With tribute to:

Martin Spirit

James Paul

Co-written by:

David Carter

Britain's Small Wars

The preservation of British Military History

Aden 1964-1967

"The Barren Rocks of Aden"


By Tony Tindale
Tony Tindale

Tony Tindale served in the RAF from 1963 till 1994 ending up as the Squadron Leader commanding the RAF Supply School at Hereford. At the time he wrote this article he was working as a lecturer in Logistics and Air Warfare at the King Faisal Air Academy in Riyadh. This picture of Tony was taken when he was was the Harbour master in Mare Harbour in the Falklands he is steering a tanker, the Cunard ship MT Luminetta.

I ask myself where do I begin. As the Queen of Hearts said, start at the beginning and go on till the end. Sounds OK to me, so here goes.

I was posted to Aden in March 1965, as a Pilot Officer, to the 114 Maintenance Unit in Steamer Point. Our job was to provide logistic support for all of the HQME Command bases, from Aden, Riyan, Salalah, Masirah, Sharjah and Bahrain (Muharraq). As you can imagine for a 19 year old it was pretty boring, particularly as there were only 54 single servicewomen in the whole of Aden and single European girls were very scarce. Guys were encouraged to get up and do something. Adventurous training became an important part of life to keep people busy and out of mischief. Trips were arranged to Perrim Island, Socotra (the cause of a diplomatic incident as we hadn't got the appropriate clearances and were classed as almost an invasion of a sovereign country) up-country (another diplomatic incident when a mixed male and female party were kidnapped by tribesmen) and generally you were kept busy. We also had CSE (Combined Services Entertainment) shows to pass the time. Most of the acts were very definitely second rate, but some were quite good. On one occasion I had to act as manager for one tour. Their manager had gone down with the local version of Montezuma's Revenge. The stars of the show were Jackie Tordoff and Roland, the World Clog Dancing Champion and his very nice friend. Also with them was a singer, Janie Jones, a lady star was subsequently involved in a big vice scandal with the BBC. She was very popular with the soldiers in the more remote garrisons.

However as you are aware the Radfan at this time was getting quiet, but don't tell that to the SAS, and things in Aden itself were getting interesting with FLOSY (Federation for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen) starting activities in Aden itself.

I had only been in Aden a week and had spent, for me a lot, on a new tropical white mess jacket. I attended my first dinner night. We dined outside on the balcony, overlooking the Red Sea. It was magnificent. Unfortunately between the soup and main course the cry of "Grenade" rang out and we as a man, (and one or two women) ducked under the table as a Mills grenade, minus pin, rolled down the table and exploded. The one casualty was one of the WRAF officers who couldn't bend too far and ended with a piece of shrapnel in her buttock. If in the US forces she would have got a Purple Heart! After this there were no more dinner nights, I still have the mess jacket, worn only once, any offers? The bomber was not found straight away.

Some months later, I was sitting in my room in the mess writing a letter to my mother when the transformer outside the room was blown up. My window fell in and the frame ended up over my head. Other than being covered in dust I suffered no more damage. I finished the letter to my mother, ignorant of the fact that the pen had slid across the page leaving a nice line plus lots of dust. I posted it and my mother really wanted to know what had been going on in her next letter. Yet a few months later on we were all sleeping soundly on the mess when there was yet another big explosion at about 1.30 in the morning. The whole mess main building had been destroyed and in the middle of the rubble was found the mess night steward, very badly hurt. It turned out that he was the bomber responsible for all the incidents and that he had been planning to blow up the mess during the Air Officer Commanding's luncheon following his formal inspection of the base. He had been smuggling sticks of explosives into the base for weeks in the down tube of his bicycle, one stick at a time. The timer he had planned to use was a modified wrist watch with the minute hand removed and the contact being made when the hour hand made contact with a wire soldered into the watch glass. We assumed that as the bomb was set at about 1.30 am and since it was intended for it to explode at 1 p.m. the bomber had tried to save time in setting the timer by winding it back rather than forward. Another lucky escape.

