Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year 2015

A Happy New Year 2015 to all my Gunner friends, old and new.

Allen Lai

Old school

After my last post sharing my experience in Larkhill range, I realised that fire discpline language has changed a lot. From “Mike Target” to “Fire Mission Regiment.”

Yes language is a living thing and it changes over time and environment. OMG (Oh My God) looks more like an oil grading. YAHOO sounds like a happy Tarzen getting ready to mate. Xcome is not coming. And we cannot stop to protest that we are old school and connot understand the new language.

Fire discipline is the precise language between the OPO, GPO and guns. It is the language for fire orders. It is meant to be the holy grail of gunnery. We must be very precise and it should be without any ambiquity, particularly when interoperating with other artilleries in the world.

Allow me to mention some old weird language as I remember them, least we forget them. These fire orders had served in many world wars and campaigns.

Position corrections
Go left/Go right
Fire by order
Empty guns
Line corrections
Clinometer laying 
Go on
Stand easy
Bad ram
Stand by

How many of the above fire orders are still being used or remembered ?

Allen Lai
Old school circa 1960s

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Mike Target, Mike Target, Mike Target

An OPO  position in Salisbury range

It was a cold mid morning in November 1965. It was cold by any standard as we had an early winter that year. The UK was in the midst of their Cold War and we were in the midst of the cold weather. We had our standard pakka jacket, not the white pakka jacket issued for the artic environment. How I wished we could wear our own Dalchan’s great trench coat that was designed and fit for WW1.

We were in the Regimental Hide in a clump of woods in the Salsbury Plains, South South East of London. We were finishing our YO course in Larkhill and this was our final life firing exercise in the Salsbury Range. The clump of woods was badly beaten up and worn out with almost daily use by artillery units on exercise, somewhat like Papa position in Asahan range.  Tank and APC tracks in the hide were Highway-wide. Our new digital camouflage nets and tree branches made up for our hide.

I was exercise Assistant Adjutant for the redeployment and I was the duty officer for the day. I had just finished my warm cuppa and the day, whilst wet, gloomy and misarable morning looked good. I was exercise GPO for the past two days and had took the toll in  a Bty Command Post with an AIG breathing down our necks. Hawkish, firm and no nonsense. We were on our final exercise and we were to be evaluated. Being Assistant Adjutant would give me a break. Or so I thought.

The wet morning mist was rising over the undulating ground as the sun rose just above the horizon. Salsbury range is quite huge and getting around to the various gun positions, OP positions and hides can be challenging. But as always, the RA guys had some tricks up their sleeves. There were actually several privately owned bars scattered all over the range. We would always drop in for a quick pint and asked for directions. We were told that the barmen knew the range area better than our school’s IGs. Just like in Asahan the ice cream man had the range details for the day.

The Greyhound Pub

M Tgt, M Tgt, M Tgt” broke the silence as the sound cracked over the vehicle mounted C 48 radio set, which was our RFO net  The signaller replied “M Tgt, M Tgt, M Tgt” and shouted “Mike target Sir.” Hearing M Tgt three times was something akin to our fire alarm drill “ Api Api Api”. Everything moves double quick time. If you were on duty you would sweat big time.

Oh my God ! A Regimental target whilst I was on my duty shift. One thing we did during the course was to write our crib or aid-memoire. Artillery Training Volume 111, 1962  Pamphlet No.2 ( Surface to Surface Artillery ), Technical Duties in the Field was our bible during the course. It was too much to digest and understood fully. The manual was prepared under the direction of The Chief of the Imperial General Staff, whoever he was at that time. IGs and AIG had a copy of AT VOL 3 as it was called, under their arms and we had our aid-memoires.

Quickly I had turned to the rear few pages of my aid-memoire looking for duties and tasks for the Assistant Adjutant. Got the page. Duties of the Assitant Adjutant. See Duties of the Adjutant

 I did not take notes on the duties of the Adjutant as I thought his duties was just to check young officers and to hand out duty officer duties (the usual take 7 ) in the Regiment.

