Aden Emergency

The Aden Emergency, also known as the Radfan Uprising, was an insurgency against the Occupying Forces of the former British Empire in the Protectorate of South Arabia, which now form part of Yemen. Partly inspired by Nasser's pan-Arab nationalism, it began on 14 October 1963 with the throwing of a grenade at a gathering of British officials at Aden Airport. A state of emergency was then declared in the British Crown colony of Aden and its hinterland, the Aden Protectorate. The emergency escalated in 1967 and hastened the end of British rule in the territory which had begun in 1839. On 30 November 1967, British forces withdrew and the independent People's Republic of South Yemen was proclaimed.

Aden Emergency
Part of the Cold War and the Arab Cold War
South Yemen in its region

The location of the Aden Protectorate
Date14 October 1963 – 30 November 1967
(4 years, 1 month, 2 weeks and 2 days)

NLF/FLOSY victory


 United Kingdom

Supported by

Commanders and leaders
  • 30,000 British personnel at peak[1] (3,500 in November 1967)[2]
  • 15,000 Federal Regular Army troops[3]
Casualties and losses
Great Britain:
Either 90 or 92 killed
510 wounded[4][3]
Federal Regular Army:
17 killed
58 wounded
  • 382 killed
  • 1,714 wounded[3]
Total: 2,096 killed[5]


Aden was originally of interest to Britain as an anti-piracy station to protect shipping on the routes to British India. With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, it further served as a coaling station. Following the independence of India in 1947, Aden became less important to the United Kingdom.

The Emergency was precipitated in large part by a wave of Arab nationalism spreading to the Arabian Peninsula and stemming largely from the socialist and pan-Arabist doctrines of Egyptian leader Gamel Abdel Nasser. The British, French and Israeli forces that had invaded Egypt following Nasser's nationalisation of the Suez Canal in 1956 had been forced to withdraw following intervention from both the United States and the Soviet Union.

Nasser enjoyed only limited success in spreading his pan-Arabist doctrines through the Arab world, with his 1958 attempt to unify Egypt and Syria as the United Arab Republic collapsing in failure three years later. A perceived anti-colonial uprising in Aden in 1963 provided another potential opportunity for his doctrines, though it is not clear to what extent Nasser directly incited the revolt in Aden, as opposed to the Yemeni guerrilla groups drawing inspiration from Nasser's pan-Arabist ideas but acting independently themselves.


By 1963 and in the ensuing years, anti-British guerrilla groups with varying political objectives began to coalesce into two larger, rival organisations: first the Egyptian-supported National Liberation Front (NLF) and then the Front for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen (FLOSY), who attacked each other as well as the British.

Hostilities commence

Hostilities started on 14 December 1963, with an NLF grenade attack against British High Commissioner of Aden Sir Kennedy Trevaskis, which took place as he arrived at Khormaksar Airport to catch a London-bound flight. The grenade killed a woman and injured fifty other people. On that day, a state of emergency was declared in Aden.

Aden in 1965

The NLF and FLOSY began a campaign against British forces in Aden, relying largely on grenade attacks. One such attack was carried out against RAF Khormaksar during a children's party, killing a girl and wounding four children.

The guerrilla attacks largely focused on killing off-duty British officers and policemen. Much of the violence was carried out in Crater, the old Arab quarter of Aden. British forces attempted to intercept weapons being smuggled into Crater by the NLF and FLOSY on the Dhala road, but their efforts met with little success. Despite taking a toll on British forces, the death toll among rebels was far higher, largely due to inter-factional fighting among different rebel groups.

In 1964 the British 24th Infantry Brigade arrived to conduct land operations. It remained in Aden and the Aden Protectorate until November 1967.

By 1965, the RAF station RAF Khormaksar was operating nine squadrons. These included transport units with helicopters and a number of Hawker Hunter fighter bomber aircraft. These were called in by the army for attacks on rebel positions in which they would use 60-pound high explosive rockets and their 30 mm ADEN cannon.

