Thursday, May 31, 2012


The pilot track aligning the East West Highway. Grik is at the bottom left

The East West highway linking Perak to Kelantan was built by a Malaysian Thai Consortium in the early 1970s. The Highway was a four lanes highway starting from Grik in Perak and ending in Batu Merlintang in Kelantan. Work on the pilot track started from the west side.

LDC Posts were deployed and built along the highway to provide protection for  the workers and movements along the highway. The first LDC post was established in Batu 18'KM on the Grik side. This camp was fairly large and had been cleared to provide a forward base for the consortium's logistic and support base. As the pilot track progressed, strategic LDC posts to accomodate up to platoon or section strength would be built along the highway. An infantry battalion would be deployed for border ops in Pos Banding, guarding the strategic bridges over the Temmenggor dam.

The enemy had always tried to impede the progress of the highway by laying booby traps along the pilot tracks and intimidating the surveyors and road builders. 

One evening, the enemy attacked and destroyed several of the consortium's bulldozers and earth moving vehicles in the consortium's base and along the pilot track. It was the biggest and most daring incident in th border ops area. It had halted road works for weeks allowing the military to conduct  follow up operations.

I was commanding B Bty 2 Arty in Kluang, Johore. My Bty was deployed to support follow up operations the following day after the incident. The Bty droved up the North South highway to deploy into the area arriving late into the night. The BK  and Admin exhlon had left earlier and went straight to Sg Petani and the two FOOs moved on separtately to join the infantry batallion. The Bty did a night deployment at one of the LDC post on the pilot track itself as there were no open spaces cleared yet.  It was a very tight area, but we managed to line out the 6 guns along the straight of the pilot track. I had only one GPO to man the Bty CP. The Bty wagon line was just off the track at the rear of the gun line. The LDC  section provided us with local protection. The LDC post was on a small knoll behind our wagon line with a sentry post on another knoll on the opposite side of the track. This sentry post was smack dead in line with our primary Center of Arc. The sentry post was dug in among some tall jungle trees for camourflage and shade. The sentry trenches had sandbag OHP. 

At fist light the next day we fired the  first of many harrassing fire plans.  We predicted targets at likely enemy crossing points over the Malaysian border into Thailand. HF Fire was also planned to move the enemy towards our infantry ambushes and patrolling areas. HF fire plans became quite boring after three days. Then I became creative.

The HF fire plans were then fired as a competition between gun subs. Competitions on how fast they can fire the first round off into the mission and also how fast to finish the FFE. Speed in laying with the gun sights and speed loading were tested between gun subs. The training stint worked up morale and competiveness between the six guns crew. Crates of drinks were tendered as winning throphies. The most satisfying moments at hand  as it were, was that there was no satety officer as required  at ASAHAN RANGE. There was no need for safety in ops areas. No stop by safety business and safety was the last thing on our minds. 

I was standing  with the gun line at the Bty Center marked by the red and white javalin, between the center 2 guns, shirtless and taking timings with my BDP L/bombardier. An hour into the competition fire, an accident was waiting to happen. The guns were firing incessantly at high intensive rates, and  then it happened. 

There was a flash and a loud bang amist the cordite smoke that filled the air and sharpnels that whistled past our ears. Dust kicked up from all around us  on the pilot track and at the wagon line. A round was crested.

We stopped dead in our track, stunned and confused. I only came to realise the immediate crest problem when the dust had settled. I shouted Stop firing!! Then fear crept into me. Casualties? How many ? Who?

I shouted out to the GPO and TSMs to do damage assessment. Guns that still had rounds in them were ordered locked for safety. That was a good move, as we had five guns with rounds in their breeches. The gun without any round was the culprit gun that had fired the round hitting the top branches of one of the tall trees on the sentry post knoll. The two LDC personnel who were on duty came out of their trench and walked down towards us with their HBSLR and ammo boxes. They were not hurt, but very much shaken and most probably shell shocked and temporary deaf. They were Brave and lucky souls. 