Fire Discipline is the language of fire control our IG had mentioned at the start of the course. It particularly concerns the OPO, the GPO and the Guns. He did not mention anything about the Adjutant. Hence no notes about the Adjutant. 

Get me all BTY CPs” I called out to our telephone operator in the RHQ. The RSO had laid lines to all BTYs. In a deliberate defence position, the RSO would have to lay lines to OPs too. Miles and miles of lines. “M Tgt M Tgt M Tgt” I shouted down the heavy handset.

Next check with my aid memoire. Was the OPO and Authorised OP? He was not.Tick. He does not get all the fire units available. Tick. I will have to allocate the Btys and scale of ammo to him. 

Callsign 1 and 2 available scale 4” I replied to the OPO meaning that he would get two BTYs of the schools’s Support Regiment which was 14th Field Regiment RA and three rounds per gun for his mission.

The OPO continued with his Fire Orders. “Grid 2100 5876, height 200 feet, Troops concentration in woods. Adjust Fire” .

Did the OPO order salvo ranging? No. Then adjust fire with one gun. Adjust fire was always with HE rounds. WP smoke was for specific operational use in the UK. Standard smoke was used for smoke screens and these canister smoke rounds were very good as the thick dark whitish smoke was heavy and hung on the the ground much longer unlike the WP round which columns upward.

Checked my aid memoire again. Tick. Tick. Tick. Cannot do without my cribbed notes.

Our end of the course deployment was joined by 29 Cdo Regiment, RA. We were supporting 3 CDO Bde Royal Marines from Tidworth, Wilthshire, the next county in the south. The CDO Bde and Gunners from 29 CDO Regiment wore their Green Barrets proudly and we wore Royal Blue. RHA Para Regiments wore maroon barrets. The Gunner officers from the 29 CDO were slick and sharp. They were equipped with the “new” Oto Malaria 105 Pack How, and 14 Field Regiment were still with the 25 pounders. We were also quick to add that our Malaysian Artillery Regiments also used the Italian Howitzer, to the envy of the rest of the YOs in the course.

29 CDO Regiment

B Bty reported “Shot 3, Time of flight 35 seconds”. 

The OPO continued with the adjustment and when he hit the target area, he ordered “4 rounds gun fire, Fire” for FFE.

The OPO then ordered “ Report all gone” to which the Btys reponded “All gone” after the last gun had fired. ”

The AIG smiled at me . It was a good shoot. Cannot wait to order “Stand Easy” (End of Mission) and thence scramble to the next traven as we would be redeployed soon. It was no joke to have cold sweat in a cold morning.

Allen Lai

Royal Military College Top Cadets for the Artillery

Hi all,

Some of us Gunners were invited by Lt Colonel David Lam to his house for Christmas dinner last night.  We chit chatted about high achievers in the Gunners Corps. Yes we did have top cadets commissioned into our corps. We remembered the following Sword of Honour and Best Cadets:

Johan Hew Deng Onn
H'ng Hung Meng
David Lam Wah Kum
Chin Yoke Choy

Of course there would be others but we could not recall them. Anybody from Arty Directorate remember ? Does the Directorate indeed keep a record of our high achievers ?

Do list additional names in the comment column below.

Congratulations. We are proud of their calibre and achievements. Not that the rest of Gunner officers were any less in calibre. We were only late developers.

Allen Lai

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

Hi all,

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all my Gunner friends and their families.

From Allen Lai

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Photos Update December 2014

Major Oh Teng Lim

Lt Col David Lam Wah Kum

Lt Col Maskan Katan

RAFOC Annual Dinner 2014

Guess who came for dinner ? It was a mini Gunners Reunion of sort. See Photo below

Seated: Dato Jack Wahid, Dato Hassan, Oh Teng Lim, David Herman, King Gus Ghazali, Harbans Singh.
Standing: Allen Lai, Lee Kong Kok, Ganeson, Timmy Masoud, Barny Sidambaram, David Lam

Not in Photo: Kadir Sultan, Hussein

All smiles

A very long time no see 

Allen Lai

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A tribute to our Instructors in Gunnery

