Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation

Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation
Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation
Borneo2 map english names.PNG
Control of the island of Borneo, which is divided between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, was the main issue behind the war.
Date 1962–1966
Location Malay Peninsula, Borneo
Result Commonwealth victory
  • Suharto replaced Sukarno as the Supreme Commander of the Indonesian Armed Forces
  • Normalization of diplomatic relationship
  • Indonesia accepts the formation of Malaysia
  • Peace Treaty
 Malaysia (Before Federation:  Malaya,  North Borneo,  Sarawak and  Singapore)
 United Kingdom
 New Zealand
Indonesia Indonesia
Commanders and leaders
Malaysia Tunku Abdul Rahman
United Kingdom Walter Walker
Indonesia Sukarno
Indonesia Omar Dani
Indonesia Maraden Panggabean
Casualties and losses
114 killed
181 wounded
590 killed
222 wounded
Civilian casualties
36 killed
53 wounded
4 taken prisoner
History of Malaysia
Flag of Malayan Union between 1946 and 1948 Flag of Malaysia
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Prehistoric Malaysia
Early kingdoms
Chi Tu (100BC-7th)
Gangga Negara (2nd–11th)
Langkasuka (2nd–14th)
Pan Pan (3rd–5th)
Srivijaya (7th–13th)
Majapahit (13th-15th)
Kedah Kingdom (630-1136)
The rise of Muslim states
Kedah Sultanate (1136–present)
Malacca Sultanate (1402–1511)
Sulu Sultanate (1450–1899)
Johor Sultanate (1528–present)
Colonial era
Portuguese Malacca (1511–1641)
Dutch Malacca (1641–1824)
Straits Settlements (1826–1946)
British Malaya (1874–1946)
Federated Malay States (1895–1946)
Unfederated Malay States (1909–1946)
Kingdom of Sarawak (1841–1946)
North Borneo (1882–1963)
Japanese occupation (1941–1945)
Malaysia in transition
Malayan Union (1946–1948)
Federation of Malaya (1948–1963)
Independence (1957)
Federation of Malaysia (1963–present)

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Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation during 1962–1966 was Indonesia’s political and armed opposition to the creation of Malaysia. It is also known by its Indonesian/Malay name Konfrontasi. The creation of Malaysia was the amalgamation of the Federation of Malaya (now West Malaysia) with the crown colony/British protectorate of Sabah and Sarawak (collectively known as British Borneo, now East Malaysia) in September 1963.

The confrontation was an undeclared war with most of the action in the border area between Indonesia and East Malaysia on the island of Borneo (known as Kalimantan in Indonesia). However, Sabah and Sarawak were ethnically, religiously and politically diverse and there was some local opposition to joining Malaysia that Indonesia attempted to exploit, with very little success.

The terrain in Borneo was challenging and there were very few roads, both sides relied on light infantry operations and air transport, although rivers were also used. There was almost no use of offensive airpower. The British and Malaysian Armed Forces provided a significant element of the effort with no small parts being played by the other member nations (Australia and New Zealand) from the combined Far East Strategic Reserve stationed then in West Malaysia and Singapore.

Initial Indonesian attacks into East Malaysia relied heavily on local volunteers trained by the Indonesian Army. The main military forces backing Malaysia were British and initially their activities were low key. However, the British responded to increased Indonesian activity by expanding their own. This included, starting in 1965, covert operations into Indonesian Kalimantan under the code name Operation Claret. In 1965 there were several Indonesian operations into West Malaysia, albeit without military success. By August 1966, following Indonesian President Suharto's rise to power, a peace agreement finally took effect as Indonesia accepted the existence of Malaysia.



This article is part of the
History of Indonesia series
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See also:
Timeline of Indonesian History
Early kingdoms
Kutai (4th century)
Tarumanagara (358–669)
Kalingga (6th–7th century)
Srivijaya (7th–13th centuries)
Sailendra (8th–9th centuries)
Sunda Kingdom (669–1579)
Medang Kingdom (752–1045)
Kediri (1045–1221)
Singhasari (1222–1292)
Majapahit (1293–1500)
The rise of Muslim states
Spread of Islam (1200–1600)
Sultanate of Ternate (1257–present)
Malacca Sultanate (1400–1511)
Sultanate of Demak (1475–1548)
Aceh Sultanate (1496–1903)
Sultanate of Banten (1526–1813)
Mataram Sultanate (1500s–1700s)
European colonization
The Portuguese (1512–1850)
Dutch East India Co. (1602–1800)
Dutch East Indies (1800–1942)
The emergence of Indonesia
National awakening (1908–1942)
Japanese occupation (1942–45)
National revolution (1945–50)
Independent Indonesia
Liberal democracy (1950–57)
Guided Democracy (1957–65)
Start of the New Order (1965–66)
The New Order (1966–98)
Reformasi era (1998–present)
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People and terrain

In 1961, the island of Borneo was divided into four separate states. Kalimantan, comprising four Indonesian provinces, was located in the south of the island. In the north, separated from Kalimantan by a border some 1000 miles long, were the Sultanate of Brunei (a British protectorate) and two colonies of the United Kingdom (UK)—British North Borneo (later renamed Sabah) and Sarawak.

The three UK territories totalled some 1.5 million people, about half of them Dayaks. Sarawak had a population of about 900,000, while Sabah's was 600,000 and Brunei's was around 80,000. Among Sarawak's non-Dayak population, 31% were Chinese, and 19% were Malay. Among non-Dayaks in Sabah, 21% were Chinese and 7% were Malay; Brunei's non-Dayak population was 28% Chinese and 54% Malay. There was a large Indonesian population in Tawau in southern Sabah and a large and economically active Chinese one in Sarawak. Despite their population size, Dayaks were spread through the country in village longhouses and were not politically organised.

Sarawak was divided into five administrative Divisions. Sabah, whose capital city was Jesselton (Kota Kinabalu) on the north coast, was divided into several Residencies; those of the Interior and Tawau were on the border.

Apart from either end, the border generally followed a ridge line throughout its length, rising to almost 2,500 metres in the Fifth Division. In the First Division, there were some roads, including a continuous road from Kuching to Brunei and around to Sandakan on the east coast of Sabah. There were no roads in the Fourth and Fifth Divisions or the Interior Residency, and in Third Division, there was only the coast road, which was some 150 miles from the border. Mapping was generally poor, as British maps of the country showed very little topographic detail. Indonesian maps were worse; veterans recall “a single black and white sheet for all of Kalimantan torn from a school text book” in 1964.[1]

Kalimantan was divided into four provinces, of which East Kalimantan and West Kalimantan face the border. The capital of the West is Pontianak on the west coast, about 100 miles (160 km) from the border, and the capital of the East is Samarinda on the south coast, some 220 miles (350 km) from the border. There were no roads in the border area other than some in the west, and no road existed linking West and East Kalimantan.

The lack, on both sides of the border, of roads and tracks suitable for vehicles meant that movement was limited to foot tracks mostly unmarked on any map, as well as water and air movement. There were many large rivers on both sides of the border, and these were the main means of movement, including hovercraft by the UK. There were also quite a few small grass airstrips suitable for light aircraft, as dropping zones for parachuted supplies, and for helicopters.

The equator lies about 100 miles south of Kuching, and most of northern Borneo receives over 3000 mm of rain each year. Borneo is naturally covered by tropical rainforest. This covers the mountainous areas cut by many rivers with very steep sided hills and hilltop ridges often only a few metres wide. The high rainfall means large rivers; these provide a main means of transport and are formidable tactical obstacles. Dense mangrove forest covering vast tidal flats intersected with numerous creeks is a feature of many coastal areas, including Brunei and either end of the border. There are cultivated areas in valleys and around villages. The vicinity of abandoned and current settlements are areas of dense secondary regrowth.

Political situation

As a part of its withdrawal from its Southeast Asian colonies, the UK moved to combine its colonies in North Borneo with the Federation of Malaya (which had become independent from Britain in 1957), and Singapore (which had become self-governing in 1959). In May 1961, the UK and Malayan governments proposed a larger federation called Malaysia, encompassing the states of Malaya, Sabah (then North Borneo), Sarawak, Brunei, and Singapore. Initially, Indonesia was mildly supportive of the proposed Malaysia, although the PKI (Partai Komunis Indonesia — Indonesian Communist Party) was strongly opposed to it.[2]

In Brunei, the Sultan was not enthusiastic about joining Malaysia because there was nothing in it for him, and his oil revenues ensured financial independence. Furthermore, a Brunei politician, Dr. AM Azahari bin Sheikh Mahmud, while supporting a unified North Borneo, also opposed wider federation. In 1961, he had sounded out Indonesia about possible aid in training Borneo recruits; General Nasution hinted at moral support, and Soebandrio, the foreign minister and head of intelligence, hinted more substantial aid. Azahari was a leftist who had fought in Indonesia in their war for independence.[2]

On 8 December 1962, the North Kalimantan National Army (TNKU) staged an insurrection—the Brunei Revolt. Totalling some 4,000, albeit with very limited weapons, they tried to capture the Sultan of Brunei, seize the oil fields, and take European hostages.