Aden street riots

Street riots in Aden
Aden in 1967

On 19–20 January 1967, the NLF provoked street riots in Aden. After the Aden police lost control, British High Commissioner Sir Richard Turnbull deployed British troops to crush the riots. As soon as the NLF riots were crushed, pro-FLOSY rioters took to the streets. Fighting between British forces and pro-guerrilla rioters lasted into February. British forces had opened fire 40 times, and during that period there were 60 grenade and shooting attacks against British forces, including the destruction of an Aden Airways Douglas DC-3, which was bombed in mid-air, killing all the people on board.

Arab police mutiny

The emergency was further exacerbated by the Six-Day War in June 1967. Nasser claimed that the British had helped Israel in the war, and this led to a mutiny by hundreds of soldiers in the South Arabian Federation Army on 20 June, which also spread to the Aden Armed Police. The mutineers killed 22 British soldiers and shot down a helicopter, and as a result, Crater was occupied by rebel forces.

Concerns were heightened regarding the ability to give sufficient security to British families in the midst of the increased violence, resulting in evacuation plans for families being sped up considerably.

Battle of Crater

Following the mutiny, all British forces were withdrawn from Crater, while Royal Marines of 45 Commando took up sniping positions on the high ground and killed 10 armed Arab fighters. However, Crater remained occupied by an estimated 400 Arab fighters. NLF and FLOSY fighters then took to the streets and engaged in gun battles, while arson, looting, and murder was also common. British forces blocked off the two main entrances to Crater. They came under sniper fire from an Ottoman fort on Sira island, but the snipers were silenced by a shell from an armoured car. Order was restored in July 1967, when the 1st Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders entered Crater under the command of Lt. Col. Colin Campbell Mitchell and managed to occupy the entire district overnight with no casualties.


Nevertheless, repeated guerrilla attacks by the NLF soon resumed against British forces, causing the British to leave Aden by the end of November 1967, earlier than had been planned by British Prime Minister Harold Wilson and without an agreement on the succeeding governance. Following the British departure, the NLF managed to seize power, and established the People's Republic of South Yemen.


Irrespective of the fact that the Suez Canal was shut by Nasser on the eve of the Six-Day War, it was to be closed anyhow in the wake of that war because it served as the demarcation line between the Egyptians and the Israeli occupied Sinai desert. The British naval base at Aden also closed in 1967. These factors would deprive the new South Yemeni nation, which had little oil, of valuable business and revenue, and precipitate severely disruptive economic circumstances for years afterwards. British military casualties in the period 1963 to 1967 were 90 to 92 killed[6] and 510 wounded. British civilian deaths were 17. Local government forces lost 17 killed and 58 wounded. Casualties among the rebel forces stood at 382 killed and 1,714 wounded according to a source.[4][3]

British units serving in Aden, 1964–1967

Aden, Sheikh Othman 1967
Saladin Armoured Cars of the Queens Dragoon Guards in Aden 1967
British street patrol in Aden 1967

Royal Air Force

Royal Navy

Royal Marines

British Army

Culvert construction on the Dhala Road by Territorial Army Sappers of 131 Parachute Engineer Regiment in April 1965
Culvert construction on the Dhala Road by Territorial Army Parachute Engineers

See also


  1. ^ "Wars and Global Conflict: Confrontations and Hostilities". Modern-Day Commando. Archived from the original on 26 June 2014.
  2. ^ "Aden Emergency". Archived from the original on 3 July 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d "ADEN EMERGENCY PSYOP 1963–1967". PsyWar.Org.
  4. ^ a b Roll of Honor
  5. ^ J. E. Peterson, British Counter-Insurgency Campaigns and Iraq. August 2009: p.12.
  6. ^


  • Laffin, John (1986). Brassey's Battles: 3,500 Years of Conflict, Campaigns and Wars from A–Z. London: Brassey's. ISBN 978-0-08-031185-2.
  • Naumkin, Vitaly, Red Wolves of Yemen: The Struggle for Independence, 2004. Oleander Press. ISBN 978-0-906672-70-9
  • Walker, Jonathan, Aden Insurgency: The Savage War in South Arabia 1962–67 (Hardcover) Spellmount Staplehurst ISBN 978-1-86227-225-5

External links

Aden Airport attack

The Aden Airport attack was a grenade attack which took place on 17 September 1965 and resulted in the injury of nine people.

