This was a British campaign against rebel tribesmen in the remote and incredibly hot, arid and mountainous region of Radfan, sixty miles north of the British Colony of Aden in South Arabia.
The fiercely independent Qotaibi tribe were known as the “Red Wolves of Redfan” and were used to extracting tolls from traffic on the road that passed through their territory from Aden to Mecca via Dahla. In 1962, the British and the new Federal government of South Arabia that the British set up, tried to stop this custom. The discontented tribesmen obtained arms from Egyptian-backed rebels in neighbouring Yemen, who were opposed to British rule.
In January 1964, British and Federal forces advanced into Radfan as part of “Operation Nutcracker” with the aim of building a new road and increasing control of the area. The same tribesmen who provided labour for road building also sniped at British forces by night. The road was completed but the ground forces had to rely heavily on the RAF for protection.
When the British withdrew from the Radfan in February 1964, tribesmen and rebels moved back in and destroyed the new road.
In April 1964, a new expedition of 3, 000 troops, and tanks, under “Operation Cap Badge” re-occupied the Radfan in about six weeks. Fighting continued beyond this date and ground forces were again heavily dependent on the RAF for firepower and transport. According to British cabinet minister, Duncan Sandys, the RAF not only fire-bombed villages (it was the custom to drop leaflets before hand warning villagers of an attack and giving time for them to evacuate) but sprayed crops with poison “in the hope of terrorising the rebels into submission”.
During the fighting two SAS soldiers were beheaded by the enemy. By November 1964, tribal leaders had sued for peace but attacks on British and Federal forces continued until the British evacuated Aden in 1967.