British forces in Singapore responded promptly, and the failure of the insurrection was clear within 30 hours when Gurkha troops secured Brunei town and ensured the Sultan’s safety. On 16 December, the British Far East Command claimed that all major rebel centres had been occupied. Several UK and Gurkha infantry battalions were deployed to Brunei, however, with significant elements in Kuching and Tawau because the TNKU had the support of the Clandestine Communist Organisation (CCO) in Sarawak. Some 4,000 Kelabits from the 5th Division were also mobilised to help prevent the TNKU escape to Indonesia. Mopping up operations continued until 18 May 1963, when the last elements of the TNKU, including its commander, were captured.[3]

On 20 January 1963, Indonesian Foreign Minister Subandrio announced that Indonesia would pursue a policy of Konfrontasi with Malaysia. It was a complete reversal of Indonesian policy to oppose the creation of Malaysia. On 27 July 1963 President Sukarno declared that he was going to "crush Malaysia" (Indonesian: Ganyang Malaysia). Sukarno's motives are unclear and have been attributed to factors such as "hubris" in Indonesia, following its successful campaign to gain control of Dutch New Guinea (later Irian Jaya/West Papua) in 1962, or domestic issues such as an alleged increase in the influence of the PKI. Sukarno argued that Malaysia was a British puppet state, and that any expansion of Malaysia would increase British control over the region, with implications for Indonesia's national security. Similarly, the Philippines made a claim for Sabah, arguing that it had historic links with the Philippines through the Sulu archipelago.

In order to solve the dispute, the would-be member states of Malaysia met representatives of Indonesia and the Philippines in Manila for several days, starting on 31 July 1963. At the meeting, the Philippines and Indonesia formally agreed to accept the formation of Malaysia if a majority in the disputed region voted for it in a referendum organized by the United Nations. While the fact-finding mission by the UN was expected to begin on 22 August in the same, delaying tactics by Indonesia forced the mission to start only on 26 August. Nevertheless, the UN expected the referendum report to be published by 14 September 1963.[4]

However, North Borneo and Sarawak, anticipating a pro-Malaysia result, declared independence on the sixth anniversary of Merdeka Day, 31 August 1963, before the results of the vote were reported.[4] On 14 September, the result enabled the creation of Malaysia which had been agreed upon by all member states on 16 September 1963. The Indonesian government saw this as a broken promise and as evidence of British imperialism.

President Sukarno had stated in at least four public speeches in 1963–64 that Indonesia had no territorial ambitions over North Kalimantan, and that Indonesia's territorial pursuit was completed with the "return" of West Irian in January 1963. Nevertheless the Indonesian name for the territory "Kalimantan Utara" had the same form as the names of Indonesia's Kalimantan provinces. Furthermore, later events in East Timor demonstrated that influential elements in Indonesia did aspire to other territory when the colonial power left.

However, while Sukarno made no direct claims to incorporate northern Borneo into Indonesian Kalimantan he saw the formation of Malaysia as an obstacle to his dreams of Maphilindo, a Malay empire covering Malaya, Philippines and Indonesia.[5] The Philippine president was not initially opposed to this idea but, while the Philippines did not engage in hostilities, they did break off diplomatic relations with Malaysia.

Sarawakian opposition

The end of the Second World War had brought an end to the Brooke Dynasty rule in Sarawak. Believing it to be in the best interest of the people of Sarawak, Charles Vyner Brooke ceded the state to the British Crown.[6] Sarawak became a Crown Colony, ruled from the Colonial Office in London, which in turn dispatched a Governor for Sarawak.

The predominantly Malay anti-cession movement, which rejected the British takeover of Sarawak in 1946 and had assassinated Duncan Stewart, the first British High Commissioner of Sarawak, may have been the forerunner of the subsequent anti-Malaysia movement in Sarawak, headed by Ahmad Zaidi Adruce.

Left-wing and communist cell groups had grown rapidly among Sarawak's urban Chinese communities since the 1950s and later became the nucleus of the anti-Malaysia North Kalimantan People's Army (PARAKU) and Sarawak People's Guerilla Forces (PGRS), known to the UK as the Clandestine Communist Organisation (CCO). These groups supported and propagated the unification of all UK Borneo territories to form an independent leftist North Kalimantan state. This idea was idea originally proposed by A. M. Azahari, leader of the Parti Rakyat Brunei (Brunei People’s Party), who had forged links with Sukarno's nationalist movement, together with Ahmad Zaidi, in Java in the 1940s. However, the Brunei People’s Party was in favour of joining Malaysia on the condition it was as the unified three territories of northern Borneo with their own sultan, and hence was strong enough to resist domination by Malaya, Singapore, Malay administrators or Chinese merchants.[7]

The North Kalimantan (or Kalimantan Utara) proposal was seen as a post-decolonization alternative by local opposition against the Malaysia plan. Local opposition throughout the Borneo territories was primarily based on economic, political, historical and cultural differences between the Borneo states and Malaya, as well as the refusal to be subjected under peninsular political domination.

Both Azahari and Zaidi went into exile in Indonesia during the confrontation. While the latter returned to Sarawak and had his political status rehabilitated, Azhari remained in Indonesia until his death in 2001.

In the aftermath of the Brunei Revolt, the remnants of the TNKU reached Indonesia. Possibly fearing British reprisals (which never eventuated), many Chinese communists, possibly several thousand, also fled Sarawak. Their compatriots remaining in Sarawak were known as the CCO by the UK but called the PGRS—Pasukan Gelilya Rakyat Sarawak (Sarawak People’s Guerilla Force)—by Indonesia. Soebandrio met with a group of their potential leaders in Bogor, and Nasution sent three trainers from Resimen Para Komando Angkatan Darat (RPKAD) Battalion 2 to Nangabadan near the Sarawak border, where there were about 300 trainees. Some 3 months later two lieutenants were sent there.[8]

The PGRS numbered about 800, based in West Kalimantan at Batu Hitam, with a contingent of 120 from the Indonesian intelligence agency and a small cadre trained in China. The PKI (Indonesian Communist Party) was strongly in evidence and led by an ethnic Arab revolutionary, Sofyan. The PGRS ran some raids into Sarawak but spent more time developing their supporters in Sarawak. The Indonesian military did not approve of the leftist nature of the PGRS and generally avoided them.[9]


Command arrangements

An Australian soldier manning an MAG 58 machine gun at a forward position.

In early January 1963, the military forces in northern Borneo, having arrived in December 1962 in response to the Brunei Revolt, were under the command of COMBRITBOR, Major General Walter Walker, who was Director of Borneo Operations (DOBOPS) based on Labuan Island and reported directly to the Commander in Chief Far East Forces Admiral Sir David Luce. Luce was routinely replaced by Admiral Sir Varyl Begg in early 1963.

Politico-military authority lay with the Emergency Committees in Sarawak and North Borneo, including their Governors, who were the Commanders in Chief for their colonies. In Brunei, there was a State Advisory Council answerable to the Sultan.

After independence, supreme authority changed to the Malaysian National Defence Council in Kuala Lumpur with State Executive Committees in Sabah and Sarawak. Military direction was from the Malaysian National Operations Committee jointly chaired by the Chief of the Malaysian Armed Forces Staff, General Tunku Osman, and the Inspector General of Police, Sir Claude Fenner. The British Commander in Chief Far East Forces was a member. DOBOPS regularly attended its meetings.

British forces in Borneo included Headquarters (HQ) 3 Commando Brigade in Kuching with responsibility for the western part of Sarawak, 1st–4th Divisions, and HQ 99 Gurkha Infantry Brigade in Brunei responsible for the East, 5th Division, Brunei and Sabah. These HQs had deployed from Singapore in late 1962 in response to the Brunei Revolt. The ground forces were composed of five UK and Gurkha infantry battalions normally based in Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong and rotated with others and an armoured car squadron. In the middle of 1963, Brigadier Pat Glennie, normally the Brigadier General Staff in Singapore, arrived as Deputy DOBOPs.

The naval effort, under DOBOPS command, was primarily provided by minesweepers used to patrol coastal waters and larger inland waterways. A guardship, a frigate or destroyer, was stationed off Tawau.

