Chapter 3: Home sweet home
The driver pulled up alongside an old ram shackled tin hut which was stuck at the far edge of the compound, and positioned about eighty yards from the perimeter barbed wire fence which surrounded the whole camp and was meant to keep intruders out.
“Is this it boys? home sweet home for the next six months!,” commented Fletch. “ Looks to me like even the pigs have moved out to make room for us,” commented Bing, who by this time had climed out of the vehicle and was now sat cross legged on the bonnet. “Maybe they couldnt stand the smell Bing!,” piped up Torchy. That shouldnt bother The Dog lads he’s use to living in a pig sty, shouted Rasher from the back of the armoured Land Rover,whilst climbing over the vehicle tailboard. The whole troop burst out laughing, but The Dog who was genrally used to telling all the jokes was not ammused and groweled to himself under his breath.
“Right lads lets get inside this dump and see if we cant get it looking more like home again,” ordered Bomber as he opened the old billet door. “Good God! what a bloody mess,there’s sand everywhere, and most of the wooden bunks are U.S., Woody get yer arse in here and sort out these broken wooden bunks lad ASAP.”
“No problem Sarg Im stright onto it, I’ll have these bloody bunks looking like new before you can stick a bayonet up a rebels arse and twist it”, said Woody with a big grin on his face.
“Dont know about the rest of you but Im bloody starving!” commented Sick Leave. “Lets get off to the camp canteen and see if they’ve saved us any grub.”
“Thats the best idea you’ve had all day Sick Leave,” said Bomber. “Are you sure you can make it on those legs of yours, cos I thought they’de turn to jelly when you tried to jump out of the bloody plane lad.” The whole troop burst out laughing again whilst pilling out of the billet door heading for the canteen which was situated over the other side of the camp compound.
After eating there fill in the camp canteen, the troop took a walk around the camp perimeter to familiarise themselves with the Salalah Air Base. Three listening posts were strategically place around the compound know to everyone as (Hedgehogs) to protect the base, and manned 24 hrs a day by Battalion personal who worked on a rota system of one day on ,one day off.
Mobile Radar units known as the Green Archer which had been invented to detect mortars were also dug in around the compound, and proved an invaluable asset when being threatened with incoming enemy mortar fire.
Air raid sirens sounded off whenever the rebels attacked with mortar fire to give everyone a chance to run as fast as they could to the nearest shelter.
The Sultans forces would use their heavy artillery guns, and their air force against rebels, firing back at every opportunity whilst our troops fired mortar shells which were also a significant asset in safeguarding the camp and surrounding airfield, and eliminated enemy positions on the surrounding hillsides on many occasions.
The camp had a great NAAFI, and the RMP troop spent their off duty leisure hours playing, darts, pool, or a game of dominos and cards. A camp radio station played everyone’s favourite music all day long and right up until midnight, this also read out news reports informing everyone about what was happening around the World, as well as giving out all the camp and local news.
All the British troops stationed at the air base were on call to give blood transfusions 24 hrs a day when and where required, which didn’t go down too well with Corporal Bing Crosby, as he loathed having to have injections but fortunately the camp had an excellent medical centre with army doctors on call day and night.
Unfortunately the living accommodation was nothing to write home about and the air conditioning was a joke. The RMP billet had two old electric fans that worked when they felt like it, and sometimes came on or off on their own. By midday the temperature in the billet reached 100 % during the months of May to August and tempers flared up very quickly in the heat of the day, so everyone use to look for a nice cool shady spot to get their heads down straight after duty.
Sergeant Bomber Hill was bunking down in the camp Sergeants Mess and liaised with the O.C. Captain Flowers on a day to day basis whilst awaiting special orders, but the troop was getting board by this time having to wait for HQ to give them the green light to start their mission.
A Supply plane flew in a few days later and had to run the gauntlet of enemy mortar shells once again, but managed to drop off the troop mail and her cargo of fresh vegetables and salad for the Battalion cook house ,which cheered up all the lads immensely.
“Hey up are kid, what yer think o these bloody awful foreign tomatas, look like ruddy watermelons and taste like sour bloody lemons, I’ll be glad ta get back home ta Yorkshire to me o’ld granddads allotment. Boy can he grow bloody good English tomatas Torch”. “I know what yer mean Bing it seems like months now since we tasted home cooking, I sure do miss me old mums apple pie, it makes yer mouth water just thinking about it pal.”
