HL Deb 11 July 1961 vol 233 cc98-103

3.52 p.m.


My Lords, for the convenience of your Lordships I will, with your permission, repeat a statement which the Minister of Defence has made in another place on Kuwait. It is as follows:

"As the House already knows, at the Ruler's request we were successful in deploying a reinforced brigade group in Kuwait in six days. This was a very creditable achievement by all concerned. In mounting such an operation at very short notice, troops were bound to meet some initial hardship, but they have taken it in their stride. Heat is, of course, the main problem. Even so, the number of cases of heat exhaustion has been on an average only twelve a day needing hospital treatment.

"I am glad to be able to tell the House that the medical facilities available are very comprehensive. Where those in Kuwait are not adequate, provision exists for evacuation, either to Bahrein or Aden, or to H.M.S. "Bulwark". There has only been one fatal casualty; this was accidental.

"A great deal is being done by the Services themselves, by the Ruler of Kuwait and by the Kuwait Oil Company, to provide creature comforts. Beer and soft drinks with ice are being made available in large quantities, and a free issue of 50 cigarettes a week has already been approved for the first fortnight of the operation. Arrangements are being made for the Forces to have film shows, and newspapers and books are being flown out. There is a plentiful supply of fresh water and salt tablets. I have asked my honourable friend, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for War, to take a small party to Kuwait to see whether anything further should be done.

"As to the future, two companies of the Coldstream Guards and a Hunter squadron have already been withdrawn. We shall withdraw further Forces as soon as the situation allows and rotate those that remain as frequently as possible. What I have said represents only a bare outline of both the operation itself and of the measures being taken to improve the lot of the troops. With permission, I will circulate further details in the OFFICIAL REPORT."


My Lords, we are very grateful to the noble Lord for the statement he has made, and we should like to express our gratitude for the care that has been taken—I think the House will agree that it is every possible care—to see that whatever we can do for the troops under these most trying conditions is being done. I know that we should all like to extend our sympathy. Having had in the last few days some little taste of what heat can do, we can well understand the awful conditions under which they must be living.

In the statement the noble Lord referred to the fact that a small party was going out to see the conditions for themselves. Would they be Members of Parliament? No doubt the noble Lord will explain what this small party will consist of. I should also like to ask him about the attitude of the local population. Are they friendly and helpful, or are they just distant? Finally, could the noble Lord say in outline what sort of further details will be contained in the OFFICIAL REPORT? Is there anything there that one might like to comment on at this stage, because we shall not see it until to-morrow.


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for what he has said. I assure him that the Minister of Defence and all three Service Ministers will do what they can to make conditions a little more tolerable in Kuwait. The noble Lord asked three questions: first, what is the composition of the small party which is going there? The Under-Secretary of State for War is leading this party, which will consist of representatives of the War Office, the Air Ministry and of the Admiralty, who will look into the welfare arrangements of their own Services and report back to London to see what can be done to improve them.




Officials, in the sense that they are actually serving officers. There is an Air Marshal, and a Royal Marines officer is going from the Admiralty. The intention is that they should report back as soon as possible to see what further can be done to help the conditions out there. I am told that the attitude of the local population is very friendly and helpful, and certainly the local oil company and the Sheikh himself have been very helpful and have done their best to make these trying conditions less trying.

In so far as the details which are to be circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT are concerned, I do not think there is anything to which the noble Lord would take exception, or would want to ask further questions about. It is an amplification of my earlier statement, and goes into much greater detail about the operation, and about the steps taken for the welfare of the troops.


My Lords, may I express the gratification of noble Lords on these Benches at the steps taken by the Government for the comfort of the troops in Kuwait? May I also express the hope that it will be possible at an early date to remove all the troops and other forces from that area?

Following are the details referred to by Lord Carrington:

Following General Qasim's announcement on June 28, 1961, of his intention to annex Kuwait, the Ruler asked Her Majesty's Consul-General in Kuwait on the morning of Friday. June 30, for military assistance. It was decided, in the light of indications that Iraqi forces in the Basra area were being reinforced with tanks that it was vital to get some forces in there quickly. The first landings were therefore made on the morning of Saturday, July 1, and the forces which moved into Kuwait that day consisted of 42 Royal Marine Commando from H.M.S. "Bulwark," a squadron of Centurion tanks of the 3rd Carabiniers embarked in H.M.S. "Striker" and L.S.T. "Empire Gull," and by No. 8 Squadron R.A.F. Hunter Fighter Bombers. These were supported by No. 208 Squadron R.A.F. Hunters and Nos. 13 and 137 Squadrons operating from bases in the Persian Gulf, and by the frigates H.M.S. "Loch Alvie" and H.M.S. Meon." Landing shins and landing craft of the Royal Navy and civilian-manned landing ships were engaged on bringing in vehicles and stores.

By the evening of July 2, the ground forces in Kuwait had been built up by the flying in of two companies of the Coldstream Guards, 45 Royal Marine Commando, and by the arrival of additional tanks, together with armoured cars of the 11th Hussars, whilst additional Hunter and Canberra aircraft were available for immediate operations. The Headquarters of 24 Infantry Brigade had also arrived under the Brigade Commander, Brigadier D. G. T. Horsford.

The following two days saw the arrival by air of the 2nd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, and advance elements of 24 Brigade, including units of the Royal Artillery and the Royal Engineers. The build-up of our force was substantially complete by Thursday, July 6, by which time the 1st Battalion, The King's Regiment and the 1st Battalion, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers had arrived. Meanwhile, the naval strength had been increased by the arrival in the Persian Gulf of the frigates H.M.S. "Loch Fyne" and H.M.S. "Loch Ruthven"; the aircraft carrier H.M.S. "Victorious", from the Far East station, with a destroyer and frigate escort, was available in support if required.

