Monday, 21 May 2007

May 13, 1969 Revisited. An Old Soldier's Perspective

My old school e-group has a current discussion topic that started because of Dr. Kua Kia Soong's latest book on the subject matter.

The interesting thing about the discussion is that we have a perspective from a retired army colonel that I am sure not many have come across. Mind you, the Colonel is a non-Chinese/Indian and I am posting his views here as it was written. I also hope to get a retired senior police officer's (probably Dato' Seri Yuen Yuet Leng) perpective on the subject (especially in the context of the colonel's post) if he would consent to share with us.

Read on.....I do not think this is Kamunting stuff as this is just one of the many cyber-discussions going on since it is May and since the book just came out. Please note that these are the colonel's personal views. Also note that they conflict with Dr. Kua's basic conspiracy contention.


May 13, 1969: The Colonel's View


Re: May 13 incident

I was wondering what your views are regarding the role of the Malaysian army in the May 13 incident.


Re: May 13 incident

Dear Vinnie,

I was a student in UK late 1967 to early 1970. I missed it although my Regiment was in the thick of it. The Board of Inquiry Papers have not been declassified to "Terhad" but never mind I'll still give the relevant info in a value-free manner in the week-end. My brother (Tiger-Putera) is a retired general and I'll get some history from him.



RE: May 13 incident

Anything that is still classified as 'CLASSIFIED'.... hv to read between the lines and paragraphs lah... if they come clean, why need to classify it in the first place. This is dangerous territory you guys are threading... want to open Pandora's box meh?

Danny Lee


RE: May 13 incident


Would you also let us know how the actual background to and what precipitated the incident. We have so many versions from official to subversive.



RE: May 13 incident

Dear Vinnie & Paul,

May I give you some preliminary info, although I assume you know them, I am just reiterating:

The Faith Of An Army Officer
The professional officer has been trained to be loyal to "King& Country". It is really platitudinous. It means we take lawful orders from the cabinet and "Country" means people. We are not loyal to the people, we are very devoted to our regiments and our soldiers and their families. This is very empirical.There will be no more loyalty if the government is cruel, unjust and incorrigibly corrupt or worst if the government persecutes minority groups like Hitler did to the Jews and Gypsies.The officer must remain, in the final analysis, an officer and gentleman. He can be charged and court-marshalled under the Army Act viz: " Conduct unbecoming of an officer and gentleman, in that he at Kpg Baru, Kuala Lumpur act partially and did not use minimum force in riot control........"

The Role Of The Army In Internal Security
The Army cannot be deployed against the civil population in a riotous situation unless Public Order Preservation Ordinance has been promulgated. Only then can the Army be called to be in aid of civil power that is the Police Force which shud by then be inadequate for the job or in disarray. Every platoon (37 men) to be deployed for riot control must be accompanied by a magistrate and a diarist.There are strict legal constraints which require that the soldier must act within the law, be impartial and use minimum force. Its tougher that fighting in the forest and we don't like it.

Intelligence Gathering
Anything internal or within Malaysia the duties of collection, collation, evaluation and dissemination of intelligence belong exclusively to the Special Branch and the control is in Bt. Aman.Everything external is military and controlled by the Joint Intelligence Directorate in Mindef. The military and the SB get together in a dept named "E7" in Bt. Aman for coordination of intelligence.

Ethnic Conflicts
Empirically you cannot resolve ethnic conflicts in the history of the world. You can regulate them. Please look at Nigeria, Sudan, Lebanon, Canada, Serbia, Indonesia, Timur Leste etc. It is a horrendous subject of study. The interdependent variables are religion, customs, culture, language, region, race and blood ties. We are born with these variables and are acculturated and socialized by them. It is difficult to minimize their compelling importance. We cannot overnight be brothers unless you are educated in the RMC!!

My Fears
Vinnie, to write you an accurate report, I have to get into the Archives Room of Mindef. Permission will take ages. My fear is that I am not in possession of references, just my knowledge from my readings and case studies we did in my Regiment on how to deal with a repeat May 13th. I apologize there are no footnotes. I'll try my level best to be accurate and value-free. I'll say so if it is my personal view. Meanwhile, tuan Dr. I'll get you Dr.Kua's May13 this week-end and courier to you for your current affairs, gratis.

The Future
It will be good if your children can have the truth at a later date of their lives. Mine are blardy cynical. One lives in Tamania and one in Perth. I spend X'mas in Hobart and New Year in Perth.
Best chow and OZ plonk, mate!!



Re: MAY 13th


When May 13 occured, I was 9 years old and living in Main Road, Taiping. I remember hearing the movements of the military trucks.

