Valour and Courage: THE LOOMING BATTLE OF NYUNZU by Lieutenant Colonel Tan Siew Soo (Retired) Royal Malaysian Armour
Death or Glory
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The Courageous
Who Have Looked At
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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

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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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THE LOOMING BATTLE OF NYUNZU by Lieutenant Colonel Tan Siew Soo (Retired) Royal Malaysian Armour
Monday, August 09, 2021
Lt Col Bruno Ungku Nazaruddin, second from the left
in Kindu during his morning inspection round.
Capt Zakaria Dahlan (IO) on the right and the interpreter on the left.

Nyunzu a strategic town was located about half way along the Albertville-Kabalo route in Northern Katanga. Situated at a T-Junction the northern exit led to Kongolo, the east to Albertville and the west to Kabalo.
Northern Katanga, a sub province of Katanga was itself about the size of Peninsular Malaysia. The inhabitants here were the Baluba who were openly hostile and defiant of Tshombe, the ruler of Katanga. Geographically the region belonged to Katanga but politically the Baluba belonged to the Balubakat Cartel, a party allied to Lumumba's MNC Party. The strategically important region whose commercial and economic life centred around CFL (Chemin de Fer des Grands Lacs), the great rail and port conglomerate with Belgians, French and British interests .A very important line of communication comprising the CFL railway line with a parallel road ran from the river port of Kabalo in the west to Albertville (now Kalemie) in the east by the western shores of Lake Tanganyika.

Under an agreement between Tshombe and ONUC in October 1960, Northern Katanga was declared a neutral zone whereby the area had neither Katangese soldiers nor the Central government army. Only ONUC were permitted to deploy troops in this wild and anarchic region. An Ethiopian and an Irish battalion were deployed at Kabalo and Albertville respectively. The agreement was broken when Congolese troops belonging to the Stanleyville faction marched south and captured the mining town of Manono in Northern Katanga. With that invasion Tshombe declared the agreement with ONUC null and void. During February and March 1961, Tshombe despatched his troops and mercenaries to recapture Manono. Not only that, he also occupied Nyunzu and Kongolo. He then despatched his mercenaries to capture Kabalo defended by the Ethiopian.It was a complete rout for Tshombe's mercenaries .Sailing up the Lualaba (the Congo river at this point is called Lualaba) the mercenaries met stiff opposition. A lucky mortar round by the Ethiopians hit the boiler of the river boat resulting in some mercenaries drowning and the rest captured.

After this incident ONUC decided it must assert its physical presence along the line of communication Kabalo-Nyunzu-Albertville. Nyunzu was the only location without ONUC troops. A MSF Battle Group consisting of A, B and C Coys 4 R Malay and C Sqn 2 Recce was ordered by higher command at ONUC to move from Kindu to Kabalo and there advance to occupy Nyunzu. D Coy remained at Kindu airport. This Battle Group was faced with a looming battle ahead, it was on a collision course with Tshombe forces. Earlier, Tshombe had announced to the world he did not want any ONUC troops in Nyunzu and any move into the town would be resisted by force. We knew he had troops including mercenaries in Nyunzu but due to poor intelligence we were not sure of the exact strength. It was this unknown factor that caused much anxiety.

This battle for Nyunzu was going to be fought as a conventional battle as taught during our training at the Federation Military College. Our experience so far has been in counter insurgency warfare against the Communist Terrorists. Battle procedure suddenly flashed through my mind: Concentration Area (Conc Area), Assembly Area (AA), Forming Up Place (FUP) and Start Line, all these became familiar again. The mounted column led by the Recce Troops moved from Kabalo and headed east for Nyunzu, roughly one hundred and twenty kilometres away. At a small village called Luizi the column halted for the night. Here final orders for the attack was given. In military parlance this could be the Conc Area. That night many soldiers prayed very hard.

At first light the next morning the mounted column advanced spearheaded by the Recce Troops of C Sqn 2 Recce, followed by A Coy commanded by Maj Wan Ismail Mohd Salleh who was tasked as the frontal assault Coy. B Coy commanded by Maj Tunku Ahmad Maamor and C Coy commanded by Maj Robert Mahmud Yusoff were the right and left flanking assault Coys. The young Budak Boy officers involved were Lt Omar Yusof A Coy, 2/Lt Borhan Ahmad B Coy and Lt Aziz Saif C Coy. When the column advanced nearer to Nyunzu it halted again at an abandoned deserted village called Mbele-bele. This could be termed the Assy Area where final preparations for battle were made. The Battle Group then continued the Advance moving slowly and tactically towards the objective. At this stage tension and anxiety were sky high. As the column came very close to the entrance of Nyunzu, just a few hundred metres away it halted again. Here could be termed the FUP where troops shake out into battle formations for the assault upon crossing the Start Line.We awaited for H Hour which would be sent by radio signal.

