Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Operation Beruang 1 (Serian District, Sarawak)

Operation Beruang I May 22, 1973 (My second success)
By this time, command of the Battalion had changed hands. Sarawak-born Lt Col philip Lee Khiu Fui (pic) had taken over from Lt Col Looi Kum Cheong.
One day, at about 4.00 p.m on May 21, 1973 in Serian camp, while I was conducting a Tang Soo-Do training session with my men, the IO called me into the operations room. “Unggal! We have an A1 intelligence for you.” The IO’s face was flushed, indicating his excitement. I knew, given the slightest chance, he would swap places with me. However, being a key staff officer, he couldn’t. “A member of the 3rd Company of the North Kalimantan Communist Party (NKCP) has surrendered yesterday,” he continued. “After a skirmish with B Company a week earlier, the group had dispersed. Now they want to regroup. We know the place. A Special Branch (SB) officer will accompany and guide you there.” We left camp at 3.00 a.m. and had to reach the CTs’ point of rendezvous before first light. The Special Branch officer accompanied me in my vehicle. About a kilometer from the target, we moved on foot. We reached our target by 6.00 a.m and combed the area. It was deserted. Perhaps we were too early and the CTs had not converged on their meeting place yet. Just when we were beginning to feel disappointed, the Special Branch officer discovered a dead-letter box at the base of a big tree at the rendezvous. It was a regrouping instruction for members of the 3rd Company of North Kalimantan Communist Party. The instruction was written in Chinese and the SB officer translated the message for us: “Go North-Westerly until you reach a big fallen tree. Knock repeatedly until you hear a reply.” At that point, the SB officer bade us good luck and left the area. There was no doubt about the presence of CTs in the area. At that moment, they were dispersed in small groups of possibly two or three people and were trying to regroup and form a bigger unit. I had two courses of action opened to me. Knowing that they would eventually come to the rendezvous, I could lay an ambush and wait for them to come to me. However, as the place was flat and close to villages, the chances of mistaking villagers for CTs were very real. And due to the nature of the ground, we wouldn’t be able to maintain our element of surprise very long. I therefore opted for the second option – check out on the regrouping instruction. The terrain was mostly covered with secondary vegetations, indicating it had been cultivated at one time or another. There were many tracks, well-used by the locals to go to their farms or into the jungle to find jungle products. As I was to find out later, the CTs would take advantage of this labyrinth of tracks to confuse us and avoid detection. After about one thousand metres, we came across a big fallen tree. We gave the log a few good knocks and waited for a reply. There was none. We decided to proceed cautiously along the track. Five minutes later, a familiar shout of “enemy in front” came from the leading scout. A couple of long bursts from his Baretta 5.56 mm automatic rifle shattered the peacefulness and drove a flock of birds from their perch high up on the trees. I ran forward, just in time to see my two leading scouts scrambled up the steep far bank of a dry river bed. I jumped in after them and found myself stuck knee-deep in the marshy patch on the river bed. I was a sitting duck. The CTs were, however; too busy trying to save their own necks to notice me. I hauled myself out and joined my two scouts at the far bank. I quickly scanned the place. A pot of boiling porridge, laced with ground nuts and dried anchovies was still cooking over a simmering fire. A few metres away, thrown away in haste, were two bundles of sacks. The CTs hadn’t the time to finish their breakfast as they were caught by total surprise. “Which way did they run?” I asked Lance Corporal Budun and Ranger Edward Kut. “That way, sir!” they replied simultaneously, with their outstretched hands pointing to my right. I looked in the direction they were pointing. The thick undergrowth to the right had been trampled and I could hear the CTs bashing their way through the thick undergrowth. “Let’s go!” I commanded and headed for the trail in hot pursuit. “We must catch them before we lose them in the numerous tracks in the area.” We moved as fast as we possibly could without compromising our own safety. It was between running and brisk walking. We lost the trails a number of times, when it went through barren patches in the secondary jungle. When that happened, we had to rely on our tracking skills. After about half an hour, we finally caught up with the CTs in a swamp. They were making splashing sounds as they tried to cross to the safety of the far side. If they could do that, we certainly would lose them. I took a gamble and called them to give up. “Surrender! Lay down your arms and come out!” I shouted and repeated the call a few more times. I was surprised at the strength of my own voice. They sounded like someone else’s and so out of place. It was a gamble that might work either way. Which ever way it went, I was certain I wouldn’t be the loser. I wanted to give the CTs a chance to come out alive. With no cover from fire, I felt naked and exposed. My concern was justified. The CTs responded by firing a few bursts from an automatic rifle. The sound was unfamiliar. They must have been using an unfamiliar weapon. We retaliated and returned fire. It was apparent that the CTs were not going to give up without a fight. Without hesitation, we jumped into the swamp. It was surprisingly cold and deep. No wonder the CTs were slow and made a lot of splashing noises. For the first ten metres, the water was up to our chests. After about thirty metres, we could hear the CTs talking. I lobbed three mini hand grenades in their direction. In the quietness of the jungle, the explosions were thunderous. We crouched low – to avoid being hit by shrapnel. Surprisingly, there was no retaliation. We went for another thirty metres and reached high ground. And there, lying on the ground was Lee Kuen, fourth in the leadership hierarchy of the 3rd Company of NKCP. Judging by the gaping wound on his back, one of the grenades I lobbed had found its target. We went for another few hundred metres to track down the other CTs, but had to give up as it led us to the labyrinth of tracks and populated areas. Endangering civilians must be avoided. IMPORTANT NOTICE: I'm trying to re-establish contact with Brig Gen Philip Lee Khiu Fui. If any body knows of his latest address or phone number, please contact me in this blog.


