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3 Cdo Bde Operation Musketeer

Updated: Nov 20, 2023

Unit/ Formation: 3 Cdo Brigade RM

Location: Port Suez

Period/ Conflict: Suez Crisis

Year: 1956

Date/s: 6th November 1956

On 6 November, Royal Marine Commandos from Nos 40 and 42 Commando landed at Port Said in amphibious Buffalo tracked landing vehicles, supported by a naval and aerial bombardment of the beaches. Slightly to the west of the town, Centurion tanks from 6 Royal Tank Regiment were landed to assist the Royal Marines. Shortly afterwards men from 45 Commando landed by helicopters from HMS Ocean and HMS Theseus.

The Seaborne Assault—6th November The heavy air and naval pre-assault fire plan had been drastically reduced and I had issued precise instructions that supporting fire was to be confined strictly to known enemy defences and to those which engaged our assault. Air bombing was prohibited and heavy naval guns were banned. We thus maintained our policy of accepting risks to our own forces in order to minimise Egyptian civilian casualties and damage to their property. The results bear witness to the effectiveness of these measures and their strict observance by the forces engaged, despite the distorted and exaggerated reports broadcast from Cairo and circulated throughout the world.

For 45 minutes before the landing some 3000 yards of the beach were subjected to covering fire from destroyers. The object of this fire, which was extremely accurate, was to neutralise known enemy positions which had been dug amongst the bathing huts on the foreshore. That it achieved its purpose was evident from the quantity of ammunition and equipment which was later found abandoned on the beaches. Although this fire was comparatively light and was only used against known positions or SP guns which actively fired, it achieved the result of enabling our forces to land without suffering the casualties usually expected in an assault against a defended and mined coast.

View of the beach area where 40 and 42 Commando made their assault landing on 6 November 1956. Note the De Lesseps statue, in the background, that stood at the entrance to the Suez Canal. IWM © HU 4170

It was not found necessary to engage the coast defence guns on the breakwater which were silent and had evidently been neutralised after previously being attacked from the air. Fortunately also the French Parachute force had completed the occupation of Port Fuad during the night so that the French seaborne landing on this flank required no supporting fire.

Three of the five British aircraft carriers involved in the Suez operation. HMS Eagle leads HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion in the Mediterranean Sea. © IWM (A 33601)

Further support for the assault on Port Said was provided by an air strike on the beaches lasting for 10 minutes immediately before the start of the naval gunfire: the beaches were again engaged in a low level attack along their whole length after the naval fire had stopped and just before the leading troops reached the shore.

Westland Whirlwind helicopters of the Royal Navy taking the first men of 45 Royal Marine Commando into action at Port Said from HMS Theseus. © IWM (A 33640)

Preceded by minesweepers the assault force reached its destination exactly on time after the sea passage from Malta of over 900 miles having taken 6 days. At 0450 hours GMT the leading waves of 40 and 42 Royal Marine Commandos came ashore and across the beaches in LVTs (Landing Vehicle Tracked) before disembarking. This obviated what otherwise would have been an excessively long wade on the gradually shelving beach, and an exposed run across the broad beaches before reaching cover. One squadron of the 6th Royal Tank Regiment was waterproofed and waded ashore from LCTs (Landing Craft Tanks) which touched down in 4 1/2 feet of water.

Helicopters and landing craft during the assault on Port Said, Egypt, November 1956. © IWM (MH 23504)

At the same time the French Assault Force consisting of 1st Regiment Etranger Parachutistes and three Naval Commandos, supported by a squadron of light tanks, was making an unopposed landing on the beaches of Port Fuad. As the Royal Marine Commandos passed through the beach huts, which were by then on fire and amongst which quantities of abandoned ammunition were exploding, they came under small arms fire from buildings along the sea front and one SU 100 on their right flank opened fire on one of the supporting destroyers. The destroyer returned the fire and as a result conflagration started in the shanty town in the immediate neighbourhood of the SU 100; fanned by a stiff breeze a large area of this collection of shacks was burnt out. Luckily an area free of the Russian mines placed along the beaches was found at the point of assault. The objectives of 42 Commando supported by the tank squadron less one troop, was to get through Port Said as quickly as possible to the area of Golf Course Camp and thereby seal off the Southern exits of the town, while 40 Commando with one troop of tanks was to clear the vicinity of the harbour in order to enable craft to enter without coming under fire. 42 Commando met considerable resistance in the area of the Governorate where 100 to 150 Egyptian Infantry debouched from buildings South and West of the Square. They were engaged by supporting tanks, but as they continued to hold out in a block of buildings which lay across the main axis of advance of 42 Commando, an air strike was called down at 0700 hours GMT. Immediately after this the advance was resumed with the Commandos travelling in their unarmoured open LVTs escorted by tanks. They moved rapidly down the Rue Mahomet Ali coming under fire from side streets with grenades being thrown down from balconies overhead. The Commandos replied with their personal weapons - while the tanks knocked out anti-tank guns halfway down the street and overran a further three guns as they emerged into the open South of the heavily built up area. The Commandos suffered some casualties at this stage in their vehicles and while subsequently clearing the houses on either side of the street. Meanwhile 40 Commando was carrying out a deliberate clearance of the houses along the Quai Sultan Hussein bordering the harbour. A considerable number of Egyptian infantry were seen and engaged to the West of this axis and strong opposition developed amongst the warehouses behind Navy House. At 0540 hours GMT the Commanding Officer of 45 Commando took off from HMS Ocean in a helicopter to reconnoitre the landing zone for his unit. In the smoke and haze the pilot lost his way and landed temporarily in an Egyptian held football stadium where the party came under fire. Quickly realising his mistake he re-embarked his passengers and made good his escape in spite of a considerable number of bullet holes in his machine. 45 Commando were landed using 22 helicopters from HMS Ocean and Theseus and 90 minutes later 400 men and 23 tons of stores were ashore near the Casino Pier without further incident. This was the first occasion on which such an operation had been carried out. The remainder of 6 Royal Tank Regiment disembarked at the Fishing Harbour later in the morning. One squadron was placed in support of 45 Commando who had the task of clearing the town between the axes of the two leading Commandos: the other squadron by-passed the opposition with which 40 Commando was dealing and finally joined up with the French parachutists well South of the town near the bridges over the Interior Basin.