“Well don’t think about it!,” piped up The Dog”, “Just concentrate on the task in hand and then you can bloody starve to death.” He said with a big grin on his face.
“Can’t help it Dog, need to get as far away as I can from this foreign muck, boy do I hate these bloody tomatas,” commented Bing, just then Sergeant Bomber Hill came charging through the barrack room door.
“Think yourselves lucky you shower.” said Bomber as he pulled out a chair from underneath the barrack room table and sat down. “At least yer well fed and don’t do without, think of all the poor little sods out there who are starving in the World, anyway less of the debate, and let’s get down to some serious work.”
“Why Bomb have you heard something, have we been given the green light to go?” said Fletch as he walked into the room still wiping shaving cream off his face with his green army towel.
“It’s looking that way Fletch, we’ve been given orders to prepare ourselves for a little drive out into the desert, a rebel sympathiser was caught by the camp guard last night pacing out steps from the perimeter fence to the nearest Hedgehogs, so he could let his pals know exactly where to aim their mortar shells on their next airfield attack, but get this!, the bastard worked in the camp cookhouse as a dishwasher.”
“You just can’t trust any of these little bastards now Sarg”, commented The Dog.
“Anyway” continued Bomber, “ before I was rudely interrupted, he was arrested and interrogated by two officers from the Intelligent Corps, who stated that Adoo rebels were threatening to kill his family unless he helped them, Its wasn’t long before the little sod blurted out that another attack was imminent on 20 British Royal Engineers who’s aim is to construct schools and health centres, and drill wells for the population of Dhofar.”
“On the 19th July lads, a troop of 25 SAS men were despatched by helicopter to the British base at Mirbat, and for those of you who don’t know, it’s about 75 kms from our Salalah Air Base, and situated right on the coast. Intelligence coming in at the moment report that there is heavy fighting between British forces and at least 350 maybe 400 Adoo rebel fighters. Our job gentlemen will be to sign the route to the base, and secure the area as soon as the SAS have cleared out the Adoo rebel fighters. Is that perfectly clear lads. ? The O.C. and I will take the lead in the first Rover, and you Fletch will follow up in Popeye the second Land Rover. Sick Leave, will operate the radio system, and Woody will set up the LMG in the rear of the lead Rover travelling with myself and Blossom the C.O. Now move your arses, and let’s get all the weapons and equipment in the armoured Land Rovers and prepare to move out at first light OK!”
“Great, it’s about time we saw some action Sarg !” shouted Bing at the top of his voice.
Captain Flowers and his men set off from Salalah at first light to drive the 75 klm along the coastal track to the Mirabat British military base. After about thirty minutes Bomber who was driving the lead Land Rover suddenly pulled over to the edge of the road and came to a standstill.
By this time the troop had driven half way to Mirbat and were now only1 klm, just outside the town of Taqah. Blossom was already leaning against the side of the Land Rover looking through his binoculers at the surrounding shallow hillside, which also gave him a clear view of the Taqah Fort,whilst resting the binoculars on the Rovers canvas roof.
The annual monsoon period which lasted from June to September did nothing to help the British troops stationed in Dhofor, infact the surrounding countryside during this period was lush with green vegitation which gave the Adoo rebel fighters cover when they made their almost nightly incursions to mine the surrounding tracks and blow up the Falaj, which was the water system that supplied fresh water to the Garrison.
The rebels would descend into the lower foothills surrounding Salalah under the cover of darkness, fire off a dozen Katyusha rockets and retire once again into the hills. Fortunatly for the Garrison it was at the limit of the rocket range, and not too many fell within the enclosure, but the lads had learned that the wise thing to do was to fill up some empty rocket boxes with sand and place them all around your bed at night, but for now the troop had more things to worry about whilst travelling on the dangerous road to Mirbat.
“What’s the problem Sir!”, shouted Fletch who had just pulled up in Popeye directly behind the lead vehicle. “Dont know yet Fletch, but somethings not quite right, keep your wits about you and your weapons handy”, shouted Sergent Bomber Hill ,as he stepped out of the drivers side of the lead vehicle to take a look around for himself. “Better just check the vehicle tracks ahead Bing, take Torchy with you and prob the tracks for mines with the bayonet that I’ve put in (Popeye’s) drivers side door, OK Bing!,” Shouted out Bomber to the lads who were still sat in the rear of Popeye.
