Monday, 13 October 2008

Operation Jelaku 6 - The Final Blow. Part 3 A Dawn Attack on the CT Camp.

Operation Jelaku 6
The Final Blow
Part 3- A Dawn Attack on the CT Camp (to be read with part 1 & 2)

I divided my men into two groups – the seven-men assault group under my command and the eight-men cut-off group under the command of my Sergeant Major, WO 2 Norizan Bakri. My plan was simple. The cut-off group was to be in position early that night, some fifty or sixty metres behind the enemy camp, to cut off their withdrawal route when I launched the attack.

The assault group was to be in position one or two hours prior to H hour at 6.30 a.m on October 11, 1973 - just about five hours away. We were to be in pairs and spaced out between five to ten metres apart. Alternatively, just in case the CTs would break camp much earlier than anticipated, the signal to attack would be the sound of any firing from whichever group that noticed it.

At about 2.30 a.m, the cut-off group, under cover of the torrential down pour, moved slowly and cautiously to their positions. I was told later, in the pitch darkness, they had bumped more than once into the CTs' bashas. I didn’t want the assault group to move in at the same time as it was still too early. We needed the few hours to rest and get some sleep. Hopefully, we were able to recover from our fatique, before the big task ahead.

We took shelter from the merciless rain under a makeshift ponco we had erected in between the buttress roots of a giant tree. Soaked to the skin and chilled to the bones, we huddled closed together, in order to get some warmth into our shivering bodies.                                                                                                      

I told the men to catch some sleep, if they could. But I doubt if any of us were able to do so. With a battle coming up in just a few hours away, and the enemy just a stone –throw in front of us, who in their right sense of mind could?

We were excited, enthusiastic and raring to go. After what we had gone through and worked at, we didn’t want to botch it up and threw away this once-in-a lifetime golden opportunity! At 3.30 a.m, the rain had fizzled down to light drizzles. Then, suddenly, I heard some noises in the direction of the CT camp. Ten minutes later, red lights flickered, glowed and danced in between the foliage – some fifty to sixty metres away. I realised then, the CTs had woken up – possibly getting ready to break camp early and made it to the Sadong River before we did.

What they didn’t know was that we were already on top of them!

They had kindled a bonfire. We found out later, they were actually cooking breakfast and drying out their wet clothes over the fire. With the CTs already awake and the rain that had fizzled down to light drizzles, I realised our task of moving into our assaulting positions would be more difficult to conceal. The sight of the bonfire and the dying drizzles prompted me to change my plan. I decided to move in immediately before the rain stopped completely. At least, the drizzles would conceal the sounds we would be making when we moved.

That thirty metres was the longest and most difficult thirty metres I had ever gone through all my life. We were up to our shins, at times up to our knees in the swamp. Each step had to be taken carefully in order to avoid the sucking and squelching noises the mud and marshy ground were making. Each step had to be slowly cleared of leaves and twigs. Each step had to be retracted slowly and carefully from the swamp. As if those problems weren’t enough, mosquitoes attacked us in swarms. As minutes ticked slowly by, the heat from the sun was beginning to be felt. Or was it the adrenaline rush?

About forty minutes later, we were in positions. I and my radio operator, Ranger Md Desa were directly in front of the bonfire – some fifteen metres away. In order to get a clearer view, I moved closer to the bonfire, while Ranger Md Desa remained behind a big tree where he hid his radio set. Before I left him, I had pointed out a couple of bashas visible to the right of the fire. He was to attack those bashas when I launched the attack. I would attack the ones to the left.

As I watched the CTs moving around the bonfire, I prepared myself for the coming battle - ensured my magazines of ammunitions were in the right pouches and my webbings were properly secured. I knew, in the heat of battle, I shouldn’t fumble and every second counted.

At 5.30 a.m, I began to notice the pitch dark night was beginning to turn smoky grey. The young saplings and bushes around me began to take shapes. As the light became brighter, I began to feel insecure. I was in the open with little cover from view and practically with no protection from enemy fire. There was nothing I could do about it. I couldn’t move.  