A Russian built SU-100 tank, used to shell British forces at El Gamil airfield during the military operation. It was captured by men of the 3rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment. ©IWM (HU 4169)

By 0730 hours GMT 42 Commando and its supporting tanks had taken up positions in the area of the Gas Works and Golf Course Camp South of the town from which they engaged Egyptian infantry near the Prison. These appeared to be forming up for a counterattack and an air strike was called down on them at 0900 hours whereupon they rapidly dispersed. From then onwards until 1200 hours GMT 42 Commando engaged Egyptian infantry trying to cross their axis from East to West evidently seeking sanctuary in the rabbit warren of Arab Town. This Westward move was also due to pressure from 45 Commando who were slowly clearing the middle of Port Said. Like all street fighting the clearing of Port Said was a slow process made more difficult by the fact that most of the regular Egyptian troops had by then discarded their uniforms for "gallabiyahs", and were indistinguishable from civilians, many of whom were armed. Streets had to be cleared house by house and sometimes room by room. This took time and required a considerable expenditure of small arms ammunition and grenades. Failure to observe the normal street fighting drill and the wish of all ranks to get through Port Said as quickly as possible led in some cases to avoidable casualties to our own troops. It is a tribute to their patience and forbearanoe that so little damage was done to Port Said.

This photograph showing a linkup between the 3rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment and the Commandos at the Coast Guard barracks in Port Said. They are in possession of a captured SU-100 self-propelled gun.©IWM (HU 4163)

At 0900 hours GMT Lieutenant-General Stockwell reported that, with the other Task Force Commanders and General Beaufre, he was going ashore to try to secure the unconditional surrender otf Port Said. Negotiations were in (progress through the Italian Consul and a rendezvous had been arranged at the Consulate. Lieutenant-General Stockwell and his party sailed into the harbour in a motor launch as far as the Canal Company building where they were fired on from the direction of Navy House. Going about they landed near the Casino Palace Hotel and proceeded to the Consulate. The Egyptian Commander however failed to come to the rendezvous and as a result fighting continued throughout the day. By 1015 hours GMT a tough battle was taking place in Port Said but the situation was gradually being brought under control. British and French forces had linked up at the Water Works and the advance Southward was being organised. I was particularly anxious to secure as much of the Causeway running South from Port Said as quickly as possible, mainly in order to prevent our break-out from the Causeway from being blocked by the Egyptians but also to enable Port Said to be used for unloading men and material without interference or the requirement of a lot of troops to secure it. In Port Said the last area of resistance centred round Navy House where tanks supporting 40 Commando used their guns to blow in the doors of warehouses from which Egyptian fire was still coming Finally, just before dusk an air attack was called down on Navy House itself which still held out. This building was engaged and our troops occupied the area. All organised resistance now ceased, 3 Parachute Battalion had also closed up to the edge of Arab Town and the Commandos linked up with the French South of the town. Sporadic sniping however continued throughout the night. At 1700 hours GMT orders were received from London that a United Nations Force would take over from us and that a Cease Fire was to take effect 2359 hours GMT, and that no further move of forces would take place after that hour. Orders were therefore issued to the leading troops to halt at midnight by which time the leading Allied Forces had reached El Cap, some 23 miles South of Port Said.

Royal Marine Commandos withdrawing from Suez, November 1956 [National Army MuseumImage number: 159755]

More related Royal Marines 'Dits'

References/ Further reading:

Roll of Honour:

40 Cdo RM

DUDHILL, Lorin Marine Lorin Dudhill from Wingate, Durham, died during Operation Musketeer, the Anglo-French Invasion of Port Said, Egypt.

FUDGE, Ronald John Marine Ronald Fudge, from Bristol, died during Operation Musketeer, the Anglo-French Invasion of Port Said, Egypt.

MCCARTHY, Peter William Lieutenant Peter McCarthy, from Salisbury, died during Operation Musketeer, the Anglo-French Invasion of Port Said, Egypt.

UFTON, Edward Albert Lieutenant Edward Ufton, from Burton-on-Trent, was killed during Operation Musketeer, the Anglo-French Invasion of Port Said, Egypt.

42 Cdo RM

DENNIS, Donald Henry Arthur Sergeant Donald Dennis, from Plymouth, was killed by a sniper during Operation Musketeer, the Anglo-French Invasion of Port Said, Egypt.

HOWARD, David Marine David Howard, from King's Lynn, was killed during Operation Musketeer, the Anglo-French Invasion of Port Said, Egypt.

PRICE, Bernard John Marine Bernard Price, from Cardiff, died during Operation Musketeer, the Anglo-French Invasion of Port Said, Egypt.

SHORT, Brian John Marine Brian Short, From Poole, was killed during Operation Musketeer, the Anglo-French Invasion of Port Said, Egypt.

45 Cdo RM

FOWLER, Michael John Marine Michael Fowler died during Operation Musketeer, the Anglo-French Invasion of Port Said, Egypt.

GOODFELLOW, Cyril Edward Marine Cyril Goodfellow, from Birmingham, died during Operation Musketeer, the Anglo-French Invasion of Port Said, Egypt. Role of Honour from Commando Veterans Org

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