Aden Street riots

The Aden Street riots took place in early 1967 during the Aden Emergency. On 19-20 January 1967 the NLF prompted street rioting in Aden. The Aden police lost control, so British High Commissioner Sir Richard Turnbull deployed British troops to crush the riots. This was followed by pro-FLOSY rioters taking to the streets which then led to conflict with British troops until February. The mood created by the riots helped lead to the Arab Police mutiny.

There had previously been riots in Aden in October 1965.

Anthony Farrar-Hockley

General Sir Anthony Heritage Farrar-Hockley, (8 April 1924 – 11 March 2006), affectionately known as 'Farrar the Para' , was a British Army officer and a military historian who distinguished himself in a number of British conflicts. He held a number of senior commands, ending his career as NATO's Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) Allied Forces Northern Europe. Throughout his four decades of army life, he spoke plainly, and both before and after his retirement in 1982 wrote effectively on the conflicts he had experienced and the First World War.

Arab Police mutiny

The Arab Police mutiny was an incident during the Aden Emergency where Arab soldiers and police mutinied against British troops. While the mutiny itself was localized and quickly suppressed, it undermined the South Arabian Federation which had been organized by Britain in 1959 as an intended successor to direct colonial rule.

Assassination of Sir Arthur Charles

Sir Arthur Charles, Speaker of the Leglsiative Council of Aden, was assassinated on 1 September 1965, during the Aden Emergency.

Charles was shot as he was entering his car after playing at the Sierra Tennis Club in Crater. He was immediately taken to a hospital, but died there. Charles had been in Aden since 1959 and was knighted in June 1965.

Battle of the Crater (Aden)

The Battle of the Crater or Operation Stirling Castle was an encounter during the Aden Emergency. Following the ambush of British troops by the Arab Armed Police the Crater district in Aden was abandoned by British troops. The British decided to enter the Crater and retrieve the bodies of British soldiers.

Bill Speakman

William Speakman-Pitt, VC (21 September 1927 – 20 June 2018), known as Bill Speakman, was a British Army soldier and a recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. He was the first person to receive an honour from Queen Elizabeth II.

Children's Party attack

The Children's Party attack was a terrorist attack which took place during the Aden Emergency. Terrorists threw a grenade into a children's party being held at the RAF Khormaksar. One girl was killed (Gillian Sidey, daughter of Air Commodore E. Sidey) and four children wounded.It was part of a general outbreak of violence around Christmas in Aden 1964: on 26 December Inspector Fadhl Khalil of Aden Special Branch was shot dead when terrorists fired at him and four other policemen in the bazaar at Crater Town. On Christmas Eve, a British sentry shot dead an Arab.

David Alexander (Royal Marines officer)

Major General David Crichton Alexander (28 November 1926 – 5 January 2017) was a senior Royal Marines officer.

Front for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen

The Front for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen (FLOSY) was an Arab nationalist military organization operating in the Federation of South Arabia (now Southern Yemen) in the 1960s. As the British tried to exit its Federation of South Arabia colony Abdullah al Asnag created FLOSY. FLOSY attempted to seize power when the British left from another military group operating in South Arabia, the Marxist National Liberation Front (NLF).

