- Francis, Richard
- History - general
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 2003 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The opening engagement by the Royal Navy in the long drawnout Borneo campaign known as Confrontation 1962 – 66, which marked the attempt of Indonesia’s President Sukarno to smother the new Commonwealth state of Malaysia at birth, was a short sharp action by a Royal Marine unit despatched to quell an insurrection in Brunei and Sarawak and to rescue British and Australian hostages captured by the rebels.
PRIOR TO THE ESTABLISHMENT of the new Commonwealth country of Malaysia the eventual eastern province comprised the former British colonies, Sarawak and British North Borneo. Brunei was a small independent sultanate protected by treaty with the United Kingdom. Borneo is the second largest island in the world, half of which is part of the archaepelagic Republic of Indonesia. With the approaching formation of Malaysia (Malayan states, Singapore and the British Borneo territories in 1963) units of the Indonesian Army had infiltrated some tribes in Borneo and provided covert military training so that they could rebel against the Sultan of Brunei, which was deemed the weakest link in the colonial patchwork.
The revolt broke out in early December 1962 with the occupation of Brunei town and Limbang, a small community 12 miles up river in the adjacent border with Sarawak. Captured and incarcerated in Limbang was the British Resident of the Fifth Division of Sarawak and about a dozen other hostages, including two European women and a US Peace Corps Officer. Four Sarawak Constabulary officers had been killed during the attack. British forces available to react to the rebellion were stationed in Singapore. Those selected to deal with the situation were the Gurkha Infantry Brigade (who had already restored order in Brunei) and the Royal Marines of 42 Commando of whom Lima Company under the command of Captain Jeremy Moore MC, RM, were despatched at short notice to Brunei. His directive from Brigadier Patterson, Commander of 99 Gurkha Infantry Brigade, was to ‘…rescue the hostages at Limbang’.
Civil unrest in Brunei led to the occupation of several towns and settlements by the North Borneo Liberation Army (Tentera Nasional Kalimantan Utara). At Limbang these armed units of TNKU had killed four members of the Sarawak Police and taken hostage 11 European civilians, including the District Officer and his wife, two members of the US Peace Corps and several expatriate businessmen. Limbang was actually just across the border in neighbouring Sarawak, then a British colony. There had already been several clashed between the TNKU and the Sarawak constabulary, supported by resident British military units. The rebels threatened to execute their hostages at Limbang, hence the urgency to rescue them.
Naval units from Singapore Naval Base, in the vicinity on routine patrols, were two Royal Navy coastal minesweepers, HM Ships Chawton (Leut Harry Mucklow RN) and Fiskerton (Lt Cdr Jeremy Black RN) with another some distance further away (HMS Dartington – Leut Andrew Marx RN). Fiskerton and Chawton arrived in Brunei Town the same afternoon as the advance party of Marines to provide reliable communication with the British detachments and Singapore.
Reconnaissance of the waterfront and the small river craft there identified two government Z craft (civilian motor ramp-lighters) but no crew, which might be suitable to transport an assault force of 100 men up river. The minesweepers promptly took charge of the situation by providing their respective First Lieutenants to command the craft and engine room staff to ensure they were both in working order. Arrangements were soon made to provide some protection in the form of sandbags and the Marines set up their medium machine guns on deck forward to provide covering fire, if required.
Although intelligence and mapping of the area was scant, urgent action was determined to be necessary to engage the rebels and to rescue their hostages. A dawn raid was hurriedly planned and the small force set out at midnight with pilotage assistance provided by Captain Muton, the Brunei Director of Marine. The river wound along complicated channels between 30 and 100 yards wide bordered by swamp, but having proceeded cautiously and darkened, the little convoy reached the last bend of the Limbang river by 0200 then laid up until just before dawn 5 miles from Limbang town. At 0430 they got under way again and last minute preparations were made as the lights of the town were raised in the distance. Suddenly the lights were extinguished. (later it was discovered that this was routine). At just 3 cables apart the ramp lighters came up to the outskirts of the town, which surprisingly appeared to be alive and bustling, particularly in the bazaar area. Both craft increased to full speed and prepared to beach near the prominent police station. A Malay-speaking NCO proclaimed through his loudhailer that the rebellion was over and that the rebels should surrender. This was greeted with a hail of fire which was promptly returned by the Marines as the leading craft grounded about 30 yards from the police station.