The Battle of Plamam Mapu
2 Para 1965
Webmasters note: It is with deepest regret that I have learnt, Lieutenant-Colonel John "Patch" Williams MBE, DCM, recently passed away. Patch was a true hero of Britain's Forgotten Wars. I was fortunate enough to talk to Patch a few years ago while researching this story and I feel very proud to have done so. His obituary in the Times quotes "Bandsman turned infantryman who lost an eye fending off an attack in the Malaysian confrontation"
Plaman Mapu was a small hilltop village in Borneo positioned 1,000 yards from the border with Indonesia. By 1965 its unique position had been recognized by the British Forces and it had been fortified into a forward company base with a connecting trench system, bunkers and with a command post in the centre. In February 1965, B Coy 2nd Paras arrived to make Plaman Mapu their home for the next few months. Foot patrols were organized for most days and sent into the surrounding jungle near the border to look for signs of Indonesian infiltration. The Commanding officer of B Coy, Ted Eberhardie, wanted as many of his men to get jungle experience as soon as possible, therefore only a small part of B Coy was left to defend the base while the rest were out on patrol. Over the next few months the foot patrols started to find signs of Indonesian forces in the area. Newly cleared areas of the jungle were thought to be prepared ambush positions, which the Indonesians intended to use against the Para's patrols. Signs of enemy troop movements also gave indication that the Indonesians planned to attack one of the local British bases soon, but which one? The security forces did not know.
On the morning of the 27th April they got their answer when the IBT (Indonesian Border Troops) attacked Plaman Mapu in force. At the time of the attack only 27 Paras were defending it. The senior Para officer was Captain John Fleming, a company commander. Under his command he had an artillery control officer, Captain Webb, a Platoon commander Captain Thomson, and seven men from the mortar section. He also had a Corporal Baughan who was in charge of a 15-man platoon of 18 year olds who had just arrived in Borneo after completing their jungle training in Malaya. Lastly, Company Sergeant Major John "Drummie" Williams, was to be decorated for his bravery on this night.
The first indication the defenders got of an attack was when the Indonesians launched a surprise artillery barrage. The main targets of this attack being the base's three machine gun bunkers and the two mortar bunkers killing or wounding most of the their occupants. This brought the defenders number down to 18.
C.S.M. Williams who was off duty and asleep at the time, woke up with a start, realized what was happening, leapt out of his bed and grabbing gun, boots and webbing he got dressed more or less on the run.
Outside he ran into one of the gunners from a machine gun bunker that had just been hit. The soldier's head was a mess, blood was running down his face and nose and he was wandering around like a drunk who didn't know which way was home. Then as if someone had doused him with water he became alert and screamed as he waved a revolver, "They're in the position, they are in the bloody position" Then he saw Williams and shouted " You're one of them " and pointed his SLR at the C.S.M.'s stomach. Williams disarmed the man and ordered another soldier to get the wounded man to the aid post. Williams then made his way to the command post were he had a quick word with the company commander and smartly organized a counter attack with Captain Thomson's section
As Williams and the platoon ran across the open ground to confront the Indonesians, a mortar round landed in the middle of them seriously injuring the platoon commander and about half the platoon. Undeterred by this, Williams lead the remaining 5 men across open ground to engage about 30 Indonesians who were advancing from the other side of the base. Cpl. Baughan, with another section gave William's and his men support fire. Williams shouted, "Anyone in front of us is the enemy and keep going but watch yourself". What followed was some of the most deadly hand-to-hand fighting of the war.
The Paras realized that if they did not push the Indonesians from their position they would be dead men by morning. Because of their survival instinct and training the Paras persevered and pushed the remaining Indonesians off the hill. It had been a bloody battle on both sides.
Williams now started to re-organize the defence of the base, but before this could be achieved the Indonesians launched a second attack on the same position they had just been removed from. Williams, seeing that only a heavy amount of firepower would stop this new attack, jumped into one of the abandoned bunkers and found one of the new GPMGs still in working order. He managed to lace several belts of ammo together and then opened fire on the advancing Indonesians. When the Indonesians realized that some one had got the GPMG going again, they attacked the bunker in platoon strength (30 men). The attackers charged the bunker firing machine guns and throwing grenades.
