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Valour and Courage: Katanga, My Story by Lieutenant Colonel Tan Siew Soo (Retired) Royal Malaysian Armour
Death or Glory
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The Courageous
Who Have Looked At
Death In The Eye
Stories Of Valour
No Atheists
In A Foxhole
“When you're left wounded on

Afganistan's plains and

the women come out to cut up what remains,

Just roll to your rifle

and blow out your brains,

And go to your God like a soldier”

“We are not retreating. We are advancing in another direction.”

“It is fatal to enter any war without the will to win it.”

“Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.

“The soldier, above all other people, prays for peace,

for he must suffer and be the deepest wounds and scars of war.”

“May God have mercy upon my enemies, because I won't .”
“The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.

“Nobody ever defended anything successfully, there is only attack and attack and attack some more.

“Fixed fortifications are a monument to the stupidity of man."
“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died.
Rather we should thank God that such men lived.

The Soldier stood and faced God

Which must always come to pass

He hoped his shoes were shining

Just as bright as his brass

"Step forward you Soldier,

How shall I deal with you?

Have you always turned the other cheek?

To My Church have you been true?"

"No, Lord, I guess I ain't

Because those of us who carry guns

Can't always be a saint."

I've had to work on Sundays

And at times my talk was tough,

And sometimes I've been violent,

Because the world is awfully rough.

But, I never took a penny

That wasn't mine to keep.

Though I worked a lot of overtime

When the bills got just too steep,

The Soldier squared his shoulders and said

And I never passed a cry for help

Though at times I shook with fear,

And sometimes, God forgive me,

I've wept unmanly tears.

I know I don't deserve a place

Among the people here.

They never wanted me around

Except to calm their fears.

If you've a place for me here,

Lord, It needn't be so grand,

I never expected or had too much,

But if you don't, I'll understand."

There was silence all around the throne

Where the saints had often trod

As the Soldier waited quietly,

For the judgment of his God.

"Step forward now, you Soldier,

You've borne your burden well.

Walk peacefully on Heaven's streets,

You've done your time in Hell."

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Katanga, My Story by Lieutenant Colonel Tan Siew Soo (Retired) Royal Malaysian Armour
Thursday, July 08, 2021
The Reconnaissance Corps in the Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a vast country, the only African country with a two time zones. It is roughly twenty times bigger than Peninsular Malaysia. As Belgian Congo it was granted Independence on 30 June 1960.

Four days later, the army mutinied and the country descended into total chaos with widespread looting and killing of innocent lives. Upon appeal by the President and the Prime Minister to the UN Security Council for military assistance to restore law and order, the UN Security Council approved a Resolution on 13 July 1960 authorising military force to be sent to the Congo.

Lieutenant Colonel Tan Siew Soo (Retired)
The UN Operations in the Congo went by the French acronym ONUC (Organisation des Nations Unies au Congo), was established with HQ in Leopoldville (now Kinshasa). On 4 August 1960, the UN Secretary General requested military assistance from our Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman. Initially we offered 120 men, but finally settled at 613 All Ranks.

The name given : 'The Malayan Special Force' (MSF). The Force was drawn from two of the finest units in the Federation Army; 4th Battalion, Royal Malay Regiment made up of A, B and C Coys and C Squadron 2nd Federation Reconnaissance Regiment (2 Recce), supported by a Signal Troop Detachment and Logistic elements.

It was a self-contained, well balanced force, predominantly Infantry but with enough light armour support. As a result, the MSF immediately proved to be an effective Peacekeeping unit from day one. Lieut-Colonel Ungku (Bruno) Nazaruddin bin Ungku Mohamad, the Commanding Officer of 4 Royal Malay Regiment was named the Commander of the MSF while Major Zain Hashim led C Sqn 2 Recce. On 13 September 1960 all troops assembled at Imphal Camp (located opposite the Ministry of Defence) for a fortnight training.

On 28 September, the Ferret Armoured Cars of C Sqn together with all other vehicles of MSF including heavy stores motored down to the RMN Naval Base in Woodland, Singapore to await the arrival of two US Navy Landing Ship Tank (LST). When loading on to the LSTs was completed, we set sail for Port Swettenham ( now Port Klang) arriving there on 3 October to convey the entire MSF on a very long voyage lasting 28 ays nonstop round the Cape of Good Hope to the Port of Matadi on the River Congo.

