During Indonesia’s Confrontation with Malaysia, Indonesian troops fought British Commonwealth forces along the border with Sarawak. After 1965 the Partai Komunis Indonesia (PKI) briefly organized guerrilla resistance in West Kalimantan. Many local Chinese communities, suspected of involvement with the rebels, were expelled by the government.
KOMANDO OPERASI TERTINGGI (Koti, Supreme Operations Command). Military command formed in December 1961 for the liberation of West Irian, with Sukarno, A. H. Nasution, and A. Yani as commander, deputy, and chief of staff; actual fighting was under the Mandala Command, headed by Suharto. In January 1962 Indonesian forces were defeated and a deputy navy commander, Yos Sudarso, was killed, but military pressure was among the factors removing the Dutch later that year. The command was reorganized in July 1963 to take charge of Confrontation. An operational Komando Siaga (Koga, “Readiness Command”) under air force commander Omar Dhani was created in May 1964, but in October its authority was limited to Kalimantan and Sumatra with the title Komando Mandala Siaga (Kolaga). Army units formerly assigned to Koga for a projected invasion of the Malay Peninsula were assigned to Komando Cadangan Strategis Angkatan Darat (Kostrad) and posted to Java. In February 1966 Koti was renamed Komando Ganyang Malaysia (Kogam, Crush Malaysia Command), but it was abolished in July 1967.
Indonesia’s opposition to the creation of Malaysia as a federation of Malaya, Singapore, and British colonies in northern Borneo was first expressed as “confrontation” by Subandrio in January 1963 after Malay and British forces had crushed a rebellion in the north Borneo sultanate of Brunei, but a compromise was reached between Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaya’s prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman at the Maphilindo conference held at the end of July 1963. This compromise called for the United Nations to send a team to the north Borneo territories to ascertain whether their people wished to be included in the new Malaysia federation. Before the UN secretary-general could publish the results of this exercise, the Malay prime minister and British foreign minister announced that Malaysia would be formed on 16 September irrespective of the results of the UN ascertainment. In response, Sukarno, on 23 September, announced that Indonesia would ganyang (literally, “gobble raw,” but generally translated as “crush”) Malaysia. Initially, Indonesia was joined less vociferously in its opposition to Malaysia by the Philippine government.
Aside from their objections to Malaysia itself, Indonesian political forces had their own reasons for Confrontation: the army wished to retain its privileged position and access to funds after the recovery of West Irian (Papua); the Partai Komunis Indonesia (PKI) wished to engage key army units away from the centers of power of Java and enhance its nationalist status; and Sukarno wished to maintain the momentum of popular mobilization he had begun during the Irian campaign. To increase pressure on Malaysia, the army’s Komando Operasi Tertinggi (KOTI) command was reorganized and border incursions began into Sarawak, where Indonesian troops were largely unsuccessful against British Commonwealth forces. In August and September 1964, small-scale landings took place on the Malay Peninsula. Army enthusiasm for the conflict soon diminished, partly because they did not want to deploy capable forces away from the centers of power on Java, and partly because Confrontation was one of the grounds for left-wing arguments in favor of a worker-peasant “Fifth Force.” From mid-1965, even before the rise to power of Suharto, the intelligence officers Benny Murdani and Ali Murtopo were maintaining contacts with Malaysia, and in May 1966, shortly after the Supersemar order gave Suharto executive power, negotiations with Kuala Lumpur began. Relations were normalized on 11 August 1966.
One of the ‘Tip Toe Boys’ on a ‘Claret’ job. Both A and B Squadrons 22 SAS undertook cross-border raids in the second half of 1964.
THE NATURE OF JUNGLE WARFARE
To find the enemy, the troopers had to use all of their tracking skills. In the dank, dark jungle the snakes, insects and even some of the plants were all potential hazards, not to mention the skilled jungle soldiers of the Indonesian Army. Patrols usually lasted around three weeks, and everything needed in the way of supplies and rations had to be carried, as re-supply across the border was out of the question. As the patrols moved deeper and deeper, loads were reduced to a minimum to allow them to strike fast at any enemy encountered, then retire quickly before taking casualties. Eventually each trooper carried no more than 15kg (331b) of dehydrated rations in his pack, with water bottles, survival kit and ammunition being carried on the belt.
Because of the shortage of skilled manpower, troopers returning from three hard weeks behind the lines had less than a week to recuperate and build up their reserves before the next mission. By the end of a three-patrol tour, SAS men looked worse than prisoners released from a dungeon at the end of a 10-year sentence with only bread and water to survive on. They were usually flown back to Hereford to recuperate for a few weeks before being put back on the treadmill.
It was not initially intended that the SAS deep-recce patrols should attack Indonesians on the Sarawak side of the border, but when targets of opportunity arose, the troopers responded. To keep British casualties to an absolute minimum, especially as cross-border helicopter casevac was clearly out of the question, all engagements had to be brief. Much to the annoyance of the troopers. it was decreed from on high that all encounters must be limited to ‘shoot and scoot’ actions. However, when the SAS shot they usually took out a lot more targets before scooting than ordinary soldiers would have.
The main weapon of the SAS on cross-border raids was stealth. Even the Gurkhas, who themselves had a fearful reputation for materialising silently out of nowhere to strike down their enemy, respected the skills of the light-footed troopers. As stories of their ghost-like ambushes on skilled Indonesian jungle soldiers spread throughout the British forces, SAS covert operators were nicknamed the ‘Tip Toe Boys’.
CLARET OPERATIONS IN FULL SWING
In an attempt to spread the war to the Malay peninsula, the Indonesians mounted an airborne assault on Johore province at the beginning of September 1964. This was backed up by infiltration from the sea on the west coast. All of the invaders were quickly captured, however, so Sukarno turned his attentions back to Borneo.
