How nine British heroes entered SAS legend by fighting off 4. By. Tony Rennell for Mail. Online. Updated. 0. GMT, 1. 8 August 2. High on the rooftop of the old mud building, the two SAS soldiers peered out into the desert. For six desperate hours, they and seven comrades had been under siege, desperately fighting off an army of Arab insurrectionists intent on sweeping them from the face of the earth. They were surrounded, outnumbered by at least 2.
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Courage: Trooper Roger Cole with a captured 7. Chinese grenade during SAS Operation Storm in the Gulf State of Oman in 1. Then, in the distance, they glimpsed a V- formation of men coming towards them. If these were rebel reinforcements, then it was all over. Bennett counted his — less than a full magazine, fewer than 2. They would fight to the end but they weren’t going to be taken alive. In desert wars like this one in the Gulf state of Oman in 1.
Two SAS soldiers caught in neighbouring Yemen had been beheaded and their heads displayed on spikes. Cole dragged out the last box of grenades. They would hurl these down on any rebels who tried to get through the door — and then, if that failed, shoot themselves with their last bullets to avoid capture.
Roger Cole with fellow SAS 'trainers' and local troops in 1. Russian Katyusha rocket.
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The crucial point had been reached in the Battle of Mirbat. Now recognised as the most heroic action the SAS ever fought, it remains unknown to most people because it was part of a secret war, one that officially Britain had no part in. Cole — as we will see — survived the action that day.
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In a book to be published later this month, he describes that extraordinary battle and reveals how close the SAS came to death and defeat as they stood their ground against an army counted in hundreds. Officially, of course, they weren’t really there.
In those days, nearly 4. Hereford were a shadow force that few people, even in their own country, knew existed. It would not be until the next decade that they emerged into the public eye as super- heroes with the Iranian embassy siege in London. For now, their activities were veiled in total secrecy.
Dispatched by the Foreign Office, a small clandestine contingent slipped into oil- rich Oman. Their mission was to prevent this strategic land at the mouth of the Gulf from falling to anti- government communist insurgents of the PFLO, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman. Omani hero Walid Khamis is pictured, who fought alongside the SAS at Mirbat - he was severely wounded but survived. Theoretically they were just advisers, tasked to bring the pro- British Sultan’s soldiers up to speed.
In reality the British Army Training Team, as they were officially designated, was his backbone and his driving force. The trouble was that the red guerrillas, trained and armed by China and the Soviet Union, were winning. They already held huge swathes of the rugged, rocky and largely barren land. If they took Mirbat, a fishing village, the way would be open to Muscat, the capital, and the sultan’s days would be numbered. The Cold War was at its height, with proxy conflicts raging around the globe. Here, if the communists gained control of the Straits of Hormuz — the channel alongside Oman through which most of the free world’s oil was shipped — the reds would have their boot on the West’s windpipe.
But inside their quarters, the thoughts of the nine- man unit from the SAS’s B Squadron were of home. Tak and Laba pictured with the 2.
Omani gunners. Their tour was coming to an end. Tomorrow they would fly out, to be replaced by G Squadron, who were already in Oman and waiting at an air base 4. They slept peacefully that night, unaware that heavily armed rebel fighters were massing outside along dried- up riverbeds, preparing to attack. The sound of the first mortar shell just before dawn roused them.
Within seconds, Cole had rolled out of bed and was in his machine- gun nest on the roof, concealed behind six layers of sandbags. It was a dark and chilly morning, with a thick swirling mist through which he could see nothing. But sounds of hostile activity out in the desert reached him. He opened a tin of margarine and spread its contents over the ammunition belt. The margarine would save his life that day by keeping the gun lubricated and firing. Fuzz and Roger are pictured in the mortar pit..
He clicked the gun to the . Large machine guns were mounted on hills overlooking the approaches to Mirbat.
Against them, the SAS could muster just an old- fashioned 2. World War II, a Browning anti- aircraft gun which could fire only two rounds at a time, Cole’s machine gun and two mortars. Each soldier had a rifle, and their commander, Captain Mike Kealy, carried a pistol.
They should have been overrun and wiped out in no time. But they put up a fierce resistance. As the rebels launched a full- scale, head- on assault against the outer perimeter, Cole rattled off bursts of bullets from the roof and saw enemy soldiers fall. He raked the bodies with gunfire again to make sure.
