Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Thursday, January 14, 2010
I was GPO in Bergosong, a typical gun position on top of a small hillock within a Manila hemp plantation. Bergosong was also a typical defensive position with cleared fields of fire. Even the gun pit was constructed with a view to shoot direct fire if needed.
Having being an Instructor and DS in RMC, Lateda and Staff College in the course of my career, I now reflect that Bergosong would indeed be a perfect platoon plus defence position. It was big enough to have defence trenches in depth, counter attack routes within the position and interlocking arcs of fire. Whilst it was a classic defence position, Bergosong also offered a setup and layout for a classic company attack. Good locations for an attacker’s AA outside direct small arms fire, good approaches to the LD clearly defined in a straight line at the edge of the Manila hemp trees. Not too difficult gradient and climb up to the top of the position, and there were little cover here and there, for pepper potting up to the perimeter fence. A perfect setting for an attack TWET or, for rehearsing Company Attacks. It was so easy to capture the position. All that was needed was a flare from a Very- light signal pistol for the attacking troops to cross the LD. An attack could be mounted from any direction. My sector faced South, in the direction of the enemy front.
The enemy had escalated their aggressiveness. An attack on our infantry company position in Kalabakan was still very fresh on our minds. There were also reports of the enemy crawling into our infantry positions in the night and had left their Stiletto commando knives stuck on trees inside our perimeters. A clear case of psychological warfare. The enemy could attack anywhere at will. Such was the fear in us.
It was a typical day and we were five minutes to evening stand-to at 1830 hours. Stand-to would normally commence without any loud signal or call, it was usually prompted by word of mouth. Stand-to would last for about half an hour, allowing twilight to turn into total darkness for the night. There would be no lights from the position. The CP would have its bunker flaps down for the night. We would have a small low lighting inside the CP. Stand-to drill would allow us to prepare for the night, allow us to adjust to our seeing in the darkness and check that everybody is accounted for. All patrols would be withdrawn in and booby traps set and gates closed.
Five minutes to stand-to would have most people already in place in their night bunkers. We would have liaised with the infantry platoon on the other side and everybody knew the password for the day. I was just finishing my evening cup of tea and was sitting on top of the flat roof of the CP. My SMG and webbings were inside the CP, which was my position for the stand-to. We all heard the soft bang coming from a distance in the south and shortly, a green flare floated down over our position. We all looked at the flare in awe with our mouths opened and were literally frozen. It was like forever until I shouted Stand-to. I jumped and rushed into the CP. There was still adequate light to observe around. Nothing. I had reported the contact incident to my BC in Wallace Bay. I began to sweat, but my thoughts were clear, albeit my body shivering. I had shouted out if anybody saw anything. But none had. I called the infantry platoon commander over the field telephone line. He too had seen the green flare and have taken up stand-to positions. He had confirmed that his patrols were all in and accounted for. He had closed his sector. There were no known friendly forces operating in our area.
I did a quick appreciation on the situation. Who would fire a green flare and why? My cadet training in tactics was still on my mind. A Very-light flare was the best signal for a large length of troops to cross the LD. A green flare would indicate GO. I had done platoon attacks in field exercises before. An attack would be imminent.
I had agreed with the infantry commander that we all would continue to be in stand-to position until further notice. It was very dark, and the silence was deafening. I was very tensed and started to be claustrophobic in the CP. I was breathing heavily and I knew I had to get some air in the open. All bunkers had OHP with slits for firing. I crawled to the gun pit, which was the only area that did not have OHP. I felt better with the gun sergeant and gun numbers beside me. The gun sergeant and I were propped against the wall of the gun pit, weapons in hand. I was shivering so much that my SMG was literally rattling. The gun sergeant had many times said softly to me “Jangan takut Tuan” and I replied “Saya tidak takut” each time, but I was shivering.
It was a very long night. The stand-to lasted the whole night and we stood down only after the morning stand-to drill. We were relieved that there were no enemy attack. And until today the infantry and I were still not sure who had fired that green Very-light over Bergosong. It could be another psychological warfare incident by the enemy. I am not sure.
But what a night.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
The Commonwealth Forces were deployed along side with our troops during the Confrontation. The British had its HQ in Labuan and had deployed infantry units and a squadron of SAS strategically along the border zones in Sabah and Sarawak. The Commonwealth Forces also deployed other combat forces including Armour and Artillery units. The RAF and RN were also deployed to provide air and naval support. Other Commonwealth Forces include Australia, New Zealand and Fiji.
