Trucial Oman Scouts

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The Trucial Oman Scouts was a paramilitary force raised by the British 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 (U.D.F.) 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. They were originally to be used as an internal security and rural gendarmerie, suppressing banditry and the slave trade, but became a military force after the arrival of a Saudi Arabian force in the Buraimi Oasis in September 1952. A British Army Major commanded the TOL, with the assistance of two Jordanian officers seconded from the Arab Legion. Its initial personnel consisted of 32 other ranks, also seconded from the Arab Legion. 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. 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 an Royal Air Force doctor, Flying Officer A.L.C. Duncan, were also killed in the attack. The attack also wounded two British NCOs, Sergeant Chinn and Corporal Cruickshank, 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.

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, to forcibly 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 forcibly 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 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 gulf and a share of a disputed oil field. Other disagreements over boundaries and water rights remained, however.

Trucial Oman Scouts[edit]

The Trucial Oman Levies were renamed the Trucial Oman Scouts in 1956. By 1957, the Scouts included 160 British officers and soldiers and, by 1960, had 1,000 paramilitary personnel.

The Trucial Oman Scouts fought at the Jebel Akhdar War in the Sultanate of Oman in 1956. Sergeant Major Khamis Hareb was awarded the Military Medal for his "fine leadership and courage" on August 21, 1956. Sir George Middleton, the British Political Resident in the Trucial Coast, pinned the medal on Sergeant Major Hareb. In January 1962, Mr John Profumo, the British War Minister visited and inspected the Scouts in Aden, and was able to chat to one of the British Sergeants; Bert Baverstock[1]

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

In 1964, the Scouts had 1,324 men, including 38 British officers and 85 British other ranks. 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 Signals Squadron, a Motor Transport Squadron, a Medical Centre, a Workshop, a Cadet Squadron, a Cadet School, and a Training Depot.

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,[2] 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 a well trained, well paid, and efficient. It cost the United Kingdom two million pounds a year to maintain the Scouts in 1971.[citation needed]

Union Defence Force[edit]

The formation of United Arab Emirates in 1971 resulted in the Scouts being renamed Union Defence Force (U.D.F.). 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 U.A.E states. 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 included Iranians, Indians, and Pakistanis. It remained under the command and control of 30 British officers until the mid-1980s. Its headquarters had been at Sharjah since 1951.

The Union Defence Force was used on two occasions in Sharjah Emirate.

Sharjah Coup attempt[edit]

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. Sheikh Khalid bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, ruler since 1965, was killed along with one of his bodyguards in the process. The palace was then surrounded by Sharjah soldiers and troops of the Union Defence Force. Several UDF troops were wounded, including a British Captain, before the rebels surrendered next morning. Sheikh Saqr was then exiled.

Sharjah-Fujairah border war[edit]

In February 1972, there was a brief border war between Bedu tribesmen from Sharjah 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.


  1. ^ 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
  2. ^ Heathcote, p.145.


  • 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"

See also[edit]

  • John Gouriet - served as an Adjutant in the Trucial Oman Scouts from 1961 to 1963