A Bell Augusta helicopter pictured - the first chopper into the Mirbat battle zone was shot seven times, missing the pilot by inches. Alongside him, Bennett spotted the enemy positions and called out directions to . Half a mile away on the other side of the defensive circle, the other Fijian, Corporal Talaiasi Labalaba, known as Laba, a giant of man, was in charge of the 2. Crouching behind its metal shield, he skidded low- level shells at the enemy as they wormed their way towards the barbed wire perimeter.
This was a gun designed to fire over a distance of seven miles. Here it was being pointed and used at short range, almost like a rifle. It was normally crewed by four, not one. Both sides knew the big gun was crucial to the defence of Mirbat. The rebels targeted it relentlessly with their mortars. This was the moment they had all dreaded. Hearts and minds: The SAS forged strong links with the local people through both formal and informal contact.
Tak, anxious for his best mate Laba, went into action. He stood up and raced over to the gun- pit, ducking and weaving across the desert floor as bullets crashed around him. He dived in with mortar shells raining down round him. He found his fellow Fijian in a terrible state, his jaw torn to shreds by a bullet. But the corporal could still function, and between them they quickly had the gun back in action, holding off the attackers. But not for long.
An enemy bullet hit Tak and he staggered back. The defence of Mirbat looked to be over. Then came the moment of supreme heroism, one that would turn commanding officer Kealy — a young officer, only in his mid- 2. SAS legend. Someone had to make it to the gun pit and get the weapon back into action. Pete Warne is pictured in Roger Cole and Richard Bellfield's book titled SAS Operation Storm: Nine Men Against Four Hundred. Tak had been lucky, taking the attackers by surprise with his dash.
But now they would be waiting. The chance of making it a second time was negligible.
Kealy was a studious- looking man in wire- frame glasses with the air of a public school Latin teacher. But he had nerves of steel. He slipped off the flip- flops he’d been wearing until now and heaved on his desert boots. No argument. They all volunteered to go with him.
The captain chose Tommy Tobin, one of the platoon’s specialist medics, and the two of them headed towards the gun pit. Every rebel gun and mortar opened up on them. They worked their way across the desert floor, firing, then moving, covering each other as they went. Bullets screamed past their heads or bounced off the rocks towards their pumping legs and chests. Against all the odds, they made it. Mirbat, 1. 97. 2: The view of the battlefield from the gun pit, over the sights of a general purpose machine gun. When they reached their fallen comrades, the scene was one of unadulterated horror.
The floor of the gun- pit was full of empty shell cases covered in blood. The badly wounded Taki was alive, propped up at the edge of the pit and firing his rifle to hold back the enemy, now just yards away. Kealy joined him at the barricade with his rifle, calmly taking out any rebels who came in sight. A grenade landed at Kealy’s feet and he was sure his last moment had come but, miraculously, it failed to explode. But their luck could not last. A rebel bullet smashed into Tobin’s head.
More hit his spine and shoulder. He was just alive, but time was running out for him and the entire platoon.
How much longer could they hold on? Relief came out of the skies. Two jet attack planes of the Omani air force, flown by freelance British pilots, had at last got through the low cloud which until then had halted air operations.
The rebels were minutes from taking the gun pit when the jets roared in low, cannon blazing. For 3. 0 minutes they kept the rebels pinned down, but then had to depart. This was the rebel commander’s chance and he rallied his men. Scores of them advanced once more to the gun pit. Kealy knew there was only one way to stop them now — a good mortaring. Hero mourned: Tommy Tobin who died from his wounds after the Battle of Mirbat.
He then gave an order that was so courageous, SAS veterans still marvel at it. He instructed his own mortar men to aim for the area immediately around the gun- pit, knowing full well that one shot slightly off target would wipe him out too. He had no co- ordinates to go on and no bearings. He lined up the target by eye.
The mortar flew through the morning air and dropped 3. It was a miracle shot, buying precious time. But still it wasn’t over. The bodies of a hundred rebels lay scattered over the desert but the rest were gearing up for a final assault. That was the moment when, up on his rooftop, Cole saw that V- formation advancing in the distance and feared the worst. The regimental badge of the SAS, also called the Blades, whose motto is 'who dares wins'He was wrong.
It was not more enemy soldiers but a relief column. Their helicopters had been grounded by the low cloud until a break in the weather allowed them through.