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The War in Northern Oman

Peter Shergold
In Print
Helion & Company (2021)

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This entry created 13 September 2021. Last revised on 13 September 2021.

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The War in Northern Oman

Muscat and the Sultanate of Oman, 1954-1962

56 pages. Black-and-white photos throughout. Eight color pages. Notes, bibliography, and author mini-bio.

According to the author, few people remember this war, and those who do have some false ideas about it. It should not be conflated with the subsequent Dhufar War. Although the SAS took part in this war, it was fought and won by traditional military means.

In the 1950s, Oman – or more properly, Muscat and the Sultanate of Oman – was within the sphere of influence of the British Empire. Although oil had not yet been successfully extracted in Oman, the country (and its bases) was seen as vital to the security of other oil-producing countries and trade routes.

Traditionally, northern Oman has been split between coast and interior – the coast being where the Sultan is based, with some exposure to the rest of the world; and the interior, where visitors are shunned and the Imam rules.

In 1954, the Sultan decided to encroach on the Imam's autonomy by sending his military forces into the interior in support of oil exploration efforts. The Iman and his general withdrew to the safety of Saudi Arabia, which had a border dispute with Oman involving a possible future oil field. The Saudis, with the aid of U.S. mercenaries, armed and trained rebel forces.

In 1957, the rebels infiltrated Oman and retook control of the interior. The Sultan's forces struck back twice, and were routed twice. At this point, the British stepped in. To avoid being seen as 'imperialist', they chose to commit regional troops and the SAS, conducting a conventional but largely bloodless campaign of maneuver (including a dramatic mountain assault) that forced the rebels into hiding.

In the years that followed, the Sultan expanded his military, which had the benefit of providing jobs for former rebels. He also funded modest development programs which increased the loyalty of the interior tribes. While this had the outcome of eliminating the root causes of rebellion in the north, it was never intended as a 'hearts and minds' effort, and it was conducted only after the war was over.

The author also provides a brief overview of the history of Oman, and describes the military forces. The color pages include three pages of color profiles (vehicles, infantry and aircraft), four pages of military photos, and one color map of the region.

This book chronicles the rare defeat of a grassroots insurgency by 'maximum' military force (especially British airpower), and is worthy of study. However, it does not describe much of the fighting; indeed, the moments of heaviest fighting are the least covered, while the involvement of British units in a campaign mainly of maneuver is given more detail, probably due to sources being available. This book also describes the rare employment of the SAS in a conventional military role.

The author's writing style is dry, and at first very much like a term paper. The organization of the material could have been better, as some topics are scattered about the book. However, the author did serve in Oman and seems to know his subject. The book could have been better edited (rulers are deposed, not disposed).

Can you wargame it? Since the rebels avoided battle against superior forces, there is not much here for the wargaming table. The exception would be the series of fights which led to the destruction of the Oman Regiment, but as little information is provided here, that would require guesswork or further research.

Recommended for those interested in anti-insurgency warfare or the Middle East.

Reviewed by Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian.