SOAF Attacks PDRY Habarut Fort - 6 May 1972
by
"Nobby" Grey
 
In early May 1972, a series of contacts occurred at Habarut on the disputed border with the Peoples’ Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) some 120 miles north west of Salalah.  Two forts faced each other across a wadi (dried river bed); one in Oman manned by the Dhofar Gendarmerie (DG), the other in the PDRY.  The DG platoon had observed a build up of men and materiel around the PDRY fort.  On 5 May a patrol from the local Omani firqat (a type of local militia) attempted to cross the wadi in the direction of the PDRY.  Firing broke out and at least three firqat fell[1].  This contact triggered a sustained attack on the Oman fort by the 100-150 men in the PDRY garrison.
 
When, despite the dropping of warning leaflets, the enemy resumed their attacks the following morning  6 May, the Sultan of Oman’s Air Force (SOAF) was granted Border Crossing Authority (BCA).   This decision was taken at the highest level in view of the political ramifications of Oman air attacks against another state – more detail is provided in Peterson’s book and in the SAF Journal extract.  SOAF Strikemasters flew several waves against the PDRY fort and against a variety of targets over the border including gun positions and storage areas.  I flew two of these sorties that day with Fg Off David Milne-Smith (DMS).  We shared a two-seater Strikemaster and filmed the attacks using his hand held cine camera taking turn about.
 
The film is a compilation of clips of these two sorties.  Each aircraft was armed with two 540lb bombs, 16 SURA rockets and around 1000 rounds of 7.62mm machine gun ammunition.   The enemy were equipped with a range of (generally Russian or Chinese made) AK47 and other rifles, anti aircraft guns and heavy machine guns. Fortunately, at this stage in the war, the enemy had not deployed any surface to air missiles.
 
Formation tactics were simple.  We attacked in pairs taking it in turns to lead.  One aircraft aimed at the primary target while the other aircraft simultaneously attacked enemy defensive positions from a different direction.  The bomb attacks in this film can be identified by the comparatively steep dive angle (30 degrees) and the jolt as the Ejector Release Units (ERU) punched the bombs off the aircraft.  Rocket attacks were generally shallower and the exhaust plumes can be seen behind the missiles.  One in five rounds of our gun ammunition rounds was tracer but they are not visible in this film. 
 
We tried our best to avoid getting hit by ground fire by pulling up out of small arms range immediately after weapon release.  We would then perform a wing-over manoeuvre to watch the rockets or bombs explode and identify any secondary explosions.  I recall that several of us sustained bullet strikes from these sorties.  We also had to avoid flying into the debris of other formation members’ weapons by maintaining time and distance separation from their attacks.
 
The photos show us walking across the pan to the aircraft (note the lack of revetments).  The group shot shows the pilots who took part in the first 2 sorties which were filmed: Sqn Ldr Bill Stoker (the sqn cdr who died in 2010), Flt Lt Taff Hinchcliff (who was subsequently killed in a Jaguar flying accident), me, Fg Off DMS and Flt Lt Sean Creak.
 
Film Timings
Time Event
0-7 Pilots and Airwork technician preflight checks
7-22 Formation take off filmed from echelon starboard – view of gunsight in foreground, gear retraction, 540lb bomb and rockets on wing
23-30 First bomb attack from north to south – PDRY fort appearing white at centre screen.  Oman fort seen to the right (east) of the strip of date palms. 
30 ERU jolt seen as bombs released
30-46 Very poor quality film due to glare – possible gun attack
47-59 Rocket attack against defensive  position or fort
60-66 Running in west to east over PDRY territory
67-75 Note debris from previous attack centre bottom left.  Rocket attack.
90 Bomb attack running south to north
96 Note explosion centre bottom
105 Return to base.  Note rocket hang-ups on wing.
117 Running in and landing at Salalah
 
The contemporary SAF journal[2] reported, ‘A few days before the Habarut incident, the 2 i/c Ho Chi Minh Unit surrendered to SAF.  On 6 May, his commander was killed on the first SOAF strike on Habarut. ‘
 
 
 
My log book records that I subsequently flew 4 more formation attack sorties to Habarut before I went on leave a week later on 13 May.  I delivered a total of 6 x bombs, 50 x Sura rockets and 2,832 x 7.62 rounds at Habarut. 
 
Following the unprovoked attack at Habarut, the Sultan gave the order for Operation Aqubah (Punishment) against enemy positions around Hauf on the coast in PDRY....but that’s another story.
 
Denis M Grey (aka "Nobby")
February  2011
 
[1] Peterson J E ‘Oman’s Insurgencies’ SAQI 2007 Page 291
[2] SAF Journal Issue 9 1972 Page 8