Over 500 former officers and soldiers of the 4th Battalion Royal Ranger Regiment, along with their family members, attended a reunion at the mess hall of Camp Syed Putra on Saturday, March 26. The get-together was for a reason.
The date coincided with the battalion’s 50th Anniversary. It was one of nostalgia, hugs and tears. The Ranger battle cry, “Agi Hidup Agi Ngelaban” filled the hall.
Fifty four, inclusive of five widows and five disabled veterans, received their long over-due meritorious medals, the Pingat Jasa Malaysia (PJM), in recognition of their service to King and Country.
Formed on March 28, 1966 with its nucleus at Camp Syed Putra (Sulva Lines), Ipoh the battalion is presently stationed at Camp Oran, Kangar.
It remained in Ipoh for a good eight years (1966-1974) before being rotated to other bases in the country. Organising chairman, Col (Rtd) Dato’ Syed Othman bin Syed Ali Alsagoff, recalled with much emotion how the football field was used as a helicopter landing point to bring in wounded soldiers and casualties in the early 1970s. It was at the height of the Second Malayan Emergency (1969 to 1989) and the jungles around Tanjong Rambutan and Ulu Kinta were Communist hotbeds.
The audience was moved to tears when Brig-Gen (Rtd) Dato’ Kamarudin bin Mantan, the deputy organising chairman, narrated how Capt Chandran a/l Velayuthan and his men successfully dislodged a band of Communist Terrorists operating in the Ulu Kinta forest in 1971. Chandran and his men charged up the enemy position. He was shot twice in the head. In spite of being mortally wounded he kept firing at the enemy until his last breath. Cpl Rahman bin Jaafar, Rjr Abang Bolhi and Rjr Bajau anak Ladi were with Chandran during that fateful day on June 13, 1971.
Ipoh Echo spoke to two of the pioneering members of the battalion and this was what transpired.
Cpl Abdul Malek bin Puteh, 57, from Kuala Selangor began his service in 1979 and served the battalion for 15 years. “I still remember the many operations we did in Sarawak, especially in areas such as Bau, Biawak, Lundu and Sri Aman,” he recalled.Lt-Col Yap Chok Sang (Rtd) joined the army in 1966 and was commissioned into the Rangers in 1968 as a subaltern. “It’s so nostalgic, especially when I had a look at the barracks.
Way then I was a young officer and my formative years spent with the battalion were my most memorable,” he remarked.
Johor-born Yap came all the way from Melbourne, Australia, where he now lives, to attend the gathering. His advice for all serving soldiers, “Carry on soldiering like we used to.”
Present at the ceremony were Dato’ Aminuddin bin Md Hanafiah, state assemblyman for Hulu Kinta who represented Dato’ Seri Ahmad Husni Hanadzlah, Minister of Finance II, Maj-Gen Dato’ Fadzil bin Mokhtar, General Officer Commanding 2nd Infantry Division, Brig-Gen Mas’od bin Hj Muhammad, Commander 2nd Malaysian Infantry Brigade and Lt-Col Mohd Nazri Madjan bin Abdul Rahman Commanding Officer 2nd Battalion Royal Ranger Regiment.
Thanks to Adam John Makam : In the pitch darkness of Mogadishu’s tight maze of streets on the night of 3rd October 1993 Malaysian soldiers fired 300,000 rounds of ammunition in six hours, the largest amount ever fired by the Malaysian Armed Forces in a single action.
Even in the darkness the 32 Malaysian armoured personnel carriers (APCs) must have made easy targets as they inched their way forwards under intense fire because they were a gleaming white with the only distraction from their obviousness being the “U.N.” painted on their sides and the Malaysian flag, which looks strikingly like the American flag and so offered no immunity from the constant fire from thousands of Somali militiamen.
The Malaysian Condor APCs employed on this deadly night are from Germany and can carry 10 soldiers, but that’s 10 Malaysian soldiers. On that night in Mogadishu they were barely able to carry 8 US soldiers. The APCs were already 20 years old but they were mechanically reliable and armed with a 20mm cannon in a roof turret and a further machine gun behind. The rear machine gunner was completely exposed to enemy fire whenever he popped out of his hatch to take aim at a target located by his commander.
