In the far south of Oman is the location of one of Britain’s Special Air Service’s (SAS) more publicly known battles ‘The Battle of Mirbat’. On 25th October 2018, Prince Harry unveiled a memorial in Nadi, western Fiji, to one of the key participants, the Fijian Sergeant Talaiasi Labalaba, of SAS.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of the Occupied Arabian Gulf (PFLOAG) were fighting against the Oman Government in its southern province of Dhofar. The PFLOAG were supported by the communist government of South Yemen who in turn were supported by many of the world’s communist countries. The Oman government was supported by Britain, Iran & Jordan.
On 19 July 1972 PFLOAG moved down, before dawn, from the Jabal Samhan mountain behind the town of Mirbat and captured an Oman Army lookout location on a small hill, Jabal Ali overlooking the Tomb of Mohammed bin Ali, to the north of the town. They were taking advantage of the cloud and mist cover created by this region’s summer monsoon.
Following this capture, PFLOAG moved under the cover of mist towards the town and a house, 1,200meters from Jabal Ali, where 9 SAS soldiers and part of the 55 men support team were located.
The men inside the house were caught by surprise as they assumed the activity was part of their own forces returning after night patrol.
A gun battle ensued against up to 300 PFLOAG members. The SAS & team didn’t have access to suitable weapons and a decision was made that Sergeant Talaiasi Labalaba would cross through open ground in front of the advancing PFLOAG members to a small ‘Gendarmerie Fort’, located on a low hill 450meters east of the house, that had an artillery gun.
On reaching the Gendarmerie Fort Sergeant Labalaba managed to manoeuvre a 25pound artillery gun, normally requiring 6 men to use it, and fire shells at the opposing men. Eventually, he was wounded and another Fijian, Trooper Sekonaia Takavesi, made the same run across to the Gendarmerie Fort to help him.
Here they managed to get support from the Omani soldiers in the Gendarmerie Fort (part of the 55 men support team) and they continued what was now an effective but desperate defence in which Sergeant Labalaba was killed. More help was clearly needed and the unit commander Captain Kealy and Trooper Tobin made the same 450meter run. Under heavy attack, Trooper Tobin was also wounded.
The day was turned by the arrival of BAC Strikemaster light-attack jets and additional soldiers helicoptered in from Salalah 65km away during a clearance of the low clouds.
My updated edition of the Bradt Guide to Oman has more information about Mirbat and Dhofar in general -the guide is available here.
Sergeant Talaiasi Labalaba was “Mentioned in Despatches” though many feel that he should also be awarded Britain’s highest war medal, the Victoria Cross.
The Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry unveiled the statue commemorating Sergeant Talaiasi Labalaba.#RoyalVisitFiji pic.twitter.com/NetVkzfqS0
— ukinfiji 🇬🇧🇫🇯 (@ukinfiji) October 25, 2018
The memorial in Fiji is the second for Sergeant Labalaba, the other is in Hereford, Britain, where he is also buried.
Prince Harry unveiled a statue of Sergeant Talaiasi Labalaba and the video gives some background.
You will get a more complete overview of Dhofar with my book The Land of Frankincense which is available as an eBook here, and paperback through Amazon worldwide.
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