Katanga, My Story by Lieutenant Colonel Tan Siew Soo (Retired) Royal Malaysian Armour
Friday, July 09, 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.