The Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation was an intermittent war over the future of the island of Borneo, between Indonesia and British-backed Malaysia in 1962-1966. It is called "Konfrontasi" in the Indonesian and Malay languages. During the "Official" period of the confrontation, 23 serving Australians, 114 from other Commonwealth forces and an estimated 600 Indonesian servicemen died.
The following is a collection of articles and reports dealing with the countries involved in the Confrontation.
In 1961, the island of Borneo was divided into four separate states: Kalimantan, an Indonesian province, was located in the south of the island. In the north were the kingdom of Brunei and two British colonies: Sarawak and British North Borneo (which was later renamed Sabah). As a part of its withdrawal from its Southeast Asian colonies, the UK moved to combine its colonies on Borneo with those on peninsular Malaya, to form Malaysia.
This move was opposed by the government of Indonesia; President Sukarno argued that Malaysia was a puppet of the British, and that the consolidation of Malaysia would increase British control over the region, threatening the independence of Indonesia. Similarly, the Philippines made a claim for Sabah, arguing that it had historic links with the Philippines through the Sulu archipelago. In Brunei, the Indonesian-backed North Kalimantan National Army (TKNU) revolted on 8th. December, 1962. They tried to capture the Sultan of Brunei, seize the oil fields and take European hostages. The Sultan escaped and asked for British help. He received British and Gurkha troops from Singapore. On December 16th., 1962, British Far Eastern Command claimed that all major rebel centers had been occupied, the rebel commander was captured and the rebellion ended.
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. However, before the results of the vote were reported, the Malaysian government announced that the federation would be created, depicting the decision as an internal matter, with no need for consultation. The Indonesian government saw this as a broken promise and as evidence of British imperialism.
Contrary to popular belief, no firm evidence has ever been unearthed to support claims that Sukarno had territorial ambitions over Sarawak. More likely was that Sukarno invested hopes for the establishment of a North Kalimantan state aligned to Jakartas anti-colonial/imperialist geopolitics, in which he found suitable allies. Local opposition and sentiments against the Malaysian Federation plan has often been under-represented in historical writings on the Brunei Revolt and the subsequent Indonesian-Malaysian Confrontation. In fact, political forces in Sarawak had long anticipated their own national independence as promised (but later aborted) by the last White Rajah of Sarawak, Charles Vyner Brooke, back in 1941. Left-wing and communist cell groups, which grew rapidly among Sarawaks urban Chinese communities since the 1950s (which later became the nucleus of the anti-Malaysia PARAKU and PGRS guerrilla forces), supported and propagated the unification of all British Borneo territories to form an independent leftist North Kalimantan state, an idea originally proposed by Dr. Azhari, leader of the Parti Rakyat Brunei, who had forged links with Sukarnos nationalist movement in Java since the 1940s. The North Kalimantan (or Kalimantan Utara) proposal was seen as a post-decolonization alternative by local opposition against the Malaysian Federation plan. Local opposition throughout the Borneo territories was primarily based on economic, political, historical and cultural differences between the Borneo states and the Malayan peninsula, and the refusal to be subjected under peninsular political domination.
On January 20th., 1963, Indonesian Foreign Minister Subandrio announced that Indonesia would pursue a policy of Konfrontasi with Malaysia. On April 12th., Indonesian volunteers, allegedly Indonesian Army personnel, began to infiltrate Sarawak and Sabah, to engage in raids and sabotage, and spread propaganda. On July 27th., Sukarno declared that he was going to "crush Malaysia" or in Indonesian Malay "Ganyang Malaysia". On August 16th., troopers of the Brigade of Gurkhas clashed with fifty Indonesian guerillas. While the Philippines did not engage in warfare, they did break off diplomatic relations with Malaysia.
The Federation of Malaysia was formally formed on September 16th., 1963. Brunei decided against joining, and Singapore separated later.