Unfortunately the Group Captain base commander was blamed for the explosion and was replaced by a General Duties branch officer, Gp. Capt. Charlie Ness. Gp. Capt. Ness ended his service as Air Member for Personnel and was a very fine officer. His one failing, if failing it was, is that he was quite short. In the UK he wore shoes with lifts, the extenders were hidden by ordinary trousers. His arrival in Aden was arranged so quickly that the only uniform he could get was KD shorts. These of course didn't hide his shoes. It was quite a sight. This officer gave me a month of Orderly Officer duties for getting kidnapped but I arrested a drunken Army officer in the club waving around a loaded gun, a Luger, whilst taking his trousers off and got let off the punishment! More of this in a while.

When the FLOSY were increasing activity it became necessary for the RAF to increase guarding around the Steamer Point complex which included the HQ building and the homes of AOC Air Forces Middle East, AVM Johnny Johnson and the CinC ME Command. I can't remember whom it was when I first went out but it became Admiral Sir Michael le Fanu, an incredibly fit man. Men used to flinch from bodyguard duties with the Admiral as it was his habit to take very brisk walks up the local mountain, Shamsan, which proved to be a splendid way for the bodyguards to loose pounds, (it was pounds in 1965, KGs now).

The only men available to do the guarding were the men who worked at each base. The RAF had 2 bases: Steamer Point and Khormaksar, where the airfield was. The guard force needed was large, over 80 men per 24-hour shift, so it meant that 24-hour guard duties came round every 3/4 days. The guarding was mainly static duties, which were very boring, with a few mobile patrols, usually with the junior guard commander (quite often, me). The men of course had to do their normal job as well. Two Army battalions (one on a short tour) who changed over every 3/4 months provided the rest of the guarding of the colony (a bit like Northern Ireland). The other was the resident battalion. With the areas of Crater, Maalla (where most families lived in 4 story flats) and The Tawahi area, where Government House was located to cover, their working days were up to 18 hours with a trip of up to an hour back to the tented camp they lived in. There was no opportunity for them to let their hair down.

Anyway, an RAF Regiment officer, Sqn. Ldr. Paddy Stanley thought he could kill 2 birds with one stone, stop the RAF guys getting bored and allow the Army to relax a little. He asked for volunteers to set up a small RAF IS (Internal Security) group. I volunteered along with an RAF Regiment junior officer called Brian Barry (who ended up as a Wing Commander) and over 140 airmen. We were to be armed and trained by the Army. The RAF had Smith and Wesson revolvers for officers, Sten sub-machine guns for SNCOs and Lee Enfield bolt-action rifles for airmen. The Army gave us Browning 9mm pistols, Sterling SMGs and FN self-loading rifles and as much ammo as we wanted. We were also given Land Rovers, modified with blast plates welded underneath and anti-roll bars and machine gun mounts on top. After 3 months part time IS training for our small group it was decided we were ready to be let loose on the streets. The idea was that we would take over one of the 3 districts in Aden for 3 nights a week from 6 till 12 and be available if we were needed in an emergency. This semi-private army called by some "Barry's Marauders" was tolerated by MOD, but we were told if anything happened to us the MOD would wash its hands of us.

