Although the Malayan Emergency was over but the threat from PKM was still there. And this is a story where RMN was partially involved.
One day in 1971 Operations Room (Ops Room) received information from the ‘Intelligence’ that the communist terrorist is about to receive arms supply from the sea near Port Dickson.
KD Sri Perak was then flying flag “PAPA”, i.e. 4 hours-notice for sea.
The CO was called to report at Ops Room for briefing and ordered to sail for Port Dickson to intercept the shipment.
The CO reported to SOO they were ready to sail but short of one RO who had reported sick that morning and had not return from sickbay. SOO ordered Chief Yeoman to get a replacement RO from COMCEN KD Malaya. It So happened COMCEN could not spare any RO, and the next thing Chief Yeoman did was to order me to take over as replacement.
I had to rush back to ‘B’ Block to get my things for the next three weeks. After gathering what was needed, I reported to KD Sri Perak, and she immediately set sail for Port Dickson. For the next three weeks patrolling up and down the designated patrol line, nothing came out of it. KD Sri Perak returned to MBJ after three weeks of wild goose chase.
I would like to think the end results – maybe the boat carrying the arms on seeing “Hi Ho Silver” with her two 40/70 guns, turned jelly and aborted all their intended plans…hahaha!
The Three Wise Men
I was drafted out of KD Jerai to COMCEN KD Malaya. I was given one week leave prior to attachment. On returning from leave, I was told that my next attachment was at Ops Room (Operations Room) at FTS (Fleet Technical Support) building where the Three Wise Men hold office.
Looking at my assignment, I couldn’t help but just shook my head asking myself, “What a Karma?”
Working in the Ops Room is no child play. It is like treading through a minefield where even devils would avoid it.
I was not alone though. I had a Chief Yeoman as my immediate superior and one ABRP (who is in charge of all the charts) as office mate.
In the morning before colours, my job was to file-up all signals received the night before and arrange them according to priorities, and Chief Yeoman will show them to Naval Officer-In-Charge West Malaysia (NOIC W/M) first then Chief Staff Officer (CSO) Operation and lastly Staff Operation Officer (SOO).
All signals were to have their initials of confirmation that they have read it. Sometimes NOIC will write a note or two on the signal as instructions to the officer concerned, and that officer will also initial it on the note that he has taken action/noted. When the Chief Yeoman is on leave then the job falls on me.
Operations Room was then the ‘Brains and Hearts’ of the navy’s operations in West Malaysia and to some extent East Malaysia. The RMN of that era had to make-do with a small fleet – sixty percent of which were second hand/recycled ships, and ninety percent were short of endurance at sea.
In the morning, based on the signals received, SOO had to plot the position of all those ships at sea and check the amount of fuel left on board. From these information, SOO would know the estimated position, the remaining fuel and the estimated endurance of the ship at sea. On top of that, the amount of fuel remaining will also indicate as to whether the ships were doing patrols that night or sky larking/relaxing at anchor.
SOO also needs to make arrangements for fuel and fresh water replenishment for ships at the nearest port.
With limited capacity and resources at sea, RMN was given the task of patrolling a 3000-mile coastline and the vital 500 miles South China Sea link between the two halves of the Federation. That was not an easy task, and the heavy responsibilities of keeping the coastline safe were laid on the shoulders of the Three Wise Men.
Give them their dues.
The Three Wise Men are:
- Naval Officer-In-Charge West Malaysia – Captain Cheah Loong Voon (the Prosecutor during the court martial of CO KD Jerai).
- Chief Staff Officer (Operations) – Commander Charles Thong.
- Staff Operations Officer – Lieutenant Commander Abu Bakar Budin
There were Technical Officers attached in Ops Room but play no part in operations.
NOTE: Commander Charles Thong, together with a Singaporean was the first two naval cadets from the RMN to be trained at BRNC. Captain Cheah Loong Voon and the first CNS and others were in the second batch.
Of the three Wise Men, CSO and SOO both had very unpredictable mood and difficult to read their body language.
Working under them is no easy pie.
