"Commcen"

Alan Marshall in 1971
 
I am indebted to Alan for the photographs and the anecdotes that are presented on this page.
 
       
       
       
       
       
 

"I was deployed to Salalah from RAF Episkopi in 1971 I believe it would be July/August or August/Sep. I was sent to assist with the huge workload in the Commcen. At that time the Salalah links to the outside world were two Morse code (CW) circuits and an R/T circuit to RAF Masirah. I see Simon Crozier (who I have met when serving in the RAF) has some information on the Commcen when huge advances had been made to make use of Teleprinter links."

 

"The Commcen was staffed by a Cpl and four dedicated Telegraphists with the addition of one additional SAC deployed on rotation from Cyprus. I should have been there for one month but offered to stay on for a second month which was accepted."

 

"The amount of signals was huge, mostly sent encrypted offline so a single signal could consist of 5 to 6 thousand 5 letter groups. The other signals were flight plans, departures, arrivals etc etc."

 

"While we were there we underwent at least 30+ attacks from the PFLOAG (adoo) A SOAF strikemaster was shot down (a lucky shot from a rifle cut the fuel line and the engine flamed out) and crashed while I was there, the pilot survived with broken back I believe. ( The pilot in question was Barrie Williams sustained a broken back at T7 and severe bruising of the spinal cord resulting in hemiplegia. He  was  casevaced  to Stokemandeville where he made spontaneous recovery.  He  was  rehabilitated at Headley Court and returned to Dhofar to fly the Shorts SC7 SkyVans - Webmaster) There were other casualties and I see the mention on your site of an airman who was electrocuted. This happened I believe while he was carrying out work to the sodium lamps that were used to illuminate land outside the perimeter fence."

 
"While there a SOAF Strike master was called in to make an attack on the adoo in the hills it was hit with small arms fire probably AK47 and a round had severed a fuel line to the engine. The engine flamed out as he was about to make a second attack and the pilot jettisoned his ordnance which was I understand close to the hedgehog positions the pilot ejected and the aircraft crashed."
 
"I went to the mess one morning for breakfast and the duty cook said he had seen a large rat in the kitchen I asked him for a large knife which he duly supplied. I managed to corner the rat and it ran up onto the griddle (not yet hot) used to fry the eggs. I was about to deliver a fatal blow to the rat but the cook pleaded for me not to chop it on the griddle, so I decided to catapult it using the blade from behind the rat in the hope of killing it. As I flicked the rat across the room another guy walks through the door and gets flying rat inches from his face. The rat escaped."
 
"It was quite an experience being there seeing the 25 pounder and hearing the shells going out the artillery was initially located behind the camp but was later moved to the front for whatever reason. On my way back from Raysut unloading a ship with NAAFI supplies I saw the impact of the 5.5inch howitzer shell on the jebel 4 or 5 miles away. Someone mentioned the shrapnel spread was about 200 yards."
 
"There was one night when it was continual mortar and heavy machine gun fire heard from the hedgehogs so there must have been a substantial assault taking place"
 
"I remember the rooms being blacked out and at night after an evening shift following the stones along the roadside which were whitewashed to aid navigation back to the accommodation block. The stones are visible in the last photo."
 
"I have many memories over the two short months some good some not. I enjoyed the communications although it was an extremely busy little Commcen. The camaraderie was good. I did however loathe the flies that God forbid got into the room when you were steeping with your mouth open. Salalah flies bite and you will no doubt be very aware of the fact."
 
"I can only have the highest regard for the medical teams out there working in such basic conditions and it would seem without the full support from the relevant commands. It was a secret war and we were not out there and yet at the time I was there the accommodation was so full people were sleeping in tents surrounded by oil drums filled with sand/water.
"On my last day I worked the morning shift on the circuit to Masirah. Off to lunch a final beer with the lads, a double up Marshall you are keeping the aircraft waiting followed by a fast farewell to the lads and a sprint to the Andover. Off to Masirah popped into the Commcen there to tell them I had enjoyed working the link to them only to be invited in to work the evening shift on the Circuit from Masirah to Salalah and the Salalah operator was Mick Williams who is in one of the photos at the beach."
 
"A beer in the Crazy Horse saloon bar after shift and away to bed. I was offered the chance to buy a full stalk of bananas the following morning for a few rials and ended up at RAF Akrotiri with 14 pounds of bananas in a flight bag. Sovereign Base Area customs showed me a list of prohibited items not allowed into Cyprus including fresh fruit. I duly declared 14 lbs of bananas and was not believed until I opened the flight bag. Goods duly confiscated."
 
"After my two months supporting the Commcen at Salalah I was back to RAF Episkopi Cyprus in 12 Signals Unit until 1973 and so I was handling signals there, hence my knowledge about the airman electrocuted. I also recall seeing the signals about the rocket hit on the Officers Mess.""After Aden it was I believe very necessary to stop Oman going down the same route.""I was walking up to the area of the Medical Centre/FSH to the barrack stores to change my bed sheets (Hygiene and all that). I walked across the heli pad only to be told to GET OFF in a hurry ( I was always getting a bollocking from someone) I ran off the pad to see a casevac heli coming in with casualties. In this case a Sultan of Oman's (SAF) Land rover had run over a mine. Two occupants were killed and one had a leg blown off. I saw the unloading of the heli but did not hang around the area. I changed my bed sheets and headed back to the billet block. Next day I had to go back to the Medical centre as I was suffering from an ear infection from the diving training in the Salalah swimming pool and had an antibiotic wick inserted in my ear which had to be changed ( That must make me one of a number on your statistical records Bill). Anyway I passed by the FSH tent and there was a stretcher leaned up against the wall of the tent. Half of it was covered in blood now dark red, black even, with a few flies in attendance. While I was in the Medical centre the duty staff went outside for a moment and then returned explaining they had to check on the refrigeration unit as that was where the two SAF deceased were being kept."
 
"Ironically the day the incident happened radio 219 (Radio Salalah) put out the following message:
 
Complete success today to the SAF when one of their land rovers completely destroyed a soviet mine.""I had been in Salalah for a couple of days and was working a day shift in the Commcen. Suddenly Pete* says, "can you stick your head out of the hatch and see if that is the raid alarm?" I comply with his request, he was after all a Cpl. I heard the alarm and turned around to see Pete wedged in between the concreted in secure safe and a metal filing cabinet in the corner of the Commcen, he had obviously heard it too. Never again!!, any sign of the alarm and I was in as safe a position as I could find."
 
The BATT lads, RAF police, RHA, RAF Regt and in fact all in theatre were great. The askars fired first and asked questions later. The Medical staff were understaffed, under resourced
 
* Cpl  Pete McQueen who was in charge of the Commcen
 

Telegraphy Techniques
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