Otherwise the APC was impervious to the AK47 bullets but, as they were to discover, the APCs were horribly vulnerable to rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) being fired at point-blank range. When the four-man crew of each of the APCs woke up that morning to a mee goreng breakfast they could not have had any idea that their day would culminate in such mayhem or that one of their number would be dead with a further eight wounded and that four of their APCs would become burning wrecks.
The Malaysian soldiers were in Somalia as part of a United Nations peace-keeping mission of nearly 30,000 troops from 36 nations, with the America having the largest contingent although they were somewhat removed from UN command. Malaysian soldiers have been sent on almost all the UN peace-keeping missions since their first mission to the Congo in 1960 and have since been deployed to Bosnia, Lebanon and the Iran/Iraq border to name but a few. MALBATT, as the Malaysian contingents are called, are a very popular addition to UN peace keeping missions because the Malaysian commanders have a reputation for readily agreeing to any task they are given.
The UN mission in Somalia in 1993 was meant to deliver food to the Somali people on the brink of a catastrophic famine but with food deliveries being hijacked by Somali warlords (most notably, general Aidid) and after 28 Pakistani soldiers had been ambushed and killed the leaders of the massive American deployment decided to expand the mission by seeking out and capturing the heads of the Somali militias. Because the militiamen were hidden in the utterly dysfunctional city of Mogadishu, which most UN soldiers never ventured into, the capture or killing of militia leaders inevitably led to civilian deaths, which in turn resulted a surge of hatred for the UN troops.
Operation Gothic Serpent was supposed to be all over in half an hour (why do all US military operations sound like songs by the Scorpions?). At noon, 160 US Army Rangers and Delta Force troops were ferried from their base outside Mogadishu and into the Bakara district at the very heart of the city on board a fleet of state-of-the-art Blackhawk helicopters in order to capture two of general Aidid’s senior lieutenants. A further US force was on the ground, rushing into the city in Humvees for the extraction.
One American soldier died almost immediately as he descended from a hovering helicopter onto the target building and yet despite the fatality the mission could have been considered a success because the two senior militiamen were captured. Then everything unraveled in an instant. Two helicopters were shot out of the sky and crashed onto the streets of Mogadishu and the wrecks became rallying beacons for anybody with an AK47 or an RPG, and the Bakara marketplace was awash with AK47s and RPGs.
The US Special Forces, now on the ground and on their way out of the city, immediately turned back to rescue the crews of the helicopters but the “soft skinned” Humvees offered zero protection against AK47s, let alone RPGs and truck mounted anti aircraft guns. Soon nearly 100 US soldiers were cut-off and completely surrounded. Escape on foot was impossible, extraction by helicopters was impossible. Their only hope was a relief force of hard-skinned vehicles: tanks and APCs. Unfortunately the US military did not have any APCs in Somalia, but the Malaysians did.
The battle that ensued is well told in Ridley Scott’s 2001 movie Black Hawk Down but the movie does not cover the role played by MALBATT, apart from a solitary line shouted by the US commander to “Call the May-lays!” Without the crews of the 32 Malaysian APCs the annihilation of the trapped 100 US soldiers was virtually certain. The big-budget Black Hawk Down made famous this deadly day-long battle on the streets of Mogadishu, and yet few Malaysians know about the Malaysian military’s essential contribution to the rescue mission.
A young Malaysian documentary filmmaker plans to change that very soon.
Ahmad Yazid and his production company Rack Focus Films have been steadily building a reputation with an impressive roll call of documentaries for the Discovery and Crime and Investigation channels. His films include the Al Maunah - The Malaysian Arms Heist (the theft in 2000 of army weaponry by a Malaysian militant group and the subsequent siege), Mas Selamat – The Fugitive Terrorist (the escape from a Singaporean jail and the year-long manhunt of an alleged terrorist), and most recently a documentary about the behind-the-scenes negotiations in the lead-up to Merdeka in 1957.
