suez canal

Egypt - A Brief History. The regularity and richness of the annual Nile River flood, coupled with semi-isolation provided by deserts to the east and west, allowed for the development of one of the world’s great civilizations. A unified kingdom arose around 3200 BC and a series of dynasties ruled in Egypt for the next 3 millennia. The last native dynasty fell to the Persians in 341 BC, who were replaced by Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines. It was the Arabs who introduced Islam and the Arabic language in the 7th century; they ruled for the next 6 centuries. A local military caste, the Mamluks, took control around the year 1250 and continued to govern after the conquest of Egypt by the Ottoman Turks in 1517. Following the completion of the Suez Canal in 1869, Egypt became an important transportation hub, but also fell heavily into debt. Ostensibly to protect its investments, Britain seized control of the government in 1882, as nominal allegiance to the Ottoman Empire continued until 1914. Partially independent from the UK in 1922, Egypt acquired full sovereignty following WW2. The completion of the Aswan Dam in 1971 and the resultant Lake Nasser have altered the time-honoured place of the Nile in agriculture and the ecology of Egypt. A rapidly growing population (the largest in the Arab world), limited arable land, and dependence on the Nile continue to overtax resources and stress the population.

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Otto Skorzeny and The Paladin Group

If any real life historical figure could be a Bond villain, Otto Skorzeny would definitely be a leading candidate. A former Nazi SS commando, stalwart fascist, and Cold War soldier of fortune, Skorzeny was the stereotypical cloak and dagger “bad guy” from any dime store spy novel, complete with a gnarly facial scar. Seriously, he could be a villain straight off of “The Blacklist”. During World War II he was an SS colonel, commando leader, and Hitler’s favorite soldier. He was best known for the daring rescue mission of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, who was captured by Allied forces after the surrender of Italy.  He also commanded a special infiltration unit composed of English speaking German soldiers who wore American uniforms and infiltrated American units behind enemy lines. Throughout the war Skorzeny would become one of Germany’s most highly decorated soldiers, participating in and commanding several commando missions.

After World War II Skorzeny was prosecuted for war crimes, but was released when British MI6 decided not to use their evidence against him as it would expose their intelligence networks.  A man without official citizenship with any country, he first lived in Ireland, then Spain after gaining the support of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. He was eventually granted a passport by his home country, Austria, and Spain, but Skorzeny wasn’t the sort of man who needed a passport to travel across the world. In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s he was a member of ODESSA, a clandestine group which smuggled ex-Nazi’s out of Europe to avoid war crime tribunals.  He founded a large fascist political network in Spain, which printed and destributed fascist propaganda and created branch organizations throughout Europe and Latin America.  He also served as advisor to Argentinian President Juan Peron and bodyguard to his wife Eva.

In the early 1950’s Skorzeny began to organize a mercenary group mostly composed of German SS, Gestapo, and Wehrmacht veterans.  The goal of the group was to support fascist regimes and right wing extremist movements across the globe. This was mostly in the form of training, especially guerilla groups, but also by providing crack commando troops and boots on the ground. In 1960 his mercenary group was officially incorporated as “The Paladin Group”, co-founded by a rogue American CIA Special Operations officer and ODESSA member named Col. James Sanders. If there was a conflict that occured in Europe, Africa, Latin America, or Asia during the 1950’s to mid 1970’s, you can bet your bottom dollar The Paladin Group (or it’s nameless predecessor organization) had some role in it. The roots of The Paladin Group can be traced back to 1952 when Skorzeny was recruited by CIA man and former WWII German General Reinhard Gehlen for operations in Egypt. At the time Egypt’s monarch, King Farouk (CIA codename “Fat Fucker”) had been overthrown in a military coup, and Egypt was led by President Gen. Muhammed Naguib.  Naguib used Skorzeny and his men to train the newly modernized Egyptian Army and various commando units in preparation for a possible plan to oust British forces from the Suez Canal. Skorzeny would later become advisor to Naguib’s successor, President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

For the most part, The Paladin Group supported fascist/dictatorial regimes or right wing extremist guerilla/partisan movements and vehemently opposed left wing or communist movements.  However, Skorzeny often took jobs that either suited his needs or put a lot of cash in his wallet. A perfect example would be in the mid 1950’s when he was contracted by both the Israeli’s and Palestinians.  Among his most famous (or infamous) clients was PLO leader Yassir Arafat, and Skorzeny planned Palestinian raids into the Gaza Strip in 1953 and 1954.