There are IGs and there are IGs. IGs nonetheless. The latter being Incorrigible Gunners. If I were an IG I would be the latter type. Instructor Gunnery is one of the most coveted competency status in the Artillery. The IG symbol is Authority. Back in the 1960s we had Dato Jaffar Mohammed as the first Malaysian IG followed by Tan Say Loke, David Lam, and Harbans Singh. These were the IGs we had to ‘argue’ with. But they always had the last say. IGs argue amoung themselves in their annual IG Conventions. They then issue their resolutions as Malaysian Artillery Conventions. The latter IGs like me will then take upon ourselves to discuss the conventions to no end for we are not the real IGs. We think we are IGs.

Major Thurgood RA, was the first and only IG from the Royal Artillery to start and head our School of Artillery in Port Dickson. The school ran courses for our OR gunners at that point of time. Courses include TAFA and courses for Gun numbers. But soon the school conducted courses for NQFAs and later advanced courses for officers; and of course I was told the school runs the local IG course now. Has anybody got a photo of Major Thurgood?

I recalled other IGs in my era included Paul Pulendren, Aris Salem, Waris, Aziz Hassan and Timmy Masoud. And of course later came more IGs like Ramachandran, Ibrahim, Sallehuddin, and Nordin. Just to mention them, but not in any order of seniority. I would have missed out many more IGs. I really cannot remember thm off hand. Please fill in the missing IGs from the above list with your comments. Of course there are the latter type of IGs aplenty. The whole Artillery officers corps actually.

Yes I almost missed out the American IGs from the 1970s. I think Hussein Kamal was the first in this grouping. 

All our IGs had certainly contributed a lot to the development and training of our Corps and Regiments. We thank them for their professionalism and dedication to their duties as IGs. In them we had trusted and in them we had succeeded to become the best and fastest growing corps in the Malaysian Army. I salute them.

Allen Lai

Friday, December 12, 2014

A1 Info anyone?

Forget Ian Flemming’s James Bond. Forget John Le Care’s Tinkle Tailor Soldier Spy. They are but stories and great imaginations of the author’s creative minds.

Read Calder Walton’s Empire of Secrets - British Intelligence, the cold War and the twilight of Empire. This book was written with the declassification in 2012 of British Intelligence Services’s materials. Empire of Secret covers intelligence work in the vast British colonies across the globe, which of course include Malaya.
Below is an extract from the book’s review.

Empire of Secrets is, as Calder Walton himself writes, "the first book devoted to British intelligence during the twilight of empire that has been based on declassified intelligence reports". "The full story can never perhaps be known," he quotes Sir David Petrie, head of MI5 during the second world war, "but if it could be, it could perhaps claim acceptance as truth mainly on the grounds that it seems stranger than fiction.

The winner of the 2013 Longman-History Today Book Prize is the gripping and largely untold story of the role of the intelligence services in Britain’s retreat from empire.

Against the background of the Cold War, and the looming spectre of Soviet-sponsored subversion in Britain’s dwindling colonial possessions, the imperial intelligence service MI5 played a crucial but top secret role in passing power to newly independent national states across the globe.

Mining recently declassified intelligence records, Calder Walton reveals this ‘missing link’ in Britain’s post-war history. He sheds new light on everything from violent counter-insurgencies fought by British forces in the jungles of Malaya and Kenya, to urban warfare campaigns conducted in Palestine and the Arabian Peninsula.

Drawing on a wealth of previously classified documents, as well as hitherto overlooked personal papers, this is also the first book to draw on records from the Foreign Office’s secret archive at Hanslope Park, which contains some of the darkest and most shameful secrets from the last days of Britain’s empire.

Truth be told as it really was. Awe at the activities of M15 and Malaya Special Branch. Snigger at the misinterpretation, inept coordination and poor analysis from British Intelligence organisations, particularly during the Malayan Emergency 1948 -1960.  I strongly recommend this excellent book to anybody who wants to know how British Intelligence setups impacted in their areas of influence and areas of operations.

