Kadesh proved too speedy for its more
V. tHE POLICEMEN ARRIVE
"We are naot Burglars"
- Anthony Eden
"The Prime Minister is perfectly right. What we did was
to go in to help the burglar and shoot the householder"
- Hugh Gaitskell
One can easily imagine the shock with which Stockwell
received the news of collusion with Israel. Equally imaginable
is the scorn, anger and contempt he no doubt directed at his
civilian leaders. To his credit he began working to ensure
that the operation, now set for November 6, would be as
successful as possible.
Eden, however, stymied him again. The Prime Minister,
now obsessed with proper appearances, had demanded that no
loading take place until the ultimatum had expired.1 This
left Stockwell with a problem best described as a mathematical
impossibility. Loading required four days. This interval
when added to the six days steaming from Malta to Egypt
meant that if the fleet were to arrive off Port Said on
November 6, loading must begin no later than the very next
day. If Israel attacked on October 29, it was safe to assume
the ultimatum could not expire before O 31.
What to do? The urgency of the situation was obvious.
Yet, he had been told to do nothing until such time as action
was impossible. Stockwell conferred with Beaufre. One of
them remembered an embarkation training exercise called
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Operation "Boathook" that could possibly be used as a ruse to
begin loading. Stockwell rushed to Malta and conferred with
the Commander in Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet, Admiral Sir
Guy Grantham. Grantham ordered loading to begin immediately.
He then went one better and ordered the carrier task force to
sail on October 26.2
The Marines loaded rapidly. In 16 hours, they embarked
all 150 officers, 2000 men and 550 vehicles.3 By October 30,
in advance of the ultimatum, the entire force was loaded.4
Also in advance of the ultimatum and contrary to Eden's
instructions, Grantham had taken other actions to ensure
British Forces would be in position to strike. On October 29,
he dispatched 20 squadrons of Canberra and Valiant bombers to
Cyprus.5 On October 29, the advance force of destroyers
sortied from Malta.6 The French in Algeria and Toulon kept
As dusk approached on October 29, 1956, Israeli forces
struck in the Sinai. That night, French pilots flying from
Cyprus made supply drops in support of Israeli forces. This
support included jeeps, guns, food, ammunition, water and
petroleum products.7 And as previously stated, French planes
flew cover for Israeli cities.
The Israeli advance was not the rapid, all-out assault
that occured in 1967 for two reasons.
1) An indirect approach had to be used so that Dayan
could call the entire operation off if the British and French
intervention did not occur.
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2) The second was more subtle. Israel had to gain
a large victory in the Sinai to achieve her principal
objectives: Opening the Straits of Tiran and defeating the
Egyptian Army. These had to be gained rapidly and close to
the border if the war was to have any benefit.8
The arrows on the map show the planned areas of greatest
military endeavor. Limited activity in other sectors would
permit sufficient Israeli military presence to justify an
intervention by the Europeans.
In the afternoon of October 29 a paratrooper drop was made
just east of the Mitla Pass. This would permit Britain and
France to infer that a threat to the Suez Canal had occurred,9
especially when an armored column moved into Sinai to rein-
force the paratroopers. Again, this was a safe move as Dayan
reasoned that if the international reaction were unduly harsh,
the Brigade could withdraw and Israel could claim retaliation
for some earlier wrong.10 Dayan stressed to the brigade
commander that possession of the pass was unnecessary and that
his mission was to sit still and by presence only, create
the impression of a threat to the canal. In this regard,
the brigade's orders of October 31, reiterated that no advance
would be made to seize the pass. Sharm el-Sheikh, the fortress
controlling the Straits of Tiran was the principal objective.11
These orders should have meant the end of combat in this sector.
To the northeast of the Mitla, things did not go according
to plan. On October 30, the Israelis had captured Kusseima
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on schedule. But the Commander of the 7th Armored Brigade,
Colonel Arsaf Simhoni, despite an order from Dayan to hold
his position, launched an attack in that sector a full 24
hours early.12 This apparently was an example of the
"Haganah ethos" that Israeli commanders seize the initiative
when opportunity is presented.13 To his credit, Simhoni
had correctly interpreted the military situation. He rapidly
smashed his opposition and began to move toward the canal on
the Ismailia highway. Dayan was furious. He could see that
the rout was on and that the entire rationale for the British
and French intervention might soon unravel. He set out by
jeep to find Simhoni and remove him from command.14
As he drove, his anger subsided. He rationalized that he
had picked the commander precisely for his initiative and
his ability to size up the situation. Besides, he had not
told Simhoni the basis for any delay. He could not expect
the commander to divine that Britain and France were also in
on the action. When he found Simhoni, he took no disciplinary
action. Rather, he congratulated him and revised Operation
Kadesh to take advantage of the army's newest successes.15
Dayan was too circumspect to admit that while Egyptian air
power might still cause trouble, it was now obvious that his
objectives could be rapidly realized without any help from
Britain.16 As a former prisoner of the British, he probably
had no interest in providing any assistance that would not
prove mutually beneficial.
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If it was immediately apparent to Dayan that the Egyptian
Army was being routed, what happened next gave that clear
impression to everyone. Ariel Sharon, commanding the brigade
at the Mitla, was chafing in a stationary posture. He requested
permission to conduct a reconnaissance of the pass. His
request was approved. What Sharon implemented, however, was
a full-scale reconniassance-in-force that rapidly evolved to
a seven hour pitched battle. After sustaining 38 fatalities
and 120 wounded the Israelies held the pass and the road to
Suez stood open.17 Sharon's interpretation of orders is not
an issue to this thesis. The importance of his actions is the
fact they revealed the clear possibility of an Egyptian
military diaster that might end the war well before the
allies could intervene to stop it.
By the time Sharon had seized the Mitla Pass, the British
and French ultimatum had been delivered. The deadline expired
without Egyptian acceptance. Nasser realized immediately what
was in store for him and issued an order to his army commander
Amer to withdraw as many tanks and troops as possible from
Sinai so that they could be used to defend Egypt proper.18
That Amer was intrusted with the Army is indicitive of the
fact that Nasser's Egypt was in some ways similar to the Egypt
of Farouk. Abdel Hakim Amer, like his close friend Nasser,
was born in upper Egypt. He had attended Military School in
Egypt and at Sandhurst and was an early conspirator with
Nasser. He had assumed control of the armed forces when
Nasser became president.
Amer knew little of unit dispositions and proved a very
casual and ineffectual administrator possibly as a result of
addiction to hasheesh. His stupidity and weak character were
the butt of many army jokes. Nevertheless, he was designated
Nasser's official successor.19
Amer was far from eager to withdraw. He wanted to fight
the Israelis and was confident that he could beat them. He
issued communiques that detailed enormously successful - if
totally fictitious - operations against the invaders. These
communiques of the type all too familiar from more recent
middle east wars, apparantly confused Nasser who had little
else to assist him in gauging progress of the battle. Con-
sequently he was too slow to pressure Amer to remove his
forces from Sinai, thereby increasing his losses and failing
to strengthen his inner defenses.20
On October 31, Britain and France commenced air and naval
operations against Egypt but not until they had experienced
a brief delay to avoid interfering with the evacuation of
American citizens.21 In fact, the British government went to
great lengths to avoid civilian casualties of any kind and
duly patted themselves on the back for their efforts. At
1645, the Voice of Britain broadcast the following
"In order to protect their lives, all
residents of Egypt are requested to
stay away from all civil airports in
Egypt from this moment until the
Egyptian government accepts the demand
of the United Kingdom and France which
was delivered on October 30."22
In the days to come, the concern for civilian safety would
devolve to new extremes of silliness as Eden groped for moral
Civilian traffic continued unimpeded by the air offense.
Eden congratulated himself for that while claiming military
traffic had been effectively halted.23 Other sources are
less charitable and note that Egyptian armor and other army
vehicles took cover in civilian locales where most survived
This is not to say that the air strikes against Egypt
were unsuccessful. Moshe Dayan, the commander initially
concerned with the distruction of Egypt's aerial capabilities
was openly appreciative of their success. He pronounced the
Egyptian Air Force completely neutralized and unable to
interfere with his ground operations.25 Indeed, it appeared
all too easy. Debriefed British pilots, after a seemingly
obligatory denial that they had attacked any civilian targets,
described bombing runs little affected by ground fire or
One would think that this should not have been the case.
His readiness problems aside, Nasser possessed enough hot
fighter planes to make life difficult for the British as the
airplane comparison figures in Annex A demonstrate. Yet,
they did not challenge the allies.
Egyptian journalist Mohamed Heikal states that the reason
for the absence of aerial activity was that Nasser had given
the order not to fight back so that he might save his forces.27
This must be questioned. A more likely explanation is that
the Soviet Union was unwilling to become involved. The
paucity of trained Egyptian pilots leads one to infer that a
functional Egyptain air force would rely quite probably on
Soviet pilots and certainly on Soviet technicians. Given
Soviet problems at the time in Hungary, it is highly probable
that the Soviets, rather than Nasser, decided that Egypt's
Air Force should remain idle. The Russian withdrawal of 48
Ilyushin strike bombers to Southern Egypt and Khartoum shortly
before the British attack tends to support this premise.28
An additional anecdote illustrates that in terms of actual
combat, Nasser was on his own. Syrian President Shukri el-
Kuwatly was in Moscow at that time and pleaded Nasser's case
to the Soviet hierarchy. When Kuwatly became almost hysterical
at Russian intransigence, Soviet Defense Minister Zukov took
a globe and graphically explained to the excited Syrian that
the distances involved made any kind of practical assistance
As a further triumph, the British were able to silence
the powerful transmitters of Radio Cairo with, again "few
On the first day of the bombing, something much more
important was put out of commission - the Suez Canal. As
the bombing began, Nasser ordered the canal closed. By this
time he had put together a force, if that is a proper term,
of 40 ships that had been positioned for precisely that
purpose. These ships were towed out and sunk along the
entire length of the canal effectively closing it and trapping
14 ships that had been in transit. All operational machinery
was smashed as well.31 One of the avowed objectives of
the proposed intervention had now become unattainable. The
canal could no longer be protected. The British government
now could only warn ominously of a possible oil shortage and
future gasoline rationing.32
Naval combat was equally one sided. On October 30, the
antiquated Egyptian Frigate, Ibrahim al-Awwal was on station
off the coast of Israel. At sundown, her Captain received
orders to bombard the Israeli port of Haifa, an action that
he commenced at 0335 on the 31st. Although a full three
hours remained until the Anglo-French ultimatum was to expire,
the French Destroyer Keisaint, also on station, engaged the
Ibrahim with her guns. The Ibrahim was unhit but broke off
at full speed and ran for Egypt. Before she could make good
her escape, the Ibrahim was run down and captured by Israeli
patrol boats and destroyers. She had inflicted no casualties
and little damage.33
Later on the 31st, the French cruiser Georges Leygues
provided shore bombardment for Israeli ground forces
assaulting the Rafah strong point. The assistance was noisy
but not particularly significant.34
On the evening of October 31, the British cruiser, H.M.S.
