The Suez Crisis 1956

A Brief History Of The Suez Crisis

Leading up to The Suez Crisis and during the month of November 1956 the post-war airborne forces were in a state of being ‘run down’ and in short supply of equipment. However, Lt Col Paul Crook (pictured left walking away (centre) with my dad in the foreground correcting his red beret), commanding officer of the 3rd Battalion Parachute Regiment , was ordered to prepare his Cyprus based troops for an undisclosed operation.

Suez 1956 - Operation Musketeer - Lt Col Paul Crook - Corporal Lowe fixing Beret

Lt Col Paul Crook – Corporal Lowe

As a planned Anglo-French operation 3 Para were ordered to parachute into a ‘Hot DZ’ in enemy control at El Gamil airfield and were highly expected to face a tough battle against approx 2,000 Egyptian troops.

The operation was code named ‘Operation Musketeer’ and still is to date the most recent, and by definition, the last parachute drop into a combat zone by the paras, took place at Suez. The operation was conducted in total secret and all 660 men were expected to be on the ground within the space of just a few minutes, without a reserve parachute (not a popular order with the troops) due to the sheer load of equipment they had to carry and the necessity to get to ground with speed. The airstrip at El Gamil was narrowly and the window to land troops well small, so a restriction of 700ft or less was put in place to try and avoid troops being swept away by crosswinds. In addition aircraft used in the operation were painted ‘Gentle Violet’ (blue coloured) to try and camouflage against the hot morning skies.

3 Para jumped in at 04.15 hours on November 5, 1956 against heavy numbers of Egyptian forces (2000 or 200?) but fortunately there were not too many casualties. (It could be that my dads memory of 200 Egyptians could be their body count). Lt Sandy Cavanagh, the unit medical officer was shot in the eye, as well as a number of other injuries sustained on the ground. My Dad seems to remember that the British sustained about 7 fatalities in all by the end of the day. He has a distinct memory of seeing one of the lads very severely and fatally wounded in the face.

It is documented that the Egyptians had been supplied with Soviet weapons and on the second day a Russian Mig fighter strafed the Paras, causing two casualties. Apparently It was a ‘on-off incident, regarded as a show of strength by the Red Air Force against world opinion.

The Battalion had acted in the highest traditions of the Parachute regiment, but the regiment had not been prepared for the operation. At Port Said, 2 Para came ashore, but within a week a ceasefire had been announced and the regiment made to pull out, and head back to Cyprus. World opinion had forced Britain and France to withdraw their forces.

On the way to El Gammil not long before the incident described below:

My father, who was batman to ‘Tubby Butler’ remembers how nervous they all felt as nobody knew what lay ahead. As they were about to jump ‘Tubby Butler’ turned to my father and said words to the effect of ‘Right Corporal Lowe… we’re about to make history now’ to which my father replied… ‘you can stick your f***ing history up your arse’… to which ‘Tubby Butler’ then retorted… ‘I’ll see you on the ground ‘PRIVATE’ Lowe!’

Apparently every medal ceremony or reunion my father ever attended thereon after was to have ‘Tubby Butler’ remind whatever dignitaries that were in the vicinity of what my father had said to him. ‘Do you know what this soldier said to me as we were about to drop into Suez?’…

Suez 1956 - Operation Musketeer
Suez 56 - Corporal Lowe center kneeling, Cypris crica 19050s
Suez 56 - General “Tubby” Butler with 3 para just before making the assault on el Gammil
Tubby Butler (General Mervyn "Tubby" Butler)

CONTACT US: If you were on Operation Musketeer or in Cyprus as a serving soldier in the 50’s. Also please do get in touch if you have images of a family member. Photos and stories welcome.

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All pics on this site are copyright AJ Lowe apart from photo of Suez drop, which is taken from the front cover of Brigadier Paul Crook’s Book ‘Came The Dawn’ and Corporal Lowe ‘counting bullets’ which was first published by the Cyprus Times. We are now receiving more pictures. Many Thanks to Derek Charlesworth who has recently contributed pictures of his dad’s time