10 days before the tragedy...on 16 April 1976, for the first time in the history of the RMAF, both the F5Es (top pic) and CL-41G 'Tebuans' (bottom pic) aircraft were deployed to bomb the suspected communist terrorists' camps along the border of Malaysia/Thailand near Gubir. The bombing continued the next day. And of course...who else if not the 'old but faithful' indispensable Nuri helicopters to insert the troops in the hostile areas. Even escorted by Alouette gunships, Nuri were still CTs' main target. They were successful in bringing down one Nuri on that tragic day...26 April 1976.
Well...now you have the opportunity the read the experiences of Col Zakaria Salleh TUDM (B) who participated in the bombing missions with his 'Tebuan'. With his kind permission, I publish his article.
Once upon a time....
I started learning how to fly on Bulldog aircraft. But it was not until I was sent to RMAF Kuantan that I began to appreciate much about air force type of flying. At No. 9 and 6 Squadrons I was taught not only to fly but to use the aircraft as a weapon platform. This aircraft was a tiny Tebuan CL-41G — a Canadian trainer, but also used as a 'day fighter ground attack' by the RMAF. Here I underwent both basic jet and tactical flying. Tactical conversion itself was an exciting experience especially navigation, preplanned strike and air to ground sorties using rockets, practice bombs and mini-guns.
Just after I had finished my tactical conversion, on April 16, 1976, No. 6 Squadron had the task of flying in the Ops Kota Gubir operation. The Malaysian Army had identified a few Communist Terrorist (CT) camps at the Malaysia/Thai border near Gubir in Kedah. Army battalions surrounded the area while the RMAF was called to conduct air strikes. This was one of the biggest operations that RMAF had been involved in, and I was excited about it because it was my first operational experience.
The CT had been causing problems to our country since the end of the Japanese occupation. Malaysia was to be turned into a Communist country. Our population was intimidated. Many of our ground troops were killed by their booby traps. This operation was conducted in order to harass them from continuing their menace.
The RMAF was given this important task. We were to strike the CT camps along the Malaysia/Thai border near Gubir, Kedah with air to ground weaponry. The army had surrounded the area. And after the air strike they were to capture those camps. Half of our Tebuan CL-41G 'day fighter ground attack' aircraft were equipped with mini-guns and rockets, while another half of the fleet was with 500 lb bombs.
On the morning of April 16, 1976, we went airborne for the targets. An Allouette was also flown as the Forward Air Controller (FAC) to direct the strike aircraft to the targets. It used smoke grenades to mark targets and any correction was to be made by radio. Other aircraft were also involved. The F-5s were assigned to strike, while the Nuri Helicopters were to transport ground troops to forward locations. All of these movements were planned with precise timings. The weather was fine with few clouds hanging over the target areas, however it was not too difficult for small aircraft like the Tebuan to accomplish the mission. The operation was conducted smoothly throughout the day. I felt just like we were at war -- truly, we were at war with the CTs.
After the first wave, we realised that our bombs and ammunition were no match for the CT's hideouts. Some of our rockets and bombs probably hit the targets but the fire power was relatively small to blast the thick jungle. On the other hand, while the target could be identified and marked by smoke-grenades from an Allouette aircraft, it was not easy to spot it from the air. The jungle was thick and it was impossible to see what was underneath. Thus we depended solely on FAC aircraft to guide us to the targets. More sorties were needed to give better result. We flew wave after wave rocketing, bombing and firing our mini-guns on the camps until the end of day-light.
The next day reports arrived. There were mixed feelings on the result of our bombings. CT camps were hit but unfortunately the occupants escaped death and fled across the border. According to the report there might have been some injuries as indicated by blood stains found in the area.
The operation was exiting. At that time, I felt we needed more pilots and better aircraft to do the job. All aircrew and ground crew worked hard. I still remember when our aircraft landed and we had to remain strapped in the cockpits while ground crew refueled and replenished the ammunition. Time was running short. We had to bombard the CTs before they slipped away. Once the job was completed, the army would move in.
Meanwhile helicopters were sent over the target area to assess the situation and send more ground-troops. Few of the helicopters were shot. There were many bullet holes around its body. As for the Tebuans, we were unsure whether we were fired or not. It might have been because our aircraft was small or because of our faster airspeed that we escaped.
The bombing continued on the April 17, 1976. We had to make sure at least more than half of the targets were destroyed. Ground-troops were to be lifted-in once the harassment was completed. In the midst of the operation one of our Nuri helicopters was shot down. It was a tragedy. All crew and soldiers in the helicopter perished. This was the darkest day of the RMAF.
The result of the operation was encouraging. The army moved into CT camps. They had captured a few of the biggest camps. All of the CTs fled across the border with injuries leaving a few dead comrades behind. The operation was successful but the tragic helicopter crash has left a black mark in the RMAF history of air operation against the CTs.
I flew many more operational missions while in Tebuan Squadron and later with the F-5. We strafed and bombed them. We continued to harass them. Many more missions were as exciting, but my operational mission at Gubir Ops is the one I remember most because it was my 'first experience'. In this operation also I lost a few friends and a brother in-law who was a helicopter pilot. Al-fatihah. I think they would be very happy if they knew that the battle against the CTs is now over. We won.
His brother-in-law was my squad-mate, the late Captain (U) Mustapha Kamal.