The initial air component based in Borneo consisted of detachments from squadrons stationed in Malaya and Singapore. These included Twin Pioneer and Single Pioneer transport aircraft, probably two or three Blackburn Beverley and Hastings transports, and about 12 helicopters of various types. One of Walker’s first "challenges" was curtailing the RAF’s centralised command and control arrangements and insisting that aircraft tasking for operations in Borneo was by his HQ, not by the RAF’s Far East HQ in Singapore.[10] Other aircraft of many types stationed in Malaya and Singapore provided sorties as necessary, including routine transport support into Kuching and Labuan.

The police deployed a number of paramilitary Police Field Force companies.

At this stage, Indonesian forces were under command of Lieutenant General Zulkipli in Pontianak, on the coast of West Kalimantan about 200 km from the border. The Indonesian irregulars, led by Indonesian officers, were thought to number about 1500, with an unknown number or regular troops and local defence irregulars. They were deployed the entire length of the border in eight operational units, mostly facing the 1st and 2nd Divisions. The units had names such as Thunderbolts, Night Ghosts and World Sweepers.[11]

British tactics

Soon after assuming command in Borneo, General Walker issued a directive listing the ingredients for success, based on his experience in the Malayan Emergency:

  • Unified operations (army, navy and air force operating fully together)
  • Timely and accurate information (the need for continuous reconnaissance and intelligence collection)
  • Speed, mobility and flexibility
  • Security of bases
  • Domination of the jungle
  • Winning the hearts and minds of the people (this was added several months later).[12]

Walker recognised the difficulties of limited forces and a long border and, in early 1963, was reinforced with an SAS squadron from the UK, which rotated with another mid-year. When the SAS temporarily adopted 3-man instead of 4-man patrols, they could not closely monitor the border. Increasing the capability of the infantry to create a surveillance network was also considered important.

Walker raised the Border Scouts, building on Harrison’s force of Kelabits, who had mobilised to help intercept the fleeing TNKU forces from the Brunei Revolt. He also utilized the experience of the Royal Marines as well as knowledge of the skill and usefulness of the Sarawak Rangers in the Malayan Emergency. This was approved by the Sarawak government in May as "auxiliary police". Walker selected Lieutenant Colonel John Cross, a Gurkha officer with immense jungle experience, for the task. A training centre was established in a remote area at Mt. Murat in the 5th Division and staffed mainly by SAS. Border Scouts were attached to infantry battalions and evolved into an intelligence gathering force by using their local knowledge and extended families.[13] In addition, the Police Special Branch, which had proved so effective during the Malayan Emergency in recruiting sources in the communist organisation, was expanded.[14]

British jungle tactics were developed and honed during the Malayan Emergency against a clever and elusive enemy. They emphasised travelling lightly, being undetectable and going for many days without resupplying. Being undetectable meant being silent (hand signals, no rattling equipment) and 'odour free'—perfumed toiletries were forbidden (they could be detected a kilometre away by good jungle fighters), and sometimes eating food cold to prevent cooking smells.

In about 1962, at the end of National Service, British infantry battalions had reorganised into three rifle companies, a support company and an HQ company with logistic responsibilities. Battalion HQ included an intelligence section. Each rifle company was composed of 3 platoons of 32 men each, equipped with light machine guns and self-loading rifles. The support company had a mortar platoon with 6 medium mortars (3-inch mortar until replaced by 81-mm mortar around the end of 1965) organised into 3 sections, enabling a section to be attached to a rifle company if required. Similarly organised was an anti-tank platoon; there was also an assault pioneer platoon. The machine gun platoon was abolished, but the impending delivery of the 7.62 mm GPMG, with sustained fire kits held by each company, was to provide a medium machine gun capability. In the meantime, the Vickers machine gun remained available. The innovation in the new organisation was the formation of the battalion reconnaissance platoon[15], in many battalions a platoon of "chosen men". In Borneo, mortars were usually distributed to rifle companies, and some battalions operated the rest of their support company as another rifle company.

The basic activity was platoon patrolling; this continued throughout the campaign, with patrols being deployed by helicopter, roping in and out as necessary. Movement was usually single file; the leading section rotated but was organised with two lead scouts, followed by its commander and then the remainder in a fire support group. Battle drills for "contact front" (or rear), or "ambush left" (or right) were highly developed. Poor maps meant navigation was important; however, the local knowledge of the Border Scouts in Borneo compensated for the poor maps. so tracks were sometimes used unless ambush was considered possible, or there was the possibility of mines. Crossing obstacles such as rivers was also handled as a battle drill. At night, a platoon harboured in a tight position with all-round defence.

A contact while moving was always possible. However, offensive action usually took two forms: either an attack on a camp, or an ambush. The tactic for dealing with a camp was to get a party behind it then charge the front. However, ambushes were probably the most effective tactic and could be sustained for many days. They targeted tracks and, particularly in parts of Borneo, waterways. Track ambushes were close range, 10 to 20 m (11 to 22 yd), with a killing zone typically 20 to 50 m (22 to 55 yd) long, depending on the expected strength of the target. The trick was to remain undetected when the target entered the ambush area and then open fire all together at the right moment.

Fire support was limited for the first half of the campaign. A commando light battery with 105 mm Pack Howitzers had deployed to Brunei at the beginning of 1963 but returned to Singapore after a few months when the mopping-up of the Brunei Revolt ended. Despite the escalation in Indonesian attacks after the formation of Malaysia, little need was seen for fire support: the limited range of the guns (10 km (6.2 mi)), the limited availability of helicopters and the size of the country meant that having artillery in the right place at the right time was a challenge. However, a battery from one of the two regiments stationed in Malaysia returned to Borneo in early to mid-1964. These batteries rotated until the end of the confrontation. In early 1965, a complete UK-based regiment arrived. The short range and substantial weight of the 3-inch mortars meant they were of very limited use.

Artillery had to adopt new tactics. Almost all guns deployed in single gun sections within a company or platoon base. The sections were commanded by one of the battery's junior officers, warrant officers or sergeants. Sections had about 10 men and did their own technical fire control. They were moved underslung by Wessex or Belvedere helicopters as necessary to deal with incursions or support operations. Forward observers were in short supply, but it seems that they always accompanied normal infantry Claret operations and occasionally special forces ones.[citation needed] However, artillery observers rarely accompanied patrols inside Sabah and Sarawak unless they were in pursuit of a known incursion and guns were in range. Observation parties were almost always led by an officer but only two or three men strong.

Communications were a problem; radios were not used within platoons, only rearwards. Ranges were invariably beyond the capability of manpack VHF radios (A41 and A42, copies of AN/PRC 9 and 10), although use of relay or rebroadcast stations helped where they were tactically possible. Patrol bases could use the World War II vintage HF No 62 Set (distinguished by having its control panel labeled in English and Russian). Until the manpack A13 arrived in 1966, the only lightweight HF set was the Australian A510, which did not provide voice, only Morse code.

Special Forces

One squadron (up to 64 men in total in its four patrol troops) from the UK-based 22 Special Air Service deployed to Borneo in early 1963 in the aftermath of the Brunei Revolt to gather information in the border area about Indonesian infiltration. There was a special forces presence until the end of the campaign. Faced with a border of 971 miles, they could not be everywhere, and, at this time, 22 SAS had only three squadrons, although there was also the Special Boat Service (SBS) that had two sections based in Singapore. Tactical HQ of 22 SAS deployed to Kuching in 1964 to take control of all special forces. The special forces shortage was exacerbated by the need for them in South Arabia, in many ways a far more demanding task in challenging conditions against a cunning and aggressive opponent.

The solution was to create new units for Borneo. The first to be employed in Borneo was the Guards Independent Parachute Company, which already existed as the pathfinder force of 16th Parachute Brigade. Next, the Gurkha Independent Parachute Company was raised. Sections of the Special Boat Service were also used, but it seems mostly for amphibious tasks.[citation needed] Finally, Parachute Regiment battalions formed patrol companies (C in the 2nd and D in the 3rd). The situation eased in 1965 when the Australian and New Zealand governments agreed that their forces could be used in Borneo, enabling Australian SAS and New Zealand Ranger squadrons to rotate through Borneo.

Special forces activities were probably mostly covert reconnaissance and surveillance by 4 man patrols.[citation needed] However, some larger scale raiding missions took place, including amphibious ones by the SBS. Once Claret operations were authorised, most special forces missions were inside Kalimantan, although they conducted operations over the border before Claret from about early 1964.[16]


In April, the group training at Nangabadan was split in two. On 12 April 1963, one group attacked and seized the police station at Tebedu in the 1st Division of Sarawak, about 40 miles from Kuching and 2 miles from the border with Kalimantan.[17] The other group attacked the village of Gumbang, South West of Kuching, later in the month. Only about half returned.[18] Confrontation could be said to have started from a military perspective with the Tebedu attack.[19]

For the next five months, the Chinese guerrillas undertook further raids,[18] typically attacks on longhouses. In June, an operation by about 15 was dealt with. In this period, it was a platoon commander's war for the British. Platoons deployed individually in semi-permanent patrol bases, initially in villages but then outside them to reduce the risk to inhabitants in event of an Indonesian attack. Helicopter landing sites were cleared a few kilometres apart all along the border area, and platoons patrolled vigorously. Small parties of Gurkhas, police and Border Scouts were stationed in many remote villages.

