Last Stand in Oman (3/4)

Tuesday 25th November
8:00pm on five

Continuing this week is the drama-documentary series that highlights the heroic work carried out by Britain’s special forces. This instalment recreates the extraordinary events of 18 July 1972, when a group of nine SAS soldiers defended a small fort on the southern coast of Oman from some 300 communist insurgents. The battle pushed the troops to their very limits and has become known by many as the SAS’s finest hour.

At the beginning of the 1970s, a group of soldiers was stationed at Mirbat in the desert of southern Oman as part of a secret SAS mission. Their role was to defend the pro-British Omani sultan and protect the Arabian oil fields from communist insurgents, known locally as Adoo. Their HQ was a British Army Training Team (BATT) house, positioned near the town’s fort.

The BATT house would come under attack from small groups of Adoo every few days, but the battles were always short and easily won by the SAS. However, on 18 July 1972, something changed. It was in the middle of the night when a series of mortar rounds was fired at HQ. Normally, the soldiers would receive forewarning of an incoming attack from the ‘night picket’ – a group of local soldiers allied to the British cause who were stationed in the nearby mountains. But no warning had come. “I thought, ‘Where’s the night picket?’,” recalls Staff Sgt Peter Winner. What they did not know was that the night picket were all dead.

As the soldiers surfaced, they were greeted by the sight of scores of heavily armed insurgents advancing unchecked across the plain towards them. “Thirty or 40 of them appeared at a range of about 300 metres, and they were advancing at speed,” says SAS Sgt Talaiasi Labalaba. As soon as
the soldiers returned fire, the Adoo numbers swelled to around 300. “It was a determined, sustained attack,” says SSgt Winner. “The noise was horrific,” adds Austen ‘Fuzz’ Hussey. The Adoo’s target was the 25-pound artillery gun positioned in a pit by the fort. If they could take this, they could aim it at the nearby town, and the battle would be lost. Operating this old WWII gun was normally a three-man job, but Sgt Labalaba was manning it alone, aiming, firing and reloading at speed. However, when he stopped firing, the other troops knew they were in trouble. With Sgt Labalaba incapacitated, Sgt Sekonaia Takavesi, known as ‘Tak’, made a suicidal dash across 800m of open land to the gun pit. “Nothing was going to stop me from running up there,” recalls Tak. Against all the odds, he managed to
dodge the hail of bullets and help his friend.

At this point, British jets appeared over the clouds, and the SAS men thought they were saved. “I personally thought, ‘This is it’,” says SSgt Winner. But the insurgents turned their machine guns onto the jets. Within minutes, both planes were hit and had to return to the RAF base. “It was pretty deflating,” says SSgt Winner. With the jets gone, the enemy regrouped and tried to surround the SAS. Tak took an AK47 round to the shoulder, but propped himself up and fought on. “A lesser man would have given up, but not Tak,” says SSgt Winner. The Adoo started to lob grenades into the pit, but they miraculously failed to explode. Back at HQ, Cpt Kealy knew Tak needed help, so he and medic Tommy Tobin sprinted across no-man’s- land to the pit. While Cpt Kealy made it, Tommy Tobin was hit just a matter of feet from safety. “This was a desperate situation,” says SSgt Winner.

Just then, two more jets came by and began to drop 500-pound bombs, sending the enemy scattering for cover. Then, salvation came in the form of SAS G Squadron, who arrived in the nick of time and surrounded the remaining Adoo. The battle was won, but bodies were everywhere, including that of Sgt Labalaba. Tommy Tobin also died from his injuries. However, the defeat broke the morale of the Adoo, and they would never attack with such ferocity again. “They thought they were in for a good day out,” says SSgt Winner of the insurgents he faced on that fateful day. “But they didn’t know the SAS were in town.”

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