View Full Version : SONG SONG RANGE, MALAYA - 1960's

04-07-2010, 10:23
The following article is lengthy and will be split into a number of posts over the next few days.

Song Song Range was a sea range located off the coastline of the State of Kedah in northwest Malaya during the 1959's and 1960's. The range provided high and medium level bombing on a large floating pontoon target, low-level bombing on a locally made floating target, and an Air to Ground rocket and gunnery facility. The range served the requirements of the air base at Butterworth, Malaya located on the coast of the mainline opposite the island State of Penang. Consisting of three islands, two of which were unihabited the island group is here:


And the islands are:


And their functions were:

Pulau BIDAN - Accomodation and inhabited fishing village


Pulau TILOR - Uninhabited jungle covered rock - Single Quadrant Shelter only


Pulau SONG SONG - Uninhabited jungle covered. North QS - A/G Control, South QS (Master), Bomb plot map, all bombing spotting in coordination with TILOR QS


04-07-2010, 10:24
The series of photographs which follow were taken on various occasions during 1961/62 when the usual range customers were Canberra and Sabre aircraft of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) based at Butterworth. Other users included detachments of the RAF 'V' Bomber force and British Fleet AIr Arm carrier and land based aircraft. The range was manned by British Royal Air Force personnel of the RAF Element also based at Butterworth. A typical range crew consisted of:

A Range Safety Officer (RSO) - usually an active pilot assigned by one of the user squadrons. The RSO controlled attacking aircraft by VHF radio link.
Range SNCO - Usually an RAF Sergeant in charge of the range party overall
Six RAF Armament tradesmen - Operated the Quadrant Sights for bomb plotting, rigged targets and generally did the heavy work.
One RAF Radio tradesman - Maintained contact with main base by daily checks using HF from the main island BIDAN, maintained the VHF radio sets located in the Quadrant Shelters (QS)
One RAF Ground Equipment tradesman - Maintained the electrical power generators located at the Quadrant Shelters.
One Medical Tradesman (either RAF or RAAF) - Rendered first aid as required.
One by Cook - (either RAF or RAAF) - perpared meals for range crew.
One Marine Craft Unit Coxwain plus boat crew - Manned the assigned vessel - usually a Range Safety Launch (RSL) - transported range by sea - policed the range area during bombing and firing excercises to prevent intrusions.
Two or three Malay civilans employed as labour.

The usual range operation was Monday to Friday with the crew being picked up from the Straits Trading Jetty (a commercial jetty) in Butterworth by the RSL which had come across from the RAF Marine Craft Unit based at Glugor on southeast Penang Island:


The alternative was the slower pinnace:


Then north through Penang harbour:


Arriving at Pulau Bidan


Transfer ashore in the sampan


04-07-2010, 10:59



The directional arrow pointing at the high-level target

The 90 cm serchlight used to sweep the range area at night to warn off fishermen and vessels:


Another view of the directional arrow:


Peter Kirk
04-07-2010, 12:54
A unique set of photos. Probably a unique write up of a bombing range (Ashley Walk excepted) and look forward to the rest.

04-07-2010, 14:08
I do like the lighting units on that last picture

No surprise there, I guess. :-D


Peter Kirk
04-07-2010, 14:40
I do like the lighting units on that last picture

No surprise there, I guess. :-D


I knew you would comment about them so no surprise there :) There trouble is when something catches your interest you get sidetracked! Google Earth was fired up and locations put into context.

04-07-2010, 19:15
A bit different to Tain and Garvie Island! Im guessing that armourers were there also to do EOD if required?

05-07-2010, 05:33
Pulau Bidan -View from the fishing village looking north up the beach:


The radio shack. Our radio man would contact base (Butterworth) twice daily on HF. Also had VHF for shore to ship and shore to Quadrants:


Bidan beach looking NE towards Pulau Tilor and Pulau Song Song where the Quadrant Shelters were located.


Leaving Bidan for the range:


First stop Tilor to drop off the two man crew for the secondary Quadrant Shelter.This is a rear view of the QS:


05-07-2010, 05:43
Next, on to Song Song; this is the south Quadrant Shelter which was the 'master' from where the RSO controlled bombing attacks:


Coming ashore in the sampan. The water was too shallow to allow the RSL to move in close. The RAF must have got the Seagull outboard motor cheap because it was truly unreliable.