On 15 August, a headman reported an incursion in the 3rd Division and follow up indicated they were about 50 strong. A series of contacts ensued as 2/6 Gurkhas deployed patrols and ambushes, and after a month, 15 had been killed and 3 captured. The Gurkhas reported that they were well trained and professionally led, but their ammunition expenditure was high and their fire discipline broke down. The prisoners reported 300 more invaders within a week and 600 in a fortnight.[20]

Malaysia was formally established on 16 September 1963. Brunei decided against joining, while Singapore later left the federation in 1965 to become an independent republic. Indonesia reacted immediately and furiously, tensions rose on both sides of the Straits of Malacca and the Malayan ambassador was expelled from Jakarta. Two days later, rioters burned the British embassy in Jakarta. Several hundred rioters ransacked the Singapore embassy in Jakarta and the homes of Singaporean diplomats. In Malaysia, Indonesian agents were captured, and crowds attacked the Indonesian embassy in Kuala Lumpur.[21]

The Battle of Long Jawai was the first major incursion for the centre of the 3rd Division, directed by an RPKAD Lieutenant Mulyono Soerjowardojo, who had been sent to Nangabadan earlier in the year. Up to 200 guerillas with 300 porters and longboats moved to Long Jawi, some 50 miles from the border and with a population of about 500. It was a junction for river and track communications. The British outpost in the village was in the process of establishing a new position on a nearby hill, but their communications remained in the village school. The total British force was 6 Gurkhas, 3 Police Field Force and 21 Border Scouts, with a handful in the school and the remainder in the new position.

An Indonesian reconnaissance force had entered the village on about 26 September, but their presence was unknown to the British, and their main body arrived. At 5:00 am on 28 September 1963—the day Malaysia came into being—the force opened fire with small arms and mortars on the two posts. The communications post was heavily attacked and hit by mortar fire and communications were lost without the attack being reported. Gurkha and police radio operators were killed. The fighting lasted four hours; one Gurkha, one policeman, one Border Scout and five Indonesians were killed. Ammunition ran low, and the Border Scouts became demoralised and started to slip away. Some were captured, but the Gurkhas and police successfully withdrew into the jungle. The Indonesians plundered the village and executed ten of the captured Border Scouts.

The lost communications meant that it took two days for news to reach the HQ 1/2 Gurkhas, but reaction was swift and the entire Wessex helicopter force was made available. Helicopters enabled the Gurkhas to deploy ambush parties to likely withdrawal routes in orchestrated action that lasted until the end of October. The tortured bodies of 7 Border Scouts were found. In the ensuing confrontations, 33 Indonesians are known to have been killed, 26 in a boat ambush on 1 October.

The failure of the Border Scouts to detect the incursion, particularly since the Indonesians were in Long Jawi for two days before the attack, led to a change of role. Instead of being paramilitary, they concentrated on gathering intelligence. The situation also emphasised the need for the "hearts and minds" campaign. However, the Indonesians had lost the trust of the local population, who had witnessed the plundering of the village and the executions of the Border Scout Prisoners. The locals had also been impressed with the quick Gurkha reactions. For the rest of the war, civilians would inform British forces of Indonesian troop movements they saw.[22][23]

The creation of Malaysia meant that Malaysian Army units deployed to Borneo (now East Malaysia). 3rd Battalion Royal Malay Regiment (RMR) went to Tawau in Sabah, and the 5th to the 1st Division of Sarawak. The Tawau area also had a company of the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. Brigadier Glennie, who was directly responsible for the East Brigade area, had recognised the risks in the area. The RN guardship made a seaborne attack unlikely, but the myriad creeks and rivers around Tawau, Cowie Harbour and Wallace Bay were a challenge. He organised an ad hoc waterborne force that became the Tawau Assault Group (TAG).[24] Formation of Malaysia led to increased Indonesian action. Elite military units were ordered to the border; the army was in West Kalimantan, and the (Korps Komando Operasi – KKO) were responsible for the east.[25]

The KKO were opposite Tawau on the Indonesian half of Sebatik Island. This force consisted of five companies as well as a training camp for volunteers.[24] On 17 October, five KKO and one TNKU dressed in civilian clothes crossed into Sabah and burnt down a village; the KKO officer was killed.[25]

One of 3 RMR's positions was at Kalabakan west of Tawau. There was a fortified police station, and 400 yards away in 2 unfortified huts (with some adjacent fighting trenches) were some 50 RMR soldiers with their company commander. In late December, a force of 35 KKO regulars and 128 volunteers (Pocock) or 11 and 36 (Conboy) crossed into Sabah and remained in the swampland undetected for 8 days. The mission was to capture Kalabakan and then move on Tawau with Indonesian expatriates rising to join them. At 11:00 pm on 29 December, the RMR position had been taken by surprise, with 8 killed, including the commander, and 19 wounded. An attack shortly after on the police station failed. The attackers moved north instead of east to liberate Tawau. Gurkhas were flown in, and the fighting was over after a month. Two-thirds of the KKO participants were killed of captured and admitted that they had expected the population to rise and greet them as liberators.[26]

TAG became properly established based on an infantry company, marines and a Naval Gunfire Observation Party from a battery in Hong Kong. They dominated the area, and included a raft-mounted mortar. One of their 'posts' was a boat permanently positioned close to the international border across Wallace Bay. A minesweeper was usually part of TAG because there were no other naval patrol boats suitable for coastal use. In the West, the RPKAD Battalion 2 sent two companies, one parachuted into Nangabadan while the other dropped further west to Senaning. Their task was to patrol the border, not cross it. Cross-border operations were assigned to 328 Raider Battalion, who arrived in October, working with TNKU remnants and disguising themselves as TNKU. In November, they started shallow raids, but these were barely noticed; another company from RPKAD Battalion 2 was sent, to be disguised as TNKU. In late December, the company embarked on an attack on Kuching; however, most balked at the border and only 20 men crossed it on 1 January 1964. They soon met up with a Royal Marine patrol, suffering 2 killed. They also killed a marine, took his ID card, and booby-trapped his abandoned body. Nevertheless, the company was withdrawn to Java in some disgrace, having failed to match the KKO’s success at Kalabakan.[25] Cpl. Marriot RM's body was recovered the next day and flown to Kuching from Bau by helicopter.


The deliberate attack by Indonesian forces on Malaysian troops did not enhance Sukarno’s "anti-imperialist" credentials, although the Indonesian government tried blaming the KKO as enthusiastic idealists acting independently. They also produced Azahari, who claimed that Indonesian forces were playing no part in active operations. Sukarno next launched a peace offensive and, in late January, declared he was ready for a ceasefire (despite having denied direct Indonesia involvement). Talks started in Bangkok, but border violations continued, and the talks soon failed. They resumed mid-year in Tokyo and failed within days but allowed time for a Thai mission to visit Sarawak and witness smart, well-equipped Indonesian soldiers withdrawing across the border, which they had crossed a short distance away earlier in the day.[27]

During the year, command arrangements changed. 99 Gurkha Infantry Brigade HQ returned from Singapore and replaced 3 Commando Brigade HQ in Kuching. 3rd Malaysian Infantry Brigade HQ arrived to take over East Brigade in Tawau, and 51 Gurkha Infantry Brigade HQ arrived from UK to command the Central Brigade area with the 4th Division of Sarawak added to it. Its headquarters was in Brunei, and there were no roads to any of its battalions. In DOBOPS, all HQ elements were concentrated in one HQ complex on Labuan.[28] At least one of the British batteries stationed in Malaysia was always deployed in Borneo with its 105 mm guns.

In summary, in about the middle of the year the situation was:

  • West Brigade (HQ 99 Gurkha Infantry Brigade), frontage 623 miles, 5 battalions.
  • Central Brigade (HQ 51 Gurkha Infantry Brigade), frontage 267 miles, 2 battalions.
  • East Brigade (HQ 3 Malaysian Brigade), frontage 81 miles, 3 battalions.