Ops Claret was the British’s immediate response to the enemy’s aggressive escalation of the Confrontation, culmination to the daring attack of our infantry company location at Kalabakan. SAS teams were actively probing and conducting deep penetration ops during Ops Claret. British Gurkha units crossed the border as fighting patrols, often led by SAS team members, which had infiltrated into the area earlier. SAS teams comprise a maximum of four members conducting covert activities. Sometimes these SAS teams had local guides with them.
My first encounter with the British SAS was at the Bergosong gun position when I was the GPO. Bergosong position was on a small hill lock surrounded by Manila Hemp; a banana tree like plant which were used for making good ropes. We were in the middle of a Manila Hemp plantation. We had cleared a few hundred meters around our perimeter for our killing zone and field of fire. We occupied the southern sector of the position and an infantry platoon held the other half.
It was mid morning when we were doing routine CP and gun drills, when our day sentry shouted “MUSUH”. Everybody took up their stand-to positions. Gun numbers manned the gun, ready for direct action fire if needed. The atmosphere was very tense, the gun was immediately loaded using charge seven, weapons were cocked, and everybody was waiting for my next orders. I was in the CP bunker and communicated to the infantry commander by internal field telephone lines. I took charge as the enemy was from my sector. Our sentry informed me also using the field telephone line from the sentry post to the CP. He had seen an enemy with both his hands raised in surrender. He had indicated the direction to see for me.
I could see a lone figure about 150 meters away, dressed in jungle green and no headgear. His arms were raised in surrender. He moved extremely slowly towards us. I ordered no firing and allowed him to approach us. I was prepared for a surrendered enemy. He came closer and closer, in very slow motion as I had felt in moments of high tension. When he was about 20 to 30 meters from us, I saw him to be a Caucasian with his camouflaged face paint hastily rubbed off. Red patches in the face gave him away.
Our infantry patrols were not out, nor were we informed of any friendly forces operating in our sector. But there were no known Mat Sallehs with the enemy. Who could he be? We were not briefed about Ops Claret, nor had I seen any Commonwealth Forces in our area.
I shouted to him in English to advance slowly towards the sentry post. He shouted back “SAS” with a wide grin. I could not authenticate him. He did not know our password for the day. He slowly moved towards our sentry, not once did he lowered his hands. He did not carry any weapons, slung on his shoulders, no webbings and pouches. He had removed his floppy jungle hat so that we could see his face more clearly. He was certainly reddish in the face due to the hot sun.
I went to the sentry bunker to meet the soldier. He was still not allowed to come into the position. I asked in English who he was and what he was doing in our area. He had explained that he was an SAS Corporal (no stripes on his sleeves) leading a four man SAS team. His men were hiding about 600 meters in the direction from which he had approached us. He had infiltrated into the enemy area by boat up a river east of our position 10 days ago. He could not return to the route from which he was inserted. He took the risk to come out through our position, which was marked on his map. He requested to be extracted from his mission via our position.
I informed my BC to authenticate his mission. We could not do that as we did not have direct communication with the British command. My BC reported the incident to 5 BDE HQ. However I was satisfied with the SAS Corporal’s explanation and told him to bring him team in. He went back into the Manila plantation and returned an hour later with his team members, complete with their, webbings and patrol pouches.
There were four of them, two carrying 5.56mm AR15 rifles, one 7.62mm SLR and one Ramington shot gun. The team had a HF radio (possibly HF A510 set) which could only send and receive in morse codes. Their patrol packs had additional ammo clips, two Claymore mines, some British combat rations, first aid kit. No extra clothing’s. They carried maps, compasses, an assortment of combat tools, and two water bottles each in their webbings.
They requested to stay with us until extracted by boats from Tawau. We assigned them an area in the infantry sector. They were pleased that we had beer in our canteen and bought some. Paid in Ringgits.
Later in the evening I saw a Trooper on top of his bunker. He was completely relaxed, beer in one hand and a signals morse code key in the other sending out a sitrep to his HQ in Labuan. He tapped away and listened in between tapping pauses. Sometimes we could hear a long series of dots. A dot by itself means the alphabet E. A series of dots means error. “Shit” he would exclaim, “ Can’t they fucking get it right?” He had to send the message in morse code all over again. He had no voice communications.
The SAS team stayed with us for two days before an assault boat from 5 Bde came and took them back to Tawau. Our canteen had brisk sales of beer.
Monday, January 11, 2010
There were four gun positions deployed in Sebatik Island. I was GPO in the Sungei Melayu gun Position.
It was mid morning when the fire orders came through.
Hello Charlie Charlie 2A, this is 2
Nonokan. BOP 41 under heavy enemy fire.
