egypt Operation Musketeer

Suez Canal Zone

31-oct-56    to    06-nov-56

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 by the 2eme Regiment de Parachutistes Coloniaux was directed at Port Faud 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, 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.
Known to the French forces as Operation Mousquetaire. The third Musketeer were the Israelis, whose assault into Sinai was conducted under Operation Kadesh.


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DatesRotary Wing Aircraft UnitModels
    FR Escadrille 23S Aéronautique Navale Alouette II
    UK 18 squadron Royal Air Force
    UK 27 squadron Royal Air Force
    UK 84 squadron Royal Air Force Type 171 Sycamore
    UK 810 squadron Fleet Air Arm
    UK 845 squadron Fleet Air Arm Whirlwind
S-55 H-19
    UK 846 squadron Fleet Air Arm
    UK 849 squadron Fleet Air Arm
    UK joint experimental helicopter unit 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

Individual helicopters

Model IDs
Sikorsky HO4S-3 WV199     WV203     WV204     WV205     WV220     WV223     WV224    
Westland Whirlwind HAR.3 XJ400    
Westland Whirlwind HAR.2 XJ764     XJ765     XK968     XK969     XK970     XK986    


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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,

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