Another Malaysian battalion joined East Brigade mid-year, and was later followed by a third Malaysian battalion, a battery and an armoured reconnaissance squadron. This brought the total force to 12 infantry battalions, two 105 mm batteries and two armoured reconnaissance squadrons. The UK component of 8 battalions in Borneo was being sustained by rotating 8 Gurkha and about 7 UK battalions stationed in the Far East. In addition, there were the equivalent of two Police Field Force battalions and some 1500 Border Scouts.[29]

In 1964, UK tactics changed. What had been a platoon commanders’ war became a company commanders’ one. Most of the dispersed platoon bases were replaced by heavily protected permanent company bases, mostly a short distance from a village, ideally with an airstrip. Each base normally had a section of two 3-inch mortars and a few had a 105 mm gun, although guns had to be moved to deal with incursions. However, they continued to dominate their areas with active patrolling, sometimes deploying by helicopter and roping down if there was no landing site. When an incursion was detected, troops, sometimes relying on the Border Scouts’ local knowledge of tracks and terrain, were deployed by helicopter to track, block and ambush it. The Border Scouts tracking skills were highly valued when pursuing the enemy.[30]

Support helicopters, RAF Belvedere and Whirlwind, and RN Wessex and Whirlwind, had increased to 40, but it was not enough. Late in the year, another 12 Whirlwinds arrived.[28] The RN had adopted forward basing, notably at Nanga Gat in the 2nd Division on the Rajang River, which the RAF had previously declared unsafe for helicopters but subsequently used as a forward base for Whirlwinds. At Bario in the 5th Division, RN helicopters received their fuel in air-dropped 44 gallon drums from RAF Beverleys. The expansion of the Army Air Corps (AAC) was creating air platoons or troops of 2 or 3 Sioux in many units, including some infantry battalions, which proved very useful. In addition, the AAC was operating Auster and Beaver fixed wing aircraft and some of the new Scouts, which could carry a similar number of troops as a Whirlwind. However, in the remoter areas of Sarawak, the Twin Pioneers of the RAF and RMAF were vital, and the RAF's Single Pioneers were also useful. East Brigade had the benefit of RMAF Alouette 3s, and RNZAF Bristol Freighters were also used between major airfields.

The Indonesian Air Force also operated air transport, particularly into the more mountainous areas of the border that were beyond rivers navigable by larger boats and landing craft. Although they had far fewer aircraft than the Commonwealth forces, those they had were far more capable. They included the workhorse helicopter Mil Mi-4 NATO reporting name HOUND, the largest helicopter in the world, Mil Mi-6 NATO reporting name HOOK, C-130 Hercules and Antonov An-12 NATO reporting name CUB.

The Indonesians lost a C-130 in Borneo on 26 September 1965 near Long Bawang airfield into the 5th Division of Sarawak near Ba Kelalan in Sarawak. It was shot down by Indonesian anti-aircraft fire, being mistaken for a Commonwealth aircraft. It was carrying a reinforced RPKAD platoon from RPKAD Battalion 1’s Company C (nicknamed "Cobra"). The full company had been sent from Java on orders of the Indonesian high command to "neutralise" a gun position on the border ridge. After the aircraft was hit, the RPKAD parachuted out and the aircraft crashed, but the crew got clear before it caught fire.[31]

The naval presence was composed of minesweepers and other light craft patrolling coastal waters and some large inland waterways, and a "guardship" (frigate or destroyer) at Tawau. Army vessels, typically "ramp powered lighters", supported bases on navigable waterways. Hovercraft were also used.

RPKAD Battalion 2 was withdrawn in February 1964 and deactivated. During 1964, the Indonesian army extended its operation into East Kalimantan, and three companies from RPKAD Battalion 1, commanded by Major Benny Moerdani, were sent there. Company A dropped into Lumbis opposite the Interior Residency of Sabah, while B and C were supposed to go into Long Bawan further West opposite the 5th Division of Sarawak. B’s C-130 aircraft was unable to identify the Drop Zone, and they never deployed. Both companies were tasked with training locals from Sabah, mainly as porters, and cross-border operations disguised as TNKU with uniforms, badges and fake ID cards. Company A launched the first raid in June 1964 against a post near the village of Kabu; however, they were stopped by a swollen river and withdrew to the border. Along the way, they stopped at an unoccupied longhouse, where they bumped into Gurkhas and fled to the border. This company was withdrawn in early 1965.[32]

Within a week or so of landing, a 15 man element of Company C, including its commander, went northeast roughly midway to Lumbis, then crossed into Sabah with orders to establish a permanent base. However, their supplies were inadequate and, after a week, they headed back to Kalimantan in two groups. Along the way in what they thought was Indonesia, the first group of 10 under Corporal Ismael heard chopping, and, assuming it to be TNKU, went towards it hoping for food. Instead around last light in heavy rain they bumped a shirtless Caucasian, who was thought to be an SAS operative. After a fire fight they remained in position all night and in the morning found the body of Tpr Condon, whom they buried, taking his pack and radio. For the rest of their tour until February 1965, they trained TNKU and undertook very shallow cross-border raids with mixed teams, losing 4 RPKAD and 10 TNKU.[32]

During the year, Indonesian forces increased in strength, and incursions were increasingly by regular troops, sometimes led by officers trained by the UK. A United States (US) Army training team remained in Indonesia throughout the period but does not seem to have had any tactical impact in Kalimantan, although US-equipped Indonesian units appeared there. Troops facing Kuching were reinforced, and, in the east, amphibious activities increased, and TAG’s communications jammed. Moreover, within Sarawak, the CCO was expanding and the Borneo Communist Party started producing grenades and shotguns. Total Indonesian forces were:

  • Facing West Brigade — 8 regular and 11 volunteer guerilla companies (companies were up to 200 strong)
  • Facing Central Brigade — 6 regular and 3 volunteer companies
  • Facing East Brigade — 4 or 5 KKO and 3 volunteer companies.[33]

The initiative remained with Indonesian forces as to where and when they attacked. DOPOPS had repeatedly sought authority for hot pursuit and pre-emptive action across the border. This was denied, and some parts of the armed forces considered that a major overt attack on Indonesia would bring the war to a close. However, in July the new Labour government approved offensive action across the border, under constraints, conditions of strict secrecy and the codename Claret. However, there was no intention of launching a general offensive or attacks intended to inflict significant Indonesian casualties. The aim was to keep the Indonesians under pressure and off-balance rather than attempt to pre-empt specific Indonesian attacks, and to this end, operations were conducted along the entire length of the border, not just the "hot spot" close to Kuching.[34]

In January, reports indicated a large Indonesian force in the 5th Division. A camp of some 60 men was found. Attacked by 11 men of the Royal Leicestershire Regiment, they fled, leaving 7 dead and half a ton of supplies. In the 1st Division, a force of about 100 crossed the border, apparently heading for Kuching airfield, but they were put to flight by a small force of marines and police. They were well-equipped and had East European-made rocket launchers.[35]

In March, in the 2nd Division, 1/10 Gurkhas discovered a force from the 328 Raider Battalion, which was made up of regular Indonesian troops. After being ejected, they returned a few weeks later and established a position in caves in a cliff face. This led to the only use of offensive airpower in the campaign, albeit with approval from London. Wessex helicopters of 845 Naval Air Commando Squadron fired SS11 anti-tank missiles into the caves.[36]

Between March and June, a new pattern emerged in the 2nd Division during a series of actions between Gurkhas and professional soldiers from the Indonesian Black Cobra Battalion. The latter's losses were several times the Gurkhas’ and, in one incident, 4 Black Cobras clashed with 2 Gurkhas. The Cobras were killed, and the Gurkhas remained unscathed. In another incident, 6 Black Cobras were captured by Ibans and lost their heads.

In July, there were 34 Indonesian acts of aggression, including 13 border incursions in Borneo. There were indicators that Indonesian forces were re-organising. However, in the last three months of the year, the number of cross border incursions in Borneo dropped significantly.

In 1964, Indonesian operations, mostly based in Sumatra, were launched against West Malaysia (the Malayan peninsula). Most did not involve the Indonesian army. There were six successful infiltrations by the Indonesian Police’s Ranger Regiment, although 33 were killed and 76 captured.[37]

On 16 and 17, August a force of about 100, composed of airforce Pasukan Gerat Tjepat (PGT — Quick Reaction Force) paratroopers, KKO and about a dozen Malaysian communists, crossed the Malacca Straits by boat.[38] They landed southwest of Johore. Instead of being greeted as liberators, they ran into the Malaysian Army, and most of the invaders were killed or captured in a few days.

On 2 September, three C-130 set off from Jakarta for Peninsula Malaysia, flying low to avoid detection by radar. The following night, two of the C-130 managed to reach their objective with their onboard PGT paratroopers, who jumped off and landed around Labis in Johore (about 100 miles north of Singapore). The remaining C-130 crashed into the Malacca Straits while trying to evade interception by an RAF Javelin FAW 9 launched from RAF Tengah.[38] Due to a lightning storm, the drop of 96 paratroopers was widely dispersed. This resulted in them landing close to 1/10 Gurkhas, who were joined by 1st Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment (1 RNZIR) stationed near Malacca with 28 (Commonwealth) Brigade. Operations were commanded by 4 Malaysian Brigade, but it took a month to round up or kill the 96 invaders and a New Zealand officer was killed during the action.

