More than 40 years have passed since Britain fought a secret war in Oman. Former Major Nicholas Ofield has returned for the first time since the conflict to retread his battlegrounds with his son, filmmaker Tristan Ofield. This blog contains excerpts from the production diary Tristan kept during filming.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Crossing the Wadi Darbat - ‘Operation Cyclops’ - March 1972

SAF Newsletter issue 9 of June 1972 reported,  Operation Cyclops was a remarkable result, both of the overall strategy of this war and the efficient tactics of one company of SAF soldiers.  In March 71 people said it would take a Brigade of infantry to clear the Wadi Darbat of enemy, and no one contemplated the idea.  In March 1972 3 Coy JR cleared it.   Large quantities of stores were found, including tea, rice, sugar, ghee, blocks of Russian TNT, detonators, fuse, 60mm mortar bombs, 2ins mortar bombs,  3.5” rockets, 7.62mm ammunition, a variety of ammunition including penicillin, blood plasma and curiously the tied-up body of a civillian who had been dead for a long time.  The Taqa to Darbat road was opened by JR’s Assault Pioneers and CSAF was able to walk along it in safety.”

In March last year I visited Dhofar for the first time in nearly forty years, and spent three weeks on the jebel, retracing those steps taken forty years ago. If my fading memory recollects…………………………

Operation Jaguar’ started at the beginning of October 1971, with the aim of clearing the adoo from the Eastern Jebel and opening it for development, By the middle of January 1972 the success of ‘Jaguar’ had effectively cleared the addo from the NE Jebel along the line White City (BATT/Firqa): JibJat (1 Coy JR - Maj Paul Wright) and Waterhole (2 Coy JR - Maj Mike Ball).  However, the adoo remained strong to the south of White City, and increasing numbers of SEPs reported large stores of weapons and ammunition within the caves of the Wadi Darbat. 

On 13th January 72, 2 Coy JR left the Waterhole and having walked over to JibJat was flown down to Salalah.  72 hours later they were flown back up to White City to take part in ‘Operation Amatol’,  to dominate the Wadi Khasayn to the south and Wadi Darbat to the east.  On the night of 20th Jan,  a combined force of BATT/Firqa and 2 Coy JR moved southwards from White City approx 7 klm  to the western side of the Wadi Darbat and established a base to NW of the village of Shuhait. The next morning as the mortars and other supplies were flown in there was strong adoo reaction from the south, where BATT/Firqa were positionned, and later mortar fire on to 2 Coy positions. 

Capt. Nick Ofield (L) and Capt Jim
Turner at the start of ‘Amatol’
Feb 1972

For the next month there was continuous activity in this region as ‘Amatol’ moved gradually southwards, and despite successes on the Khashayn, it was soon quite obvious that the adoo had no intention of abandoning the Darbat.  On one occasion, when the BATT attempted to go down into the Darbat, they were caught for over five hours in a running firefight, and Capt. Jim Turner took a platoon of 2 Coy to help extricate them.

On 26 Feb Mike Ball handed over 2 Coy JR to Nick Ofield and left for leave, but surprised everyone when he returned the next day to brief Nick on ‘Operation Cyclops’.  The outline plan was that 3 Coy JR under Maj Dick Fox, with Capt Jerry Blatch as 2i/c, would arrive and take over the existing BATT, Firqa and 2 Coy JR positions, and these forces would be released to move across the Darbat on the night of 01 March and establish a firm base on the Easten side, effectively completing the domination of the Darbat.

At that time there was a troop of BATT and about eighty Firqa involved in ‘Amatol’, but suddenly two thirds of the BATT were withdrawn, and only about twenty five of the Firqa were willing to make the move.  Nominally under overall command of BATT, with the reduction of forces involved, the commander was very happy to leave the detailed planning/coordination to the jaysh – he would control the BATT/Firqa element.  By that time 2 Coy JR had been working closely with BATT for several months and had established an excellent working relationship, so there was no difficulty with this ‘joint’ command. (In any event, we had no compatible radios which made communications extremely difficult other than by personal contact).

On the night 01 March, Nick Ofield and Jim Turner went on a recce with two of the Firqa and planned an outline route down into and across the wadi. 3 Coy JR arrived as planned to take over the position in the afternoon of 02 March, and in the evening the move itself took place.  The order of march was straight forward.  Nick Ofield with the two Firqa guides and a well armed section led the way, followed by two platoons of 2 Coy, heavily laden, then company HQ under Lt Karim Bux, BATT/Firqa, two more platoons of 2 Coy and a heavily armed rear section under Jim Turner.

They set off at 2100hrs, shortly after moon rise.  The going was slow and tiring, but the bright moon enabled everyone to see where they were treading, however, everyone felt very exposed and expected to be ambushed at any time.  They had originally hoped to make the move in file, to shorten the overall column length, but the dictates of the ground did not allow this.  In the event the column was over two hundred yards long.

Route across the Darbat 02-04 March 72

It is worth noting that 2 Coy had to carry all its heavy packs/clothing etc together with four days rations, whereas the Firqa carried only their weapons and small packs.  Consequently, having crossed the bottom of the Darbat and begun the ascent of the eastern side, the lightly armed Firqa came from behind and overtook 2 Coy, teasing them for being slow !!

Finally, at about 0130 on 03 March they reached the planned position on the eastern side, just south of the village of Qaathet.  The Firqa immediately moved off to the south east, and 2 Coy began to consolidate the position.  After ‘standing to’ at first light, they continued to build sangars and make breakfast.

Nick was invited over to OC BATT’s sangar for a cup of tea and a chat, and had just reached it when there was a shout of “incommers’”, and a line of six 82mm mortar bombs straddled the position.  Fortunately, no one was injured. However, when Nick returned to his own sangar he found that it had received a direct hit.  Had he not gone over to OC BATT for tea, then this is where he would have taken cover – with probable tragic consequences.

Direct hit on Nick’s sangar

Consequently, in view of the accuracy of the incoming fire and the generally exposed position, it was decided to move southwards approximately 6 klm and set up a new position by the Darbat Falls.  This move was completed during the afternoon, without any adoo interference.  The next day a further fifty Firqa crossed over the Darbat from the west in daylight, although they then later descended to Taqa leaving only half a dozen with BATT.

The new position proved to be a good one as it completely dominated the Darbat, and 2 Coy/BATT remained with this as their operating base until the end of March,   when 2 Coy moved to Mughsayl to take over from DR.  By this time 2 Coy had spent five months almost continuously on the jebel, and the move to the sea was looked on with great favour.

Route shown on 2007 Google Maps.
There were no villages or roads in 1972.

Written by Nicholas Ofield
Article courtesy of SAF Association.

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