Newfoundland, on patrol in the Gulf of Suez, came upon the
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Egyptain frigates Rasheed and Damietta. The latter was lying
still in the water and was picked up by the Newfoundland's
spotlight. The Damietta started her engines and after ignoring
an order from the British Captain to halt, opened fire at
the spotlight. She was promptly blown apart by the cruiser's
six-inch guns. As the British picked up survivers, the
Rasheed fled to the Saudi port of Wejh. The naval war south
of Suez was over.35
For all practical purposes, a northern naval war had
never begun. One small incident, however, is instructive.
In the dusk of November 4, two small Egyptian coastal patrol
boats set out from their station in the delta to attack the
British and French fleets and were promptly sunk by carrier
aircraft. Within days the Arab world had been told that the
two small craft had sunk the Jean Bart before succumbing.
This like most Egyptian communiques, was patently false. In
all, the Egyptians claimed one battleship, one crusier and
two destroyers sunk and three destroyers damaged. The allies
reported no ships hit.36
The engagements of the naval war were insignificant. As
part of the larger picture, however, they were enormously
important. They underline the utter weakness of the Egyptians
and further illustrate the magnitude of British miscalculations
of enemy strength.
The propaganda war, though hampered by the loss of the
psyop sound plane, continued. British radio beamed loudly
into Egypt and depicted Nasser as a traitor who almost deliverd
"our country" into the hands of the Soviet Union. A major
leaflet drop into the Delta on October 31 declared:
"Remember that we have the might to attain
our objective, and we shall use all of it
if necessary. Your choice is clear. Either
accept the Allied proposals or accept the
consequences of Nasser's policy, which will
bring heavy retribution not only to the few
who are guilty, but also to you, the many
who are innocent."37
This was all very imposing except when one considers the
gross illiteracy of the population and the tendency of leaf-
leted populations throughout the world to employ the literature
for day to day concerns of a more immediately pressing nature.38
Egyptian claims of battle success were the invention of
commanders in the field and not a coordinated propaganda
campaign by the government. The claims did not deceive the
allies and had only limited positive effect on the civilian
population. Aside from comic relief, the only effect of this
fiction was to deepen the fog descending on Egypt's leadership.
By November 2, the Israeli advance was accelerating and
the extent of Egypt's humiliating defeat was clear. This
posed two advantages for the British and French:
1) They could intervene and add to Nasser's humiliation
and just perhaps apply the last nudge that would tip him over.
2) Their invasion could be justified as a barrier
to further Israeli advance,
Yet, these advantages only held as long as Israel continued
her advance. The British and French assault, now set for
November 6, would be unnecessary if Egypt and Israel were
both to accept the U.N. cease fire demand.39 Egypt had let
it be known that she was ready to quit. At the rate Israel
was going, she would have all her objectives before the allies
It was obvious that the attack would have to be moved up.
But, how far? The French pushed for the fourth and got an
Israeli promise to protect the French and British flank by
occupying Qantara.40 Eden immediately vetoed this approach.
It would be too difficult to deny collusion.41
But Israel also needed time. Sharm el-Sheikh was not
captured. Something else was needed. On November 3, the
Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., Abba Eban, was notified by
his government that an immediate cease fire was unaceptable.42
He then set out to frame a set of conditions that would delay
a cease fire and make it possible to blame Egypt. This was
in the form of five questions asked formally of the Egyptian
Ambassador to the U.N. These questions had to be satisfactorily
answered before Israel could consider it "safe" to quit
fighting. The questions were:
1) Was Egypt in agreement clearly and unambiguously
for a general cease fire?
2) Did Egypt consider that a state of war existed
between herself and Israel?
3) Was Egypt prepared to start negotiations with
Israel to establish peace between the two countries?
4) Would Egypt agree to raise her economic boycott
and the blockade of Israeli shipping?
5) Did Egypt intend to withdraw her Fedayeen bands
from other Arab countries?43
For many reasons, Nasser could not provide an "acceptable"
answer. So, the war went on and eventually Sharm el-Sheikh
Nasser was faced with a different problem: How to survive
until the fighting stopped. He had initially believed that
the major allied effort would come in the Delta or at least
his intelligence service had prepared him for this. To this
end, he tried to delay the American evacuation hoping that
Britain might receive some bad publicity.44
He was, by October 31, however, convinced that the main
effort would come at Port Said and that the garrison should
be reinforced. He initially sent two companies of regular
infantry to the city. They were to fight as civilian irre-
gulars and disrupt allied supply efforts. One day later, he
ordered three national guard battalions consisting of 600
men and four tank chassis mounted 100 MM ZU-100 guns added
to the force. He also dispatched an ammunition train that
reached Port Said on the evening of November 4.45
He knew that any resistance put up by this force would be
insufficient to deny the allies but he believed that any
commotion at the UN and in the House of Commons resulting from
this extra violence would work to his good. He also believed
it might stiffen civilian morale for the anticipated guerrilla
By November 4, Nasser had concluded that Amer was unable
to manage the deteriorating situation. Consequently, he
left Interior Minister Zakaria Mohieddin in charge of the
central government and set out for port Said to personally
supervise preparations. By evening, he had reached Ismailia
but was prevented from going farther by an insistent guard
commander.47 Nasser's luck had held again because the British
and French paratrooper drop occurred the following morning.
The effect of Nasser's possible capture makes for one of the
most interesting speculations of the entire campaign.
If Nasser thought he would eventually prevail, he must
have realized that the situation was sufficiently bad that he
ought to hedge his bets. He knew that 74 years prior, England
had used the safety of British subjects as a pretext for
invading Egypt. He was not about to give them another such
excuse. He countered any possibility of that by decreeing
the death penalty for anyone who harmed a British or French
citizen.48 An English reporter noted that British citizens
were treated with civility and not denied access to any public
accommodations.49 Similarly, the British Ambassador was
allowed free movement about Cairo in his Rolls Royce.50
If the events of the past week had compounded the planning
of the Egyptians and the Israelis, they were absolutely
exasperating the British and French.
It was obvious that Musketeer Revise (the new plan calling
for a November 6 landing), would be too late to accomplish
everything that the politicans desired. Something would
have to change. Beaufre had hid staff frenzidly preparing
plans for every imaginable contingency: With Israel; without
Israel; France alone; different concepts of seizure. In the
end, Eden rejected all these plans but did on November 2,
approve a one day step up in the parachute landings.51
In his memoirs, the English Prime Minister defers to the
judgment of General Keightly that organized resistance would
now last for five days.52 Keightly never divorced himself
of this notion nor is it likely he could. Sir Charles had
been born in 1901 and educated at Sandhurst. During World
War II, he commanded an armored division in Tunisia and
later a corps in the famed 8th Army. He had won some reknown
as a commander for a daring envelopment whereby his tanks
splashed through the surf onto the German flank. Yet, people
who knew him, including some Americans whom he had commanded,
suggested that this episode was out of character. He was
considered rather, a very solid, dependable type who was
very good at planning and very relaxed in that type of
environment. At this time, the most newsworthy thing about
the general was that he had directed the British military
withdrawal from Egypt in 1954.53
This irony aside, General Keightly was having his problems.
Eden had authorized a one day step up of the operation and
that meant revision of the sequence of events. The British
drop into Gamil was retained but now the French would drop at
Raswa instead. This would put a relatively small number of
paratroopers - as a result of the limited aircraft parking
space at Cyprus - on the ground in Egypt for 24 hours without
any support, other than carrier aviation. Clearly this was
a new risk.54
The risk was primarily in Keightly's mind. He had cautiously
interpreted the earlier Egyptian withdrawal as a movement to
contact against his forces. He now saw the rout as a con-
tinuation of that movement. To him, this meant that a step
up in the timetable was not only unwarranted, but very dangerous.
He had been overruled by Eden but he was not about to jeopardize
the operation by engaging in any further risky attacks.55 No
doubt he saw proposed changes to the plan as opportunities
for disaster rather than chances for success.
French worries were not confined to changes in military
timetables. They now had cause to question Mr. Eden's
resolve.56 Indeed, Eden was wavering. And no wonder, he was
catching it from every side. Labour was shouting for his
resignation; Eisenhower was opposed to force; he had a pending
The French accurately gauged Eden's mood and sent Foreign
Minister Pineau to London to buck him up. The French also
let the world know that they and the British were unwilling
to accept any truce at this time and hinted broadly that the
expedition would be pursued until Nasser gas toppled.57
In fairness to Eden, he was sick. He suffered from a
bile duct malfunction that despite three operations, was
never properly repaired. This malady often left him in a
weakened condition and led to an emotional state that was
both irritated and irrascible.58 His health problems were
compounded by a personal tragedy in October 1956 when his
second wife Clarisa, twenty-three years his junior, suffered
a miscarriage.59 Perhaps it is not unwarranted to assume
that Eden's health and his personal tragedy adversely affected
his judgment. In turn, errors in judgment increased the
pressure on him and accelerated the deterioration of his
physical condition and the erosion of his operational resolve.
The events of the days immediately prior to the assault
reveal the full extent of his slipping resolve. On November 1,
Earl Mountbatton wrote a personal note to Eden urging him
once again to consider the damage that would result to Britain's
diplomatic and economic situation. Eden, on the third,
thanked the First Sea Lord but stressed that the operation
This steadfastness was a charade. Eden was already
looking for a way out. During a televised speech on the
evening of November 3, he referred to the pending clash as a
"police action" to separate the combatants. He continued
that Britain and France would be willing to step aside as
soon as the United Nations could assume that function. Even
as he prepared his speech, he had taken steps to further
limit the scope of the invasion to the establishment of a
bridgehead on the Suez Canal. Under no condition was there
to be march on Cairo.61 He then dispatched Head, now the
Minister of Defense, to Cyprus to give Keightly the bad news.
Here the concern for civilian casualties really got out
of hand. Head, presumably on Eden's orders, limited the
calibre of naval gunfire support to 4.5 inches, effectively
restricting many of the support ships such as the massive
Jean Bart to troop transport duties. This was followed by
perhaps the government's most negligent act. Actual landing
sites were disclosed when British radio warned Egyptian
civilians to stay away from Port Said beaches.62 One can
only imagine the reaction in Paris.
