East of Suez

The phrase East of Suez is used in British military and political discussions in reference to interests beyond the European theatre, and east of the Suez Canal—most notably its military base in Singapore—and may or may not include the Middle East.[1] The phrase was popularized by Rudyard Kipling in his 1890 poem Mandalay.[2] It later became a popular song when a tune was added by Oley Speaks in 1907.[3]

Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
Where there aren't no Ten Commandments an' a man can raise a thirst;

Background and status

19th century

The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 provided the shortest ocean link from Britain to the Far East by making the long journey around the Cape of Good Hope unnecessary.[4] With the 1882 invasion and occupation of Egypt, the United Kingdom took de facto control of the country as well as joint control along with the French over the Suez Canal – which had been described as the “jugular vein of the Empire”.[5]

The canal and the imperial outposts east of the canal were of genuine strategic value to the British Empire[6] and its military infrastructure drew on sea lanes of communication through the Mediterranean Sea via the Suez Canal, alternatively round the Cape of Good Hope to India, and on to East Asia (Brunei, Burma, Malaya, Hong Kong, North Borneo, Sarawak) and Australia.

20th century

The fall of Singapore to the Japanese on 15 February 1942 damaged the empire as it lost a strategic imperial outpost and laid the seeds of the collapse of British imperial power, post World War II.[7] Then, with Indian independence in 1947, there was a gradual draw-down of the military presence “East of Suez”, marking the collapse of the empire.[8][9]

The Suez Crisis—a diplomatic and military confrontation in November 1956, caused by the nationalization of Suez Canal by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser—ended in Egypt taking full control of the canal. The economic and military influence of Britain over the region was marginalized, limiting its control over the bases in the Middle East and South East Asia.[9][10][11]

In January 1968, a few weeks after the devaluation of the pound,[1][8] Prime Minister Harold Wilson and his Defence Secretary, Denis Healey, announced that British troops would be withdrawn in 1971 from major military bases in South East Asia, "east of Aden", primarily in Malaysia and Singapore[12][13][14] as well as the Persian Gulf and the Maldives[15] (both of which are sited in the Indian Ocean), which is when the phrase "East of Suez" entered the vernacular. In June 1970, Edward Heath's government came to power and retained a small political and military commitment to South East Asia through the Five Power Defence Arrangements.[16] Prior to the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to China, Britain based several units in Hong Kong.

21st century

In April 2013 the British think tank the Royal United Services Institute published a report which stated that Britain is in the process of a strategic shift back to an east of Suez position. The report stated that a permanent military presence was being established at Al-Minhad in the United Arab Emirates, by the Royal Air Force, as well as the continuing build of British troops in the Gulf states as Britain begins to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. Furthermore, the report argued that as Britain begins to relocate its troops from Germany by 2020, the British base in the UAE could become their permanent home.[17]

The think tank went on to explain that as the United States begins to concentrate more on the Asia-Pacific region in its attempt to balance China's rise as a world power, a strategic vacuum would emerge in the Gulf region which was incrementally being filled by Britain. This shift of troops to the UAE coincided with establishment of the Royal Navy's UK Maritime Component Command (UKMCC) in Bahrain. In December, the UK's Chief of Defence Staff Gen Sir David Richards said: "After Afghanistan, the Gulf will become our main military effort."[18][19] Overall this would signal a reversal of Britain's East of Suez withdrawal.[20][21]

In 2014, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office announced that the UK would expand its naval facilities in Bahrain to support larger Royal Navy ships deployed to the Persian Gulf. HMS Jufair is the UK's first permanent military base located East of Suez since it withdrew from the region in 1971. The base will reportedly be large enough to accommodate Type 45 destroyers and Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.[22][23][24] A presence in Oman is also being considered.[25] The Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015 stated new British Defence Staffs will be established in the Middle East, Asia Pacific and Africa in 2016.[26][27]

Britain maintains a School of Jungle Warfare in Brunei, and a battalion of the Royal Gurkha Rifles in addition to some aircraft of the Army Air Corps as part of the British Military Garrison Brunei.[28] There is also a small British military presence remaining on Diego Garcia in the British Indian Ocean Territory, and a refuelling station (manned by Royal Navy personnel) in Sembawang, Singapore, as part of the Five Power Defence Arrangements.[29]


