28th Commonwealth Infantry Brigade Group
In October 1965, 4 RAR relieved 3 RAR as the Australian infantry battalion in the 28th Commonwealth Infantry Brigade Group located at Terendak Barracks in Malacca, West Malaysia. The other two infantry battalions in the Brigade were the 1st Battalion, Scots Guards and the 1st Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment. The various combat support and administrative units of the Brigade were all integrated units with Australian, British and New Zealand personnel.
The 28th Commonwealth Brigade was the main Army component of the British Far East Strategic Reserve. If it became openly involved in the conflict, the air portable formation whose main function was to deploy to Thailand if the war in Vietnam War spilled over into Thailand or if China ??
Canberra Lines Terendak Garrison 1966
Deployment to Sarawak
Soon after arrival in the 28th Commonwealth Brigade, 4 RAR was warned for deployment to Borneo where Indonesia was conducting regular cross-border raids as part of its “Konfrontasi” activities. Training intensified while at the same time the Battalion remained alert to counter any Indonesian incursions across the Malacca Strait from Sumatra into West Malaysia. 3 RAR had previously been deployed to the Muir River area south of Malacca (this was the place of a large battle by Australians against the Japanese during the Second World War) and had captured 59 of the 60 Indonesians that landed there. The remaining soldier gave up some time later.
The Battalion deployed to Borneo in April 1966 and occupied positions in the Bau District which covered the main Indonesian invasion route towards Kuching, the capital of Sarawak.
4 RAR was responsible for about 60 kilometres of the border with Indonesia. Three rifle companies were deployed forward in fortified company bases near the border with Indonesia and one rifle company was held in reserve near Battalion Headquarters located near the town of Bau.
There were a number of contacts during the time in Sarawak with two significant contacts with Indonesian raiding parties during that time. The country was extremely rugged mountainous jungle or swamp and operations demanded a high standard of Infantry patrolling and provided excellent operational experience for the subsequent tour of Vietnam in 1968-69. Documents captured by C Company in a contact in June 1966 with an Indonesian Special Forces infiltration group proved of great importance to operations in Sarawak and to the political manoeuvring during the closing stages of the Indonesian Confrontation.
The highlight for the rifle platoons were the “Top Secret” CLARET patrols that were mounted across the border into Indonesian territory. These cross border CLARET patrols allowed the British forces to take and retain the initiative by keeping the Indonesians off balance, striking in pre-emptive raids at their base camps and lines of communication and retaliating if the Indonesians launched a raid into Malaysia. Essentially, British security forces “sanitised” a strip of land on the Indonesian side of the border.
The CLARET Operations
The incursions into mainland Malaysia in the latter half of 1964 brought Indonesia and Malaysia (with its British and Australian allies) across the Indonesian border. The strictest secrecy was observed and the 'Claret' operations, as they were known, were aimed at ambushing Indonesian troops and supply parties as they moved towards the border. By the end of the metres to conduct operations up to 5000 yards (4570m) authorised and in September some British planners talking of conducting sea and air strikes against Indonesian bases instead, Major General Walker (British Commander – Director of Operations Borneo)(DOBOPS)). Walker had eighteen British battalions (including eight Ghurkha and two Royal Marine Commandos) and three Malay battalions in Borneo. Also at the end of the year he was given permission to extend his operations up to 10 000 yards (9140 metres) across the border. At one stage of the operations 4 RAR had under command three (3) Rifle Companies of 2/7th Gurkha Rifles. June, July 1966 was very busy with Operation Double Cross, which was to counter Indonesian incursions into our area of operations in Sarawak.
The 'Golden Rules' for Claret operations were as follows:
* Every operation to be authorised by DOBOPS [Walker].
* Only trained and tested troops to be used.
* Depth of penetration to be limited and the attacks must only be made to thwart offensive action by the enemy.
* No operation which required close air support except in an extreme emergency must be undertaken.
* Every operation must be planned with the aid of a sand-table and thoroughly rehearsed for at least two weeks.
* Each operation to be planned and executed with maximum security.
* Every man taking part must be sworn to secrecy, full cover plans must be made and the operation to be given code-names and never discussed in detail on telephone or radio.
* Identity discs must be left behind before departure and no traces-such as cartridge cases, paper, ration packs, etc-must be left in Kalimantan.
* On no account must any soldier taking part be captured by the enemy alive or dead.
* Every soldier carried ten (10) days rations and there was no resupply or casualty evacuation (by helicopter). Any casualties would have to be carried out back over the border. The country was very hilly and mountainous.
These rules were later eased, but the operations always retained a high level of secrecy. The Claret Operations remained Secret for thirty (30) years and no member of the unit ever talked about it until the ban was lifted. There were thirteen (13) Claret operations.
In June and July there were major incursions into Sarawak by Indonesian Special Forces (the RPKAD). These were particularly good soldiers and some would have been trained under the Dutch Commandos when Indonesia was the Dutch East Indies.
A political settlement was reached between Malaysia and Indonesia in September 1966 and 4 RAR was withdrawn back to its base at Terendak. Here the Battalion concentrated on its conventional warfare role as part of the 28th Commonwealth Brigade...
