Suez: Graphic by Martin

By Sea, By Air
The Marines Go In

On 26th July 1956, President Nasser of Egypt seized the Suez Canal. The Chiefs of Staff were asked to prepare to retake the Canal. Lord Mountbattten offered a Royal Marine formation to hold Suez until three Divisions, or whatever Army formations, could be raised  to hold the Canal. The offer was not accepted, but a Brigade was to spearhead the seaborne landings, and took part in its planning,  from as early as August 1956. The timetable was long, and provided sufficient time for 40 and 42 Commandos to train with "C" Squadron, 6th Royal Tank Regiment,  whose Centurions would be waterproofed to land near "40" on L-day (Landing Day).

The Amphibious Support Squadron for the landings rose to 20 ships, including Frigates and Destroyers. No.45 Commando would be aboard  the Carrier H.M.S. Ocean, and Theseus, and as there were insufficient helicopters, would be tasked as a floating reserve, while 40 and 42  Commando landed to seize the Interior basin.

HMS BulwarkAt dawn the 6th of November ( L Day) , the invasion fleet took postions  8 kilometers ( 5 miles ) off Port Said, and began an hour long the bombardment of the Egyptian Shore positions.  All the troops taking part in the invasion had noticed that the press seemed to know more about their invasion plans than the troops did themselves.  British journalists had been publishing full reports of the forthcoming invasion in the British newspapers.  Not the sort of information you want to just hand out to the enemy. The night before the invasion, a prominent journalist from a popular English newspaper, who was aboard H.M.S. Theseus to cover the invasion, was pulled aside by members of 45 Commando and informed that, if they found out about any more security leaks in his newspaper, he would be "invited" to join the Marines in their assault,  in fact they would make sure he'd lead the advance.

The Marines come ashoreThe Troops of 40 and 42 ran in towards the smoke covered beach, no light showed from the shore, and a pall of smoke from burning oil  tanks hung over Port Said. Each Commando unit had two Troops in LVTs as the leading wave, with a second wave of Troops in LCAs.  The first line of 15 amphibians churned on to the beach, with 42 on the right and 40 on the left. It was just before dawn, and fortunately  there were no mines on the beach. There had been no SBS recce to check these beaches, probably due to the political risk.

As the bombardment and air attacks kept the Egyptians busy, the LVTs ran in, between the beach front houses. Fifteen minutes later, LCTs put the tanks ashore in Fishermen's Harbour on 40 Commando's left. Once the tanks were ashore, 40 was ready to move three Troops at H+90 minutes.  40 Commando advanced along the harbour to the Canal Company offices and Navy House, while 42 Commando advanced through the center of town to the Railway Station and British Consulate,  A troop was sent in with a tank as support, to rescue the British consul.  A naval gunfire observer in the first wave, called a down Navy gun fire on the Egyptian defenders in the Cassino, as the building disappeared under the smoke and dust, he cheerfully  signaled back to his opposite off shore  saying, "Everyone a coconut".

40 CommandoAccompanied by the tanks, 40 Commando now moved to their objectives between the Harbour basins, which were to be used for landing reinforcements for I I Corps, later in the day. To begin with, resistance was light, but it soon stiffened, and degenerated into urban fighting, grenades, tanks, and rifles at close range. The following morning, with the beachhead secure, 40 Commando moved down the dual carriage way, and the convoys came under fire from the side streets. The LVT's were on loan, and when called up, had no armour pinned on, over the weapons slots in the sides. X Troop captured the power station, and  A Troop engaged a stout group of Arabs in the market, while other troops expanded the beachhead.

45 taking off from HMS TheuseusAt 1600 hours, the helicopters on both Aircraft carriers were given orders to land the first wave of 45 Commando into Port Said with the Whirlwinds taking off first and then the Sycamores. Within five minutes all helicopters were airborne, flying low towards their target at 17 knots. The first wave of Marines were landed close to the statute of Ferdinand de Lesseps. As the Marines of the first wave safely disembarked from helicopters, the Whirlwinds immediately returned to the aircraft carriers, to lift more of 45 Commando into Port Said. All 415 men of 45 Commando and 25 tons  of their equipment, were lifted ashore by helicopter within one hour and 45 minutes. The helicopter's continued its to supply the Marines and evacuate casualties back to the ships offshore. One wounded Marine was back in the  ships and sick bay, 20 minutes often leaving the ship to go ashore.

Friendly fire caused casualties among the Marines, when a Royal Navy Wyvern attacked the Marine landing site with rockets. Members of  45 HQ company were hit by explosions from this aircraft, while trying to lay out identification panels. One marine was killed, and 15 others wounded, including the CO and the intelligence officer. 45 Commando now started to fight their  way towards their objective, which was, to link up with 3 Para, coming from Gamil Airfield.

By midday, 3 Commando Brigade, was ashore and had secured all its objectives, although fighting still continued in the town center, and at the canal company offices, for much of the day.  X troop, of 40 Commando, with the help of some Centurion Tanks, took Navy House at around 1500 hours. Before the attack went in on Navy House, FAA, called in by 40 Commando,  for an air strike on the building.  This air attack destroyed most of the building and set it alight. The Marines now did fierce battle with the  Egyptian defenders, killing 30 of the Egyptians, and taking another 20 prisoner.  The fighting around Navy House was the fiercest the Marines had experienced all day.

X troop hoisting the White Ensign at Navy HouseThe Commando's transport had been landed from H.M.S. Lofoten in time to reach 45 Commando in the early afternoon of L-day. A major fire broke out,  impairing the Commando's progress westwards, and they had to engage Egyptian troops. By the end of operations on that day, 40 Commando had sealed  off Navy House Quay, and X troop had a lively time with an Egyptian ammunition dump which had caught fire. Brigade HQ was spread between two blocks of flats on the sea front, and 42 held the beach area. X troop later joined A Troop at the Power Station. 45 Commando had been in defensive positions since nightfall, holding the area around Rue El Ghali Moukhtar, at the north-west corner of the town.

The French and British were ordered to cease their advance under increasingly hostile political pressure from America, but within a few days, a couple of Commando climbers had managed to put a green beret on the head of De Lesseps' statue some 40ft, (12m), off the ground. The Commandos held the town and kept the peace with patrols, until relieved by UN sponsored peacekeeping troops, the Commando were then withdrawn to Malta on L+8.

3 Brigade had suffered 9 dead and 60 wounded. The Brigade received six gallantry awards during the days action.

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