From the window of the shophouse, I could see the soldiers patrolling the streets and once I saw a soldier chasing a curfew breaker. I grew up with stories about Malay soldiers killing Chinese civilans. I remember a story about the Chinese being gunned down in a cinema. My mum told me the good soldiers were the ones from Sarawak, I think the ones with the feather duster looking thing on their berets. As the story goes, the Sarawak soldiers protected the Chinese. Was this your regiment?

I was offered a place in RMC in 1976 but declined the offer for fear of being discriminated. The above stories played on my mind. I was only 15 years old and there was no proper career guidance then.

Dato' Razak Akram (my father's classmate in KE)told my father off for this. My bro. in law, a Tiger and Putra (Lt. Col in the Engineers), was also dissapointed that I did not go to the RMC.

My father-in-law is a retired ex British army officer (Black Watch, Parachute Regiment) who at one stage helped train the Malay Regiment after Merdeka. He also has some stories to tell.

Thanks for the offer of Dr. Kua's book. My niece will be getting me one. The truth has to come out some day.



Subject: MAY 13th

Dear Vinnie,

Yes, that's mine and my brother's beloved Regiment. Its the 1st Bn. Royal Regiment of Rangers with a fighting record second-to-none in Malaysian military history. The 'feather" is the traditional black hackle which was given when the Regt was British. When it became Malaysian in 1963, the hackle was carried forward as "Lambang Keberanian" - as you know, the Sarawakians wore great headgears with feathers etc in battle.

In 1969, the Regt was based in the Esplanade Camp in Taiping. The Regt came into being in 1862 as tax collectors of Rajah Brook.I shall be with them for Gawai on 1 - 2nd June in Kapit. Hope to be alive!!!

BTW, The Black Watch, a Scottish Infantry Regt was and is one of the best fighting set-ups in the world, There are three Parachute Regiments and one Territorial based in Aldershot, Surrey, in the UK. Great guys with fantastic record. If I were to serve in the UK army, I would have gone into the Parachute Regiment. Most officers are Oxbridge with heavy after-shave lotion?!!!



MAY 13th

Dear Vinnie & Paul,

I shall write what I know of how the situation on May 13th & 14th, 1969, degenerated into a chaotic Chinese-Malay bloodbath and the part played by some soldiers in not being impartial and showed shockingly bad discipline.

I'll try to make it short and precise coz the few readers that we have in this egroup may not reject it as boring. Of course, you may,and you are most welcome,to come back with questions in any area and if I don't know, I'll find the answers from my colleagues.

The loss of Selangor State to the opposition in May 1969,sent the Alliance in disarray. The MCA withdrew from the Alliance and the MIC was quivering in fright not knowing what to do next. The Tunku, a solidarity maker and not an administrator was at the height of his incompetence.

Tun Razak and Tun Ismail leapt out of his shadows. Razak was an administrator and not a solidarity maker. Ismail was neither there nor here. Tan Siew Sin proved to be a man ungraceful under pressure - he threw his arms up and caved in.

The key man was the Menteri Besar, Harun Idris. He was a political thug with greed for land, money, power and pretty women. The situation was ideal for Harun to achieve his ambition of being a Malay hero and future PM. His riches were untold and could eventually purchase the Holiday Inn on the Park, KL, in cash.

After the elections results were announced, Indian thugs in lorries began taunting the Malays. The Chinese, in a procession carried a dead body to KL and was mishandled by the Police. You could cut the tension in KL with a butter knife.

Harun began calling and assembling young Malay youths to his palatial house. He gave fiery speeches a'la Geobbels. The situation was ripe for a conflagration. I will not repeat what Dr. Kua has written in his book - May 13. They are accurate as far as the stories of the dreadful mayhem. In my humble view the rest is unsupported by evidence.

The Tunku asked his nephew, General Tunku Osman Jewa, the Commander of our Armed Forces, to take over control of the govt. Osman refused. Razak and Ismail moved in.

The political situation was like, "High Noon". This was the moment critique for John Wayne. Razak selected Maj-General Ibrahim bin Ismail who was deputy army commander. Ibrahim was a man of the highest integrity. A graduate of the Indian Military Academy, in Poona, fought in Middle East as an officer of the Punjab Lancers and later parachuted into Malaya to join Force 136 and was caught and imprisoned by the Japs.( Read his book," Call me Miriam" ). Ibrahim moved immediately to take control through the National Operations Centre (NOC).

The situation on May 13th was seriously exacerbated by the suspicion of Sir Claude Fenner, the long serving expat IGP that the Army was going to mount a coup d'etat. Intelligence from the Special Branch did not flow to the Army like in the past. The Police played a game of intransigence with the Army.

