The Air War
Only two years after the end of the Malaya Emergency, a new crisis was brewing in the Far East bringing British Forces back into action. When the British proposed a Federation of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak, North Borneo and Brunei in May 1961 it was immediately opposed by left-wing nationalist groups and neighbouring Indonesia.
On 8th December 1962, Indonesian backed rebels staged a revolt in the Sultanate of Brunei, where they attacked the Sultans palace and other government establishments, including police and petrol stations in Seria. The British reacted swiftly, despatching 1st battalion the Queen's Own Highlanders (Seaforth and Cameron). The Battalion headquarters and A Company were sent ahead by air and B Company sailed aboard HMS Cavalier. At the time 1st battalion the Queen's Own Highlanders (Seaforth and Cameron) were part of 17th Gurkha Division.
A company landed at the short Brunei airfield aboard a Blackburn Beverley of 34 Sqn, RAF Seletar, Singapore piloted by the Squadron's Commanding Officer Sgn/Ldr Bennett at about 8pm. The second aircraft arrived about 30 minutes later, carrying Gurkhas and landrovers, the other Beverley's arriving through the night.
The rebels were attempting to capture the police station about a mile from the airfield at this time and were swiftly engaged by the troops. After unloading the Beverley's returned to Labuan and began shuttling troops and supplies to Brunei from RAF Labuan. Where RAF Hastings and RAF Comets were landing them as the runway at Brunei airfield was under repair and too short for those aircraft.
About the 10th December the Anduki Airfield at Seria was noted to have been cleared of obstacles, etc and a Beverley flown by Flt/Lt Fenn was quickly loaded with Seaforth Highlanders and landed at Anduki airfield, the troops leaving the aircraft through its two rear-doors while it was still moving. The aircraft took off as soon as the last man exited the aircraft, receiving a burst of machine gun fire as it passed the control tower.
The troops cleared the airfield and the town after a short skirmish with many Rebels killed and captured.
No.34 Squadron continued to provide detachments at Labuan through out the confrontation air supply dropping to the many army encampments in the jungle, also to SAS units.
However, the Indonesian President had not forgotten that the British had supported the Dutch attempt to regain control of the East Indies in 1945-1947 and began training volunteer guerrilla groups to infiltrate into North Borneo. Raids into Sarawak by the 'Volunteers' began in April 1963 and they increased in frequency following the formation of the Federation of Malaysia in September of that year.
The small Borneo Defence Force, made up of British, Australian, New Zealand and Malay troops commanded by Major General Walker had no easy task and they were almost entirely dependent on helicopter movement in the remote jungle and mountainous terrain of Borneo. By this time four No.20 Squadron Hunters and two Javelin Mk9R of No.60 Squadron, another unit that had spent much of its postwar life operating in Malaya, were sent to Labuan and Kutching, the latter being close to the border with Kalimantan, in Indonesian Borneo.
Again, the dissidents relied on the rural Chinese for support, as did an entirely separate Communist force also operating within Malaysia, the Clandestine Communist Organization (CCO) that had its origins in the MCP (Malaysian Communist Party). However, by a combination of winning the support of the native population, promoting co-operation between the security forces and local police, plus the quick reaction capability that the helicopter gave him, Major General Walker was able to contain the guerrillas.
A second Javelin squadron, No.64 arrived by the end of the year, and an extra flight expanded No.60 Squadron that was based at Butterworth, providing air defence over western Malaysia. When Indonesia announced that it would use its regular forces against the British, the Hunters and Javelins were tasked with low-level patrols along the Indonesian border, as well as escorting transport aircraft delivering supplies and reinforcements to the security forces. Blackburn Beverly, Handley Page Hastings of 48 Squadron, Far East Air Force and Short Belfast aircraft formed the backbone of the transport force in Borneo, operating from as far away as Singapore. They were joined for a brief period in March 1964 by Sea Vixens from H.M.S. Centaur. No.81 Squadron, with its Canberras, was entailed with a photo survey, the results proved invaluable to those who would follow up on its information.