Happy reading.

Allen Lai

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Golden Anniversary From FMC to FA

Note  Federation Artillery on my shoulder, bomb on my collar and cannon on my songkok

Fifty years ago today, 6 December 2014, I was commissioned into the Artillery Regiment together with Steven Pan Kong Leong. We were the 31 cadets from the Seventh Regular Intake Federation Military College Sungei Besi. Most of us made it to commissioning but unfortunately some were relegated to short service commission, and others were dropped out. It was my graduation from the Federation Military College into the Federation Artillery.

 Getting commissioned into the various corps of your choice was very competitive. We literally had Hopson’s choice so to speak. The bulk of the army was Royal Malay Regiments,  two Recce Regiments and squadrons and minor units  of supporting arms and services. The Ranger Corps and Commando Regiment was just being formed too. Federation Artillery had a Regiment since 1957 and the second Regiment was just raised in mid 1964. Each cadet was to indicate three preferences. Cadets were enticed by their favourite instructors in the college to join the various corps, of which the creme were to join the Royal Malay Regiments following Major General Baharuddin bin Kadir who was the winner of the Sword of Honour. The cadets from Singapore were commissioned into Malaysian units but later went back to Singapore units. My three choices were Artillery, Recce, and Signals.

Needless to say there were no Artillery Officer Instructors at that time to entice us into the Artillery Regiments. (Four years later in 1968, I was to be the first Malaysian Artillery Officer Instructor to serve in the college). With no push and pulls from our instructors, many of us only relied upon our hearts to join the Regiments of our choice. The most popular criteria to follow around then, were the knowledge that the Artillery was the King of the battlefield and the Crimean model in Europe. In the order of battle in the Crimean model, there was first the Kramer (King) then came the Gunners followed by the Calvary Officers. After the Calvary Officers came their horses. After their horses came horse shit. And the rest of the army came after that. It was to note that Artillery Officers had also lent finesse to the battlefield.

So Artillery was to be my choice of Arms. I have no regrets to this day. Once a Gunner always a Gunner. Pan Kong Leong and I reported to 2 ARTY in the old Gurkha Camp next to the Chinese cemetery and opposite to the lake in FMC in Sungei Besi. We were then Federation Artillery. 2Lt Pan was posted to F Bty and I to E Bty. Each Bty had four new Oto Malaria 105mm Howitzers. Our 25 Pounders were phased out by then. In the early 1960s we had more guns than Officers in the Regiment.The Commanding Officers and all senior Bty officers were Mat Sallehs. Luckily we spoke English. Senior ranks usually did their best to understand orders. I recalled my BSM coming to me after an O Group asking me to clarify what our BC had told him earlier to which he had confidently answered “YES SIR”. That being the case in the Regiment, I would still honestly testify now that we had no communication problems, notwithstanding our language problem. 

It was no joke to be a young Gunner Officer. Not when Lt Tony Chia Eng Lim was the Senior Subaltern. Fondly known as Anthony Samy as he spoke fluent Tamil, Tony took no nonsense from anybody. He was a cool cat, tall and upright, suave and with a smile that could mean anything. That smile was his camouflage to what was to come next. We learnt our lessons in double quick time.

As newly commissioned Gunners, we were tagged NQFA. Non Qualified Federation Artillery. We had to pass our Artillery YO course to be qualified. We did not have our own School of Artillery then and we had to wait to be trained in the School of Artillery in the Larkhill , UK or in Hong Kong.  The Royal Artillery had ad hoc courses in Singapore from time to time. The coming course in Larkhill for Pan and I was in late 1965. Lt General Dato’ Jaafar Mohammed IG, organised the first local ad hoc course for us. The ad hoc YO course was held in 1 ARTY, using the regiment’s gun park and class rooms.  The first Arty equipment I learnt to use was the ARTY board which was huge at four by four feet. We had to qualify quickly as we were still at Confrontation with Indonesia. We had two operational independent Btys deployed in Sarawak and Sabah with single gun positions spread across our borders with Indonesia.

