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.
Firefight in Elizabethville, Congo – Lt Lee Ah Pow PGB of C Squadron, 2nd Reconnaissance Regiment
Sunday, April 10, 2011
C Squadron of the 2nd Reconnaissance Regiment was chosen the second time to be part of the Malayan Special Force (MSF). It was chosen to be on a peace keeping mission in the Congo under the auspices of the United Nations. This was in June 1962. The MSF was commanded by Brigadier Mohammed Noor bin Hajji Tamin (927). The Squadron Leader was Major Asna bin Mohamed Sutan (200004). The Second in Command was Captain J.C.Rodrigues, the Troop Leaders being Lt Tan Siew Soo of No.1 Troop, Lt Tee Bua Bian of No. 2 Troop, Lt Lee Ah Pow of No.3 Troop and 2Lt Raja Hj. Ahmad of the Rifle Troop.
C Squadron had 14 Ferret Scout cars and 101 men; the accompanying Infantry Battalion was the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Malay Regiment (2RMR) which was commanded by Lt Col I.W. Lloyd H. Jones MC (262925). They embarked to the Congo from Port Swettenham, now known as Port Klang with the SS Blatchford, to the port of Mombasa in Kenya. There, C Squadron separated from 2nd Royal Malay Regiment and flown directly to Elizabethville to act as an Independent Squadron.
<The Squadron was placed under the command of the Indian Independent Brigade Group, which was commanded by Brigadier R.S. Noronha MC (Military Cross). Other units deployed to Elizabethville were the Irish Battalion, Tunisian Battalion, Ethiopian Battalion, 2nd/5th Gurkhas, a Battalion of the Madras Regiment, a Battalion of the Rajputana Brigade which comprised of 63rd Cavalry Squadron and the 4.2 inch Heavy Mortar Company, in direct support was the Indian Airforce from Kamina. C Squadron took over duties from A Squadron of the 1st Reconnaissance Regiment, which was commanded by Major Amiruddin Al Bakri.
Elizabethville then, was the largest town in Congo. It is located in highlands surrounded by jungle. The temperatures were low and especially very cold at night. This was something not expected as every one of the Malayans expected Africa to be hot. . Elizabethville was connected to other towns by air only. To ensure that these airways were opened all the time, the UN Forces were tasked to keep the Air Port secure. The town was run in an efficient manner by the former colonial masters, the Belgians. Some destruction of basic amenities caused by two previous wars was noticeable, but they were still operable.
War broke out in Elizabethville, due to the fact that the ruler of Katanga, President M.Tshome refused to take orders from the Central Government in Leopoldville. The situation in Elizabethville was very tense. The UN laid two layers of defense around the town.
All entry points into Elizabethville were guarded by Military checkpoints; this was to ensure no one was carrying in weapons. Apart from manning checkpoints they went out on reconnaissance and fighting patrols, especially into areas considered as “No Man’s Land”. This was done to ensure that the area was clear of rebels and to dominate the ground. Sometimes they came across the Katangese soldiers; these instances just raised the tensions. C Squadron’s troops frequently went on patrols supporting the Infantry Troops of the various nations involved in the peace keeping effort. Sometimes they went on independent patrols when the situation arose due to uncertainty in some areas.
The Officers frequently attended “Officers day” which were study periods organized by the troops of various nations to study one another’s operational procedures to enhance inter operability amongst them. The Troop’s of C Squadron, 2nd Reconnaissance Regiment were frequently rotated with other troops and various places, their duration per rotation was approximately about a month. The Troops were frequently rotated so as to prevent the soldiers from becoming bored or complacent in one area, due to familiarity. This way they stayed alert. No.3 Troop under the command of Lieutenant Lee Ah Pow was attached to 2nd/5th Gurkhas which was guarding the Airport in Elizabethville. On the 12th September 1962 Lt Lee Ah Pow was ordered to escort a section of the Gurkhas on a reconnaissance mission to the north of the Airport. The area was just taken over by the Gurkhas from the Rajputana Rifles of the Indian Army. That area was about 5 miles away from the Airport.