SOO was very strict with everyone including officers and no monkey business. Officers would give a wide berth away from him. As for me, I had no problems with him. To him, do your job on what you are trained for and do it properly, then you will be safe, but that does not mean I can let my guards down.
On one occasion when the ABRP went on one day leave, Chief Yeoman told me to make coffee for the Three Wise Men. At 10am, I started boiling the water and fifteen minutes later made coffee. I sent the first cup of coffee to NOIC, and got a “Thank You” from him.
The next cup I sent it to CSO and from him I got a piece of his mind – lectured for ten minutes or so for being a few minutes late in serving the coffee.
The last cup I sent to SOO and a “Thank You” from him.
When I returned to Comms Section, I told the Chief Yeoman that I will not make coffee again and that was the first and the last time.
Another incident was when Chief Yeoman was on leave, so I have to take over his job, taking the signals to NOIC, then to CSO and finally to SOO.
The problem is, if NOIC takes say twenty minutes to read and write remarks on the signals, then CSO will take sixty minutes to read, because the way he reads, he will be reading till say page ten then all of a sudden will go back to page one and start all over again. This sequence will be repeated. By the time SOO gets to see the signal already two hours gone from the time I started.
(No offense intended)
One had to be extra careful when working in Ops Room. Junior officers especially Commanding Officers with a rank of Lieutenant Commander and below will try to avoid meeting the Three Wise Men, but there was no way avoiding SOO because one hour before sailing the CO has to report to SOO for final instructions. If SOO is in a good mood then it is OK, otherwise all hell will break loose and the Commanding Officer will return to his ship with ‘red ears’.
This is where I got acquainted with many officers. Before reporting to SOO, and to be prepared, they will first pop by the Comms Section to get the latest SITREP or feedback on the mood of SOO. I also took advantage getting (buying) my duty-free cigarettes from their ships through them. It’s a win-win situation.
Two memorable things that happened during my time in Ops room are:
- Communist Terrorist incident as mentioned above.
- It was during my time in Ops Room when MINDEF informed NOIC W/M about a USN’s LST loaned to the RMN, and NOIC W/M was to make arrangement to receive the ship. From the signal we came to understand that USS Hunterdon County requested a navigator and Comms personnel to assist them. R/V was set at Johor Shoal Buoy. Lieutenant Tan as navigator and I (ABRO) as communications personnel were briefed by SOO. On the set day, Lieutenant Tan and I boarded a PC and headed for the R/V at Johor Shoal Buoy.
On arrival, Lieutenant Tan and I, with a smart salute, boarded the LST (above). I was dressed in 2B short pants, and Lieutenant Tan in white short – looked like a pair of primary school boys or sea scouts. I think those US sailors must be wondering if they had come to the right place or lost their way and landed in Hong Kong or China. Here you have two ‘Ah-Peks’ (maybe dhobi guys looking for contract to wash their clothes) boarding the ship.
Anyway, Lieutenant Tan was led to the bridge and I to the W/T office.
Crossing the RN dockyard was another interesting thing. Those USN sailors were snapping away photos of RN ships, most probably thinking the ships belong to the RMN.
After passing RN dockyard, Lieutenant Tan instructed me to request for berth…..the rest is history now.
For the record, Lieutenant Tan and I (ABRO) were the first from the RMN to board USS Hunterdon County (838) which was later commissioned into the RMN and renamed KD Sri Langkawai A1500 (below).
From Radio Karat – LST USS Hunterdon County was used to carry coffins from USA to Vietnam. If that is true, then that will make Lieutenant Tan and I the official RMN undertakers…hahaha!
I was attached to Ops Room until my next draft to…UK (KD Hang Jebat a.k.a KD Rahmat, here I come).
That’s another story for another time.
In conclusion, having gone through a court martial and serving under the Three Wise Men….the rest of my journey i.e. all Commanding Officers and officers whom I served with later, were nowhere as challenging. It was just plain sailing.
To sum it up, all thirteen years in the RMN “There was never a dull moment”.