Between 1962 and 1966 Indonesia and Malaysia fought a small, undeclared war which involved Commonwealth Forces from Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Malaysia and Singapore. The conflict resulted from a belief by President Sukarno of Indonesia that the creation of the Federation of Malaysia, represented an attempt by Britain to maintain colonial rule behind the cloak of independence granted to its former colonial possessions in south-east Asia. The Federation of Malaysia (Malaya, Singapore [later to withdraw], North Borneo and Sarawak) came into existence on 16 September 1963. Indonesia had voiced its strong opposition to the Malaysia plan since first muted in May 1961 and immediately severed all diplomatic ties with Kuala Lumpur, the capital of the new Malaysia, announcing that Indonesia would "crush" Malaysia. During the "Official" period of the Indonesian Confrontation, 23 serving Australians, 114 from other Commonwealth Forces and an estimated 600 Indonesian servicemen died.
Indonesia 1961 to 1965, Competing World Views
A view expressing world opinion, particularly the US view, of Indonesia and the role it (Indonesia) should play in the area of south east Asia in the sixties is available here. This is important reading if attempting to understand the complexities of the US, British, New Zealand and Australian involvement in the Confrontation and the tangled web of dirty policies and political moves that took place behind the scenes.
Resume of the Royal Australian Navy involvement in the Indonesian Confrontation
The antagonism that gave rise to Confrontation was already apparent in early 1961, however later in December 1962, a small party of armed insurgents, with Indonesian backing, attempted to seize power in the independent enclave of Brunei in North Borneo, only to be defeated by British troops from Singapore.
In January 1963 the Indonesian President, Dr. Sukano, announced a policy of "confrontation" against Malaysia. Subsequently, the British Embassy, cricket club and countless British-owned businesses were vandalised or burnt to the ground. The confrontation took the form of armed Indonesian invasions across the borders of Sarawak and North Borneo from Indonesian Kalimantan. Indonesian terrorists began landing on the coast of the Malay peninsula but were quickly killed or captured by the security forces.
Australian units fought as part of a larger British and Commonwealth force in this most unrecognised and secret war, the campaign to defend the newly established Malaysia against confrontation by Indonesia. Similar to the Australian Forces role in the Malayan Emergency, operations against Indonesia in Borneo and West Malaysia were part of the Australian Government contribution to the Far East Strategic Reserve. Because of "Operation Claret", the clandestine and illegal operations of British, Australian, New Zealand and Gurka ground forces in Borneo, and to appease the Philippine and American Governments, the war was not widely reported and became known as the "Secret War" or the "Silent War". It was then and still is called "the secret/silent war" because of the sensitivity of the illegal cross-border operations.
Australians did not read about the Indonesian Confrontation in their so called "free" press, a principle many Australian veterans ironically were prepared to lay down their lives for. Details of operations were governed in Australia by the secrecy act "30 year rule" and not released until 1996. Many sensitive and possibly incriminating documents have not been released at all. This "undeclared war", was largely unpublicised in Australia and overshadowed by the commitment of troops to the American led invasion of Vietnam.
The term "Confrontation" was coined by Indonesias Foreign Minister, Dr Subandrio, in January 1963, and it had come to refer to the Indonesian efforts at that time to destabilize the new Federation, with a view to breaking it up. The actual war began when Indonesia launched a series of cross-border raids into Malaysian territory in early 1963. During that year military activity had increased along the Indonesian side of the border in Borneo, as small parties of armed men began infiltrating Malaysian territory on propaganda and sabotage missions. These cross-border raids, carried out by Indonesian "volunteers", continued throughout 1963 and the Singapore race riots in 1964 which pitted Chinese against Malays, were believed to have been instigated by Indonesian infiltrators; by 1964 Indonesian regular army units had also become involved.
In 1963 when the Federated States of Malaysia was proclaimed, Malaysia had absorbed the states of Malaya, Singapore (later to withdraw on 9th. August 1965), Sarawak and Sabah (North Borneo) into a new Federation (Brunei refused to join). Unfortunately Indonesia and the Philippines (a puppet Government of America, which claimed Sabah as its territory) opposed the new nation and when Indonesian President (Dr. Sukarno) embarked on a policy of confrontation and threatened to crush Malaysia, Australia made it clear that if Malaysia were subjected to armed invasion or subversive activity by Indonesia, supported from outside (Russia), then Australian military assistance would be added to that of the Malaysian and British. RAN warships in the British Commonwealth Far East Strategic Reserve (BCFESR later called FESR) were available for patrol and escort operations. In April 1964 both HMAS Yarra and HMAS Parramatta were involved in patrols off Malaya to intercept fast patrol boats and submarines, the latter being old Russian built Whisky Class, gifted from Russia but posed no real threat because of their age and hopelessly inadequate and under trained crews.
