- Sep 14, 2020
The Destruction of de Lessops Statue in Port Said 1956
Canal Zoners - Suez Crisis
De Lessops Statue still overlooking the Suez Canal from Port Fouad
The explosion taken from one of the Royal Navy boats
(This is an abridged version of events by Yahia Al Shaer– the man who actually blew up
the Statue – taken from his book “The Other Side of the Coin, Suez War 1956”)
Canal Zoners - Suez Crisis
Why The De Lessep’s Statue
It was the landmark for the hated assault, the place where the helicopters of the assaulting 45 Commando Royal Marines had landed some weeks ago and where the mighty and strong cruisers, frigates and destroyers had docked and where the landing ships had disembarked the heavy Centurion tanks and additional tens of thousands of soldiers and their killing machinery and guns to assault and occupy the city and proceeded southwards to attack the rest of Egypt. The statue had become the symbol of aggression and occupation and represented war and agony.
Who Was Behind The Idea
A journalist, who covered the military assault on Port Said and who was participating in wrting many leaflets to the inhabitants, found that blowing up the statue was a suitable symbol representing the protest against the Anglo-French attack and against trying to bring back the foreign influence to Egypt. In his opinion, it was a sign of patriotism and clearing Egypt of the old symbols representing submersion of the people. He did not care that it belonged to Egypt’s history. It was a symbolic purifying act for him and he propagated it very strongly.
Requesting Permission From Cairo
After the British began to withdraw to a narrow strip along the Suez Canal in preparation for evacuating the city, the journalist approached Captain Samir, the official military leader of the secret resistance, who was sent from Cairo to lead us in our military actions against the British troops in the city. The journalist tried to convince him to blow up the statue, but the statue was more than just a bronze figure, it was part of Egypt’s history. Samir opposed it but the journalist insisted on referring to Cairo for permission. Nevertheless, the time was not ripe for asking Cairo because we were still engaged in night attacks against the British, who were still occupying a part of Port Said. The request for authorisation would have been peculiar as we were in a partisan war status. Cairo was never asked until the day after the departure of the troops.
Asking Cairo For Authorisation, Which Never Came
On December 23rd 1956, at 08:30 hours, Captain Samir came to our home and delivered a message to 1st Lt Farag who was operating the secret wireless main unit, connecting us, the secret resistance, with Cairo. This unit, a large American military wireless type 284 SCR, which was hidden at our home in a large cloth cupboard in one of the bedrooms. The British Search & Direction Finder Car failed to spot it despite the fact that the British searched our house but it seems that we gave them an innocent impression! The message addressed to Cairo had to be coded into the related day cipher and the Captain requested permission from the authorities to dynamite the statue.
Silence From Cairo And Hesiatation
Cairo’s approving answer never came. It was delayed for 1½ days because they did NOT want it to be demolished and because of the negative international image to the Western World and they were worried about repercussions from such a useless operation. Cairo was busy with other more important issues like having Egypt liberated once again despite UN soldiers in the city.
How Was The Decision Taken
Captain Samir took his individual decision to blow up the De Lessep’s Statue before the answer came from Cairo. It he hadn’t done it someone else would have, as the city was full of hidden weapons, grenades and explosives.
Events Over-run Us, The Angry Mobs Cornered Us
I got a call to hurry to the De Lessep’s Statue area because the mobs were trying to pull down the statue. We drove to the scene – my elder brother had accompanied me as we were known for our influence in the city – and once the mob saw us coming, a near hysterical applause and cheering filled the air. “Allah, Akbar, down with the British, up with Egypt, long live Nasser, Allah, Akbar”
There were cheers of all the hate on this earth. It was all hypnotising and it was a special time.
Two Flags And A Greased Pole
Before we left home, a comrade of mine in the underground gave me a black office attache?? case and asked me to take it with me. The mob that had grown in the meantime to about 300 persons saw me coming with the case in my hand and anticipated that something was about to happen. The crowd gathered around us at the bottom of the statue where many people had not yet succeeded in pulling down the two slippery poles to which the Union Jack and the Tricolour were atttached until they had use of a freman’s ladder – many books mention that both French and British soldiers had attached the flags to De Lessep’s right hand a day earlier prior to their departure. I am not sure here that any French soldiers were there to do it because there had been no French soldier at Port Said, but it may have been one of the embarking troops (before they all left from Port Fouad with General Massu) or one of the Anglo French guards at the Casino Palace, which was General Stockwell’s Musketeer HQ.
Other people were still trying to climb the statue on the left side by ropes but it was greasy and difficult to climb. Many others were trying to chop down the statue. It was all like an unreal movie film but all efforts were useless and in vain. I was in euphoria with the mob howling at me
to blow it up and demolish it and their fanaticiism pushed and carried me like a straw in a boiling sea. It was not real – this was a dream. The statue which I had visited hundreds of times in my years as a youngster, I was being pushed to dynamite it. I had no other choice but to comply.