On a very cold, chilly afternoon in June 1962, C Squadron 2nd Federation Reconnaissance Regiment (2 Recce) arrived at the Elisabethville (now Lumumbashi) Airport to an exceptional warm welcome. At hand to receive us were some Senior Officers of the Indian Brigade under HQ Katanga Command. As soon as we stepped out of the aircraft the Brass Band of the Rajputana Rifles struck up some military marches. Each officer and every Senior NCOs were garlanded. It was an unexpected fantastic reception!

I shall always cherish that memory. It is occasions like this, that makes one extremely proud of the uniform and the Regiment one belonged.

Officers of C Sqn 2 Recce November 1960. LtoR: Lt Teoh Say Chee, Lt Tan Siew Soo, Lt Jimmy Rodriques, Maj Zain Hashim, 2Lt Tee Bua Bian, Capt Ernest Rodriques, Lt Philip Lee Khui Fui.

Officers of C Sqn 2 Recce June 1962.
LtoR: 2Lt Raja Aznin, Lt Tan Siew Soo, Capt Jimmy Rodriques, Maj Asna Sutan, Lt Tee Bua Bian, Lt Lee Ah Pow.

To understand Katanga and why we were there, a little background is deemed necessary. Belgian Congo was granted Independence on 30 June 1960. Almost immediately after declaration of independence, the country descended into chaos and anarchy with an Army mutiny, widespread looting and killing of innocent lives. Eleven days later on 11 July, Katanga, one of six Provinces declared independence.

Katanga was the richest Province supplying 60% of the world's copper. It also produced cobalt, coltan, tantalum and uranium. The secession was supported by powerful Belgian interests and the CIA. This period of history was at the height of the Cold War. The CIA had the phobia that Congo was falling into the lap of the Soviet Union sphere of influence. It is interesting to note the two atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki during WW2 were made possible with the uranium produced in Jadotville, Katanga!

Rightly or wrongly, the UN got involved in seeking the ending of Katanga Secession. Guided by two UN Security Council Resolutions: Resolution (S/4741) of 21 February 1961 and Resolution (S5002) of 24 November 1961. ONUC (UN Organisation in the Congo) fought three wars before succeeding in reintegrating Katanga back into the fold. The first Resolution passed in February 1961 saw a very slow implementation by ONUC. On 6 May we were the first ONUC unit to disarm the Mercenaries at Nyunzu (read THE LOOMING BATTLE OF NYUNZU).

From then on relationship between ONUC and President Moise Tshombe gradually deteriorated. The crunch came on 28 August 1961 when ONUC Indian Forces based in Elisabethville launched a surprise operation successfully capturing 300 mercenaries and evicting them. The Katangese then started their 'hate campaign' against ONUC with much provocations. The pent-up tension exploded on 13 September 1961 commonly called the First Katanga War or the First Fighting.

The ONUC force level was inadequate to take on the Katanga forces. It consisted of two Indian battalions (Dogra and Gurkha), an Irish Battalion and a Swede Battalion, all under ONUC Brigade called Katanga Command. When hostilities erupted, HQ MSF Brigade ordered A Sqn 2 Recce to immediately reinforce Katanga Command. The order could not have come at a more awkward time. A Sqn at Bukavu was in the midst of a roulement with B Sqn in Leopoldville (Kinshasa), some two thousand kilometres away.

Before the ceasefire was announced on 20 September, A Sqn managed to fly in No 3 Scout Troop commanded by 2Lt Abdul Rahman bin Dato Hussein together with a small Tac SHQ led by Maj Lakhbir Singh, managed to land before the Airport closed. The next Troop led by 2Lt Sam Low Tung Yeow was already airborne, as the Airport was closed, he was diverted to Kamina Air Base in central Katanga. [NB: in case readers are wondering why sent A Sqn and not another Sqn, the answer is the Regiment only had A and B Sqn's in the Congo then. C Sqn 2 Recce who had served ONUC earlier had already returned home].

2Lt Sam Low and another of his Ferret travelling in two C119 Flying Boxcar on landing at Kamina Air Base had a rude welcome by a Katangese Fouga Magister Jet. It swooped in at Sam Low's Ferret and fired two rockets. Very lucky for Sam, both rockets missed the target. Katanga which initially possessed three of the Fouga Trainer Jet, converted these into the Katanga Air Force by arming them with machine guns and rockets. These little aircrafts ruled the sky during the First Fighting.