President Sukarno was not deterred and mounted numerous incursions of air borne troops into Malaysian as well as sea landings on the Malay coast. During 1964 Australian Naval Operations were sharply increased to counter the threat of sea-borne infiltration. Coastal minesweepers of the RAN, Hawk, Gull, Curlew and Snipe, were committed in May 1964 and patrolled off the coasts of Borneo, Malaya and Singapore. On the way Up Top the crew from Curlew paid a visit to Maryborough and marched through the town. Later in 1964 Teal and Ibis took part in these operations.
In January 1965, HMAS Sydney, now converted from an aircraft carrier to her new role as a fast troop transport (Photo: note cranes on deck, landing barges along the sides and 4 wessex helos.) sailed from Australia for Jesselton, Borneo carrying army personnel, vehicles, ammunition, field guns and stores. As well, RAN destroyers, Duchess, Vampire and Vendetta together with the frigate Derwent joined in confrontation patrol duty. Indonesia persisted with hostile acts which included dropping paratroops into Malaya and the landing by sea of infiltrators who clashed with Commonwealth forces.
"Indonesian attacks", the Prime Minister, Bob Menzies (Pig Iron Bob), told the Australian parliament, "may create a real risk of war...it is tremendously important that Indonesia should not become communist." The envolvement in the politics of Indonesia by the Menzies Government in 1965 is quite complex and although no Australians were directly involved in genocide, perhaps on a large scale, the Australian Government certainly turned a blind eye to what was happening in Indonesia. The opposition to the formation of the Federated States of Malaysia by Sukano and the threat of communism within Indonesia were not related issues accept that they happened at the same time. Sukano believed that by embarking on a conflict to destabilize Malaysia he could bring the local Communists on side. Indonesia had been "assisted" by Russia with training, arms, military aircraft and naval ships for many years. Russia and the US had both been competing for favours in the area of sport, which resulted in Indonesian competing in the 1964 Olympic Games. On 10th November 1964 compulsory National Service was reintroduced in Australia for the army (not for Confrontation but for the looming invasion of Vietnam) and the RAN permanent strength was to be increased from 12,569 to 15,893 over the next three years. Indonesia continued Confrontation and the British organized substantial forces to defend Malaysia. (Photo: In 1961, two years prior to Sukano declaring Confrontation, Indon prisoners were under armed guard on the deck aboard HMS St. Brides Bay after an operation with the minesweepers Houghton & Fiskerton off the Borneo coast.)
The Navies of the British Commonwealth that operated in the BCFESR gathered together a force of ships, which at one point totaled 87, to operate during the "Indonesian Confrontation of the Federated States of Malaysia", including a large number of Ton class coastal minesweepers from four navies. HMAS Curlew and 5 other ships from the RAN were Ton class minesweepers of the 16th. MCM Squadron, RAN, and all took part in several tours of duty during this emergency. Royal Navy, Royal New Zealand Navy Tons and Royal Malaysian Inshore minesweepers, based in Singapore and Hong Kong made up and were part of the 6th., 7th. and 11th. Minesweeper squadrons. This is a great pic of HMNZS Santon in Johore Strait off Changi Yacht Club returning from patrol with the vickers visible in the bow and a Kiwi painted on the funnel.
"Throughout Confrontation the small Ton Class Minesweepers proved to be a worthy patrolboat with a useful all round capability. However it came as no comfort to those onboard to know that they were out-gunned by nearly every Indonesian warship and shore batteries in the region" (Grey - Up Top). The minesweepers and other small vessels were backed up by frigates, destroyers and an aircraft carrier of the BCFESR, including larger warships from the RAN.
In mid 1965, the Indonesian government began to openly use Indonesian army forces. On June 28th., they crossed the border into eastern Sebatik Island near Tawau, Sabah, and clashed with defenders. HMAS Yarra (F07) was called upon to carry out bombardments designed to harass the withdrawal of the infiltrators. Tawau had become a target and the Tawau Attack Group (TAG) was reinforced.
It was later revealed that the lack of success of Indonesian raids could be attributed by the covert consensus among the Indonesian army leaders, still receiving U.S. military funding (pay) as late as 1965, to deliberately play down the military situation in the field. The best Indonesian army battalions were not even sent to Borneo and it is largely speculated that the Army, with U.S. and British backing, were covertly held back on Java in preparing the right wing coup of October 1st. 1965, which consequently ended the Confrontation and ousted Sukarno from power in 1966.
