Possibly one of the most heroic defences ever seen, Andy Nightingale took the chance to catch up with a couple of old friends at Pete Winner’s “Battle of Mirbat” talk.
You have to be insane to survive.
My only concern is not to let my mates down.
We have fire in our eyes, ice in our veins, metal in our hearts.
Pete Winner, SAS survivor of Mirbat
As a kid I was always taken aback by the heroic tales of the SAS, the elite British fighting force that was the brain child of David Stirling during the Second World War. Many war stories have worked their way into the history books but there are a few that seem to defy all odds. One such story is that of a small group of SAS soldiers that took on a formidable force of enemy warriors and won the day at The Battle of Mirbat. It is with great pride that I personally have had the privilege to not only hear some of the tails of the SAS but to have known a few of them. One such hero is Pete Winner, better known as “Snapper”.
I met Pete a few years ago during one of his talks about the history and his involvement in the Iranian Embassy siege back in 1980. Pete went to great lengths to tell the story as it happened and expelling a few myths along the way. So it was with great pleasure that I had been invited to come along to one of Pete’s talks on this famous battle that happened over 40 years ago – but why should Pete be telling the story? Simple… Pete was one of the brave SAS troopers that was in the thick of it!
Arriving at the venue in Greater Manchester, Phil and I drove into the venue car park only to be met by Pete himself. Pete took us into the venue and we sat down with another SAS hero and also a friend of ours, Bob Podesta. I have known Bob for a while now and have had the privilege to train with both Bob and Pete in the past. After a quick catch up on things, both Pete and Bob gave us the heads up on what was on the menu for the night. Pete began by giving us a quick intro to the content before he took to the stage.
First up was Bob who gave everyone a detailed history of why the British forces were in Dhofar and also the political history leading up to the British involvement in the region. He also explained the run up and preparations for the deployment of the SAS. Although many people know about the Battle of Mirbat, not many know the history behind it. This was a great way to start the talk, as it set the scene for Pete who could now tell the story of how just 9 SAS troopers fought for their lives (and the honour of the SAS’s fearsome reputation) against a communist shock group of over 300 enemy and, against all odds and with very little support from fast air, win the day.
Taking the microphone Pete addressed the captivated audience and began to explain in great detail his involvement during the battle. Aided with reconstructive video to further set the tone, Pete made no effort to enhance or exaggerate the story. His words, the words of the man on the ground at the time, were all he needed to keep us all enthralled. Explaining his role as the gunner manning the Browning .50 and also as radio operator, Pete went into detail of how they fought the battle on a “shoe string budget” – Pete himself fighting with flip flops on his feet before he had the chance to change into his combat boots. His voice was full of excitement as he relived the moments, almost making us believe we were in the battle with him. His explanation of events as the mighty Fijian Talaiyasi Labalaba, who manned the 25lb World War 2 artillery field gun, changed the tone of the scene. The heroic 800 metre sprint across open ground that Tak, Labalaba’s Fijian brother in arms, made from the BATT house (British Army Training Team) to the fort and gun pit to reach his now wounded mate was truly amazing. Pete recalls “I watched as green tracer rounds from the Adoo (enemy) whizzed past Tak’s head, truly amazing”.
Tak managed to reach the gun pit and Labalaba but was himself shot – but not out. Both Fijians were pinned down by a mighty onslaught of enemy fire but as Labalaba went to reach for a mortar he was mortally wounded. An AK47 round hit Labalaba in the throat killing him. Pete’s voice changed as he remembered the brave friend that single-handily controlled the main SAS fire power. Not only did Labalaba fire the field gun but he also loaded, aimed, and fired the artillery piece which, as Bob took to the stage, he explained how the 25lber was a 6 man job. The Adoo were so close to the gun pit that Labalaba could no longer use the sights, so aimed the gun by looking down the barrel itself. Then a stroke of luck came as Pete’s radio message had raised 2 jets that strafed the Adoo giving much relief to the SAS warriors.
As the battle raged on the Adoo’s numbers started to dwindle. Then on the horizon Pete remembers seeing an extended line of figures advancing towards Mirbat from the mountains. Pete recalls that at the time he thought they were the Adoo, regrouped and ready for the second round. But to everyone’s relief it was G squadron SAS on their way to aid the stricken troopers.
The story is one of “the few overcoming the many” with true grit and determination but also one that tells how these band of brothers stood shoulder to shoulder when the odds are truly stacked against them. At the end of the talk both Pete and Bob receive enthusiastic applause from their audience and this was followed by a question and answers session which I can tell you, expelled a few myths about the SAS. Keeping within tradition, answers were given but to the point and with no secrets given away.
As we left the venue Pete was signing his book Soldier I, an autobiography that is a truly amazing read. Along with other SAS merchandise this was a great night and one that makes you feel proud to be British. With quite a few laughs along the way both Pete and Bob showed that although they are truly remarkable warriors, at the end of the day they were gentlemen also. This was a superb night that also included a fantastic buffet to boot. Both Pete and Bob have served their country and have made a difference in the world. We might not notice the changes they made, but the outcome may have been a whole lot different for us if the battle was lost.
This is just a snippet of what the talk is about. I have no place in telling the story of the battle of Mirbat. It can only be told by the brave men that were there.
Men like Pete Winner.