Tensions rose on both sides of the Straits of Malacca. Two days later rioters burned the British embassy in Jakarta & several hundred rioters sacked the Singapore embassy and the homes of Singaporean diplomats in Jakarta . In Malaysia, Indonesian agents were captured and crowds attacked the Indonesian embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
Sukarno was limited in his options for opposing Malaysia. Although equipped with modern weapons from Moscow, the Indonesian armed forces were not capable of prevailing in an open engagement with the British. Instead, Sukarno decided to encourage and support subversive movements already existing in Borneo. If allowed to develop into a major insurgency, the British might eventually be worn down into abandoning the objective of greater Malaysia altogether. By the end of 1963, this strategy increasingly involved Indonesian army regulars, posing as guerrillas, crossing the border from Kalimantan to attack the security forces in Borneo and then quickly retreating to the safety of Indonesian territory, so there was an ongoing border war; Indonesian troops and irregulars tried to occupy Sarawak and Sabah, with little success. In April the British Government gave permission for their forces to carry out raids behind enemy lines in Kalimantan and so began "Operation Claret"
In 1964, Indonesian troops began to raid areas in the Malay peninsula. In August, 16 armed Indonesian agents were captured in Johore. Activity by regular Indonesian Army over the border also increased. The British Royal Navy deployed a number of warships, including an aircraft carrier, to the area to defend Malaysia and the Royal Air Force also deployed many squadrons of aircraft. Commonwealth ground forces; 18 battalions, including elements of the Brigade of Gurkhas and three Malaysian battalions, were also committed to the conflict. The Commonwealth troops were thinly deployed and had to rely on border posts and reconnaissance by light infantry and/or the two commando units of the Royal Marines. Their main mission was to prevent further Indonesian incursions into Malaysia.
Royal Australian Navy ships attached to the BCFESR began patrol and anti insurgent duties. Minesweepers of the RAN 16th. MCM Squadron were deployed to the BCFESR for inshore patrol and minesweeping. In July and September 1964, race riots occurred in Singapore and although thought to have been orchestrated by the Indon, eventually led to the succession of Singapore from Malaysia. On August 17th., 1964, Indonesian paratroopers landed on the southwest coast of Johore and attempted to establish guerilla groups. On September 2nd., more paratroopers landed in Labis, Johore. On October 29th., 52 soldiers landed in Pontian on the Johore-Malacca border and were captured by New Zealand Army personnel. When the United Nations accepted Malaysia as a nonpermanent member, Sukarno withdrew Indonesia from the UN and attempted to form the Conference of New Emerging Forces (Conefo) as an alternative.
In January 1965, after many Malaysian requests, Australia agreed to send troops to Borneo. Australian Army contingent included the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment and the Australian Special Air Service Regiment. There were fourteen thousand British and Commonwealth forces in Borneo by this time. According to official policy, Commonwealth troops could not follow attackers over the Indonesian border. However, units like the British Special Air Service and the Australian Special Air Service did so in secret. (The Australian government officially admitted these incursions in 1996, following the release of secret war documents governed by the 30 year secrecy act.)
On March 10th., 1965, Indonesian saboteurs carried out the MacDonald House bombing in Singapore killing 3 people and injured 33. 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, including a frigate of the RAN which carried out jungle bombardments to harass the withdrawing Indonesians.
The end of Confrontation
Early in 1966 a group of generals lead by General Suharto came to power in Indonesia, following a coup. Due to this domestic conflict, Indonesian interest in pursuing the war with Malaysia declined, and combat eased. On May 28th., 1966 at a conference in Bangkok, the Malaysian and Indonesian governments declared the conflict over. Violence ended in June, and a peace treaty was signed on August 11th. and ratified two days later.
The war ended on the 13th. August 1966
The political situation in Indonesia had dramatically changed and several attempts were made since the end of May, 1966, to start the reconciliation process. A new Government (the Gotong Royong cabinet) had been installed headed by General Suharto. On 11th., August 1966, Foreign Minister Adam Malik signed a Reconciliation agreement with the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign affairs Minister of Malaysia Tun Razak thereby ending the confrontation policy: peace came about on the 12th. August 1966, the day after the signing of the Reconciliation agreement . The agreement on the restoration of relations was the result of negotiations between Foreign Minister Adam Malik and Tun Razak in Bangkok on May 28th., 1966 that was referred to as the "Bangkok Agreement".
General Suharto in his policy statement regarding the Malaysian issue stated that the settlement of the conflict had not altered the basis and implementations of Indonesian foreign policy. It was now possible to escalate foreign policy activities towards the establishment of close and mutually beneficial co-operative relations among Southeast Asian countries.
