'The Secret War' - The Battle of Mirbat

The Soldiers of 22 SAS The battle of Mirbat in July 1972 is one of the proudest moments in SAS history.

It is also a testament to the fighting skills of those few men involved against an enemy force of over 250 communist insurgents, called the "Adoo", who attacked the town at dawn.

First to come under fire were the positions of the "B" Squadron BATT team (British Army Training Team), as 22 SAS were called, in this little known and undeclared war.

In 1972, 22 SAS were nearly unheard of, both in the UK and even to members of HM Forces.

Every winter and summer small groups of new recruits attended selection at Bradbury Lines (the old camp). Often over 100 would start and just a few would pass. One of those few to pass the gruelling selection was Talaiasi Labalaba , known to all as Laba; one of the many Fijian Islanders to join 22 SAS and contribute to its strength, humour, comradeship and commitment to being a formidable fighting force, which has not diminished in the intervening years.

The actual passing of selection for some was hard, for some it was extremely hard, for some it was a virtual nightmare, but it forged in all those who got through it a bond and also the start of an extrordinary military life.

Most who passed had to revert to the rank of Trooper, (with the subsequent loss of pay, especially if they went there as a Serjeant).

The many on selection in the early 1970's had little knowledge about "Operation Storm", which was gathering pace in the mountains and along the shores of Dhofar, Oman.

Their only concern was the battling against fatigue and sheer exhaustion in the Brecon Beacons during the day and if they had enough time, they tried to extinquish their thirst in the Grapes Tavern, Hereford at night.

They knew little about the men who passed selection before them were now fighting and dying in an undeclared war.

In Hereford, 22 SAS was part of the local folklore and had easily integrated in the Town, but it was not really known outside the Town as men came and went in great secrecy, only to appear back in Town again after 6 months if they were lucky!

In July 1972, at Mirbat, the BATT team of 22 SAS was put to the test of courage, tenacity and sheer refusal to bow under the weight of overwhelming forces.

This test they passed, in an action that was the turning point of a war that led to the freedom of a nation from the enslavement of communism.

War, however, is not without its horror, death and destruction; and sadly Laba lost his life after first being wounded, he then repeatedly loaded the 25 Pounder Field Gun and kept firing over open sights into the face of the enemy until a bullet struck him in the neck.

He fell mortally wounded in the gun pit.

For his action that day over 30 years ago Laba was awarded just a Mention in Despatches (MiD) and many have called for this to be reviewed; and that he be awarded the highest honour The Victoria Cross .

The remainder of the surviving BATT team fought on that until relieved by a force from "G" Squadron.

Tommy Tobin was wounded and died later from his wounds after crossing open ground under sustained fire to help Laba . Tobin died later at a muster hospital from an infected tooth making its way down his breathing tract - his jaw shot away.

Some have not yet fully recovered from this battle, and still to this day suffer the post traumatic stress of seeing their comrades die.

All those involved have not received the real honours that should have been awarded!

The Soldiers of 22 SAS Memorial A statue of Laba depicting the fierce embodiment of a 22 SAS Soldier will form the centrepiece of the Soldiers of 22 SAS Memorial within the Allied Special Forces Memorial Grove at the National Memorial Arboretum, Alrewas, Staffordshire.

The Soldiers of 22 SAS Memorial is one part of a much larger project to honour all those who served in the many Allied Special Forces and Resistance Units during World War Two and in many conflicts since.

This memorial and many others will be included in the Allied Special Forces Memorial Grove. The Grove will remember those that lost their lives and those that survived the maelstrom of war over many years.

Fund Raising: A new limited edition print of Laba endorsed by "Soldier I" (a survivor of Mirbat, whom some of you will know as 'Snapper', who also went to fight as part of the 'Pagoda' team who assaulted the Iranian Embassy in London in 1980) has been commissioned from a photograph taken off a negative found by Pete Scholey author of the "Joker" whilst he was rooting about in "B" Squadron dustbins many years ago!

These prints by the artist Ray Kirkpatrick are available from our office at £45.00p. each and all funds will go directly to the Soldiers of 22 SAS Memorial account within the Allied Special Forces Memorial Fund.

Other donations would be most welcome and all cheques should be made payable to the:

Allied Special Forces Memorial Fund or made direct to the fund at NatWest Bank plc, 12, Broad Street, Hereford. - Account Number 60713313 - Sort Code 53-50-41.

A new leaflet outlining our aims and objectives within the Grove is also now available from our Office in the Cattle Market, Hereford. Mike Colton, Secretary Allied Special Forces Association, Office 11, Cattle Market, Hereford HR4 9HX 01432-357666

Very interested in this as I have read a few accounts of the Battle of Mirbat. Is it possible that you could post a picture of the print for us to have a look at please?

I was in Mirbat in 91. The ground between the BATT house and the Oman gendarmerie fort is very open ground. A sprint across there was a feat in it's self.
The lads did well against massive oposition who had chosen their time but picked the wrong men to fight.

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