  1. ^ a b Britain's Retreat from East of Suez: The Choice Between Europe and the World? by Houndmills and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002. xv + 293 pp. $65.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-333-73236-6, Published on H-Levant (December, 2002)
  2. ^ "Mandalay" by Rudyard Kipling (1890)
  3. ^ Oley Speaks (1874–1948) on IMDB
  4. ^ The causes of the Suez Canal War of 1956
  5. ^ National Archives gov.uk
  6. ^ Maproom - Europe
  7. ^ Japan's gigantic second world war gamble, Guardian
  8. ^ a b Darwin, John Britain, the Commonwealth and the End of Empire
  9. ^ a b Peterson J. E. Postwar Policy: British Retreat And Imperial Vestiges Archived 2013-07-03 at WebCite in Defending Arabia. London: Croom Helm; New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986. ISBN 9780312191146
  10. ^ H-Diplo Article Commentary: McDougall on Benvenuti
  11. ^ Anglo Libyan relations and the British military facilities 1964-1970 Archived 2013-12-20 at the Wayback Machine by Sean W Straw BA MA, University of Nottingham
  12. ^ "What Now for Britain?” The State Department’s Intelligence Assessment of the “Special Relationship,” 7 February 1968 by Jonathan Colman
  13. ^ Pham P. L. Ending 'East of Suez': The British Decision to Withdraw from Malaysia and Singapore
  14. ^ Shohei Sato Britain's decision to withdraw from the Persian Gulf 1964-68
  15. ^ Withdrawal from Empire: Britain's Decolonization of Egypt, Aden, and Kenya in the Mid-Twentieth Century - A Monograph by Maj Brian S. Olson, U.S. Army
  16. ^ The Five Power Defence Arrangements: The Quiet Achiever by Carlyle A. Thayer
  17. ^ "The New East of Suez Question: Damage Limitation after Failure Over Syria". Royal United Services Institute. 19 September 2013. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
  18. ^ Gardner, Frank 'East of Suez': Are UK forces returning? BBC News 29 April 2013
  19. ^ "A Return to East of Suez? UK Military Deployment to the Gulf". Royal United Services Institute. April 2013. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
  20. ^ Waterman, Shaun British forces to return to Persian Gulf to fill void from U.S. exit The Washington Times, 29 April 2013
  21. ^ "The New East of Suez Question: Damage Limitation after Failure Over Syria". Royal United Services Institute. 19 September 2013. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
  22. ^ "East of Suez, West from Helmand: British Expeditionary Force and the next SDSR" (PDF). Oxford Research Group. December 2014. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
  23. ^ "UK-Bahrain sign landmark defence agreement". Foreign & Commonwealth Office. 5 December 2014. Retrieved 6 December 2014.
  24. ^ "UK to establish £15m permanent Mid East military base". BBC. 6 December 2014. Retrieved 6 December 2014.
  25. ^ "Defence Secretary visits Oman". Ministry of Defence. 1 October 2015. Retrieved 28 October 2015.
  26. ^ "PM pledges £178 billion investment in defence kit". Ministry of Defence. 23 November 2015. p. 49. Retrieved 23 November 2015.
  27. ^ "Britain considers stronger military co-operation with Gulf". Financial Times. 8 November 2015. Retrieved 23 November 2015.
  28. ^ Union Jack still flies at Britain's last military outpost in Asia
  29. ^ 3 man detachment under the RNLO from the Defence Geographic Centre, Defence Fuels Group and the Royal Navy Archived September 14, 2012, at the Wayback Machine

External links

1966 Defence White Paper

The 1966 Defence White Paper (Command Papers 2592 and 2901) was a major review of the United Kingdom's defence policy initiated by the Labour government under Prime Minister Harold Wilson. The review was led by the Secretary of State for Defence, Denis Healey. The document was centred on the need to support NATO in Europe and made the commitment that the UK, "would not undertake major operations of war except in co-operation with allies." The 1966 announcements undertook to retain the UK presence in Singapore and Malaysia.

However, the mid-late sixties brought an economic crisis and the devaluation of pound sterling. In 1967 and 1968 the government published two further supplements to the review, announcing the strategic withdrawal of British forces deployed East of Suez. This marked a watershed in British foreign policy and the end of a major, enduring world-wide military role.


ANZUK was a tripartite force formed by Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom to defend the Asian Pacific region after the United Kingdom withdrew forces from the east of Suez in the early 1970s. The ANZUK force was formed in Singapore on 1 November 1971 under Rear Admiral David Wells and disbanded in 1974.

British Forces Brunei

British Forces Brunei (BFB) is the name given to the British Armed Forces presence in Brunei. Since the handover ceremony of Hong Kong in 1997, the garrison in Brunei is the only remaining British military base in the Far East (and one of only three East of Suez, along with Diego Garcia and HMS Juffair).

British Forces Gibraltar

British Forces Gibraltar is the British Armed Forces stationed in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar. Gibraltar is used primarily as a training area, thanks to its good climate and rocky terrain, and as a stopover for aircraft and ships en route to and from deployments East of Suez or Africa.

