ROOPER SEKONAIA TAKAVESI
FOUGHT WITH: ARMY (SAS)
AWARD: DISTINGUISHED CONDUCT MEDAL (DCM)
DATE OF BRAVERY: JULY 19, 1972
Soldiers do not come any tougher or more fearless and loyal than Sekonaia Takavesi. Known as "Sek", he became – in the words of his Army superiors – "a legend in his own time within the SAS".
Takavesi was born in Fiji in 1943. Brought up on the Pacific island, he enlisted in the British Army on November 13, 1961, joining the King's Own Border Regiment. Two years later, he successfully sought selection to the SAS.
Takavesi had undertaken dangerous undercover surveillance in Aden during the mid-1960s. At one time, he and fellow Fijian, Trooper Talaiasi Labalaba, had confronted and shot dead two terrorist gunmen. However, it was in Oman in July 1972 that the same two men were given the opportunity to display their immense courage and determination.
On the morning of July 19, 1972, the Adoo (guerrillas) launched a carefully planned attack with the aim of using 250 of their most élite fighters to capture the small town of Mirbat on the Arabian Sea.
The garrison at Mirbat was equipped with one 25-pound field gun from the Second World War, one mortar, a .50 calibre machinegun and a few general-purpose machineguns. There were just nine SAS soldiers in the town.
The Adoo's first target was a small detachment of Dhofar Gendamerie (DG) occupying a watch point about half a mile north of the fort. The rebels had hoped to kill the eight DG members quietly by slitting their throats, but things had not gone to plan and an exchange of fire was heard by the SAS in the garrison.
Captain Mike Kealy, their commander, was able to see waves of Adoo advancing, and was soon barking orders, including to Takavesi to ensure the 81mm mortar was used to support the DG outpost. A signaller was told to communicate with SAS headquarters at Um al Quarif. Meanwhile, Labalaba ran the 50 metres to the gun-pit in order to man the 25-pounder.
Labalaba was eventually seriously wounded by a 7.62mm round from a Kalashnikov rifle. "I've been chinned but I am OK," he said over the walkie-talkie.
Knowing his friend would not bother to report a minor injury, Takavesi was determined to go to his aid. His comrades gave him covering fire but he still ran into a hail of bullets. Takavesi had been a rugby player and dodged and weaved his way to the gun-pit. Labalaba was in bad shape.
Soon it was Takavesi's turn to take a bullet, which threw him backwards on to the sandbags. Labalaba propped him up and handed him his self-loading rifle. Labalaba, who was peering down his rifle-sights picking off the advancing enemy, realised he was almost out of ammunition for the 25-pounder. As he tried to reach a 60mm mortar positioned nearby, he was shot fatally in the neck.
Kealy heard the 25-pounder fall silent. With a volunteer, Tommy Tobin, a trained medic, the commanding officer dodged bullets and ran to the gun-pit where they witnessed a gruesome scene. As Tobin turned to get his medical pack, however, he was shot in the face and fell to the floor.
Just as the situation appeared hopeless – and the enemy were a mere 20 metres from the gun-pit – the men had two strokes of luck. The first was that the clouds had lifted slightly, high enough to enable two jets from the Sultan of Oman's Air Force to fly low over the scene, strafing the Adoo with cannon fire.
Kealy was unaware of the second stroke of luck, which resulted from his early radio message to SAS headquarters in Um al Quarif, that Mirbat was under attack. The men of B Squadron in Mirbat had been due to go home on the very day of the attack. This meant their replacements from G Squadron were already at Um al Quarif, on the outskirts of Salalah.
G Squadron was ordered into action. As Kealy used a lull in the fighting to tend to his wounded men, it still looked as though it would be just a matter of time before the Adoo swept in and slaughtered all the SAS men.
In fact, by now G Squadron had fought its way through the town and the Adoo were in full retreat, leaving behind 40 dead and 10 wounded. Takavesi's wounds were so serious that most people would have died from them. Yet he not only survived but went on to serve with distinction in the SAS for 13 more years.