1950-1959 | Demolishing villages | Egypt



Darling was later promoted to C-in-C of Allied Forces in Northern Europe. Stadtarchiv Kiel – CC License – via Wikimedia.

[ 8 December 1951 ]

At 7.20 am on 8 December 1951, 1,500 red capped paratroopers of the 16th Independent Parachute Brigade, under the command of Brigadier Kenneth Darling, arrived at the village of El Ganaien to flatten fifty small houses. El Ganaien was the home to hundreds of Egyptians, who knew it was hopeless to oppose the Paras who were armed with Tommy guns and centurion tanks. All the inhabitants, including many elderly men, women and children, fled the village before dawn, after they had been given less than 24 hours notice the day before during a brief public announcement about ‘Operation Bulldozer’ to the press by Lieutenant General Sir George Erskine.1

The general, commanding British forces in Egypt, had attempted to provide a justifiable pretext for the demolition. According to the Sphere, he had claimed that the reason for flattening the village was to build a ‘vital strategic road’ to an important water filtration facility at Ismailiya which wouldn’t be overlooked by a population more sympathetic to insurgents than the occupying army. He added that the  ‘mud-brick hovels had been used by Egyptian terrorists for sniping at British troops guarding the water-filtration plant.’2

The demolition proceeded despite the strong objection of the Egyptian government, which was furious it hadn’t been consulted in advance of the public notice.  Ibrahim Farag Pasha, Egypt’s acting Foreign Minister, had gone as far as to warn Sir Ralph Stephenson, the British Ambassador in Cairo, that the destruction of the village would have ‘serious consequences’ for relations between the two countries and he immediately recalled the Egyptian ambassador to London.3 The bulldozing of fifty ‘mud-brick hovels’ did give the British a local tactical advantage, but it incensed the entire Egyptian population and made the counter insurgency war unwinnable, with the American ambassador in Cairo reporting ‘such white heat that a real explosion seems inevitable.’4


  1. ‘Operation Bulldozer Begins in Egypt’ The Coventry Evening Telegraph, 8 December 1951, p. 1, ‘Bulldozing Water Plant Road,’ The Aberdeen Evening Express, 8 December 1951, p.1.
  2. ‘Destruction at El Ganaien,’ The Sphere, 22 December 1951, p476
  3. ‘Cairo Proclaims State of Emergency,’ The Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail, 8 December 1951, p. 1.
  4. James Barr, Lords of the Desert: Britain’s Struggle with America to Dominate the Middle East, Simon and Schuster, London 2018, p. 142.

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