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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

"Baton 1" - Pt 2

Continuation of the story here...

In any Ops the troops that are directly engaged with the enemy are those that are in the limelight with the supporting arms follow suit but the Air Force, they were in the class of their own and the Pilot, well… you know. The logistics units and guys like me are seldom recognised and I just go about doing my job as I see best and I take pride to say that my 'driver air loaders' got my commendation on their good job that day considering the constraints and lack of decent equipments. We don't have call sign assigned to us or even walkie-talkies to go around with. Using improvised discharge conductors and sharing goggles and at times operated obsolete rotary pumps and in those days you don't dream of wearing bulletproof vest. Believe me, there was on a different occasion, a driver came back from his routine sending rations, was fired upon and with bullet holes to his vehicle without the escort armoured cars even realised what was going on and I don't remember we make a fuss over this. If you have been in an APC you can imagine how it sounded from inside.


Having clear advantage and with the harassing fire power over the enemy camp still on, I look upon this Ops as to get on level term with the Communist Terrorists. On the 7 of April 1975, during battalion roulement between 13 MTA and the 7th Ranger Regiment, returning back from Mong (or Nong) Gajah towards Gubir, two of the three vehicles in a convoy carrying a Platoon from 7th Ranger with Skot Syed Ikmal Hashim, as the Platoon Commander was ambushed, killing over half a dozen soldiers including one of my drivers, Pemandu Hussain from C Platoon, 20 Transport Coy. However I am proud to say that this transport unit has been the most combatant during that time where I was the Platoon Commander. 

The Ferret scout car escorting from the rear, raced towards the ambushed zone was however disabled with its gun and radio antennae destroyed. Miraculously a bullet from the enemy fires went through the barrel of the armored car Browning machine gun. It was a tense and dramatic moment when the daring enemy, a woman bandit came down from the slope of the road cutting and trying to finish off those soldiers with some already wounded that went for cover under the vehicles and just then when the Ferret arrived. Both trucks stop along side each other, probably in certain sense provided wider shelter for the soldiers. One of the Rangers died in an assaulting position still clutching on to his weapon which has the empty casing stuck to its chamber. The few seconds needed to do the TSM may have cost his life. 

Three days later in pursuit of the above incident, when 6th Brigade was just about to mount a major Ops, the Brigade Intelligence Officer, Capt Hardev Singh, leads an advance party in a Land Rover, followed with convoy of trucks carrying a company from the 17 RMR. Hardly just few miles further up Gubir camp, the advance column was ambushed killing him and several soldiers including the Corporal of the armoured scout car. Two of the 20 Transport Coy drivers were shot and seriously wounded however survived. Pathetic, and just about everything went wrong for the 17 RAMD Coy including reason for the Brigade IO to be there. Already seriously wounded he can only afford to verbally challenge the bandits before they gained control over him. It was a rampage and among other things the enemy took off with them were some weapons and a radio signal set and as such every set of that model has got to be re-crystallized. So having suffered with all those tragic loses, it was time to retaliate or at least get even.

However the event that follows in the next few days and throughout the Ops, to say the least was horrific. The nearest of the bombs hit was some 200 yards away from the enemy camp and the worst bloody part was that the assaulting ground troops especially the Commandos were halted during their advance assault by enemy's booby traps and mine explosions. Almost daily, scenes so devastated, soldiers with legs, arms blown off and some blinded, were Medevac out of the location. So many were the mines and booby traps surrounding the camp, some real, some dummies, that the troops were practically neutralised and eventually set based in that area that was code named Target Bravo.

The enemy camp was sophisticated than once thought. There was an escape tunnel leading out of the camp and it was when the bomb disposal unit came to clear it that a mine exploded killing the L/Cpl and injuring others including the Officer who by this incident was later honoured with the Pingat Gagah Berani. That was the first heavy casualty in that Ops and the days that follow are nothing but despair. There was still no enemy insight and the Liaison Officers representing the various Battalions were repeating the same tactical sitreps during morning prayers chaired by the Brigade Commander. 'Berikut adalah kedudukan sub unit sub unit 3 Melayu Di Raja..' predictably that was how they make their intro however non was so amusing than Skot Alias ‘Navy’ of Engineer when he related in detail how he and his men were greeted when they conducted search operation in a suspected Chinese village by demonstrating the sound of their alarm: 'Ting ting ting ting., Tong tong tong tong', full heartedly and with suspense however that was about all to it of his achievement in that search.