Young Army colonels wanted a coup de main operation using heliborne commandos to capture Harun at his palace.Of course, no deal. There was a total breakdown of the usual relationship between the civil service, police and the armed forces. This was what allowed the situation to get really bad. The police had a hidden agenda and it was based on its jealousy and hatred of the Army.

The Chinese in KL began to organize themselves more coherently. 30 Chinese men who held gun licenses got together in Jalan Silang, in the top floor of a building to discuss defense of the community. Army intelligence got info of it. Lt Chua, a Melaka Baba from a rich family, commanded a group of commandos and using helicopters attacked them through the roof by abseiling through the windows. There was no casualties and Chua captured the whole lot. When the prisoners got downstairs, there was a very big crowd of concerned Chinese. But Chua and some Chinese lads in the commando assault team looked like Malays coz they had camouflage paint on their faces. The rumours multiplied. Malay troops have taken " our kids" to be slaughtered. Chua finished a colonel in command of the Commando Regt, a decent Baba, a patriot and scholar, a soft spoken tough guy. He is currently the GM of the National Golf Club, Subang.

The real story of May 13th was the sporadic battles and mayhem between Malay thugs emanating from Kpg. Baru and Chinese gangsters. Indian small-time thugs fled into the wood work. There was no plan on the part of Razak and Ismail to mount a coup against Tunku. The situation was fortuitous to ease the Tunku out with dignity as required in Malay culture. Dr. Kua is wrong.

More than anything else, it was a bungle by the Police. There was totally no communist involvement. DAP, essentially a racist party like UMNO showed its true colours. Harun's ambition was not to lose his status as Menteri Besar. The whole thing was a stupid miscalculation, Malay immaturity and fanaticism. All other postulations are academic.

We can have May 13th again if we have leaders like Nazri, Bung Mokhtar, Ahmad Said Yusof, Baharrudin and almost all PAS champions.

General Ibrahim moved into NOC with alacrity bringing with him high powered colonels and majors. He activated what's legal within our laws, the NOC - SSEC - DSEC system. At NOC level, the PM, Forces Chief, IGP, Info minister, internal security minister, Head Special branch and other govt minister would confer to run the country. NOC controls the States through the States Security Executive Committees which have the MB as chairman, the state army commander, the police chief, the state head of Special Branch and the relevant civil servants. The SSEC controls the districts through the District Security Committee, chaired by the DO and replicated as the state SSEC. This was a system employed during the Emergency and Konfrontasi and its very efficient.

In sum, Razak had mounted a coup to take over the admin control of the country through Gen Ibrahim. The Tunku's days were over.



RE: MAY 13th

Thanks Colonel for this interesting perspective on May 13. I hope I can still get a copy of Dr Kua’s book to know what exactly he wrote. In light of what you wrote I think it would be interesting to get a perspective from someone senior in the Police. What do you think if I communicated with Dato Seri Yuen Yuet Leng to get his inputs in the context of what you wrote? Please be assured that I would avoid making it confrontational.



MAY 13th - Collateral Views

Dear Cheah,

Your idea of seeking collateral is excellent. I'll finish my side and we'll discuss over Osso Buco and Valpolicello on 22nd evening. Bravasimo del mundo.


Vinnie & Paul,

There was no hidden plot for the May 13th incident. It is as puerile as saying that the Jews planned 9/11. It was a spontaneous manifestation of our frailty. The Malays had feared that they were losing political power. Harun Idris behaved like a Mafia chief. Chinese and Malay thugs multiplied the mayhem and ill-disciplined soldiers shot, robbed, burnt and threatened the innocents.

The breakdown of the command and control structures of the enforcement forces of law and order to nip the bloody chaos in the bud further added misery to the appalling scenario. The area most effected by looting, burning and murders was Kpg Baru and the adjacent parts. Malay thugs took total control of this Malay labyrinth. The police was not around or simply acquiesced.

One Ranger Company of 120 men was on duty in the Advanced Training Centre in Port Dickson as Demonstration Company for tactical maneuvers. It was ordered to move asap to quell the chaos in Kpg Baru. The Rangers moved in aggressively and impartially and within a short time brought the situation under control. The Malay thugs fled. Suddenly, the Rangers were withdrawn to Taiping. They were to join the rest of their Unit and move to Butterworth Air Force Base with a mission to capture and stabilize Penang Island before 1st light 15th May.