For the last four years Ahmad Yazid has been painstakingly researching the story of that night in 1993 and interviewing the Malaysian and US servicemen for his feature length documentary to be released in 2016, The Battle of Bakara. People at the Ministry of Defence (MinDef) had told him about Bakara when he was filming the Al Maunah story and he was intrigued but he couldn’t find a story-telling angle until he was introduced to the retired Major General Dato’ Rozi Baharom, who had been the Malaysian commander in Somalia and a Lieutenant Colonel at the time.
In this quiet spoken yet determined man Ahmad Yazid knew he had found his central voice. MinDef is not in the habit of advertising its stories and yet they gave rare permission for Ahmad Yazid to interview the servicemen involved, and the US Pentagon readily agreed. Now Ahmad Yazid has conducted 24hrs worth of interviews in both Malaysia and the US. Throughout his journey of discovery he has always been drawn to the central story of how two very different people from such different cultural and institutional backgrounds could somehow succeed when suddenly thrown together.
As Mark Hollis of the US 10th Mountain Division told him: “I didn’t speak their language and they didn’t speak English so it was…it was…it was interesting.”When conducting his interviews Ahmad Yazid found there was a marked difference between the way the Americans and Malaysians told their stories. The Americans had vivid recollections of that night, expressed certainty about the order of events and were happy to tell of their own personal contributions. Meanwhile, the Malaysians were somewhat harder to draw out because they generally considered their contributions as being simply a task that had to be performed.
Ahmad Yazid characterizes the reserved Malaysians as, “Yeah, this is what we did but nothing-lah, it’s OK” whereas the Americans were, “This is what I did.” With their vivid and certain storytelling it is perhaps inevitable that the American version of the battle has dominated, and that until Ahmad Yazid found the story the Malaysian version has not even been told. Black Hawk Down does not credit the Malaysian contribution in the rescue at all and shows the APCs as being driven by Pakistani soldiers but all the US servicemen Ahmad Yazid interviewed remembered the Malaysian contribution. Tom DiTomasso was one of the US Rangers trapped in the city that night:
“We had to be rescued by ground forces or not at all. The only way was with APCs. The only people that had them were the Malaysians, and who were willing to come into the battle. We really do owe them a debt of gratitude. I'll never forget them."
By midday two Black Hawk helicopters had been shot down, nearly 100 US Special Forces troops were trapped in the middle of Mogadishu and the Americans did not have any APCs or tanks in Somalia. Pakistan had tanks and Malaysia had APCs and at 4pm the Americans asked for assistance. Up till that time the Malaysian missions had been to shepherd food convoys and although they had been fired upon they did not expect to be involved in any heavy fighting.
Lt. Col. Rozi received the call from the Americans at around 4pm and at first they asked for the loan of the Malaysian APCs and not the crews. The Americans were determined to drive the APCs themselves. Lt. Col. Rozi asked if any American soldiers knew how to drive the fairly old Condor APC with its eight gears? No, so could they loan the APCs and just the drivers? But the drivers didn’t speak English and did the Americans speak Malay?
Er, no. If the Americans wanted the APCs then they would have to take the 4-man crews as well. The Americans agreed. The issue of refusing the request altogether or calling Kuala Lumpur first never seems to have arisen. This was simply a task that had to be performed.
16 Malaysian APCs arrived at the UN’s operations base at 6pm where they were greeted by the sight of dozens of helicopters, many of which had been badly shot-up and had crashed landed. The soldiers were all fully expecting to drive straight into Mogadishu but instead there followed an unexpected lull.
For five nerve-wracking hours there was nothing to do but be warily sized-up by the Americans. Ahmad Yazid interviewed Jeff Struecker, a US Ranger who was about to join the rescue mission and is now a church pastor. He explained that he and all the Americans had always looked down on the Malaysians and now he wondered if he could trust them with his life and with the lives of his trapped comrades. When the Malaysian soldiers returned after disappearing for fifteen minutes he asked where they had been. The Malaysians had been praying.