Eden was now picking at the detailed planning and execution
of the operation. He told Keightly to try and shift the
entire attack to the east side of the canal. Keightly then
showed that his inflexibility possessed a positive side. he
stated that this was impossible.63 Eden then wanted a last
minute at which he could delay the paratroop drop for 24
hours. Keightly strongly advised against any further
alternation.64 Eden demurred.
The invasion was on. Only Eden could stop it now and
even that would not be easy. The momentum that propelled the
assault had been building daily and almost irresistibly. As
Eden vacilated, the occupation force sailed from Southhampton.65
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VI. THE WORLD'S SHORTEST WAR
"Our mountain has given birth to a mouse."
- Major General Andre Beaufre
Shortly after 0400 on Monday, November 5, 1956, Phase II
of Operation Musketeer began. This phase was the paratrooper
assault into Port Said and Port Fouad and was code named
Operation Omelette.1 These small paratrooper forces would
be dropped into an enemy metropolitan area and were expected
to hold their objectives unsupported for twenty-four hours.
British readiness had unwittingly conspired to make the test
even more risky. The Royal Air Force did not have sufficient
planes of the type needed to transport the paratroopers'
artillery. Consequently, the guns had to go by ship and
would not be present until the 6th, if then.2
The paratroopers were organized into groups smaller than
their commanders preferred. The men compensated for this,
however, by their toughness and elite qualities. The British
unit was 3d Parachute Battalion, the so-called "Red Devils."
They numbered 600 men and drew Gamil Airfield as their princi-
pal objective.3 They were on the whole a youngish group of
regulars but with a 10 to 15% mixture of combat veterans.
They were fit, tough and much admired by their officers.4
But, if they were combat ready, they were not exactly pro-
ficient military parachutists. They were scheduled to drop
from 600 feet into a rectangle one mile deep by one half
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mile wide. They were too poorly trained to jump with weapons
and planned to retrieve their arms from drop boxes.5
In contrast, the Frenchmen, 500 members of the 10th
Parachute Division were a hardened lot. They were well
trained, well armed, and almost exclusively veterans of Algeria
and Vietnam. They were highly motivated and demonstrated an
elan that few troops anywhere could match. They had drawn the
Raswa bridges as an objective and would jump from 400 feet but
into a drop zone one half mile deep and 150 yards wide.6 This
smaller zone was possible in part because the French planes
had dual exit ports. 7
The drops were scheduled for 0608 to 0630 with the French
dropping 15 minutes behind the British.8
The British were fortunate in that the Egyptians had
littered the runway at Gamil with obstacles. The paratroopers
gratefully used these as cover until they could arm, organize
and move out. By shortly after 0700, the British had chased
off the company of reservists defending Gamil and seized
the air field. They consoldiated their gains and moved out
toward Port Said against increasing Egyptain resistance.9
They had suffered one killed.10
The French did even better. Where the British were
successful, their gaullic allies were wreaking havoc. They
had landed on a defended position but had thoroughly routed
and destroyed the defenders. The Egyptians had managed to
blow the lesser pontoon bridges, but the French rapidly seized
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the major span.11 The French then captured the Port Said
waterworks and turned off the machinery. All this was
accomplished by 0900.12
The French were aided immensely by the utility of their
aerial transport planes. One of these Nordatlas stayed behind
and circled the city at 1,000 feet. Aboard was French Brigadier
General Jean Gilles who directed the battle below. The
British were less fortuante. Their equipment was ancient and
every radio set was damaged on landing.13 Eventually, they
were able to repair some equipment and make radio contract
Both forces began to expand their sectors. The French
instituted vigorous patroling out to six miles from the
Bridge.14 As the British moved east toward Port Said, they
met increasing resistance emanating from the Port Said Coast
Guard Station. Air strikes from British carriers reduced
this to rubble and the advance continued - albeit slowly.15
Although Keightly probably would not admit it just then,
the French had been proven right in the sense that the enemy
were a pushover. So smoothly had the operation gone that all
troops were in place and initial objectives had been captured
ahead of schedule. Additionally, only seven planes had been
hit. None of these were lost. By noon it was clear that
follow-up drops should be made. The British dropped 100 men
and heavy equipment at Gamil shortly after 1400. Simultaneously,
the French dropped another 400 men on the golf course at the
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southeastern edge of Port Fouad. This latter group met heavy
resistance but was undeterred as they occupied the town. In
fact, they brutalized Port Fouad so thoroughly that all resis-
tance quickly ended and the French landing the following day
was strictly administrative.16
Nasser's plan was to fight a guerilla action in the city
and if we are to believe Heikal, attack the allies once they
spilled off the causeway south of Port Said.17 This is a
point rendered moot by the allied acceptance on November 6
of the cease fire. The developing situation, however, clearly
indicated that defenses in the city were all Nasser could
then rely on. And there, things were not going well.
By later afternoon, the British and French had still not
linked up. Yet, Egyptian forces in the city were hard pressed.
The plight of the civilian inhabitants was even worse. Nasser
had expected the civilian population to bear the brunt of the
fighting and had armed them for this purpose, a curious act
by one considered ripe for a civil uprising.18 Indeed,
the civilians bore the brunt. The French literally pulled
no punches. They blasted their way from street to street
leaving a trail of death and destruction. Numerous fires
had been started and the inoperative water works insured
that fire fighting was impossible.19
The Egyptian military commander, Brigadier General
Salahedeen Moguy summed up the situation and no doubt concluded
that things would only get worse and probably very quickly.
He sounded out the allies for a cease fire. Talks with
Butler eventually led to multually agreeable terms of sur-
This agreement soon foundered. The British and French
had a clumsy command and control arrangement and it took time
to involve all the principles. Illustrative of these
difficulties were the locations of Generals Stockwell and
Beaufre on separate ships. Communications were abysmal.
Terms could not be approved until almost 2200.21
In the meantime, something else happended. Nasser finally
got back to Cairo. There, he found Amer in a state of emotional
collapse. Now, he completely superseded his general and made
all former decrees from Amer subject to his own control. One
such decree was the measure of authority granted Moguy as
commander in Port Said. When Nasser learned of the pending
surrender, he overruled it and announced his actions over
Radio Cairo, now back on the air. When the dissappointed
Moguy met again with Butler at 10:30 p.m., he could only
announce that there would be no surrender and that hostilities
would begin anew.22
Eden attributes the stiffening of Egyptian resolve to the
presence of Russian officers and aid. He cites the presence
of sound trucks assuring the civilian population that Russian
help was on the way as definitive proof.23 This is probably
not the case. Little evidence exists to confirm the presence
of any Russian other than the Soviet consul. Additionally
Moguy has admitted that the announcement of pending Russian
aid was a lie conceived by him and broadcast on his order.24
So ended the first day of the assault. The inaction of
the final hours guaranteed more fighting would follow.
The second day brought Phase III, the ship to shore
movement. This called for the seaborne forces to come ashore,
link up with the paratroopers, and prepare for the total
seizure of the canal. To the west of the canal would be the
Royal Marines, backed by the 6th Royal Tank Regiment; east of
the canal would be a battalion of the Legion supported by
French marine commandos and tanks.25
The Marines and the French had been at sea for almost a
week. On November 5, they married up with a French convoy of
gunfire ships and minisweepers. The convoy then turned south
for Post Said.26
Shortly before dawn on the 6th, the invasion began from a
line approximately five miles off-shore. It was supported by
almost one hour of naval gunfire preassault bombardment,
none larger than 4.5 inches.27
The British landing at 4:50 a.m. preceeded that of the
French by almost two hours.28 The focal point of the assault
was the Casino Pier with 40 Commando landing to the east and
42 commando to the west. 6th Royal Tank Regiment (RTR) was
in trace of 40 Commando. Each commando landed its first wave
in LVT's with succeeding waves in landing craft.29 On neither
beach did the commandos encounter any mines.30
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The most important task, that of seizing the basins along
the west bank of the canal, fell to 40 Commando.31 These were
assigned because the Royal Navy hoped to avoid the complication
of landing masses of troops and equipment over the crowded
beaches. The Egyptian block ships, however, had made this
plan extremely difficult to implement, thereby lessening the
significance of 40 Commando's objectives.32
For many of the men of 40 Commando, the landing was a
"dry" one. For the others it was not uncomfortable.33 The
commandos captured their early intermediate objectives with
ease and after tanks were landed, began to move out. This
process lasted almost 90 minutes.34 They quickly overcame
sporadic resistance and overran the port police station. As
they continued their push toward the Suez Canal Company offices,
they received some good fortune when an officer looking for a
vantage point captured General Moguy and 20 members of his
40 eventually captured the canal offices and then made
their last attack of the day, securing the Navy House.36
The 6th RTR had by this time broken through in an armored
column. By noon RTR had linked up with the French paratroopers
at Raswa. Some of the Frenchmen then became mounted infantry
as the column struck out to the south and seized El Tina where
it went into the defensive.37
42 Commando landed to the west of 40 and had drawn the
power station as their main objective. Like 40, they rapidly
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secured their intermediate objectives.38 Their principal
line of advance was the Rue Mohamed Ali, a main north-south
thoroughfare. They lacked manpower to occupy the area, so
they traversed it as rapidly as they could on their LVT's.
In rapid course, they captured the power station and the
cold storage plant and linked up with 40 commando, thereby
protecting that unit's flank.39
The seaborne landing had gone splendidly. All the
objectives had been rapidly seized and the link-up with the
French paratroopers had taken place. But the two commandos
were too small to effectively control the area they had
crossed. They settled instead for rapid movement to achieve
their objectives.40 The thankless task of clearing remaining
enemy resistance from Port Said, therefore, fell to the
Brigade's floating reserve, 45 Commando.
The original mission of 45 Commando was to conduct a
heliborne assault and seize a defended objective in the Basin
area. This was amended for numerous reasons not the least
of which was the absence of any known precedent for a ship to
shore heliborne assault. Additional factors were a lack of
sufficient helicopters and the change in plans that had
moved the French paratroopers into the Raswa Bridges the
45 Commando's mission was modified to reflect the changed
situation. They intended to land in a soccer stadium, occupy
the town, silence snipers, deal with bypassed resistance,
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collect discarded enemy weapons and equipment and link up with
the 3d Parachute Battalion advancing from Gamil Airfield.42
This seems an enormous set of objectives for a force numbering
only 415 men. The commando were well trained, however, and
had the unusual advantage of having many men who had previously
served in the canal area. Consequently, the Marines knew
Port Said better than their Egyptian army adversaries.43
At H + 55 minutes, the floating reserve was called in.
