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Evacuation of Abadan Oil workers

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

Unit/ Formation: HM Ships

Location: Abadan Iraq

Period/ Conflict:

Year: 1951

Date/s: 3 October 1951

The Abadan Crisis occurred from 1951 to 1954 ("Iran Oil Crisis"), after Iran nationalised the Iranian assets of the BP controlled Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) and expelled Western companies from oil refineries in the city of Abadan

Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in Abadan

I have to inform the House that the latest developments in the Persian oil situation are very serious.
The Persian Prime Minister and Government must understand that they are responsible under international law for ensuring the protection of any British subjects in Persia. Should they prove incapable of discharging that task, His Majesty's Government would be compelled to assume it themselves, using such means as are necessary for that purpose. The House may rest assured that we have made preparations to this end and can take action at very short notice. The House will not expect me at this juncture to give details of what these preparations are, but I can inform hon. Members that the cruiser H.M.S. "Mauritius" has been ordered to proceed forthwith to the vicinity of Abadan.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Herbert Morrison)

[PERSIA (ANGLO-IRANIAN OIL COMPANY) HC Deb 26 June 1951 vol 489 cc1184-9]

HMS Mauritius, pennant C80, was a Fiji-class light cruiser of the Royal Navy

HMS MAURITIUS. Abadan crisis.

Thursday 28th June - Wednesday 11th July; and Saturday 15th September - Wednesday 3rd October 1951.

Buoy-up off Abadan prepared to land to assist protecting/evacuating civilians caught up in the disturbances. Providing boarding parties to protect oil-tankers going to and from Basra.

Providing "cutting-out" parties for recovering tugs and small craft concealed in various creeks and backwaters. All civilians were eventually evacuated and taken to safety.

Ship at "cruising stations" for both periods in horrendous temperatures for which the ship was hardly suitable. No official acknowledgement for this unpleasant period. (by Jim Porter)

At 12.32 hours on 3 October 1951 the cruiser HMS Mauritius cast off from Abadan for Basra. The ship’s band was playing – reportedly, the ‘Colonel Bogey’ march was prominent in its repertoire – but the occasion was far from joyful.

British oil workers are evacuated from Abadan; allegedly to the tones of Colonel Bogey. Source: BP Archives / J.H. Bamberg

Sailing along the Shatt-al-Arab waterway, the warship passed the vast Abadan oil refinery, formerly the property of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC), but nationalized in May 1951 by the Iranian government headed by Mohammad Mossadegh.

Subsequently, escalating tension, punctuated by abortive diplomatic initiatives, culminated in the refinery’s closure and eventual British evacuation on 3 October, when HMS Mauritius was used to withdraw some 280 members of the AIOC’s British staff still remaining in the country.

Terminating Britain’s involvement in Iran’s oil industry dating back to the 1901 D’Arcy concession, evacuation was represented by The Times as ‘a humiliating defeat’ for a country still regarding itself as a major world power: ‘The British have been forced out of Persia because the Persian Government was resolved to force them out and because the British Government were not … resolved to stay.’

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