The Bobby Traps Nuisance
Casualties from bobby traps laid by the communist terrorists (CTs) were many but not alarming. If their intention was to inflict casualties on us, then they had somewhat met their objective.On the other hand, if they were trying to stop us scouring the jungles looking for them, then they had failed, because we were everywhere! No bobby traps could hold us back. Getting blown by a bobby trap could be a nightmare to any soldiers, as it could mean getting one of his feet blown off. Enevitably, it would have to be amputated. He would be maimed for life and it would be the end of the road for him as a combatant. We were fortunate that the CTs in Sarawak didn't use that tactic on us. It was either that they didn't have the expertise or couldn't lay the bobby traps in the jungles for fear of inflicting casualties on the local populace who went into the jungle to hunt, fish and look for jungle products such as rattans. Turning the local population against them would be their last option. So, in my many battles with the CTs in Sarawak in 1973 and the 80s, we didn't encounter a single bobby trap. This had helped us greatly when we pursue them. I can recall some instances of bobby trap incidences that involved me and my men, as well as other men in the Battalion (3rd Rangers)
Operation Kota Echo, Perak, 1970
Hardly a year after being commission as a Second Lieutenant in 3rd Rangers, and fresh from our one-year tour of duty in Serian and Sibu, we were engaged in Operation Kota Echo in Kroh (now Pengakalan Hulu) sector. It was an Operation that was still vivid in my mind. C Company lost 7 men in an ambush in Sg Kuak near Kroh. At about 9 a.m. on that fateful day, acting on an information given by some locals about the sighting of a group of CTs in their area, a Section of men from C Company went to lay an ambush. On the way, they were ambushed by a group of about 30 CTs. The Section Commander didn't have the chance to retaliate. He dived for the nearest tree. He was impaled by a few "panjis" (sharpened bamboo stakes) in the chest and died on the spot.
We learned a lesson from the CTs. From then on, we always carry "panjis" with us and our jungle bases were always well guarded.
The two men at the rear, though wounded, managed to retreat to their base to ask for reinforcement.
That was our first taste of "panjis". Looking back now at the incident, I couldn't help noticing the absence of bobby traps.
We had our first casualty from bobby traps in Operation Gonzales 1 in 1974. It must have been the CTs first attempt too, as they were not powerful enough to blow off a foot.
Op Gonzales 1 in 1974
In 1974, after our one-year tour of duty in Serian, Sarawak, 3rd Rangers was deployed in the Kinta District with 1st Rangers as the neighbouring Battalion. However, hardly two weeks later, we were told to regroup at the Battalion Headquarters. We were going to be pulled out of the operation area. 3rd Rangers was due to undergo two months of intensive Conventional Warfare retraining in PULADA, Ulu Tiram, Johore.
During this time, after the fall of South Vietnam to the Communist North, the "Domino Theory" propagated by the Americans was a hot issue and had all South East Asian nations worried.
According to the Americans, the North Vietnamese war machines would continue its march - southwards. According to the prophecy, Thailand and Malaysia would fall. Concerned, the Malaysian government beefed up the Malaysian Armed Forces. More infantry and supporting units were raised. All infantry battalions had to undergo the compulsory conventional warfare retraining schedule at the Army Training School (PULADA) in Ulu Tiram, Johor - an aspect of warfare we had not been keeping in touch with, due to our ongoing counter-insurgency warfare against the communist terrorists.
While waiting for the day we were to be pulled out, some elements from the Assault Poineer platoon were tasked to clear and construct a helicopter landing point where we would be pulled out by helicopters. While clearing the area, a few of them stepped on bobby traps laid by the CTs. Injuries were however light as the explosive charges were weak, indicating that they were new to it. Other Units also suffered the same fate.
Operation Cahaya Bena, Southern Thailand.
In July 1977, 3rd Rangers was again one of the major units involved in a divisional-sized operation to flush out the CTs in the District of Betong. Our area of operations were, however, too far North - about 40km away from Betong.
For the next one week I patrolled and searched my area of responsibility. We were warned about bobby traps in areas which were planted in terrains of 1000m or more above sea level.
One day, while we were on the move, my leading scout saw exposed red and blue wire on our path. I called my Booby Trap Clearing (BCT) team forward to check it out. I was behind them. A short while later, the quietness was shattered by a loud explosion just a few feet to my right. The first thing I did was to see whether my feet were intact and after that I inspected my limbs and body. Miraculously, I didn't have a scratch. If the explosive had been under my foot, it would have been a different picture. Syukur Alhamdullilah. God is Great.
Although there were indications that the CTs had been using the area, they were nowhere to be found. In retrospect, they must had known of our operation and moved deeper or gone under ground or simply stayed indoors and became parts of the local scenes.
When I discovered their farm, it was deserted but by the traces and tracks they had made in the area indicated they had been moving in and out of the area for a long time. The next morning, one of my platoons made another sweep of the area and one of the men stepped on a bobby trap. He was evacuated by a helicopter to Pulau Pinang Hospital.
Aided by a BCT from the Engineers, I followed a very well-trodden track that was heading into the mountains nearer to the Malaysian-Thai International border, close to Gubir in Kedah. After about a kilometer, the BCT found and neutralised no less than 6 bobby traps. I was very confident the track was leading to a big camp. I was perplexed, when I was told to stop the follow up. A couple of days later, the operation ceased and 3rd Rangers was withdrawn to Kroh and eventually back to our base in Taiping, Perak.
The Naga Line
In retaliation and to prevent the CTs crossing the border into Malaysia, the "Naga Line" was deemed necessary (A belt of anti-personnel mines /bobby traps made and planted by the Engineers along the border in our territory.
However, we do not know the statistic of casualties it had inflicted on the CTs.
After the Peace Accord Agreement with the CPM in 1989, the "Naga Line" was diffused/neutralised for fear of inflicting casualties on innocent people.