Return to the United Nations
On 19th., September 1966, the Indonesian Ambassador to the United States L.N. Palar transmitted the following message to the Secretary General of the United Nations: "With reference to the letter of 20th., January, from the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Indonesia and to your letter of 26th., February, 1965. In answer thereto, I hereby have the honour upon instruction of my Government to inform you that my Government has decided to resume full co-operation with the United Nations and to resume participation in its activities starting with the twenty-first session of the General Assembly. A delegation headed by the Foreign Minister will arrive to attend the Assembly."
On 22nd., September, 1966, a Delegation headed by Adam Malik a member of the Presidium for political Affairs and Minister for Foreign Affairs conferred with the Secretary General and reiterated the decision of the Government of Indonesia to resume full participation in the activities of the United Nations as stated in the telegram of 19th., September, 1966. The President of the General Assembly Ambassador Abdul Rahman Pazhwak recounted the background behind the Indonesian decision to withdraw from the United Nations. The President stated that it would be assumed that it is the will of the membership that Indonesia should meet in full its budgetary obligation. “Unless I hear any objection I assume that it is the will of the membership that Indonesia would resume full activities of the Untied Nations and the Secretary General may proceed in the manner I have outlined. There being no objection, I invite the members of the Indonesian Delegation to take their seats in the General Assembly”.
Indonesian reply to the UN Assembly by Minister for Foreign Affairs, Adam Malik:
“Since the first day of this Assembly last Tuesday several representatives have referred to my countrys resumption of activities in the United Nations and have expressed their warm welcome to my Government and Delegation. Permit me Mr. President to thank you for your words of welcome and for your co-operation in smoothen the way for our return to the United Nations. I wish also to express the gratitude of my delegation for the statements of the same nature by representatives. My delegation is indeed deeply moved by their expression of confidence and looks forward with enthusiasm to co-operation and collaboration with all delegations. Finally may I thank you Mr. Secretary General for your assistance and the Secretariat for your advice and co-operation in making our reparticipation a smooth and happy one”.
Thus another dramatic episode in Indonesian history came to an end.
British response to Konfrontasi
The British responded to Confrontation in a two-pronged manner. In order to deter the Indonesians from mounting an open attack on Malaysia, substantial air and naval forces from Commonwealth countries in the area were deployed in and around Singapore.
Nuclear Weapons already in The Far East
Policy-makers saw a British nuclear force as an important contribution not only to NATO, but also to the South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), created in 1954. In 1956 a report to the Chiefs of Staff concluded that nuclear weapons would have to be used if war broke out between the SEATO powers and China, and although the Chiefs themselves were a little uncomfortable with this conclusion, planning went ahead.
A 1957 Air Ministry report found that British Valiant, Vulcan, and Victor aircraft (known as "V-bombers") carrying the Blue Danube (nuclear) bomb would be unable to reach the Far East because of short runways and limited facilities at key airfields along the route. The report recommended developing Gan, an island in the Maldives, as a staging post for bomber reinforcements, and Tengah, an existing RAF base in Singapore, as a temporary base for V-bomber squadrons.
In 1957 V-bombers began to make familiarization flights to the Far East without nuclear weapons on board, and in 1958 it was decided to construct a permanent storage facility for nuclear weapons at Tengah. By 1960 the RAF was involved in drawing up nuclear targeting plans for SEATO and had made plans to move 48 Red Beard tactical nuclear weapons to Tengah in 1962. Three squadrons of V-bombers would be based there, capable of dropping Red Beard weapons from high altitude, together with one squadron of smaller Canberra aircraft, which would use a low-altitude bombing system, or "toss bombing" tactic. In September 1960, a dummy Red Beard weapon was flown for the first time by RAF transport aircraft to Singapore, via El Adem, in Libya; Khormaksar, in present-day Yemen; and Gan. Special equipment to handle nuclear weapons had been deployed to these airfields, and also to Embakasi, Kenya, and Butterworth, a Royal Australian Air Force base in Malaya.
The political problems of moving live nuclear weapons overseas were already clear. As early as 1957 a storm was created when Minister of Defence Duncan Sandys seemed to announce, at a press conference in Australia, that nuclear weapons would be stored in Malaya and Singapore. In July 1961 Britains High Commissioner in Singapore, Lord Selkirk, advised that even the presence of dummy weapons in the Far East would be politically sensitive.
