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45 CDO - The world's first heli-borne assault - Musketeer

Unit/ Formation: 45 Cdo RM

Location: Egypt

Period/ Conflict: Suez Crisis

Year: 1956

Date/s: 5 November 1956

Operation Musketeer (French: Opération Mousquetaire) was the Anglo-French plan[1] for the invasion of the Suez canal zone to capture the Suez Canal during the Suez Crisis in 1956.

Captain Griffiths inspecting troops of 45 Royal Marine Commando in full battle equipment, preparatory to their being landed at Port Said from HMS THESEUS. © IWM A 33635

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.

A member of 45 Royal Marine Commando priming a grenade before disembarking from HMS THESEUS for the landing beaches at Port Said. © IWM A 33636

45 Commando conducted the world’s first combat helicopter insertion, landing all their men and equipment in 90 minutes using 22 helicopters, landing under fire, with several helicopters hit, but following 42 and 40 Commando who had landed in a beach assault at dawn earlier that day.

The airborne landing involved 650 marines and 23 tons of equipment being flown in ten Westland Whirlwind Mark 2s of 845 Naval Air Squadron from the deck of HMS Theseus, and another six Whirlwinds, six Bristol Sycamore HC.12s and six HC.14s of HMS Ocean’s Joint Experimental Helicopter Unit (JEHU) (Royal Air Force).

Men from 45 Commando Royal Marines prepare to conduct the world’s first combat helicopter insertion

The Westland Whirlwind’s were capable of carrying up to 10 men or roughly 1,500 lbs of equipment while the Sycamore’s could carry 2 or 3 passengers or approximately 1,000 lbs of supplies or equipment.

The landing plan had initially been for a more daring objective, securing a vital bridge-head at Raswa. However, fears of casualties caused by potentially heavy ground fire saw this plan abandoned and the decision was made to land on the beach near the Casino Pier where traditional craft would have Landed them.

However the concept was proven and the nine mile journey over sea was conducted in a much quicker turn around than would have been possible with Landing Craft and ensured the unit could immediately reinforce 42 & 40 Commando who were engaged in house to house fighting in the town where Egyptian forces were putting up stiff resistance.

45 Cdo RM lost 2 men killed:

FOWLER, Michael John, Marine

GOODFELLOW, Cyril Edward, Marine

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