Full cross-border operations by British infantry units, guided by SAS troopers, commenced in June 1964. Due to the political sensitivity of putting soldiers into a country which technically was not at war with Britain, these missions remained top secret for a long time. Known as ‘Claret’ Operations, these attacks could have proved to be very diplomatically embarrassing to the British had news got out. However, because of their success even the Indonesians kept quiet for fear of loss of face.
At first the Claret raids were limited in range to 5 km (three miles) across the border, to give troops a much better chance of getting any casualties out overland. Later, as the Indonesians pulled their camps farther back to escape British attacks, permission was granted for troops to penetrate up to 20km (12 miles) against definite targets. Each raid had to be authorised by the General Officer Commanding, Major-General Walter Walker, and no more than one operation could be undertaken at any one time. The four-man SAS reconnaissance patrols were not strictly classified as being ‘Claret’ Operations, however, so they usually carried on regardless.
Most of the early ‘Claret’ raids were carried out by Gurkhas, as General Walker had stipulated that only infantry with at least one full jungle tour under their belt could go behind enemy lines. Usually their guides were SAS troopers taking a well-earned break from deep-recce duties. Typically the Gurkha raids would be directed at Indonesian base camps, where the enemy troops thought they were well out of harm’s way. Usually a couple of anti-armour rockets and a hail of GPMG fire at dawn or dusk were the first signs they got that their positions had been compromised.
GURKHAS AND CLAYMORES
The Gurkhas were also adept at ambushing Indonesian patrols aiming to cross into the north. The fastest method of transport in the jungle was often boat, and the SAS soon located the regular Indonesian water transit routes. After planning suitable ambush sites, they would lead in larger groups of Gurkhas, who went to ground until the next boatloads of troops appeared. Few of the enemy would swim alive out of the killing zone once the Gurkhas opened fire.
One of the new pieces of kit which became available around this time was the American Claymore mine. Weighing just a few kilos, this highly effective weapon quickly gained favour with the SAS. It consisted basically of several hundred ball bearings embedded in an explosive charge encased in steel. It could be triggered either electronically or by a trip wire, and was lethal over a wide arc. If an SAS recce patrol located a regularly used track, they would position themselves alongside and overlooking it then go to ground until the next enemy patrol came on the scene. Claymore mines would be positioned at each end of the line and fired electronically when all of the patrol was in the frame. The hail of lethal ballbearings usually mowed down most of the party, and the troopers then opened up with rifles and machine guns to finish the job. Minutes later the SAS forces had melted away into the jungle, usually before any survivors had the chance to work out what had hit them.
PROTECTING SABAH AND SARAWAK
The Claymore could also be used as a sleeping soldier by the SAS. A single mine, hidden a few metres back from a well-used track or sited to cover the end of a log bridge, could be rigged with a trip wire or remote pressure switch. It would then hibernate until the next patrol to pass tripped it, with devastating consequences. Of course mines and booby-traps laid by the SAS could also have killed friendly forces, so this was another reason for the SAS to guide in the infantry and for only one ‘Claret’ raid being mounted at any one time.
Occasionally Indonesian troops would bounce the SAS patrol instead – it was their territory, after all – despite the troopers taking every possible precaution. Usually the men who fire first in the jungle have the upper hand, but the superior fighting skills of the SAS could often turn the tables. However, some troopers were inevitably injured and a small number were killed; one is believed to have been captured alive and unfortunately to have later been tortured to death.
Military Indonesian incursions into Sabah and Sarawak were severely curtailed during the last quarter of 1964 and the first quarter of the following year as a direct result of the ‘Claret’ Operations. Every successful attack by the SAS and the Gurkhas forced the Indonesian Army to pull back their operating bases further from the border. Despite this, though, as they were well armed and equipped, they were still able to launch the occasional raids on kampongs and army posts. The next major Indonesian attack was to occur in late April 1965.
In the extreme west of Sarawak, the British 2 Para had an under-manned company base at the village of Plaman Mapu. At dawn on the morning of the 27th, a large Indonesian Army force attacked the base, supported by mortars and anti-armour missiles used as bunker busters. They easily breached the outer defences, but after more than an hour of close combat they were routed, mainly as a result of the company sergeant major picking up a machine gun and rallying his men. Two of the 10 paratrooper casualties died of their wounds.
The attack on Plaman Mapu proved the final straw for the British, and the general staff” now authorised overt cross-border operations against the Indonesian Army. Over the next few months, several Gurkha and British Army battalions penetrated into Kalimantan to kill the best part of 100 enemy soldiers for the loss of only four men. From this point on the writing was on the wall for President Sukarno. After one final invasion towards Brunei by about 50 Indonesian soldiers in March 1966 ended with the loss of 37 men, the Indonesian General Staff removed much of the President’s authority and began negotiations with Malaysia. A peace treaty was subsequently signed on 11 August 1966.
The development and expansion of the SAS also continued. During the Borneo troubles the Regiment trained the Guards Independent (Pathfinder) Company of the Parachute Brigade to undertake SAS-type cross-border raids. And in 1966, before the end of the Borneo campaign, G Company 22 SAS was formed from the ranks of this Guards formation and from volunteers from 2 Para.
Without the sterling service of the SAS in Borneo, especially their early ‘hearts and minds’ campaign and the later deep-recce patrols, the Confrontation could so easily have had a different ending. The signing of the 1966 Agreement between Malaysia and Indonesia has since brought over three decades of peace to this region of the world. As General Officer Commanding, Major-General Walter Walker, himself said of the Regiment: ‘I regard 70 troopers of the SAS as being as valuable to me as 700 infantry in the role of “hearts and minds”, border surveillance, early warning, stay behind, and eyes and ears with a sting.’ Once again the SAS had achieved spectacular results.