The last UK based army battalion, 1 Royal Green Jackets, left Gibraltar in 1991 and the Royal Gibraltar Regiment took charge of local defence under the new headquarters British Forces Gibraltar.


In the 1960s CVA-01 aircraft carrier was to be the first of a class of fleet carriers that would have replaced the Royal Navy's existing aircraft carriers, most of which had been designed before or during World War II. CVA01 was intended to replace HMS Victorious and HMS Ark Royal; CVA02 and CVA03 would have replaced HMS Hermes and HMS Eagle.Due to the 1966 Defence White Paper the project was cancelled, along with the proposed escort Type 82 destroyers. Inter-service rivalries, the huge cost of the proposed carriers, and the difficulties they would have presented in construction, operation, and maintenance were prime reasons for cancellation. Had these ships been built, it is likely they would have been named HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Duke of Edinburgh.

Chaka Khan (album)

Chaka Khan is the eponymous fourth solo album by American R&B/funk singer Chaka Khan, released on the Warner Bros. Records label in 1982.

Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China

The Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China (informally The Chartered Bank) was a bank incorporated in London in 1853 by Scotsman James Wilson, under a Royal Charter from Queen Victoria.Though lacking a truly strong domestic network in Britain, it was influential in the development of British colonial trade throughout the East of Suez.In 1969 Chartered Bank merged with Standard Bank, which did business throughout Africa. The merged enterprise was incorporated in London under the name Standard Chartered.

Commander-in-Chief, Levant

The Commander-in-Chief, Levant was a senior administrative shore commander of the Royal Navy whose post was established in February 1943. The British Chiefs of Staff Committee ordered at that time that the Mediterranean Fleet was to be divided into two commands; one responsible for naval operations involving ships, and the other administrative and support, responsible for shore establishments. His subordinate establishments, and staff were sometimes informally known as the Levant Command or Levant Station, In December 1943 the title was changed to Flag Officer, Levant and East Mediterranean. In January 1944 the two separate commands were re-unified into a single command with FOLEM merging back into Commander-in-Chief Mediterranean Fleet.In August 1946 the command's name was changed once again to Flag Officer, Middle East as part of a unified (air, army, navy) British Middle East Command (MEC) at Aden. In 1958 the East Indies Station was abolished in 1958 and its remaining units were transferred to MEC at Aden. In 1959 the former east indies Persian Gulf and Red Sea divisions were renamed the Arabian Seas and Persian Gulf Station until 1962 when the commands name was changed back to its previous name. In October 1967, MEC in Aden was abolished, and the remaining naval forces 'East of Suez' were transferred to the Far East Fleet.

Die Bajadere (polka)

"Die Bajadere" is one of Johann Strauss II's polkas, Op. 351. A bajadere was a temple dancer in the European vision of legendary India being popularized by the first translations of Indian classic literature into European languages. The European view melded all the world east of Suez into an exotic locale. The themes of "Die Bajadere" were drawn from the score of Strauss's first operetta, Indigo und die Vierzig Räuber ("Indigo and the Forty Thieves"), loosely based on the Arabian Nights, which premiered in 1871 at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna.

'Die Bajadere' begins in the key of A major and has two complete sections in the same key before a brief Intrada heralds the Trio section of the work. The Trio section, in D major is heavily accented in the 1st part but is more lyrical in the second. After a general repeat of the same A major 1st part and its successive 2nd one, the polka proceeds into a frenzy, heavily-chorded phrase with an abrupt conclusion, all in the home key.

The work has been performed at the Neujahrskonzert of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra as recently as for the 2005 edition conducted by Lorin Maazel.

Marius Petipa's ballet La Bayadère premiered at the Maryinsky Theatre, Saint Petersburg,February 4, 1877.

East of Suez (film)

East of Suez is a lost 1925 silent film directed by Raoul Walsh and starring Pola Negri. It is based on a play, East of Suez (1922), by W. Somerset Maugham. Famous Players-Lasky produced and Paramount Pictures distributed.

Galle Face Hotel

The Galle Face Hotel, founded in Colombo, Sri Lanka in 1864, is one of the oldest hotels east of Suez. It is located at 2, Galle Road, Colombo 03. The Ceylon Hotels Corporation is now part of the Galle Face Hotel Group. The hotel is a member of Select Hotels and Resorts International. The current chairman of the hotel is Sanjeev Gardiner, since the demise of his father Cyril Gardiner in 1997. It is listed as one of the "1000 Places to See Before You Die" in the book of the same name. It received the "Best Heritage Hotel" title three years running at the Presidential Awards for Travel and Tourism (of Sri Lanka), held in June 2010, June 2011 and September 2012. In addition it won the first-ever PATA award for Best International Heritage Hotel, in 2012. In September 2012, it became the first hotel in Sri Lanka to be featured on a postage stamp, along with three other iconic buildings in Colombo.

