Arabian Peninsula: An Account of operations in the Dhala Region April 19 – June 2 1958 by David Gwynne-James, Chiltime Publishing Ltd, Beaconsfield, 2008. Maps. Appendices. Bibliog. Illus. A4 Pb. £7. 50. ISBN 978-0-946367-09-2.
(Available from Shropshire Regimental Museum: email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
This is a relatively concise account of military operations in the Dhala area, Aden Protectorate, commencing in April 1958. The author was a junior officer in the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry (KSLI) who took part in the brief campaign, and the book is very largely based on the regiment’s War Diary. It was published last year to mark the 50th anniversary of the operation to raise the siege of a British Political Officer by ‘dissident’ tribesmen in collusion with the neighbouring Yemeni authorities. The Political officer in question, (Fitz) Roy Somerset, who has contributed to this review and appears to have almost total recall of the events of half a century ago, commented, ‘I had no idea my rescue had created so much turmoil amongst the armed forces!’ ‘Turmoil’ there probably wasn’t, but there is little doubt that there was some agitation in military and political circles. This was because the scale of the operation to put down what was described as ‘a general uprising’ (involving, it was thought, up to 3000 tribesmen) in the Amirate of Dhala was believed to be beyond the capabilities of the troops stationed in Aden Colony; never mind the locally raised Aden Protectorate Levies (APL) who had not distinguished themselves in counter-insurgency operations elsewhere in the Protectorate. Accordingly, two companies of the KSLI were summoned from an exercise in Kenya to reinforce a full battalion of the York and Lancaster Regiment being flown out from the UK. In the end the force deployed up-country comprised – in addition to elements of the KSLI, theYork and Lancaster’s and the APL – a company from the Buffs, two troops of Life Guards, two troops of 13/18 Hussars, and a section of Royal Artillery, with strong RAF air support including Shackleton bombers andVenom fighter aircraft. All this to rescue one Political Officer and his local escort!
The account of the actual operation is excellent reading. It is well supported by clear maps, a wealth of images and a useful historical background to the outbreak of ‘dissidence’ and the involvement of the Yemenis who were surprisingly well armed and proved to be no pushover. Roy Somerset (‘Descendant of the Plantagenets besieged in desert fort’ was the gist of one tabloid headline) defends the need for the operation and questions the author’s use of ‘hostage’ to describe his predicament: ‘Hostage is wrong. We were besieged but by our consent. To have abandoned our fort would have been a fearful aib [shame]. To remain where we were gave the RAF and the army a chance to inflict casualties on as concentrated a collection of ‘adoo [enemy] as one was likely to encounter in the Western Aden Protectorate where the enemy was very elusive’.
As a former Political Officer myself (in Dhala six years later) I found this a fascinating account of a small skirmish, in relative terms, in the history of the painful decolonisation of South Arabia. But it will also be of interest to any student of Britain’s moment in the Middle East. That the text is vivid, readable and well illustrated is a bonus.