The patrol comprised of 4 Ferret Scout cars. Lt Lee himself was in the leading scout car. Cpl M. Yusof was in charge of the second scout car, the 3rd scout car was commanded by Sgt Abdul Razak and the 4th Scout car was commanded by Cpl Edward Skading. The 4 drivers involved were Trooper Lye Tuck Joo, Trooper Zainal Abidin, Trooper Sidin and Trooper M.K.Lam. They left the Airport in the morning at around 8 am escorting the Gurkhas, whose commander was Major Gupta. All the Gurkhas were mounted in two Land Rovers for this combined patrol. The Land Rovers were positioned between two scout cars in front and two more behind. They were sandwiched by the scout cars. The terrain they patrolled was flat covered by shrub and tall grass. After conducting the patrol for around 3 hours they did not find any traces of the Enemy. As they were returning Lt Lee entered a lane which led to a junction called “Martini Junction”.
After going into the lane for about a kilometer he saw 30-40 Katangese soldiers, who tried to stop them by jeering and shouting at them. At first he was not at all worried ordering them to withdraw. They did not withdraw; in fact they surrounded the patrol of 6 vehicles. The vehicles were too close and bunched up within this hostile Katangese emplacement. The Katangese soldiers were jeering and yelling at them. After a little while Cpl Edward Skading who was in the rear reported to Lt Lee that his Ferret Scout car was surrounded, he turned around to take a look, it was true. The Gurkha, Major Gupta, who surrounded too was yelling at Lieutenant Lee Ah Pow, “Do something Lieutenant! Lieutenant do something!” This Lt Lee heard distinctly over the Katangese voices. All the Gurkha soldiers had leapt off the Land Rovers and were lying in the prone position with their rifle pointing towards the Katangese.
Lt Lee ordered the Katangese to disperse, reacting to these orders from Lt Lee, the Katangese responded by opening fire in his direction. The sound of the gunfire deafening his left year temporarily. He ducked into the turret and contacted HQ, about the problem facing him. Simultaneously he relayed orders to all the Ferret Scout cars under his command to open fire with the Browning machine gun which was mounted in the turret, if the Katangese attacked them. He further gave instructions that if the Katangese were to clamber up his vehicle, they were to fire at his vehicle and to be not bothered about his safety. That this instruction be applied to all vehicles and further to conserve ammo, not to fire blindly. The Katangese continued firing at them. As all the vehicles were too close he instructed them to spread out, this was to avoid being burnt, just in case any one vehicle caught fire due to a grenade being lobbed at them. The Katangese retreated a short distance when they saw the vehicles move out and jockey into firing positions. Before that move, they were barley 20 yards from the Katangese. To get out of this tight situation they fired a short burst of automatic fire from the Browning’s at the Katangese who were firing at them. They saw the Katangese soldiers running helter skelter from their trenches. Seeing that the Katangese were fleeing he gave the orders to cease fire.
Lt Lee was cool and controlled, he was very professional and so were his men as peacekeepers. His men obeyed him to the letter, to move when told, fire when told and cease fire when told to do so, under tremendous pressure and threat to their lives. The Katangese soldiers who fled were led by a white man, believed to be a mercenary. Without wasting time they conducted a search of the area. In the abandoned trenches they found a lot of firearms and ammo that were left by the Katangese in their haste to flee from the Malayans. They, the patrol of Malayans and Gurkhas had actually by fluke had ended up in the center of a Katangese defensive position. The Katangese were too surprised and shocked. The Katangese machine gun which they found abandoned was actually aimed directly at their patrol. They were puzzled, why the Katangese had not opened up on them when they had the whole patrol in their sights. Some Katangese rocket launchers too were recovered. Two dead Katangese soldiers were recovered, which were handed over to the UN HQ. Major Gupta thanked Lieutenant Lee profusely and promised Lee that the matter would be reported to the UN HQ. After that Lieutenant Lee reported the incident to 2nd Royal Malay HQ and then to his Squadron.