Nevertheless, on August 17, 1962, Prime Minister Macmillan authorized the RAF to deploy both live and dummy weapons to Tengah. The live weapons were to be held at all times in their special storage area, but in November 1963, permission was granted to train with dummy weapons in the open. Militarily, the justification for these deployments was still the possibility of limited war between the SEATO powers and China. Politically, by making a nuclear contribution to SEATO, Macmillan was trying to gain a measure of influence over U.S. nuclear policy in a region where Britain and the United States had historically been at odds; he was concerned, like a number of post-war British prime ministers, by the risk of U.S. belligerence in Korea, Taiwan, or Indochina. Macmillans ministers had convinced him that British deployments, by contrast, carried no risk. But Malaysian Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, although generally pro-British, was not informed. (Singapore had recently won independence from Britain as part of the Federation of Malaysia.) The British government had made a visible military commitment to SEATO, choosing to do so through the relatively inexpensive medium of a squadron of nuclear-capable aircraft, but it was coy about admitting, even privately, to the actual presence of nuclear weapons.
1963 also saw the deployment of nuclear capable British V-bombers (Hanley Page Victor bombers) to Singapore as a deterrent to Indonesia at the beginning of the Indonesian Confrontation. Victor bombers were soon replaced by Avro Vulcan nuclear capable V-bombers.
British Vulcan (V-bombers) were never sent permanently to the Far East. Instead, four to eight were dispatched to Tengah, Singapore and RAAF Butterworth, Malaya between 1963 and 1966 during the "confrontation" between Malaysia and Indonesia. These aircraft would have been tasked, if the confrontation had escalated, with conventional bombing of Indonesian airfields to begin with. Nuclear bombs would only be used as a last resort. In addition, the Canberra squadron at Tengah began low-altitude nuclear bombing exercises at the end of 1963. This squadron remained in the Far East until 1970, although it is not clear that it necessarily remained nuclear equipped. The British government decided that any further escalation by the Indonesians would result in British Vulcan bombers conducting raids against Indonesian targets using RAAF Base Darwin as their operating base, but there is no evidence that any of the 48 nuclear bombs were moved to Darwin. During confrontation only one raid delivering conventional bombs by two Victor-bombers took place against Indonesia. But throughout the 1960s V-bombers were also sent to the Far East on SEATO nuclear reinforcement exercises.
The Royal Navy
The Royal Navy took delivery of its first tactical nuclear weapons, Red Beards, to be carried by Scimitar aircraft on navy carriers, in 1959. Clearance for the Scimitar to take off with nuclear weapons "only in conditions of an extreme operational emergency" was received in August 1960. Although the navy originally viewed the Red Beard as a weapon for sinking ships in the North Atlantic, by the time it entered service, it seemed most likely to be used in a limited war in the Far East.
The aircraft carriers Victorious and Hermes sailed for Singapore at the end of 1960, and for the next 10 years the operational lives of the Royal Navy carriers (including Ark Royal) revolved around deployments east of Suez, where they took their place in SEATO war planning and nuclear targeting. Arrangements were in place to embark and disembark nuclear weapons at the Singapore Naval Dockyard for transport to nearby RAF airfields if necessary, but the weapons appear to have been stored on board ship. The fissile components were stored away from the assemblies, and permission to join the two was never given in peacetime. When in 1963, the Indonesian Confrontation began, the British airforce and navy were already nuclear capable in the region.
Like its U.S. counterpart, the Royal Navy has always followed a "neither confirm nor deny" policy on the presence or absence of nuclear weapons on its ships. By 1966, the governments of Ceylon and New Zealand had already expressed unease at the possibility of Royal Navy ships carrying nuclear weapons into their ports. In fact, the RN had only about 25 nuclear weapons. Only five aircraft carriers, two armament stores ships, and (by the very end of the 1960s) two Tiger class anti submarine cruisers, had been equipped to carry the weapons. The only ammunition stores ships in the Far East during Confrontation specially set up to resupply the RN carriers were RFAs Retainer (A 329) with HMS Hermes and Resurgent (A 280): there is no evidence to suggest that either of these RFAs ever carried any nuclear weapons, however it is most probable that they did.
Red Beard was the first British tactical nuclear weapon. It was carried by the English Electric Canberra and the V bombers of the Royal Air Force, and by the Blackburn Buccaneers and Supermarine Scimitars of the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm. It entered service in 1962, being continuely updated in particular a reduction in size, and was withdrawn in 1971. Red Beard was about 4 meters (12 feet) long and weighed about 1,750 lb (794 kg). Perforated baffles were a feature to reduce bomb bay buffetting when the Canberra bomb doors opened, and were not needed on other aircraft. Red Beard was known to the RAF as Bomb, Aircraft, HE 2000 lb MC, athough its actual weight was 1750 lb. It was deployed on a wide variety of aircraft of the RAF and Royal Navy, being stockpiled in the UK, Cyprus, Singapore and afloat on carriers.