I climbed to the base of the statue using another rope because someone else was using the ladder and blocking the way up. My brother followed and climbed up as well. I told the people to move away so that no persons would be harmed or wounded because I had explosives to use. They started to applaud and cheer. They came down and many others joined their euphoric chants. I had no idea about the strength of the structure. It was the first time in my life, as a trained commando, to try to blow up a statue. If it were a military target it would have been much easier.
The Demolition – How It Happened
The bronze statue was huge and thick and the legs and feet had been filled with cement and fixed with iron poles to its rounded base. Altogether it took three attempts using TNT to pull it down because I miscalculated the relationship between TNT bricks to be used and the statue’s strength during the first two attempts. The people witness the first two failures and they got very impatient and angry. On the first attempt I used 3 TNT bricks, which was too few for such an edifice and all that resulted was a big explosion, a cloud of thick smoke and nothing else. The city reflected the echo of the explosion and the tension was so great that tempers began to rise. Some police, soldiers and many other citizens followed the sound and slowly the place begin to be filled with curious spectators. I still had some TNT bricks left in the black business case so I climbed up the ladder to the statue again.
More Explosives Needed!!
I had no other choice but to use the rest of the TNT hoping that 6 bricks were enough but this second explosion was not enough to demolish it and all that resulted was creating thicker smoke, louder sound and a 2 foot big hole in it’s right leg. The round copper base had heaved a little bit and the statue was leaning forward slightly but the loud explosion was good enough to raise the anger and hate in the hearts of the gathering crowds. The mobs were getting increasingly angry and impatient. I ran to Captain Samir, my commander, who was watching from his small car parked nearby and asked for more explosives. He gave me a box similar in size to the attache? case full of TNT blocks (12 bricks). I had to bring it down before somebody else would think of using a Plendicide (Swedish Bazooka) which we had more than enough available in the sides. Many people had small arms in their hands and they were not removed from the mob yet. It was a critical and dangerous situation for anyone who would dare to try to intervene. Knowing that the crowds patience was gone, I had to hurry my work so I asked my brother, a former Navy soldier, and an Egyptain Para corporal to join me to save time by helping me in placing the 12 TNT bricks around the legs. I connected the fuses to direct the explosion in the desired direction and so that it must fall down this time. On my signal we hurried down the ladder and ran for shelter.
In Dignity – It Fell Down
In dignity it fell down into a cargo pontoon. There was a very loud explosion and a large black cloud which enclosed the statue. It was like a Hollywood film as the statue leaned forward, turned upwards again and fell with dignity into a caro pontoon in the canal. Now it is interesting to know that there was, there by chance, a sort of cargo pontoon that was used to transport goods and had been docked by the side of the statue’s base, which coincidentally had been used by the British as a landing platform to facilitate their embarking the day before, and the Statue De Lesseps fell with dignity onto the pontoon, face down.
The mob began to applaud hysterically and cheering filled the air again with the rattling noise of many machine guns firing. We, my brother and I, retreated back and disappeared – and I had mixed feeling in my heart. This had been a special moment – not only for me, but also for my brother and Captain Samir.
De Lessops toppled
The explosion taken from one of the Royal Navy boats
Cairo Refused The Authorisation …!!
Captain Samir and I went back to check for Cairo’s response and authorisation. NO … was the delayed answer! On the afternnon of December 24th, a message came from Cairo prohibiting the demolition of the statue or any other European memorials or possessions in the city but it was now too late!! But there was still one more statue in the city … The New Zealand Memorial of the Unknown Soldier which was unfortunately demolished by the mobs after they had observed what had happened to De Lessep’s Statue.
In addition to withholding the permission, Cairo issued clear cut order to Captain Samir and to the underground resistance groups, to explicitly care that NO HARM would happen to any foreign citizen in the city – particularly Europeans and Americans if any, or their belongings or homes ….!
The message from Cairo, addressed to Captain Samir, included other instructions to the local police to comply with the above mentioned orders.
A Gesture of Good Will
A later Port Said Governor, a former police general (who happened to be a previous underground fighter while he was a lieutenant) wanted to re-erect the statue again as a gesture of good-will to the new Franco-Egyptian relationship and comply with a request from the French De Lesseps Club, who wanted to turn the area into a tourist attraction. His efforts were denied by some narrow-minded people, including Captain Samir, that simply objected and still object to the idea.
The statue lays in peace in the courtyard of the shipyard in Port Fouad where the former offices of La Companie Maritime de Suez du Canal had been. Restored in 1987 by the French De Lesseps Club it now stand, overlooking the Canal in the Port Fouad shipyard.
De Lessops Statue at Port Fouad
The empty base remains
DR. Yahia Al Shaer