The crews of the transport aircraft and of the Canadair transports of the Royal Rhodesian Air Force which were placed freely at our disposal at the outset of the operation, as well as of a number of charter aircraft, put up a splendid performance in the face of considerable difficulties, including adverse weather in Kuwait itself. The air crews were well supported in all this by their ground crews.

It says much for the skill and efficiency with which this operation was carried out by all concerned that, in the space of only six days and with only a minimum of warning, this considerable force, complete with all the necessary supporting arms, equipment and stores, was assembled, deployed and ready in all respects for action. Great credit for this is due to the Commander-in-Chief, Middle East,.Air Marshal Sir Charles Elworthy, who was in command of the operation, and to his subordinate Commanders and staffs. The Commanders and staffs at Headquarters, Near East Command in Cyprus, at the Far East Headquarters in Singapore, and in East Africa also faithfully played their part, as did the Ministry of Defence and the Service Ministries here in Whitehall, and the many people elsewhere in this country who were involved. It should also be mentioned that the communications staffs have dealt magnificently with the immense load of urgent signal traffic, in spite of great difficulties arising from adverse radio propagation conditions.

No description of the operation would be complete without a tribute to the individual sailors, soldiers and airmen on the spot, who responded so promptly to the demands made upon them. They took all difficulties in their stride.

The main hardship has been the heat. The number of cases of heat exhaustion however has been surprisingly small, and there have been on average only 12 cases a day evacuated to hospitals, well under 1 per cent. of the total force. All major units have Medical Services attached to them. In addition, a field ambulance, a medical unit in which there are 7 doctors, is responsible for controlling collection and evacuation of sick soldiers. Heat casualties are evacuated by road or helicopter to the civil hospitals in Kuwait, and from there serious cases may be taken by air to the R.A.F. hospitals in Bahrein and Aden. There is, in addition, in Kuwait a heat casualty treatment centre which is a medical unit specifically trained and experienced in the treatment of heat casualties, and which is air-conditioned. The civil hospitals in Kuwait have a fully trained and experienced staff available for advice on the prevention and treatment of heat effects. It also is air-conditioned, and fully equipped for this purpose. H.M.S. "Bulwark" too is air-conditioned, and certain cases are being evacuated to her. Service specialists are available in Aden and Bahrein, who are expert in these hyperpyrexial diseases and senior consultants in hygiene and medicine are available at all times, both in the Near East and United Kingdom, to fly out to the Persian Gulf it necessary.

Diet is an important factor in the prevention of heat exhaustion. Information in London is that no difficulty is being experienced in providing a palatable and adequate ration. A sufficient supply of water and of salt is vital. Salt tablets are being issued and an adequate supply of good drinking water to meet heavy requirements is available. Cold drinks and ice are included in the ration, and there is a supplementary issue of ice in addition. Fresh breach has been issued daily since D+1 and fresh fruit since D+ 2. A plentiful supply of soft drinks is available. The main limiting factor has been the lack of refrigeration. This is now being overcome. Apart from what is being done by the Services themselves, the Ruler of Kuwait has generously given a free issue of 3 bottles of soft drink a day with ice. Local Kuwaiti firms, including the Kuwait Oil Company, have also been very liberal in giving assistance.

All troops now serving in Kuwait have been thoroughly briefed on the elementary techniques to be adopted in avoiding the effects of heat. Many of the troops were, of course, already acclimatised to heat. The Medical Officers of units from the United Kingdom were fully briefed on this problem before leaving.

On the welfare side, a great deal has been done. A N.A.A.F.I. party left the United Kingdom by air on 6th July and it is hoped that they will be operating to some extent this week. In the meantime, N.A.A.F.I. stores in bulk arrived in Kuwait last week to supplement those taken in by units. These stores included adequate supplies of beer and cigarettes. A free ration of 50 cigarettes a week for each man has been approved for the first fortnight of the operation, and beer is on sale under unit canteen facilities. Arrangements have been made to fly out newspapers and books, and a special grant of money has been made available for the purcahse of extra sports equipment locally. The Kuwait Oil Company operate 8 cinemas to which they are prepared to admit troops under local arrangements. The R.A.F. Cinema Corporation has also flown out extra cinema projectors. Forward troops may despatch mail free of postage up to 16th July and from then onwards any troops in Kuwait will be able to despatch mail at United Kingdom rates. In addition, the Church Voluntary Welfare Workers have offered a mobile canteen staffed by the Salvation Army as soon as it can be moved there, and the Malcolm Clubs are prepared to set up facilities when suitable conditions and facilities can be provided. A seaside tented rest-camp is being built which is being occupied today by 500 men of all Services. An air-conditioned camp for a further 500 men has been offered by the Kuwait Oil Company and has been accepted for use as a rest-camp in 10 days' time. The Oil Company is providing further hospitality at Ahmadi for 370 all-ranks daily in air-conditioned private houses and clubs including the use of swimming clubs. Two hundred men daily are sent to H.M.S. "Bulwark" for a clean-up and rest. Laundry contracts have been arranged for the whole force.

A senior Inter-Service Team from H.Q. Middle East (Aden) went to Kuwait last week to make an on-the-spot study about conditions and welfare. The small party under the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for War is due in Kuwait on 12th July, and will consider what further can be done. In the meanwhile, the Commander-in-Chief has been authorised to provide all the amenities and creature comforts he can.

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