The Last Battle – Rafan 1965

The Orange Lillies in the Radfan 1965

MONKS-FIELD was a tented outpost on a flat plain near WADI TAYM on the Yemeni / Aden Protectorate border. Wadi Taym provided one of the main mountain passes through from Yemen into Aden. The plain was almost completely surrounded by mountains, most of them over 1000 ft.

The camp called Monk’s field was, for the next month, home for the headquarters element of A Company, 1st Bn the Royal Sussex Regiment together with 2 platoon and all of the extra Coy HQ attachments. The other platoons were deployed in outposts on the high ground overlooking the wadi and the big fertile plain, both outposts were about 3 kilometres, as the crow flies, away from Company HQ .The nearest in time was called PICCADILLY which was home for 3 platoon, and was approx 2 to 3 hours march away, such was the terrain. The other outpost, which was only normally accessible by Helicopter, was called HOTEL 10. It housed 1 platoon, and was located on top of a very steep mountain, called by us CAPBADGE (it had been flushed of all Adoo (dissidents) in an operation commanded by Sir Peter De La Billiere some 4 years earlier) it would take the best part of the day to climb. Each of the three locations looked a little bit like Rourkes Drift consisting of an oblong shape of sandbags varying in height from 4 foot 6 inches to almost 6 feet, depending what was behind the wall. It was bigger than a basket ball pitch but smaller than a football pitch. The occupying troops were housed in 160 pounder tents with small, less than 2 feet, sand bag blast walls. The deep trench latrines were situated outside the perimeter. It was thought that the isolated location of the latrines possibly helped to keep cases of constipation to a minimum what with us being on 100% compo rations. You could only “go” in daylight hours! The site was out of bounds once stand-to at night had started.

Throughout we were supplied by a Twin-Pioneer aircraft which always ‘only just made it’, landing on our very short strip and then, depending on the wind direction, watching it scrape over the ridge of either Pepsi-cola or Coca-cola, the two tallest mountains. The Wessex helicopters were our work horses and brought ammunition and water. Neither of which, especially ammo, I remember being in short supply. We learnt great respect for the “bluejobs”, who flew their crates in continuous danger.

The daily routine, as always, started with that old tradition of standing-to, for those all important 30 to 45 minutes. Many of us did not enjoy this ritual. During the day the whole area was intensely patrolled. On the way, instant ranges were set up to practice section or platoon attacks on (I wonder if there is anywhere now, where a section commander could plan and execute a live-firing section attack, simply because he wants to?)

During the morning it was mainly recce patrols, identifying likely ambush sites for us to use the coming night. The afternoon period was often spent rehearsing the nights patrol activity which could be a simple recce patrol or a fighting patrol, by far the most common operation we undertook, was the most complicated operation to control at night — the ambush patrol. For these, it was necessary to close all entrances to your clothing with masking tape, or the mosquitoes in the wadi would eat you alive (they were already immune to our repellent )Working concurrently with the days activity, was what would seem to the outsider as random harassing fire, here there and everywhere, from both 105s and 81mm mortars. In fact masked in amongst all those random fire missions were, what was then called DF`s. There would be approx 5 x DF`s per patrol to register.Not forgetting the all important DF-SOS for each patrol which were actually registered by both the patrol commander and the 2 i/c, so come the night of need, those rounds fell where we wanted them.

We also engaged in long range patrols of 3 days and 2 nights, these if I am honest, are the ones that worried me the most. You were totally relying on someone else’s navigation skills. With some I was totally at ease, then there were others! Still it was a great opportunity for the medics to lob out a few codeine in a vain attempt to get a few hearts and minds, till Adoo came in at night.

Our main threat, apart from the odd contact was Land-Mines, or booby traps set in loose sand on tracks or at the side of tracks, and a lot of daylight patrols were tasked to locate and destroy these, and our night time activity was spent preventing freedom of movement to the Adoo.

The ‘stand-to’ at sunset was something most looked forward to by all, because it always contained an event that Maj. McNish called the holocaust. The aim of the holocaust was to demonstrate to the Adoo the sort of fire power we could call upon, to use against him. It involved every cook, bottle washer, batman in fact every man on the post to fire his weapon as fast as he could for a timed period of two minutes, this was co-ordinated with the two platoon outposts. It didn’t really matter what your weapon was, be it a 9 mm pistol, a Bren gun, a 81 mm mortar, a 120 bat or a 105mm pack, your aim was to put as many rounds or bombs out the other end as possible within the two minute session. On alternative nights we could call in Avro Vulcan for high-level bombing or Meteor for ground attack. When the Royal Navy was in the port of Aden they sometimes flew up to us, dropping in just after holocaust, but before last light, to show both us and the Adoo what they could drop, if called to do so. It was reassuring to know that should anything major kick off, fast jets could be on CAP within 9 mins. It is true, the smell of cordite that hung in the air at dusk after a holocaust was very reassuring.