We were very fortunate to have no casualties and real damage. Only one,  Bombardier Mahmood, BDP who should be in the CP during the fireplan was woulded in the leg. A sharpnel had torn through his combat boot on the left leg. He was hit in the wagon line. Several 180 lbs tents in the wagon line were torn with sharpnels tears. The CP, guns and vehicles were not hit. The round had hit the top of the tree and had exploded up at branches, with the sharpnels coming down like an umbralla over the gun position. It had a spread of about 400 metres. A lot of sharpnels were found further behind the gun position and also in the vicinity of the LDC sentry post. The LDC post further back was not affected. All of us would have 8 lives left.

Did I learn my lessons?  like hell I did. We continued our fire missions. I tasked the TSMs as safety officers.

I did not report the incident to RHQ in Kluang. But I had to give the best excuse not to send, Bombardier Mahmood who was wounded in the leg, back to Kluang. He was our regimental fastest sprinter and was required to report back immediately to participate in the 7 BDE atheletics meet.

Not sending Bdr Mahmood back, was harder to explain than the incident.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

"Hello 29, this is 2A. Relay Drop 800 over"

The Stratosphere

I was commanding B Bty 2 Arty in 1970. The Regiment was deployed to Sarawak, and my Bty was deployed to Bau with gun troops in Semantan, Lundu and a third troop in reserve in Bau itself. Regimental HQ was in Airport Camp Batu Tujuh.
It was during the dry season that 3 Bde conducted a large search and destroy operation in the low wetlands of Nonok, 30 km northwest of Kuching. The ops was conducted together with the local PFF Police battalion. 3 bde also deployed an infantry battalion.

Nonok in the wet season was all swamps and not motorable. In the dry seasons patches of high ground were dry and would be available to deploy guns, albeit we still have to support the gun trails with sandbags. Gun pits were no deeper than a foot deep. Anything deeper would result in having a nice well for water. Ammunitions have to be stacked on makeshift racks. This was the best time to conduct the search and destroy operations as the area was kown to have housed CT camps and their forward bases.

Bty Tac HQ and a troop of two guns were deployed together with the Bde  and Infantry batalion Tac HQs. The PFF Tac Hq and theirPFF reserve platoons were located on another dry area 800 meters away. Lt Hashim and his FOO party was asigned to one of the PFF platoon conducting patrols about 6 kilometers away.

There was no action for the past one week during the operation. Daily sitreps were received in all Tac HQs on time per SOP. All was well and normal. It was hot and dry during the day and even hotter during the night.

The fire mission came in clear through the Bty VHF  Fire Orders Net late one afternoon. A single smoke round was immediately fired  in response. There were no contact reports with all the Tac HQs. All radio networks cracked with calls for Radio Checks. It was very tense and eerie. No comms. Nobody was in the air. Not the infantry, not the PFF networks. What is happening? Total blackout.  But a call for fire had just came in from the FOO.

A minute passed. Two minutes, Five. Ten , still no comms to and from the FOO. I reported the  contact to the Bde Comd and to the PFF comd by voice line, and gave them the possible location of the PFF pl in contact with the enemy, knowing the grid reference of the target in the fire mission.

Why was there no response from the FOO? My mind was troubled. Did our first round actually fall on the Platoon's position?  Map reading in Nonok area is notoriously mad and difficiult. The terrain is all flat and covered with mangrove trees and bushes. Then.

" Hello 29, this is 20A,  RELAY. DROP 800 over" this came in as a miracle over our normal HF Bty Net. 20A is A troop CP deployed to Semantan 120 kilometers to our northeast.

"29, Relay Drop 800 out". We are back in business. We have comms. The FOO had somewhat managed to call out their correction to the fire orders via our Bty HF net. Unconventional, but who cares.The Semantan troop  which is more than a 120 km away had  pick up the call.  I passed the order for correction to the gun CP by TENOY line. The next round of smoke was fired within minutes. Smoke rounds were used as standard ammunition for ajustment by convention.

"Hello 20A this is 29, SHOT over." No response. Comms dead again. All stations were again silent.

Time passed. One and a half hours. Still no comms.  And then it happened again.

