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.