Now that Yugoslavia has gone, if you want a country that starts with a ‘Y’ in English, then Yemen’s pretty much it.
And we’ve played quite a large role in Yemeni history, because of Aden.
Readers who were around in the late 1960s will remember the bitter campaign that British forces fought against local fighters here before our final withdrawal on 30 November 1967. But this came at the end of many decades of British control of the area.
Aden sits in an obvious strategic location on the sealanes between the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, and has long been known to British sailors. In the late seventeenth century English pirates made use of it.
Then, in 1798 Napoleon invaded Egypt and we started getting nervous about French influence in the region. So we decided to establish a strategic base in the area, and in 1799 took control of the Yemeni island of Perim, at the southern entrance to the Red Sea. But after a short while we started looking for a more convenient spot to station the troops and we settled for Aden, with the agreement of the local sultan. The troops remained there until the danger from the French had passed.
In 1820, we bombarded nearby Mocha (yes, that Mocha) and imposed a commercial treaty upon it. And in 1827 we imposed a blockade on nearby Berbera as well, after an attack on a British ship.
In the 1830s, Aden was being used as a coaling station and the local sultan had subsequently agreed to let us take control here. But the sultan’s successor wasn’t too keen on the agreement, so we decided to take control of Aden anyway. Captain Smith on HMS Volage was sent in with three smaller ships and some transports. On 19 January 1839, the force bombarded Aden, and then landed troops, and after some brief resistance from the sultan’s army, our flag was hoisted. Today, in the Tower of London, you can see a souvenir taken by Captain Smith in the capture of Aden. Rather more impressive than the average souvenir today, it’s a cannon of Suleiman the Magnificent founded by Mohammed ibn Hamza in 1530–31.
British influence then spread further in the region with the establishment of the Aden Protectorate.
There was some fighting in the area in the First World War and just before the war ended, our cruisers HMS Proserpine, HMS Juno and HMS Suva covered the 101st Bombay Grenadiers as they landed at Hodeida in Yemen and took it from Ottoman forces.