THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER’S LOUD SPEAKERS CRACKLED OUT THE MESSAGE.
A damaged de Havilland jet fighter from No. 893 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm was returning to the Royal Navy’s HMS Eagle, part of the British Mediterranean fleet sailing off Port Said.
The date is 2 November 1956 and Operation MUSKETEER – the joint Israeli/British/French invasion of the Suez Canal region is in full swing. British forces have already been in action, bombing targets around Cairo from 31 October. (1)
The crew of the aircraft are Lieutenant Commander John Wilcox, Royal Navy and Robert Olding, Royal Air Force.
Olding – who had joined the RAF as a National Service intake before electing to make the service his career – was an experienced Gloster Meteor nightfighter navigator serving with No. 264 Squadron Royal Air Force before volunteering for a 2-year posting to the Fleet Air Arm, joining in May 1956. (2)
The pair had already been in action the previous day attacking Egyptian aircraft at Bilbeis airfield. (3)
Now they have lead seven other Sea Venoms in a similar attack on Almaza military airfield (about 10 miles/16 kilometres from Cairo). Here they encountered heavy and accurate Egyptian anti-aircraft fire which holed the underside of the aircraft’s nose damaging hydraulic lines and severely injuring Olding in his leg. He managed to apply a tourniquet administer morphine and carry on with his duties.wf
Uncertain of the damage sustained, Wilcox flew the tiny aircraft by the carrier. With the damage assessed, parked aircraft moved away and a fire crew and rescue crew on standby, the pilot came in low over the deck to get a feel for the landing.
Satisfied he lowered the aircraft’s arrestor hook so that the speeding aircraft could grab one of the cables slung across the deck that would bring the aircraft to a stop.
Wilcox brought the aircraft in perfectly and the rescue crews quickly moved the injured navigator to the ship’s sick bay.
Olding was flown to a British military hospital on Cyprus. Unfortunately his leg became infected and had to amputated above the knee.
Despite this he would return to operational flying before retiring from the RAF in 1984. During this time he rose in rank to Group Captain and held a variety of appointments including Wing Commander (Operations) at RAF Station Lyneham in Wiltshire, England.
In 1979 – his first appointment as Group Captain – he became Officer Commanding RAF Station Aldergrove in Northern Ireland, a very busy and high-profile position during the ‘Troubles’. He also served with NATO and Headquarters RAF Support Command.
He died on 19 October 2012. (4)
The damaged aircraft was returned to the UK and placed in storage at Royal Naval Air Station HMS Sandling (now Glasgow airport) where it was broken up for spares before being finally scrapped on 18 July 1961. (5)
Operation MUSKETEER (a joint operation involving the armed forces of France, Great Britain and Israel) was conceived as a pre-emptive strike to occupy the Suez Canal following its nationalisation by President Egyptian Gamal Nasser in July 1956. The 120-mile long waterway connects the Red Sea with the Mediterranean to the north.
Under Nasser’s leadership the country had cut its ties with the west and asserted its own authority, buying weapons to modernise the country’s army and air force from Czechoslovakia. (6)
Alarmed by this – and perhaps wishing to punish Nasser – the United States, Britain and the World Bank withdraw funding for the Aswan High Dam project – needed to supplement of the much modified Aswan Low Dam (built between 1898 and 1902) in controlling the annual flooding of the Nile River. (7) (8)
In retaliation Nasser took control of the Suez Canal, declaring that he would use the revenue he would charge for its use to fund the Aswan project.
Forming a secret alliance the three nations formed a plan to take control of the canal. This involved Israel making a pre-emptive strike on the canal area (which it saw as a useful buffer zone to its fledgling state). (9)
The Suez Canal was built between 1859 and 1869 by the La Compagnie Universelle du Canal Maritime de Suez (the Universal Suez Maritime Canal Company) under the supervision of the French diplomat and engineer Ferdinand de Lesseps. It became important for western trade – particularly British interests – although initially Britain saw the construction as an attempt to interfere with its influence in the region and tried to organise a boycott of the canal.
However during the canal’s first year of operation 75% of vessels that passed through were British. (10)
De Lessops’ company was granted a 99-year lease to operate the canal in return for 44% of the shares in the venture. After the lease expired control would pass to the Egyptian government.
In 1875 Britain – which had originally declined the offer of shares in the canal – acquired the Egyptian stake when the impoverished government sold off its shares. Later that year the government was declared bankrupt, allowing European banks to influence control of the country and its policies. (11)
Naturally this did not go down well with the Egyptian people and the resulting unrest prompted Britain to send troops to the country in 1882.
During the First World War Britain declared Egypt a British Protectorate and sent additional troops to protect the Canal. Although Britain declared limited independence in Egypt in 1922 a series of treaties enabled British military forces to remain in the Canal region until after Operation MUSKETEER. (12)
(1) https://ncap.org.uk/feature/suez-crisis – retrieved 27 September 2018
(2) (3) (4) – retrieved 27 September 2018- retrieved 27 September 2018https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/9763899/Group-Captain-Robert-Olding.html – retrieved 27 September 2018
(5) http://www.ukserials.com/results.php?serial=WW – retrieved 27 September 2018
(6) http://www.historynet.com/learned-suez-crisis.htm– retrieved 27 September 2018
(7) https://www.ice.org.uk/what-is-civil-engineering/what-do-civil-engineers-do/nile-water-control – retrieved 27 September 2018
(8) https://digitalcommons.wou.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1024&context=his – retrieved 27 September 2018
(9) https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/how-suez-crisis-was-win-israel-and-major-defeat-britain-and-france-33316 – retrieved 27 September 2018
(10) http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/modern/suez_01.shtml – retrieved 27 September 2018
(11) http://countrystudies.us/egypt/25.htm – retrieved 27 September 2018
(12) http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/modern/suez_01.shtml – retrieved 27 September 2018