Sunday, July 11, 2010

The First Mobile Column: 9 August 1969

Lieutenant-Colonel Seah Peng Yong, a retired Singapore Army Armour officer, tells in his own words what it felt like leading 18 AMX-13 light tanks at the first Mobile Column on 9 August 1969.

It would be nice if the senior officer in command of the Leopard 2A4s could also pen his thoughts on what it feels like leading main battle tanks for the first time at NDP 2010.

NDP 2010 Mobile Column participants - many of whom weren't born in 1969 - should be able to relate to the NDP preparations in 1969. Decades may separate both Mobile Columns, but the amount of hard work, dedication and burnt weekends needed to bring off a polished show have not diminished over time.

The first NDP Mobile Column contingent commander, LTC Seah recalled: "It was obvious that, since we had just acquired the tanks and were the first in our region to have such vehicles, we should prudently display the hardware.

"I was anxious and eager to move. Our engines were running and ready to go. It was a great feeling passing the City Hall.

"The expressions on the faces of the spectators were a tremendous sight to behold. There were expressions of awe, pride and admiration as we rolled past. It was the greatest moment of my career.

"Although I had prepared contingents of the People's Defence Force for the very first National Day Parade in 1966, it could not match the feeling [of being part of] the Mobile Column display [in 1969]."

Preparations for the first Mobile Column had to be done from scratch as this was the first Mobile Column. Army officers had no SOP or template to learn from.

The lack of time and space to train were two concerns that Singapore Army officers had to address, as were concerns from bureaucrats that the AMX-13s might damage public infrastructure. As the AMX-13s did not have rubber tracks, a place had to be found where the tanks could rehearse without tearing up a public road.

"[The tank crews] had just finished intensive training. The tanks had to be prepared mechanically for the performance and painted for presentation to the public," LTC Seah said.

"There was also hardly any suitable area for formation driving for fear of road damage, as the tanks had no rubber padding on their tracks. The only place available was the old Kallang Airport runway.

"There was also one thing which I had very much liked to do and that was to traverse and dip our main guns in salute in front of City Hall. However, I decided against it as we had insufficient time to practise."

In the run up to NDP 1969, government bureaucrats felt that special preparations along the roads leading to City Hall had to be done to allow the tanks to manoeuvre with damaging public property.

LTC Seah disagreed. He knew his tankees had the driving skills to manoeuvre the vehicles with care along city roads.

"[Some officials] insisted that road dividers and certain traffic lights along the route to the City Hall be removed. I strongly opposed this as I felt that we were all competent in manoeuvring around the obstacles. Needless to say, the responsibility was therefore shouldered by me."

Source of oral history: The Singapore Army Museum.


Anthony said...

Thanks to the 1st generation pioneers. The SAF of today see further because you all

Anonymous said...

The veterans sh b invited to view this yr's mobile column. It's also an apt tribute to the trailblazers. Hope someone from the NDP organizing committee is reading. ;)