45 loaded immediately and was soon enroute to the furiously
burning city. Lieutenant Colonel Tailyour, the commanding
officer of the commando, decided that he would conduct his
own reconnaissance of the landing site. He immediately
found much about it that was unsatisfactory: The approaches
were fouled by overhead wire; smoke obscured vision, the
landing zone was under enemy fire; enemy troops were maneuvering
in the area. He and his party scrambled back on their heli-
copter and set out to find another site.44
The new site was just west of the de Lesseps statue in an
area already secured by 40 Commando. If the Royal Marines
had forfeited the honor of a completed landing against hostile
objectives, they did gain some important advantages. The
plan of the day called for an assault of 415 men in four
waves. This landing over the course of 2 1/2 hours would
permit a buildup of 23 1/2 tons of supply. The plan estimated
a casualty factor of ten percent per wave. The slightly more
sheltered landing site enabled the commando to land all 415
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men and 23 tons of supply in one hour and twenty-three minutes.
Only three helicopters, including the reconnaissance bird
were lost. As the commando prepared to move out, they found
themselves ahead of schedule with a larger and better organized
force. The men were also grateful for dry feet.45
45 ran into trouble almost immediately. Resistance was
disorganized, but the high buildings and the fires from the
previous day made any systematic advance difficult. As if
this were not enough, a "friendly" air strike inflicted 18
causalties on the Marines.46
The main route of advance was the Rue El Mahrousa. By
1100 the Marines, as yet unsupported by tanks, had cleared
the length of the street to the point where it becomes Rue
Mohamed Ali. The commando then turned westward and advanced
toward the paratroopers. At 1320, they were joined by tanks
and progress improved as snipers' nests were blasted by the
rumbling machines. By 1600, they had reached Rue El Ghali
Moukhtar. By 1730, fighting had practically ceased, but
contact with the paratroopers was not made until the next
In the meantime, the Royal Navy was unloading the 16th
Parachute Brigade. These were the last of the assault troops
to be engaged.48
On the east bank of the canal, the French found no
resistance at all. The landing force came ashore to widespread
damage and almost total quiet.49 The only armed men in the
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brutalized town were French paratroopers, many of them drunk,
who had landed the day before.50 This quiet remained
throughout the occupation, so thoroughly had any possibility
for resistance been stamped out.51
Everything was on schedule. Given the paucity of
resistance, it would have taken a poor commander to be anything
but on schedule. General Butler had by this time relocated
in El Tina to take control of the next day's operations. At
1600 local time, he received his orders. The British were
to break out to the south and seize the airfield at Abu
Suwweir; the French were also to move south and capture
Ismailia; the Royal Marines were to mop up in Port Said.52
Other things were happening that would negate these
orders. The strength of the allies on the battlefield was
unquestioned. On the international field, however, a situation
beyond their control was forcing them to come to grips with
Chancellor of the Exchequer MacMillan had earlier predicted
Britain's ability to pay the bill for military operations.
He had declined, however, to project the effect of international
opposition to the invasion. When that opposition hit, it hit
hard. For two months there had been a mini-run on the Pound
Sterling brought about by crises-related speculation in
currency. When the British and French attacked, this run
accelerated. The Chinese withdrew their balance and the
Indians reduced theirs. In the first six days of November,
British reserves plummeted sharply. By the end of the month,
they would fall $279 million or roughly 15%. A continuation
of this trend would mean that England would soon be unable
to guarantee her debts. Eden professed later that the decline
would have become serious if it had continued.53 This is
understatement carried to absurdity. If he could see that
kind of trouble pending, the situation was already serious.
MacMillan bluntly admitted that the Pound had collapsed and
could only be saved by an American loan to resolve the technical
impediments to stability. Her Majesty's Government understood
quite clearly that this loan was impossible until a cease-fire
had been agreed upon.54 The same pertained to alleviation
of expected petroleum shortfalls.
The issue of what caused the allied acceptance of the cease
fire was clouded by a sudden thrust of the Soviet leadership
to propel themselves into the crisis. On the evening of
November 5, 1956, Soviet Premier Nikolai Bulganin sent a
dispatch to his counterparts in Great Britain, France and
Israel. The messages to Britain and France were blunt; the
note to Israel was more so. The attackers must immediately
desist or face the consequences. Bulganin was not subtle in
explaining what there consequences were. The gist of his
threat was as follows:
"In what position would Britain have found
herself if she herself had been attacked by
more powerful states possessing every kind
of modern destructive weapon? And there are
countries now which need not have sent a
Navy or Air Force to the coasts of Britain,
but could have used other means such as a rocket
technique. We are filled with determination
to use force to crush the aggressors and to
restore peace in the East. We hope you will
show the necessary prudence and will draw
from this the appropriate conclusions."55
Few, if any, took this for anything but a hypocritical
sham to divert attention from the brutal rape of Hungary.
Labour's hierarchy saw if that way.56 Eden on this occasion
correctly analyzed his intelligence. He noted the "uncommon
infrequency" of Soviet wireless transmissions and their
distinctly restrained nature. He believed that Soviet pro-
paganda was stepped up only when it was obvious that American
pressure had forced the allies to quit. 57
Eisenhower, apparently believing it was a bluff, called
it.58 The French and Israelis ignored it.59 Sadat also made
light of it.60
In retrospect, things were going so well diplomatically
for Nasser that it is unlikely he would have accepted any
aid. In this regard, he told U.S. Ambassador Hare in his
typically tactless manner, "Don't worry about these Soviet
moves. I don't trust any big power."61
In any event, it was all academic. The decision to quit
had already been made. The only question was when. From
0200 until noon on the sixth, Eden, Mollet and representatives
of the ailing Dulles were in constant contact. Finally, a
decision was made to accept the cease fire effective, 2400
London time, November 6, or 0200 Suez time, November 7, 1956.62
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After consultations the order to cease firing was finally
relayed to Butler who received it at 2030 Suez time. His
orders were modified so that he should seize as much of the
canal as he could before time ran out.63
Although fighting was still going on to their rear in Port
Said, weary British and French paratroopers climbed on tanks
and raced south unimpeded.64 The Royal Artillery had now
rejoined the paratroopers but they were moving so fast that
they were unable to fire their guns in support. Nor was any
As midnight approached, British patrols reached Lake Timsah
and the main body rolled into positions at El Cap, twenty-five
miles to the north.66 Butler described the final hours as
"damned silly" and "not a military exercise." His men raced
as fast as transport would allow. In the end, they were
forced to ignore defensible or key terrain and occupy only
vulnerable ground next to the canal.67
Not unlike Cinderella, the allies found themselves dashing
futilely as the evening played itself out. When the clock
struck twelve, the music stopped.
VII. AFTER THE BALL WAS OVER
"I would rather have the British Empire fall in one crash
than have it nibbled away."
- Anthony Eden
Unlike Cinderella, Eden had no glass slipper and no
prospect for Prince Charming. Instead, he and Mollet faced a
political crisis that could not be painlessly resolved.
Casualties for an operation of this magnitude were
suprisingly light. Of the 13,500 Britons involved, 16 were
killed and 96 wounded. France's 8,500 participants saw only
10 killed and 33 wounded.1 Egyptian casualties were never
reliably compiled. Military and civilian casualties in the
war against Britain and France are estimated to have been 650
dead and 900 wounded, primarily from the air and naval
Egyptian losses of other kinds included the disappearance
of the entire armament of her Sinai force, sabotaged Sinai
oil fields and confiscated oil field equipment, devastation
of most of her air force and damage to many airfields,
destruction of Port Said and Port Fouad and elimination of
Suez Canal revenues.3
The physical cost to Britain was primarily monetary.
Eden's official account put the cost of the operation at $280
Million. With preparation and delays the figures climb by an
additional $40 to $55 Million. The total cost approached
1/16 of Britain's annual defense budget.4 French costs are
still not available, but a prorated share that includes her
assistance to Israel specifically for the Sinai war leads one
to concludes that the cost approximated $200 million.
An examination of allied success in realizing political
objectives demonstrates conclusively the magnitude of the
First British objectives:
1) Removal of Nasser. Nasser was still in charge
and presumably stronger than ever. In fact it was at this
time that the title "Rais" (captain of the ship) began to be
applied to him.
2) Separation of the Combatants. This was a sham
objective. Had it been real, one would have to concede that
Israel and Egypt separated themselves, even as they have
3) Occupation of the Suez Canal. Only the Port
Said area was occupied and the canal was completely closed.
For all purposes it remained in Egyptian hands.
Other problems developed. Nasser had guaranteed the
safety of British lives and property. The potential danger
to the former was now much greater than before the conflict.
Loss of the latter was assured. More seriously, the French
government, and especially the French military were sorely
suspicious of "Perfide Albion."5
France's objectives were worse than unsatisfied:
1) Ensure sources and routes for imported petroleum.
Instead of achieving this objective, she had seriously
disrupted her supply and lengthened her routes.
2) Protect Israel. France had helped a bit, but
Israel had needed little protection.
3) Attack the source of supply for the Algerian
rebels. After the war, Egypt increased her assistance as did
many other Arab countries who were incensed at French actions.6
In Egypt, just the opposite happened. Nasser absorbed a
smashing and overwhelming military defeat but turned it into
an immediate and resounding political victory. His army's
inept performance in the Sinai should have been directly
attributable to him. yet, the British and French invasion,
rather than deposing him, had handed him a martyr's robe
which he wore to perfection. All of his burdens only bruised
the feet of his European adversaries.7
Not only was he now safe atop Egypt, but his towering
prestige was amplified across the Arab world. Now, no other
Arab leader dared brave the public outcry that would greet a
political position openly opposed to Nasser.8
The war wrecked an already feeble Egyptian economy,
depriving it of a major sources of revenue. It mattered not,
for Nasser now had garnered an excuse for poor economic per-
formance.9 This is not to say there were no ecominc benefits.
With his governmental control strengthened, and Britain and
France no longer a threat, he was able to throw out British
and French nationals and seize their previously protected
property. His nationalization of the Suez Canal was now a
secure fact. He had carried out twelve years of Egyptianization
in the space of twelve months. Additionally, the Soviets
made good on his losses in military equipment.10
The magnitude of Nasser's prestige was staggering. Yet
two flaws in his basic character overrode all potential gains.