My radio operator was about ten yards behind me. The rest of my assault team were strung out to my right. At 6.15 a.m, the sky was clearing. Silhouettes of trees were visible against the dawning sky. The CTs had ceased to move about. I could see only two still remained by the fire. They were ill at ease and must have sensed our presence. They exchanged some words. The silence and inactivity in the camp was most worrying. I sensed they were up to something. Were they about to break camp? Could they had detected our presence and were getting ready for our attack?

All these thoughts went through my mind and they made me worried. I had another fifteen minutes to my H Hour. It was too long and I couldn’t wait much longer. The longer I waited the longer time I would give the CTs time to prepare themselves for our assault. I didn’t want to lose my surprise factor.

Convinced that it was the most opportune time, I launched the assault immediately at 6.15 a.m on October 11, 1973 – five days past my 25th birthday. I grabbed a M 26 grenade, pulled the safety pin out, released the striking lever from my hand, counted three seconds before lobbing it in between trees towards the two CTs near the bonfire. It landed with a splash in a puddle of water to their right. To my horror and dismay, it didn’t explode!

Swiftly, I grabbed my Baretta automatic rifle and released two long bursts at the two CTs who were looking at the direction of the splash the grenade had made. Instantly, all hell broke loose. My radio operator immediately left his tree and charged towards the two bashas I had indicated earlier, shouting out the war cry and with his Baretta spitting fire. I told him not to shout as his voice could indicate his position to the CTs. But in the midst of battle I doubt he could hear me.

The jungle came alive. There were a lot of shouting and screaming in Chinese. My men on my right flank were also firing into the camp. I veered left to follow the sounds of retreating CTs. My cut-off group also fired. Sandwiched, the CTs escaped through the open left flank. Suddenly, amidst the chaos, I heard a couple of unfamiliar bursts of an automatic fire from an unfamiliar weapon – it sounded slower and the pitch was lower. It must have been directed in my direction, because the fire from the muzzle was directly in front of me.

Instinctively, I hesitated and didn’t retaliate! My first thought was of my cut-off group. Could that be their fire? By the time I realised it was not, the sounds of the fleeing CTs were well to my left. I kept up the pressure, firing as I went. As the sounds of the escaping CTs disappeared, I stopped to check my ammunitions. I had used five of my seven magazines. I had to conserve my remaining ammunitions just in case the CTs might want to counter-attack.

As I was taking stock of the situation, I heard approaching footsteps, splashing in the water. I drew my dagger and prepared myself for a hand to hand combat. Somehow, when it was about a couple of metres from me, the footsteps stopped. I crouched low and waited for about five minutes. Satisfied there was no one there, I decided to retrace my footsteps and went back into the camp to take control of the situation and quickly organised an all round defence, just in case the CTs might try to counter attack.

The jungle was filled with acrid white smoke of gun powder. I didn’t notice it before. I met up with my assault team and searched the camp. The camp was actually an overnight camp. There were only makeshift tents made of plastic sheets. Some of the CTs were sleeping on the jungle floor while others were in hammocks. One of the CTs killed died in his hammock.

The way they left the camp showed that they were totally caught by surprise. Blankets were strewn all over the place. They didn’t have the time to pack up their belongings. We recovered about 35 packs and assorted items such as torch lights, Iban parangs (machettes), home-made shot guns and pistols, some ammunitions and even transistor radios. One of the radios was still running a Chinese programme. We found seven CTs dead – four females and three males. One of the astonishing find was a talisman written in Arabic found in the jungle boot of one of the male CTs. He had, presumably, got it when he was in Kalimantan, Indonesia, when the Sarawak Communist Organisation decided to go underground soon after the Brunei Rebellion broke out in December 1962.  