“Right O Sarg,will do”,
“Ayup Torch can tha look inta Popeye’s drivers side door for us and see if tha can find that bloody bayonet, am sure we fetched it we’us me old flower.” Instructed Bing in his usual broad Yorkshire acsent.
“Its not here Bing!,we must have took it out to open that can of beans the lads ate last night before we got our heads down.”
“Bugger! Dont say owt to Bomber Torch, he’ll skin me alive if he find ar’t have left it in ruddy billet.” Commented Bing in desparation.
“How About using old Popeye’s oil dip stick Bing, that will do the job nicely mate”, said Torchy, in a last chance to resolve the situation.” “Great idea me old luv, lets ger it na and get on we it before Bomber comes darn on us like a ton a bricks.”
Bing checked out the old vehicle tracks ahead of the lead vehicle, probing the hard sand slowly but very very carefully with the dip stick, whilst Torchy with his SMG at the ready covered his back.
The Adoo rebels had a very nasty habbit of slicing a section of hard sand that had a tyre print on it made by a previous vehicle and placing a mine under it, knowing full well that any military vehicles passing that point would be following in the previous tracks wrongly presumming that this would be the safest thing to do. Many Alied forces vehicles had been blown up in this way and many lives had been lost, so it was wise not to use the same tracks on this stretch of desert road.
“All clear na Sarg !”, shouted Bing to Bomber who was now discusing tactics for the mission ahead with Blossom the O.C
“OK mount up lads, and lets get out of here !, we’ve been stuck in this location too long already,and I dont like the look of it.” Ordered Blossom.
Red Troop drove on passed the fort and safely through the town of Taqah. “Urgent radio message coming through from 609 Signal ( Air Support ) team Sir,” shouted Sick Leave who was talking on the lead vehicle radio to the HQ Battery radio operator at RAF Salalah.
“OK Sick Leave what’s going on ?,” Shouted the O.C. Blossom, over the sound of the Land Rovers engine. “Better pull over to the side of the road and stop for awhile Sergeant Hill, so we can reply.” Commented Blossom.
“Sir, it appears that at 0600hrs yesterday on the 19 July the rebels attacked Mirbat Castle Fort where the British Army Training Team (BATT), and nine of our SAS lads are stationed. It appears that the Adoo rebels were intending to defeat the SAS guarding the approach to the town so that they could reach the Port of Mirbat over the slops of Jebel Ali, without any further opposition.
Apparently Sir, the SAS, C.O. Capt Kealy, saw the rebels advancing on the fort, but wasn’t exactly sure if they were the Omani Army or not coming back from ‘Night Picket.’ As soon as he realized that they were not friendly forces he immediately ordered his men to open fire”.
“The SAS lads took up positions on the roof of the fort Sir, firing at the Adoo rebels with L1A1SLR battle riffles, and a Browning heavy machine gun. Unfortunately the rebels were well armed Sir, and attacked the fort with Russian AK47 assault rifles, and mortar bombed the fort and surrounding area.
“Capt Kealy ordered his signaller again to request reinforcements. A small number of men from the Omani Intelligence Service joined the SAS on the roof of the fort doing their best to ward off the attack, and trying to keep the Adoo rebels at bay.”
“The HQ signaller also stated that a Sergeant from the Omani Army Special Forces ran the gauntlet of enemy fire to the gun emplacement and managed to operative a 25 Pounder Artillery Gun on his own which kept the rebels occupied for awhile, but sadly he died from a bullet wound after being shot in the neck.”
“Another of Captain Kealy’s men was shot in the stomach, but carried on shooting at the approaching rebels, and many of the lads were badly injured but fought on. Eventually his signaller managed to contact the Sultan of Oman’s Air Force who arrived just in time to save the fort from being overrun by Adoo rebel fighters. “The Omani air strikes killed off at least 75% of the rebel force Sir, forcing the rest to run to the hills for cover. Reinforcement from G Squadron have now arrived, and all the injured SAS lads have been air lifted to hospital by helicopter.”
