18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Classic British derring do - highly recommended,
This review is from: Storm Front (Hardcover)
Since the end of World War II and the coming of "peace", there has only been one year in the 20th century where no British serviceman was killed in action - 1968. The British had abandoned much of their Middle East responsibilities, in particular leaving Aden and abandoning Yemen to decades of communist-backed drudgery, deterioration and latterly savagery. Next door in Oman, the situation looked to be similarly grim. This is where Storm Front starts off, chronicling the removal of Oman's Sultan Said bin Taimur and replacement with his son Qaboos bin Said. Qaboos wanted to drag Oman out of its increasingly desperate slide into the past but he was up against the same sort of communist-backed guerilla warfare that had led the British to abandon Aden.
Britain had no appetite - or money - to fight a war for Oman, but the Sultanate was of truly stategic importance so, as on so many other occasions, the British did what they did best - muddled through. With grudging dribbles of funding and minimal manpower and support, the British propped up the Sultanate of Oman's Armed Forces against a rising tide of rebellion from Dhofar. Storm Front concentrates on the SAS troopers sent in to support civil development, and the RAF officers on detachment flying Strikemasters, Hueys and Skyvans for the SAF. As you can expect by now from Rowland White the book rattles along at quite a pace, taking in incidents of horrific savagery but also plenty of humour and the occasional truly bizarre incident (exploding camels, anybody?). The background to the conflict is explained very well, so that by the time you get to the climactic battle for Mirbat that so few people have ever heard of you feel you know every character involved and exactly the sort of hopeless situation they are facing.
The heroism of the 9 SAS troopers involved in that battle against 300 enemy soldiers, and the importance of the air support they received in weather that would ground most air forces makes for a stunning story and Rowland pulls no punches with every detail of the battle meticulously recorded. This is not, however, a dry history book and as with his previous books Rowland brings events to life more in the style of a novel than a documentary. This is a book absolutely begging for a movie deal, and unlike, say, Vulcan 607, this one wouldn't be quite so impossibly expensive to film. We can but hope. Men like Sergeant Talaiasi Labalaba deserve wider recognition for their incredible heroism on that day - single-handedly manning a 25 pounder gun that would normally need a crew of 4, 'Laba' held back the initial enemy thrust and fought until cut down, while his friend Trooper Sekonaia Takavesi reached him in time to take over and fight on despite being badly wounded himself. The bare bones of this story are incredible enough but the way it is told here will hopefully bring it to a whole new audience. Backing up the text is a selection of rare photos and maps giving an idea of the areas of the country involved.
Oman, of course, prevailed with eventual backing from other Arab countries (notably Iran - that's "good" Iran, not the "bad" Iran we have now) and dragged itself out of the dust to become a successful modern state, and British forces have gone on ever since fighting the same sort of battles even while their political masters fail to heed the lessons of the past. I hope Storm Front reminds just a few of them. To finish off with, just one criticism - no mention that the 25 pounder gun involved in the action is now to be found in Firepower, The Royal Artillery Museum at Woolwich!