It was at then that this devout Christian decided that, yes, he could trust these men. Would his intuition be proved correct during the long night that followed?
At 9pm there was some movement with the arrival of the remaining 16 Malaysian APCs that had been away on patrol, two Pakistan T48 tanks and several more US helicopters. Col. Larry Casper, the US Army Aviation Commander laid out a map on the bonnet of a Humvee. A route into Mogadishu had been found and it would have to be circuitous because all the direct routes had been barricaded. The troops would move out to a rallying point at National Street and then split into two columns to head for the two separate Black Hawk crash sites. Pakistan tanks would lead the columns with the APCs behind carrying 100 soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division and US Rangers.
Col. Larry Casper talked to this multi-national force just before the column’s departure: “Motors are running. You have flashlights and you are trying to figure out who you are talking to. We are trying to pull together an operation. You don't pull an operation like that. You rehearse. For weeks! In the meantime about 5 kilometers away you can hear explosions. But I look at the Malaysians and the Pakistanis. I had a flashlight with me and I look at them and I knew they had some fear. They knew that they were going to take some casualties. But I look them in the eyes and there was determination. They knew they had to do it. Now here's the problem.
Language. I had them nodding yes, yes but I knew they were thinking, ‘what the hell was he saying?’" The language barrier simply added to the confusion of an ad hoc and unrehearsed military operation. Lieutenant Khairul, platoon commander of 4 APCs: "My OC [Officer-in-Command] said that the mission is to drive into the city and pick up the Americans. I ask him where? What is the position? My OC said he doesn't know. Just drive. The Americans kind of gave us a brief on the location but they didn't tell us exactly where it is. They said just drive to National Street and at a junction there, there will be someone who is going to direct us towards the location."
The convoy 2kms long column left the base at 11pm.
Immediately upon arriving at the rallying-point, there was more confusion. The Pakistan tanks refused to go any further because they did not have night-vision equipment. Neither did the Malaysians but according to Major General Rozi Baharom, MALBATT never says no. They carried on with the mission and now they had to lead the two columns. The APCs entered the city. There was no street lighting, their headlights were switched off and overhead hovered was an armada of 26 helicopters as they crawled along the unknown streets at 5kmh.
The helicopters above and the US soldiers on the ground were able to communicate with each other and direct fire and Lt. Col Rozi Baharom was at base camp directing the APCs. Lieutenant Juraimy (translated from Malay): “Every now and again we heard prap! brum! The sounds of gunshots increased whenever we tried to move forward—but I couldn’t tell from which direction. The sound of gunshots was just everywhere.” And then more confusion. The two lead APCs in one column had disappeared, having taken a wrong turn. Lieutenant Juraimy:
“I received orders to conduct a search and rescue for two lost ‘bravo’ vehicles. I didn’t know who was lost and why he was even in my area, but orders were orders, so I sent three vehicles to search for lost personnel. We searched and searched and searched. Suddenly, a shot rang out. My left side had been hit.” Two APCs were now on their own in a hostile city. For more about the lost platoon check out Ahmad Yazid’s teaser trailer on Youtube. Search for “Battle of Bakara.”
There were two Black Hawk crash sites, one north and one south. All the besieged US soldiers were in the north while in the south it was just a wreck site. Both locations were equally remote and the routes towards them were equally dangerous.
Along the way there were several crossroads where APCs and US soldiers had to be deposited so that an exit route would be secured for the return journey. This meant that a dwindling number of APCs were proceeding forwards, making them more vulnerable. Already 2 APCs had been lost, presumed dead, and another had been knocked out. For Lt. Col. Rozi Baharom directing operations was a difficult task requiring strict radio discipline. There could be no pointless chatter so when one of his men came on the radio and said he could see angels he was told to get off the airwaves immediately.
