HC Deb 20 November 1956 vol 560 cc1535-7
31. Mr. Lewis

asked the Secretary of State for War how many of the 10,000 rifles captured from the Egyptians at Port Said were British Lee Enfields; and how many British six-pounder guns were captured.

Mr. John Hare

One thousand three hundred and fifty-eight rifles of all kinds were captured in Port Said. Four hundred and twenty of them were Lee Enfield rifles. Four British six-pounder guns were also captured.

Mr. Lewis

I thank the Minister for that reply. Can he say why no information has yet been given about the British arms which have been supplied to the Egyptians? Can he further say how many other types of guns and munitions were supplied to the Egyptians and used by them against our boys there?

Mr. Hare

No. As the hon. Member knows, under the Tripartite Declaration of 1950, certain arms were supplied in accordance with the terms of that Declaration. I share with the hon. Member the regret that British-made arms were used against British troops, but that was a risk inherent in the Declaration, which in fact provided for the supply to both the Arab States and to Israel of limited quantities of arms for their internal security.

Mr. Dugdale

Can the Secretary of State for War say how many of these arms were sent before, and how many after the members of the Government, other than the President of the Board of Trade, knew that large supplies of Russian arms were going to Egypt?

Mr. Hare

If the right hon. Gentleman cares to put down a Question, I will try to answer it.

37. Mr. Wigg

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will make a statement on the Army's rôle in the Port Said landing, including times of departure from Malta and Cyprus; and whether he will make a statement on the existing situation.

Mr. John Hare

Some troops left Malta for the Eastern Mediterranean late on the night of 30th October. Others left Cyprus for Egypt on 4th and 5th November. As the House has already been informed, the commando and parachute Brigades have now been relieved.

It would be invidious to distinguish between the three Services in what was essentially a combined operation. A battalion group of 16 Parachute Brigade made an airborne assault on Gamil airfield on 5th November. Within seven hours this force had secured and cleared the airfield for our aircraft to land and had advanced two miles to the outskirts of Port Said. On 6th November one squadron Royal Tank Regiment supported the assault by 3 Commando Brigade. The remainder of the Parachute Brigade landed following the assault and within a few hours advanced 24 miles down the causeway from Port Said to El Cap.

The success of this operation against determined resistance by the equivalent of a brigade group supported by Russian tanks and assault guns was due to meticulous planning, to splendid tactical air support from the R.A.F. and the Royal Navy, and to the fighting quality of the troops concerned, which was worthy of the highest standards of our military tradition.

Mr. Wigg

May I, for my part, and I am sure on behalf of my hon. Friends, pay a tribute to the courage and devotion to duty of these troops? Having said that, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman the following question? First, has his attention been drawn to the statement that the civilian casualties in Port Said were much heavier than the Government have said? Has he seen the statement by Mr. Nehru that the casualties, killed and wounded, are of the order of 3,000? Will the right hon. Gentleman also be good enough to say why the operation planned for air drop and landing at first light on Tuesday was changed to air drop on Monday, commando landing on Tuesday? Will he also say whether the military commanders on the spot were consulted before British troops were left in the nonsensical tactical position in which they now find themselves?

Mr. Hare

It is a little difficult to answer all the hon. Gentleman's questions. He had the courtesy to tell me about one of them in advance: that is, the question of civil and military casualties. I have seen the rumour to which he has referred and which appeared in the Press. I have no further information than that which was supplied from our own Allied Force Headquarters, that the killed Egyptian civilians numbered 100, and wounded 540, and I know of nothing to lead me to suppose that those figures are not accurate.

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