"Hello 29, this is 2, RELAY,  ON TARGET FIRE FOR EFFECT over"  This time my Bty HQ is Bau, 30 kilometers east of Kuching had picked up the call from the FOO.

"29, RELAY, ON TARGET FIRE FOR EFFECT out"  Fantastic. Good job. We are actually on target. I passed the fire orders to the gun CP. Five HE  rounds from each gun fired simuntenously. Five rounds HE is standard FFE by convention. Ten rounds in all were fired in rapid succession.

"Hello 2, this is 29. SHOT over" Dead. No response.  The situation became more tense. Ten rounds had been fired on the target. This time the chances of our HE round falling into our own position is more imminent. We kept the radio checks going every two minutes.

The sun was setting low over the mangrove trees. I discussed the situation with the Bde Comd and the PFF comd. Nobody had comms. It would be dark soon. As there were lack of further comms and fire orders, I had proposed to the commanders that we fire illumination rounds every minute for 10 minutes. Illumination rounds take one minute to drop to the ground. At least the platoon would have light to dig in for the night. 10 rounds of illumination per gun was the standard first line illumination rounds carried.

At last light,  I gave orders to the Gun CP to fire 10 rounds illumination at a minute's interval.  Twenty rounds illuminations were fired in 20 minutes. There were still no comms, And all we could do was wait and monitor. We did not stood down for the night. No comms for everybody throughout the night. We prayed. We prayed that our rounds had not hit our own troops. 5 rounds FFE from two guns would have a good spread over the target area.

At first light, a very happy FOO came in loud and clear in the Bty HF net.

"Hello all stations, this is 23, SELAMAT PAGI....."

Every network was working again. Radio checks were strength fives. Sitreps were received and the situation was under complete control.

The FOO had reported that our fire mission was very effective. The corrections and fire for effect had save their lives. The platoon and the FOO party had expended all their first line ammunition. They were diging in for the night when the illumination rounds came overhead. Illumination had helped them a lot and they were very thankful for it. Some of the platoon members managed to bring back the parashutes for the illumination rounds as souviners. Most parashutes were entangled high up the mangrove trees.
It was a very successful fire mission. But comms had failed us. Did it ?Comms did not fail us !! Bravery and initiatives by all saved the day.

In our post mortem, the contact area was only about 6 .5 kilometers from the gun position. Well within comms range of VHF sets. We were to know that the arial of the FOO's PRC 77 VHF set was broken off during the fire fight. Hence no comms after the initial fire orders. The signaller in the FOO party had taken the initiative to run under enemy fire to stretch out a ground arial to establish comms using  the BTY HF NET.  The HF Racall 931 is pretty useless with the rod arial.

 HF comms can be interupted by stratospheric conditions creating dead grounds and skip zones. Signal refractions in the stratosphere can throw signals over long distances. This was what had happened.

This was an incident worth remembering and learning lessons from it. What can I say other than Life is like that , full of challenges and surprises. 

But we had God with us.

Allen Lai

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Goodbye Gunners, Farewell.

Goodbye Jimmy, Goodbye. You left us too soon as did Nasaruddin. Both of you left without saying goodbyes. But it is our fault really. We do know time and tide and living waits for no man. We took things for granted. I apologise for not visiting you, Jimmy, in recent times. Nasaruddin, I am sorry too, but I do not know you too well save our meetings at Corp celebrations, parades and other activities. But Jimmy I have no excuses.

I do not wish to write eulogies herein, as I do not qualify, nor know how to write one.

I know Jimmy in the 60s as we had served in 2 Arty days in Taiping and in Kluang.  We are of the same vintage, Jimmy had more cross postings to Air Defence units and I had been a field Gunner all my career. Jimmy lived life to his fullest. Always with his contagious smile, no matter what. I had always admired Jimmy's matureness and confidence. This is something I will always remember of Jimmy.

Jimmy's passing is a wake up call to me to keep in touch more often, and what better way than to do so by sharing and writing our musings in this blog. You made come back to contribute what I can in this blog by Gunners for Gunners.