There was a hartal in place in Penang mounted by the Chinese. 6th Bn. Royal Malay Regt (1000 men) replaced the Rangers in Kpg Baru. As an aside, the Rangers rapidly captured the Prai Ferry Point. Strategic and critical areas of the Island were quickly taken by heliborne deployments. Two curfew breakers were killed. One by Lt Ahmad Johan (Now, Tan Sri, the CEO of Airod) and the other by Lt Walter Ted Wong anak Tedung (Now CEO of Sarawak Foundation). The Ranger Tactical HQ choppered and based in the lawn of the Chief Minister's Istana (Lim Chong Yew's). An officer shouted the Ranger war cry and declared that the space was Ranger country and raised the Ranger flag in place of Penang's. The CM came out pale and shaking. The scene must be horrifying for him seeing for the first time strange humans with tattoos on their throats, speaking a different language and rather brusque and belligerent. Out of curiosity, he stayed to see how Rangers were commanded and controlled by the Commanding Officer and the key staff officers of the HQ. I imagine he fled when the Iban sucked their pork soup and ate their rice as late night meal. He must have been offered the gruel. The officers would have eaten quietly with a few drops of Tabasco added to the soup.

The Island became peaceful overnight and soon the Regt would hand over power back to the CM. Lim Chong Yew was very grateful and gave a makan besar and adopted the Unit as his own. Later over Happy Hours back in Taping, the officers cheered to, " HRH Lim's Royal Rangers." He visited the Regt in Taiping and presented a miniature Longhouse in Gerrard's Silver which must have cost a bundle.

The 6th Bn in Kpg Baru was commanded by Lt Col Syed Hamzah, a Sandhurst graduate, who was a decent officer without any trace of racism. He was a Malay aristocrat with a charming Chinese wife. His unit was not being fed by any reliable intelligence and was groping in the dark. Malay informants, mostly thugs, came to give exaggerated and false info. It remains inexplicable to this day why helicopter reconnaissance was not done to monitor illegal assemblies and other misdemeanors. Syed shud have been commanding from a chopper with the attendant radio system. The Unit was not successful in its duties to stabilize the situation. The young officers in the Tactical HQ were misguided by the false info that the Chinese were murdering Malays and burning their properties. There were reported occasions when the the Unit acted partially.

The international press spotlight was on Syed Hamzah and he and his Regt came out poorly. There was no clear cut orders given to him. It was almost a lost command. A Malay colonel arrested two officers and 13 men robbing a Shell Station in Jalan Tun Razak. Troops from Batu Cantonment Camp formed into small armed groups and moved as roving bands robbing, looting and wild shooting. These soldiers were non-combatants - cooks, drivers, storemen, mechanics and general " bottle washers." They have never been in the jungle or had a leech bite and called themselves "logisticians." Their officers were mostly non-Malays and abdicated their responsibility of leadership and fled to the comfort of their homes. They did much damage to the good name of the Army. Senior Malay officers, from the combat arms, in disgust, moved around the critical areas to stop and arrest these lunatics. Their murderous acts were regarded as cowardice by the regular professional combat troops. They were never forgiven.

The great lesson-learnt of this tragedy by the Army was that the non-combatants must be controlled from the start. They were not well trained or led and their discipline broke down easily. The reality of logistic is that we need five of them to support one combatant!! The Army units behaved as if they were fighting a counter-insurgency and not in aid of the civil power through Public Order Presevation Ordinance. There was no communist involvement at all.

The lack of interaction and the usual interface with the Special Branch, the regular police into a joint command aggravated the circumstances. It became very clear later when the dust had settled, Claude Fenner, the IGP, influenced Tun Ismail to quickly establish a countervailing force against a military takeover. Tun Ismail had no military background at all. (His son Tawfik was In RMC with us). Tun approved with great facility the formations of a great number of Police Field Force Units. How naive? How does a police PFF unit face an army unit armed with tanks,mortars, artillery, engineers, electronic measures and counter measures, jets, helicopter gunship, elite paratroopers and above all well led and fit. Its so stupid but Fenner got his empire-built. The police was paranoid and thought the Army was going to kick their rear during May 13th. Now the PFF or GOF are languishing in their dusty camps all over the country, ill-trained and ill-led and the most non-cost-effective force in our history.

Everyone of us has hidden in our thought process some antagonism towards another race. The greatest danger to us today, in my view, is the "Penerapan Nilai-Nilai Islam" of Dr.M's. Most of my non-Malay friends don't really understand the "Concept of Historical Injustice" as meted out by the Colonials on the Malays. Lack of knowledge is a major problem in our society. We must avoid another May 13th, at all costs. Thus, we must reduce the baggage of primordial sentiments that are very high at the moment in our societal history.