Inside the QS looking out toward the High Level target - Quadrant Sight bolted to the bench


Plotting bomb drops


A practice bomb burst on the low-level target:


05-07-2010, 05:56
Pulau Song Song - The north Quadrant Shelter used for controlling Air to Ground guns and RPs and cross-plotting on the low-level target


Rigging screen targets for Air to Ground guns - Looking from the spit towards Pulau Tilor and Pulau Bidan


Rigging screen targets in a stiff breeze was no easy task, the fifteen foot square hessian would fill like a sail and could easily lift a man. Looking approximately east toward the mainland of the State of Kedah, Malaya


30mm cannon strikes on screen targets


Counting scores. The practice cannon shells were tipped with different colour paint during preparation. The paint left a colour ring around the hole when it penetrated. Problem was deciding between Black and Dark Blue which were very similar! The aircrew always claimed they had more and that we hadn't counted properly!


05-07-2010, 06:10
Song Song (continued)

Initially we used imported telegraph poles as supports for the screen targets but one hit from a 30mm shell and they snapped like a matchstick. We switched to using local coconut palm trunks which could absorb several hits before breaking. This one took half a dozen. Just as well; replacing the support was a sweaty, heavy job.


A RAAF Sabre flies over the spit:


Inspecting the high-level target used by RAAF Canberras and visiting RAF 'V' Bombers. Although offset bombing techniques were used it did get hit occassionally and needed repair as in this case. Note the acetylene cylinders for the night lighting


A patch installed over the hole made by a 100 pound practice bomb penetrating throught the top plating and out through the bottom of the hull. The main pontoon was composed of eight separate water tight compartments so she would stay afloat.


Local wildlfe. Green turtles were frequent nesters and returned annually to their place of birth to lay eggs. Not protected them so the eggs were taken by fishermen.


Back to Bidan at the end of the day for a cold shower and a colder beer!



05-07-2010, 07:48
A bit different to Tain and Garvie Island! Im guessing that armourers were there also to do EOD if required?

The Song Song Range was authourised only for practice ammo and bombs but the RAF 'V' Force Victors and Valiants used 1000 pound HES bombs. These were standard 1000 pound MC bomb cases filled with an inert material; however, the standard Exploder was installed in the nose and tail pockets and they were fuzed with (usually) a Number 52 Instantaneous detonator. These made a most satisfactory burst in the target area with the sound borne on the breeze to the plotters as a heavy thump. Being a sea range, any UXBs conveniently deep sea dumped themselves!

Screwing in a pistol


A trolley load of HESs


05-07-2010, 08:11
The famous pic of a Victor dumping 35 x 1,000 pounders was taken on Song Song. The pilot was Flt Lt Tommy Thompson.

05-07-2010, 08:27
Being intimately knowledgeable of the Victor bombing system, I was amazed that all 35 released without any hang-ups!

10-07-2010, 14:39
I once saw an F111 drop a stick of 12 inert 1000lb bombs at Tain.

19-12-2010, 00:26
Brings back many memories,fishing Village run by Chinese and staffed by fishermen from East India.A Temple holy to several Faiths.I first went to the range when there were only 2 Huts,the rear block was then built which included accommodation for the Range Safety Officer,Kitchen and Dining and Bar and Loung area.Improvements during my time there included New generator(staffed by civilian engineer)provision of proper toilet and shower facitilities(below the well where header tank water was pumped(this well also provided water for the fishing village,generally carried in 2 large tins suspended from a carrier across a person from the Village's shoulders).
The Quadrants on the outlying islands where built at the time was there,as was the Directional arrow,which was on the beach/rocks below the well/toilet block area.
There was also a smaller searchlight inst. on Song-Song.

19-12-2010, 07:01
Hello Rob, Welcome to AiX nice to get a first hand account ahead of my time.

The searchlight on Song Song was near derelict when I got there it was the smaller 90cm whereas the Bidan light was a 120cm.

I neglected to mention that the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) were represented at Butterworth air base albeit flying Bristol Freighters. What were you doing when you were there?