When Major Asna bin Mohd Sutan heard the initial communications between Lt Lee and the rest of his Troop, on radio, he himself got “saddled” onto his command Scout car, raced with a Troop accompanying him to assist Lt Lee. When he arrived at the Airport he saw the Indian Commander Brigadier Noronha already there. Major Asna dismounted to pay his respects to him. The Brigadier queried him on the reason for him coming to the location, to which Major Asna said he was there to assist his Troop that was in a firefight. He stopped Asna from going any further; he further ticked off Major Asna by saying that, this was not a war, that they were not there to fight a war. He returned to base and was anxious about Lt Lee and his Troop. Lt Lee arrived an hour later with his 4 vehicles. Major Asna then went to UN HQ, where he was further ticked off, that the UN Peacekeepers were not supposed to project their firepower and act aggressively.
Anyway Brigadier Noronha acknowledged that the Katangese lost large amounts of equipment due to the actions of Lt Lee. The Brigadier further told Major Asna, that he as the Commander of UN Forces in that area would accept all responsibility in relation to the firefight and advised Major Asna to go back and not spread the news of the firefight around. The following day all men under the Command of The Indian Brigade were not allowed to go out. This was because President Tshombe used the two dead Katangese killed by Malayan Forces to rile against the UN. The killing was exploited for his political mileage. All papers sympathetic to him carried stories of the firefight calling it a killing by the UN Peacekeeping Force. The newspapers carried stories saying that the Katangese soldiers only wanted peace. After that incident, the hatred against UN Forces rose, especially against Malayan Troops, this hatred was strong amongst the supporters of President Tshombe. In Elizabethville the Congolese supported the actions of the Malayan Forces.
Major Asna as instructed, by Brigadier Noronha kept quiet about the incident, after a few days he received a message congratulating and thanking him for rescuing the Gurkhas on the 12 September 1962. The message especially emphasized the exemplary role played by Lt Lee and his Troop. Major Asna was further cited to recommend Lt Lee for a valor award. This acknowledgement was rewarding as before this, MSF failed in protecting the 13 Italian Airmen killed in Kindu. After this incident in Elizabethville, all the UN Forces started looking upon the MSF with respect. Two weeks after the firefight a group of Gurkhas who were unaccompanied by the MSF ran into a “jumping minefield” planted by the Katangese. Two Gurkhas were killed and four of them were wounded.
During the funeral for the two killed Gurkhas, C Squadron was honored by being given a place of honor closest to the cremation. Major Asna was placed last, which by itself was an honor to place a wreath for the two dead Gurkha soldiers. It was considered an honor according to Gurkha traditions, just before the setting of fire to the bodies.
After a few months had elapsed during a farewell for Brigadier Noronha, the Brigadier suddenly approached Lt Lee Ah Pow and asked him, “What has happened to the award for you?” To which Lt Lee replied that he did not know, as he had given the Brigadier’s letter of commendation to his OC, Major Asna, which was forwarded to the Sector Commander. To which Brigadier Noronha responded by saying, “Lieutenant Lee, if they do not respect my rank they should at least respect my white hair. I have served 36 years in the Indian army. Tomorrow come to my office, I will give you a letter, give it to your Commander”. Lt Lee did as he was told. The letter to be handed over to Lt Lee’s superiors written by Brigadier Noronha is as below:
From: Brigadier R.S. Noronha MC
Command HQ: Indian Independent Brigade Group
LIEUT. LEE AH POW, who commanded a troop of Scout Cars from C Squadron
2nd Recce MSF in support of 2nd/5th GURKHA RIFLES patrol of 12 men on the
12th September 1962 played an admirable part and showed exemplary courage
when the patrol was surrounded by about 100 armed KATANGESE
GENDARMERIE on MARTINI TRACK JUNCTION, ELIZABETHVILLE.
With a high degree of restraint and presence of mind LIEUT. LEE AH POW
deployed his troop in a position of all round defense to take on the Enemy should
they open fire, and thus provided a screen around 2nd/5th GURKHA RIFLES.
