31-oct-56    to    06-nov-56

Operation Musketeer

31-oct-56    to    06-nov-56

egypt Suez Canal Zone

Known to the French forces as Operation Mousquetaire. The third Musketeer were the Israelis, whose assault into Sinai was conducted under Operation Kadesh.
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 29 Oct 1956 (ostensibly for a training exercise Operation Boathook), the British naval task force joined loosely with French units, including the carriers Arromanches & La Fayette (both with a SAR flight of 2x HUP-2s of 23S), in the Mediterranean and proceeded towards Egypt and the Suez Canal.

The RAF and the A de l A had concentrated units at Akrotiri, Nicosia & Tymbou on Cyprus. 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 HMS Eagle SAR Helicopter Flight. On 2 Nov an aviator from 15F was rescued by a HUP-2, after his Corsair went over the side of La Fayette during recovery. 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. GH/3 of the ALAT was also active with its Bell 47 at Gamil, towards the very end of the operation

Although the bulk of the activity was along the Mediterranean, the Israelis swept through the Sinai on 29 Oct and it was this that enabled the British and French to intervene to separate the belligerents. 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 3 PARA and 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 successful French assault by the 2eme Regiment de Parachutistes Coloniaux was to be directed at Port Faud on the east bank but was changed to the bridges at Raswa, further south. 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 Salem, USS Antietam, USS Coral Sea, USS Forrestal 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.
Many lessons (military and political, and mostly painful) were learned from this operation but the success of the airborne assault by 45 Commando, RM and the shortcomings of the logistic support for the Marine Nationale were significant. The latter led to the call for a new class of support ships for the French Navy.


Dates UnitModels
    FR 23S Aéronautique Navale Alouette II
HUP-2 / UH-25B Retriever
    UK 18 Squadron Royal Air Force
    UK 27 Squadron Royal Air Force
    UK 84 Squadron Royal Air Force Type 171 Sycamore
    UK 810 NAS Fleet Air Arm
    UK 845 NAS Fleet Air Arm Whirlwind
S-55 H-19
    UK 846 NAS Fleet Air Arm
    UK 849 NAS Fleet Air Arm
    UK JEHU Royal Air Force Whirlwind
Type 171 Sycamore
Not all models shown may have taken part in the Operation
Some of the units could be operating fixed wing aircraft at the time, check every unit for details

helicopter   Individual helicopters

Model IDs
Sikorsky HO4S-3 WV199 w/o     WV203     WV204     WV205     WV220     WV221     WV223     WV224    
Westland Whirlwind HAR.3 XG581     XG587     XJ399     XJ400 w/o    
Westland Whirlwind HAR.2 XJ764     XJ765     XK968     XK969     XK970     XK986    
Bristol Sycamore 4 XG500     XG502     XG507     XG515     XG523     XG548    


Aircraft Carrier   La Fayette class French Navy R96 La Fayette,
Aircraft Carrier   Colossus class Royal Navy R64 HMS Theseus, Royal Navy R68 HMS Ocean, French Navy R95 Arromanches,
Aircraft Carrier   Modified Centaur class Royal Navy R07 HMS Albion, Royal Navy R08 HMS Bulwark,
Aircraft Carrier   Audacious class Royal Navy R05 HMS Eagle,
Helicopter Carrier   Lofoten class Royal Navy K07 HMS Lofoten,
Support Ship   Canadian Fort class Royal Fleet Auxiliary A229 RFA Fort Duquesne,
Support Ship   Retainer class Royal Fleet Auxiliary A329 RFA Retainer,

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