Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Heart of War

Today, the Singapore Artillery remembers two of its fallen gunners in an annual tribute it has carried out for the past 13 years.

The newspaper tributes pass almost unnoticed year after year, except for people familiar with the events that took place during the first Thunder Warrior artillery war game on 9 March 1997 in Waiouru, New Zealand.

On that fateful day, tragedy gave way to heroism as Singapore’s citizen soldiers and New Zealand Defence Force personnel fought to save the gun crew of an FH-2000 155mm field howitzer that blew up during the live fire exercise.

Full-time National Serviceman (NSF) Third Sergeant Tan Han Chong, 21, an artillery specialist, and NSF gunner Lance-Corporal Low Yin Tit, 18, died when a 155mm shell exploded prematurely in their FH-2000. The shell had been armed with a faulty fuze, sourced from the United States but actually Made in China. Go figure.

The gunners were from the 23rd Battalion, Singapore Artillery (23 SA). Eleven other SAF servicemen were injured and four were hospitalised.

Years before this blog was started, I noticed that Headquarters Singapore Artillery (HQ SA) would remember 3SG Tan and LCP Low on their death anniversary. At first, I wondered if interest would peter out after a couple of years.

But HQ SA has never failed to mark the occasion.

I may stand corrected but the Artillery formation is the only one I know among all the SAF Services – Army, Navy and Air Force - to have run tributes for so many years. Defence watchers who track SAF developments from open source material are likely to have arrived at the same observation.

I find the newspaper tributes very touching. HQ SA’s dedication to its gunners exemplifies the core value “Care for Soldiers” (in this case, “Care for Gunners”?). It is one of the seven core values that many Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) servicemen will probably be unable to recite by heart even with the threat of extra duty.

The gunners in 23 SA would have been refreshed several times over in the past decade and it is likely that few NSF artillery officers and gunners in the battalion would know 3SG Tan and LCP Low personally.

At HQ level, probably only a handful of gunners who gained firsthand experience with Exercise Thunder Warrior 1/97 are still in service.

But the tributes continue, reflecting the Singapore Artillery’s desire never to lose touch with its past.

The inquiry into the fatal incident produced results that could have shaken the confidence of a less cohesive command structure.

But live-firing exercises resumed and gunners’ confidence in their weapons was restored.

How long more the newspaper tributes will carry on is open to question.

Even if the annual tributes are dropped some day, I am confident that somewhere within the ranks of HQ SA, the two fallen gunners will be remembered.

At 23 SA, every round counts. So does every gunner.


goat89 said...

Ah, now I recall this incident from your blog. RIP Third Sergeant Tan Han Chong & Lance-Corporal Low Yin, 23rd Battalion, Singapore Artillery.

Anonymous said...

We will never forget.

In Oriente Primus

xtemujin said...

These guys would be in their middle thirties and having a family right now if they are still alive today as they served in the same timeframe as me.

About one month later in 1997, another major accident happened.

Rest in peace my artillery brothers.

FinalFive said...

In Oriente Primus... Once a Gunner Always a Gunner

Alert5 said...

I thought the RSAF does that for the Sembawang Puma crash as well. It ran for several years.

Area-51 said...

I was going through ICT in Khatib Camp when news of the tragedy arrived.

Rest in Peace my dear Brother Gunner. We will not forget you. Men of Steel.

Why Should You Know said...

I personally know one of the encik who was one of the gunners injured and sent to hospital. He almost did not make it but luckily he did.

Yup good for him and Artillery family really took good care of him after that.

Anonymous said...

I was posted to 23SA months after the incident and we will never forget about 3SG Tan and LCP Low as well as the bravery of several who risked their lives to save the others. I was back in Waiouru in 99 for Thunder Warrior and remembered visiting the site of the accident where the unit conducted a simple memorial service. We went on to achieve REDCON 1 for our FATEP!

Anonymous said...

It was called Exercise Swift Lion that year in 1997. They renamed it after that incident. I was there. It's going to be 16 years, but every year on the 9th of March, I never fail to look our for the tributes to 3SG Tan and LCP Low.

Unknown said...

Time really passes very fast and Both of our brothers will always be remember by us from 23SA rest in peace.3SG TAN HAN CHONG (RONNIE) AND LANCE CORPORAL LOW YI TI , NICENAME (XIAO DE)