In summer 1956, the Suez Canal had been nationalised by the Egyptian Government, seizing British and French assets in the Canal Zone and threatening the future viability of the route to shorten passage to the Gulf and the Far East. In addition to intense diplomatic activity, a French fleet was assembled at Toulon and the British carrier HMS Bulwark (R08) embarked her Sea Hawks, while HMS Ocean (R68) and HMS Theseus (R64) - which had only recently been fitted out as anciliary troopships - set out with 16 Parachute Brigade embarked, to join HMS Eagle (R05) in the Mediterranean, by early August. Towards the end of August, Ocean and Theseus returned to the UK for rapid refit and were replaced on station by HMS Albion (R09) with her Sea Hawks and Sea Venoms. Ocean was updated with modern hospital and operating theatre facilities and both her and Theseus were modified for Helicopter operations.
On 30 Sep Ocean (with 845 Naval Air Squadron
embarked) and Theseus (with the JEHU
embarked) put to sea to work up. On 14 Oct, 845 Squadron transferred to Theseus and sailed for Malta, while Ocean embarked the JEHU and set out on 19 Oct. Leaving Malta on the night of 31 Oct 1956 the British naval task force joined loosely with French units, including the carriers Arromanches (R95, with the HUP-2s of 23S
) and Lafayette (R96), in the Mediterranean and proceeded towards Egypt and the Suez Canal.
The main Royal Naval punch was provided at first light on 1 Nov by the fixed wing aircraft carriers Albion, Bulwark and Eagle to the west of Longitude 32, whilst the RAF
were assigned to the east. F-84s of the Armée de lAir
provided top cover. During an attack on the Gamil bridge later that day, a Wyvern was shot down and its pilot was rescued from the sea by Eagles SAR Helicopter Flight. On 3 Nov Albion withdrew to refuel, whilst Eagle withdrew on 4 Nov to repair its starboard catapult, refuel and to re-equip with aircraft flown in from El Adem
Although the bulk of the activity was along the Mediterranean, the Israelis swept through the Sinai and there was at least one Naval Engagement in the Red Sea, where HMS Northumberland
sank the Egyptian frigate Domiat
on 31 Oct.
Following a drop of 16 Parachute Brigade (Operation Cordage
) on the airfield at Gamil and a conventional seaborne landing (Operation Telescope
), the Whirlwinds of 845 Squadron and the Whirlwinds and Sycamores of the Joint Helicopter Unit landed 500 troops from 45 Royal Marine Commando in Port Said early on 6 Nov 1956. The French assault was directed at Port Fuad on the east bank. Under intense political pressure, particularly from the USA, a ceasefire was called late that night.
During the operation in the Mediterranean, ships from the US 6th Fleet were shadowing movements, in particular USS Antietam
, USS Coral Sea
and USS Randolph
. Certainly they were there to emphasise US resolve in gaining a UN-backed cease-fire; to this day there are some in the UK who are not sure whether that fleet was providing covert protection to the Musketeer force, or whether there was a plan to intervene on behalf of Egypt.
Known to the French forces as Operation Mousquetaire
. The third Musketeer were the Israelis, whose assault into Sinai was conducted under Operation Kadesh