Jimmy, we will all miss you. Goodbye Jimmy Goodbye. I upload a popular song in our era with the same title sentiments.

School of Artillery Manly, No more

Me in front of the "School"

Hi all,
I am back, like I am back.
I'll start my musings with my recent visit to the old School of Artillery Manly, Australia.

Gunners who were fortunate enough, including me, to have attended artillery courses in the  School of Artillery Manly, Australia would have fond memories of their courses in Manly. More so, we had fond memories and experiences of awesome and vibrant Sydney city and the beautiful Manly seaside town. 

We would remember the excitement after classes, at the officers mess bar, having fun at Manly beach eating fish and chips and the weekends in Sydney. Places like Kings Cross and Bondi beach comes to mind each time we  recall our courses at the the School. Most of us would have the urged to return to visit the School of Artillery Manly, one day. I had harboured that same passion to visit the School all these years. Though I had visited Melbourne several times over the years, I never had the opportunity to visit Sydney and Manly. 
Last April 2012, after about 40 years on, my wife and I decided to go down memory lane to visit Sydney and of course Manly to visit the School of Artillery Manly.  I was vaguely aware the the School of Ariliiery had shifted to Pukapunyal, Victoria, some years back, but I was still wishful that there would be some rear party/ memorial/ muzium  left behind in Manly. I was wishful for a nostalgic visit to the School, to have a cup of tea at the old officers mess, to have a tour of the gun parks, classess and training area. I was really really wishful.

The next day after arriving to Sydney, my wife and I and our gracious host drove up to North Head, where the School of Artillery was located. It was a clear road up to North Head as it is the only road up the hill. I could see the familiar guard house, red bricks and all. But there were no sentry posts at the arched tunnel into the School compound. No guards to stop us, to challenge us as we were accustomed to when attending the courses. Not to mention coming in past 2359 hrs on Sunday nights.

The signage in front of  the main entrance to the School broke my heart. It read " Formally the School of Artillery"

We parked our car and was politely greeted by a cililian serurity guard on his rounds. We were told that the whole School compound were now private offices and businesses complex. The class room and barracks were turned into office suites, the gun parks into gyms and warehouses. There was not a single Artillery artifact, not a piece of evidence that reminded us of our School. I felt deserted, my wish and my aspiration went down with my morale that morning.

The Parade square, with Hq building on the left

The main parade square of red earth is still intact, so are the HQ block, barracks and class rooms. All in good maintainance and freshly painted. All the Gun Park bays  were closed with big lorries parked nearby. They had made excellent warehouses for storage. No guns, no gun towers. No smell of gun oils too. I wasn't breathing easy as my heart acked at what had become of  the School of Artillery.

We went to the rear of the School, to the  bushland area, where we did quick deployment drills and the survey module training. We were pleasantly greeted with a new Memorial Walk, about half a kilometers track. The memorial walk was segmented into the monuments of the  various wars and conflicts participated by the RAA.  Plaques and name tags were embedded in the Memorial  Walk. Regiments and Batteries of the RAA were displayed alongside the names of  Gunners, officers and other ranks alike.
Several heavy pieces of coastal gun barrels were also displayed in their emplacements built during WW2.

Me at the entrance to the Memorial Walk

On another visit to Manly several days later, I managed to contact Colonel H'ng Hung Meng and  Commander Lam, and we had a good evening with our wives at the local waterhole by the whalfside. That is Manly for me for now.

Me, Hung Meng, Peggy, and the Lams

My visit to the School of Artillery Manly was a disappointment, not at anybody, but at myself for having such a high expectation after 40 years being away. I will now have a renewed desire to visit the School of Artillery again, now in Pukapunyal, for my future visits to Australia. but  Pukapunyal is no Manly, is no Sydney. It is infact in the middle of nowhere. Somewhere like Kem Gemas . I  was driving past Pukapunyal the other day and the only significant signage was " Slow down Heavy vehicles crossing" . I would pay more attention to Pukapunyal  if there were signs that reads " Beware of artillery shells flying overhead."