45 Squadron, RAF, flying Canberra B15's performed close support sorties from Labuan.
209 Squadron RAF who used Single Pioneers and Twin Pioneers during the conflict, operating mainly from Labuan and Kuching. They were used for transporting various personnel and freight, they were used for paratroops and also for 'Voice Broadcasting'. They were used to transport police and troops into Brunei on or about the 8th December 1982, I believe prior to the Beverley.They were capable of landing on very small airstrips in Jungle areas. Ghurkas and SAS regularly used the Twin Pin and Single PIn. This was a forgotten aircraft that carried out priceless tasks. Sadly we lost a Twin Pin during a voice flight whilst trying to contact the 'Sarawak Rangers'? who the army had lost contact with. We lost 2 crew, 2 voice operators and the Army Intelligence Officer.
215 Squadron, flying Argosy's in company with 48 squadrons Hastings, from Changi in Singapore were called upon to evacuate British and Australian women and children from Jakarta following Indonesian attacks on the British embassy and residences in the city. 215 Squadron was commanded at the time by Wing Commander A. Talbot-Williams and 48 squadron by Wing Commander W.J.P. Straker AFC. During the evacuation flights, Mig21 of the Indonesian air force conducted a 'counter demonstration' as the RAF aircraft flew into and out of Kemajoran Airport, Jakarta. (http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1963/1963%20-%201751.html)
The Army Air Corps were in Borneo as well as the RAF and Royal Navy. Sgt. Thackeray of the Army Air Corps was flying an Auster with the padre as passenger on Christmas Eve 1963 from Lundu to Kuching. They were hit by cannon fire and the padre was mortally wounded. The Sgt.'s left arm was broken and he was bleeding heavily. However using his knees and right hand he operated the throttle, flaps and control stick until finding a helicopter landing pad he contrived a controlled landing. The prop from this Auster was placed in Kuching Airport reception lounge. On another occasion Sgt. 'Doc' Waghorn a Royal Army Medical Corps pilot was flying a Scout helicopter from the Lundu area back to Kuching. He had with him a Ghurkha and a prisoner. Flying at 3000' feet he must have seen Kuching 20 miles away. They disappeared without a trace and have never been seen again. The following day a Whirlwind helicopter took off to look for them and 5 died when it lost a tail rotor.
When Indonesian naval vessels started to make forays into Malaysian waters, the Shackletons would buzz them at wave-top height, and most turned and ran for home. While the Shackleton's operated during the day, four Fairey Gannet AEW aircraft of No.849 Squadron A flight from HMS Victorious flying out of RAF Seletar were pressed into service to monitor the Straits at night. With full drop tanks and one engine shut down these aircraft could stay on station for long periods of upto 5 hours and sometimes longer. Indonesia launched large-scale incursions in late 1964, with two Hercules transports dropping 100 paratroops and their equipment in Malaysia, 95 miles north of Singapore. The aircraft had flown between Birkit and Penang radar, and the paratroops had been dropped 20 miles apart. A sharp eyed observer on a RAF Shackleton spotted the parachutists canopies tangled in the upper branches of tall trees and alerted the Security forces. The Royal Malay Regiment and the Ghurkhas pursued the invaders into the swamps of Johore, where Hunters attacked them with rockets and cannon-fire. The Hunters flew a total of 14 sorties in support of the ground forces. More than three-quarters of the invaders were killed or captured. One of the Hercules that had dropped the paratroopers was spotted and chased by a Javelin of No.60 Squadron on a routine combat air patrol.
In the same month, No.64 Squadron was again sent to reinforce the RAF units and an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) was established over western Malaysia, within which all unidentified aircraft were intercepted and investigated. During October, No.20 Squadron Hunters made strikes against guerrilla infiltrators at Pontian. The following month the Javelins were join by No.32 Squadron Canberras at Tengah, and No.14 Squadron RNZAF with Canberras. A Canberra was lost in the operation 'Birdsong' strikes of 23rd-24th December, whilst landing at Tengah where it was hit by an Indonesian infiltrator.