  1. It was indeed heartening to note that there were also Chinese officers serving the nation, during those testing years. Sir it would be helpful if you could provide a list of these soldiers and officers so that the younger generations would know, that all Malaysians irregardless of color and creed shed their blood for this nation.

    Additionally, Sir from my conversation with veterans, they say Ulu Katibas is one of the toughest operation area. Is it true, if yes could you share it with us Sir.

    Thank You. It is always inspiring to read your artcile.

  2. Hi Jeya,

    During my time in 3rd Rangers from 1969 to 1979, the battalion was truly multiracial. We had Malays, Ibans, the Chinese were mainly in the officers corp while a small number were Other Ranks. There were Kadazans, kayan and kenyahs. We saw one another as officers and soldiers. The soldiers looked up to us as their superior and we look at them as our charges. There were mutual respect.

    I was operating in Ulu Katibas for 3 solid months soon after I was commissioned in 1969. Ulu Katibas is a rugged area - mountainous, rocky and with too many rivers which made patrolling very difficult. Many of them were too wide and deep to cross on foot. We have to cross them with improvised floatations including logs. If you are a non-swimmer, you'll it doubly tough.

    I remembered 2Lt Jagdeesh Singh couldn't swim. I met him and his patrol by the bank of a tributary of Sg Katibas. He was pondering how to swim across. Finally we tied a number of empty water bottles across his chest and with the help of a rope we pulled him across - but not without gulping some water in the process.

  3. Sir,Thank you for the prompt response.

    Also, please upload your PGB investiture ceremony photo together with the citation.

    Looking forward to more anecdotes and nail bitting stories, Sir.

  4. Hi Jeya,

    The "investiture" is another long story which will be told separately.

  5. Tuan, you're indeed a truly soldier at heart and mind. Your inspiring history of soldiering must be shared to new recruits & young officers. The pleasant of peace makes us forgotten the pain of the past warriors. Keep on writing Tuan.

  6. Salam. Blog yang amat menarik dan memberi inspirasi walaupun kepada yang pernah berkhidmat di dalam ATM. Semoga Tuan bahagia di alam persaraan. Wassalam.

    Kapten (B) Ridzuan Ab Salam, RAMD.