Of special note is the fact that even during the course of Confrontation, the Australian Embassy remained open, with diplomats enjoying cocktail parties at the embassy while we were risking our lives fighting the Indon! and a number of Indonesian army officers were still undergoing military training in Australia. During operation Claret, Australian army officers of the SAS, encounteded and killed Indonesian officers that they had trained with and befriended back in Australia. Some senior Indonesian army leaders were being paid by our friend the USA!
In March 1966, President Sukarno was stripped of presidential power although remained a figurehead President, however the new "government of generals", lead by General Suharto, was not keen on continuing the confrontation. A peace agreement between Indonesia and Malaysia was signed on 11th. August 1966 in Bangkok (Historically known as "The Bangkok Agreement of 1966") and came into effect the next day, which brought the conflict to an end. In 1965 the new Federation of Malaysia was granted a seat in the UN and Indonesia, refusing to recognise Malaysia became the first nation ever to withdraw from the UN. With the signing of the The Bangkok Agreement, Indonesia resumed the vacant seat in the UN. The Philippines also dropped it's claim on Sabah and recognised Malaysia. Twenty three Australians were killed during the confrontation, although not all were from engagements with Indonesian forces.
Challenging Sea Passage
In the book "Up Top" by Jeffery Grey, he makes the point that the HMS Victorious challenged the right of sea passage through the Indonesian Archipelago during Confrontation but is unaware or did not see fit to mention that HMAS Melbourne (R21) was allocated to the FESR for 17 days from 28th February 1962 to 16th March 1962 and challenged the right of free passage through the Indonesian Archipelago. I was in Melbourne for this deployment. The following year, 1963, HMAS Melbourne again challenged the right of free passage through the Indonesian Archipelago. The Federated States of Malaysia which originally included Singapore was proposed in 1960 and prior to the official period of the confrontation was opposed as early as 1961 by Indonesia to the extent of threatening free passage through the waters of the Indonesian Archipelago. A tactical fleet unit of the Royal Australian Navy, comprising the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne (R21) and her escorts, HMAS Voyager (D04) and HMAS Queenborough (F02), took passage from Fremantle to Singapore via Sunda Strait and were at action stations with guns closed up and loaded for passage through the Sunda Strait. Melbourne had 2 venom jets on the flight deck, wings down, fully armed, with crews sitting in them ready for an immediate launch if the convey were attacked by Indonesian Forces. During a transfer lasting 78 minutes, Queenborough fuelled to capacity from Melbourne on 3rd. and Voyager fuelled to capacity taking 120 tons of FFO from Melbourne on the 5th.
HMAS Melbourne (R21)
HMAS Voyager (D04)
HMAS Queenborough (F02)
The choice of escorts for HMAS Melbourne was well planned as Voyager was a Daring class destroyer with 3 x twin 4 inch gun turrets and 5 x 18 inch air/diesel torpedoes, while Queenborough (photo: fueling from Melbourne on 3/3/1962) was a Q class anti submarine frigate armed with a single twin 4.7 inch gun turret plus 2 x 3 barrel anti submarine mortar Mk.10s and a twin 40/60 bofors. Both ships were fitted with the most modern A/S 170 Sonar whilst Melbourne only had an old, although operational, A/S 128 Asdic which we cranked up for this passage and later for SEATO exercise Sea Devil.
Log book entries from HMAS Melbourne shows that on Tuesday 6th. March 1962:
0535 Call the Hands (normally 0640)
0600 Action Stations ABCD state 1 - Zulu
0615 a/c 035° sp 14
0634 secure from Action Stations. AA Cruising Watch close up. ABCD State 2 condition Yankee
AA guns crews, flight deck crews and aircraft crews remained closed up for the passage through Sunda Strait (below) which was in progress for most of the day and night. At the beginning of the passage the aircraft crews sat in their planes, but as the sun rose it became so hot as to be unbearable so they were allowed to climb out and sit in the briefing room.
It was interesting that when I plotted up the position for 2000hrs from the log book, the position was in the middle of Sumatra Island however when I added 1 degree East to the logged position the fix was correct, well, the ship was placed where I expected her to be given Co. & Sp. from 1200hrs. There should be no mistakes on the bridge of the Flagship! The only other time HMAS Melbourne was at action stations (other than for exercise) whilst I served in her, was in May of the same year to challenge the right of free passage through the then Formosa Strait during a voyage to Japan.
