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The Battle of Mirbat took place on 19 July 1972 during the Dhofar Rebellion in Omanmarker, which was supported by Communist guerrilla from South Yemen. Britainmarker assisted the Omani government by sending elements of its Special Air Servicemarker both to train soldiers and compete against the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman (PFLOAG) guerrillas for the "hearts and minds" of the Omani people.

Battle

At 6 am on 19 July 1972 the PFLOAG attacked the British Army Training Team (BATT) house, which housed the nine SAS soldiers, based just outside the Port of Mirbat. The PFLOAG (locally known as the Adoo) attacked the SAS BATT house knowing that to be able to reach the Port of Mirbat they would first have to defeat the SAS guarding the approach to the town in Jebel Ali, a series of small desert slopes leading to the Port.

The Officer in Command, Captain Mike Kealy observed the waves advancing on the fort, but did not order his men to open fire because he thought it was the "Night Picket" coming back from night shift, which were a loyal group of the Omani Army positioned on the slopes to warn the BATT house of Adoo troop movements. Realising that the Night Picket must have been killed, due to them not warning the SAS of the assault Mike Kealy ordered his men to open fire. Mike Kealy along with other members of the team took up positions behind the sand-bag parapet on the roof of the BATT house, firing at the Adoo with SLR 7.62mm assault rifles, with one man firing the .50 Browning M2 Heavy Machine Gun, with a further two men on ground level operating and firing an infantry mortar surrounded by sand-bags. The Adoo were armed with AK47 assault rifles, and were mortar bombing the area around the BATT house. Kealy ordered the signaller to establish communications with SAS Headquarters at Um al Quarif, to request reinforcements.

There were also a small number of Omani Intelligence Service personnel in the BATT House, a small contingent of Pakistani soldiers and a member of British Military Intelligence seconded to the OIS who joined the team on the roof and fired on the Adoo with SLRs and other small arms. Initially some of the Pakistani soldiers were reluctant to join the defense of the fort because their roles with the BATT were largely administrative, but they obeyed orders from Mike Kealy and the British Military Intelligence Corporal.

Knowing that the SLRs would not be of full use until the Adoo were closer than the weapon's range of 800 metres, and lacking more heavy firepower, Sergeant Talaiasi Labalaba made a run for the 25 Pounder Artillery Piece which was positioned next to a smaller fort which stationed nine Omani Army Special Forces soldiers, who had not played a part in the battle. Talaiasi Labalaba managed to operate the weapon, which is a three-man job, himself and fire a round a minute at the approaching Adoo, directing their attention away from the BATT house. Kealy received a radio message from Talaiasi reporting that a bullet had skimmed his face, and was badly injured, and was struggling to operate the gun by himself. At the BATT house Kealy asked for a volunteer to run to Talaiasi's aid. Sergeant Sekonaia Takavesi voluntered to go.

Sekonaia Takavesi ran from the BATT house, with the remaining men providing covering fire, in an attempt to distract the Adoo. Sekonaia ran the 800 metres through heavy gunfire, and reached the gun emplacement. Sekonaia tried to give aid to his injured friend, while firing at the approaching Adoo with his personal weapon. Realising that they needed help, Sekonaia tried to raise the small number of Omani soldiers inside the smaller fort, and Walid Khamis emerged. The remaining Omani soldiers in the fort engaged the enemy with small arms fire from firing positions on the roof and through the windows of the fort. As the two men made it back to the emplacement, the Omani soldier fell dead after being shot in the stomach with a 7.62 mm bullet. Adoo continued to advance upon the BATT house, and artillery emplacement. At one point, the Adoo were so close Sekonaia and Talaiasi fired the weapon at point blank range, aiming down the barrel. Talaiasi crawled across a small space to reach a 60 mm Infantry Mortar, but fell dead after being shot in the neck. Sekonaia, also shot through the shoulder continued to fire at the approaching Adoo with his personal weapon. The squad signaller sent messages through to the main Forward Operating Base, to request air support and medical evacuation for the men in the gun emplacement.

Captain Kealy and Trooper Tobin began the run to the artillery piece. On reaching it they both dived in to avoid the heavy gunfire which had intensified, due to the Adoo fighting harder to overrun the emplacement. Sekonaia still continued to fire on the approaching Adoo, propped up against sand bags after being shot through the stomach, narrowly missing his spine. The Adoo threw several hand grenades, but all failed to detonate, except one which exploded behind the emplacement causing no injury. Trooper Tobin reached over the body of Talaiasi, but while doing so was hit in the face by a bullet and fell mortally wounded. By this time, the Royal Air Force had arrived, and began strafing the Adoo in the Jebel Ali, and dropping a 500 lb bomb where they were taking refuge. Reinforcements arrived from G Squadron and, defeated, the PFLOAG withdrew at about 12:30 pm. All wounded SAS soldiers were evacuated, and given medical treatment.

Aftermath

"Mirbat gun" at the Firepower museum of the Royal Artillery
The 25-pounder gun, now known as the "Mirbat gun" which was used by Fijian, Sergeant Talaiasi Labalaba during the siege is now housed in the Firepower museummarker of the Royal Artillery at the former Royal Arsenalmarker, Woolwichmarker. Sgt Labalaba was killed in action. He displayed notable bravery by continuing to fire the 25-pounder (which normally required a crew of four to six men) although seriously wounded. Labalaba's actions helped to keep the insurgents pinned down until a relief force arrived. Labalaba was awarded a posthumous Mention in Dispatches for his actions in the Battle of Mirbat, although some of his former comrades have campaigned for him to be awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.

The following SAS soldiers were present at Mirbat on 19 July 1972:

  • Captain Mike Kealy
  • Staff Sergeant Talaiasi Labalaba
  • Sergeant Bob Bennett
  • Corporal Roger Cole
  • Lance Corporal P. Walne
  • Trooper Sekonaia Takavesi
  • Trooper Tommy Tobin
  • Austin "Fuzz" Hussey
  • Corporal L. M. Taylor


Kealy received the Distinguished Service Order, Takavesi the Distinguished Conduct Medal, and Bennett the Military Medal. These were announced three years after the event. An Omani from the fort, Walid Khamis, was injured during the battle and received the Sultan's Gallantry Medal[69908] - Oman's highest award.

The battle was under-reported and many considered the SAS team deserving of further individual awards for gallantry. However, many in Oman at that time perceived a desire by HM Government and the MoD to downplay incidents of direct involvement of British service personnel in military action. The British Military Intelligence Corporal received a medal for gallantry from the Sultan (for this action and others) but was threatened with disciplinary action by the British Army for being directly involved in the action at Mirbat.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes alleged in his book The Feathermen that Mike Kealy was murdered years later in the Brecon Beaconsmarker by an Arab militant cell. However, the circumstances of Mike Kealy's death suggest that this is somewhat fanciful as he was seen by other service personnel undergoing the same SAS endurance exercise only a few hours beforehand in deteriorating weather conditions, was in fact found alive (but in poor condition) by a two-man search party - one of whom stayed with him and attempted to keep him warm. It was later acknowledged by the Coroner that one of the major contributory factors in his death was the delay in retrieving him from the hillside - a delay of some 19 hours.

References

  1. Description of the battle




External links




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