Jungle Warfare School (Pusat Latihan Darat-PULADA) or Army Combat Training Centre by Colonel Peter Hall DSO of the Worcestershire Regiment
Friday, May 12, 2006
Now we were off to patch up yet another crisis - confrontation (political jargon for WAR!) between the states of Malaysia and Indonesia. Borneo, is third largest island in the world, and the scene of this confrontation, one of the most difficult in which to conduct a military campaign. It consists of very mountainous country covered with nearly impenetrable tropical rain- forest. There are very few navigable roads and practically no railway lines. In fact, the only navigable routes outside the small and scattered urban areas, were the rivers. These rivers meandered muddily through mangrove swamps down to the South China Sea. How did such a conflict break out in 1963? Why should British and Australian forces be involved?
At the official conclusion of the Malay Emergency, nine years earlier, Britain granted sovereign status, as an independent nation, to Malaysia. The new Malaysia not only included the Peninsular of Malaya, but Singapore Island and the previous dependencies, which were known as British North Borneo. This was with the agreement of the Australian government who, also, had a vested interest in the commercial development of the new Malaysia. They also appreciated an awareness of its strategic importance. A deal was struck with the new Malaysian government. This stated that British and Australian interests would receive priority and would share in the development and rewards of Malaysian economic growth.
An important part of the package was that, should the newly formed state of Malaysia come under military threat, then Britain and Australia would intervene. If necessary, with military aid. This is exactly what happened in 1963. The threat came from Indonesia. President Soekarno, with his eyes on the oil rich, independent Sultanate of Brunei had invaded Eastern Malaysia. This invasion was mounted from KALIMANTON – the Indonesian part of Borneo which, geographically occupied two thirds of the island. So, how was I, a modest Lieutenant Colonel, aged 43, involved in all this? I will try to explain.
1.The British Jungle Warfare School had been established in the Emergency. Its original remit was :
a)To train British units in simple jungle warfare drills and tactics.
b)To examine, assess and suggest alterations to these tactics based on analysis of what had been successful and what had not.
c)To physically and mentally prepare European soldiers for a campaign which would require different and demanding qualities from what they had previously experienced.
2. As part of the treaty between Malaysia, Britain and Australia was that the JWS should be sustained in Johore. It would be a centre of excellence for training in jungle warfare and under British control. Also, that all three nations should share both its running cost and the benefits which it produced.
It was to command this establishment, at a time of great strategical importance, that I was posted. After a short embarkation leave in Weston-Super-Mare, I flew to Singapore to assess the situation - my family temporally remained behind in England, but joined me when I had settled in. This reconnaissance took five weeks and was most rewarding.
This was the situation which confronted me:-
1. The Jungle Warfare School was organised on the following lines:
a) A jungle tactics wing which ran courses of four weeks duration. They were for British, Australian and American jungle commanders ranging in rank from major to sergeant. The average intake for each course was 40 students.
b) A ‘Stap’ Wing which was, also, of four weeks duration. But, these were officers of ARVN - members of the, then, Official Army of the Republic of Vietnam. Because of communication problems, this wing also employed Vietnamese interpreters.
c) A War Dog’s Training Wing commanded by a Major in the Royal Army Veterinary Corps. Its remit was to train tracker dogs and their handlers and achieve a bonding between canine and human. This, if the handler correctly interpreted the dog, would enable the dogs to sniff out enemy incursions.
d) A Technical Development/Experimental ‘Cell’ under the control of a major who had qualified at the Technical Staff College at Shrivenham. I think that this ‘cell’ produced a spectacularly new ambush technique with a combination of the claymore mine and the Texas seismic detector. We christened it the ‘press button ambush’. The officer in charge of these experiments in combining technical and tactical practices was Major John Heath. (I last met him after my own retirement. This was in Sevenoaks, Kent. At that time he was a serving Colonel.)
The Jungle Warfare School had about 50 square miles of jungle real estate in which to exercise our tactical training commitments. We, also, had a sophisticated base camp. This included an air-conditioned cinema and lecture hail, excellent accommodation for students, staff and family, and a cricket and hockey pitch.