In the very tense and charged atmosphere, wiser counsel prevailed. Lt Col Bruno Nazaruddin, the Commanding Officer decided to take a big risk and a chance to avoid a bloody battle. Nazaruddin immaculate as he always was, was even smarter on this occasion dressed in his newly starched cotton uniform, UN blue beret with purple heckle proudly wearing the Recce stable belt accompanied by my Sqn Leader, Maj Geoffrey Routledge (4R Tank) and French speaking together with the Battalion IO, the RSO and the interpreter drove up in two Land Rovers flying the UN flag coming up from the rear behind the Ferrets and headed for Nyunzu town. They automatically drew the Katangese weapons towards them as they neared the two bunkers guarding the entrance. One itchy finger was all that was needed to trigger off a bloody battle. The Katangese soldiers manning the post knew the implications for they could hear the roar of the Ferret Scout Cars ready for action. Happily to our utter relief there was no incident.
Lt Col Bruno Ungku Nazaruddin in Nyunzu with Brigadier Hamid Bidin on extreme right and Brigadiers Ward and Goolsen of the 3rd Nigerian Bde. Notice the Recce stable belt worn by Bruno
Order had been given by the CO that if nothing was heard from him in twenty minutes, the attack on Nyunzu was to proceed.The entry of this Battle Group of 4 R Malay plus C Sqn 2 Recce into the strategically important Nyunzu town was therefore achieved without firing a shot! In brief a potential explosive situation was diffused and casualties expected from the confrontation with the Katangese forces averted. Lt Col Bruno Ungku Nazaruddin conducted himself in this situation in a calm ,courageous and professional manner. His professionalism and coolness under stress inspired all of us in this operation and earned him our great respect. We all salute you, Lt.Col Bruno Ungku Nazaruddin Ungku Mohamad!!

At Nyunzu we discovered the force level of the Katangese was one Company strong commanded by a Belgian Commandant (Major) seconded to the Katangese forces. Besides him there were two other Belgian officers. Later we also learned there was a Mercenary Platoon stationed there. We were allocated an area to occupy and digging of trenches commenced immediately.

Lt Tan Siew Soo during ‘Stand To’in Nyunzu. Carried out during first light and last light

"Stand To" at every first light and last light were carried out without fail during our entire stay at Nyunzu. The apprehensive Katangese soldiers looking at us digging trenches followed suit and carried out their "stand to"in the evenings as well. In some places we were in eye ball to eye ball contact, not a comical situation at all, one mistake with the trigger could undo all the goodwill achieved so far.

Our fine relationship with the Katangese ended abruptly on 6th May 1961. We were ordered to carry out "Operation Leopard" in compliance with UN Security Council Resolution of 21st February 1961 (S/4741) to disarm and arrest all mercenaries . On the night of 5th May orders were given to carry out the operation the next morning. The Platoon of mercenaries occupied two villas and an Officers Mess. At 0500 hours on 6th May, the MSF under cover of darkness swung into action. The three Scout Troops were given the task of establishing road blocks at the three main exits. One leading eastward to Albertville, another north to Kongolo and the other westward to Kabalo where we came from. My Troop established the road block at the east exit to Kalemie.

C Coy mission was to capture the Officers Mess and the two villas.,B Coy was the cut off force while A Coy was designated the cordon and reserve force. At 0730 hours all the mercenaries were ordered out from their accommodation and paraded outside their villas. The Security Council Resolution was read out to them. They requested for twenty minutes to think it over. It seemed a genuine request, the whole operation caught them by complete surprise. Their request was granted but after twenty minutes only 5 came out to surrender. Only then Lt Aziz Saif and his Platoon went storming into the Officers Mess and captured 2 mercenaries, both of South African origin, one was the platoon doctor and the other his driver. The remainder simply vanished, obviously they had better knowledge of the terrain there despite our cut off and cordon force! The BBC news broadcast that evening reported the fleeing mercenaries were being pursued by wild Baluba tribesmen. A BBC reporter was probably among the escapees!!!

Capturing mercenaries by the UN was an exercise in futility. UN has no power to punish them except to deport them home to their country of origin. More often than not, they would be back in the Congo after a short break.


By mid May 1961, the advance party of the Indian Brigade had arrived in Nyunzu and took over duties from us. 4 R Malay and C Sqn 2 Recce departed Nyunzu for Albertville ( Kalemie) on 17 May 1961.
Lt Col TAN SIEW SOO served in the Congo from October 1960 to July 1961 and June 1962 to April 1963.

● Postscript: Lt Col Bruno Ungku Nazaruddin Ungku Mohamad rose to the rank of Lt General as the Chief of General Staff (now called Chief of Army) before retirement. We the first group of MSF were all truly unsung heroes. Not a single award was given out to these pioneers of the Congo mission. No one ever complained,on reflection I thought this may be of interest to some readers.
posted by Major D Swami (Retired) @ 12:31 AM  
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