Ulu Langat Operation – 12th December 1955

This is the story of an action fought near the village of Ulu Langat in Selangor, Malaya resulting in the killing of 11 Communist Terrorists (CTs) and the capture of a twelfth.

The story began on 10th December at 5pm when the Special Branch Officer, Kajang, asked for troops to be made available to attack a CT camp in the jungle near Ulu Langat. He believed that there were 17 CTs in the camp, some of whom were attending a course of political instruction. They included the Selangor State Committee Secretary (ie the No 1 communist in the whole of the Selangor State), a District Committee member and a Branch Committee Secretary. The police could provide as a guide a former CT who had surrendered under the terms of the amnesty. It was essential to attack without delay owing to the possibility of the course ending and the CTs dispersing. The attack would be mounted by a composite company under the command of Major JM Symes MC and consisting of 4 and 6 Platoons of B Company and 10 Platoon of D Company plus two dogs and their handlers. The police would provide 2 inspectors and the former CT (nicknamed ‘George’ after the automatic pilot), plus one other former CT.

The camp was believed to be in very hilly jungle though exact location of the camp was uncertain, though George had been there. As in all operations of this type, the attacking party’s problem was to locate the camp on the ground and to put a cordon round it without the alarm being raised.

Since a large proportion of the local population was pro CT, it was imperative that they should have no idea what was happening. The police would, therefore, arrange for an exclusion order to be enforced excluding tappers form the rubber plantation on Sunday 11th December. The distinctive whine of army vehicles when gears are changed was known to the CTs and the police therefore provided 4 ton trucks to carry the troops from Kajang and Cheeras to Kampong Bukit Raya. As an additional security precaution, nobody below section commander was to be briefed until the last possible moment. No individuals were allowed to take washing kit or machetes or similar instruments. Smoking was also prohibited unless specially authorised by the Company Commander.

At 8pm on 10th December orders were given at Kajang and the platoon and section commanders of 6 and 10 platoons and the platoon commander of 4 platoon were briefed.

They began the march through the rubber. It was pitch black and the ground was rough. Progress was very slow; about 200 yards per hour; by 2.40am, the Company Commander had come to the conclusion that owing to the length of the column and the difficulty of the going it was not worth the actual distance being covered. He gave the order to halt and the whole column lay down were it was and, apart from sentries, slept fitfully until 5.45am when the column go on the move again. At daylight it became apparent that it had done further to the west than had been intended. A fresh bearing was taken towards the Sub River and the advance continued. At 10.30am the advance resumed. The Sub was crossed; the hills got steeper and the going more difficult. At 3pm, the point was reached from which George had said he would be able to guide the attacking party. They were (just) up to schedule; but George could not recognise the area. However, he was still confident that he would find his track and was detailed by the Company Commander to go with 2 soldiers to do so. 20 minutes later they returned and George announced that the track had been found but an attempt by 6 Platoon to use it resulted in them completing a circle and returning to where they had started. It was now apparent that the assault on the CT camp could not take place that evening and that a further attempt to locate it would have to be made at first light on the following morning.

And so the 2 opposing camps slept. According to the original information given by George, the CT camp was about 800 yards from the Company’s temporary base. In fact it was much closer than that – about 300 yards away. That the whole Company remained so close to the CT camp for the 12 hours of darkness without their presence being disclosed by movement or other noise is a tribute to the discipline maintained by the troops concerned as well as the effectiveness of the precautionary measures taken before the operation began.

Major Symes, after discussion with George, decided to move the Company about 500 yards further north starting at 7am the next morning and to carry out a further reconnaissance from there. This was done and, on reaching a small feature about 500 yards north of where they had spent the night, George said he now knew where he was. He was sent out with Inspector Shahir and a small escort to confirm this. He returned 20 minutes later to say that he had now recognised a further feature and now knew where the camp should be. Major Symes, with Captain Chandler, Inspector Shahir and Private Jones then went out with George to locate the camp. After going downhill to the southeast for about 300 yards they found it. It was about 500 yards south of the map reference originally given. In spite of the inaccuracy of the information on the location of the camp, Major Symes could see the layout of the camp and of the ground surrounding it was exactly as described by George at the meeting with the police. The time was now about 9am on 12th December. During the march on the previous day the platoon commanders had been briefed on the cordon at every halt. They knew the details to the last letter. It was consequently a simple, though long, job to put the cordon of 4 and 6 Platoons out. George led the platoons into their areas and platoon commanders put their platoons into position. They were not allowed to move forward. This operation was carried out with the utmost care and took 2 hours.