A Very Serious Afterthought I have neglected to mention that one of the greatest privileges of my military life was that, under my command, I had a demonstration Company of the Brigade of Gurkhas. I had known, and liaised with, Regiments of the Brigade of Gurkhas before. My admiration for these little, tough, courageous men is, I know, shared by every professional soldier in the world. So gentle and polite. Yet how fierce and loyal. So terribly independent. Britain owes a great gratitude to these soldiers from Nepal. Yet, in their retirement, we have shamefully and cynically neglected them! Apart from the purely military tactical training responsibilities, I, also, discovered that the job entailed other vital commitments.
1. As commandant of JWS I was, also, the British Garrison Commander of Johore Bahru -an area containing around 2,000 British expatriate families. This meant that, in the event of domestic conflict between expatriates and the indige nous population, I was expected to sort it out.
2. I was, also, responsible for the safety of British families in Johore Bahru should they be threatened by violence generated by multi- racial religious antagonisms. Such as we are all familiar with on the British mainland and in Ulster. I had a lot on my plate with which to contend!
It was my good fortune that the officer I was to relieve as Commandant/Garrison Commander was an old friend. He was Lieutenant Colonel ‘Steve’ Purcell, OBE*, the Royal Hampshire Regiment. Steve and I had first met when he was commanding a Rifle Company in 2nd Malay and I was Brigade Major. We had already established a bonding. As I have said before, the British Army was not, in numerical terms, a large one. But, it had the great advantage that it was a FAMILY and many of us had met before and established friendships, rapport and mutual respect. Steve and his Australian wife, Joy, were a big help in trying to get to grips with this new challenge. Not least in that they hosted me in their home and offered me unstinting friendship, encouragement and the benefit of their experience in this testing situation. ‘Good on you, mates!’
Terms of Engagement Fearing the possibilities of the conflict in Borneo escalating into a third World War, the British,Australian and Malaysian governments imposed considerable restraints on their forces operating in the field. I understand, and applaud, this action. But, it resulted in considerable frustrations for the military - the guys with the guns doing the fighting. A set of rules were circulated to military commanders called ‘The Terms of Engagement’.
These had a crippling effect on tactical flexibility because they stated that:-
1. We should only react to Indonesian incursions over the frontier and into Eastern Malaysia. We should not initiate any action which could be termed aggressive.
2. Under no circumstances should we cross the frontier and attack known Indonesian military bases in Kalimantan.
3. After a successful engagement with Indonesian forces we should only follow the retreating enemy as far as the frontier. This would allow the enemy to regroup, reinforce and have another go when it suited him so to do!
It was rather like a boxer who was only allowed to punch after his opponent had punched. Also if the opponent was groggy and staggered back to his corner, then the boxer had to wait until his opponent was sufficiently recovered to have another go. This rule, however, only applied one way. If the opponent’s punch made the boxer groggy and HE staggered back to his corner, he could expect to be punched senseless. These were the rules imposed on the British, Gurkha, Australian and Malay Battalions operating on land. Similar rules were imposed on the Royal Navy, The Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Malaysian Navy. They were only authorised to engage enemy sea forces entering Eastern Malaysian’s territorial waters.
The Allied Air Forces were strictly forbidden to overfly or engage enemy forces on Kalimantan territory or Kalimantan waters. Not only were we shackled with these political restraints but the Indonesian soldiers outnumbered ours by over 10 to 1. Remember also that the terrain under dispute was mountainous jungle country. Under these circumstances, I would defy any military staff college in the world to come up with a logical military solution how such a campaign could be successfully concluded. AND YET It was - and within a period of 18 months!
In future chapters I will attempt to explain how this was achieved and how we, JWS, made our contribution. The general situation in the Far East gave great cause for concern to the Western Powers. South Vietnam Was in imminent danger of being overrun by the Communist forces of North Vietnam. The Americans reacted quickly and ga ve massive military aid. (But were considerably handicapped by the South Vietnam military command. The ‘Boy Generals’ were more interested in planning military coups against their own government than in fighting the enemy).
And now, another nation was under threat - Malaysia through an assault on Eastern Malaysia. Should this domino piece topple, would the next one be Australia? It was highly likely as Australia and Indonesia were on each other’s doorsteps. It was natural and right that British, Australian and Malaysian strategists should react quickly to this new threat. It is a fact that Australia in 1963 was under nearly as great a threat of military invasion as Britain had been in 1940 !