On 29 October, 52 soldiers landed near the mouth of the Kesang River on the Johore-Malacca border and not far from 28 (Commonwealth) Brigade base at Camp Terendak, Malacca. The Commanding officer of 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (3 RAR) was given the task of dealing with the invaders with his D Company, B Company 1 RNZIR and C Squadron 4th Royal Tank Regiment with fire support from 102 Battery Royal Australian Artillery. 20 surrendered,[39] while some others were killed or captured by the Royal Malay Regiment.

In the same period, about 30 landed near Pontian and were hunted down by 1 RNZIR, the Malaysian Army and Royal Federated Malay States Police Field Force personnel in Batu 20 Muar, Johore.[40] There were also terrorist attacks in Singapore.

These attacks on West Malaysia led the UK to plan offensive air and sea operations against Indonesia. It appears that Far East HQ produced a tentative list of seven potential targets for retaliation based on four criteria. The criteria were that: the target must be related to the Indonesian attack; must be militarily useful; would produce minimum casualties; and, be least likely to produce escalation.[41]

In late 1963 and into 1964, the Indonesian Air Force took to "buzzing" towns in Sarawak. This led to Malaysia declaring an Air Defense Identification Zone on 24 February. The RAF started periodic fighter patrols along the border using aircraft such as Javelin and RN Sea Vixens from the fleet carrier in theatre The UK already had 12 Light Air Defence Regiment Royal Artillery (12 Lt AD Regt) stationed in West Malaysia.

In June, 111 Light Anti Aircraft Battery Royal Australian Artillery with Bofors 40/60 guns deployed from Australia to RAAF Butterworth near Penang, close to the Thai border. In September, 22 Lt AD Regt with two batteries arrived from the UK to defend RAF Changi and Seletar in Singapore, and 11 Lt AD Battery of 34 Lt AD Regt arrived to defend Kuching airfield with batteries rotated through Kuching for the next two years. All of the UK batteries were equipped with Bofors 40/70 guns and FCE 7 Yellow Fever.

The year ended with the UK Government approving deployment of UK-based units from Army Strategic Command and a major reorganisation of Indonesian forces in Kalimantan. However, Sukarno was coming under increasing influence of the Indonesian Communist party (PKI), causing unhappiness in the Indonesian Armed Forces.


RAF Avro Vulcan bomber lands at RAF Butterworth, Malaysia, c 1965. The presence of these strategic bombers were a considerable deterrence to the Indonesians during the Confrontation period.

In January 1965, the first UK-based units (aside from air defence and special forces) arrived and after six weeks of jungle training, deployed on operations. The 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders arrived first and became the thirteenth battalion in Borneo, with 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment as the fouteenth and last. The two additional battalions allowed DOBOPS to increase the number of brigades. The 2nd and 3rd Divisions of Sarawak (with some 442 miles of border with Indonesia) became Mid-West Brigade with HQ in Sibu.[28]

The HQ was that of the UK-based 19 Airportable Brigade, replaced late in the year by 5 Airportable Brigade. Mid-West Brigade area had two infantry battalions and a Malaysian battery. During the year, a Singapore battalion arrived to provide security for Kuching Airfield. Combat engineers also increased, in part to help with civil aid construction projects. UK-based armoured reconnaissance also arrived to provide a second UK squadron in Borneo.

There was also a significant increase in artillery. From about early 1964, a battery of 4 or 6 105 mm Pack Howitzer guns had rotated through Borneo from the two Royal Artillery regiments in Malaya and Singapore. Later in 1964, a Malaysian battery of four guns deployed in East Brigade. The deployment of the British battery is unclear but appears to have operated single guns throughout the country. In April 1965, 4th Light Regiment Royal Artillery, with all its batteries and 18 105 mm guns, arrived from UK.

Initially, the regiment deployed one battery and Regimental HQ in West Brigade, one battery in Central Brigade and one battery with some guns in East Brigade and some in the west. In August, this changed to two batteries in West Brigade, a third with 4 guns in Central Brigade, and two supporting the British battalion in East Brigade. The existing battery was also in West Brigade, and a second Malaysian battery arrived for Mid-West Brigade.

Half a British battery of 5.5-in Guns based in Malaya was also deployed to West Brigade; their weight meant they could only move by road. Two guns were deployed near Bau, and the third near Tebedu. In addition, the air defence battery at Kuching Airport operated a section of 4.2-inch Mortars near the border. In early 1965, a mortar locating troop deployed from the UK with two Green Archer radars. These were also limited to road movement and deployed in West Brigade. Later in the year, a sound ranging troop was added.

This gave West Brigade a total of three 5.5-in and 16 or 18 105 mm (depending on the type of battery), plus two 4.2-in mortars. The 105 mm were all in single gun positions, usually a company base apart from two at Tebedu co-located with a 5.5 and a Green Archer radar. The other three brigades had 14 105 mm in three batteries. The problem was that 6 batteries and one regimental HQ supporting 4 brigades and 14 battalions did not fit conventional doctrine. Furthermore, there was a shortage of observers. However, British practice was for observers to give fire orders directly to the gun positions, and each gun position produced its own firing data. Additional observers were found by borrowing officers from other units in the Far East and New Zealand.

Early in 1965, both Australia and New Zealand agreed to deploy their forces into Borneo, mostly from those with 28 Commonwealth Brigade in West Malaysia. The brigade’s Australian battery rotated with the British batteries from the brigade and the commando batteries in Singapore. These units, together with more UK-based ones, eased the pressure on the UK and Gurkha battalions based in the Far East and rotating through tours in Borneo. Tours were of varying length; Gurkhas generally did 6 months, British battalions in the Far East did 4 months, while the UK-based normally did 12 months less training time and split into two of about 5 months, but deployed in a different area for each half of their tour.

In 1965, new lightweight equipment arrived, most notably AR-15 rifles. However, equally appreciated by the troops were Australian lighweight individual shelter covers and mosquito nets to the replace the heavy British ones. M79 grenade launchers were also provided.

In March 1965, Major General Walter Walker, DOBOPS, handed over to Major General George Lea, who had spent 3 years commanding 22 SAS during the Malayan Emergency and was another very experienced jungle soldier.

Indonesian forces were also being strengthened. General Maraden Pangabean arrived as commandant of the new Inter-Regional Command, Kalimantan; he had previously been responsible for "recovering" Dutch New Guinea. Units were regrouped and reinforced as No. 4 Combat Command, with Colonel Supargo as Director of Operations. The new forces were observed by special forces reconnaissance patrols, the Border Scouts and British intelligence agents. They were composed of three full brigades facing Kuching, a KKO brigade facing East Brigade and a battalion facing Central Brigade. This force totalled some 50 regular companies and about 20 irregular ones. The KKO brigade had BTR-50 APCs, amphibious PT-76 light tanks, BRDM-2 amphibious reconnaissance vehicles and 122mm Howitizers. The CCO in Sarawak was estimated to have about 2000 hardcore members, and many thousands of sympathisers. In Brunei, TNKU support still existed.[42]

RPKAD companies rotated in February 1965. The three new companies were Battalion 1’s Company B (nicknamed "Ben Hur"), which had aborted their drop into Long Bawan the previous year; and two from Battalion 3, which was newly converted from 441 Banteng Raider III Battalion.[43] During 1965, Sukarno wanted spectaculars to coincide with meetings of the Non-Aligned Movement in April and June, although the latter meeting was cancelled. The KKO planned increased border patrols and shallow incursions disguised as TNKU into Sabah. The RPKAD planned for four teams of seven men from "Ben Hur" company and the Battalion 3 companies already deploying in West Kalimantan, with PGRS guerrillas and support from their sympathisers in Sarawak, to attack targets around Kuching. They launched their attacks in late February. Only one Ben Hur team made any significant progress; moving between PGRS groups, it reached Kuching in May and claimed to have attacked a Malaysian army camp. A PGRS force successfully attacked a police station of the Kuching-Serian road on 27 June.[44]

Outside Borneo, Indonesian actions included attempts to use Muslim Thai guerrillas in Southern Thailand. Indonesian intelligence also looked for third country routes into Malaysia through Hong Kong, Cambodia and Thailand, where Major Benny Moerdani (formerly of the RPKAD) was under cover as a Garuda airlines official.[45]

Claret operations continued and developed in scope; they were now undertaken by all UK and Gurkha battalions. The permitted depth of operations increased from the initial 5,000 yards to 10,000 and then to 20,000 yards, although the latter figure seems to have only applied to special forces. Regular infantry generally remained within range of artillery support. The Indonesians continued to remain publicly silent about these operations. By mid-year, the program of Claret operations had in effect established a "cordon sanitaire" a few kilometres deep on the Kalimantan side of the border.[46] The Indonesians then laid down thousands of anti-personal mines against the Western Brigade.