High Commissioner attack

The High Commissioner Attack was an incident which saw the beginning of the Aden Emergency. Arab nationalists of the NLF made a grenade attack against the British High Commissioner, Sir Kennedy Trevaskis, killing one person and injuring 50.George Henderson, the assistant high commissioner, saved Sir Kennedy's life by pushing him out of the way. Henderson later died of his injuries.The incident led to Britain declaring a state of emergency in the colony.

John Richards (Royal Marines officer)

Lieutenant General Sir John Charles Chisholm Richards, (21 February 1927 – 5 October 2004) was a Royal Marines officer who served as Marshal of the Diplomatic Corps in the Royal Household from 1982 to 1991.

Michael Le Fanu

Admiral of the Fleet Sir Michael Le Fanu (2 August 1913 – 28 November 1970) was a Royal Navy officer. He fought in the Second World War as gunnery officer in a cruiser operating in the Home Fleet during the Norwegian Campaign and the Battle of the Mediterranean and then as gunnery officer in a battleship operating in the Eastern Fleet before becoming liaison officer between the British Pacific Fleet and the United States Third Fleet. After the War he commanded a frigate, a training establishment and an aircraft carrier. He served as First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff in the late 1960s. In that role, in the face of economic difficulties, he worked hard to reshape the Navy as an anti-submarine force operating primarily in the Atlantic Ocean.

National Liberation Front (South Yemen)

The National Liberation Front (Arab: الجبهة القوميّة) or NLF was a Marxist paramilitary organization and a political party operating in the Federation of South Arabia, (now southern Yemen) during the Aden Emergency. During the North Yemen Civil War, fighting spilled over into South Yemen as the British attempted to establish an autonomous colony known as the Federation of South Arabia. Following the exit of the British armed forces, the NLF seized power from its rival, the Arab nationalist Front for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen (FLOSY). In the aftermath of the Emergency, the NLF reorganized itself into the Yemeni Socialist Party and established a single-party Marxist-Leninist government, known as the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen.

Radfan Campaign

The Radfan Campaign was a series of British military actions during the Aden Emergency. It took place in the mountainous Radfan region near the border with Yemen. Local tribesmen connected with the NLF began raiding the road connecting with Aden with the town of Dhala.

In January 1964 the local army sent three battalions supported by the RAF to restore order. Trouble flared up again and in April British ground troops were sent in; by May they had taken the main rebel stronghold and the revolt had been suppressed. The NLF then switched its attention to Aden itself.The first operation in January was known as "Nut cracker". The second one was "Cap Badge".

Robin Roe

Reverend Robin Roe (11 October 1928 – 15 July 2010) was an Irish clergyman known for his work as an army chaplain, and a rugby union player.

Roland Gibbs

Field Marshal Sir Roland Christopher Gibbs, (22 June 1921 – 31 October 2004) was Chief of the General Staff, the professional head of the British Army, from 1976 to 1979, and Lord Lieutenant of Wiltshire from 1989 to 1996. He saw active service in the Second World War and acted as chief of staff to the commander of the operation to evacuate all British troops and civilians from Aden during the Aden Emergency.

State of Aden

The State of Aden (Arabic: ولاية عدن‎ Wilāyat ʿAdan) was a state constituted in Aden within the Federation of South Arabia. Following its establishment on 18 January 1963 Sir Charles Hepburn Johnston stepped down as the last Governor of Aden.

In spite of the hopes placed in the Federation, the insurgency in Aden escalated and hastened the end of British presence in the territory with the British leaving Aden by the end of November 1967.The State of Aden finally became part of the independent People's Democratic Republic of Yemen, also known as South Yemen, on 30 November 1967.

Withdrawal from Aden

Withdrawal from Aden was the final withdrawal of British troops from the colony of Aden after 128 years. High Commissioner Sir Humphrey Trevelyan boarded an RAF aircraft at RAF Khormaksar after a short handover ceremony on 30 November 1967. The last troops to leave were the Royal Engineers.

Aden Emergency
Colonial conflicts involving the English/British Empire

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