For the success, however, we had to pay a price. My radio operator was killed and one of my section commanders was wounded on the head. After locating my radio set, I managed to relay the good news to my commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Philip Lee Khiu Fui, through our Mortar platoon which had established a firing position at the fringe of the swamp. I could visualised the excitement the news would have created at the Battalion, Brigade and Division Headquarters. The next day, I was told to rendezvous with 3rd Brigade Commander, Brigadier General Hassan Hj Salleh and my commanding officer at a clearing which took me a good thirty minutes to reach.

The Brigade Commander wanted to congratulate me personally for having achieved the biggest success for the year. I and Lance Corporal Ahmad Adnan were awarded the nation's second highest gallantry award by the King.
Capt Robert Rizal and Lance Corporal Ahmad Adnan

The ripples of excitement were felt as far as the Armed Forces Headquarters in Kuala Lumpur. A week later, the Chief of the Armed Forces Staffs, Tan Sri General Ibrahim Ismail came down to Kuching to get a first hand picture of what had happened and to meet me and my team.

Unknown to me at that time, the CTs in the First and Second Division of Sarawak, under its Director and Political Commissar, Bong Kee Chok, were mulling over the idea of giving up their armed struggle and return to society. This was the result of the relentless pressure from the Security Forces. Bong Kee Chok was further demoralised by the lack of cooperation between factions. Bong Kee Chok wrote a letter to the Chief Minister of Sarawak, Tan Sri Abdul Rahman Yaacob, seeking to negotiate favourable terms for himself and his men. The meeting was held over three days in the residency of Simanggang and was concluded on October 21, 1973 – just ten days after I had attacked their camp in Nonok.

That attack must have been the last straw for him. Subsequently, the town of Simanggang was renamed “Sri Aman” to mark the historical event. That historic operation was the last for me before 3rd Rangers returned to its home base in Taiping in December 1973. I was given the honour to be the parade commander of the Battalion farewell parade. The Chief Minister of Sarawak, Tan Sri Abdul Rahman Yaacob fittingly took the salute. Dressed in camouflage uniforms and wearing the distinctive red mufflers around our necks, a fashion I introduced into Kilat platoon, we braved the rain. It was a resplendent and awesome sight to behold.        

It had been a most successful year for the Battalion. Thirty CTs were eliminated – the highest ever achieved by any battalion in a single year. I and Lance Corporal Ahmad Adnan who hails from Johor were awarded the nation’s second highest gallantry award – the Panglima Gagah Berani (PGB). Another soldier, Lance Corporal Peter Bat Wan, a Kenyah from Ulu Batang Rejang in Sarawak, was awarded a Mentioned-In-Despatch. A total of twenty-one soldiers and officers were each awarded a commando knife for having killed at least one CT.

This special award was mooted by Commander 3 Brigade, Brigadier General Hassan Hj Salleh, who knew and understood the importance of appreciating and recognising soldiers’ contribution in the field, especially in war. He learned this from the British Army. In January 1974, 3rd Rangers returned to its home base in Taiping – after a highly successful one year tour of duty in Serian. Kilat platoon was immediately disbanded and the men returned to their respective rifle companies.

It was heartening to note that the Malaysian Army had taken notice of the trend in infantry battalions forming their own special platoons and giving them various names. They saw the successes these elite platoons had achieved. Perhaps, their achievements had influenced the policy makers in the Ministry of Defence into making a decision to officially form a Unit Combat Intelligence Squad (UCIS) in all Infantry battalions. They were considered as an elite platoon in the battalion. In them, the spirit of Kilat platoon lived on.

I and my team were congratulated by the Chief of the Armed Forces Staff,General Tan Sri Ibrahim Ismail accompanied by Lt Col Philip Lee, Maj Gen Dato' Mahmood and Brig Gen Dato' Hassan Hj Salleh. I'm 7th from the left.
I received a Commando Knife from Commander 3 Brigade, Brig Gen Hassan Hj Salleh for having accounted for the 4th leader in the leadership heirarchy of 3rd Company NKCP early in the year.

