The Suez Canal, a maritime channel linking the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, constructed by the French diplomat and administrator Ferdinand de Lesseps, with public funds from France and England, was inaugurated on November 17, 1869.
As compensation,La Compagnie universelle du canal maritime de Suez was granted a 99-year exploitation contract.
Economically and strategically, this canal is very important. With its 160 km length, 54 m breadth and 8 m depth, it saves time and cost of skirting the African continent for heavy vessels leaving Europe for the Indian Ocean, as passing through it shortens their distance by 8 000 km.
Upon inauguration in 1869, England which took control over the Suez Canal and managed it smoothly in compliance with the terms of the concession agreement up to 1952, when Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser became the new Egyptian leader after overthrowing King Farouk in a coup d’état.
On July 26, 1956, Colonel Nasser, known for his hostility towards Western powers, publicly announced on the radio his decision to nationalize the Suez Canal, and take over the toll tap. He advanced no reason for his action than Egypt needed funds to finance yet another giant project - the construction of the Assouan Dam…
A violation of international law, a casus belli
Operations of the French army started as early as ending October 1956, on the Sinai, supported by Israeli troops. The air force dropped parachutists as well as shells targeting Egyptian tanks and aircrafts. That was the beginning of Operation Musketeer, during which 30 000 men were mobilized.
Meanwhile, the national navy, on its part, engaged several ships against naval units of the Egyptian navy, as well as mobilised several fleets of aircrafts, which, after taking off from the Lafayette and Arromanches aircraft carriers, struck strategic targets in Alexandria and Cairo.
Début novembre 1956 -
Plage de Zeralda (Algérois)
Action sur Suez ; préparation
Collection Claude Capeau
On November 5, 1956, 2nd RPC (future 2nd RPIMa) parachutists were dropped at Port Fouad, while those of the English Parachute Regiment were dropped at Port Saïd, two cities which commanded the Mediterranean outlet of the canal in order to provide protection and ensure that international law was respected. The following day, an amphibious assault was launched by French marines and British commandos. Foreign Legion soldiers also took part in the fighting. It didn’t take long for the cities of Port Fouad and Port Saïd to be captured.
Novembre 1956 Débarquement à Port Fouad - Photo ECA
6 novembre 1956
Les paras du 2e RCP
ont sauté à
sous le feu ennemi
Though triumphant on the field, politically, the French-British offensive went the other way round: the operation met strong widespread condemnation from the international community, including the UNO, the USSR and the USA.
As the American-Soviet pressure intensified, the French-English military ended their operations as were and two days afterwards, November 7, a ceasefire was declared.
The allied forces re-embarked and their ships returned to their base the following month, December 1956.