They created great havoc to ONUC through the war. Sam Low and the crew of the other Ferret were left stranded at Kamina for exactly two months until that fateful day of 11 November 1961 when two C119 arrived at Kamina to ferry the two Ferrets to Kindu to join up with the balance of A Sqn commanded by the Sqn 2I/C, Capt MSC Lam. The C119 belonging to the Italian Air Force had a crew of 13. When they arrived at Kindu Airport before lunch time and got invited to the Officers Mess for lunch by the Kindu Garrison Commander.

The biggest tragedy awaited them. They were captured by rebellious Congolese soldiers and butchered to death. The man responsible was Maj David Daud Yassin, OC B Coy 6 RMR, the designated Kindu Garrison Commander. The First Katanga Fighting ended with humiliation for ONUC and a big loss for the UN when its Secretary General, Dag Hammarskjold flying to Ndola to meet President Tshombe died in a crash just across the border before Ndola Airport in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) on 18 September.

A ceasefire came into effect on 20 September. On 24 November 1961 the Security Council passed a Second Resolution (S/5002). This was a much stronger Resolution than S/474. It demanded an end to Katanga Secession. It drew a very strong response from Tshombe who threatened to resist with a scorched earth policy. The situation in Elisabethville was getting over heated with charges and counter charges by both sides on violations of the ceasefire agreement. The whole situation had become untenable.

The Second Katanga War started on 5 December 1961 when the Katangese set up a road block along the main road from the Airport to the city at a Y junction, the other road leading to Jadotville (now Likasi). When a Swede Jeep tried to crash through, they were fired upon killing one and wounding two others. The road block was manned by a Coy of Katangese led by three white officers, supported by armoured cars and mortars.

A Gurkha Coy was ordered to clear the road block. After the attack when the smoke cleared, thirty-eight Katangese and two white officers lay dead. The Indians suffered one officer killed and four wounded. By the time the Second Fighting started, A Sqn 2 Recce had its full compliment. The balance of the squadron from Kindu had now re-joined the Sqn Ldr. Maj Lakhbir Singh Gill and No 3 Tp of Lt Abdul Rahman.

ONUC had learned the importance of air superiority well. It now had an 'Air Force' of 14 Jets made up of Swedish Saabs. Indian Canberra’s and Ethiopian Sabres. Their first mission was to knock out the Katangese Air Force.

The writer looking at the Katangese Fouger Majister Jet
Tshombe was smart enough to keep some of his aircrafts across the border in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and in Angola which ONUC could not touch. The force level of Katanga Command was now two Brigades strong; an Indian Bde comprising a Gurkha, Dogra and a Jat battalions. The others were an Ethiopian, an Irish and a Swede Battalion and not least A Sqn 2 Recce MSF.

The traditional role of an Armoured Car Squadron was road patrolling and armed escorts. The Scout Troops were utilised to the maximum on patrolling and escorts. They were targets of snipers who shot at them with Rifles and bazooka. All missed their targets but there were many close calls. One Ferret belonging to Sam Low was hit by a sniper from a building. It missed both Driver and Commander but split the rod antenna into two!

The most memorable escort was the one escorting the Brigade Commander, Brigadier KAS Rajah during a visit to the defensive position of the Dogra Battalion. The escort comprised No 3 Scout Tp. led by 2/Lt Abdul Rahman plus one-half Rifle Tp. led by 2Lt Michael Chong. As it was the Bde. Comd’s visit, the Sqn Ldr. Maj Lakhbir Singh was also present. As the Brigadier was about to inspect an anthill bunker, the enemy surprised the convoy by opening up with small arms and bazooka. One rocket missed Michael Chong's Land Rover by inches!!

The Ferrets immediately returned fire, thereby saving the life of the Brigade Commander. This incident had a profound impact on the relationship between us and the Indian contingent. We then became highly respected by the Indian soldiers. Every night throughout the Fighting, A Sqn Line was bombarded by enemy mortar harassing fire. In addition, Tshombe also sent one of his 'bombers' from across the border nightly to bomb A Sqn.

Whenever the drone of this unwelcome nocturnal intruder was heard, the crew of the Scout Cars would scramble to engage it. The aircraft believed to be an Auster employing primitive hand bombing caused little damage, only two casualties by splinters. After many calls for a ceasefire, particularly from the Belgian and British Consulates, one came into effect on 19 December 1961. This Second Katanga War was characterised by brutalities and atrocities from both sides.