Williams kept firing until all his attackers were either dead or wounded. His GPMG was hit several times during the attack and he received a serious head wound. He also lost an eye in this action. Later after recovering from his wounds he was always affectingly known as "Patch".
While "Patch" Williams was engaged in his one man war, Cpl. Baughan's section had managed to drive off the second Indonesian attack with the help of the mortar platoon Sergeant John Macdonald who, using the only surviving 3 inch mortar was bringing fire down on the advancing enemy. With the enemy so close the mortar was aimed so close to perpendicular that the firer was in danger from his own rounds. To do this required immense intestinal fortitude.
the second attack now over, Williams, who was quite unaware of his terrible
wounds, started to collect the wounded from the first attack and bring
them back to the command post where they were being treated. They were
now down to 14 men. After conferring with the company commander who tried unsuccessfully to get Williams to have his wound looked at, Patch returned to the perimeter, knowing the Indonesians would soon attack again.
Sure enough the defenders could hear the Indonesians preparing for the next assault and were gathering in some dead ground 40 yards down hill.
The Battle had been going for about 1 hour and the Paras knew that if they were to survive they would have to hold out until dawn when reinforcements could be flown in by helicopter.
Williams managed to get hold of two boxes of 36 grenades which he, Cpl. Baughan and what was left of the Platoon started throwing into the dead ground where the enemy was gathering. The 3-inch mortar was also brought back into action. From the screams that followed they knew they were hitting the enemy.
the first light of dawn appeared, the Paras knew they had won the battle.
There were no more attacks and the enemy could be heard moving back from
the base of the hill, firing the occasional mortar round as they retreated.
When this fire faded out William's called for volunteers to come with him to carry out a clearing patrol. All 14 men volunteered. The day before they had been fresh faced new guys, now they were
battle hardened veterans and "Patch" was very proud of them.
Soon after first light, helicopters arrived to evacuate the wounded. The Medical Officer was shocked to see Williams still standing with what seemed like half his head missing covered in blood and dressed in only his trousers and webbing. With the battle finally over C.S.M. Williams allowed himself to be cared for and was soon in a helicopter being airlifted out of what was left of Plaman Mapu. The Battle of Plaman Mapu was one of the turning points of the Confrontation. Never again would Indonesian forces cross the border in such force.
Pvt. McKeller who had received a serious head wound during the battle, died later in Singapore Hospital. Patch Williams attended his funnel in a wheel chair due to his own wounds.
Six months after the battle C.S.M. Williams, having recovered from his wounds and less one eye, received the Distinguished Conduct Medal for " One of the most outstanding acts of bravery and leadership witnessed during the Borneo Confrontation".
Cpl. Malcolm Baughan was also awarded the Military Medal for his part in the Battle and Private Mcatagh, who was wounded in the first counter attack, received a Mention in Despatches.
Having only one eye did not stop John Williams from soldiering and he fought hard to save his military career and after many medical fitness exams was appointed Regimental Sergeant Major of the 2nd Parachute Battalion. In 1983 Patch was appointed Staff Quartermaster (Lieutenant-Colonel) of the Army Staff Collage in Camberley, the senior SQM post in the British Army. That year he also received the MBE. Williams retired in 1989 with forty years of service under his belt.
The site of the battle. Please click to enlarge.
Note: The following information has been supplied by Michael Braund.
Webmasters note: I was very sad to hear that Lieutenant-Colonel John "Patch" Williams MBE, DCM, recently passed away. Patch was a true hero of Britain's Forgotten Wars. His obituary in the Times quotes "Bandsman turned infantryman who lost an eye fending off an attack in the Malaysian confrontation"
I was there with 40 Commando
RM in 1965 and have one
Regards Olly Scarrott Ex-RM
"Advance and Destroy"
written by an ex member of B coy who fought in the Battle of Plaman Mapu