“HQ report that what’s left of the rebel force have now completely withdrawn to the hills, and stated that we should be aware that whilst on route to Mirbat we may come under heavy attack from pockets of rebel troops that are still hiding in the hills Sir.”
“Shall I reply in the usual coded message Sir?” Requested Sick Leave, still shaking from the news of the Adoo rebel attack on the Mirbat Fort.
“Yes Corporal Silver, and inform HQ that we will head directly to the coastal British base, unless there’s a change in our orders.”
“Doesn’t sound too good Sergeant Hill, better tell the men to be on full alert until we reach the safety of Mirbat base.”
No sooner had their vehicles started to move off than a rebel riffel bullet struck the winsreen of the lead vehicle with such force that it shatered into a thousand pieces and slamed into the learther covering of the Land Rover passanger seat, luckiy missing Blosoms skull and only slightly grazing his left ear, although blood immediatly started to pour from the wound and run down his karki shirt.
“ Put your foot down Sergent Hill, GO, GO, GO!,” screamed Blossom, as he held both his hands over the wound to try to stop the flow of blood, which by this time had compleatly soaked through his karki shirt, and was now spilling all over the Land Rover floor.
Bomber slammed the Rover into top gear and pressed his foot hard onto the excelerator whilst shouting to the passangers to hang on for dear life, and at the same time zigzaging the vehicle all over the road to prevent the rebels from taking a clear shot, fortunatly they were on a slight encline and the Land Rover took off at high speed.
“Are the lads in Popeye still with us Woody,” shouted out Blossom anxiously. “Yes sir!, right up our arse, are you OK Sir?” Concluded Woody, worried about the amount of blood still gushing from his O.C.s ear.
“Dont worry about me Woody, just keep your bloody head down lad, and your finger squeesed on that ruddy LMG trigger, and dont hesitate to mow the bastards down if you see from which direction those rebel shots are coming from!”
After driving at full speed for a futher 2 klm Bomber felt it was now reasonably safe to pull over and he stoped the Land Rover underneath the cover of some rocks which were looming up at the side of the road. (Popeye) the rear Land Rover which was right on their tail, pulled up close behind them.
”Woody!” Called out Bomber Hill. “Run up the side of that banking over there lad and set up the LMG to give the troop some cover whilst I see to the O.Cs wounds.“Will Do Sarg, right a way!”
Bomber opened the passenger door, leaning over the O.Cs shoulder to reach the first aid box which had been lodge behind the passenger seat. Blossom by this time was leaning forward looking rather pale, and starting to feel faint from the loss of blood, which was now spread all over his seat and covering the Land Rover floor.
Tiny ran round the side of the lead Rover with a roll of toilet paper to help clean up the mess, whilst Bomber wrapped a dressing around Blossom’s left ear. “That should feel a little easier now Sir, we should make the safety of the British garrison at Mirbat if we push on just after midday with a bit of luck.” Said Bomber.
“Right you lot!, gather round here”. Ordered Bomber. “As you all know by now the O. C.s in pretty bad shape, so we’re going to push on to the safety of the Mirbat coastal Garrison. Keep yer bloody eyes peeled, and your weapons handy just in case we have to make a quick exit from the vehicles. If that should be the case, get down low behind the nearest cover and let the little bastards have a taste of lead.”
“ The Dog, will issue each man with 3 grenades from the ammo box in the back of Popeye before we mount up, strap them to your ammo pouches, and don’t hesitate to use them if the little sods get too close for comfort. Sick Leave you stay with the radio unless it’s put out of action, if that happens, grab the portable two way radio and get to some cover ASAP so you can call for back up sharpish, is that fully understood by everyone ?”
“Thank God for that,” said The Dog with a big grin on his face. For one fate full minute there Sarg I thought you were going to let Sick Leave loose with a grenade.” “That’s not a bad ideawe could strap the bloody box a grenades to his belt Sarg, and he could pull the pin whilst running towards the bastards.” piped up Torchy, and everyone started laughing.
“ OK that’s enough larking about lads, let’s get back in the vehicles and get the hell out of here, the sooner we reach safety the better,” cried Bomber.
DHOFAR, Mirbat - the left half of this photo encompasses the area over which was fought the pivotal Battle of Mirbat on 19 July 1972.