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Federation of South Arabia (1962-1968)

In 1838, British naval elements created a coaling station on the peninsula of Aden on the southwestern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. British influence increased in the south and eastern portion of Yemen after the British captured the port of Aden in 1839. It was ruled as part of British India until 1937, when Aden was made a crown colony with the remaining land designated as east Aden and west Aden protectorates. In 1938 it became a British Crown Colony, and by 1962 it was part of a larger region called the Federation of South Arabia.

Britain attempted to bring some political stability to South Arabia by persuading the various Arab Emirates and sheikhdoms of the area to form a Federation of South Arabia in 1962. In 1962 the Federation of South Arabia was formed and a treaty was signed in 1959 for independence by 1968. Aden acceded to the Federation of South Arabia in 1963. Under the citizenship law ofthe Federation of South Arabia people born in Aden, or whose fathers were born there, would become citizens of the new State. By 1965, most of the tribal states within the protectorates and the Aden colony proper had joined to form the British-sponsored Federation of South Arabia.

The merger of Aden into the existing Federation of Emirates of the South, renamed the Federation of South Arabia, heightened tensions within Aden and the surrounding countryside and between Aden and Yemen. This culminated in January 1964 with the declaration of a state of emergency following a grenade attack on the High Commissioner at Khormaksar.

After its experience in the 1956 Suez Crisis, Britain was reluctant to respond overtly to a request from the king of Yemen to help quash the 1962 revolt against the government. But some parts of the British government were willing to provide clandestine support. The Colonial Office and MI5 favored this course, while the Foreign Office and MI6, then headed by Sir Dick White, were less than supportive. British Special Forces and MI6 elements were activated to participate "unofficially" in training, advising, and fighting with the South Arabian Army (SSA) to subdue the insurgency.

The RAF's responsibilities through Air Forces Middle East (part of the unified Middle East Command which extended from the east cost of Africa to Bahrain in the Persian Gulf) were to defend Aden and the new Federation from outside attack as well as to maintain internal civil order along with the Federal forces. Reinforcements had to be flown out from the UK by Transport Command to deal with the situation. Ground attack Hunters provided the close support for the troops on the ground (Federal, British Army and RAF Regiment) and as they attacked the rebel strongholds in the mountains, helicopters, particularly the twin-rotor Belvederes, provided the tactical mobility, so essential in such terrain. The efficiency of the cooperation between the Hunters and the forward troops was such that the troops were able to call for Hunter strikes against the tribesmen's positions only 25 yards from their own positions. By October 1964 most of the tribes had given up and some semblance of law and order returned,at least for a short time.

With active support from Yemeni forces, an armed revolt by tribesmen in the Radfan, a mountainous areawest of Aden bordering on the Yemen, broke out in the spring of 1964. The British were successful in the north, but in South Arabia they were unable to prevent formation of a National Liberation Front (NLF) supported by various tribal factions. In 1965, two rival nationalist groups, the Front for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen (FLOSY) and the National Liberation Front (NLF), turned to terrorism in their struggle to control the country.

These forces initiated sustained terrorist attacks against the British and any locals who supported them. Intimidation of the Federation forces was successful; prior knowledge of NLF operations was poor. In June 1967, despite some rumbles of impending revolt, the Federation and the British were surprised by a mutiny of SSA soldiers that was eventually joined by the Aden police. The major Aden city, Crater, was occupied. British attempts to dislodge the insurgents failed. Many British soldiers were killed and, for political reasons, the British imposed a ban on entering mosques where the terrorists stored their weapons and ammunition. Thus curtailed, the end was near.

Although the British had announced in 1963 their intention to leave Aden in 1968, the insurgents kept up their bombings and assassinations of civilians and military until the actual British departure. An NLF spokesman explained the policy as follows: "Some may ask, why fight for independence when the British will grant it freely? Comrades, true independence is not given away but taken." The insurgents wanted to show the world "that it was they who were evicting the British." In 1967, in the face of uncontrollable violence, British troops began withdrawing, federation rule collapsed, and NLF elements took control after eliminating their FLOSY rivals.

In 1967, Air Support Command, which had replaced Transport Command, with its new range of strategic and tactical transport aircraft, Comet 4s, VC10s, Britannias, Belfasts and Hercules, was called upon to evacuate Service families and British troops from Aden which had been the major British base in the Middle East. The evacuation began in May 1967 and lasted until the final withdrawal in November 1967, proving to be the largest airlift operation since the Berlin Airlift. Britannias, Belfasts and Hercules operated an increasingly effective shuttle service between RAF Muharraq in Bahrain Island and Aden in August, September and October. Then between 5 and 30 November 1967 every type of transport aircraft in Air Support Command combined to make a final lift of 6,000 troops and 400 tons of equipment from RAF Khormaksar. The final withdrawal was accomplished smoothly and without violence (covered by a strong Royal Navy task force). It brought to an end the British connection with the port of Aden, which had beenestablished by the East India Company as far back as 1839, and the RAF's ownconnection which dated from the First World War when it had been used as a primitive landing strip for aircraft operating against the Turks.

"So we left without glory but without disaster" said Sir Humphrey Trevelyan, the last High Commissioner of the Federation of South Arabia. In 1967, 139 years after their arrival in Aden, the British withdrew from the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. Their departure was abrupt, messy and controversial. While some viewed British rule, on the whole, as beneficial to the local population, others insist that very little was achieved. Worse, Britain did not provide a structure of government constitution which met the conflicting needs of Aden and the Protectorate.

After a four year insurgent revolt, South Arabia, including Aden, was declared independent on November 30, 1967, and was renamed the People's Republic of South Yemen. The economy had been concentrated in the city of Aden, and with the loss of tourist trade in 1967, and closing of the British base, it declined by more than 20 perent by 1968.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:30:29 ZULU