Monday, 13 October 2008

Operation Jelaku 6 - The Final Blow. Part 2 The Relentless Follow up.

Operation Jelaku 6
The Final Blow
Part 2- The Relentless Follow up.
( to be read with part 1 & 3)

At first light the following day, 8 October, no.12 platoon spearheaded the follow up. I moved some 1000 metres behind, while no. 10 platoon brought up the rear. We moved cautiously following the track that was consistently heading South Easterly towards Sadong river. On 9 October, Zainil Annuar and his men came across a resting place that showed signs of recent use – most probably an overnight resting place. As the follow up went into the third day, the tell-tale signs left by the CTs seemed to be getting fresher. Then at about 10 a.m. on October 10, 1973, no. 12 platoon made contact with the rear guards.

In the brief exchange of fire, both CTs were killed. It was obvious that the main group was not far away. I studied the map of the area closely and was concerned on the closeness of Sadong river. I knew, if the CTs could reach it before I could get to them, I was quite certain I would lose them for good. Visions of a boat waiting to ferry them across the river played in my mind. Haunted by these possibilities, I decided to go all out to stop them from escaping across the Sadong River.

After giving instruction to Zainil Annuar to make the necessary preparations to winch out the bodies of the two dead CTs out of the operation area, I continued and spearheaded the follow up with my team (my Company Headquarters and members of no. 11 platoon totalling 21 men). By 7 p.m, there was still no contact with the CTs. The traces were now very fresh, indicating they were only a few hours ahead of us.

Darkness was coming in very fast. In the jungle, it came down very much earlier than usual. But, come what may, I had to make a night follow up. We skipped the habitual evening meal, to save an hour or so. Speed and surprise were of utmost importance now.

I decided to go light and left our packs and heavy equipment behind. Six men, enough numbers to fend for themselves, were left to guard our equipments. The night had descended and it made our job trying to follow the track almost impossible.

Under day light, it was easy to see the trampled ground, broken twigs and flattened leaves. In pitch darkness, even with torch lights, it was almost impossible to see these signs. However, the constant South Easterly direction the track had been heading for in the last three days had helped me a great deal to maintain my course.

The damp night air was becoming colder and heavier. Our tired bodies could not generate enough heat to keep us warm. We had been in the swamps for seven days now and our feet were beginning to feel the adverse effect of being soaked in water over long period. Our camouflage uniforms too, were never dry. They were stuck to our bodies like a second skin. To make matters worse, it started to drizzle at about 9 p.m; and as if to add salt to the wound, our torch lights ran out on us. I felt as if I had hit a concrete wall and seemed to have reached a dead end.

I pondered over the situation. Visibility was zero. We couldn’t even see our own hands in front of us. With Sadong river very close - at most 3,000 to 4,000 metres from where I was. The CTs couldn’t be very far away. And with the thought that they could escape across the River was unthinkable. I didn’t want to be haunted for the rest of my life with the failure.

I was in control of the situation and it was up to me whether I wanted success or failure. I decided to push on – regardless of the zero visibility. All was not lost. I still had my magnetic compass to guide me and keep me on the South Easterly direction that the CTs had been steadfastly sticking to.
Mother Nature, too, decided to lend me a helping hand. I saw patches of glowing white lights emitted by certain fungus that grew on rotten leaves and twigs on the jungle floor. Where they were broken by continuous dark break, that was the path the CTs had taken.

We kept on moving, very slowly in tight single file formation to avoid straying away from the group. I peered at my luminous wrist watch. It was almost midnight. Our limbs were numb and we were cold, tired and hungry. Our short rest became more frequent.

Finally, my Company Sergeant Major, Warrant Officer Class 2 Norizan Bakri approached me. “Sir, the men are tired and hungry. Perhaps we should stop for the night. We’ll continue first thing tomorrow morning.” I knew the situation the men were in and perhaps shouldn’t flog a dead horse. On the other hand, we were already so close to the enemy that I just couldn’t give up now and abandoned my effort. Besides, by tomorrow, the enemy could have been safe and sound on the other side of Sadong River. “All right Encik, we will continue for another hour. If nothing comes up by then, we will stop for the night and continue at first light tomorrow morning.” I told my Sergeant Major.

I had to make a compromise. God was on our side. Before that hour was over, my leading scout, Lance Corporal Peter Bat Wan, a Kenyah from Ulu Rejang, whispered to me that he detected the familiar scent of lighted mosquito coils. I didn’t smell anything. So Peter and I went further forward to confirm his finding. He was right. We also saw some faint flickering lights ahead. Torch lights, perhaps. It was with an unbelievable realisation that we, at last, had caught up with the 1st Company of NKCP.

At that instant, the drizzle suddenly turned into a torrential downpour. It was a blessing in disguise for us. It helped drowned the noises we were making and at the same time kept the CTs confined to their tents. I took full advantage of the rain and withdrew some fifty metres back, so that I could plan and deliver my orders.

Based on the intelligence assessment given to me in Serian Camp, I knew the strength of 1st Company NKCP was between sixty to seventy. With only fifteen men, I was numerically outnumbered. However, I had a far superior fire power as every one of us was armed with 5.56mm automatic rifles. The CTs perhaps, had a few automatic weapons. The majority of them were, however, only armed with home-made shot guns.

More importantly was our element of surprise. They knew we were hot on their heels but had never expected we were so determined to even make a night follow up. The scale was therefore heavily tipped in my favour. be continued in Part 3.

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