He was basically inflexible and possessed an inflated self
image. His subordinates knew that he often suborned reality
to self image and fed this flaw for the sake of their own
self interest.11 This situation, coupled with his inflexibility
made it impossible for him to accept the fact that the United
States had really saved him. This made him unable to accom-
modate himself to the Americans. Consequently, he so severely
limited his options that the Soviet Union became his only
source of support.12 His dependence on the Soviets and his
exalted self image increased factors of caution among Arab
leaders and cooled their ardor for Nasser's picture of political
Nasser's victory had been entirely poltical; his military
measures were uniformly disastrous. He chose to ignore the
crushing defeat administered by Israel. Instead, he took
refuge in the warm arms of his own propaganda, apparantly
believing that Israel had won in Sinai only with the assistance
of Britain and France. Certainly he thought that she would
not have attacked Egypt without foreign air cover. This
fantasy persisted into the week of the June 1967 war.13
His generals, despite a veritable plethora of hard lessons,
learned nothing from that greatest of all teachers--defeat.
Two generals in particular illustrate the amazing mismanagement
of Egypt's defense forces. Amer had been found severely
wanting. He had lost touch with reality and, at just the
moment a skillful commander was most needed, had apparently
suffered a nervous breakdown. Amer offered to resign. Nasser
wouldn't hear of it. As there were plenty of inept commanders
to go around, Nasser determined that Air Force commander
Sidky Mahmoud would make a legitimate scapegoat. Incredibly,
Amer, not content with his own survival, interceded for
Mahmoud. Even more incredibly, Nasser reinstated his air
This was fine so long as Nasser was shielded by the United
Nations Emergency Force. The Israelis did not suffer such
complacency. They realized that Sinai would again be a
battleground and revised their strategy accordingly.15
In the ten years between wars, Amer did nothing to train
or reorganize the Army.16 Mahmoud also demonstrated a woeful
capacity for leadership. In 1967, he permitted the Egyptian
Air Force to be destroyed on the ground in the first hours of
a war where air power proved the decisive element.
A then popular argument held that the Anglo-French
intervention was a godsend to the Soviet Union because it
provided a cover for the Soviets to brutally suppress the
Hungarian Revolution.17 No doubt Suez deflected some criticism.
Certainly the Russians used the crudely applied English and
French military action to score points in the Third World.
For France, Suez was a side show to the seemingly endless
business of colonial warfare. The conflict as such, had
little if any effect on the way her army approached combat
operations. And why should it? They had performed well.
Their equipment was modern.18 Their actions, when unhampered
by their allies, were well planned, rapid and decisive. In
every aspect of skill, technique and training they were the
very embodiment of a professional fighting force.19
Analysis of the British military performance is not so
cut and dried. The British soldier acquited himself quite
well despite his often insufficient and obsolete equipment.
His successes are a tribute to himself, the generally high
level of officer and noncommissioned officer combat leadership,
and the softness of a weak enemy.20
From an operational and readiness standpoint, serious
problems remained. The lack of preparedness of parachute
troops has already been discussed as have operational problems
and various equipment difficulties. Carelessness was only
part of a much larger problem. Many difficulties can be
directly attributed to the nature of Britain's defense
commitment. The army had been groomed to fight a European
defensive war. When a situation arose that demanded rapid
intervention, means were simply not available.21 Certainly
elite units such as Marines, Paratroopers, and even Ghurkas
were ideal for such contingencies but transportation, combat
support and combat service for such forces were sorely wanting.
The inadequate assessment of enemy capabilities also hurt
the British. They looked at tide weapon rather than the
capabiltiy of the man behind it and deceived themselves into
planning unnecessarily extensive pre D-day operations. By
the time the allies finally landed, international pressure
brought the operation to a virtual standstill.
Operations, overall, were sluggish. The British command
structure was faulty. One officer was designated as senior
to the three component commanders, but he was often not in
the immediate area of operations and as such was unavailable
to make many urgent decisions. The system allowed and even
encouraged resolution of problems at the next level. It did
not encourage liaison between component commanders. This
was a problem that once again haunted the British in the
1982 Falkland Islands War.22
Britain's family of Mediterranean bases did not serve her
well. The components of this system were either too distant,
insufficiently developed or politically unusable for the type
of support the commanders demanded.23 The aircraft carrier
filled the void and demonstrated clearly its essentially in
modern amphibious operations.24 This lesson was one that
Britain would almost forget in the quarter century hiatus
broken suddenly by the Falklands War.
At the organizational level, the Royal Marines recognized
a need to incorporate artillery and anti-tank weaponry as
part of the force. It had proven difficult to borrow and
almost impossible to integrate these contingents.25
Additionally, the success of the heliborne operation had
generated much enthusiasm. One commando, at least, would
hence be designated a heliborne assault unit and would train
for that purpose. The helicopter proved itself in reconnais-
sance. Now better methods were needed to rapidly disseminate
Britain's defeat was entirely political and no one was
more to blame than her chief politician. Eden's failure was
colossal. From the beginning of planning, he had sewn
confusion. He had learned from Churchill, a master meddler,
that the chief of government has the authority, sometimes
even the obligation, to impose his desires on his military
subordinates. Eden, however, carried meddling to new lengths.
By interfering with all aspects of planning no matter how
minute, he proved he was not cast in the mold of Churchill.27
Eden failed to do his political homework, not only with
the opposition but with his own government.28 He inaccurately
assessed his country's economic strength. Within one week
of the attack, Britain was on gasoline rationing.29 The
Pound Sterling collapsed at first pressure.30
Eden failed to assess the consequences of failure. More
importantly, he apparently had not considered the consequences
of success. What if he had captured the entire canal? There
is no indication he calculated what great resources must be
expended to hold it. What if he had toppled Nasser? There
is no clue as to whom he or Mollet had in mind as Nasser's
The strategic effects of the short 1956 war were far
reaching. Whether the Bulganin memo was nuclear blackmail or
nuclear bluff is immaterial. The nagging point kept recurring:
It was only a bluff as long as the allies were protected by
the Americans and the price for protection appeared to be
adherence to the American line. Informed French opinion was
clearly distressed as the American line appeared to be so
highly moralistic. One American living in Paris summed up
the French mood:
"The possible loss of America's friendship was
something that a multitude of French and British
citizens wished their countries could afford."32
The problem of maintaining French independence was real
and no one in France was more concerned with that theme than
Charles DeGaulle. DeGaulle and his followers embraced the
concept of independent nuclear deterrence as a means of
eliminating France's susceptability to nuclear blackmail.33
From an independent nuclear force, it was an easy step to
independent conventional forces. Both were provided for in
the French Defense Reorganization of December 8, 1960.34
France's independent participation in NATO has become a
logical progression deriving from this reorganization.
MacMillan, the eventual British Prime Minister, chose to
maintain that special relationhip with the United States so
assiduously cultivated by Churchill.35 Despite, a flair-up
of anti-American sentiment, most Britons agreed with him.
Britain was too weak to go it alone.36 Yet, if the emerging
popular mood demanded less commitment to empire, it also
demanded a move toward independent postures relative to the
United States. In the ten years ending in 1962, conscription
was ended and the size of Britain's defense force was halved.
Nevertheless, expenditures for Britain's "independent nuclear
deterrent" grew markedly.37
In the sphere of international cooperation, a certain
British coolness developed toward American initiatives.
Specifically, Vietnam, the Soviet Pipeline and Grenada mark
significant breaks in the smooth amicability experienced
prior to 1956. The memory of Suez lingers. The Johnson
Administration found this out when they sought a British
presence in Vietnam.38
The Americans gleaned valuable lessons from Suez. Not
the least was the new status of Egyptian nationalism. The
proclaimed unity of the larger body of Arab peoples was more
illusory, but that was not then known.
The vulnerability of the canal and the unreliability of
mideast oil were noted. The vulnerability of America's allies
without the canal led to implementation of an American naval
presence in the Indian Ocean to protect access to the Persian
Gulf and to guarantee alternate routes around Africa.39
Finally, the lesson of hanging on too long was not lost
on American leadership. Americans too, had formed an attachment
for a canal that possessed potential for fomenting strong
national feeling. Over the course of several administrations,
the United States found the means to eventually satisfy
emerging Panamanian nationalism. Whether she has ensured
unfettered use of the Panama Canal remains to be seen.
Throughout the telling of this story, one theme is con-
tinually reinforced: The obsession of Eden and Mollet to
put Nasser in his place. Nasser was widely unpopular in the
west. Yet Eden and Mollet foundered on their desire. In
their failure is the most important human lesson of this
story: Never permit an obsession to override good judgment.
Eden permitted an obsession born of animosity to prevail
over instincts learned in a life-time of devotion to duty
and principle. He constructed a set of unachievable objectives
derived from an unshakable resolve to punish his adversary.
In the end he blundered badly by conceptualizing a mission
from which there was no possible positive outcome. Perhaps
it is only fitting that the final word regarding Eden's
dilemma should belong to his mentor, Winston Churchill:
"I am not sure I should have dared to start;
but I am sure I should not have dared to
When the fighting stopped, the British and French were in
possession of the northern end of the canal. Within the
British Conservative Party, a strong consensus existed to
extract some price in exchange for the removal of these
The British soon found they had no leverage. They learned
quickly that they needed the canal more than Egypt did and
with Nasser holding most of the waterway, they could not hope
to open it themselves. Additionally, economic problems became
insurmountable when American aid became contingent on the
withdrawal of all forces.2
By December 22, 1956, they were gone.3
Nasser ruled Egypt until his death in 1970. Many assumed
that after Suez, his opportunities in the Arab world were
unlimited. Yet, his schemes to forge a United Arab Nation
met with increasing resistance and frustration.
Finally his reach exceeded his grasp. In May 1967, he
ordered UN troops out of Sinai, reoccupied it with his own
forces and once again closed the Straits of Tiran.4 The
resulting military debacle stripped him of his enormous
prestige and reduced him to a laughing stock in much of the
world. To be sure, he concocted a story that British and
American carrier aircraft had attacked him but it was an
obvious lie.5 When he died, he was a changed man stripped
of all pretensions to universal Arab leadership. To the
Arab world, however, his failure did not matter. He is
remembered for what he accomplished, his people's freedom
from colonial domination. Modern, independent Egypt is his
History was not so kind to Mollet and Eden. There was
no cry for Mollet's resignation, but the large majority of
Frenchmen who continued to support his policies in Algeria
and the Middle East, balked at the expense. In May 1957, he
lost a parlementary vote of confidence on a tax bill and
resigned.7 Less than one year later, the entire Fourth
Republic was swept away in the wake of Charles DeGaulle.
