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History 101: The Fearless Malayan Special Forces in Congo 1961

Congo UN Malaysia MALBATT

It is said that Malaysia had participated in about 30 UN peacekeeping missions since its first mission in Congo back in 1960 and is actively involved in other UN missions. The more famous ones would be in Somalia (famed for Black Hawk Down) and in Bosnia and Herzegovina where it was said that the Serbians were terrified of the Malaysian battalion after hearing that the Malaysians are the famous head-hunters. Image source: Malay Mail.

Read these first:-

Congo UN Military

Clockwise starting from top left:

  • ONUC refugee camp for Baluba outside Elisabethville (photo published by American Committee for Aid to Katanga Freedom Fighters);
  • ONUC Swedish peacekeepers tend to wounded comrade in the bush (photo by Dagens Nyheter publication);
  • Armed members of the Jeunesse BALUBAKAT (photo published by American Committee for Aid to Katanga Freedom Fighters);
  • Three Congolese civilians murdered by Simba rebels in Lodja (photo by Services de Presse);
  • Belgian paratroopers at the airfield in Paulis (photo by United States Air Force);
  • Congolese soldiers and mercenaries fighting Simba rebels (photo by United States Air Force).

Text & Image source: Wikipedia

The Congo Crisis

The crisis started in the 1960s and there is a mix of actors playing in the background namely the various factions eyeing for the control of the country, an army that decided to stage a mutiny right at the wrong time and the Russians backing one of the factions.

The Congo Crisis was a period of political upheaval and conflict in the Republic of the Congo (today the Democratic Republic of the Congo) between 1960 and 1965. The crisis began almost immediately after the Congo became independent from Belgium and ended, unofficially, with the entire country under the rule of Joseph-Désiré Mobutu.

Constituting a series of civil wars, the Congo Crisis was also a proxy conflict in the Cold War, in which the Soviet Union and the United States supported opposing factions. Around 100,000 people are believed to have been killed during the crisis.

In the first week of July, a mutiny broke out in the army and violence erupted between black and white civilians. Belgium sent troops to protect fleeing whites. Katanga and South Kasai seceded with Belgian support. Amid continuing unrest and violence, the United Nations deployed peacekeepers, but UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld refused to use these troops to help the central government in Léopoldville fight the secessionists.

Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, the charismatic leader of the largest nationalist faction, reacted by calling for assistance from the Soviet Union, which promptly sent military advisers and other support.

The involvement of the Soviets split the Congolese government and led to an impasse between Lumumba and President Joseph Kasa-Vubu. Mobutu, in command of the army, broke this deadlock with a coup d’état, expelled the Soviet advisors and established a new government effectively under his own control. Lumumba was taken captive and subsequently executed in 1961.

A rival government of the “Free Republic of the Congo” was founded in the eastern city of Stanleyville by Lumumba supporters led by Antoine Gizenga. It gained Soviet support but was crushed in early 1962. Meanwhile, the UN took a more aggressive stance towards the secessionists after Hammarskjöld was killed in a plane crash in late 1961. Supported by UN troops, Léopoldville defeated secessionist movements in Katanga and South Kasai by the start of 1963.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Congo Indian Army

India sent more troops than any country, and they were active throughout 1962 in stubbing out the secessionist forces, Indian Army units leading the fight. Even during the war with China, Nehru did not insist on an immediate withdrawal of the Indian brigade, but the Canberra bombers that it had deployed, were called back. The troops returned only after the mission was completed in March 1963. Text source: Wikipedia, Image source: Youtube

Congo UN Mission

On 12 July 1960, the Congolese Government appealed to the UN for assistance, and United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 143 calling on Belgium to pull out its forces and the UN security was forced to assist the Congolese government. India contributed the largest contingent with almost 5,000 soldiers, Malaysia (Malayan) with 600 plus soldiers, Sweden, Ireland, Canada, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt and US (which provided the heavy airlift capabilities)

United Nations Security Council Resolution 143 was adopted on July 14, 1960. After a report by the Secretary-General, acting under Article 99 of the Charter[1] and a request for military assistance by the President and Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo (Leopoldville) to protect its territory, the Council called upon Belgium to withdraw its troops from the territory and authorized the Secretary-General to take the necessary steps to provide the Government with such military assistance that the national security forces may be able to meet fully their tasks. The Council asked the Secretary-General to report to the Security Council as appropriate.

The resolution was adopted with eight votes to none; France, the Republic of China, and the United Kingdom abstained.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Documentary on Malayan UN Congo Mission

YouTube player

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A very informative documentary put together by FINAS that covers the Malayan Congo contingent and the duties that they had performed.

Congo Feret Scout Car Malayan Army Armoured

The workhorse of the MSF’s armour power comes from the UK made, Roll Royce powered Mark 2 Feret Scout Car which had a steel plate to deflect small-arms bullets and it has a bad-ass machine gun and a 2-pounder to return fire. It played a key role in the fight against the Communist insurgents during the Malayan Emergency 1948 – 1960. For transportation, the famous Bedford military truck. Image source: Wikipedia

Multi-Racial Malayan Special Force

We had about 613 soldiers serving the UN forces in Congo and this comprised of 42 officers and 571 from the lower ranks. The force is known as Malayan Special Force and there is an interesting write up of the team that was deployed to Congo:-

After some changes, the Malayan contingent eventually settled at 42 Officers and 571 Other Ranks comprising:-

a. 4th Battalion Royal Malay Regiment (4 RAMD) consisting of 3 X Rifle Companies (Coy).
b. C Squadron 2nd Reconnaissance Regiment (C Sqn 2 Recce) boosted up with 1 X Scout Troop from 1st Reconnaissance Regiment.
c. One Signal Troop from the Signals Regiment.
d. Elements of Supply & Transport, Ordnance and Workshop.
e. Reinforced HQ Coy making up the Force HQ.

This special force was designated the Malayan Special Force (MSF) and the man given the honour to command was Lieutenant Colonel (Lt Col) Ungku Nazaruddin (Bruno) bin Ungku Mohamad while Major (Maj) Zain Hashim led the Reconnaissance Squadron.

On 13 Sep 1960 the units marry up at Imphal Camp, near Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) for a two week intensive training. The entire MSF was transported by 2 American Landing Ship Tank (LST), 1169 and 1170 on a most memorable nonstop voyage round the Cape of Good Hope to the Port of Matadi, Congo in darkest Africa.

At the peak of this UN Operations, Malaya committed 30% of it’s Army to ONUC (Organisation des Nations Unies au Congo).

(Source: MACVA)

Final Say

The following testimonial on the MSF by the Force Commander of the United Nations Operation in the Congo, LGeneral Sean McKeon who hailed from Ireland:-

We have employed the Malayan troops in Leopoldville, Bukavu, Goma, Kamina, Elisabethville, Stanleyville, Kindu and elsewhere.

To most of these places they were sent because of the fact that I could always depend upon them to render a first class account of them and particularly to restore situations which appeared to be getting out of control.

In this regard the part played by the Malayan Contingent in Kivu Province and particularly in the Maniema district deserves special mention.

(Read the full testimonials here)

The military mission to Congo was rather historic considering we have just gotten our independence 3 years before and this is the first overseas assignment under United Nations. It also showcased the capability and readiness of our military personals for global assignments.

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