It was only later that Lt. Col. Rozi Baharom discovered that these were the dying words of Pt. Mat Aznan Awang, the driver of an APC. His driving cabin had taken a direct hit from an RPG. Fearing the wholesale loss of his command Lt. Col. Rozi Baharom briefly considered pulling out the APCs but his men wanted to continue. His company commanders felt they could not leave because otherwise the Americans would be killed. One gets the impression that the Malaysian military places great faith in the initiative of the man-on-the-spot.
The southern column approached the crash site at 1am and found nothing but the wreckage of a helicopter and three dead Americans. The helicopter pilot had been taken prisoner and so the column made it slow way back. The northern column of by now only 10 APCs reached its target much later. Mike Goodale, one of the trapped US Rangers: "Early in the morning, we could hear the MALBATT convoy coming up to our location and the gunfire got louder and louder. RPGs increased as the convoy approached.
It was a welcome sound, but it was also very scary... I first saw the APCs around 2:30am. Their turret gunners were going through ammo [laughs], which was a good thing. All the fire power they brought was very impressive and we were all glad to have it."
Up to fifteen soldiers crammed into the APCs but there simply was not enough room for all of them. Dead bodies were placed inside and on top of the APCs and the remaining US soldiers had to run alongside for the entire return journey to the exit point, which they reached at 4am.
Even then the journey was not over as the APCs crawled along an exposed highway to ultimate safety. But by this point, after over 12 hours of fighting, the militiamen were tiring and probably reeling from their own losses. At 7am the battle was over. The dead included 18 US soldiers, one Pakistani, one Malaysian and an unknown number of Somalis. The UN estimate is 800 Somalis killed while the Americans estimated 4000.
But it was over. Or was it? Lieutenant Khairul: "I couldn't sleep for many nights after the incident. I couldn't stop imagining the American bodies that were in my vehicle. There was one that had an exploded head.
There was another one that had its eyes protruding. I just couldn't sleep thinking about it that night." Many years later in North Carolina, Ahmad Yazid interviewed Tom DiMassio, one of the rescued US Rangers. Ahmad Yazid was the first Malaysian Tom DiMassio had met since the battle and as the retired US Ranger greeted the Malaysian documentary filmmaker he was holding a small Malaysian flag that he had swapped with a Malaysian soldier after the battle. He told Ahmad Yazid that he knew he was going to die that night but that when he saw the white MALBATT APCs he suddenly believed he might live and that he owed his life to those Malaysians.
After Mogadishu he carried the flag in his pocket as a good luck charm through his tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq and he truly believed that it was the flag that got him through unscathed.
We may rarely agree with US foreign policy or with the methods of its military but on that night in 1993 two very different peoples were suddenly thrown together to conduct a rescue mission in the darkness of an unknown city and under constant fire. And yet they managed to work together and win a successful conclusion to a mission that could so easily have ended in complete slaughter.
The soldiers of MALBATT rose to the occasion on that night even if they would later remember their actions as, “Yeah, this is what we did but nothing-lah, it’s OK.” Black Hawk Down brought the battle to the world’s attention but the absolutely essential Malaysian contribution remains virtually unknown, even in Malaysia. But that will all change in 2016 when Ahmad Yazid releases his feature length documentary, The Battle of Bakara.
Words by Kam Raslan. Art direction by Rebecca Chew. This feature originally appears in the 2015 August Freedom Issue.* Note- Amended Belgium to German in relation to the make of the Infantry Fighting Vehicles named Condors. One more additional fact, the Pakistani tanks that were leading turned tail and fled, the moment they started receiving fire. The Malaysians continued, even under heavy fire. The author of this was being too kind to the Pakistanis.
