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.
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.