Mollet remained a force in French politics but mainly in
opposition to Gaullism. He lived until 1975 but had the
misfortune to witness first independence for Alergia and
then the end of that special Franco-Israeli relationship
he had cherished.8
Immediately after the cease-fire, it was obvious that some-
one in Britain would pay. Eden declared an intention to remain
in office but was unable to do so.9 On January 10, 1957 he
resigned.10 He maintained to the end that he had followed
a proper course. In his apologia for Suez, he whimsically
mused that no one knows what might have happened had he con-
tinued the attack. He followed with two feeble nonsequiturs:
"Militant dictators have more enemies at home than the foreigner
ever dreams" and "This will be for history to determine."11
History had determined. Eden lived out the remainder of
his years as Lord Avon. He was politely treated but generally
ignored in counsels of state. When he died in 1977, The
Times of London cast his epitaph:
"He was the last prime minister to believe
Britain was a great power and the first to
confront a crisis which proved she was not."12
1 Nutting, Anthony, No End of A Lesson, Clarkson N. Potter, Inc.,
Publisher, New York, New York, 1967, p. 8.
2 Cooper, Chester L., The Lion's Last Roar: Suez, 1956, Harper
and Row, Publishers, New York, New York, 1978, pp. 65-66.
3 Siegfried, Andre, "The Suez: International Roadway," Foreign
Affairs (V. 31, July 1953), p. 605.
4 Cooper. p. 17.
5 Love, Kennett, Suez, The Twice Fought War, McGraw-Hill Book
Company, New York, New York, 1969, p. 366.
6 Cooper, p. 107.
7 This was not a matter for partisan politics. It transcended
politics much as did foreign policy in America prior to 1968.
The political left was as hawkish as the right. Such jingoism
as "France without Algeria is not France" and "For without
Algeria, there will be no history of France in the twenty-
first century" were not beneath Guy Mollet and Francois Mitter-
and respectively. For more background, the reader can see
Kelly, George Armstrong, Lost Soldiers, the French Army and
Empire in Crisis, 1947-1962. The M.I.T. Press, Cambridge,
Massachusetts, 1965, p. 147, and Neff, Donald, Warriors at
Suez, Linden Press/Simon and Schuster, New York, New York,
1981, p. 439, and Smith, Tony, The French Stake in Algeria,
1945-1966, Cornell University Press, London, 1978, p. 137.
8 Kelly, George Armstrong, Lost Soldiers, The French Army and
Empire in Crisis, 1947-1962, The M.I.T. Press, Cambridge,
Massachusetts, 1965, pp. 145-146.
9 Willmott, H.P. "The Suez Fiasco," in War and Peace, Conventional
and Guerrilla Warfare Since 1945, Edited by Robert Thompson,
Orbis Publishing, Limited, London, 1981, p. 90.
10 Cooper, pp. 50-53.
11 Willmott, p. 90 and Cooper, p. 51.
12 Cooper, p. 54.
13 Sadat, Anwar El-, In Search of Idenity, Harper and Row, Publishers,
New York, New York, 1978, pp. 117, 147.
14 La Gorce, Paul Marie de, The French Army, A Military - Political
History, George Braziller, Inc., New York, New York, 1963.
Translated by Kenneth Douglas, pp. 430-432.
15 Thomas, Hugh, Suez, Harper and Row Publishers, New York, New
York, 1967, p. 152.
16 Nutting, No End of a Lesson, p. 101.
17 Thomas, pp. 14-17.
18 Willmott, p. 90.
19 Thomas, p. 17.
20 Ibid, pp. 14-17.
21 Wrigley, Toby, "Conflicts in the Middle East" in The Encyclopedia
of Landwarfare, The Thomas Y. Crowell Company, New York, New York,
1976, p. 204.
22 La Gorce, p. 431.
23 Thomas, p. 22.
24 Neff, Donal, Warriors at Suez, Linden Press/Simon and Schuster,
New York, New York, 1981, p. 270.
25 Eban, Abba, Abba Eban, An Autobiography, Random House, New York
New York, 1977, p. 264
26 Ben-Gurion, David, Memoirs, The World Publishing Company,
Cleveland Ohio, 1970, pp. 158-159.
27 Meir, Golda, My Life, G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York, New York,
1975, p. 243.
1 Heikal, Mohamed Hassanein, The Cairo Documents, Doubleday
and Company, Inc., Garden Ctty, New York, 1973, p. 116.
2 Cooper, p. 86.
3 Eden, Anthony, Full Circle, Beacon Press, Boston,
Massachusetts, 1958, p. 469. In his memoirs Eden details
his efforts to let the world, particularly the United States,
learn of Egyptian subversive activities.
4 Stoessinger, John, Why Nations Go to War, St. Martin's
Press, New York, New York, 1974, p. 189.
5 Cooper, p. 90.
6 Thomas, p. 26.
7 Neff, p. 271.
8 Nutting, No End of a Lesson, p. 45.
9 Neff, p. 276.
10 Love, p. 370.
11 Terraine, John, The Life and Times of Lord Mountbatton,
Arrow Books, Ltd., London, 1970, p. 223.
12 Neff, p. 289.
13 Willmott, p. 91.
14 Robertson, Terrence, Crisis, Atheneum, New York, New York,
1965, p. 76.
15 Neff, p. 289.
16 Robertson, p. 76.
17 Barnett, Correlli, Britain and Her Army, Beacon Press,
Boston, Massachusetts, 1958, p. 486.
18 Love, p. 336.
19 Neff, p. 289.
20 Love, p. 487.
21 Thomas, p. 47.
22 Kelly, pp. 192-193.
23 Robertson, p. 75.
24 Cooper, pp. 204-210.
25 Robertson, p. 76.
26 Thomas, p. 42.
27 Cooper, p. 206.
28 Dayan, Moshe, Moshe Dayan: Story of My Life, William
Morrow and Company, Inc., New York, New York, 1976,
29 Robertson, pp. 76-77.
30 Thomas, p. 69.
31 Eden, p. 623.
32 Terraine, p. 223.
33 Thomas, p. 69.
34 Cooper, p. 107.
35 Neff, p. 289.
36 Thomas, p. 48.
1 Love, p. 365. Cable dispatched 27 July 1956 and was Eden's
initial correspondence with Eisenhower after the Suez
2 Eden, p. 576.
3 Ibid., pp. 555-556.
4 Cooper, pp. 78-79.
5 Eden, p. 474.
6 Ibid., pp. 597-598.
7 Love, p. 367.
8 Neff, pp. 266-267.
9 Cooper, p. 113.
10 Nutting, No End of A Lesson, pp. 49-50.
11 Love, p. 393.
12 Wheelock, Keith, Nasser's New Egypt, Frederick A. Praeger,
Publishers, New York, New York, 1960, pp. 244-245.
13 Wrigley, p. 204.
14 Love, p. 492.
15 Little, Tom, Modern Egypt, Frederick A. Praeger, Publishers,
New York, New York, 1967, p. 173.
16 Heikal, p. 116.
17 Love, pp. 492-493.
18 Dayan, Moshe Dayan: Story of My Life, pp. 204-205.
19 Heikal, p. 111.
20 Caruthers, Osgood, "Egypt Declares War Goes On," New York
Times, November 3, 1956, pp. 1, 5.
21 Love, p. 598.
22 Heikal, p. 113.
23 Neff, p. 291.
24 Love, pp. 392-393.
25 Thomas, p. 118.
26 Love, pp. 382-392.
27 Ibid., pp. 394-398
28 Middleton, Drew, "British and French Push Toward Landing,"
New York Times, November 3, 1956, p. 2. Additional
assistance in compiling this organizational chart was
provided by a press statement from the Admiralty printed
on page 3 of November 7, 1956, New York Times. Major
C. J. E. McDowall, Royal Marines, has confirmed that
the diagram depicts a standard British organization for
an Amphibious Assault.
29 Thomas, p. 66.
30 Willmott, pp. 92-93.
31 MacMillan, Harold, Riding the Storm, Harper and Row,
Publishers, New York, New York, 1971. p. 160.
32 Thomas, p. 106.
33 MacMillian, p. 160.
34 Love, p. 398.
35 Robertson, p. 77.
36 Neff, p. 313.
37 Dayan, Moshe Dayan: Story of My Life, p. 187.
38 Wilmott, pp. 92-93.
39 Neff, p. 313.
40 Love, p. 633.
41 Neff, p. 313.
42 Ibid., p. 313.
43 Robertson, p. 196.
44 Thomas, p. 70.
45 Reports of the actual number of ships vary widely.
Willmott says approximately 100 British war ships were
involved (p. 93). Neff is at the other end of the
spectrum. He claims there were 200 British warships
(p. 313). The figure of 100 British ships is correct.
All authors are in agreement that the French sent 30
46 Willmott, p. 93.
47 Neff, p. 313.
48 Robertson, p. 97.
49 Neff, p. 313.
50 Love, p. 402.
51 Neff, p. 314.
52 Thomas, p. 70.
53 Neff, p. 314.
54 Robertson, p. 98.
55 Barnett, p. 486.
56 Neff, p. 314.
57 Love, p. 398.
58 Neff, p. 312.
59 Love, p. 424.
60 Neff. pp. 307-312.
61 Love, p. 434.
62 Ibid., p. 424.
63 Neff, pp. 305-309.
64 Thomas, p. 83.
65 Eisenhower, Dwight David, Waging Peace, Doubleday &
Company, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1965, pp. 37-40.
66 Hoopes, Townsend, The Devil and John Foster Dulles,
Little, Brown and Company, Boston, Massachusetts, 1973,
67 Beal, John Robinson, John Foster Dulles, Harper and
Brothers, Publishers, New York, New York, 1959, p. 275.
68 Hoopes, p. 351.
69 Cooper, p. 149.
70 Neff, pp. 321, 333.
71 Hoopes, p. 366.
72 Wheelock, p. 247.
73 Willrnott, pp. 92-94.
74 Journal of the Royal Artillery, "33rd Parachute Field
Regiment - Cyprus and Egypt, 1956," Royal Artillery
Institution, Woolwich, England, Vol. LXXXIV, October
1957, pp. 285-287. Of principal concern to the
artillerists seemed to be not so much their lack of
target practise as the fact that no "suitable" bank
would take the regiment's silver for safekeeping.
75 Cooper, p. 196.
76 Ladd, James, D., The Royal Marines, 1919-1980, Jane's
Publishing Company, Limited, London, 1980, p. 291.