The ONUC side was mainly committed by the Ethiopian troops. A Sqn 2 Recce was completely in the clear. President Tshombe was so pleased with the discipline and conduct of A Sqn that he did the unthinkable by giving a Farewell reception to the Officers of A Sqn 2 Recce prior to departure for home in January 1962. This gesture truly defied the imagination, the arch enemy of ONUC who lost over two hundred soldiers during the Fighting honouring A Sqn 2 Recce, a part of ONUC contingent. This singular honour was never given to any others. Truly a very great honour to the Regiment, King and Country.

Officers of A Sqn 2 Recce, January 1962. LtoR: 2Lt Abdul Rahman Hussein, Capt MSC Lam, President Moise Tshombe, Maj Lakhbir Singh Gill, 2Lt Low Tung Yeow. Rear: 2Lt Neville Siebel and 2Lt Michael Chong Boon Tik.

C Sqn 1 Recce relieved A Sqn 2 Recce in January 1962. This Sqn had a short stint with ONUC of only six months (normal 9-10 months). Arriving after the Second Fighting, they enjoyed the relative peace and uneasy calm unlike their predecessors and successors.

My Half Troop stopped at the perimeter of the Refugee Camp. A Tunisian Coy was still guarding the area.

Their major task was patrolling the huge Baluba Refugee Camp on the outskirts of the city. The Bulba were immigrants from Northern Katanga and South Kasai.

A highly successful people in their trade and professions, politically they were anti- Tshombe and hence persecuted. Prior to the First War they had to seek refuge from ONUC. The Camp which started in September 1961 was in reality a shanty commune covering roughly two kilometres long and one kilometre wide, boxed in by four roads. At the peak before the Second Fighting there were an estimated forty to fifty thousand refugees. They were slowly repatriated home after the war and it closed down sometime in July-August 1962. The Second War was not an outright victory for ONUC.

Tshombe was put under great pressure to end his secession. He attended a Reconciliation Conference at Kitona Naval Base at the mouth of River Congo and agreed to the Central Government authority over Katanga. The Kitona Accord meant the end of Katanga independence. On return home, his Provincial Assembly refused to recognise the Accord. The new UN Secretary General, U Thant tried to break the deadlock with a National Reconciliation Plan.

While the Central Government accepted the Plan, Tshombe stipulated conditions. By the end of June 1962, when C Sqn 2 Recce (2nd Tour of duty with ONUC) arrived in Elisabethville, tensions were slowly but surely escalating. My first task at Elisabethville the next morning after arrival was patrolling the huge Refugee Camp. I thought I had experienced all the cold of Bukavu and Goma the previous tour, but was totally taken aback by this cold mid-Winter weather of Elisabethville. Sitting on top of my Ferret Scout Car all my fingers went completely numbed due to the cold winds. South Katanga lie on a plateau averaging 4000 feet above sea level.

Elisabethville had a distinct cool and dry season from May to August where the average temperature at night could drop to around 8 or 9 degrees Celsius and that's very cold for an average Malaysian! After the Second War most ONUC troops were new replacement. On the Indian side we now had a new Gurkha battalion (2/5 Gorkha), 4th Bn, Madras Regiment and a battalion of Rajputana Rifles (Rajrif), 63 Cavalry Sqn and a Heavy (4.2 in) Mortar Coy.

The non-Indian combat units were an Ethiopian Bn, an Irish Bn and a Tunisian Bn and not least C Sqn 2 Recce Regt. The core of C Sqn fighting troops were: No. 1 Scout Tp. Lt Tan Siew Soo, No. 2 Scout Tp. Lt Tee Bua Bian and No. 3 Scout Troop, Lt Lee Ah Pow while No 4 Rifle Troop was led by 2Lt Raja Aznin. Each Scout Troop was affiliated to an ONUC Battalion. No. 1 Tp. with 4th Bn Madras Regiment, No. 2 Tp. with the Ethiopian Bn and No3. Tp. with 2/5 Gorkha Bn. The emphasis was training for War.

C Sqn came under command HQ Indian Independent Brigade commanded by Brigadier RS Noronha, MC. The Brigade was in turn under command HQ Katanga Command. The GOC, Maj Gen Prem Chand was an example of a perfect gentleman officer. His spoken English could shame many Englishmen. Our training for war started with a Brigade organised Officers Day. At the beginning many Officers Day were held.