A significant attack was made by the RPKAD against Plaman Mapu, the base of B Company, 2nd Battalion British Parachute Regiment. It had been identified as a target because it was barely 1 km from the border and lacked mutual support from any other Commonwealth base.[43] The RPKAD companies landed at Pontiak and marched north west to Balai Karangan, south of Kuching and opposite Plaman Mapu. The majority of B Company was out on patrols, and Plaman Mapu was only lightly held. It was composed of a company HQ element, a understrength platoon and a mortar section, all commanded by the Company Sergeant Major.

The RPKAD attack started at 5:00 am on 27 June. It was made by the three platoons of B (Ben Hur) Company of Battalion 1 equipped with AK 47, Bren LMGs and Yugoslav 90mm rocket launchers. The two flank platoons had Bangalore torpedoes.[43] The Indonesians penetrated the perimeter during a driving monsoon rain and overran a mortar pit. Counter-attacks were launched by the paras, and the close-quarter battle lasted nearly two hours. The defenders reported that the Indonesians twice re-grouped and re-attacked, a significant change in tactics. The Indonesians were driven off; the UK estimated inflicting 50 casualties. Two British paratroopers were killed in the fighting, while swift medical attention assured the survival of the wounded.[47][48] The Indonesians claimed that two RPKAD soldiers were killed, the other two companies (from Battalion 3, newly converted from 441 (Banteng Raider III)) remained in reserve just inside Indonesia throughout the action. Indonesia claimed a major victory, and "Ben Hur" led the Independence Day parade in Jakarta that August. The platoon commanders were all promoted in the field.[43]

Other actions included a small incursion across the border into eastern Sebatik Island near Tawau, Sabah; the Singapore MacDonald House bombing on 10 March,[49] killing 2 people and injuring another 33;[49] and a very minor terrorist attack in Kuching — a grenade thrown in the market from a motorcycle. Indirect fire attacks became more common.

The best known Claret operation occurred on 21 November 1965. A company from the 2/10 Gurkhas encountered a platoon sized force of Indonesians in an entrenched position in Kalimantan opposite Bau. The position was situated in a manner that allowed only one approach, which was along a ridge that was so narrow that only a small force of three men could move up it in line-abreast formation.[50]

Lance Corporal Rambahadur Limbu led an advanced party of 16 men in an attack on the forward machine gun position, from where they were to provide support to the rest of the company during their attack. They were about 10 yards away when the Indonesian sentry opened fire, wounding one of the Gurkhas and alerting the rest of the platoon. Seeing the danger that they were in, Rambahadur Limbu rushed the machine gun and destroyed it with a grenade. Alerted, the rest of the Indonesian platoon began to fire on the forward pit, thus making it an untenable position from which to provide support for the company attack. In order to report this fact to his platoon commander, Limbu exposed himself to enemy fire before returning to pull two of his wounded comrades to safety. An hour long fire-fight followed, which has since become known as the Battle of Bau, during which the Gurkha company launched an assault on the Indonesian position. At least 24 Indonesians are believed killed in the attack, while the Gurkhas suffered three killed and two wounded.[50]

Rambahadur Limbu subsequently received the Victoria Cross for his actions, with a misleading citation to obscure the fact that the operation was in Kalimantan.[citation needed] The company commander, Captain Christopher "Kit" Maunsell, a Queen's Gurkha Officer, Lieutenant Ranjit Rai, and the artillery forward observation officer, Lieutenant Doug Fox, Royal Artillery, attached to 170 Imjin Independant Medium Battery RA, each received the Military Cross.[51]

The increase in engineer units helped with developing local infrastructure and hence "hearts and minds". Other units were encouraged to undertake similar tasks within their capabilities. In 1966, the first unit to be awarded the newly instituted Wilkinson Sword of Peace was 40 Light Regiment Royal Artillery for a project near Kuching by its HQ battery and light aid detachment.


In October 1965, there was a roundup of CCO suspects in Borneo. This coincided with an attempted coup by the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). This attempt failed, but it altered the Indonesian political situation, and their military activity in Borneo slackened.[52] The train of events set off by the attempt led to an army coup in March, an anti-communist purge across Indonesia, and ultimately a new government. On 28 May 1966, at a conference in Bangkok, the Malaysian and Indonesian governments declared the conflict was over. However, it was unclear if the coup leader, Suharto, was in full control, and vigilance in Borneo could not be relaxed. By July, Sukarno’s rule had clearly ended, and a peace treaty was signed on 11 August and ratified two days later, five months after Suharto came to power.[53]

Claret operations continued and, in March 1966, a Gurkha battalion was involved in some of the fiercest fighting of the campaign during two raids into Kalimantan.[48] Minor action by Indonesian forces continued in the border area, including an attempt at counter-battery fire against a 105 mm gun position in Central Brigade (reports from locals said the British return fire had turned over the Indonesian gun, thought to be 76 mm).

At the beginning of 1966, with the coup hiatus mostly over (it had stopped a major RPKAD operation to capture a British prisoner), the RPKAD linked up with PGRS to establish guerrilla forces in Sabah and Sarawak. The Sabah effort never crossed the border; however, two groups entered Sarawak in February and May and obtained support from local sympathisers. The first group, despite losses in several contacts, lasted until June and exfiltrated on hearing about the end of Konfrontasi. Survivors of the second, after a contact with Australian troops, also made it back to Indonesia.[54] However, the final Indonesian incursion was in May and June. Signs of a substantial force were found crossing into Central Brigade. This was some 80 strong, mostly volunteers, led by Lt Sombi (or Sumbi) and a team from 600 Raider Company. They moved fast towards Brunei with 1/7 Gurkhas pursuing and ambushing them; almost all were accounted for. In response to this, a final Claret operation was launched, which was an artillery ambush.


The fighting lasted nearly four years; however, following General Suharto's replacement of Sukarno, Indonesian interest in pursuing the war with Malaysia declined, and combat eased. A useful factor in the containment of the Indonesian forces was the use of intelligence. The Royal Signals were able to intercept the Indonesian military communications. The ciphers were decrypted by the Intelligence Corps based at Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) listening stations in Singapore, one of which was RAF Chia Keng which was link directly to the RAF Far East Air Force headquarters at RAF Changi. Intelligence from this may have been used in planning some aspects of Claret cross-border operations.

The war had been "a strictly limited war, and a cheap one for Britain and Malaysia, for which it achieved much".[citation needed] It decisively resulted in preventing Indonesia from interferring with the creation of Malaysia. Arguably, it had not been in the interests of either the UK or Indonesia to extend hostilies outside Borneo. Although the Indonesians conducted a few amphibious raids and an airborne operation against Malaya, the war remained limited throughout its duration and mainly a land conflict. For either side to have conducted large scale air or naval attacks, would have undoubtably escalated the conflict and "would have incurred disadvantages greatly outweighing the marginal military effect that they might have produced".[53] The UK Secretary of State for Defence at the time, Denis Healey, described the campaign as "one of the most efficient uses of military forces in the history of the world".[55] British Commonwealth forces peaked at 17,000 deployed in Borneo, with another 10,000 more available in Malaya and Singapore.[53]

Total British Commonwealth military casualties were 114 killed and 181 wounded, most of them Gurkhas.[53] Included were UK losses of 19 killed and 44 wounded, Gurkha casualties of 43 killed and 83 wounded, Australian casualties of 16 killed and 9 wounded (although only 7 were killed in action) and New Zealand casualties of 7 killed and another 7 wounded or injured.[56][57] The remaining casualties were that of the Malaysian military, police, and Border Scouts. A significant number of British casualties occurred during helicopter accidents, including a Belvedere crash that killed several SAS commanders and a Foreign Office official, possibly a member of MI6. A Wessex collision also killed several men from 2nd Parachute Battalion, and a Westland Scout crash, on 16 July 1964, near Kluang airfield, killed the two crewmen from 656 Sqn AAC. Finally, in August 1966, there remained two British and two Australian soldiers missing and presumed dead, with the Australians (both from the SASR) probably drowned while crossing a swollen river.[58] The remains of a Royal Marine were recovered some 20 years later. Altogether, 36 cilivians were killed, 53 wounded and 4 captured, with most being local inhabitants.

origin killed wounded
UK 19 44
Gurkha 43 83
Australian 16 9
NZ 7 7
rest 29 38
total 114 181

Indonesian casualties were estimated at 590 killed or less, 222 wounded or less and 771 captured or less ( not sure ).[53]

British psyops

The role of the United Kingdom's Foreign Office and Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) has also come to light, in a series of exposés by Paul Lashmar and Oliver James in The Independent newspaper beginning in 1997. These revelations have also come to light in journals on military and intelligence history.

