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Colonel David Mitchell 2 SBS - Borneo

Updated: Dec 4, 2023

Colonel David Mitchell Royal Marines commanded No 2 Special Boat Section in the Far East, and pioneered new technique of clandestine reconnaissance during Konfronatsi the the Indonesia-Malaysia Confrontation.

Mitchell commanded 2 Special Boat Section in 1964/65 when Konfrontasi, a Communist-backed, Indonesian-led series of armed incursions intended to destabilise the newly formed Federation of Malaysia, was at its peak.

In early 1964, 2SBS was sent to the border between Sarawak (part of the federation) and Kalimantan (part of Indonesia-held Borneo), where Mitchell established on Turtle island a covert observation post and a base for patrols.

HMS Ambush (P418/S68/S18), an Amphion-class submarine. (In 1951 she heard and decoded a distress message from HMS Affray, which was sunk with the loss of 4 members of SBS in the English Channel)

Between operations, Mitchell pioneered novel techniques for exiting with canoes from a submarine while it remained submerged, and in 1965 Mitchell applied 2SBS’s new skills in a series of clandestine reconnaissance tasks on the enemy coast. Since these operations were extremely sensitive, their planning and rehearsals had to be meticulous, and leave nothing to chance.

Over a three-month period, despite the difficulties of weather and tide, and the risk of detection, Mitchell led several secret operations, calling for courage and determination by all concerned. Launching while underwater from the submarine Ambush, commanded by his friend Lieutenant Commander Charles Baker, Mitchell and his marines successfully carried out their dangerous investigations, despite having to close to within 30 yards of the enemy and their barking dogs, and having to paddle silently up rivers into enemy territory.

During all these operations, one slip or false move would have prejudiced the whole series, likely leading to the capture and death of the participants. On the very last operation, Mitchell returned to the rendezvous to find that one of his teams had been unable to achieve its task, and, despite fatigue and the shortness of the night, he led his men back to finish the job. Mitchell was awarded the MBE for his leadership, coolness and courage.

David Mitchell was born into the well-known Sussex baking family, and while an apprentice baker at the Borough Polytechnic Institute, London in 1948, he helped decorate a cake with 56lbs of icing to celebrate King George VI and Queen Elizabeth’s silver wedding anniversary. Called up for National Service, Mitchell seized the chance to change the direction of his life, volunteered for the Royal Marines, and never looked back. He undertook Special Forces training, was identified as officer material, and one month before discharge he opted for permanent service in the Corps.

Canoeing played a big part in his life, and as a young officer he was greatly influenced by his mentor and friend Hugh Bruce and, with him, broke the national record for crossing the English Channel. He also twice won the highly competitive Devizes to Westminster canoe race partnering with his marine friend Stuart Syrad.

Later he commanded the Royal Marines at Poole, and his uniform career finished as Director, Royal Marines Reserves.

Mitchell was a gentle, courteous man, always ready with a smile and words of support, confidence and appreciation. Never one to claim the spotlight, he worked to ensure others would succeed. He took little credit for his distinguished record, often saying that he had been lucky to have been in the right place at the right time with the right people, and to have had such wonderful role models.

In retirement he was head of personnel at Marconi for many years, and then worked tirelessly for Victim Support.

At Rouen, during a rugby tour, he was smitten by Betty Mann, the daughter of the local representative of Kiwi polish, whose family had lived in France pre- and postwar, and immediately invited her to a ball at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich. They married in 1953: she predeceased him in 2011 and he is survived by their five children

Colonel David Mitchell, born September 23, 1929, died September 25, 2021

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