At night the area was subject to a strict curfew and heavy patrolling by us, to deny the enemy freedom of movement. Anything that moved outside the patrolling programme was simply shot at on sight. I do not remember any Adoo being hit using this method but I do remember that at night the wild life e.g. the packs of wild baboons, getting hit.Fired on by jumpy sentries, in particular at the early part of the up-country tour.

The dissidents who formed our enemy were mainly from Egypt, Ethiopia, Jordan and Syria (some things just never change do they?) They were supplied mainly with British weapons and ammo, left behind in Egypt. In the main, it was world war two vintage, they were capable of producing their own weapons and ammo as well. Attempts to cross the border at night in our area proved fairly dangerous for Adoo. Sadly there were many routes for them to choose in order to bypass us, but at least they were longer and a lot harder. Because of aggressive patrolling the Adoo could only cross our area with great difficulty.

We were targeted by enemy mortar and artillery fire. They had one old SU 100 artillery piece dug-in on the border. This was very often frightening, but never accurate enough to cause us casualties. The SU100 was out of range and their trusty old British 3 inch barrels were inaccurately laid.

The Para Gunners would sometimes fire in the dead of night to shut the Adoo up. Sad for us to admit, to engage across the border was not considered a way of getting on the accelerated promotion ladder!

On the first night of A Coy`s tour up-country, 3 Platoon. on PICCADILLY was hit hard, at last light. The enemy position was on the other side of a Wadi entrance, opposite PICCADILLY, it was also a feature a lot higher than ours. The enemy hit 3 platoon from above, mainly with Brens and RPG fire. The fire control of individual soldiers was a problem right from the start, both Section commanders and their section 2 i/cs needed to work hard to get on top of the problem and control the fire fight. The fire fight was finally won when Nobby Clark crawled about 200 meters, under fire, to his Mobat. He then loaded a 120mm HESH and fired into the centre of the enemy position! A short time later, 105 mm support was called down. During the follow up operation, the enemy’s abandoned weapons were found intact at their firing positions, giving an indication as to how ‘hot’ it must have been there!

To this day nobody is sure if Nobby was aware of the danger he had placed himself in during that incident. During a later reconstruction of laying the gun on to the target, it was found that the high elevation caused the venturi to deflect a large portion of the backblast into the firing pit ! His God appeared to smile on him that day, apart from being deaf for a day or so and possessing a slightly deeper sun tan on just one side of his face he seemed to come out of it unscathed.

I arrived at PICCADILLY at first light with Johnny ‘the gun’ Blanchette as part of the OCs R group together with a medic patrol. I remember wading through a layer of empty cases about a foot deep, consisting of all calibre’s.

This brass carpet, lay behind a “You’ve built it much too low! ‘sandbagged wall, only four bags high. We counted over 200 hits in the tents, shower, compo, cookhouse tables, etc. The RPG 7 rockets had fallen short!

Baptism of fire on the very first night…… if by a miracle…… (the Yemeni Bren-gunners were very good)! …….there were no casualties.

Lt Jock Smith was awarded the MC for a successful ambush out of Piccadilly. It was to be the last battle of the Royal Sussex Regiment. We became a Battalion of the Queens Regiment only a year later. After 265 years of fighting history, it had come to an end.

Names that I remember:

OC A CoyMaj. McNish
CSM A CoyCharlie Tierney
Pl SgtTerry Kerr
OC 3 PlLt. Joseph “Jock “ Smith
Sec ComdCpl. Johnny Grainger
Sec 2 i/cL/Cpl Chris Holcombe
PteLeslie Deacon
PteJohn Blanchette
PteTrevor Watson
PteBrian Stacey
CplNobby Turner
PteJoe Armeni
PteAlistair Love
CplTrevor Cheeseman
PteNed Sheriff
L/CplBob Chinn
CplEddie Lawrence
PteTerry Sullivan
PteAllen Drew
CplMalcolm Milham
CplWilly Wilmott

……..there were many more, but my memory fails me today.

Written by ex 23868882 Sgt Leslie ”the bat”Deacon – 1st Bn the Royal Sussex Regt./3rd Queens Regt. 1961-73

Edited by John Blanchette.

Bavaria 20.10.05