In the annals of the Malaysian Military History no one person was more decorated than Kanang anak Langkau of the Ranger Corps. He is one of the very few survivors ever conferred the "Seri Pahlawan Gagah Perkasa" whilst still alive and a "Pingat Gagah Berani". No other person has ever received two gallantry awards in the history of the Malaysian Armed Forces. No other Corps can boast of a warrior of his stature but the Ranger Corps. In an operation in the Korbu Forest Reserve at Fort Legap on the 1st June 1979 whilst on a mission tracking the enemy, Sgt Kanang's group came across a temporary enemy resting camp. Sergeant Kanag ak Langkau from the 8th Battalion Royal Rangers immediatedly launched an attack on that enemy camp, an enemy that far outnumbered Kanang's group. In this fierce contact with the enemy, two of the Rangers went down, mortally wounded. Five of the enemy were killed, enemy equipment too were captured. He was conferred the highest gallantry award, the "Pingat Gagah Berani" by his Majesty the King. In another operation, which was a follow up on an enemy ambush on a section of soldiers from the 20th Battalion Royal Malay Regiment at Ladang Kinding, Sungei Siput, Perak, 8th Battalion Royal Rangers was tasked to conduct the follow up. One of the follow up groups was commanded by Sergeant Kanang ak Langkau. Sergeant Kanang who was a skilled tracker managed to track down the enemy. He made contact with the enemy, several of his soldiers were wounded. Even after experiencing casualties, his morale and the indomitable fighting spirit of the Ranger Corps within him remained high. . 901378 Sarjan Kanang Anak Langkau was leading the Unit Combat Intelligence Platoon of 8th Battalion Royal Rangers(now known as 8th Paras). This platoon was tasked to track down and destroy a group of communist terrorists who were present in the operational area. Who awhile ago shot dead one soldier in the Tanah Hitam area of Perak on the 8th February 1980. The tracking skills and his courage led him successfully to followup on the enemy. The lay of the land at that time was an obstacle as they were in very difficult terrain. The enemy was cunning and skillfull in the use of the ground to their advantage. They were very adept at concealment, with the years piled on fighting the British and the Malaysians. The tactics used by the enemy to throw off Kanang and his group off their trail was never ending. Due to the courage of Kanang and his tracking skills the Rangers managed to keep up with the enemy.Even as some of his men were disheartened, he kept their morale up by encoraging them. This dogged pursuit and tracking of the enemy took 11 days ! Since the death of the soldier 11 days he managed to doggedly track and identify the enemy's exact route of escape. On the evening of 19th February 1980 at around 1500 hours in the afternoon, after conducting a recconnaisance with great caution and care, his platoon mananged to estimate the location of the enemy, which was located not very far from their location. Actually they were inside the location of the enemy, as they were at the foot of the hill. They only realised that they were inside the enemy's location when they found a communictions cord from the enemy sentry's location. This cord was running from the sentry's location to the enemy's main force. This cord is normally attached to a small bush or empty cans which make noise when pulled. This way the main force can be alerted by the sentry when an enemy approaches. At that moment Sergeant Kanang was approximately 8 meters from the enemy sentry's location. Realising that, he launched the assault towards the right by firing towards the right of the enemy along with his platoon. After lauching the attack to the right, it suddenly struck everyone that the enemy's main force was on the left, below the slope of the hill. Without losing his senses, he switched the direction of fire to the left, at the same time changing the direction of the assault to the left. They ploughed into the enemy, a large force of the enemy managed to escape. The platoon and Kanang on that day managed to bag five Communist Terrorists on that day. Even with that success, they were saddened by the loss of one of their group who was killed and one more seriously wounded.Whilst trying to rescue his wounded friends, Sergeant Kanang himself was repeatedly shot, he took three rounds from the enemy into his body. The will to live and fight another day was strong, he recuperated and was back on active duty. Kanang anak Langkau following the highest fighting traditions of the Ranger Corps was conferred the "Seri Pahlawan Gagah Perkasa" for valour in decimating the enemy on the 3rd June 1981 by his Majesty the King. Sergeant Kanang was from Simanggang, Sarawak. He joined the service with the the Sarawak Rangers as an Iban Tracker on the 21 April 1962. He was absorbed into the Malaysian Rangers when Malaysia was proclaimed on the 16th September 1963. He left the service after 21 years of service as a Warrant Officer 1.