I like to think that years of my life as a combatant has not gone to waste for Malaysia.I have a deep resentment of supercilious mother fuckers who think Malaysia is only for making money.



RE: MAY 13th - Continuation


Never learnt so much in two postings; thank you. I love my country (East or West home is best) but I am very concerned for its future.



RE: MAY 13th - Continuation

Dear Colonel,

As a matter of interest why did we have Claude Fenner a mat salleh as our IGP 12 years after merdeka? – Still Emergency period? Was Tun Hanif Omar his immediate replacement?



RE: MAY 13th - Continuation

Hi Paul,

Tan Sri Sir Claude Fenner came to Malaya as a Police Cadet and went through the ranks to the top over 26 years. Tall, good looking and spoke perfect Bahasa. He was very close to all the top UMNO bosses, the Tunku, Razak and Ismail and their courtiers.. A well known smooth operator. Had an Indian Muslim (mamak) mistress. He was ossified to the job like Haniff Omar. He was taken over by Salleh then Rahman. Both were killed by terrorists in the streets of KL. One million RM in cash was discovered in Salleh's home when he died. Razak was surprised. The next one was Haniff Omar who had a general degree from S'pore U. He flunk his LLB finals at Buckingham. Sat for supplementary. Hahaha!. He caught the eye of Razak when he was a Liaison Officer to him. He had more gaya than others.



From: muzaffar mohamed

RE: Who and What in May 1969

Chief of Armed Forces - General Tunku Osman.Chief of Army - General Tan Sri Hamid Bidin.
Army 2nd Div Commander - Gen Tan Sri Ibrahim.
Police IGP - Tan Sri Salleh Ismail.

The potential crisis was reported by CC Too(Head of Phsycological Warfare) to Army 2nd Div Commander. Special Branch had gathered information that the Labour Party then had been penetrated by the Communists.However, the KL police had permitted a procession that became the starting point of the crisis.

When the rioting hieghtened, POPO document was signed by Dep PM Tun Abdul Razak and accepted by Lt.Col Syed Hamzah. Thus, the Army committed 5th Royal Malay Regiment at first(CO-Lt.Col Syed Hamzah), with other men mustered from other support units - Ordinance, Supply, Maintenance. Another battalion was called in - 2nd RMR(CO-Lt.Col. Abulas Ismail).
By 1969, there were already 15 PFF battalions, divided between West and East Malaysia (expanded from Federal Jungle Companies formed by Colonial Police in 1950's).

During this time, police forces in KL/Selangor was supported by 1 FRU unit and 2 PFF battalions(under strength due to deployment for counter-insurgency ops). In 1969, Malaysia's armed forces was still small,with the forces divided between West and East Malaysia. Remember, back then, the counter-insurgency war with the Communists was still on in the Peninsular and Sarawak. Even the elite units, Vat69 and Army Commando were still in its infancy.

The National Operations Council formed in 1969 ensured cooperation between military,police and civil departments. Security operations were directed byArmy (Lt.Cols Ghazali Che Mat(OE) and JaafarOnn), supported by Police.Tun Razak and Tun Dr. Ismail directed the civil administration.



Re: Who and What in May 1969


Maj-Gen Datuk Ibrahim (then) commanded HQ 2nd Division based in Kuching in 1968. It was responsible for Sarawak. He was made Deputy Army Commander to Lt-Gen Hamid in Jan 1969. Datuk Salleh was the Dep/IGP and Fenner was IGP.

It was not the Labour Party. It has been banned by the Govt. It was the Labour Action Front led by En. Tan Tuan Boon of Melaka. During Dr. Kua's book release of " May 13" recently, Datuk Yuen (OE) reiterated that there was no communist involvement.

POPO can only be promulgated by the highest ranking police officer of a given area under riotous duress. The army then has the legal right to act. There is no document to sign. An emergency can be declared by NOC. There was a full-fledged Commando Regt based in Sg. Udang, Melaka in 1969 formed by the Brit Royal Marines in 1963 in Majeedee camp in JB. The NOC was formed in at the outbreak of the 1st insurgency in 1950. Its part of our law. Its a question of activation eg. Konfrantasi.



Anonymous said...

I am researching on the Penang riots of 1967 and came across references to the Royal Malay Regiment's role in the British archives. I enjoyed reading the Colonel's views and would like to communicate directly with him.

I can be contacted at

Thanks very much.

Norman Chua

Anonymous said...

Hi Colonel,
There seems to be so many different versions of these event:where and exactky what time did the riots begin?.Official accounts states 6.45 pm onwards.But 'old-timers'say it began after 4.00pm at Chow Kit.Can you clarify?Thank you.