This period of my military life, apart from the campaign in NW Europe, afforded me the greatest personal satisfaction in terms of a feeling of rewarding experiences, excitement, new challenges to be met and achievement in the outcome. It will always be one of the most vivid memories of my working life. Before progressing further, I would like to pay tribute to - the permanent staff of JWS! The staff was composed of Australians, British, New Zealanders, Nepalese, Vietnamese, Indians (including the Medical Officer and my charming and efficient lady secretary) and a Malayan Transport Unit. We were, in all, about 800 personnel. Different cultural backgrounds and religious beliefs but we respected each other and had a common purpose. Our joint determination to make the JWS a highly renowned specialist military school - and I am confident that we did.
If what I have written sounds like self- glorification, it is NOT so intended. It was my good fortune to inherit, from Steve Purcell*, a group of people who were quite exceptional, and it was he who had welded them together. Very soon after assuming command, the necessity for teamwork and flexibility became even greater.
The reason was the escalation of confrontation with Indonesia in Borneo. As a result of which JWS, in addition to its existing commitments, was required to accept and train British battalions for a period of five weeks before they were committed to Borneo operations. It was indicated to me that this was not a ‘one-off but a permanent commitment. I was offered no additional resources to meet this exacting, additional role. As a sop I was promoted to temporary Colonel. The extra pay was welcomed by both my bank manager and me, but it did not alleviate the immediate problem. (Although, wearing a red hat and red tabs on my collar gave me an edge to thump various tables of staff officers at General Far-East HQ, Singapore!)
I was supremely confident that the chief tactical instructor, JWS, would continue to do an excellent job. He was Major Derek Organ, MC, 1st/6th Queen’s Own Gurkha Rifles - later Lieutenant-Colonel. I was also equally confident that Major Chris Batchelor - also a Gurkha - would control STAP wing with his usual efficiency. Major John Heath would continue to vet new technical appliances and place them in a suitable tactical concept - or reject them. I demanded, and after a little sucking of teeth over expenses, was granted free range to go to Borneo to assess the problems that confronted operational commanders.
Recommendations could then be made as to how new units should be trained before committal to Borneo. Reluctantly the parsimonious Treasury granted me the authority. I truly believe, as a result of this investigation, British service men’s lives were not put into unnecessary risk. I am aware that I am in danger of appearing to say ‘What a clever boy I was!’ This is not my intention. ANY officer, who had been appointed to my job, would have come up with this conclusion - or, maybe, something even better!
As I have already stated Borneo is the third largest island in the world. The Island is shared by two countries. In the north, Eastern Malaysia occupying one third of the island, in the south Kalimantan (a part of Indonesia) occupying the remaining two thirds. Eastern Malaysia is roughly the size of the British Isles and not dissimilar in shape, here though the similarity ends. The country is wild and undeveloped. It is of a mountainous nature, very similar to the Cameron Highlands. It is covered very largely with tropical rain forest, except in the eastern province, Sabah, where intensive logging over a long period has decimated the original jungle. The boundary between Eastern Malaysia and Kalimantan is clearly defined by a high mountain range. Nestling on the north coast between Sarawak and Sabah is the tiny, but immensely oil rich independent Sultanate of Brunei.
The Indigenous People
In the few small towns that there are in eastern Malaysia one encountered the normal ethnic mix of Chinese (mostly the shop keepers). Malays (mostly junior government officials, military and police).Caucasians (mostly logging managers in Sabah, but a few others of various occupations. Some of these occupations hard to identify). By far the most numerous inhabitants of eastern Malaysia however are the original tribal communities of the country:the Dyaks and Ebans. The original and much feared head hunters of Borneo. They inhabit the wild rural areas of the state and their life style had not changed greatly over the last hundred years. They live in tribal groups called Long houses. A long house was the Dyak equivalent to a highrise flat building that was constructed in the United Kingdom in the 1950’s.
Well not quite, hygiene is more primitive, family personal life is much more public, but it suits the Dyaks. A long house usually gave shelter to about a couple of dozen families.One long house was usually home to about a hundred men, women and children. The long house was always sited on the banks of a river, which were numerous, and because of the mountainous nature of the country were very fast flowing. The river not only acted as a source of human waste (a sewer) but also as a source of food supply (through fishing) a bathing facility, a laundry and a source of drinking water.To the amazement of military medical officers the Dyaks are a very healthy and physically well-built people!
