Trucial Oman Scouts

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The Trucial Oman Scouts was a paramilitary force that the British raised in 1951 as the Trucial Oman Levies, to serve in the Trucial States. In 1956, the Levies were renamed the Trucial Oman Scouts. In 1971, the Scouts were renamed Union Defence Force (UDF) upon the formation of United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.)

Trucial Oman Levies[edit]

The Trucial Oman Scouts were established at Sharjah originally as the Trucial Oman Levies (TOL) in 1951, but renamed in 1956 by Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS) Field Marshal Templar.[1] They were originally to be used to suppress the slave trade (but not slavery itself as this was an internal affair) and later expanded to include the protection of British political officers, to help maintain law and order, assist the Rulers in fulfilling their treaty obligations as regards the slave trade.[1] The Scouts' role was expanded to become a military force after the arrival of a Saudi Arabian force in the Buraimi Oasis in September 1952. Major Hankin Turvin, seconded from the British Army, commanded the TOL, with the assistance of two Jordanian officers and 32 other ranks seconded from the Arab Legion.[2] It was later expanded to 30 British officers in command positions, with a handful of Arab officers. It recruited its soldiers locally, mostly from Abu Dhabi. By 1952 the force numbered some 200 men.[2] There were also Yemeni soldiers assigned to the Trucial Oman Scouts from the Aden Protectorate Levies (APL), a British colonial militia based in South Yemen. It finally reached battalion strength.

In November 1952, some TOL soldiers were believed to be selling ammunition to the Saudis in Buraimi. Major Otto Thwaites, the commander of the TOL, went to Buraimi to investigate. There three Yemeni soldiers of the TOL shot him dead. A Jordanian Regimental Sergeant Major, Daud Sidqi, and a Royal Air Force doctor, Flying Officer A.L.C. Duncan, were also killed in the attack, and two British NCOs, Sergeant Chinn and Corporal Cruickshank, were wounded, but they were able to drive away and get help. The three Yemeni soldiers who had carried out the attack fled to Saudi Arabia, but were eventually returned to Sharjah to stand trial after the intervention of His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi. The shootings revealed a key weakness in not screening the Yemeni soldiers from the APL before they joined the Trucial Oman Levies.

The first major achievement of the Levies was the cessation of the slave trade into Saudi Arabia and abductions into slavery, especially in the area of the Buraimi oasis, and by the end of 1951 this trade had reportedly ceased.[2] By 1955, the Trucial Oman Levies had 500 paramilitary personnel organized into three rifle squadrons. In 1956, the force was organised into four rifle squadrons, including one squadron based at the Al Buraimi Oasis.

The Trucial Oman Levies fought a brief battle at the Al Buraimi Oasis on 26 October 1955. Two rifle squadrons deployed, along with troops from the Sultan of Muscat and Oman's personal guard, forcibly to evict a 40-man Saudi Arabian armed police garrison in an old fort and the village of Hamasa. The Saudi garrison had been based there since August 1952 when they occupied the Buraimi Oasis following an armed clash in which three people were killed.

The TOL operation in October 1955 resulted in nine deaths, including seven Saudi policemen/military personnel and two TOL soldiers, Jundi (private) Obaid Mubarak al Katabi and Jundi Sayid al Hadhrami. Three TOL soldiers were decorated for gallantry during this battle. Captain A. R. Steggles was awarded the Military Cross for saving a wounded TOL soldier under heavy fire. Sergeant Mohammed Nakhaira was awarded the Military Medal for his "courage, cool nerve and leadership." Lance Corporal Said Salem was awarded the Military Medal for driving a vehicle under heavy fire to deliver ammunition and retrieve wounded. Lance Corporal Salem was wounded in the fighting, and showed "the highest standard of personal courage and devotion to duty."

The source of the conflict was an acrimonious disagreement over claims to the Al Buraimi Oasis, disputed since the nineteenth century among tribes from Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, and Oman. Although the tribes residing in the several settlements of the oasis were from Oman and Abu Dhabi, followers of the Wahhabi religious movement[citation needed] that originated in what is now Saudi Arabia had periodically occupied and exacted tribute from the area. Oil prospecting began on behalf of Saudi oil interests, and, in 1952, the Saudi Arabians sent a small constabulary force to assert control of the oasis. When arbitration efforts broke down in 1955, the British dispatched the Trucial Oman Levies to expel the Saudi Arabian contingent. After a new round of negotiations, a settlement was reached whereby Saudi Arabia recognized the claims of Abu Dhabi and Oman to the oasis. In return, Abu Dhabi agreed to grant Saudi Arabia a land corridor to the Persian Gulf and a share of a disputed oil field. Other disagreements over boundaries and water rights remained, however.

Trucial Oman Scouts[edit]

By 1957, the Scouts included 160 British officers and soldiers and, by 1960, had 1,000 paramilitary personnel. The Trucial Oman Scouts fought in the Jebel Akhdar War in the Sultanate of Oman between 1955-1959, a rebellion against the Sultan of Muscat. Sergeant Major Khamis Hareb was awarded the Military Medal for his "fine leadership and courage" on 21 August 1956. Sir George Middleton, the British Political Resident in the Trucial Coast, pinned the medal on Sergeant Major Hareb. In January 1962, John Profumo, the British War Minister visited and inspected the Scouts in Aden, and chatted to one of the British Sergeants: Bert Baverstock.[3] The final defeat of the rebels took place in January 1959 in an action led by the British SAS that the Trucial Oman Scouts supported, along with the Sultan's Northern Frontier Regiment.