The main concern for British military planners throughout the conflict, however, was containing the insurgency in Borneo. Here the security forces were in an impossible situation. They were required to defend a frontier of approximately 1600 kilometres, in extremely dense jungle and against an enemy who could retreat to the safety of Indonesian Kalimantan. Increasingly frustrated, Major-General Sir Walter Walker, director of operations in Borneo, requested permission to pursue the guerrillas across the border. After considerable debate, London finally agreed in April 1964.
The objective of cross-border operations, code-named "Claret", was to wrest the initiative from the enemy. Accordingly, starting in May that year, predominantly SAS troops, British Special Air Service and Australian Special Air Service, operating in groups of four, regularly patrolled territory immediately across the border. When a patrol discovered enemy guerrillas moving towards Borneo, it would arrange for them to be ambushed as they crossed the border. The patrols went up to 10 miles into Kalimantan, to detect Indonesian forces about to enter Sarawak. Conventional Commonwealth troops were then directed into position to ambush the invaders as they crossed the border. The fact that nothing was know about these "Claret" operations until 1996, speaks volumes for the integrity of the soldiers of the time as operations were graded "top secret".
These operations were a violation of official and international treaties; although the incursions were initially denied, both the British and the Australian governments admitted the attacks in 1996. As we have seen, the Australian Government treated the Australian people with contempt by misleading them over operations and its own role during the Indonesian Confrontation.
Bloodhound Missiles defend Darwin
RAAF Bloodhound surface to air missiles (SAMs) deployed to Darwin in 1964. It was not only the Indonesian hostility towards Malaysia that was of grave concern, but the Indonesian Air Force had been violating Australian airspace by overflying Darwin and penetrating well south over the mainland, all at a time when RAAF Base Tindal was under construction.
RAAF Nos 75 and 76 Squadrons were deployed to Darwin, however their Sabre aircraft were not capable of effectively intercepting the Indonesian aircraft. While the Mirage was coming, it was not yet operational and RAAF Base Darwin was vulnerable, a recognized fact in view of the proposal to move the 48 red beard nuclear weapons from Singapore to Darwin if the Indonesian Confrontation escalated.
Back in 1961, RAAF No. 30 Squadron was reformed and equipped with Bloodhound Mk I surface to air missiles The Bloodhound flight envelope was more suited to short range high altitude interceptions than was the Sabre, so at some time in 1964 the decision was made to move a detachment of Bloodhounds to Darwin. This involved a complex land, sea and air operation to transport and install the fully operational live fire surface to air missile system alongside No. 2 Control and Reporting Unit at Lee Point. Part of the Bloodhound system was the precision illuminating radar that also had a search capability which overcame much of the shortcomings of 2CRU. The system became operational in mid-1965 and remained until the end of 1968 when Bloodhound was withdrawn from service. Even though the political climate did improve in these years, 30 SQN was called to full operating readiness on numerous occasions, the last being only weeks before closing down. Nothing can detract from the fact that the RAAF 75 & 76 squadrons, including No. 30 SAM Squadron, were deployed to Darwin for war with Indonesia.
MacDonald House Bombing
The MacDonald House bombing occurred on 10 March, 1965, at the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank building (known as MacDonald House) along Orchard Road, Singapore. The time bomb was planted by Indonesian saboteurs, during the Konfrontasi period. It killed 3 people and injured at least 33. Since 1963, the Indonesian Government had opposed the formation of Malaysia and infiltrated saboteurs into both Singapore and Malaysia aiming to exploit racial tensions and undertake acts of sabotage to destroy vital installations. These saboteurs later resorted to explode bombs indiscriminately to create public alarm and panic. The bombing of the MacDonald House was the most serious of the bombings in Singapore, killing two Chinese and one Malay. Special Branch officers and Police tracked down and arrested two Indonesian commandos, Harun Said and Osman Hj Mohd Ali, who were members of the Korps Komando Operasi. They were later convicted and executed. The Holden Station Wagon belonging to the Australian High Commissioner in Singapore was parked outside the building when the bomb detonated.