77 Neff, p. 314.
78 Love, p. 483.
1 Dayan, Moshe Dayan, The Story of My Life, pp. 185-197.
2 Neff, p. 163.
3 Smith, Tony, The French Stake in Algeria 1945-1966, Cornell
University Press, London, 1978, pp. 23-24.
4 Neff, p. 164.
5 Teveth, Shabtai, Moshe Dayan, Houghton Mifflin Company,
Boston Massachusetts, 1973, Translated by Leah and David
Zinder, p. 261.
6 Dayan, Moshe Dayan, The Story of My Life, p. 201.
7 Robertson, p. 121.
8 Love, p. 441.
9 Dayan, Moshe, Diary of the Sinai Compaign, Schocken Books,
New York, New York, 1967, p. 34.
10 Dayan, Moshe Dayan, The Story of My Life, p. 202.
11 Bell, J. Bowyer, The Long War: Israel and the Arabs Since
1946, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, N.J. 1969,
12 Cooper, p. 156.
13 Neff, pp. 315, 337.
14 Bell, p. 299.
15 Love, pp, 463-466.
16 Thomas, p. 115.
17 Carver, Michael, War Since 1945, G. P. Putnam's Sons, New
York, New York, 1981, p. 241.
18 Cooper, p. 161.
19 Barnett, p. 485.
20 Thomas, p. 157.
1 Nutting, No End of a Lesson, p. 129.
2 Thomas, pp. 118-119.
3 Ladd, p. 291.
4 Love, p. 458.
5 Thomas, p. 119.
6 Love, p. 475.
7 Ben-Zohar, Michael, Ben-Gurion, The Armed Prophet, Prentice-
Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1968, Translated
from the French by Len Ortzen, p. 225.
8 Bell, pp. 305-307.
9 Dayan, Diary of the Sinai Campaign, p. 79.
10 Bell, p. 306.
11 Dayan, Diary of the Sinai Campaign, pp. 95-102.
12 Wrigley, p. 204.
13 Bell, p. 371.
14 Dayan, Diary of the Sinai Campaign, p. 91.
15 Teveth, pp. 268-269.
16 This is not to say that he couldn't have succeeded without
the French Air Force. French fighter bombers flew close
air support for the IDF and were instrumental in Sharon's
seizure of the Mitla, Love, p. 658.
17 Dayan, Diary of the Sinai Campaign, p. 100.
18 Heikal, p. 109.
19 Love, p. 493.
20 Nutting, Anthony, Nasser, E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., New
York, New York, 1972, pp. 176-177.
21 Neff, p. 383.
22 Love, p. 518.
23 Eden, p. 618.
24 Ben-Zohar, p. 228.
25 Dayan, Diary of the Sinai Campaign, p. 108.
26 Baldwin, Hanson, "Flier Describes Cairo Radio Blow," New
York Times, November 3, 1956.
27 Heikal, p. 109.
28 Little, Tom, Modern Egypt, Frederick A. Praeger, Publishers,
New York, New York, 1967.
29 Heikal, p. 112.
30 Eden, pp. 607-608.
31 Longwood, William F., Suez Story, Greenberg: Publisher, New
York, New York, 1957, p. 152.
32 Special to the New York Times, "British Say Egypt Sank 7 Ships
In Suez Canal in Blockade Bid," New York Times,November 3,
1956, p. 2.
33 Love, pp. 512-513.
34 Ben-Zohar, p. 227.
35 A combination of three sources enabled the author to
reconstruct this incident. These are: Ladd, p. 296; Love,
p. 591; Thomas, p. 130. All are sketchy but Love's account
is probably the most detailed and succinct in that it
stresses that the incident had a limited effect on Israeli
operations in Sinai.
36 Love, pp. 617-618.
37 Wheelock, p. 244.
38 For those unfamiliar with the customs of leaflet usage, the
leaflet fits perfectly over the palm and the fingers of the
hand and is a preferred substitute for leaves or reeds in
lands where tissue paper is an unaccostumed luxury.
39 Nutting, No End of a Lesson, p. 131.
40 Ben-Zohar, pp. 229-230.
41 Nutting, pp. 134-135.
42 Eban, p. 226.
43 Ben-Zohar, p. 230.
44 Heikal, p. 114.
45 Love, pp. 598-599.
46 Nutting, Nasser, p. 178.
47 Ibid., p. 178.
48 Ibid., p. 190.
49 Adams, Michael, Suez and After, Beacon Press, Boston
Massachusetts, 1958, p. 84.
50 Love, p. 559. If Europeans were spared, local Christians,
were not. These latter Egyptians were considered by the
devout to be worse than Europeans because they embraced a
foreign faith. Many lives were lost and much property was
damaged. Nasser apparently did not feel sufficiently in
charge to stop these deprivations. Love, p. 560.
51 Ibid., pp. 576-577.
52 Eden, p. 625. Keightly, according to Eden, persisted in
this view up to and after the eventual cease fire.
53 New York Times, "A Model British General," November 1, 1956,
54 Willmott, p. 94.
55 Robertson, p. 205.
56 Neff, p. 402
57 Callender, Harold, "Paris Acts to Bar Cease-Fire Now," New
York Times, November 3, 1956, p. 1.
58 Love, pp. 206-207.
59 Neff, p. 335.
60 Ibid., pp. 399-400.
61 Cooper, p. 183.
62 Love, pp. 577-578.
63 Thomas, p. 140.
64 Love, p. 579.
65 Middleton, Drew, "British and French Forces Push Toward
Landing," New York Times, November 3, 1956, p. 1.
1 Love, p. 576.
2 Journal of the Royal Artillery, p. 288.
3 Willmott, p. 93.
4 Special to the New York Times, "Chutists Cheery at Take-
off Time," November 6, 1956, p. 2.
5 Willmott, p. 94.
6 Ibid., pp. 94-95.
7 Love, p. 600.
8 Ibid., p. 600. There has been confusion regarding the actual
time of the drop. Eden in his memoirs (p. 618) says the drop
occurred at 8:00 a.m. This is attrituable to a Keightly
dispatch that was phased to compensate for the difference in
time zones. Keightly, however, was most likely confused and
wrote that the jump occurred at 8:20 Greenwitch Mean Time
when he really meant 4:20 (GMT).
9 Willmott, pp. 94-95.
10 Thomas, p. 141.
11 Willmott, pp. 94-95.
12 Love, p. 602.
13 Thomas, p. 141.
14 Willmott, p. 95.
15 Thomas, p. 141.
16 Love, p. 602.
17 Heikal, p. 119. A contemporary account (Drew Middleton,
New York Times, November 3, p. 1) states that British
bombers struck an armoured convoy moving toward Port Said.
The location of the strike, however, was only 15 miles
18 Neff, p. 408.
19 Love, p. 603.
20 Nutting, Nasser, p. 179.
21 Cooper, p. 190.
22 Nutting, Nasser, p. 179. Love (p. 609) related Beaufre's
complaint that the allies lost a precious opportunity to
gain more ground because Butler demanded too much of the
Egyptians. He claims the Egyptians were forced by Butler's
extravagame to request instructions from Cairo. Butler is
more reasoned when he states that with 600 men he could
not have occupied Port Said let alone advance. The realities
of the political situation tend to deminsh the force of
Beaufre' s argument.
23 Eden, p. 619.
24 Love, pp. 608-609.
25 Willmott, pp. 96-97.
26 Globe and Laurel, "3 Commando Brigade," February 1957, p. 22.
27 Willmott, p. 96.
28 Thomas, p. 143.
29 Ladd, pp. 291-293.
30 Cooper, pp. 185-196.
31 Ladd, pp. 291-293.
32 Willmott, p. 97.
33 Globe and Laurel, February 1957, p. 24. The wet landings
are described as two types: Those when water comes up to
"here" and those when it does not. With typical British
gift for understatement, the writer permits selective
interpretation of the actual depth of "here."
34 Ladd, pp. 291-293.
35 Globe and Laurel, February 1957, p. 24.
36 Ladd, p. 293.
37 Willmott, p. 96-97.
38 Globe and Laural, February 1957, p. 526.
39 Ladd, pp. 293-294.
40 Willmott, p. 96.
41 Ladd, p. 291.
42 Willmott, p. 97.
43 Love, p. 599.
44 Ladd, p. 294.
45 Globe and Laurel, February 1957, pp. 27-29. Ladd has
calculated that this landing was 33% faster than if it had
come by sea. (Ladd, p. 294.)
46 Ladd, p. 294.
47 Globe and Laurel, February 1957, p. 29.
48 Willmott, p. 97.
49 Doty, Robert I, "French Landing Was A Quiet One," New York
Times, November 8, 1956, p. 12.
50 Love, p. 620. An unemotional description of the brutality
of the French toward their prisoners and toward civilians
unfortunate enough to be in the area is provided by one of
the participants, Pierre Leulliette in St Michael and the
Dragon: Memories of a Paratrooper, Houghton Mifflin,
Boston, Massachusetts, 1964.
51 Willmott, p. 97.
52 Love, p. 622.
53 Eden, p. 623.
54 MacMillan, p. 164.
55 Eden, p. 620.
56 Johnson, Paul, The Suez War, Greenberg, New York, New York,
1957, pp. 123-124.
57 Eden, p. 621.
58 Eisenhower, p. 95.
59 Eban, p. 228.
60 Sadat, p. 146.
61 Eisenhower, p. 97. Eisenhower state this message was
delivered on November 8, 1956, after Nasser could afford
to bite the band that had saved him.
62 Callender, Harold, "The Cease Fire in Suez," New York Times,
November 8, 1956, p. 12.
63 Love, p. 629.
64 Willmott, p. 97.
65 Journal of Royal Artillery, October 1957, p. 289.
66 Thomas, p. 144.
67 Love, p. 629.
1 Eden, p. 627
2 Neff, p. 414. Israeli casualties totaled 189 dead and
899 wounded. Egyptian casualties sustained against Israel
were placed at 1,000 dead, 4,000 wounded and 6,000 captured
3 Little, p. 173.
4 Eden, p. 622.
5 Nutting, No End of a Lesson, p. 145.
6 Ibid., p. 101
7 Wheelock, p. 248.
8 Little, p. 187.
9 Willmott, p. 99.
10 Little, p. 174.
11 Sadat, p. 147.
12 Little, p. 220.
13 Nutting, Nasser, p. 398.
14 Love, pp. 676-677.
15 Nutting, Nasser, p. 193.
16 Ibid, pp. 419-420,
17 Johnson, pp. 122-123. One should guard, however, against
assuming that the Soviets would not have crushed Hungary if
no mid-east war had broken out. The Soviets have never
really needed a shield to bully a rebellious sattelite
back into line.
18 Barnett, p. 486.
19 Furniss, Edgar S. Jr., DeGaulle and the French Army, The
Twentieth Century Fund, New York, New York, 1964, p. 23.
20 Willmott, pp. 94-95.
21 Barnett, p. 485.
22 This observations was gained from discussions over the course
of the Month of January 1984 with Major Tim Hannigan, the
officer assigned to report on the Falklands War. This
criticism should in no way be interpreted as an endorsement
for the American CATF-CLF relationship with all its problems.
It merely noted deficiencies that permit tardy decision
making; for example, commitment of follow-on forces. In
her last two amphibious operations, Britain has had the
luxury of engaging vastly inferior opponents. This had
had the effect of obscuring command deficiencies.
23 Barnett, p. 486.
24 Thomas, p. 158.
25 Ladd, p. 296.
26 Ibid., p. 296.
27 Cooper, p. 204.
28 Nutting, No End of a Lesson. The entire book details the
events leading to Mr. Nutting's resignation as Eden's
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and from Parliament.
Several other ministry officials joined Mr. Nutting in
resigning out of principle.
29 Ronan, Thomas, P., "Britain Orders 10% Cut in Oil and
Gasoline Use," New York Times, November 8, 1956, p. 11.
30 Barnett, pp. 485-486.
31 Thomas, pp. 159-160.
32 Genet, Janet Flanner, Paris Journal, 1944-1965, Edited by
William Shawn, Atheneum, New York, New York, 1965, p. 332.
33 Furness, p. 208.
34 Morse, Edward L., Foreign Policy and Independence in Gaullist
France, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey,
1973, pp. 152-154.
35 Cooper, p. 267.
36 Neff, p. 430.
37 Marwick, Arthur, Britain in the Century of Total War, Little,
Brown and Company, Boston, Massachusetts, 1968, p. 409.
38 Cooper, p. 269.
39 Miller, George H., "Beyond Suez - A New Dimension of Sea
Power," United States Naval Institute Proceedings, Annapolis,
Maryland, Vol 84., February 1958, pp. 78-83. Captain Miller
forcast this development so accurately, his paper seems
almost a foreign policy initiative.
40 Thomas, p. 164.
1 Cooper, p. 241.
2 Nutting, No End of a Lesson, p. 151.
3 Neff, p. 431.
4 Nutting, Nasser, pp. 398-402. Nutting paints a very
convincing picture that hawks in the Israeli Cabinet had
set Nasser up. He does not absolve Nasser. On the contrary
he implies that Nasser, almost certainly guilty of hubris,
hardly recognized his plight until after the fact.
5 Numerous New York times' reports from June 6, 1967 to June
10, 1967 discuss this incident. The overwhelming evidence
denying American or British envolvement had forced Egypt
and Jordan to downplay the claim even before a dubious tape
of the conspirators was made public. Heikal (p. 247) por-
trays this claim as the result of an honest mistake.
Unfortunately, he overlooks his own part in publicising the
lie by claiming that some bombers had flown from Wheelus
AFB in Lybia to strike Egypt.
6 Nutting, Nasser, the final portion of this account is
paraphrased from pp. 432-485.
7 Callender, Harold, "Paradoxes in Paris," New York Times,
May 28, 1957, p. 8.
8 Neff, p. 439.
9 Cooper, p. 226.
10 Neff, p. 436. It may or may not be suprising, but the Suez
crisis had little long term effect. When MacMillan and the
Conservatives next stood for reelection in 1959, they were
returned with a doubled majority. Suez was the most minor
of issues having been superceded by prosperity, NATO and
Cyrpus (Middleton, Drew, "MacMillan Party a Slight Favorite
Today," New York Times, October 8, 1959, p. 4.).
11 Eden, p. 626.
12 Neff, p. 437.
Autobiographies and Biographies
Beal, John Robinson, John Foster Dulles, Harper and Brothers,
Publishers, New York, New York, 1959.
Ben-Gurion, David, Memoirs, The World Publishing Company,
Cleveland, Ohio, 1970.
Ben-Zohar, Michael, Ben-Gurion, The Armed Prophet, Prentice-
Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1968. Translated
from the French by Len Ortzen.
Dayan, Moshe, Moshe Dayan: Story of My Life, William Morrow
and Company, Inc., New York, New York, 1976.
Eban, Abba, Abba Eban, An Autobiography, Random House, New
York, New York, 1977.
Eden, Anthony, Full Circle, The Memoirs of Anthony Eden,
Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts, 1960.
Eisenhower, Dwight David, Waging Peace, Doubleday & Company,
Inc., Garden City, New York, 1965.
Heikal, Mohamed Hassanein, The Cairo Documents, Doubleday &
Company, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1973.
Hoopes, Townsend, The Devil and John Foster Dulles, Little,
Brown and Company, Boston, Massachusetts, 1973.
MacMillan, Harold, Riding the Storm, Harper and Row, Publishers
New York, New York, 1971.
Meir, Golda, My Life, G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York, New York,
Nutting, Anthony, Nasser, E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., New York,
New York, 1972.
Sadat, Anwar el-, In Search of Identity, Harper and Row,
Publishers, New York, New York, 1978.
Terraine, John, The Life and Times of Lord Mountbatton, Arrow
Books, Ltd, London, 1970.
Teveth, Shabtai, Moshe Dayan, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston
Massachusetts, 1973. Translated from the Hebrew by Leah
and David Zinder.
Histories and Narratives
Adams, Michael, Suez and After, Beacon Press, Boston,
Barnett, Correlli, Britain and Her Army, 1509-1970, William
Morrow Company, New York, New York, 1970.
Bell, J. Bowyer, The Lon War: Israel and the Arabs Since
1946, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey,
Carver, Michael, War Since 1945, G. P. Putnam's Sons, New
York, New York, 1981.
Cooper, Chester L., The Lion's Last Roar: Suez, 1956, Harper
and Row, Publishers, New York, New York, 1978.
Furniss, Edgar, S. Jr., DeGaulle and the French Army, The
Twentieth Century Fund, New York, New York, 1964.
Johnson, Paul, The Suez War, Greenberg Press, New York, New
Kelly, George Armstrong, Lost Soldiers, The French Army and
Empire in Crisis, 1947-1962, The M.I.T. Press, Cambridge,
Ladd, James D., The Royal Marines, 1919-1980, Jane's Publishing
Company, Limited, London 1980.
LaGorce, Paul Marie de, The French Army, A Military-Political
History, George Braziller, Inc., New York, New York, 1963.
Translated from the French by Kenneth Douglas.
Little, Tom, Modern Egypt, Frederick A. Praeger, Publishers,
New York, New York, 1967.
Longgood, William F., Suez Story, Greenberg: Publishers,
New York, New York, 1957.
Love, Kennett, Suez, The Twice Fought War, McGraw-Hill Book
Company, New York, New York, 1969.
Marwick, Arthur, Britain in the Century of Total War, Little,
Brown and Company, Boston, Massachusetts, 1968.
Morse, Edward L., Foreign Policy and Interdependence in
Gaullist France, Princeton University Press, Princeton,
New Jersey, 1973.
Neff, Donald, Warriors at Suez, Linden Press/Simon and Schuster,
New York, New York, 1981.
Nutting, Anthony, No End of A Lesson, Clarkson N. Potter, Inc.
Publisher, New York, New York, 1967.
Robertson, Terrence, Crisis, Atheneum, New York, New York, 1965.
Smith, Tony, The French Stake in Algeria, 1945-1966, Cornell
University Press, London, 1978.
Stoessinger, John, Why Nations Go to War, St. Martin's Press,
New York, New York, 1974.
Thomas, Hugh, Suez, Harper and Row, Publishers, New York, New
Wheelock, Keith, Nasser's New Egypt, Frederick A. Praeger,
Publishers, New York, New York, 1960.
Contributory Articles to Larger Histories
Willmott, H.P., "The Suez Fiasco," in War in Peace, Conventional
and Guerilla Warfare Since 1945, Edited by Robert Thompson,
Orbis Publishing, Limited, London, 1981.
Wrigley, Toby, "Conflicts in the Middle East," in The
Encyclopedia of Land Warfare, The Thomas Y. Crowell Company,
New York, New York, 1976.
Dayan, Moshe, Diary of the Suez Compaign, Schocken Books,
New York, New York, 1976.
Genet, Janet Flanner, Paris Journal, 1944-1965, Edited by
William Shaum, Atheneum, New York, New York, 1965.
General Statistical References
Jane's All the World's Aircraft, S. Low, Marston & Co.,
Journal of the Royal Artillery, "33rd Parachute Field Regiment-
Cyprus and Egypt, 1956," Royal Artillery Institution,
Woolwich, England, Vol LXXXIV, October 1957.
The Globe and Laurel, "Operations by 3 Commando," Portsmouth,
United Kingdom, Vol. LXIV, December 1956.
The Globe and Laurel, "3 Commando Brigade," Portsmouth, United
Kingdom, Vol. LXV, February 1957.
Miller, George H., "Beyond Suez - A New Dimension of Sea
Power," United States Naval Institute Proceedings, Annapolis,
Maryland, Vol 84, February 1958.
Siegfried, Andre, "The Suez, International Roadway," Foreign
Affairs, Vol. 31, July 1953.
Newspaper Articles and Reports
Baldwin, Hanson W., "Flier Describes Cairo Radio Blow," New
York Times, November 3, 1956.
Callender, Harold, "Paris Acts to Bar Cease Fire Now," New
York Times, November 3, 1956.
Callender, Harold, "The Cease-Fire In Suez," New York Times,
November 8, 1956.
Callender, Harold, "Paradoxes in Paris," New York Times, May
Caruthers, Osgood, "Egypt Declares War Goes On," New York
Times, November 3, 1956.
Doty, Robert I, "French Landing a Quiet One," New York Times,
November 8, 1956.
Middleton, Drew, "British and French Forces Push Toward Landing,"
New York Times, November 3, 1956.
Middleton, Drew, "MacMillan Party a Slight Favorite in Voting
Today," New York Times, October 8, 1956.
New York Times News Special, "A Model British General,"
November 1, 1956.
New York Times News Special, "British Say Egypt Sank 7 Ships
In Suez Canal In Blockade Bid," November 3, 1956.
New York Times News Special, "Chutists Cheery at Take-Off
time," November 6, 1956.
New York Times News Special, "Text of British Admiralty
Statement," November 7, 1956.
Ronan, Thomas P., "Britain Cuts Use of Oil, Gasoline," New
York Times, November 8, 1956.
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