During the 1962-1976 Dhofar Rebellion, it was believed that many members of the Dhofar Liberation Front were former soldiers from the Sultan of Oman's Armed Forces (SAF), or the Trucial Oman Scouts.

In 1960, the Scouts mounted a road-building program, leading the construction of roads from Masafi to Fujairah through the Wadi Hamm, and from Masafi to Dibba through the Wadi Ayyinah, by blasting a route through the mountains using dynamite.[2] This route remains a key road link to the East Coast of the UAE today.

By 1964 the Scouts had 1,500 Arab officers, NCOs and men, with 100 British officers, warrant officers and NCOs.[1] It was organized into five rifle squadrons, each with three British and three Arab officers and 145 Arab other ranks, and one group equipped with machine guns and 3-inch mortars. There were also a reserve squadron, a signals squadron, a motor transport squadron, a medical centre, a workshop, a cadet squadron, a cadet school, and a training depot. From March 1964, the Commanding Officer (COMTOS) was Freddie de Butts.[1] Among his officers was Jack Briggs, formerly a police officer in both Palestine and Qatar, who would go on to command the Dubai Police.[4][1]

By 1965, the British Government was investing some £2 million annually in maintaining the Scouts, which ultimately reported to the Political Resident of the time. Former TOS commander Freddie De Butts cites this relationship as a cause behind the formation of the Abu Dhabi Defence Force by Sheikh Shakhbut in 1965.[5] This was followed by the formation of similar forces by the Rulers of other emirates.

In 1967, Captain Jon Cousens in the Trucial Oman Scouts (previously a Commando Gunner in 29 Cdo Regt RA) flew a Percival Prentice (G-AOPL) from Shackleton Aviation at Sywell in the United Kingdom to Sharjah. Later, it was flown on to South Africa, where it remained until it ceased flying.

In 1969, British General Roland Gibbs became Commander of British Land Forces in the Persian Gulf,[6] where he re-organised the Trucial Oman Scouts and laid the foundations for what is now the Sultan of Oman's Land Forces. The Scouts then expanded from 1,600 to 1,700 personnel in 1970 and to 2,500 in 1971.

Headquartered in Sharjah, the Scouts maintained small garrisons in most of the coastal towns and other key posts. The Scouts had a base in Dubai from 1952 and maintained a permanent garrison – one Field Squadron – at Buraimi Oasis. The Trucial Oman Scouts were a highly respected impartial gendarmerie and were regarded as well trained, well paid, and efficient.[1]

Union Defence Force[edit]

The formation of United Arab Emirates in 1971 resulted in the Scouts being renamed the Union Defence Force (UDF). At the time, the Force consisted of 2,500 regular military personnel. In 1975, the UDF had 3,250 regular military personnel organised into six Mobile Squadrons and an Air Detachment with seven helicopters. The Force was equipped with Scorpion light tanks, Ferret armoured cars, Land Rovers, eight 81mm Mortars, and two dhows.

In May 1976, the Union Defence Force unified and incorporated the military forces of the various UAE emirates. The former state units then lost their individual identities.

The UDF was organized as highly mobile light armored cavalry and included 40% locally recruited Arab personnel, including 50 Jordanian NCOs and Omanis, who formed the bulk of the troops. It also included Iranians, Indians, and Pakistanis. It remained under the command and control of 30 British officers until the mid-1980s.

In January 1972 during an attempted coup d'etat in which 18 armed supporters of the former ruler of Sharjah, who included the former ruler, Sheikh Saqr bin Sultan (who ruled from 1951 until the British deposed him in 1965), attacked and seized the palace. The attackers killed Sheikh Khalid bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, ruler since 1965, along with one of his bodyguards. Sharjah soldiers and troops of the Union Defence Force then surrounded the palace. Several UDF troops were wounded, including a British captain, before the rebels surrendered next morning. Sheikh Saqr was then exiled.

In February 1972, there was a brief border war between Bedu tribesmen from Kalba and Fujairah over a disputed area that only covered a quarter of an acre but included water wells and date palm trees. Twenty-two people were killed and another 12 were wounded before UDF troops were able to impose a ceasefire.

See also[edit]

  • John Gouriet – served as an adjutant in the Trucial Oman Scouts from 1961 to 1963


  1. ^ a b c d e f De Butts, Freddie (1995). Now The Dust Has Settled. Tabb House. ISBN 1873951132. 
  2. ^ a b c d Donald., Hawley, (1970). The Trucial States. London,: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 0049530054. OCLC 152680. , p.174.
  3. ^ Photographic Records held by Bert Baverstock's sister, Uptom Poole, accessed January 2014 by Dr Michael Foster, Rector of Tarrant Hinton, Dorset – also War Office files for 1962
  4. ^ Craig, James (2006-08-06). "Obituary: Jack Briggs". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-04-16. 
  5. ^ De Butts, Freddie (1995). Now the Dust Has Settled. Tabb House. pp. 193–4. ISBN 1873951132. 
  6. ^ Heathcote, T. A. The British Field Marshals, 1763-1997: A Biographical Dictionary. Leo Cooper. p. 145. ISBN 9780850526967. Retrieved 16 August 2016. 


  • Clayton, Peter (1994) Two Alpha Lima: The First Ten Years of the Trucial Oman Levies and the Trucial Oman Scouts. (London: Janus Publishing Company).
  • Lawley, Ronald (1970) The Trucial States. IISS Military Balance
  • Peck, Malcolm C. (1986) The United Arab Emirates.
  • Curtis, Michael & Cawston, Antony (2010) "Arabian Days, The Memoirs of Two Trucial Oman Scouts"
  • Morton, Michael Quentin (2013) "Buraimi: The Struggle for Power, Influence and Oil in Arabia"