While this was in progress No 10 Platoon came up and was halted about 75 yards from the camp. Major Symes, Captain Chandler and Private Jones kept watch on the camp. 3 CTs were seen, including one woman. Sounds of chopping and talking were heard. It had started to rain at 9am but this ceased at 11am. It had come at the right time as it covered any noise the cordon party might have made. It had stopped at the wrong time as the most difficult part of the cordoning had yet to be completed – the move of 10 Platoon into position and the lining up of the assault party as close as possible to the camp. A sound like rain could be heard. After a few minutes it became clear that it was the sound of a stream. It was hoped that this sound would cover any noise as the assault party moved closer.

The move of the assault party and the remainder of the cordon party started at 11.30am. All were in position by 1.10pm on a track which ran parallel to and about 50 yards away from the camp. The going between the track and the camp was very rough. There was a short and very steep slope down to the stream and then a very steep slope up into the camp.

The moment of decision had arrived; Major Symes decided to attack as soon as possible.

The assault party was put into its final position. There were 4 groups each of 4 or 5. The northern group, under Captain Chandler, was to move forward straight down the hill to the stream to try to cut off any sentry who might run that way. After the attack this group was to move into the camp form the north and to cover that edge of the camp by the log. The next group (Major Symes and Police), the third group (Sgt Hogan), and the fourth group (Cpl Smith) were to advance together on the camp. Movement forward would be as quiet as possible and fire would be delayed as late as possible. Major Symes’s group would deal with equipment and documents; Sgt Hogan’s group would move to the east side of the camp, and Cpl Smith’s to the south of it. When the camp was clear the portion of 10 Platoon in cordon party would be called forward to fill the gap in the perimeter defence on the west side.

When all were ready, at approximately 1.20pm, the order to advance was given by hand signal. The noise of snapping twigs sounded very loud.

After moving about 10 yards and about 20 yards from the camp Major Symes yelled ‘Charge’ and fired at the cookhouse basha. There was a few seconds delay while the assault party fired into the camp and then everyone fell down the slope, across the stream and tried to climb the slope into the camp. Some were lucky and found steps leading from the water point into the camp. The 3 assault groups were soon in the camp and were joined a minute or so later by Capt Chandler’s group. A shotgun was fired at the assault party. Cpl Smith’s and Sgt Hogan’s group crossed the camp. The camp was in confusion. There were documents galore, clothing and signs of hurried departure; no packs or weapons were left.

For the next 20 minutes the CTs in the camp tried desperately and vainly to worm their way out of the trap in which they were caught and there was firing, now heavy, now desultory, as they came up against the cordon parties. All the CTs appear to have run east or south. One large party of 8 headed due south to be greeted by a burst of fire from 6 Platoon, which killed at least three. The survivors of this party then turned due east and attempted to work their way across the more easterly of the two streams and to break through the area held by 4 Platoon. All perished in the attempt, in the final outcome, 6 bodies were found in front of that part of the cordon held by 4 Platoon and 5 in front of 6 Platoon. Searching of the area began. On the third search a female CT (one of the two in the camp at the time of the attack – the other had been killed) was found lying wounded in a thicket and was taken prisoner.

Arrangements were made for a carrying party of about 70 Home Guard to go to the camp to assist in bringing out the bodies and the quantities of weapons, pack and documents which had been captured.

11 CTs had been killed and one captured. This represented the most successful action by Security Forces in Malaya since 1951 and the highest number of eliminations of CTs in one engagements recorded by a British battalion up to that time. 3 rifles, 2 shotguns, 1 carbine, 1 Sten gun, 2 pistols, 4 grenades, 478 rounds of assorted ammunition and 10 packs were also captured. The only casualty sustained by our own forces was Cpl Smith of the assault party, who was slightly wounded under the arm by splinters from a tree which was hit by Bren gun fire.

Sarlip, the Chinese Muslim CT, who was Branch Committee Secretary of the Ulu Langat Branch area, remained unaccounted for. He had been present when the camp was assaulted and had been wounded during the action. Instead of running on to the cordon, he had gone to ground in thick cover and gone undiscovered during the search of the area. Subsequently he managed to slip away. His escape was short lived, however, for on 22nd December he was captured by a combined patrol of 5 Platoon of B Company and 11 Platoon of D Company. He stated that there were no other survivors from the camp.

Following the Operation, Major JM Symes MC was awarded a Bar to his MC and Cpl HT Smith and Cpl JH Wheeler each received the Military Medal.