We were let loose in Tawahi eventually and carried out foot and mobile patrols thorough the whole of the area. We went into areas where one would not normally go in civilian clothes. It was funny to be constantly asked by dusky maidens if "Johnny you want jig jig" when on patrol. Most of the work was going to be "stop and searches" and occasionally we would do a seal and frisk over a couple of streets. When in Tawahi we were based in the local police station, which certainly took away anyone's ideas of trying to be there as a customer. One large cell and one hole in the floor. We also used to alternately patrol in Maalla, using the RAF Supply Depot as a base. We kept up these patrols over the next 18 months. During these times we found that, like static guards, we had hours of boredom on patrol, big adrenaline boredom mind you, punctuated by periods of high excitement. One evening we were patrolling at the back of Maalla. Earlier that evening we had heard bombs being thrown at troops. Anyway, a car came speeding round the corner and out of the window something was thrown at us. Someone shouted "Grenade!" and we all went over the nearest wall. I was in command. Unfortunately my radio operator had gone over the wall backwards and smashed the radio. The fallback was to fire Very flares and it was planned that 2 searchlights would point to where the flare had been seen and you would be rescued. We were not the A-Team and some plans do not work. The bomb, which it was, did not go off. It turned out the terrorists has inserted a delay time pencil into a nail bomb. Our flare worked and the searchlights shone and we sat awaiting pick up. Unfortunately my flare had fallen to earth., like Robin Hood's arrow, and had set fire to a collection of wooden shanty huts. Because of the bomb the emergency services could not get to the fire so a house or three were destroyed. I bet the terrorists, who the locals knew, were popular.

Apart from the incidents like this, one of the high spots of this voluntary work was that when on duty in Tawahi, we would find ourselves drawn to the Prince of Wales pier. This was where all passengers from the immigrant ships on their way to Australia disembarked on shopping trips. Quite a few of these passengers were the teenage daughters of the families travelling to a new life. The sight of a fully armed soldier, protecting their lives, allegedly, proved a strong aphrodisiac. This to some extent solved the problem of the lack of female company I mentioned at the beginning of this piece. The Immigrant boats, mainly from the Chandos line, also seemed to offer copious quantities of English beer. Tiger was the drink of the day in Aden, so trips on board were offered by the grateful immigrants and accepted even more gratefully by the thirsty airmen.

Perhaps the most famous episode of the Aden Campaign was the entry into Crater by the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. The background to this incident was as follows. The Northumberland Fusiliers were in the process of handing over duties to the Argylls. As was customary, they left a small rear party to facilitate the handover. One platoon of the rear party went on patrol into Crater district, where a < a href='/campaigns/aden/page.php?art_url=aden-mutiny'>mutiny of the local police was taking place. It was a very dangerous place to be. The patrol went in two armoured cars, I can't remember if they were Ferrets or Saracens. Anyway they came under heavy attack and in the process of defending themselves ran out of their small arms ammunition. In Aden, firing orders required single aimed shots. As the patrol was out of small arms ammunition it is reported that they radioed Aden Brigade for authority to open fire with the 0.5" Browning machine guns fitted to the vehicles. Permission was denied and so all men in the patrol were killed. What was even worse was that because of the situation in Crater with the police, the bodies were allowed to lie in the road. I could see them from the hills surrounding Crater. It was terrible. Col. Mitchell asked for permission to go and recover the bodies, which was denied. He decided that enough was enough and he formed up the regiment at the top of the Crater Pass, a pass covered in regimental cap badges carved into the hillside (including that of the Northumberland Fusiliers) and with pipes playing and bayonets fixed, marched into the no go area of Crater. It was a terrific sight, if technically illegal. The press in England gave Col. Mitchell the title Mad Mitch, but there was nothing mad about him, just a man responding as a true officer and gentleman to a terrible situation. You can find a little more about this by reading < a href='/campaigns/aden/page.php?art_url=aden-mutiny'>The SAA and Police Mutiny on this web site.

