Wednesday, January 13, 2010

My first encounter with the SAS

Special Air Service

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.

5.56mm AR15

7.62mm SLR

Claymore Mine

Ramington Shotgun

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.

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