Independence Day (Bahrain)

Bahrain Independence Day occurred on 15 August 1971, when the country declared independence from the British following a United Nations survey of the Bahraini population. The British announced the withdrawal of their troops east of Suez in the early 1960s.

Bahrain declared its independence on 15 August 1971, marked by the signing of a friendship treaty with the British that terminated previous agreements between the two sides.Although 14 August is the actual date on which Bahrain gained its independence from the British, the kingdom does not celebrate or mark that date. Instead, the state annually celebrates 16 December as National Day, to coincide with the day that former ruler Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa ascended to the throne. As such, 16 December is a national holiday and is usually celebrated with firework displays.

Joint Expeditionary Force (Maritime)

Joint Expeditionary Force (Maritime) (or JEF (M)) (formerly Response Force Task Group (RFTG)), is the Royal Navy's expeditionary task force maintained at high-readiness and available at short notice to respond to unexpected global events. In addition to the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines, the RFTG also includes elements of the British Army and the Royal Air Force. While it is primarily poised to conduct war-fighting or amphibious operations, the JEF (M) is capable of undertaking a diverse range of activities such as evacuation operations, disaster relief or humanitarian aid.The JEF (M) (formerly RFTG) was established under the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review. Since its establishment, the JEF (M) has seen six successive years of deployments to the Mediterranean Sea and East of Suez to the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. The JEF (M) also deployed on operations during the 2011 Libyan Civil War and provided humanitarian aid during Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.

The RFTG is now known as the Joint Expeditionary Force (Maritime) (JEF (M)).

Lourdino Barreto

Lourdino Barreto (born 11 February 1938, in Galgibaga in South Goa) was dubbed "the best musicologist East of Suez" at a World Congress for choir conductors held in Rome.

Mitla Pass

The Mitla Pass (Arabic: ممر متلة‎, Hebrew: מיתלה‬) is a 480 meter-high, 32 km-long snaky pass in the Sinai of Egypt, wedged between mountain ranges to the north and south, located about 50 km east of Suez. It is the monotonous ride through here and Nekhel, a wilderness that provides the shortest route between Nuweiba and Cairo. Buses carrying tourist to Mount Sinai, St. Catherine's Monastery, and Feiran Oasis travel through here.Mitla Pass is a site of major battles between the militaries of Egypt and Israel during the wars of 1956, 1967, and 1973. During the last of these, on October 14, 1973, the Egyptians tried to reach the pass with elements of their Fourth Armored Division, but their offensive was halted by IDF armor and air power. Figures of Egyptian tank losses vary with the source consulted. The Two O'Clock War gives the Israeli figure but the Egyptian one is lower.

RFA Diligence (A132)

RFA Diligence is a forward repair ship of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. Launched in 1981 as a support ship for North Sea oil rigs, she was chartered by the British government to support naval activities during the 1982 Falklands War and was later bought outright as a fleet maintenance vessel. She gave assistance to the damaged USS Tripoli and Princeton in the 1991 Gulf War, and to Sri Lanka after the 2005 tsunami. She typically has deployments of 5-8 years in support of the Trafalgar-class submarine on duty east of Suez, with a secondary role as a mothership for British and US minesweepers in the Persian Gulf. Until 2016 Diligence was set to go out of service in 2020. In August 2016, the UK Ministry of Defence placed an advert for the sale of RFA Diligence. The option for the delivery of future operational maintenance and repair capability for the RFA remain under consideration.

St. Mary's Church, Chennai

St. Mary's Church (Tamil: புனித மேரி தேவாலயம்) located at Fort St George, is the oldest Anglican church (Church of South India) East of Suez and also the oldest British building in India. The church is popularly known as the 'Westminster Abbey of the East'.

Standing Royal Navy deployments

Standing Royal Navy deployments is a list of operations and commitments undertaken by the United Kingdom's Royal Navy on a worldwide basis. The following list details these commitments and deployments sorted by region and in alphabetical order. Routine deployments made by the Navy's nuclear-powered submarines and their location of operations is classified.

Tribal-class frigate

The Type 81, or Tribal class, were ordered and built as Sloops to carry out similar duties to the immediate post war Improved Black Swan Sloops and Loch class frigates in the Gulf. In the mid 1960s the seven Tribals were reclassified as second class general-purpose frigates to maintain frigate numbers. After the British withdrawal from East of Suez in 1971 the Tribals operated in the Nato North Atlantic sphere with the only update the fitting of Seacat missiles to all by 1977, limited by their single propeller and low speed of 24 knots. In 1979-80 age and crew and fuel shortages, saw them transferred to the stand by squadrons, three being reactivated in 1982 in the Falklands crisis for training and West Indian guardship duties.

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