The story of how I got "kidnapped" by the terrorists in the company of a blonde Californian girl was as follows. The girl's stepfather was a man called Wing Commander Winterson-Bloomer. He had met me in the mess and for some reason thought me a trustworthy sort of chap. When his wife and stepdaughter arrived in Aden they knew few people. He asked if I would like to show his daughter the sights of the place. I had a small motor bike and could get around. Mother asked when would we be back and I said about 6. Curfew was 10 p.m.. So being obliging I set off with the girl, 18, blonde and tanned, to Little Aden where there were some spectacular deserted beaches. On the way to Little Aden we had to pass through one permanent checkpoint on the Sheikh Othman roundabout at the far end of the causeway. We also passed the military cemetery in Silent Valley, a very peaceful place with its white cross standing out against the barren rocks of Aden. We had a pleasant afternoon and set off home at about 4.30. 20 minutes into the return journey I had a puncture in the rear tyre. Fortunately there was a garage close by so a short walk had the repair started in no time. About 20 minutes later we set off and looked forward to getting back to Khormaksar, where the young lady lived. As we passed the RAF Signal Unit at Saltpans I had another puncture, this time in the front tyre. We went into the base and they gave me a lift back to the garage where I had had the first puncture fixed. The young lady stayed in the unit club and had a Coke or something stronger to drink. I returned about 40 minutes later with the fixed wheel. Of course by this time it was well past 6, but it was not yet dark and anyway I carried a gun and it was only about 30 minutes to home. We got through the Sheikh Othman checkpoint and started down the causeway when I had another puncture, this time in the rear tyre again. "Sod it!" I said, "it's only about 1.5 miles to the end of the causeway and we can always thumb a lift". Of course no lifts were forthcoming and by this time it was nearly 8. "No problems" I thought until an Army Land Rover came towards us, stopped and asked was I Pilot Officer Tindale. "Yes - why?" The answer to my question was unrepeatable but meant would you and the young lady please get into our Land Rover with your useless motorbike and we will take you home. We arrived back to be greeted by an angry Duty Officer an hysterical mother and a less than calm father. Without more to-do I was taken home by the Command Provost Marshal via all of the brothels in Aden. It transpired that when I was a few minutes late, mother had got father to call the Duty Officer in Khormaksar. He after a relatively short time had called the Duty Officer in Steamer Point, my unit. When I couldn't be found they had called the Duty Officer at the command HQ. He in turn approached the AOC who asked the C in C for permission to call out the reserve battalion (they were the Northumberland Fusiliers). This was agreed. They went onto the streets looking for me, and the standby service police were also called out, nearly 700 men in all. With all of the radio traffic somehow the BBC rep. got wind that something was up and passed the story to the BBC in London. They in turn broadcast the story that there had been an officer kidnapped by the FLOSY, with my name. My mother heard it and got on the phone. You can imagine the red faces and the sudden shedding of blame that suddenly took place. I was given a month's Orderly Officer, the least I could reasonably expect and learnt a lesson about the right time to use a phone. ET hadn't been made then, but "Phone Home" should well have been my motto.

There are many other stories, here are some short ones.

On the proper work side we provided support for the forces in Zambia that went in when Ian Smith declared UDI in Rhodesia. In sending out the pack ups needed by the advance party to Zambia we also sent the unit's cat, who had had kittens in one of the large cooking pots. Some of the first aircraft to get into Zambia were the Javelins. Their support pack ups were sent to them separately by air. At the time rules for sending kit by air was that if there was no available air outlet to the destination airfield in the required time then you were permitted to send it to the nearest alternate airfield. The nearest airfield to Lusaka was Salisbury so that is where the Javelin spares were sent. Salisbury is now called Harare. A cable was sent by the Rhodesian Air Force to the sender of the spares thanking them for their kind gift!

We also ferried support to Salalah where a constant fight was going on, the highlight of this for me was the evening 6 o'clock shoot out when the terrorists let loose for 10 minutes at the base and the base returned fire, then went to the bar for a beer.

One of the more bizarre bases was that at Riyan. There were 2 officers, and an Officers' Mess complete with ladies toilets. They tossed a coin each day to see who would be the barman and who the customer.

Tony Tindale in 1999

Tony Tindale June 1999

Aden gave me many other memories including the shock of finding one of my clerks was a cell leader of the terrorist group, and sharing a hotel room with the governor of Al Mansoor Jail where the terrorists were held and executed and our resupply run to the Jail when there were no fire orders, anything went. I resigned from Barry's Marauders in late 1966 when I got married and my ex wife came out. Some people don't understand big boys' games.