I commanded the Battalion Farewell parade in December 1973, when our one year tour of duty was over. The CM of Sarawak, Tan Sri Abdul Rahman Yaacob took the salute. We returned to our home base in Taiping, Perak.


  1. Dear Sir,

    I could visualize the entire operations from your narrative. What a gut wrenching moment. Being so close to the enemy, unable to see them and yet you went on with the mission. I do surely hope the present day officer corp emulate your courage and tenacity.

    My kudos to you and your platoon the forerunners of Risik Gempur.

    Sir, I am from Taiping as well and i've heard a lot of stories about the Ranger and Police confrontation in the 70s in Taiping. Will you be able to shed some lights on what actually transpired, if that is not a sensitive subject.

    One again my salute to you sir, on the job well done.


  2. Jeya,

    Thank you for your kind words. I have sent you the story of the Rangers/police confrontation of the 70s. Have you rec. it? If you didn't I'll send it again.

  3. Sir I did not receive it. Could you send it again to

    Thank you sir, appreciate it.


  4. Congratulations. Another well narrated piece.

    I notice that your readers have flooded in and now you have 481 hits.

    How long does it take to drive from Taiping to Sitiawan?

    Are you sending out your books to those who have booked? ASAP send your account no and books. TQ and God Bless.

  5. Hi Chang Yi,

    My autobiography should be out next week. I will send them over to Miri for those who have ordered.

    Taiping to Setiawan is about 1hr to 1hr 30 mins.

    Who do I contact in KTDHB for the book sale purposes? Aren't the college interested to know about one of its dino?

  6. Congrats Uncle...

    A masterpiece, well narrated as i could not wait to read the next sentence and of coz next entry..cant hardly wait for your book.

  7. Rafizal,

    Thank you. My book is just completed. The autobiography "My Adventure" is RM45. The anthology is RM35. You can also order through sms. My h/p is 012 - 2751171.

  8. Col… I’ve notice that in several situations, hand grenade that was thrown by our soldiers during battle, do not explode. In some cases, these could cause serious consequences.

    From your experience Sir, what was the cause of it? Could it be the poor quality of the grenade, or maybe other human factor/error, or is it just “Murphy” playing it tricks on our brave men?

  9. Hi Marc,

    I think it was the poor quality of the grenade (American M26 grenade). When I let go of the striking lever from my grip, I could feel and heard the weak strike it made.

    Most probably the spring was rusty/corroded, as we were in the swmap for 2 weeks under relentless rain at the same time.

    I didn't know whether water had gone into the firing/explosive mechanism. We couldn't retrieve the grenade as it was not safe, anyway.

  10. Col…

    I’ve never knew that TD were using Beretta rifle in the ‘70s. I thought we were using SLR… I believe it’s the Beretta AR70 that we’re using back then? & I’m guessing that there must be some flaws with that rifle, hence it short service in TD…

  11. Marc,

    We were given the Baretta (the 9mm SMG were also still in use then) 5.56mm in 1973.

    It was a very reliable rifle. We were operating in extreme conditions in the swamp for two weeks and the rifle didn't fail us in all our contacts.

    I didn't know the reason why it was rejected - probably more of popularity demand than anything else. You know how it was in Malaysia on the purchases of equipments.

  12. Agi Idup agi Ngelaban28 March 2010 at 10:15

    Col Robert,
    Good news to all those active serving guys and gals in the forces. Endang gaya kitai anak lelaki. Nadai utai enda ulih. You deserved the award and should have been with the coveted SP even.Those guys who got the SP, their action were less compelling than that of yours in the Nonok Skirmish.

  13. Dear Agi Idup Agi Ngelaban,

    Thank you for your kind comments. Frankly speaking, when I joined the Army, it meant I want to "go to war" NOT "cari makan" or earning a living. Soldiers with that categories will have different outlooks.