19-12-2010, 22:39
Hello Peter, I spent most of my time, other than being on the Range, in the battery room with some contact on the ground side of the Helicopter Squadron.My sergeant was awarded the BEM for his work during the period when the visiting V Bomber's undercarriage collapsed(giving the Aussies plenty of material for derision).During the period I was on the range it progressed from being a very basic facility. On Song-Song there was a concrete facility in the scrub behind the beach, during firing(I think there may have been some rocket firing early on, off the spit below the gun targets.The rocket stubs were later removed after a Cannon round deflected and went through the engine and out near the tail of a Commonwealth Sabre from one of the RAAF's squadrons).At that time, during firing there was a position taken up the side of the hill for the people involved in tending the targets and also to plot bomb hit locations for the high level bombing on the target towards Kedah.Generally the high level bombing was by RAF or RNZAF Canberras' from Singapore.I well remeber when the searchlight was put onto Song-Song, the barge delivering it also delivered hundreds of Cockroaches.
Early on, before the 3rd building and large water tank were in place on Bidan,the main accommodation building also contained Kitchen facilities, fridge was kerosene powered, toilet contents were buried on the beach each morning and electrical power was provided by a 4.5KW diesel powered generator. There was no special provision of a Medical Tradesman or a Cook in the time I was there, in my recolection, rather someone was delegated to the task.I returned to the UK in January 1962.
A concrete based badminton court was added, late in my time, complete with lights.

01-03-2011, 08:01
Found this pic of a Sea Vixen 'beating up' the Song Song South Quadrant in 1962. I recall that the pilot said he would have been going faster but that the DV (Direct Vision) window had blown in!


Ron Miel
31-08-2011, 17:24
In 1958 (or was it early '59, just before return to the UK?), I was the corporal air wireless fitter, up from Seletar, i/c the original installation of the (battery powered/airborne) VHF kit on Bidan. Hope it worked OK after I left? Until then, Bidan just had an HF link with Butterworth ("Zulu One Oscar", I seem to remember) - mainly working morse, unless conditions were unusually good, in which case HF R/T worked a bit. The HF station was also based on airborne kit, the ubiquitous WW2 TR1154/55.

The only range activity while I was there was from high level practice bomb drops by RAAF Canberras, and they were seldom known to hit the floating target - reckoned the safest place to be while the bombing took place. Yes, conditions then were a fair bit more primitive than as described here for the '60s but it was still one of the highlights of my spell defending the Empire, so much so that I confess to getting a part number wrong in a requ for additional aerial kit, radio relayed down to Seletar, so we then got a few more days there when we discovered the "error" after the pinnace eventually delivered it up from Butterworth. Well, as I said, HF signals were very unreliable :roll:

Actually, the HF link could have got a bit critical but fortunately never did. We had small arms on Bidan, and were supposed to use those to hold the fort for a bit until a gunboat came, if CTs (Communist Terrorists) came out from Kedah one night. It was in the final hot couple of years of the Malayan Emergency and, apart from an active fight still going on down in Johore, the remaining hot spots were just across in Kedah, and in the neighbouring northernmost states - before Chin Peng finally took his little army across into Thailand. See, I really was defending a very tiny bit of the Empire - OK, I know Malaya was actually independent from 1957!

Have been looking for a walk down the Bidan, Songsong, Telor memory lane for ages but could never find anything, so was delighted to find this thread with all the great photos - everything as I remembered it: the pinnace, the turtles, the birds (feathered Mark 1), the indentured Tamil fishing gang from Kerala, the zillions of crabs, the beer. Just hope the VHF did keep working 8-)

(Ron Miel? Not my name - honey rum from the Canaries)

26-01-2012, 16:54
I was there as part of a servicing party from 390MU in 64. I remember the dogs used to catch the snakes on Bidan and the Dragons on Song Song. This is the only reference I have ever seen that the place exists I will dig out some pics and post them. I also did servicing at Butterworth, Sibu, Kapit, Nanga Gaat and China Rock other places nobody has heard of.
Thanks for the pics

27-01-2012, 05:06
Welcome to AiX cviclark, you must have turned up as I left back to the UK.

Yes, we had our resident dogs on Bidan. Both Tilor and Song Song had 'dragons (monitor lizards) David Attenborough, the naturalist and a film crew visited us (I think it was in 1963). At there request I and a colleague caught a monitor and it was flown to London for Regents Park Zoo but not until it bit me!

Look forward to seeing any photos that you have of Song Song Range and the Far East.