With undaunted courage and high quality of leadership he controlled his men
from opening fire until the enemy opened fire first on the patrol. Only then under
a most difficult situation knowing of the UN PEACEFUL AIM, he ordered his
troops to open fire with short bursts, in which they did and killing only two
Gendarmes and wounding one. The Enemy then dispersed leaving behind boxes
of ammunition, side arms, greatcoats and equipment. For gallantry and the
correct execution of orders and a high degree of discipline displayed in the face of
the enemy LIEUT.LEE AH POW has set a glowing example of leadership against
overwhelming odds in the eyes of the enemy and the GURKHA RIFLE
Brigadier R.S. Noronha MC
Command HQ: Indian Independent Brigade Group
Major Asna bin Sutan recommended that Lt Lee Ah Pow be bestowed with the “Pingat Gagah Berani”. The King at that time, Tuanku Syed Putra ibni Almarhum Syed Hassan Jamalullail presented the award to Lt Lee Ah Pow on the 2nd June 1964.
Lt Lee Ah Pow was born on the 9th October 1937 in Rompin, Negri Sembilan. He was the second child in a family of 6 siblings. His father Lee Seng was a contractor in a rubber estate who was married to Mesah bte Ahmad. He got his early education at the Tsung Hwa Primary School, in Bahau for 4 years and then transferred to the Anglo Chinese School in Seremban. On his own steam he joined the Boy’s Wing of the Federation Military College, in Port Dickson. He completed his education there until he became an Officer from there. His father strongly opposed his choice of career in the Army, as his father still held strongly onto old Chinese beliefs that ‘good sons do not join the army’. The factors that made him skeptical to his father’s beliefs was the situation then, the Emergency. The other strong factor was that, quite a number of his relatives were killed by the Communist Terrorists.
For two years after he joined the army his father did not speak to him. His estrangement with his father ended one Chinese New Year when he knocked on the door of his father’s house at night. Lee Ah Pow was a Regular Cadet of the 1st Intake of the FMC. He was commissioned in 1957. Even though he was commissioned in the Federation Armored Car Regiment, he was attached to 1st Royal Malay Regiment, as a Platoon Commander on operations in Gurun, Kedah. After his return from Congo he was promoted to Captain and was appointed the second in Command of B Squadron, 2nd Recce. He was involved in the fight against the Indonesians during Confrontation in Tawau, Sabah. Throughout his career he never served in any other unit apart from 2nd Recce and in Mindef.
Soon he was a very young Major decorated with a “Pingat Gagah Berani”, he was bitterly disappointed when his early orders to become the Second in Command of 2nd Recce Regiment was cancelled and another to become the Camp Commandant of 4 Brigade, too was cancelled. The cancellation was from high up as he had disobeyed orders to give preferential treatment to a particular unit*. The second posting was probably with a bad motive from the higher ups. He refused to be intimidated. With that he decided to change his Corps to the Military Police or to leave the service. In March 1971 he was absorbed into the Military Police.
While he was an Officer in the Military Police, a senior Officer was advised to leave for misappropriation of funds, scandal of supplying kangaroo meat to soldiers was discovered, resolved the end of hostilities between the youths of Kuching and the army. All these, through the efforts of Major Lee Ah Pow, who was then Deputy Provost Marshall of the 1st Infantry Division. As his chances of getting promoted to a Lieutenant Colonel grew slimmer even after numerous recommendations by the Provost Marshall, that promotion became elusive. To avoid this pressure of not going up the ladder in promotions, he decided with a heavy heart to leave the service after 20 years of dedicated and loyal service, which was done hastily.
After he left the service he and his wife Alice Tan and his 5 children had the misfortune of losing their home, which Major Lee had bought. He could not fulfill the conditions imposed by the Military Co-operative, where all the balance of the loan should be paid up before leaving the service. He left without awards or benefits as awarded to Officers who leave the service early. That was a dark spot and one of the worst moments in his life and his family’s when they were deprived of their house. He being a man of strong character and a resourceful personality, rebuilt his life and that of his family's.
*No known details.
Reference : Pahlawan, Angkatan Tentera Malaysia, Penerima S.P. dan P.G.B. Jilid 1, Syed
Othman Syed Omar, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, Kementerian Pendidikan
Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, 1993