Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Good Luck Bad Luck, Maybe

Kem Inlet

We were not fated to die on that day. Not the 6 BDE Comd, his staff, and our counterparts from the 4th Thai Army Command,  based in Songkhla. I am blessed to live the last live of my of nine lives, in retirement. 

Fast forward to the present time, I would want to believe in and understand the Goodluck, Badluck, Maybe sessions we were taught in our Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) therapies.

I am carefree, no, careless really. Yes careless sometimes, but then we cannot see somethings some times, all the time. Right? So be it, just do our best and goodluck, badluck, maybe. But I am no Jonah, interesting things just happen to come my way.

My Bty was on operational duty up north with 3 Div/ 6 Bde AO. I had a 2 guns Troop in Gubir and another 2 guns deployed in Mong Gajah covering the Pedu Dam areas. My Bty Tac HQ was at 6 Bde HQ in Sg Petani. Over the years we had established standing DF targets at strategic locations along our lines of communications and also DF targets to cover static camps and permanent troop positions. Most of the DF targets were predicted targets except for those deemed as danger close targets. The DF target lists would be handed over to the next fire unit taking over cover for the area.  We had the TANGO SERIES DF targets covering the road from Gubir to Mong Gajah. Several DF targets  were listed for Pos Inlet, a strategic post manned by the LDC personnel, located at Inlet Pedu Dam, midway between Gubir and Mong Gajah.

Our target plotters and the old Arty Board are both two dimensional equipment. As was our target lists, two dimensional in length and width of the A4 paper. The third dimension of height, altitude, trajectory and  height differences between the gun platforms and targets are compensated at the gun sights and firing tables. But the most important thing to factor in  dimensional effects will remain with our eyeballs mark 1. We should see to acknowledge and to confirm, least we are deemed to be careless. We should see the contours in the maps, see the lay of the ground. We should see the length of our A4 paper.

The biannual GBC (general Border Committee) conference with our Thai counterparts had just finished in 3Div HQ in Penang.  6 BDE Comd had invited the Thai generals to witness a fire demo to show and tell our Artillery role in the border ops. We wanted to demo the closeness of our DF targets. We selected to do the fire power demo at Pos Inlet. What, even the LDC personnel can call for artillery fire. So we prepared for the demo. I had enough time to register target TANGO 13 with the gun Troop from Gubir. T13 is the danger close DF target to protect Pos Inlet. (T13 is on a steep hill slope  facing the post and the enemy had fired into the post from this high location some years back.) T13 was on the forward slope from Gubir and rear slope from Mong Gajah,  Mong Gajah guns would be firing towards the direction of the post.

A week befor the demo day, I had personally registered target T13 at Pos Inlet with the Gubir Troop. I circulated the target as fired to Mong Gajah. I had revised all the targets in the TANGO SERIES. 13 in all. Only T13 was a registered target. The DF target list was retyped onto a A4 paper with a second carbon copy. No computers then and the typewriter was standard issue. I double checked the target list. Neat. The second carbon copy was sent by despatch to Mong Gajah. All was well. But was it ?

On D Day the Thai generals came in their helicopter. Landed in Pos Inlet and was warmly greeted by Panglima 6  BDE. BDE staff and I was in attendance. Briefing was given after a quick cup of coffee. We then move forward to the sentry trench facing target T13, which was less than 300 metres up on the slope. We were all in trenches with standard sandbag OHP. The sentry called for artillery fire on cue from me. 

5  ROUNDS FFE was standard response to DF targets on call. 10 rounds came down, smack on target and the fall of shots  were in a  very tight group. Very Professional. Very real and impressive. The generals were all smiles and clapping in appreciation. BUT MONG GAJAH TROOP DID NOT FIRE on the target as they should.  But the visitors did not know, nor would expect more rounds on the target. The demo was good enough.  We had lunch later and our guests left for home satisfied. Everybody else dispersed and went back to their locations. Nobody knows that they were not fated to die on that day.

Mong Gajah troop did not response to the call of fire. They did not fire on T13. WHY?  At the first opportunity I radioed my GPO up in Mong Gajah for an explanation.  I was given an impossible answer. "Tango T13 was not listed in the circulated list, Sir"  WHAT? Cannot be. I checked  with the original list. T 13  was the last target in the list. Right at the bottom line.
The GPO was right, target T13 was not copied onto the second copy which was circulated to him. The issued carbon sheet was just short of the A4 paper. It was not long enough. Last line on the second paper was target T12.

What a lesson. 

The next day  I went up to Pos Inlet again, just to complete the registeration with the Mong Gajah troop. Our newly commissioned QM Lt Hanas, on his first visit to the Ops area, came along with me. We had the usual armour escorts. The two APCS were parked at the helipad inside the post, and the escort soldiers played Trup Kling cards between the shades of armoured vehicles. Lt Hanas and I went into the sentry  trench with OHP and started to call for adjustment of shots onto T13 from Mong Gajah Troop. WP smoke rounds were used for adjustments by convention.

The adjustment round came. Silent. No whistling sound as as the shell would pass overhead from your rear. Then a frightening Cha Cha swish swash sound  was heard as the round screamed directly overhead and came down on you. I recognised the sound as I had heard it before during my BC's course in The School of Artillery Manly, Australia. The last fire mission in the OP module on Holsburry Range was always a danger close mission. We would be in a specially prepared and reinforced OP bunker, and we would have to call for fire onto our own position. Frightening and deafening but safe. We were also told that if we hear that sound in battle, we would have 
just enough time to lie down flat on our back and kiss our arse goodbye.

The WP smoke round came into the camp hitting just behind the APC vehicles. Barely 20 metres from our escorts and 60 metres behind me.  I was badly shaken, Lt Hanas next to me, shit in his pants (His own words) White phorporous smoke burns, stinks and blinds. The smell was pungent and almost unbearable. The column of white smoke quickly rose up in a thick spiral. Sharpnels were stuck in the florage and branches of the trees.
I came to my senses and ordered check firing. I went down to the APC vehicles and assessed for damage control. God was kind. No casualties. Only the APCs were smeared and scarred. The APCs took the blunt of the impact and protected the escort personnel.
I had to continue my adjustment mission. How to order corrections for the next round? It was easy if the guns were firing from behind you. What if the guns were firing towards you?  I ordered Direction Golf Tango and gave a drop 800. The next round should fall behind the hill and I would creep towards T13. I cannot order High Angle fire for this mission, as the range exceeded 8000 metres.  I can only pray that I wont get another round clearing the top of the crest and coming down on me again. My guts held and I was on target with two more adjustments. 

My real fears came in only after end of mission. What would have happened if Mong Gajah had the data of T13 on demo day? They would have fired 10 rounds smack into to camp. 10 rounds in a tight target can be very destructive. Goodbye generals, Goodbye guests, Goodbye helicopter, Goodbye GBC meetings, Goodbye Allen Lai.

But I'll live to expend several more of my cats lives before I retire. But Goodluck ? Badluck ? Maybe.

Allen Lai

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