Royal Marines in Borneo - 1962 - 1966
Updated: Aug 11
Between 1963 and 1966, British Commonwealth forces fought against Indonesia in a conflict that focused on the future of Brunei and North Borneo. The fighting consisted of small-scale jungle clashes in the border areas, and ended in a victory for the Commonwealth.
In 1962, northern Borneo consisted of the British protectorate of Brunei and the colonies of Sarawak and North Borneo (later known as Sabah). The rest of the island was made up of the Indonesian provinces of Kalimantan.
On 8 December 1962, pro-Sukarno rebels, known as the North Kalimantan National Army, tried to capture the Sultan of Brunei who called on the British for help.
Within hours, two companies of Gurkhas had been airlifted in from Singapore. Over the next few days, other units joined them, including the Queen's Own Highlanders and 42 Royal Marine Commando.
After rescuing a number of hostages and securing Brunei's key strategic points - such as its radio stations, government buildings and oil refineries - the rebellion was easily suppressed.
In April 1963, hoping to intimidate the local population, Sukarno authorised cross-border incursions into North Borneo by so-called volunteers. Five battalions of British and Gurkha troops, under the command of Major-General Walter Walker, were committed to defend a frontier that extended for nearly 1,000 miles of jungle-covered mountain.
Walker had experience fighting the Japanese in Burma and the Communists in Malaya, and he was quick to put the lessons learned in those campaigns into effect.
A keen advocate of the use of helicopters in modern military operations, he set out to dominate the jungle by patrolling and placed great emphasis on the gathering of intelligence. Medical and agricultural projects were initiated to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the local population. Locals were also recruited into an irregular force known as the Border Scouts.
In September 1963, Sukarno committed Indonesian regular troops to the conflict. Their tactics were to cross the frontier in bodies of up to 200 men and establish bases in the jungle. Walker responded by setting up bases of his own near the border, which were supplied and reinforced by helicopter. He also received permission to mount secret cross-border raids into Kalimantan to pre-empt Indonesian attacks.
By the time Walker handed over command to Major-General George Lea, his force had been increased to 13 battalions of infantry, the equivalent of a battalion of SAS, plus artillery and engineer support.
Troops were provided by Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand as well as Britain. All eight battalions of Gurkhas were engaged in the confrontation and once again showed their value as jungle fighters.
End of conflict
By late 1965, the Indonesians had lost control of the frontier. They were further undermined by internal strife.
In October 1965, the Indonesian army crushed an attempted coup by the Indonesian Communist Party, the main supporters of Sukarno. The following March, the anti-Communist General Suharto overthrew Sukarno.
He then withdrew Indonesian forces from the border areas and signed a treaty with Malaysia in August 1966.
The confrontation was over. It had claimed the lives of 114 Commonwealth personnel and wounded another 180. Nevertheless, it had been a striking success for Britain’s new all-professional army. National army museum
Royal Marines were deployed on operations in Borneo from 1962 - 1966.
On the 5th December 1962 H.M.S. Albion the Commando Carrier with its Helicopters and landing craft steamed at 26kts from Mombassa in Africa towards SE Asia to meet the expected flare up in Borneo, landining HQ 3 Commando Brigade and 40 Commando Royal Marines into Kuching, Sarawak by LCA and Whirlwind helicopter while 42 Commando was flown to Brunei from Singapore.
Limbang was a village on a large river and within its police station three hundred and fifty rebels were holding some British hostages. On the 12 December 1962 L Company in landing craft sailed up to the river towards Limbang to rescue the hostages. As they stormed ashore against very heavy fire.
Five Marines were killed and six wounded including a Naval Petty Officer. However, the Royal Marines soon brought the situation under control and all the hostages were released unharmed.
40 Commando Royal Marines served in
December 1962 - 5th Division of Sarawak
December 1962 - January 1963 - 1st Division Sarawak
March 1963 to July 1963 - 1st Division Sarawak
October 1963 to February 1964 - 1st Division Sarawak
July 1964 to December 1964 - Sabah North Borneo
July 1965 to November 1965 - 1st Division Sarawak
May 1966 to September 1966 - 2nd Division Sarawak
42 Commando Royal Marines served in
December 1962 – April 1963 - 5th Division of Sarawak
July 1963 – Oct 1963 - 1st Division of Sarawak
February 1964 – June 1964 - 1st Division of Sarawak
December 1964 – May 1965 - Sabah North Borneo
December 1965 – May 1966 - 1st Division of Sarawak
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