I remember one was conducted by the Brigadier himself, his questions seemed to target the many Coy Commanders present at the Study Day. Our attachment with the affiliated battalions was initially on a weekly basis. As we got to know them better, we were placed on call from the Sqn Line, the locations were quite close by except the one at the Airport. Later, to prevent boredom the Troop at the Airport was rotated on a daily basis every 24 hours. The main task at the Airport was patrolling the numerous tracks on the outer perimeter to prevent the Katangese from closing in.

A phenomenon that grew out of the Second Fighting was ONUC road blocks established at all entrances into the city. The Katangese soldiers were free to move but unarmed. They in turn set up their own road blocks away from ours to prevent us from going out. The routine at the Airport was daily patrolling by No 1 Tp followed by No2 Tp and No3 Tp in that order. It was during such a patrol that a clash with the Katangese occurred on 12 September 1962. Two days earlier my No 1 Tp patrolled the same tracks and nothing was amiss. For some reason there was no patrolling by No 2 Tp the next day.

On the third day No 3 Tp led by Lt Lee Ah Pow patrolled the same area. On that patrol he also escorted a Gurkha recce group who had just taken over Airport security from another Battalion. Several kilometres into the track at a T junction No 3 Tp bumped into a Katangese Road Block manned by a Platoon with at least one white officer. It would appear that over the last 24 hours or so the Katangese had advanced forward and established this road block in no man's land. In the ensuing Confrontation there were a lot of shouting and showing of hands for each side to withdraw. Suddenly a shot rang out from the Katangese position.

Lance Corporal Edward Skading in the leading Ferret and Corporal Mohd Yusoff in the second Ferret opened up with their machine guns. A brief firefight ensued. The Katangese beat a hasty retreat leaving behind two dead, much ammunitions and food stuff. For this piece of action, Lt Lee Ah Pow was awarded the Pingat Gagah Berani (PGB). On the political front, there was no indication that Tshombe would end the Katanga secession. Around this period HQ Indian Bde issued a warning order to the 4th Bn Madras Regiment Battle Group that included my No 1 Troop C Sqn.

The Mission given was to capture Jadotville, an important mining town located 140 kilometres North-West of Elisabethville. The situation was getting really hot. The impending inevitable Third War was brewing. It meant more training for war. We were ready but alas it was not to be. In late November, less than a month before hostilities erupted, C Sqn 2 Recce was extracted out of Elisabethville into Albertville (now Kalemie), a town in Northern Katanga by the western shores of the Great Lake Tanganyika. 3 x C 124 Globemaster took a total of five days to move the entire Sqn.

During a farewell courtesy call on the GOC Katanga Command, Maj Asna Sutan learnt that our move was engineered by our UN Delegation in New York. What an anti-climax to be denied the excitement and glory of the forthcoming actions. Interestingly, on New Year's Day 1963, the Madras Regiment and the Rajput Rifles entered Jadotville to a cheering welcome by the local population.

The Indians suffered four killed and nineteen wounded. It is a matter of conjecture whether there would be any casualty in my Troop had we gone into action together with the Indian Army as originally planned. The Katanga secession finally ended on 15 January 1963.

Two days later on 17 January, C Sqn 2 Recce together with A Coy and B Coy 2 RMR went into the Kongolo area, Northern Katanga to round up the Katangese Forces under 'Operation Friendship'.

Tanah Tumpahnya Darahku.


6011 2338 3288

posted by Major D Swami (Retired) @ 10:50 PM  
  • At 3:00 AM, Anonymous Joe Maxwell said…

    Dear Sir,
    I read your blog on your tour in the Congo with great interest. I am an Irish author and I've written a book about the Fouga Magister in Irish Air Corps service. Naturally enough I'm interested in the Fouga that attacked the Irish Company at Jadotville on14 September 1961.

    I was delighted to see a photo of what might be that aircraft on your website with you standing in front of it. I appreciate it was a long time ago but could you tell me where that photo was taken and on what date? Can you remember anything about the colour scheme of the aircraft?

    Best wishes,
    Joe Maxwell

  • At 3:01 AM, Anonymous Joe Maxwell said…

    Dear Sir,
    I read your blog on your tour in the Congo with great interest. I am an Irish author and I've written a book about the Fouga Magister in Irish Air Corps service. Naturally enough I'm interested in the Fouga that attacked the Irish Company at Jadotville on14 September 1961.

    I was delighted to see a photo of what might be that aircraft on your website with you standing in front of it. I appreciate it was a long time ago but could you tell me where that photo was taken and on what date? Can you remember anything about the colour scheme of the aircraft?

    Best wishes,
    Joe Maxwell

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