While the Indonesian Air Force did pose a threat, most of their aircraft retreated before they could be intercepted, and they relied on ageing World War 2-era bombers for low-level attacks. By mid-year, the security forces had been strengthened and now included a battalion of SAS that was permitted to cross into Indonesia and smash the infiltrator camps. Hunters attacked a group of 25 Indonesian regulars who had landed from boats on the south coast of Johore near Tanjong-Pen Gelik, some seven miles east of Changi at the end of May.
RAF and Naval forces constantly located and identified landing forces, and the Indonesian bombers attacked villages close to the Indonesian border, inflicting little serious damage. The last Indonesian attacks took place across the Sarawak border by Indonesian regulars in August 1966. By this time the Allied security forces were in total control of most of the disputed areas, and all Indonesian operations ceased following a coup in Jakarta on 30th September. After a series of mopping-up operations, the security forces began to withdraw from Malaysia and on 11th August, following the Indonesia Presidents' overthrow in the previous March, Malaysia and Indonesia signed a peace agreement.
During this conflict, two Victor B Mk 1A bombers flew a single offensive operation which was the first, and only offensive operation undertaken by this type in RAF service. (We would appreciate anymore information if anyone has some about this operation).
The V-bombers were sent to the Far East to eliminate Sukarno’s airstrike capability should the Indonesian Air Force attack targets in Malaysia and Singapore in riposte for Commonwealth action against paramilitary bases from which infiltrations were being mounted. This was not the first time the V-bombers had been deployed to an operational Far Eastern theatre. Valiants belonging to 214 Squadron flew to Malaysia at the tail end of the Emergency in 1957 for Firedog operations but there is no evidence that they participated in any way in supporting the ground fighting. The official verdict then had been that the strategic jet bombers were too sophisticated as platforms to participate in the campaign. Six years on, however, the heavies were able to demonstrate improved capabilities.
During November 1963 Bomber Command issued an operation instruction for four Victor Mk 1As from RAF Honington and RAF Cottesmore to be sent east to RAF Tengah or RAAF Butterworth. In September 1964 the detachment handed over to Vulcan B Mk 2s of 55 Squadron.
Once in theatre the crews settled in to a steady routine of acclimatisation and training. After familiarisation flights, including circuits over Butterworth and RAF Changi, the four-engined heavies practiced bombing on the Song Song and China Rock ranges and conducted alert exercises against possible dawn attacks by hostile aircraft. When on alert the Victor crews performed Combat Ready checks and the airframes were loaded with twenty one 1,000-pound HE bombs.
In September 1964 as relations deteriorated between Indonesia on the one hand and Britain and Malaysia on the other, it seemed likely real bombing would commence. Night flying and a day training sortie were cancelled as operational generation of airframes started. Two Victors, 649 and 594, were prepared using the Combat Ready checks and each loaded with the requisite fuel and fourteen 1,000-pound bombs. The crews completed briefing on targets and were flight-planned for rapid dispersal to RAF Gan on Addu Atoll (and this I understand is the offensive operation in question). On the 16th of September the crew of Victor 594 were dispersed to RAAF Butterworth with target Go-Bags and side-arms. The alert began to wind down on September the 22nd and five days later the dispersed aircraft returned to Tengah.
During their deployment the aircraft performed well apart from dampness in the electrical systems due to heavy monsoon rain and an unexpected rash of hydraulic defects. The Command-in-Chief Far East, Air Chief Marshal Sir John Grandy spoke highly of the V-bomber force and credited the detachment with achieving "a valuable deterrent to Confrontation being conducted on a larger scale." And that, one could argue, is the finest achievement of all for a strategic bomber force during operations in a ‘limited’ war.
We are very grateful to Mr. Ronald Chidgey ex 66 Sqn. RAF for supplying us with information on the Army Air Corps involvement in the Borneo Conflict.
And Ivan R. Harris ex 849 B Flt. H.M.S. Victorious 1963/4 for supplying us with the information about No.849 Squadron B flights Gannets.
We are very grateful to Mr.Joe Harvey ex 34 Sqn RAF. for providing the details of 34 squadron's involvement in the Borneo Conflict.
We are very grateful to David Smithson for providing the details of the Victors operations in Borneo.