King Idris I of LibyaOn 1 September 1969 the Libyan Army staged a successful coup against the administration of King Idris – Idris 1 – the King of the sovereign state of the United Kingdom of Libya.

The King was in Turkey for medical treatment when the “Revolutionary Command Council” (RCC), which composed of some twelve young Army Officers under Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, took charge of the Country. In early December it was announced in London that Britain had agreed with the RCC to withdraw all British Forces from that country by 31 March 1970.

 

On 1 September 1969 the Libyan Army staged a successful coup against the administration of King Idris – Idris 1 – the King of the sovereign state of the United Kingdom of Libya.

King Idris I of Libya

The King was in Turkey for medical treatment when the “Revolutionary Command Council” (RCC), which composed of some twelve young Army Officers under Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, took charge of the Country. In early December it was announced in London that Britain had agreed with the RCC to withdraw all British Forces from that country by 31 March 1970.

The British Forces consisted of an Army port complex and an airfield and bombing range at RAF El Adem.

El Adem Crest

52 Port Squadron RCT were detailed to organise and affect the military withdrawal. The Squadron was commanded by Major Robin H G Barton MBE RCT

52 Port Squadron RCT was to load all services and associated equipment from the El Adem/Tobruk complexes. The airfield at El Adem was to be closed before departure so the final act of withdrawal was to be made by sea.

The ships deployed for this withdrawal were the: -

Empire Gull
Sir Percivale
Sir Geraint
Sir Tristram

Initially these four ships were under the management of British India Steam Navigation Company but were taken over by the RFA on the 6 March 1970 – during the withdrawal – a pre planned hand over before the need to withdraw British Forces from the country became necessary

and three commercial ships

mv Cavallo
mv Makalla
mv Slavic Prince

Empire Gull arrived at Tobruk on the 2 January 1970 and she was loaded with military cargo including thirty eight vehicles and sailed to Cyprus on 4 January 1970

Loading Black Pig at Tobruk

The next ship to arrive was the mv Cavallo which berthed at Tobruk on 5 January 1970. She was loaded with military cargo and sailed for the UK the next day

Cavallo


Mv Cavallo

Sir Percivale arrived at Tobruk six days later; she was loaded with military cargo including munitions and thirty two vehicles sailing for the UK the following day

mv Sir Percy at Tobruk

Empire Gull returned from Cyprus arriving on 15 January 1970, again she was loaded with military cargo including forty eight vehicles and sailed for Cyprus once more on the following day

Sir Geraint followed arriving at Tobruk on 16 January 1970, was loaded with military cargo including munitions and forty three vehicles and sailed for the UK on 19 January 1970

mv Sir Tristram at Tobruk

Following Sir Geraint departure on the 19 January 1970 Sir Tristam arrived at Tobruk on the same day. She was loaded with military cargo including munitions and forty three vehicles and sailed for the UK two days later with, in addition, seventy six passengers

Slavic Prince


Mv Slavic Prince

Mv Slavic Prince berthed at Tobruk on 29 January 1970, was loaded with military cargo and sailed for Cyprus the next day.

Once more Empire Gull was back at Tobruk on 2 February 1970 and was loaded with military cargo including munitions and sixteen vehicles sailing on this occasion for Malta the next day

Sir Percivale arrived at Tobruk on 3 February 1970 from the UK, was loaded with military cargo including munitions, sixty vehicles and thirty passengers and she sailed for the UK two days later.

Sir Geraint followed Sir Percivale to Tobruk two days later, was loaded with military cargo including munitions and forty vehicles and sailed once more for the UK on 7 February 1970 with two passengers

Sir Tristram arrived at Tobruk on 13 February 1970 from the UK and was loaded with military cargo including sixty five vehicles sailing for Cyprus on 15 February 1970

Empire Gull berthed once more at Tobruk on 15 February 1970 and was loaded with more military cargo and fifty four vehicles and sailed once more for Cyprus two days later

Pushing plant onboard at Tobruk

Sir Tristram returned to Tobruk from Cyprus on 21 February 1970 and was loaded with military cargo including forty three vehicles sailing on this occasion for Malta on 25 February 1970.

Empire Gull also returned to Tobruk on 24 February 1970 before Sir Tristram had sailed and was loaded with military cargo and seventeen vehicles and sailed for Cyprus on 26 February 1970.

Sir Tristram arrived once more at Tobruk on 2 March 1970 was loaded with military cargo including sixty four vehicles sailing again for Malta on 5 March 1970 carrying forty two passengers.


Lift it onboard at Tobruk

Loading a LSL at Tobruk

RFA Empire Gull next appearance at Tobruk was on 8 March 1970 and she was loaded with military cargo and thirty six vehicles and sailed for Cyprus on 11 March 1970 carrying one passenger.

RFA Empire Gull arrived back at Tobruk on 17 March 1970 and was loaded with military cargo and forty eight vehicles and sailed for Cyprus the next day with seven passengers.

RAF El Adem closed on 23 March 1970


Makalla


Mv Makalla


Mv Makalla arrived at Tobruk on 23 March 1970, was loaded with military cargo and sailed for the UK two days later.

RFA Sir Geraint arrived back at Tobruk from the UK on 24 March 1970 and was loaded with military cargo and forty eight vehicles (70% of her actual capacity) and sailed for Cyprus on 28 March 1970 carrying three hundred and twenty seven passengers.


passengers loading


Passengers waiting to board RFA Sir Geraint

RFA Empire Gull was once more at Tobruk on 26 March 1970 and was loaded with the final military cargo, munitions and forty two vehicles (90% of her actual capacity) and sailed for Cyprus on 28 March 1970 with the final seventy eight passengers.

A total of 38,902 DW tons of general cargo and 945 DW tons of munitions were shipped through Tobruk on the RFA's and the civilian ships. Passage was arranged for six hundred and thirteen passengers with seven hundred and seventy two vehicles and plant also being removed.


Good bye Tobruk from Sir G


RFA Sir Geriant leaves just in front of RFA Empire Gull


The Libyan authorities were caught out by the ships final departure on 28 March 1970 as they had been advised that it was the British Government’s intention to finally leave on the 31 March 1970 and information came to hand that a ‘rent a mob’ demonstration was planned by the Libyan Government to provide a back drop to the LSL’s departure. By leaving early the demonstration failed to appear.


Last ship out switch off the light - Black Pig

RFA Empire Gull – the last ship to leave


So ended the British military presence in Libya, since at least 1941, when RAF El Adem was then known as ‘Landing Ground 144’ this was until the overthrow of the government and the death of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi with the British military backing in 2011.

Assistance on the facts, figures and the colour images from the time of the withdrawl have been kindly provided with thanks by Major Robin H G Barton MBE RCT (Retd)

Copyright © 2008 – 2017 Christopher J White

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