12. The 2nd Politionele action 19 december 1948 till 5 january 1949
We stayed approximately one year in Pematang-Siantar. At the beginning of the Second Politionele Actions, part of our 75 strong squad stayed behind and we moved to Turutung. Some were dropped off there, and we went on to Sibolga. Again their part of our unit was dropped off and the rest went on to Padang Sidempur.
This was an extremely dangerous journey with many bridges undermined, destroyed or totally burned down, and snipers along the way. The territory we were travelling through was nothing but mountains and jungle, with very small roads that were regularly destroyed and had approximately 140 bends in it. It was very tense coming around the bends, as you never knew who or what would be around the next bend.
I was stationed in Sibolga and was there during the wet season. Every time I was dropping of the patrols and saw them disappear in the jungle with their capes on to protect them from the heavy rain, I was glad I could get back into my truck. It was often very cold at night in Turutung. It was situated at 1200 metres above sea level and you needed a jersey. At least the cold used to keep the malaria mosquitoes from the sky.
Due to my work as driver I ended up at many other military camps like Prapat, Kabanjahe, Siborongborong and Turutung. I got to know a lot of soldiers and people in general. Most of them just on the surface and never more than a casual chat. But it was in Turutung that I lost the first person I really knew. It was a soldier working in the mess and his name was “Henkie” In the weeks leading up to our meeting, three of his mates had got shot and killed. When I drove in to the camp I saw Henkie working at the grave site. He was breaking stones to decorate the mounts. Next to these three graves he had dug another one and when I asked him why he replied that he was going on leave next week to Medan and just in case someone would get killed in that time the whole was already dug. The next day, his first day of leave, eight kilometres outside Turutung Henkie got killed and ended up in the grave he so kindly dug for the next person who died.
I must have driven the 66 kilometres between Turutung and Sibolga dozens of times. It took roughly 4 hours and each convoy used to get attacked at least once along the way. Along the way between Turutung and Sibolga there was a small kampong with only a few houses. Each time I travelled past I noticed an old local Indier sitting on the side of the road putting up his hand in a greeting and calling “Tabee Toean” or Goodbye Master. We always greeted him back.
Until one day I was the fifth vehicle in the convoy when approaching this kampong, I noticed the lead vehicles had stopped at the kampong. I saw that the old man was lying face down on the ground with a gun shot wound to the back of his head. On my question why they had done that, the officer in charge pointed at the mountaintops in the distance. I saw that they were waving a white sheet up there and it turned out that the old man used to signal to those in the mountains that another convoy was on the way. Unfortunately this time the leading vehicle saw him signalling to those in the mountains. From our position there we shelled the hilltops with mortars and strange enough did not come under fire this time when we travelled past, but it leaves the question that if the lead vehicle crew had not noticed it we could have driven straight into an ambush.
It was a guerrilla war, as President Tito in Yugoslavia and the Americans later in Vietnam were involved in.
Convoys from one place to another were extremely difficult and dangerous. These convoys had a battle truck as the leading vehicle and from there every 10th vehicle was another battle truck with canons and mortars.
Around every bend in the road you could expect to be attacked, in particular in places where we couldn’t travel any faster then walking pace. It was then that we were like sitting ducks for the enemy snipers hidden on the mountain sides under the greenery and trees. As soon as we would take enemy fire there were several options. You would either drive as fast as possible and get out of it or stop the convoy and take cover. If we decided to take cover we would retaliate with machinegun fire and mortars to try and move the enemy on. To chase them in to the jungle was not a preferred option as they knew the terrain very well and would draw us in to ambushes. In the beginning we used to come under fire in places that were impossible for us to return fire. Colonel Kawilaran, the leader of the TNI and later again General Soekarno, changed their strategies and placed their units in several places at one time in an effort to attack the convoys from several different angles. This used to cause great confusion amongst our troops and the only way to deal with that problem was to undertake “zuiverings actions” (Clearing actions). These clearing actions were undertaken to remove all suspected persons from the kampongs or small villages by taking them prisoner.
30 may 1949
During my stay in Sibolga I got a tooth ache and had to have it removed. I had to travel to Medan, a 351 kilometer trip to see a dentist there.
With a note from the sergeant I had to report to the Convoy Commander who was in charge of a 30 vehicle convoy that would leave today.
He advised me to find a seat in one of the vehicles but I had to be quick as they were about to pull out. I walked as fast as I could past all the trucks asking every driver if he had room for one more. I managed to find a seat next to the driver in the eight vehicle and as soon as I sat down we pulled out to go to Turutung. During the trip I got talking with the driver and he told me that 6 weeks earlier he took fire in his vehicle and got hit in his leg, but an Ambonees Priest got shot and killed sitting next to him in the cab. It had happened on this same road, winding along high mountain walls on one side and ravines on the other side. Because of the wild undergrowth you often could not tell how deep these ravines were. We only just got going and we could hear firing taking place ahead of us. The driver of my truck got nervous and in confusion in a U-bend drove the truck against the mountain side. At that point all firing appeared to be aimed at us. If they could force us to stop then the rest of the convoy would come to a halt as it was impossible to overtake or turn on this small mountain pass and we all would become easy targets. This happened at mileage mark 21.
The first seven trucks could move on to safety behind the mountain wall further down the road and the rest of the convoy was still out of sight behind us. Only the 6 vehicles behind us were in the line of fire.
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