In 1965 after the attempted Communist Coup in Indonesia the British Ambassador in Jakarta held talks with Admiral Sjaaf (Deputy to General Nasution, Indonesian Defence Minister) regarding the passage of warships. Sending Hydrographic Ships through the Straits was seen as less provocative by the Australian Government, deciding it would be a useful test with the new Indonesian Regime so HMAS Moresby was ordered to pass through the Straits in October/November 1965. HMAS Moresby was a hydrographic and survey vessel, painted white and saw service within the operational area of Confrontation when the ship was engaged in operations that were classified as "secret" including four days in Singapore between 29th. October and 1st. November 1965. She returned to Australia via the Straits, traversing them twice thus testing the new Indonesian Regime. One wonders at the mentality of the Australian Government of the day in sending a virtually unarmed ship (2 x single 40/60 bofors) of the RAN on a mission where it may have been attacked by Indonesian forces. The mission was "secret", the ship "unarmed" and not "allocated" so the crew did not receive repatriation benefits!
Extract from the ROP for HMAS Moresby 1965 (CO John Osborn)
"The passage to Singapore was entirely without incident of any kind. After a calm passage across the Indian Ocean, Sunda Strait was entered in the forenoon of Wednesday. Apart from one inter-island steamer and a number of native fishing and trading craft, the strait was deserted. Very little traffic was encountered through Gaspar Strait. A small steamer asked for our name during the night but no naval ships were sighted: the "confrontation" between Indonesia and Malaysia being in progress at this time. HM Ships Eurylus and Whitby were detailed to standby to the north of Gaspar Strait during our transit of the strait. Moresby entered Singapore Strait at dawn on Friday 29th October and the activity in these waters was in sharp contrast to the emptiness of the Indonesian Straits. At 1100 the ship berthed alongside Singapore Naval Base.
Moresby caused some interest in Singapore both because of her unusual appearance and because of her transit of the Indonesian Archipelago."
For the return voyage to Port Hedland, West Australia, HMAS Duchess was instructed by the Commander Far East Fleet to give long range support to Moresby for her passage through Gaspar Strait on Thursday 11th. November. However, the ship, once more exercising her "Right of Innocent Passage", passed through Indonesian claimed waters without incident of any kind
Singapore Naval Dockyard
The ships of the FESR, including the minesweepers operated from the British Naval Dockyard in Singapore where the minesweepers tied up outboard of HMS Mull of Kintyre (MOK), a Royal Navy mother and repair ship.
A headquarters and stores ship, ex minelayer HMS Manxman was alongside MOK when not on patrol, having been specially modified for her role, the need being recognised by the RN as early as 1960.
Manxman was refitted at Chatham between 1960 and 1963. The conversion included the removal of her main armament which left her with six 40mm Bofors (4 single mounts and 1 double), the port mine rails were also removed. This was to facilitate the extra weight of carrying replenishing fuel (her diesel fuel stowage was increased from 60 to 266 tons) water and stores for the Ton class minesweepers. She also carried engine spares for the minesweepers which were driven by either Merlees or Deltic engines. The forward two boilers were removed, the space was utilised as an auxiliary machinery space which contained steam and diesel generators and evaporators, air conditioning and refrigeration plant. The deboilering reduced her speed to 29 knots but she was still a fast ship for her size. The aft. boiler room shared the funnel uptakes with the after and centre funnels, the forward funnel was retained for the generators and AMS. The boiler rooms were pressurised which meant entering through an air lock, conditions were pretty grim in the far east due to the high temperatures but salt tablets and iced lime juice prevented dehydration.
The dockyard was protected from air attack by batteries of surface to air Bloodhound missiles and sea attack by boom defense. HMS Barfoil was a regular sight in Singapore dockyard tending to the boom defense. During the Confrontation, Commonwealth Forces from Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia exceeded 30,000 ground troops and support staff for the Airforces and Navies. The Commonwealth Navies deployed a large number of ships consisting of Aircraft Carriers, a Headquarters Ship, Communications Ship, Assault and Transport Ships from the RN and RAN (all converted aircraft carriers), Submarines, Destroyers, Frigates, Minesweepers, Royal Fleet Auxiliaries (RFAs) such as stores, maintenance & tanker ships, and specialist ships and vessels such as boom defense, hovercraft and launches.
The Commonwealth Airforces of Britain (Royal Air Force & Fleet Air Arm), Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia deployed over 200 aircraft to Labuan, Changi, Seletar, Butterworth and other bases in Borneo and Malaysia, comprising jet attack aircraft both land and carrier types, transport aircraft, LRMPs, AEWs, helos and spotter aircraft. British Victor & Vulcan ("V") bombers were involved. Bloodhound missile batteries were also set up to defend defense installations on Singapore Island (& Darwin, Australia). As part of the British commitment to SEATO, 48 red beard nuclear weapons were in Singapore at the time Confrontation commenced, with a further 6 to 8 carried onboard each of the RN aircraft carriers plus a similar number for replenishment in each aircraft carrier's RFA.