The revelations included an anonymous Foreign Office source stating that the decision to unseat President Sukarno was made by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and then executed under Prime Minister Harold Wilson. According to the exposés, the UK had already become alarmed with the announcement of the "Konfrontasi" policy. It has been claimed that a Central Intelligence Agency memorandum of 1962 indicated that Macmillan and U.S. President John F. Kennedy were increasingly alarmed by the possibility of the Confrontation with Malaysia spreading, and agreed to "liquidate President Sukarno, depending on the situation and available opportunities". However, the documentary evidence cited does not support this claim.

Indonesian M1 Garand rifle (possibly a B59, a modified Garand made by Beretta in Indonesia) captured by the British SAS. Imperial War Museum, London

To weaken the regime, the UK Foreign Office's Information Research Department (IRD) coordinated psychological operations (psyops) in concert with the British military, to spread black propaganda casting the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI), Chinese Indonesians, and Sukarno in a bad light. These efforts were to duplicate the successes of the British psyop campaign in the Malayan Emergency.

These efforts were coordinated from the British High Commission in Singapore, where the BBC, Associated Press (AP), and The New York Times filed their reports on the Crisis in Indonesia. According to Roland Challis, the BBC correspondent who was in Singapore at the time, journalists were open to manipulation by IRD due to Sukarno's stubborn refusal to allow them into the country: "In a curious way, by keeping correspondents out of the country Sukarno made them the victims of official channels, because almost the only information you could get was from the British ambassador in Jakarta."[citation needed]

These manipulations included the BBC reporting that communists were planning to slaughter the citizens of Jakarta. The accusation was based on a forgery planted by Norman Reddaway, a propaganda expert with the IRD. He later bragged in a letter to the British ambassador in Jakarta, Sir Andrew Gilchrist, that it "went all over the world and back again", and was "put almost instantly back into Indonesia via the BBC". Gilchrist himself informed the Foreign Office on 5 October 1965: "I have never concealed from you my belief that a little shooting in Indonesia would be an essential preliminary to effective change."[citation needed]

In the 16 April 2000 Independent, Denis Healey, Secretary of State for Defence at the time of the war, confirmed that the IRD was active during this time. He officially denied any role by MI6, and denied "personal knowledge" of the British arming the right-wing faction of the Army, though he did comment that if there were such a plan, he "would certainly have supported it".[59]

Although the British MI6 is strongly implicated in this scheme by the use of the Information Research Department (seen as an MI6 office), any role by MI6 itself is officially denied by the UK government, and papers relating to it have yet to be declassified by the Cabinet Office.[60]

Commonwealth order of battle

The following units served in North Borneo, Sarawak or Brunei between 24 December 1962 and 11 August 1966, the eligible dates for the 1962 General Service Medal with clasp BORNEO. Those marked * were based in UK. The conditions for the BORNEO clasp were 30 days service ashore in Brunei, Sabah or Sarawak or afloat in coastal waters or one operational flying sortie in support of operations ashore. In addition the MALAY PENINSULA clasp was awarded for 30 days service ashore in the Malay Peninsula or Singapore or afloat in their waters or carrying out 30 air patrols over the land area between 17 August 1964 and 11 August 1966.

In addition to the units listed below, between 1963 and 1966 there were up to 80 ships from the Royal Navy, Royal Australian Navy, Royal Malay Navy and Royal New Zealand Navy. Most of these were patrol craft, minesweepers, frigates and destroyers patrolling the coast-line to intercept Indonesian insurgents. One of the two Commando Carriers, HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark, was also committed throughout the period of Confrontation usually in their transport role for troops, helicopters and army aircraft between Singapore and Borneo.

A indication of relative effort is 'infantry battalion months' for the last 12 months of the war in Sarawak and Sabah. Of the 144 such months 36 were Malaysian, 48 Gurkha, 52 British, 4 Australian and 4 New Zealand.

United Kingdom



New Zealand

  • 1st Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment
  • 1st Ranger Squadron
  • No. 14 Squadron RNZAF (Canberra B(I)12) based RAF Tengah (1964–66) with deployments to RAF Labuan (1964), RAAF Butterworth(1965), RAF Gong Kedah (1965)[61]
  • No. 41 Squadron RNZAF (Bristol Freighter) based RAF Changi with detachments to RAF Kuching throughout the period of 'Confrontation'[62]

Awards for Gallantry

The following table summarises the British combat gallantry awards during the campaign. No Distinguished Flying Cross or naval awards were made.

British Combatant Gallantry Awards by Regiment
Regiment Victoria Cross Military Cross Distinguished Conduct Medal Military Medal
Royal Marines 2 5
Royal Artillery 2
Scots Guards 1
Royal Leicestershire Regt 2
Staffordshire Regiment 1
Royal Northumberland Fusiliers 1
Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders 1 1
Durham Light Infantry 2
Green Jackets 4
Parachute Regiment 1 2
Special Air Service 1
2 Gurkha Rifles 10 1 10
6 Gurkha Rifles 4 5
7 Gurkha Rifles 3 6
10 Gurkha Rifles 1 10 2 6
Gurkha Regiment not identified 2 4
Royal New Zealand Artillery 1
Royal Australian Regiment 4 3

See also


  1. ^ Conboy pg 102
  2. ^ a b Conboy pg 93–95
  3. ^ Pocock pp. 131–152
  4. ^ a b Tun Hanif Omar. Merdeka and Malaysia Day. The Star. April 8, 2007.
  5. ^ Pocock p. 113
  6. ^ Reece 1993, p. 72.
  7. ^ Pocock p. 129
  8. ^ Conboy p. 93-95
  9. ^ Conboy p. 156
  10. ^ Pocock pp. 159–160
  11. ^ Pocock p. 168
  12. ^ Pimlott p. 95
  13. ^ Pocock pp. 165–166
  14. ^ Pimlott p. 97
  15. ^ Infantry Training Volume IV Tactics, The Infantry Battalion in Battle, 1963
  16. ^ Pocock p. 187, 196
  17. ^ Pocock p. 153
  18. ^ a b Conboy p. 95
  19. ^ Dennis (et al) 2008, p. 152.
  20. ^ Pocock p. 170
  21. ^ Pocock p. 173
  22. ^
  23. ^ Pocock pp. 173–174
  24. ^ a b Pocock p. 176
  25. ^ a b c Conboy p. 95-97
  26. ^ Pocock pp. 177–179
  27. ^ Pocock pp. 179–181, 188
  28. ^ a b c Pocock p. 205
  29. ^ Pocock p. 201, 205
  30. ^ Pocock p. 187
  31. ^ Conboy pg 115–117
  32. ^ a b Conboy P. 98-101
  33. ^ Pocock p. 193, 199
  34. ^ Pocock p. 195
  35. ^ Pocock pp. 180–181
  36. ^ Pocock pp. 181–182
  37. ^ Conboy p. 187
  38. ^ a b Conboy p. 161
  39. ^ Horner p. 463
  40. ^ NZ Malaya Veterans
  41. ^ State Department
  42. ^ Pocock pp. 199–200
  43. ^ a b c d Conboy p. 104
  44. ^ Conboy p. 155-157
  45. ^ Conboy p. 121
  46. ^ Pocock p. 206, 214
  47. ^ Britains small wars – Plaman Mapu
  48. ^ a b Pocock pp. 213–214
  49. ^ a b Jackie Sam, Philip Khoo, Cheong Yip Seng, Abul Fazil, Roderick Pestana and Gabriel Lee (11 March 1965). "Terror Bomb kills 2 Girls at Bank" (reprint). The Straits Times. 
  50. ^ a b London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 43959. p. 4947. 21 April 1966. Retrieved 2009-05-29.
  51. ^ van der Bijl 2007, p. 215.
  52. ^ Pocock p. 215
  53. ^ a b c d e Carver 1986, p. 806.
  54. ^ Conboy pp. 158–161
  55. ^ Pimlott p. 99
  56. ^ van der Bijl 2007, p. 241. Note incorrect Australian casualty figures cited as 22 killed (including 7 killed in action).
  57. ^ For Australian casualty figures see: "Australians at war: casualties as a result of service with Australian units". Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 2009-12-15. 
  58. ^ "Unit Information—2nd Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment, Confrontation". Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  59. ^ How we lied to put a killer in power Independent 16 April 2000
  60. ^ The Independent, December 6, 2000
  61. ^ Personal experience — Michael Murray, 14 Sqn RNZAF 1964–67, 69–70
  62. ^ Personal experience, Michael Murray, 14 Sqn RNZAF 1964–67
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