"Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it." is an old saying that I keep on thinking about when reading about events past. So many times you see the same things happening. Compare today's story to recent military operations in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
On the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula lies Aden, it's a large dormant volcano that juts out from the Arabian shore. One of the districts of Aden is known simply as Crater. During the late 1960's the British announced they were to leave Aden and granting its independence. This kicked off the usual round of bloodletting that had been held in check by the British presence but now rival Arab groups tried to be the dominating power after the withdrawal. The British forces in Crater were the Northumberland Fusiliers and the Scots Dragoon guards in armoured cars. Towards the end of June the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders arrived to take over from the Fusiliers. As part of their preparation for the role back in England, the Argylls had spent their time training inside with the heating turned up and in full kit. After arrival both regiments were billeted at the barracks called Waterloo Lines.
The British High Command wanted to keep disruption in Aden to a minimum, and so set about with a softly softly approach. However the leader of the Argylls, Colonel Colin Campbell Mitchell had other views. A man of very robust views, his soldiers loved his approach, and were behind him.
A section of Fusiliers in a Humber Pig made a couple of patrols into the Crater, the first was uneventful, the second one came under gunfire. The section dismounted and went after the their attackers, however the signaller in the section was killed thus severing communication with their HQ. After this loss of communication a joint patrol of Fusiliers and Argyll officers accompanied by several men in two Land Rovers set off to find out what had happened to the earlier patrol.
The Saladin commander requested permission to open fire with his main gun, however the High Command refused permission. This meant the British had to try and advance with only small arms which of course proved impossible. After several tries they were forced to withdraw.
The Fusilier who had survived the first ambush was later released unharmed. The bodies of his friends were not so lucky, first they were given a public trial by the police and then some were mutilated. Then the two groups within the SAA began to fight each other, while the Arab police did nothing. The British forces were refused permission to move in and solve the situation, and not to at least retrieve the bodies of their dead. The only thing that the British could do was deploy some snipers from 45 Commando on the high ground around Crater, over the next few days they killed several armed terrorists.
After three days Col Mitchell received permission to send in a probe to assess the situation. Col Mitchell's "probe" was actually to be the full scale assault on Crater. In preparation he began dispatching reconnaissance patrols into the area at night. To ensure the safety of his men he ordered the street lights switched off, which caused the civil authorities to complain. The British High Command immediately ordered the Argyll's to switch back on the lights, which they duly did but only after removing all the light bulbs in the street lights!
On July 2nd Col Mitchell himself led a patrol into Crater, stripping the roof off of a pair of Land Rovers they mounted a machine gun. The two Land Rovers then set out for a high speed patrol of Crater, as soon as they entered the area someone tried to drag a trailer full of Coke bottles across their escape route. Col Mitchell quickly spun the Land Rover around and smashed through the trailer at full speed, with the second Land Rover right behind him. The British authorities were later billed for the loss of 800 bottles of Coca-Cola.
The next day Col Mitchell launched his "probe". A platoon of Argyll's was airlifted in by Royal Navy helicopter and seized the gate, the rest of the Argyll's then moved in, linking up with the airborne assault. Led by a piper playing Scotland the Brave, the Argyll's pushed into Crater against no opposition, apart from a brief volley of small arms that was quickly replied to by a Saladin. When they reached the old fort, the Piper still playing, the SAA defenders fled (possibly from the bagpipes?). From there the Argyll's captured a number of important locations.
The Scots DG and the Fusiliers had been serving together for some time, when the armoured cars drove into Crater with the Argyll's the Scots DG mounted copies of the Fusiliers hackles on their Ariels. At the end of the day the leader of the armoured cars was able to radio to the Fusiliers "Your hackle flies over Crater again!"
The Argyll's then locked Crater down, establishing several fortified positions covering most of the main roads. If trouble started these positions could immediately take anyone under fire. Aggressive patrols began, and with this sense of security shops began to reopen and refugees began to return. In fact later on when the rest of Arden deteriorated things remained calm in Crater, all due to Argyll Law as it was called. Which was described by Col Mitchell as "They know if they start trouble we'll blow their bloody heads off!"
Col Mitchell solved the grenade throwers hiding in Mosques by setting up sniper positions watching the front doors of the Mosque's. When a grenade thrower was seen to be entering or leaving he was shot. On the 24th three terrorists were killed by the snipers as they fled, and the terrorists quickly realised the Mosques were no longer places of safety.
Not Argyll's, but, presumably Para's. Note the military correct facial hair of the NCO. Issued for scaring locals.
Eventually the British forces withdrew, and the Arabian Peninsula collapsed into its current state. Col Mitchell was of course the last soldier out, as he always led from the front. An example of this is when he yelled at an officer taking shelter in a doorway, his comment was "What the hell are you doing? Get out in the middle of the street where people can see you!".
www.psywar.org, www.bfbs.com, www.nam.ac.uk, argylls1945to1971.co.uk and www.dailyrecord.co.uk