Salalah Salalah is the second largest city in the Sultanate of Oman, and the largest city in the Dhofar Provence. Salalah is also the birthplace of the current Sultan, Qaboos bin Said. Sultans traditionally lived in Salalah rather than in Muscat, the capital and largest city in Oman; Qaboos changed this trend, and has lived in Muscat since he ascended to the throne in 1970. The Dhofar Rebellion was launched in the province of Dhofar against the Sultanate of Oman The Sultanate had British Military support and the rebellion ended with the defeat of the rebels in 1976.
Kevin Patience Couple of photographs of the Fort (BATT House) taken when Kevin was visiting Salalah. This was in 1995 and again in 96. The two pix might be of interest as it had changed little since 72. The right hand shows the gun pit where the action took place..
John Seccombe - Introduction to Salalah and the first morning. It was now the summer of 1970 and I was enjoying my life at RAF Fairford and being involved with Concorde and the test pilot Brian Trubshaw. My family were also happy in our unique married quarter in Blake Road; situated in the picturesque Abbey grounds of Cirencester. Unique because our front door opened on to the park area, affording a picturesque view, including a lake populated by ducks and swans, the setting was idyllic. My life was about to change drastically, with notice of posting to Cyprus for 3 years with the family. Having served there from 1956 to 1959 during the worst of the EOKA troubles, I would have pleasure in taking Martin back to his birthplace, but I was about to spend ten months in a far more hostile environment than Cyprus, back in the 50s.
My Mother in law was still very poorly and with the boys still in boarding school in Shoreham, I felt it would be unfair to take her daughter away for three years. I contacted RAF Innsworth to ask to change my Cyprus posting to an unaccompanied tour that would be of shorter duration. I had in mind RAF Gan, a pleasant posting in the Indian Ocean, but the posting offered me was RAF Salalah, a posting which ironically my colleague at Fairford, Ernie Pearson, was destined to fill, he was very pleased to allow me to take his place. He was not looking forward to Salalah. Later that week I learned that Ernie had managed to wangle his way out of ‘hardship’ postings twice before, but the powers that be decided he would be joining me as my deputy.
At this point I had served 23 years in the Air force, thirteen of which were overseas in Germany, Holland, Cyprus and North Africa. I thought I knew most of the possible overseas postings that were available, but I had never heard of this one. I made enquiries and discovered that I was not alone in my ignorance. No one seemed to have heard of this mysterious place called Salalah. I visited the library and discovered that Salalah was as far south as you can get, in the Muscat of Oman in the Persian Gulf.
Oman was once a British colony, and had endured many conflicts and it was at this time going through more troubles with South Yemen rebels who were hell bent on taking over the area. Sultan Taimur ruled this country for many years but was holding the country back with his repressive laws and his refusal to make use of the new wealth which came with the discovery of oil in 1963. His son Sultan Qaboos came to England to be educated and was trained in politics and military strategy. He graduated from Sandhurst in 1962 and served in the British army with a commission in one of the Scottish regiments.
Sultan Qaboos returned to Salalah in 1964 but was treated badly by his father, Taimur, who distrusted his son so much that he placed him in isolation for the next six years, refusing to give him a responsible position in the Palace. Sultan Qaboos was for using the wealth of the country to benefit his people and give them the same freedoms and lifestyles that he had enjoyed in Europe. On July 23rd 1970 Qaboos, with backing from the British Government, assumed control of the Sultanate of Oman in a bloodless coup. I was reliably informed that there was a little blood spilt, and that was by his father accidentally shooting himself in the foot with a bungled attempt to draw a revolver from his holster! The deposed Sultan was flown to London and resided at the Dorchester until his death in 1982. He is buried in the military cemetery at Brookwood in Surrey. My flight to Salalah was again in a Viscount aircraft, that took off from RAF Hendon on the 13th of October 1970. It landed at RAF Muharraq (Bahrain), RAF Sharjah and RAF Masirah, with a half an hour stop at each, for a servicing stop and deplaning other airmen to be stationed at these places. An interesting part of the journey was observing the many oil fields with large torches of flame burning off the surplus gases. As the aircraft circled to land at R.A.F. Salalah I remember looking out of the window for signs of a usual Air Force station, there were none, just a barbed wired compound containing, a few one storey brick buildings, the only recognizable feature being the Air Traffic Control Tower. The Viscount aircraft landed on an unfinished runway, leaving trails of dirt and sand in its wake, and came to a stop just inside a barbed wire fence. I noticed a few sand stone buildings spread around, in a compound that was about a mile square.
