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South Yemen Naval Battles

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Post 09 Oct 2018, 12:17
Strategically placed in a key position to control naval lines coming and out of the Red Sea, North and South Yemen faced a complex history of wars and conflicts. The Soviet Union and Egypt (under leadership of President Nasser) backed the newly formed Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen) and successfully defeated the Monarchist insurgency (Saudi and UK-backed) into a bloody war from 1962 to 1970.

Meanwhile South Yemen gained independence from the United Kingdom after a brief and less bloody independence struggle, and quickly become (since 1969) a communist state fully backed by Soviet Union. The Soviet Union built strong relationships with South Yemen, and this include the use of the strategically located Socotra Island in Indian Ocean.

Meanwhile, North Yemen moved toward the Saudi Arabia and the United States: soon become for the whole cold war a ruthless regime with frequent exchange of president (often-military men) quickly assassinated by their successor.

Sources include the magnificent work done by (c)Alexander Rosin on the russian blog

Al Wadiah War
In late 1969 a short conflict erupted between South Yemen against Saudi Arabia, on the border. The short-lived conflict ended with Saudi Arabia military pushing back a South Yemenite force from the border. So far there is no known naval related incident around the time of this conflict or possible other naval incidents in the following years.

North – South Yemen 1972 War.
North Yemen begun developing more ties with Saudi Arabia and the western world, while retaining and a conflict between North and South Yemen erupted.
South Yemen previously backed the NLF rebel group operating in North Yemen.
It was short-lived and ended with the Arab League political action.
Currently it is unknown if naval clashes or seizures occurred!

Ogaden War
During the conflict between Ethiopia and Somalia, South Yemen like other socialist countries took side with Ethiopia and dispatched 2000 soldiers (reportedly losing 100 in combat).
South Yemenite landing ship n°137 “Syrah” took part in transportation of men for the fighting. Somalia (officially a socialist nation by heavily backed by USA) threatened to invade Socotra island, but no naval clash or incident reported. The Soviet Navy dispatched the large landing ship 50 Let Shefstva VLKSM (ex-BDK-77) (project 1171) at Socotra to transfer a garrison to dissuade the Somali threats.

North – South Yemen 1979 War.
A second war between North and South Yemen erupted in 1979, this time the fighting was more intense.
In 1978 the former North Yemen president Al-Ghashmi was assassinated by his successor Ali Abdullah Saleh (ironically Al-Ghashmi took power himself after assassinating his predecessor). President Saleh proved to be a long-lived ruthless opportunist whose demise come to an end only in 2017 when he was killed by his former enemies and former temporary allies Houthi during the ongoing (2018) civil war.

During the war, both sides used Soviet-made tanks and airplanes (MiG-17/21 and Su-22), North Yemen suffered heavier casualties, especially for its air force (mostly destroyed on ground) losing air-superiority to the South.
The USA hastily dispatched 12 F-5 fighters to support North Yemen regime, with Taiwanese pilots to fly the planes, but they did not arrive in time to change the tide.
While military the South Yemen inflicted more casualties and technical losses to the enemy, the conflict ended with the Arab League political mediation.
Currently it is unknown if naval clashes or seizures occurred!

South Yemen Civil War
In the past years, South Yemen heavily backing of rebel groups in North Yemen and Oman thanks the leadership of President Abdul Fattah Ismail (a staunch internationalist and communist). However, with lack of successes, a more moderate faction (led by Ali Nasir Muhammad) ousted him.

On 1986, Ismail returned to Yemen with a wide backing from other senior member off the Politburo and Nasir (while being officially president) committed a coup d’état because the scheduled meeting was planning to oust him by majority vote. Nasir deliberately asked to soften the communist-oriented policies, and this was opposed to the left wing of the Party.
On 13 January 1986 armed men of Nasir massacred a number of members of the Politburo just before a meeting was going to take place (the attack was planned and deliberate), killing the same ex-president Ismail, the current Vice-president and the Defense Minister.

Western sources claim that Ismail at first survived but was later killed when ships loyal to Nasir shelled the city. This however is contested by Soviet sources, stating that he was killed by a RPG attack on his car while he was being evacuated (wounded) after the massacre, Soviet sources stress how most of the Navy stood loyal to the Politburo and it was the Air Force that mostly joined the Nasir coup.

On the first day of fierce battle, part of the Air Force joined the coup of Nasir and attacked the Navy.
Onboard the South Yemen ships, MANPADS “Strela” successfully shot down three planes
It is unclear, but it is possible that sailors on project205ER missile boats hit some planes.

On a separate incident, the landing ship n°138 (project 770MA, ex-Soviet SDK-54) individually shot down a plane but was later hit by a Su-7B bomber and grounded heavily burned.

Photo of Soviet project-770 landing ship
((NOTE: Currently there are contradictions concerning the exact siding of the naval ships and the airplanes engaging each other during this air-naval battle!))

During the fighting, the situation of the Soviet merchant ships stationed in Aden was difficult: the bulk-carrier Smolensk was hit from a shell by ground fire (1 wounded) while tanker Vladimir Kolechitsky (with a dangerous cargo of fuel) luckily avoided direct hits.

A group of 42 Soviet advisors (briefly took prisoners but then released) evacuated on a small pilot-boat to escape the bloody street fighting: no Yemenite sailed with them and they quickly found out that none of them was member of the Soviet Navy or had experience in sailing! They found themselves stuck on sea into a tragi-comic episode out of lack of fuel, and eventually tanker Vladimir Kolechitsky retrieved them the following day.

A motorboat with 110 sailors, apparently disloyal to the Politburo (sources disagree), attempted to flee but was intercepted and seized on sea by (apparently) loyalist warship because all men are reported to be later executed due treason. This group of sailor was previously responsible for saving the life of the 42 advisors, placing them on the pilot-boat, reasonably to avoid killing the Soviet officers that could lead to certain repercussions.
During the seizure, the Soviet-manned pilot-boat was also present: two Soviets onboard the motorboat disembarked and moved on the pilot-boat.
According to Soviet witness, the (alleged) Politburo loyalists had at least one “sambuk boat” with a DShK machine-gun: evidently, a fishing boat hastily converted as auxiliary patrol boat.
It is unknown if other ships of the Navy took part at the action (technically it is so-far the only confirmed victory (seizure) from a South Yemen vessel).

((NOTE: Again, there are contradictions concerning the exact siding of the sailors on the motorboat as well as the men that seized her!))

Despite the heavy losses of the leadership, the coup of Nasir failed due resistance of most of the Armed forces (loyal to the Politburo) and he fled to North Yemen, being welcomed by Saleh regime. The subsequent South Yemen government (led by Al Beidh, a survivor of the 13 January massacre) kept good relationships with Soviet Union until the unification under the Saleh regime in 1990.

An attempt to reinstated an independent socialist-oriented South Yemen by the same Al Beidh in 1994 failed (the exiled Nasir backed the Saleh regime) and in recent years a “Southern Resistance” movement, socialist-inspired, fought the central government until the ongoing (2018) civil war. Ironically, the Saudi-backed coalition found themselves in alliance with the Southern fighters (with involvement of the same Nasir) that proved decisive to protect Aden from a Houthi assault. Meanwhile the ex-dictator Saleh (for decades a staunch ally of Americans and Saudi) briefly sided with the Shia-Houthi government … before being killed in 2017 when he attempted to change side with an unsuccessful coup in 2017.
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