Throughout the 60’s The Paladin Group served a wide variety of clients. The Spanish Government hired them to fight a clandestine war against the Basque Nationalist Group ETA, they were hired by the South African Bureau of State Security, there were even rumors in the Soviet KGB that Skorzeny was training Green Berets for secret operations in Cambodia and Thailand. One of Skorzeny’s biggest clients was the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddaffi, who hired The Paladin Group to help plan and execute the coup which put Gaddaffi in power, then to train the Libyan Army.

Between 1967 and 1974 The Paladin Group also took part in the organizing and execution of a series of military coups in Greece, leading to a civil war in which the Greek monarch, King Constantine II, was ousted from power and replaced with a military dictatorship.

The Paladin Group came to an end in 1975 with two major events.  First, Otto Skorzeny died of lung cancer.  Second, Francisco Franco likewise passed away.  With Franco gone a new democratic government came to power, one which had little tolerance for fascist organizations.  The Paladin Group was expelled from Spain.  Without a home and the leadership of Skorzeny, The Paladin Group was disbanded.  Peashooter hopes that producers make a retro James Bond movie with Otto Skorzeny as the bad guy. That would be so awesome!

Soldiers of the Highland Brigade assaulting Egyptian trenches at Tel-el Kebir during the 1882 war with Egypt.

Illustration by Peter Dennis.

August 5, 1916 - Final Assault on the Suez Canal

Pictured - Soldiers from the Black Watch man a position alongside the Egyptian canal.

A Turkish attack on the Suez Canal failed in 1915, but in August 1916 the Central Powers tried a second time to capture the vital waterway that linked Britain to its far-eastern colonies and Dominions.  Reinforced and strengthened by German officers, elements of the Turkish Fourth and Eighth Armies advanced into the Sinai against the British Egyptian Expeditionary Force, which had been organized to defeat them.

German General der Infanterie Friedrich Kress von Kressenstein lead the attack, commanding 20,000 Ottoman, German, and Austrian troops as well as a squadron of German airplanes, which bombed British positions from Port Said to Cairo.   In early August Kressenstein hit the British at Rumani on the Sinai coast.

The battle developed into a pitched infantry and cavalry battle.  It culminated with the British and Anzac light horse making a number of charges with sabres that swept enemy infantry off a series of ridges.  By nightfall Kressentein’s army was withdrawing, having lost over a thousand men killed or wounded and 4,000 taken prisoner.  The Central Powers force fell back with almost all of its artillery however, with the British in pursuit.

6. The Suez Canal at Port Said, Egypt (date unknown). Keystone-Mast Collection at UCR CMP, 1996.0009.KU58571

 

As the “Mongolia” approaches Suez, the dock comes alive with activity. “Little by little the scene on the quay became more animated; sailors of various nations, merchants, ship-brokers, porters, fellahs, bustled to and fro as if the steamer were immediately expected. The weather was clear, and slightly chilly. The minarets of the town loomed above the houses in the pale rays of the sun. A jetty pier, some two thousand yards long, extended into the roadstead. A number of fishing-smacks and coasting boats, some retaining the fantastic fashion of ancient galleys, were discernible on the Red Sea.”

 

¶ The Suez Canal revolutionized travel in the 19th century and redefined international relations, particularly among Europe, Asia, and Africa. The controversial, 101-mile-long canal was one of the initial inspirations for Around the World in 80 Days. Even prior to its completion in 1869, construction sparked international and political debates; historian Halford Hoskins poignantly describes the Suez Canal as one of the most significant “world highways” that demonstrates the close connection between politics and geography.