In the Service of the Sultan — hard bought lessons in the winning against an insurgency
In the Service of the Sultan — hard bought lessons in the winning of beating an insurgency
In the Service of the Sultan: a first hand account of the Dhofar Insurgency, Ian Gardiner, 2006 (reprinted several times since), ISBN 978-1-84415-467-8, 189 pp.
We are lucky to live in an age where most books are well written and published with high production values. A small number are well above average and extraordinarily well done. Then there are a rarefied few where enough good words cannot be written — In the Service of the Sultan, by Ian Gardiner, is one of these priceless books.
First hand accounts are excellent for their grit and emotion though usually limited in scope. Overview accounts are useful for understanding events in the context of their times. Gardiner, almost uniquely provides both making this book enlightening. Gardiner, as a combat team leader, has an ability to think philosophically about the events and people involved in those events — not an uncommon trait for an experienced warrior.
In the Service of the Sultan, tells Gardiner’s perspective of countering a politically inspired insurgency in the Dhofar Provence of Oman. This war occurred over a decade from 1965 to 1975 and threatened control of the Straits of Hormuz. Incredibly, most of us are not aware of it as the Vietnam War occupied the news services at the time.
Gardiner serves to reminds of us of this signal strategic event as he furthered his career in the Royal Marines (United Kingdom) — an interesting process — as well as the uncommon feat of defeating an insurgency. Having limited artillery support, and even more limited close air support, the Sultan of Oman’s forces largely prevailed the hard way with infantry patrols and actions. Initially setting a barrier for the insurgents, who were based in Yemen, these forces adapted to their theater of operation. Almost always on foot due to sole eating terrain donkeys were used when insertions were made to set ambushes as they could quietly carry heavy machine guns, mortars and ammunition. Helicopters were used to supply isolated outposts since their noise announcing traits were less dangerous as well as to evacuate casualties. A handful of Jet Provosts would provide air support with their small bomb loads and inferior machine gun armament — at least by U.S. standards — but were more than sufficient to address an enemy without adequate air defense. Along the course of In the Service of the Sultan the reader learns many priceless lessons and professional thinking, such as:
- The planning of an ambush is much like complicated watch mechanism
- How the adoo thought and the development of how to out think them
- What it is like to fight with air support as well as without it
- How helicopter pilots flew into rugged terrain in poorly lit nights using airspeed, compass and stopwatch
- How taking casualties exponentially compounds the challenge of conducting a fight
The photographs are many and are outstanding. Notably those of Nicholas Knolly since they illustrate the events as they were occurring and leave readers with the grit that must have been.
The craft learned is there to be read. The thinking of the decision making is there. The emotions are there. This is a book that not only teaches history, it makes for vicariously experiencing that history. A history that is gone unsung and unnoticed though it may have been the most significant of the shooting wars occurring during the Cold War. The world would be frighteningly different from that of today should the Sultan of Oman have been overthrown.
Next week a post on Yompers: with 45 Commando in the Falklands War, Ian Gardiner, 2012, ISBN 978-1-84884-441-4, 208 pp. — also by Ian Gardiner — will publish and it will be seen how this commander became a more capable combat leader as well as his increased understanding regarding strategy, politics in war as well as soldiering.
It is not to be missed.