5 rounds FFE
It was the most extraordinary fire orders received throughout our Confrontation period. Firstly, Battery target for all gun positions? Secondly, fire orders sent through the Bty Admin net by Bty HQ? Thirdly, ZQ1001 at about 20 km away, which was well out of my gun range? Most odd.
But Fire orders are fire orders! Questions later.
ZQ1001 was a predicted DF target on Nonokan town (about 8 km West of Wallace Bay) circulated to all gun positions by the Semantan gun position. We had the target listed in our target records. BOP 41 was a Boat OP from the TAG (Tawau Assault Group) comprising the Recce Corps and our naval riverine elements. The fire orders came through our Bty Admin Net using the HF156 sets. Our Fire Orders net was onVHF, which had a typical limited operating jungle range from 3km to 8 km range. I had not gone out with the Infantry patrol that morning as FOO, nor callsign India 11 deployed that morning. India 11 was the infantry callsign whenever their patrol was out and when they called for direct fire support. Why did Bty HQ in Wallace Bay call for Battery target, knowing we would be out of range to ZQ1001 ?
BOP 41 was two assault boats deployed to observe the Nonokan town area, which was known to be enemy HQ position and main base. It was also known that Nonokan had a battery of 155mm guns in the town padang area. Enemy naval boats were also active in this area, mostly based in jetty area. BOP 41 had many times confronted with enemy naval activities, but had not exchanged fire before.
That morning BOP 41 reported that they were under heavy enemy fire from an enemy naval boat and had called for close fire support from the Semantan gun position. My BC had decided to retaliate with full force from all our gun positions. He had called for all gun positions to fire onto ZQ1001.
All guns responded with 5 rounds FFE. I fired charge 7 to my maximum range. Only the guns in Semantan and Wallace Bay were in range. They hit the target. The gun position at Bergosong was also about 16 km away. There was no necessity for a second salvo of gun fire. The enemy boat soon stopped firing and withdrew back to their base. Apparently rounds from the Semantan and Wallace Bay gun positions had actually hit the Nonokan jetty area.
BOP 41 reported no own casualties and was very pleased with our close support. BOP 41 could not assess target damage. Since then, our BOPs were never under enemy fire again.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
1000 hrs. All was quiet. We were just settling into the night. Then Crack… Thump. The sound of mortar fire in the jungle. “Stand-to” was immediately ordered from the command post. The first of several enemy mortar bombs would explode several hundred meters outside our gun position. Night mortar fire was quite common in Sebatik Island, particularly in Sungei Melayu. At times we experienced enemy mortar fire two to three times a week. Our assessment was change of enemy troops at their front. New troops almost always were more aggressive than their out going troops. Perhaps they were registering their targets or confirming taken over target data?
Whatever their intention it was no comfort to be under mortar fire. Stand to position would normally last for two hours or so. We had to retaliate enemy fire to end their mission and to uplift our own morale. We would try to determine the enemy mortar position. We would listen carefully to the crack and thump of the mortar fire. First we would determine the general direction from which the fire came from. Then we would measure the difference in time between the crack and thump and that would roughly gives us the distance to the enemy mortar position.
With that crude data information and guesstimate, we would do counter battery fire. We would fire five rounds fire for effect in retaliation. This would stop further mortar firing. I do not think we could accurately determine the enemy mortar position, but that was the best we could do. Maybe exchange of fire was an exchange of hello between confronting troops. The enemy also knows when we do our roulement and change of troops in the position. The enemy had an OP position at the mouth of Sungei Melayu and they could observe the extra movements of our troops moving into Sungei Melayu.
We were mortared once in the daytime, when we brought our gun ammo from Tawau by assault boats. We were unloading and carrying the ammo boxes from the river, uphill to the gun position when the enemy fired several mortar bombs at us. We had to continue to move the ammo boxes under enemy mortar fire. It was very frightening, but we could not leave the ammo unattended. It would be disaster if a mortar round would have a direct hit on our ammo. We must get all our ammo under OHP inside our ammo dump. We had to run uphill with three men carrying two boxes of ammo per team. We could not do counter battery fire as all personnel were assigned to complete the ammo move as quickly as possible. A section from the infantry platoon were also tasked to help out to carry the ammo. All remaining troops maintained stand-to position.
We were thankful that we never had enemy mortar fire falling inside our gun positions. We assessed that the enemy did not deploy their MFCs, otherwise the mortar rounds would hit our positions.
Monday, January 4, 2010
Have a great year ahead, and we look forward to our first AGM.