Insurection in the Med
Following the decision to withdraw British forces from Egypt, Cyprus was chosen as the new location for British military headquarters in the Mediterranean. The British military build up coincided with a rise in nationalist feeling among the Greek Cypriot population, and a growing demand for ‘Enosis’ or union with Greece. Out of this grew EOKA, a terrorist organisation committed to driving the British out of Cyprus.
1st battalion Royal Leicesters arrive at Famagusta from the Sudan. L-R: WOII Sanderson, RSM Tommy Marston, WOII Reynolds
The 1st battalion Royal Leicestershire Regiment was deployed directly from the Sudan in 1956, and its men were based at Famagusta, a medieval walled town. Their duties were twofold; firstly, internal security (IS) duties within the town, which included enforcing curfews and quelling riots, but also free ranging operations in the hills outside the town, combing villages for weapon dumps and arresting suspected terrorists.
The battalion was responsible for the security of Famagusta and a large section of the surrounding rural area, and were quartered in a camp consisting of a rambling collection of Nissen huts on the northern edge of the town. Companies were employed in supporting the civil police and maintaining law and order in their respective villages, whilst other detachments garrisoned rural police stations. In addition it began a ceaseless programme of patrols and searches over hills and fields, in remote villages and farmsteads, seeking caches of arms. Their enemy however wore no uniform and after striking at them vanished into the civilian population, and casualties quickly began to mount.
Lieut S.R.G.Walker was killed on 27 March 1956. WO2 R.A.Crissell, a veteran of the Korean War, was killed on 17 May. Pte K.M.Hebb was killed on 30 May when terrorists attacked a truck, throwing grenades. Another soldier of the Royal Leicesters died the following day from his injuries sustained in this attack. Added to this were many more wounded in shootings and bomb attacks.
In typical British fashion the ‘Tommies’ were reluctant at first to think the worst of the local population in whose midst they found themselves. However as casualties mounted, attitudes hardened, though to their credit the men were throughout thoroughly professional and were never goaded beyond the point of restraint to commit outrages or atrocities.
Once again the British army demonstrated its aptitude for this type of counter insurgency work, and by the late summer of 1956 it was evident that progress was being made. The blockade of Cyprus had choked off the supply of arms to the terrorists, whilst seizures of arms and the capture of a number of terrorist leaders had a marked effect on EOKA morale. In August 1958 EOKA declared a truce and progress was made towards a political settlement.