Radfan Force - The build up

The Western Arabian Peninsula and in particular the Aden - Dhala road leapt into the world headlines at the end of April, 1964, with the announcement that British Troops had been called in to assist troops of the Federal Regular Army to suppress dissidents, and to keep open the main road in the Radfan area.

This was no real surprise to those stationed there as there had been trouble in that area since before the British ever came to Aden. It was brought forcibly to our notice with the increased land mining activities in the area which caused the death of three British and several Arab soldiers, as well as blowing up one of 2 Company’s 3-tonners. What was a surprise to the majority of people, however, was the rapid build up of forces with the arrival of 1 KOSB and supporting units in Aden within 48 hours of the initial request being sent. Our own reinforcements consisted of two officers and 28 men from 142 Supply Platoon, two officers and 14 men from 1 AASO and later, a transport platoon from 60 Company in Kenya and a Senior Supply Officer and two clerks from UK. 

The operations started briskly with the SAS and Commandos making good progress in extremely difficult country. They were joined by a company of the Parachute Battalion and thus reinforced, expanded the scope of their operations. Tragedy struck on the first day with the loss of two SAS personnel, Capt. Edwards and Tpr Warburton when cornered in a cave by 50 or so dissidents. Sgt Williams and a section of ‘A’ Air Supply Platoon distinguished themselves by loading and rigging three 1-ton containers with supplies for this patrol in one third the scheduled time, working in very high temperatures. The loss of the SAS signalled a determined effort to drive back the Radfan rebels from the area, and the Commandos, Parachute Battalion and 1 East Anglians succeeded in doing this over difficult terrain and against well organized and equipped dissidents. During their advance the Commandos occupied several Jebels, local hills, at heights of 5,000 feet, this in temperatures of over 100°F in the shade, shade being particularly difficult to find! In the open the temperatures varied between 120°F and 130°F. 

The capture of the high ground dominating the area Rabwa basin and Wadi Taym concluded Phase I of the operation, as it secured the free passage of transport on the main Dhala - Aden road. As is only to be expected the RASC was kept very busy during these operations. An advanced Headquarters had been established on a small light aircraft strip called Thumier, and from here, elements of the Composite Platoon of 2 Company, supplied the force with its day to day requirements. They had to assist them an Air Supply Section from ‘A’ Air Supply Platoon of 16 Company. 

The advanced elements of the Composite Platoon were re-supplied by air and road from Aden – the Air Supply Platoon sent up the lighter stores in Belvederes and Twin Pioneers, and 2 Company moved up the bulk in road convoys which ran every 48 hours. 

The forward troops were mainly supplied by helicopters of the RAF, loaded and accompanied by Air Dispatchers and members of the Composite Platoon. These helicopters were the only means of keeping far flung OPs, forward patrols and forward companies supplied with their daily requirements. It meant long hours preparing loads, loading aircraft and accompanying them on their sorties, and in the first week or so this was done with the very minimum of manpower. For the units nearer to the base at Thumier, donkeys and camels were used to carry their supplies over the rough and otherwise impassable terrain. These animals were hired locally, and it is interesting to note that their owners were quite happy to work for the Services against the dissidents. 

The every other day re-supply convoy from Aden to Thumier meant 20 hours out of camp for the personnel of the Transport Companies, 2 Company being mainly responsible for the actual convoy, and 90 Company covering the more routine, but none the less arduous details in Aden. 

The road to Thumier was an extremely rough Wadi track well known to traders in South Arabia and was severe on vehicles, presenting the REME Workshops with a never ending repair problem. No. 2 Company’s Workshops in particular burnt the midnight oil keeping the vehicles on the road, and the fact that the vehicle availability never dropped, but improved during this operation gave concrete evidence of the success of their endeavours. With the arrival of reinforcements the work load was spread, and the new arrivals quickly responded to the tasks presented them. The heat, temperatures were in the middle 90s in the shade, took its toll to start with, but everyone quickly became acclimatised and welcomed the warmth after Englands winter weather.

Three sections of the Composite Platoon/Supply Platoon were positioned at Thumier and the remainder staying in 2 Companys Lines, changing a section every week or so. The same applied to the Air Despatch sections, two sections up-country the remainder in Khormaksar changing over on a weekly basis. With the arrival of a transport platoon from 60 Company, it was intended to operate half the platoon as a ¾-ton Transport Platoon, equipped with the latest long wheelbase Land Rover, the first time since the end of the Second World War that the Corps had operated a platoon of this kind. The need arose because of the narrow tracks connecting Battalion rear areas with the base at Thumier. Their use relieved the already over committed Belvederes of the RAF, Whirlwind helicopters of the RN, and Scouts and Beavers of the AAC.