Farrar the Para
3rd Parachute Battalion in the Radfan
In the spring of 1964, the sniping war waged in the hinterland of the South Arabian Federation flared up and the campaign that followed was reminiscent of the pre-war fighting on the North-West Frontier of India. The Radfan is about 50 miles north of Aden, a mountainous area and extremely hot. The Radfanis normally recognise the Amir of Dhala as the tribal leader. They are fiercely independent and warfare amongst the tribes amounts to a way of life. Caravans passing through the Radfan along the Dhala Road to the Yemen were forced to pay tribute and this was a constant source of friction. The Qutaibis, the main tribe of the Radfan, began to cause trouble on the Dhala road.
The British authorities decided it was time to intervene. At last light on April 30th 1964, 45 Royal Marine Commando was tasked to capture the high ground on the north side of the Dhanaba Basin and later the same night 'B' Company, the 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment based in Aden, was to drop on the Wadi Taym while the Federal Regular Army advanced into the western part of the Dhanaba Basin in order to dominate the Rabwa Pass from the north. In any event the enemy discovered the DZ marking party from 22 SAS and the drop had to be cancelled.
The small 10 man SAS patrol was surrounded by 90 tribesmen and had to fight its way out, assisted by ground attack Hunters. In the process they killed some 25 of the enemy but lost their commander and radio operator, whose bodies had to be left behind. These were decapitated and the heads displayed in the Yemen, an incident that caused anger and shock throughout Britain. There was now no chance of a surprise drop and 'B' Company were brought up from Aden to Thurmier base by road to start operations on foot. By 0400 hour on May 1st the Marines had secured their objectives. 'B' Company, 3 Para, advanced to the Wadi Taym, and came under heavy and accurate small arms fire from the forts and buildings of the village of El Naqil on the lower slopes of 'Cap Badge'.
The Company Commander, Major Peter Walter, led the leading platoon to clear one fort while the rest of the Company assaulted the village, driving out the dissidents and killing several in the process. A determined group of the enemy managed to move in behind the leading troops and started a surprise attack. They were themselves then ambushed by the rear element of the Company under the Second-in-Command, Captain Barry Jewkes and all of the enemy party were killed. Enemy snipers from the slopes above the village now opened accurate and incessant fire causing several casualties. These snipers were in dead ground to the Marines above who were unable to help and ground attack Hunters were called in to help. Despite this, casualties continued to mount.
Captain Jewkes was killed, another soldier was killed and six more wounded. Ammunition and water began to run low and the Company was out of range for accurate fire support from the artillery. The RAF Hunters performed magnificently, strafing as close as 150 yards. Two Beavers of 15 flight, 653 Squadron Army Air Corps made re-supply sorties, dropping their loads accurately despite intense rebel fire.
Meanwhile the reserve Marine Company had been flown forward by helicopter to the top of 'Cap Badge'. The Marines now moved down to outflank the rebels from above. The enemy withdrew and the firing gradually ceased by mid-afternoon. 'B' Company then reorganized rapidly and after the casualties were flown out by Belvedere helicopters they then began the steep climb to their original objectives on 'Cap Badge'. They had been in action for a continuous 30-hour period including an 11-hour march and a 10-hour battle.
They now commanded the Rabwa Pass and overlooked the Wadi Taym. Bakri Ridge was the next objective. This has a sheer cliff face running the length of its eastern flank, sloping gently up from Shab Tem, through Hajib, up and on to Arnolds Spur 5,000 feet high. Below this the land drops 3,000 feet sheer to the Wadi Dhubsan, which was known to be the headquarters of the rebels. The Ridge is ten miles long and hard going.
The advance of the 3rd Battalion (less 'B' and 'D' Companies) was delayed awaiting the arrival of 815 Squadron RN, with its Wessex helicopters. Patrols, however, discovered that the ridge was not in fact held as strongly as supposed and better still discovered a route up on to it from Shab Tem. The CO, Lieutenant-Colonel A.H. Farrar-Hockley, known to his men Farrar the Para, taking advantage of this information turned one Company into fighting porters and advanced with the others. In addition to their arms the soldiers carried some 5,500 lbs. between them, an average load of 90 lbs. per man. They advanced 10,000 yards during the night of May 18th and by dawn on the 19th were well established on the Ridge.
The 'porters' dumped their stores and returned for further loads to the bottom of the hill- a considerable feat of endurance. When the advance was continued on the evening of the 19th a forward patrol had a brush with a group of rebels and surprise was now lost. The advance on the 20th was led by the anti-tank platoon under Company Sergeant Major 'Nobby' Arnold. They surprised a party of 12 rebels and captured three with their arms- the first time this had been achieved in the campaign so far and for recognition of his leadership the Ridge was promptly renamed 'Arnold's Spur'. The advance was resumed on May 23, with 'C' Company clearing a number of villages. They were finally held up by accurate fire from the fortified village of Qudeishi. Some fifty tribesmen in strong positions, armed with several automatic weapons, now gave battle. RAF Hunters were called in and demolished some of the forts. 'A' Company outflanked their positions while 'C' Company stormed the village. By May 24 the Paras were in complete control of the whole Ridge and overlooked the Wadi Dhubsan.
It was believed that the rebels would bitterly oppose any invasion of the Wadi Dhubsan, which was regarded in the Radfan as an impregnable stronghold and had never been entered by Europeans. For this very reason it was decided to continue the operation and the CO was ordered to suppress enemy resistance, search the houses of leading dissidents for documents, destroy foodstuffs and arms and generally take over the Wadi for a limited period. By first light on May 26 the 3rd Battalion and 'X' Company of 45 Commando had descended successfully into Wadi Dhubsan, achieving complete surprise. Rebel tribesmen were seen to be hurrying back from guarding the easy route, although too late to retrieve the situation and they had been completely caught out by this bold move. The Jebel Haqla was firmly picketed and held, thus securing the right flank for the early stages of the advance and for the eventual withdrawal. For the first 1,500 yards there was no opposition then 40-50 enemy tribesmen fired upon 'X' Company from the high ground. The fire was heavy and accurate and the Company Second-in-Command was killed and a Marine wounded. The CO went forward to reconnoitre in a Scout helicopter. They overshot the leading troops and were promptly shot down with 11 bullet holes later being counted in the machine. The pilot managed to bring the helicopter down safely and the occupants escaped back to the cover of the leading troops, though the IO was wounded. REME fitters were brought in and working under most difficult conditions in the battle area made an excellent recovery job.
A full scale battle now developed with 'A' Company moving round to the higher ground on the left of 'X' Company while a platoon of 'C' Company did the same on the opposite side. Fire support from medium artillery and the Battalion's 3-inch mortars was effectively employed. RAF Hunters performed incredible feats of flying in the narrow confines of the Wadi to add their support to the troops below. The attack was pressed home and the rebels withdrew leaving six of their dead and 11 rifles in their positions. At a cost of one killed and seven wounded, an area of 200 square miles had been secured and the 'impregnable' stronghold had been taken, which was a serious blow to the morale of the Radfanis. The British troops were now in complete control.
On June 8, 'D' Company, the 3rd Battalion, arrived in the Radfan to relieve the main body and from the 14th to the 18th carried out a reconnaissance in force down the Shaab Lashab in company with the Royal Scots. Opposition was restricted to sniping and in the end the Company returned to Bahrain. It was the end of the Battalion's work in the Radfan; a tough couple of months which earned their CO Lt.-Col. Farrar-Hockley a bar to his DSO and the remainder, five decorations, three Mentions in Despatches, and six C-in-C's Commendations.