The sun was putting itself to bed when I stepped off the aircraft and I soon discovered there was no luxury of an arrival lounge. Flight Lieutenant Lobley, the C.O., met me and took me directly to the Sergeants Mess, a walk of about a hundred yards across a rough sandy and stony terrain known as the ‘bondoo’, there I met my fellow Senior NCOs, one of them Chief Technician Bullock, my predecessor. Following the brief introductions, I was taken to my room that was part of a sandstone flat-roofed building divided into eight bunks, four at the rear and four at the front. Each bunk was ‘luxuriously’ furnished with a bed, a bedside locker a chair, a small wardrobe and a four-foot diameter ceiling fan. My luggage soon arrived, delivered by an Indian steward, who was part of the Mess staff.
I had been advised as to the location of the ablution shed, which was a roof on stilts which sheltered twelve galvanized bowls. I walked twenty yards to this area, selected a bowl and filled it with cold water, (gravity fed from a water tower) and spruced myself up ready to return to the Sergeants Mess for supper, that was washed down with a warm beer. I joined my fellow S.N.C.O.’s at the bar where a good old natter took place with a background noise of the RAF Regiment, just 40 yards from the rear of the Mess, firing mortars into the hills.
I was to discover that this was a regular occurrence and part of the ongoing conflict with the rebels in the hills who were trying to capture the area. During the evening I was informed by Jim Bullock that he was hoping to leave first thing in the morning, unless I insisted on a proper handover. During the banter I learned that I was going to be responsible for the running of Motor Transport; General Engineering; Salalah Radio Broadcasts and I would be the Cinema Projectionist. After a few more drinks it was agreed that I sign all the paperwork there and then, taking the inventories on trust. At 2am we locked the Mess and retired to bed, a fifty-yard walk across the bondoo.
Taking over four positions of responsibility in a camp that only had a total of 75 RAF personnel but plenty of excitement, was going to keep me well interested in the environment of the camp and its surrounds. My main duty was Motor Transport officer, others duties being secondary but no less important for the well being and happy atmosphere that was necessary in maintaining a high level of esprit de corps. Most senior positions at RAF Salalah, normally filled by a commissioned officer, were filled by non-commissioned personnel. The four Officer posts were, Commanding Officer Flight Lieutenant Lobley; the Station Adjutant Pilot Officer Von Hof; a Pilot Officer in Air Traffic Control and a Medical Officer, whose names I am unable to recall.
At 7.30am the next morning my tour of duty started with a rude awakening! The telephone rang in my bunk and a voice on the other end said “There is a mine on the Reisut Road”. “Sorry” I said “but I think you’ve got the wrong number” and put the phone down. That was my first mistake! The phone rang again and I was told in language not too polite, to vacate my bed forthwith and to deal with the situation! My dilemma was that not only was I disorientated, having woken up in a strange bed, but also I had been bellowed at by an unknown person, about a road I had never heard of and a mine, which I thought I didn’t have to know about. What should I do next? Normally, in circumstances that require a decision I make a cup of tea, but the voice on the other end of the line left me in no doubt that “mine on Reisut Road” is of top priority and requiring immediate action. I quickly vacated my bed and looked around the bunk for clues as to what to do. I found a list of telephone numbers, one of which was the Station Duty Officer’s number, which I assumed was where the call had emanated. I found a less frightening number, that of the duty MT Corporal, whom I rang to get an idea of what to do, and was quite relieved that he, Corporal Bush, would tell me all I wanted to know about this unfamiliar situation.
