HC Deb 31 January 1952 vol 495 cc362-5
Mr. Aneurin Bevan

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for War whether, arising out of the statement by the Foreign Secretary on Tuesday, he is now in a position to give the House more details concerning the recent clash between British Forces and Egyptian auxiliary police in Ismailia.

The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Antony Head)

Yes, Sir, I am arranging for a detailed account of the incidents in Ismailia on 25th January to be published today in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Following is the statement:


On 16th October, 1951, the Egyptian police failed to control the riots which broke out in Ismailia and British troops had to restore order. After this 600 auxiliary police arrived from Cairo.

Egyptian terrorists had been and continued attacking our troops and convoys while the Egyptian police looked on. In some cases the auxiliary police, alongside the terrorists, attacked our troops. On 17th, 18th and 19th November, 1951, the auxiliary police fired on our patrols in Ismailia. After this General Erskine arranged for the regular and auxiliary Egyptian police to remain in their barracks while our families evacuated the town. After this both regular and auxiliary police in Ismailia were replaced by fresh companies from Cairo.

The normal rôle in Egypt of auxiliary police is to provide a reserve for riot duty armed with staves. Those sent to the Canal Zone on both occasions were armed with rifles.

After the change over had taken place evidence increased that the new auxiliary police were taking part in attacks on our troops and installations. On 3rd and 4th December, 1951, auxiliary police opened fire on our troops near the water filtration plant outside Suez and killed 11. On 18th December, 1951, fire from the police station in Ismailia killed a British officer passing in a jeep.

Twenty auxiliary police and four terrorists in a lorry attacked a road block near Tel-El-Kebir. As a result of this and other attacks in the neighbourhood our troops cleared the area, finding, in the police station compound of El Hammada (a small village), a senior police major-general and 116 armed police, as well as quantities of ammunition and other arms.

The steadily mounting casualties amongst our troops and the attacks upon them caused the Commander-in-Chief, at the end of November, 1951, to recommend the disarming of the auxiliary police. On 7th December, 1951, His Majesty's Government authorised the Commander-in-Chief to take this step if the situation demanded it.

On 23rd January, 1952, when our casualties had reached 33 killed and 69 wounded, the Commander-in-Chief told the Chiefs of Staff that, in view of the repeated evidence of attack by the auxiliary police, he considered that he must disarm those in Ismailia, and that he had ordered General Erskine to do so. His Majesty's Government approved this decision.

Narrative of Events

Location of Egyptian Police on morning of 25th January.

The position in Ismailia on the morning of 25th January was:—

  1. (a) About 400 Egyptian police, of whom about 60 were regulars, were in the Caracol, the normal regular Police Station and the Governor's Office.
  2. (b) Some 600 Egyptian police, almost all auxiliaries, were in the Bureau Sanitaire located about 400 yards distant from the Caracol. The Bureau Sanitaire is normally the health office but was taken over as temporary barracks for the additional auxiliary police.

Message to the Sub-Governor of Ismailia

The operation started with a message to the Sub-Governor of Ismailia to the effect that, since the auxiliary police had been firing on our troops as well as helping the terrorists, it was necessary to disarm them. He was therefore requested to order them to come out of their barracks without arms, and told that arms would be restored to the regular police who would then be allowed to continue their duties.

Message to the Major-General Commanding the Police

A similar message was sent to the major-general commanding the police who was at his residence. He replied that both the regular and auxiliary police would resist in accordance with their orders from the Egyptian Government. In view of this statement the operations against the Caracol and the Bureau Sanitaire were put in train.

The Caracol

In operations against the Caracol Egyptian casualties did not exceed single figures and ours were none. The Egyptian police opened fire first and subsequently fired repeatedly. The buildings were not damaged.

The Bureau Sanitaire

The major operations took place against the Bureau Sanitaire of which the occupants were almost all auxiliary police. This building had been substantially fortified since its occupation by the auxiliary police.

At 0614 hours and continuing until 0640 hours broadcasts were made from loudspeaker vans calling upon the police to surrender. At 0656 hours firing by the police started from the Bureau Sanitaire and continued with increasing intensity until 0710 hours. We then retaliated by firing one round of blank from a 20-pounder tank gun as a warning. The police continued to fire.

At 0715 hours we returned the fire for the first time, six rounds of 20-pounder tank gun and a few rounds of two-pounder being fired as well as small arms. This produced a very heavy fusillade from the police.

A fresh broadcast was then made, followed by a pause to give them time to surrender. At 0815 hours fire was again opened by us on the same scale, followed by a broadcast with another pause for surrender. All this had no effect on the police and they continued to fire.

At 0900 hours two platoons of our infantry, supported by tanks, forced their way inside the walled compound of the Bureau Sanitaire which was used as barracks by the auxiliary police. Our infantry quickly suffered fourteen casualties and were withdrawn.

Final Surrender

At 1000 hours fire was opened again and at 1037 hours surrender started. We suffered three killed and 13 wounded. The Egyptian police casualties were 41 killed, 73 wounded, and 886 surrendered.

Weapons used by British Troops

The weapons used by our troops consisted of small arms, tanks from which 23 rounds of 20-pounder were fired, armoured cars which used a few rounds of two-pounder ammunition. No artillery, aircraft or mortars were used except for one round of 2 in. smoke.


The operation was planned with the object of avoiding bloodshed. The buildings were surrounded at dawn and every possible effort was then made to persuade the police to surrender, but the responsible officials refused to take any action and the police general in Ismailia steadfastly remained in his quarters throughout the whole proceedings.

The police in the Bureau Sanitaire were first called upon to surrender at 0614 hours, but it was not until 0715 hours that British troops opened fire in spite of the fact that they themselves had been under fire from the Egyptians since 0656 hours—nearly 20 minutes earlier.

The first serious attempt to enter the building was made by our infantry nearly two hours later after a series of broadcasts, and this attempt immediately resulted in fourteen casualties to our troops. In order to avoid much greater casualties on both sides it was essential to complete the operation as soon as possible and in any case in daylight.

There were no casualties to civilians. Transport was produced quickly after the surrender and prisoners were taken away for a meal, whilst our doctors gave immediate medical attention to the wounded, some of whom were taken to our hospital and the remainder to the Egyptian hospital.

If the Egyptian Government had maintained proper control over their police forces and, in particular, their auxiliaries, it would never have been necessary to carry out the operation at all.