Malaysia Confrontation

Malaysian War with Indonesia Tours

The undeclared border war between Indonesia and the states of Sarawak and Sabah in East Malaysia on the island of Borneo (known as Kalimantan in Indonesia) was known as the Confrontation from the word Konfrontasi that had been adopted by the belligerent Indonesian national leader Achmad Sukarno.  Sabah and Sarawak were ethnically, religiously and politically diverse and there was some local opposition to joining the Federation of Malaysia and the Indonesian leader thought that he could undermine the young Federation and create his own federation Maphilindo – Malaya, Indonesia and the Philippines. However there may have been a simpler explanation It’s widely believed that the Ganyang Malaysia (Crush Malaysia) campaign had been launched for domestic political purposes, diverting attention from economic problems

North Borneo is rugged, jungle covered and so both sides relied on light infantry operations and parachute drops and helicopters, although rivers were also used. The British and Malaysian Armed Forces provided a significant element of the effort to combat cross border raids and forces from Australia and New Zealand part of the combined Far East Strategic Reserve stationed then in West Malaysia and Singapore played a significant role.

Initial Indonesian attacks into East Malaysia relied heavily on local volunteers trained by the Indonesian Army however as they proved less effective they were replaced by regular Indonesia forces. Indonesian soldiers and the volunteers were tracked and ambushes set on likely exfiltration routes. Poor  personal discipline including smoking pungent kretek (clove) cigarettes giving away their locations to the keen-nosed troops tracking them.


Hearts and Minds

Also important was winning the hearts and minds of the locals.  The phrase has now been corrupted by cynicism but in the Borneo border fighting it had real meaning.  Without the help of the Dayak tribe known as known as Iban, and who were often hostile to the Indonesians and enjoyed taking down Indonesian soldiers, the Commonwealth forces would have been floundering in the swamps and lost in the dense tropical forests. British, Australian and New Zealand troops respected the Iban culture, paid the people to work, gave them medical supplies and won their loyalty. By contrast the Indonesian militia were reportedly brutal and abusive.

British and Commonwealth forces constructed company bases along the border.  These were fortified positions from which patrols could be launched and where intelligence could be gathered from the local population.  On April 27, 1965 a base at Plaman Mapu held by B Coy 2 Para came under a sustained attack at night by men of the Indonesian Para-Commando Regt (RPKAD) these formidable soldiers could have overrun the base, which was under strength and manned by young soldiers who had recently joined the Parachute Regiment.  Enter two formidable soldiers Captain Thompson and Company Sergeant Major (CSM) Williams.  Williams picked up a General Purpose Machine Gun and in his words thought “This is it – this is the end of the story anyway, so I'll give 'em a bit of rapid fire”.  Williams survived buit lost one eye in the fight and when the RPKAD finally withdrew the nearest Indonesian body was found two yards away from the CSM.  Williams received the Distinguished Conduct Medal and Field Marshall Lord Carver later described the action at Plaman Mapu as “another defence of Rorke's Drift”.


CLARET – the secret war   

A year before this action 1964 British and Commonwealth forces started taking the war to the enemy with fighting patrols penetrating into Indonesian Kalimantan under the code name Operation CLARET.  It was during one of these actions that Rambahadur Limbu of the 2/10th Gurkha Rifles would win the Victoria Cross.  Since the CLARET Operations were highly classified the citation for the action at Gunong Tepoi in Kalimantan was set inside Malaysia.  Part of the citation that appeared in the

This extract from his citation in The London Gazette of April 22, 1966 gives no indication that the fighting was inside Indonesia.

Leading his support group in the van of the attack he could see the nearest trench and in it a sentry manning a machine gun. Determined to gain first blood he inched himself forward until... he was seen and the sentry opened fire, immediately wounding a man to his right. Rushing forward he reached the enemy trench... and killed the sentry, thereby gaining for the attacking force a foothold on the objective ...with a complete disregard for the hail of fire he got together and led his fire group to a better fire position...

...he saw both men of his own group seriously wounded... and... immediately commenced... to rescue his comrades ...he crawled forward, in full view of at least two enemy machine gun posts who concentrated their fire on him... but... was driven back by the accurate and a pause he started again.

Rushing forward he hurled himself on the ground beside one of the wounded and calling for support from two light machine guns...he picked up the man and carried him to safety... Without hesitation he immediately returned... (for the other) wounded man (and) carried him back... through the hail of enemy bullets. It had taken twenty minutes to complete this gallant action and the events leading up to it. For all but a few seconds this Non-Commissioned Officer had been moving alone in full view of the enemy and under the continuous aimed fire of their automatic weapons. ...His outstanding personal bravery, selfless conduct, complete contempt of the enemy and determination to save the lives of the men of his fire group set an incomparable example and inspired all who saw him

Finally... Lance Corporal Rambahadur was... responsible for killing four more enemy as they attempted to escape.


In 1964-5 there were several Indonesian airborne  operations into West Malaysia, it was thought in Jakarta that this former hot bed of MNLA activity would be fertile ground for a renewed insurgency but the paratroopers were hunted down and captured or killed. By August 1966, following a brutal and violent coup in Djakarta the government of the new Indonesian President General Raden Suharto's signed a peace agreement and Indonesia accepted the existence of Malaysia.  The war with Malaysia was eating up 60% of all government expenditure.  But there was a greater cost the four-year undeclared war cost Indonesia 590 lives and more than 770 had been taken prisoner. British Commonwealth forces supporting the Malaysian federation lost 150 dead, 234 wounded and four captured .

In the Confrontation Australian and New Zealand troops had learned and refined their jungle warfare skills and would apply them in Vietnam –  these included stealth and discipline, minimal use of radio, employing hand signals, no strong smelling soaps and of course no smoking. 

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