1960-1969 | Yemen


Plaque beneath the Sir David Stirling monument near Stirling: It is highly doubtful that Stirling’s role in the supply of weapons to Royalist insurgents , who were fighting to restore a feudal autocracy, was in the interests of ‘freedom and justice.’
Photo by Graham Flint – CC License – via Geograph.

7 September 1963

On 7 September 1963, there was a secret meeting in Aden’s Crescent Hotel, between Colonel David Stirling, who had founded the Special Air Service (SAS) in 1942, Peter de la Billiere, a junior intelligence officer, Tony Boyle, a junior RAF officer, and Ahmed al-Shami, the foreign minister of the former Yemeni royalist government. They agreed on a plan to step up military aid to royalist rebels in North Yemen with the aim of overthrowing a republican government which had come to power after a popular coup the previous year. The new government, was seen as threatening to Britain’s protectorate of Aden, which lay immediately to the south and where, according to Britain’s High Commissioner, ‘pro-republican feeling is strong.’1

In March 1963, with Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s backing, Britain had already begun to covertly use Israeli and RAF aircraft to drop supplies of arms to the insurgents. As it came under attack by rebel forces backed by Britain and Saudi Arabia, the republican government looked to Egypt for support, and Nasser had immediately dispatched troops. However that was not the only problem for those hoping for a quick royalist victory. Britain recognised that it was unlikely to win the war against a government which was widely seen as more accountable and progressive than the feudal autocracy of the imaams which had preceded it. Macmillan confessed to President Kennedy that the royalists would ‘probably not win in Yemen in the end, but it would not suit us too badly if the new Yemeni regime were occupied with their own internal affairs during the next few years.’ An internal Whitehall memo for the prime minister likewise noted that, ‘(a) stalemate in the Yemen, with the republicans and royalists fighting each other and therefore having no time or energy left over to make trouble for us in Aden, suits our own interests very well.’2

The new plan, agreed on at Aden’s Crescent Hotel, was to provide the rebels in North Yemen with more regular and reliable supplies. The text of the agreement emphasized that the main task was ‘to establish  and maintain a regular supply of arms and ammunition to the Royalist Forces in the field.’ They also agreed to covertly support attacks by insurgents on Egyptian military units and civilian infrastructure. Specifically, they aimed ‘to deny the Hodeidah road to the Egyptians ( a vital supply route for food as well as arms as Hodeidah was the main port ) and assist the royalists in other acts of sabotage which may periodically seem desirable.’3


  1. Cited in The Covert War in Yemen, 1962-1970, 13 February 2007 accessed online at url http://markcurtis.info/2007/02/13/the-covert-war-in-yemen-1962-70/
  2. Ibid.
  3. Duff Hart-Davis, The War That Never Was, Arrow Books, London 2012, pp. 76-77.

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