Fifty years down the road at the blink of the eye, and I am still a Gunner. I will not retire, I will just fade away with finesse. My memories and thoughts are fading fast. But I remember being a Gunner and I had served the Agong, my country and my Regiment with pride. 

I did not I forget that I had pledged to Serve to Lead half a decade ago.

Allen Lai

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Colonel was a Gangster

I was a gangster, yes I was. Back in the 1950s. It was never by choice that I was as bad as bad could be. It was due to survival instincts and the need to overcome sheer poverty in the 1950s Malaya. I joined the local “Wall Street Gang” in Kuantan. I had stolen things, extorted money, bullied and beaten up other boys, and had fought with knives with other gangsters in Kuantan for territorial control. I was a Tiger General, a title given to those who would fight with knives. I had spent a night in the police station lokap until I was bailed out by my father.

Last week I chanced upon an autobiography “The Underworld Captain” written by Captain Alexander Shannon. I could relate to his story as there were many parallels in our lifelines. I could understand him, his actions and his emotions and what he had to do as a young man. He was the Oliver Twist as we know in the musical Oliver Twist. I feel for him.

I quote an extract from the book’s review :

In The Underworld Captain, Alexander Shannon reveals how he escaped his shady gangland past to enjoy a glittering career in the army, only to find himself back in the thick of criminal activity. His time as a soldier saw him posted to the Falklands, took him on several tours of Northern Ireland during the height of the Troubles, and to war-torn Bosnia, where he witnessed extreme cruelty and violence up close. The rigors of army life took their toll and almost ruined his marriage, and he found himself drawn back into a series of ruthless gang wars. Shannon was something of an enigma amongst Glasgow's gangsters. Few on the streets knew that he was a highly trained weapons expert, but before long the secret leaked out and he found himself involved with the criminal underworld whilst on leave from the army. He utilized his skills as an undercover intelligence gatherer to hide weapons, work for drugs racketeers, and plot a massacre, and he was offered a fortune to work as a Mafia-style contract assassin. Once back in uniform, he was questioned over brutal gangland killings and was accused of a triple murder attempt, yet his dedication and determination to succeed in the army brought him accolades and a series of promotions. In The Underworld Captain, Shannon unveils numerous underworld secrets, details of attempted murders, and assassination plots. He reveals how he managed to combine his successful army career with dangerous gangland dealings for so long and how he finally broke free for good.

Captain Shannon grew up in a shanty district in Glasgow Scotland. I grew up in poverty in Kuantan. The parallels start from there. He joined the British Army Boys Company to run away from the Police  and also to be protected from other gangsters wanting his neck. I almost ended up in the Boys Home in Sungei Besi when my school headmaster applied for me to be admitted as a juvenile delinquent. I was that bad. I did not have to run away from the police as I did not have any records of serious crimes. There ware many stories of men joining the army to hide from the police, particularly the Federation Regiment. Chinese avoid joining the army because good sons do not join the army.

I had actually joined the Navy to see the world. I joined the Naval Intake in 1963 in FMC in preparation to go to the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth UK. I was transferred and became an army cadet only after I had failed my eyesight test as required to be a seahorse.

I get goose pimples when I hear the song “Tom Dooley”. A popular condemned man’s song in the 1960s. I would have preceded Botak Chin to the gallows if I had continued to go down that destructive path. I turned good when I joined the Federation Military College in 1963. The college had taught me to be an officer and gentlemen. The college had also taught me to serve to lead.

It was a pleasure to read this book as it relates on how the how the British army sees and manages their soldiers. I could relate to the ethics and norms of the British army as I had served British Officers. Life in our artillery regiments in the 1960s were very similar to life in British regiments. Captain Shannon was still bad whilst as a OR in the Scottish Regiment, but he still rose through the ranks to become a Warrant Officer and later got an officers’ commission from Sandhurst UK. Our bad soldiers were court martialed and discharged from the army without a second chance. This is a highly recommended book if you had not experienced true soldiering.

And as fate would have it, I had a happy ending and became a Gunner to boot.

Allen Lai