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THE FOURTH BATTALION OF THE ROYAL AUSTRALIAN REGIMENT (4 RAR)
FOURTH BATTALION THE ROYAL AUSTRALIAN REGIMENT (COMMANDO)
Compiled from various sources by Mr Jim Underwood (4 RAR Museum Foundation Historian) and Mr Derrill de Heer (Assistant Historian) January 2004 and Derrill de Heer 2008
The terrain of North Borneo
The terrain of North Borneo has been described as follows:
The country is a vast road-less, rail-less expanse of jungle and mountain.
between coast and hinterland, a factor which has accounted for the low level of internal development in the area... .On the muddy shores and river...The numerous rivers and a few jungle trails are the only means of travel between coast and hinterland, a factor which has accounted for the low level of internal development in the area... .On the muddy shores and river estuaries, where there is flooding at high tide, are dense mangrove swamps. In non-tidal fresh-water swamps, the trees are not tall but there is extensive undergrowth.
Between the coast and the mountainous border country, much of Borneo is covered by dense, tropical rain forest which forms an almost unbroken canopy a hundred feet or so above the ground.
From the coastal mangrove forests of west Sarawak ,the border between Sarawak and Kalimantan rose rapidly to 3000 feet and followed peaks and ridges to 8000 feet for its1,600 kilometre length before descending to the sea where east Sabah met Kalimantan and the eastern coast. Isolated flat areas and patches of lalang (native ‘elephant grass’) could be found in the mountains. These were often tilled by indigenous hill tribes-people who lived in very small and isolated settlements.
The main communications routes in the border region were a relatively small number of tracks often linking villages, and rivers. Because of the reliance on rivers as a means of travel, the indigenous subsistence farming population often located their villages on rivers. Although population density in the border region was low, the indigenous people were a key source of intelligence about track use and sighting of the IBT and other enemy forces. Their allegiance needed to be won to the side of the Commonwealth forces.
Military tactical foot patrol movement was possible through the jungle but rate of movement was slow. Data collected during a six-week period in 1966, once analysed, showed that average hourly rate of movement was approximately 1000 yards per hour. The rate of movement in primary or secondary
tracks ranged from as low as 700 yards to1700 yards per hour.
Map1-3:A segment of the Gunong Undan,1:50,000 military topographical map used by Commonwealth forces in North Borneo.
The map show s typical border terrain and indicates rivers and tracks. The map was used by Australian forces based at a company base located at Kampong Stass. It shows a number of artillery target numbers(in red).
Background to operations in South Vietnam
Communist and some nationalist forces within Vietnam were very strongly committed to the ouster of Japanese ,French and later US and Australian forces from Vietnam and the reunification of their country following its division along the 17th parallel at the 1954 Geneva Agreements. The Geneva Agreements had called for an election to be held in 1956 which would decide the peaceful reunification of the country. But the election never happened. The Democratic Republic of Vietnam (the North), together with the National Liberation Front (NLF)– a shadow government made up of communist and nationalist elements –were determined to reunite the country by force. Their combined forces (the Viet Cong and the People’s Army of Vietnam, or VC/PAVN) were highly motivated, well led, well equipped and highly effective. They had widespread political support within the villages and towns of South Vietnam.
Australian forces were committed to the war to support the US military effort. But 1965, South Vietnam was under severe military pressure from the VC/PAVN and was thought to be on the brink of military collapse. US and other allied forces arrived in Vietnam to prevent the military collapse of the South and to give the South Vietnamese government the ‘breathing space’ to win political support for its cause. The Australian Area of Operations (AO) was Phuoc Tuy Province and1ATF was largely successful in defeating the VC/PAVN within the AO and bringing a significant measure of security to the people there. However, when 1ATF withdrew from the province there were still enemy forces and their supporters within the province.
Indigenous security forces loyal to the South Vietnamese government held these enemy elements in check until the 1972 Easter Offensive in which VC/PAVN forces launched a major conventional invasion of South Vietnam.
Origins of the ‘American War’
During the Japanese occupation of French Indo-China in the Second World War , Vietnamese nationalist and communist elements combined to wage a guerrilla campaign aimed at liberating their country from the Japanese. In August 1945, on the eve of the Japanese surrender on13 August, the Vietnamese communists established the ‘Provisional Democratic Republic of Vietnam’. Three weeks
later, they proclaimed the independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam under Ho Chi Minh’s leadership. But their triumph was short lived. Later that month, French ,British and Indian military forces arrived in Saigon and France sought to reassert control of its former colonies in Indo-China. Meanwhile, on 9 October in London, France and Britain signed a pact giving full recognition to French rights in Indo-China.
By October 1945 France had begun military and civil operations to restore French control throughout Vietnam leading, by late 1946, to war against the Vietnamese communist/nationalist forces known as the Viet Minh.
Viet Minh military capacity rapidly expanded, particularly after Chinese communist forces reached the northern border of Vietnam. This allowed the Chinese communist regime to funnel captured arms and ammunition to the Viet Minh. After many battles which saw the steady rise of Viet Minh military power, the First Indo-China war culminated in the battle of Dien Bien Phu. The French aimed to draw the Viet Minh into a set-piece battle in which heavy French fire power would destroy the Viet Minh forces. To this end the French established an ‘air-land’ base in the remote western valley of Dien Bien Phu with a garrison of 16,000 men, 28 105mm guns and 10 light tanks. The Viet Minh, under General Vo Nguyen Giap, responded with a force of about 50,000 troops with an estimated 54,000 in support. They surprised the French by concentrating 48 105mm guns and about 150 lighter artillery pieces including anti-air craft artillery. After a lengthy siege, Dien Bien Phu fell to the Viet Minh on 7 May 1954.
I decided to include a couple of photo's from your Government Paid tours of Asia, they may help refresh your memory and also make you very wary of accepting free overseas holidays.
A ship ride to Borneo