The Nuri that was grounded after been shot upon earlier on, rested at the side of the field in the middle of the Gubir camp and crewmen shuttled from Butterworth Air Base daily, repairing the damage.  Before sunset, the Arty fires their 105mm into the mountain behind the camp and an Allouette flew around spectacularly, firing at the forested mountain. You'll hear two explosions, first when the shots bursting from the gun followed by another slightly bigger explosion when the 20mm cannon balls hitting the trees and the branches seen fallen off. This routine firing perhaps intended to scare away the enemy or wild animals, elephant maybe, so we can sleep well during the night. One day the copter’s firing stop abruptly and they landed when the gun exploded inside the aircraft and quite seriously injuring the AQM cum gunner. There was also an incident where the Arty shell fell short just behind the Officer’s Mess but luckily it did not explode and saw some officers in their towel scrambled out of their room.

Around the second week of the Ops, its show time again for the driver air loaders, as it was time for the Re-Supply and it was massive considering the amount of troops to be supplied in the forward line. Coordinating meeting and sorties schedules were handed, the night before, to QM and RQMS of the various units. In the morning the camp looks like Pasar Tani with fresh and pack rations in boxes placed around the LPs ready to be air lifted into locations. There's no substitute for good planning and executions and like pros we go about doing our tasks without a flaw. If the sorties are done to more than one call signs at one go, you must know how to load with the exact number of rations i.e. the under slung with the cargo net to the first location and the next will be loaded nearest to the cargo door and so on. So when the Nuri approaches, the L/Cpl will marshal the aircraft into the LP and when rations of heavy boxes are loaded onboard, the aircraft will hover few meters, then a discharge conductor is touched to the pod for static electricity to flow out and the cargo net is then hooked to the aircraft. The hectic process repeated throughout the day with refueling in between. At the end of the day the Air Despatch men walk dragging the cargo net from the shoulder and with the probe on one hand, looks like victorious gladiators coming out of the arena.

The down thrust wind sometimes blows the raga ayam away and with chickens strewn all over. However one thing about this long service bad conduct chickens, was that they don't run away and the men just simply pick and put them back into the baskets. At times I went onboard to see for myself how the rations were delivered. The first impression was like fun fare or nowadays opening of supermarket's sale when I saw vibrant of so many marker balloons projecting out from the jungle canopies and as the Heli approach you'd see the marker sign with one or two sloppy men dressed in celoreng waving anxiously. While some pilots took effort to land their aircraft some depending on the situation, hovered some meters up and when rations were ‘free dropped’, they burst and scattered to the ground on impact, a sorry sight to see and then as the Heli climbs away you see more men dashing out from the undergrowth, picking up the broken up rations. 

Almost all the ground units put up great effort with an impressive DZ and took trouble to fell trees with the G 1098 store issued parangs so they can be easily spotted and if that's not enough, they fired very light flares and that’s how hungry they were. I can't help feeling pity for one particular unit where they could have just easily laid their x-ray one bar marker sign if they could have realised that there was a big jungle clearance just few yards away, of course hidden by trees if one is standing from the ground. Also it was not surprised, due to break down in communication and problems only best known to the pilot, to see the Copter returning back with the under slung net still dangling, unable to find the location. One such incident was when the ground troop wrongly fired red very light flares instead.

As days gone by, there were still without any positive development during the Ops and the only very good thing was that during this time, I received a letter from my sweetheart with her picture some more.. a morale booster indeed. 'Jauh jauh menyemai padi’, tidak lalang tumbuh sebendang. Harap harap kasih menjadi, dua jiwa berpasangan'. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder so they said and to me she is stunning as like Helen of Troy, 'the face that can launch a thousand ships'. Hey., nak buat filem mesti lah ada cerita romance sikit with actress cantik macam Siti Nurhaliza, kalau tidak, siapa yang nak tengok. Anyway this Helen of Troy of mine is what soldiers refered as in those days and is now.. my Mak Andeh. Let’s dedicates the attachment IF to our Mak Andeh.

To be continued... 

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