Sunday, 12 October 2008

Operation Jelaku 6 - The Final Blow. Part 1 - The Search and Contact.

Run up to the greatest moment in my Career                         I was coming to my greatest moment and it would be the Battalion's greatest achievement. Everything seemed to have fitted nicely into place - my promotion to Captain that made me eligible to command a Rifle Company, a vacancy was available when one of the Company Commanders was posted out and created a vacancy for me. The 1st Company of North Kalimantan Communist Party (NKCP) led by Bong Kee Chok was on the verge of giving up.

That situation was created through the hard works by 3rd Rangers since the beginning of the year (1973). On the very first operation in January 1973, we had started to score, not only in the District of Kuching but in Serian District as well. By May/June 1973, we had eliminated the 3rd Company NKCP operating in the District of Serian and rendered it ineffective as a threat anymore. Thus the only group still largely intact was the 1st Company operating in Kuching and Simanggang District led by Bong Kee Chok. Backed by my track record, I was given a mission to track down and engage this 1st Company NKCP in the inaccessible vast swampy area of Nonok (now Asajaya) where troops had never ventured into.
A satelite picture of Nonok (dark patch). Sadong River is on the right, South China Sea is to the North. Kuching City out of the picture to the left.

As my story is rather lengthy, I'll break it up into three parts, so as to make it easy reading.
Operation Jelaku 6 (East of Kuching City)
October 4 – 12, 1973
The Final Blow
Part 1- The Search and Contact
I was promoted to the rank of Captain in July 1973 and knew my days with Kilat platoon had ended. However, I remained the platoon commander for the next four months, until a vacancy was created when Captain Ahmad Rafiee of D Company was posted out of the unit in October. I was immediately available and was appointed by the Commanding Officer, Lt Col Philip Lee Khiu Fui, to command the company.

Young and enthusiastic 25 year old Captain Robert Rizal Abdullah

I left the platoon which I had trained and motivated with a heavy heart but knew and understood I had to progress on in my career. I couldn’t be leading platoons all my life!

Barely a couple of days later, D Company was deployed in the swamps of Nonok (see pic). Having operated there before, I knew conditions there very well. I was there in early January when the monsoon season was at its raging height. And now in October, the monsoon season was just beginning and I didn’t expect the swamps to be as extreme as when I had found it in January.

Based on patterns of sightings of the CTs in the area, it was firmly believed that the 1st Company of NKCP had established a firm base there. I was given its most likely position. Just like James Bond, I was given a mission to seek out and destroy this remaining, elusive and largely intact group. But unlike James Bond, I was not given any sophisticated gadgets, beautiful partners and a self-destruct tape recorder.

On October 4, 1973, my Company was airlifted to a helicopter landing point in the heart of Nonok peninsular, about five to six thousand metres from the target. It was specially constructed by a section of the Royal Engineers for me. No troops had ever ventured that far. The inaccessibility of the swamp had probably given the CTs a false sense of security. What they didn’t know was that no obstacles, however difficult, could hold me back.

To effectively cover my area of responsibility, I broke up my Company into three groups – my company headquarters combined with no. 11 platoon, no. 10 platoon commanded by Sergeant Zakaria and no. 12 platoon commanded by Second Lieutenant Zainil Annuar Ariffin (he later switched to the Military Police Corps and retired as a Major and is now doing well with AIROD).

On 6 October, which happened to be my twenty-fifth birthday, a patrol from no.12 platoon on returning to their base, made a head-on contact with a group of CTs. Thinking they had reached their base, the leading scout had relaxed his guard. And in that split-second indecision, the CT fired first. The leading scout, Ranger Mohd Salleh, was killed instantly. An immediate follow up by Zainil Annuar brought him to an old, large empty camp which could accommodate 60 to 70 CTs.

Early next morning, I met up with Zainil Annuar and his platoon in the CT camp and planned out my next move. Judging by the condition of the camp, it could have been used in excess of five years. It was smack in the middle of the target area given to me.

Except for the discovery of a fresh, well-trodden track that led in a South Easterly direction, we found nothing else of importance. I was absolutely certain the 1st Company of NKCP we were after, was in the camp as recently as one or two days before.

My next course of action was obvious. We must follow the track the CTs had made. be continued in Part 2.

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