Operation Musketeer

With William (Bill) Evans

Low level over Salisbury Plain. When Bill began his service in the Parachute Regiment they didn’t use reserve parachutes – it wasn’t until 1956 that these came into use

THE SUEZ CRISIS

In our August/September issue Bay’s family history contributor Charles Wilson Watkins, requested that any readers with information on the Suez crisis of 1956 to get in touch. WILLIAM EVANS of Brynmill contacted us to say that he had been involved and even enclosed some photographs that he had taken at the time. Charles and all at Bay would like to thank Mr EVANS or as he is known to his friends, BILL for taking the time to give us such a detailed account of his part in this historic event.

Re: Bay issue 94 where you asked for some info on the Suez operation, Op Musketeer.

    I became an ‘airborne’ soldier in 1953 at the grand young age of 18, carrying out the various duties of a Parachute soldier until January 1956, then everything became very serious. Cyprus was a R&R island for all MOD personnel in the Middle East and had been since the end of WWII and perhaps prior to that, where the military could have a relaxing time without carrying their weapons with them.

Bill (bottom left) leading his unit in the Troodus mountains, Cyprus – after EOKA Greek terrorists

   The Greek government of the time decided that they wanted Cyprus to be part of Greece and sent in terrorists who started killing military personnel and Turkish Cypriots. Greece is approximately 300 miles down the Med, whilst Turkey, the original country who had a say in Cyprus were only 40 miles across the water and were the ones who invited Great Britain to look after the island.

   So, in January 1956, the Parachute Regiment was given 24 hours notice to pack all kit and weapons and fly to Cyprus. The Regiment consisted of three Battalions, 1st, 2nd and 3rd, plus attached auxiliaries, Engineers, Medics, Signals etc., all of whom where parachute trained. Only the 1st and 3rd Battalions would be going, plus auxiliaries.

Left: Suez November 1956. Helicopters coming in to pick up injured troops to transfer back to ship Right: Approaching beach landing at the Suez Canal entrance where ships had been sunk

   From January to November the duties of the Regiment were carried out, tracking and catching terrorists. In the months prior to November 1956, problems arose when Nasser, President of Egypt closed the Suez Canal. The British and French Governments along with the Israelis decided that they would send in an Invasion Force. The Parachute Regiment was part of that force.

With only enough aircraft to drop one Battalion, a coin was tossed and the 3rd Battalion won – damn. We the 1st Battalion which I belonged to went in by landing craft, Marines and the French Foreign either side of us. Incidentally, some of the French Paras were ex POWs of the Indo Chinese after the battle of Dien Bien Pu in 1954, but that’s another story.

   When things were warming up, it was decided to send us, the 1st Battalion back to Cyprus on the aircraft carrier HMS Ocean, to kit up and parachute in further up the canal. A couple of drop zones had been picked – Ismalia and Abu Suwier. The aircraft were waiting for us in Cyprus. Halfway back the Americans decided to put sanctions on the British Government if a cease fire was not carried out. Our Government caved in.

Bill’s anti-tank crew. From left to right: Benny, Kitchen, Bill and Jock. Weapon: American 106mm anti-tank rifle. British equivalent : Ammunition U/S

   Prior to our sea voyage, we had had a few hairy moments. Our ammunition lorry was blown up whilst we were coming in to restock. Another time, my group ended up in a mine-field, but this was all part of what I had signed up for. My rank was a full Corporal and I was an Anti-Tank Gun Commander of the 106mm American Anti-Tank Rifle as the Yanks called it. The British weapon, a 120mm was no good in hot countries as the firing pin melted in the heat – typical.

Bill remained part of the Regiment and became Secretary of the local branch of the Parachute Regiment, and then the Wales Regional Secretary. He also carried on jumping at Fairwood for some time.

Many thanks to Bill for sharing some of his memories with us – if you have a story especially with photographs, do get in touch.

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