I learned that one of my unusual duties was to ensure that the Reisut Road, an eighteen-mile stretch linking the Salalah camp to the sea at Reisut, was mine-swept each morning at 06.00hrs. The driver carrying out this duty this day with one of the two Chobham mine clearance vehicles, had come across a mine in the middle of the said road.
Cpl Bush was with me within five minutes and in no time at all we were following the procedure laid down for such an event. Firstly, verify by two-way radio with “Jumbo”, the Chobham mine clearance vehicle, his location and that of the ‘mine’. Then to contact Captain “Spike” Powell, the mine clearance officer, who was seconded to the Sultan of Oman’s Army. The Captain was based at the Dofahr Army HQ just a few miles north of the barbed wired compound of RAF Salalah.
Corporal Bush and I eventually arrived at the spot where the clearance vehicle had found the mine. We walked forward to verify the existence of the mine, having first remonstrated with the driver of the Chobham vehicle for sitting on top of the vehicle in full view of possible rebel snipers. I had seen small mines before when I was attached to the Army in 1966, but they were in safe circumstances. I approached this one quite warily. I could not be sure it was a mine until I was about three yards from it. I felt uncomfortably scared as I viewed the object, which was about 12 inches in diameter not unlike a flat saucepan lid. I withdrew to a safe distance, to await the arrival of Captain Powell, the bomb disposal officer who arrived all hale and hearty about 15 minutes later in a Land Rover.
The Land Rover was looking rather desert weary and dilapidated, nevertheless it carried the equipment to complete the many various tasks of disposal including a drum of nylon and an Italian sub machine gun mounted on the rear. After the niceties of introductions Captain Powell walked with me to the mine, he with a spring in his step, me with slower and more cautious gait. We stood looking at top of the mine and there was a fair amount showing, which was result of a very windy night which had blown much of the sand from its top surface. I was now standing much closer to the mine with the Captain and was certainly very scared but I hoped that “Spike” Powell was not aware just how scared I was. He was consulting a book that indicated that the mine was a Russian TU?? that was booby-trapped top and bottom, by spring devices.
I became even more concerned when he asked for my assistance, which meant taking charge of a drum of nylon, and moving much closer to the frightening object! Captain Powell went up to the mine and knelt about a foot from it. He worked around the periphery of the mine with what appeared to be a flat piece of wood, shaped like a dagger. He used the wooden tool to clear loose stones from around the perimeter. I could not tell how he was feeling at this time, but I do remember that my level of anxiety rose more sharply. In a very short while he came back to me and took the end of the nylon from the drum and made a slip noose. Returning to the mine, he knelt down and gingerly placed the noose around the perimeter. I presume that he had made a circular channel for this purpose. Again he returned to where I was standing and together we retreated, like two Pink Panthers. Slowly and very carefully we payed out slack nylon from the drum. Captain Powel said to me “Whatever you do keep the line slack and don’t fall over”!
When we reached a safe distance Captain Powel lit a cigarette, and gave the order for the Mine Clearance Vehicle to retreat a further 100 yards. We then started to reel in the slack nylon, Spike Powel surveying the operation with binoculars to ensure the nylon had reached the noose without snagging. It all went quite smoothly in an atmosphere where the only sound was the ssh of the shifting sand, unique to vast dessert areas. When the appropriate tension was judged to be correct, Captain Powell lit another cigarette and then gave me the privilege of snatchIng the noose, which resulted in a very loud bang and a cloud of rock and sand exploded ten to fifteen feet into the air. My next surprise was to be told that I was responsible for filling in the crater left by the explosion! Corporal Bush put my mind at rest by telling me that all I had to do was to inform the Royal Engineers and they would get the job done. Much relieved with the satisfactory conclusion we returned to base.
RAF Museum London and Cosford
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