Aden was occupied by the British East India Company (BEIC) on 18th January 1839 as part of a campaign to stop piracy conducted against shipping transiting to India. Aden was thereafter administered as Aden Settlement, part of British India. Initially the British East India Company concentrated on protecting the urban areas and anchorages. This saw defences constructed in the following locations:
- Steamer Point
- Hejaf and Little Pass
- Isthmus Defences
- Crater Defences including Sirah Island
While a useful naval base, Aden did not become a major priority until the Suez Canal opened . With the opening of the Canal, a naval force operating from Aden could effectively seal the entrance to hostile vessels, thus preventing it being used by any enemy. Aden also proved an ideal location for the steamships that need to replenish their coal bunkers and it became a coaling station.
Perim Island, which was also under British control, lay some one hundred and eight miles (174 km) to the West of Aden, and sat at the mouth of the Red Sea. Perim Island was considered as a coaling station but being only three miles (5.6 km) by two miles (7 km) it was too small to be viable as a major base. Perim was used for commercial coaling and linked to the undersea telegraphic cable.
The defence of Aden was considered in 1870, 1872, 1879 and 1881. The Colonel Crossman report in June 1882 was accepted by the Royal Commission on the Defence of British Possessions and Commerce Abroad under that Chair of Lord Carnarvon. Steps were then taken to provide adequate coastal defences to Aden Settlement and its’ coaling facilities.