The ethics and rules of conduct of the inhabitants of a long house were established by a small community of elders (both genders) and were accepted by all the inmates. In my opinion it is a better example of true democracy than I have ever encountered in our (so called) more civilised western communities.
The strengths and weaknesses of the opposing military forces.
To simplify I will tabulate: -
1. The Indonesians
i. They out numbered our forces by a daunting ten to one.
ii. Many of their soldiers were of the country, knew the terrain, and were impervious to the medical problems of pollution and other local problems, e.g. Malaria.
iii. They knew that they could in curse into our territory, but if they got into trouble, they could run back across the border, and our terms of engagement would prevent us from chasing them.
i. We, the British, Australian, Malayan military, had enormous technological advantage, e.g. we had total control of the air, an enormous advantage, specifically in the use of helicopters.
ii. Our soldiers were better trained, better and more imaginatively led.
iii. Our communication systems were vastly superior to those of our opponents.
2. The British, Australian, Malaysian Forces a) Strengths - As explained above under Indonesian weaknesses b) Weaknesses
We were not used to the terrain, or the health hazards, and because from birth we had not been exposed to living in such harsh and primitive circumstances, we became greater victims to these health hazards than we did to Indonesian bullets. Under these unusual circumstances the RAMC (Royal Army Medical Corps) played a greater role in the solution of tactical problems than it ever did in conventional European warfare, where its role (important and appreciated as it was) was confined to patching up punctured human bodies. They were now involved in tactical and logistical problems as well! I think that, on the whole, they rose to the challenge very well.
Tactics and techniques employed by our own forces
A brief recap: we had to counter the formidable discrepancy of manpower that the two sides could employ in the conflict. We also had to take into account the immunity from disease, which many Indonesian soldiers enjoyed, as opposed to the Caucasian who was, for the first time, enduring exposure to diseases that he had not encountered before. On the credit side, however, we enjoyed incredible mobility’ compared to our opposition, in three ways:-
1. The helicopter - a jungle war winner
2. The ability to be re-supplied by air
3. Vastly superior wireless communications
SO - Taking all these factors into consideration - what tactical techniques did we decide upon? We reverted to the Middle Ages. We established jungle forts along the frontier, sited in positions where we could be confident that we could dominate the ground defensively even when superior numbers attacked us. Not unlike the Norman castles that William the Conqueror built between Wales and England. The tactical concept was very similar. It was not, as it might at first sight appear.A negative form of defence. On the contrary the concept was a springboard for aggressive action.Each jungle fort was the home of a company, but usually only one platoon (38 men) was at home at any one time. The other two platoons were busy in the jungle. How were they busy’? What were they doing?
Their primary task was to construct helicopter launching pads, or areas where troops could abseil down to the ground from helicopters. Each jungle fort had a helicopter pad constructed alongside it. This enabled our troops to move with considerable speed from one area of jungle to another. I would estimate that a minute airborne time was equivalent to an hour walking time. The heli-pad also acted as a DZ for air resupply.The helicopters were based and maintained on an airfield in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak. The transport aircraft were based in Butterworth in Peninsular Malaya.
Another criterion in the site of a jungle fort was that it had to be adjacent to a Dyak long house complex. There were some important reasons for this, which were: -
1. The construction of a jungle fort was a complicated business requiring considerable “navvy style” manpower. In addition to the muscle power of our soldiers, the Dyak population were an enthusiastic and invaluable source of muscle power. For the first time in their lives rural Dyaks became the owners of transistor radios, expens ive watches, - even mobile telephones! Part of a typical jungle fort.
2. The Dyak long house inhabitants feared and distrusted their Indonesian neighbours. They therefore welcomed, and were grateful for, the protective power that an adjacent jungle fort ga ve them. Their goodwill provided a tremendous tactical asset to us. It was a remarkable source of military intelligence about the enemy’s plans. How and why? Because: -
a. Dyak tribal loyalties did not acknowledge Political national boundaries. They extended to both sides of the border.
b. This meant that we had advanced warning of Indonesian aggressive intentions from the moment that they left their home base.
c. In jungle the only way to achieve success against an enemy was to ambush him. The only way to mount a successful ambush was to have fore-knowledge of the route he would follow, and the approximate time he would enter our selected killing area. All this information was available, and freely’ given to us, because the Dyak know all the likely tracks that an incursing enemy force was likely to take. Because of out’ helicopter lift ability we could be in the area well before he arrived, having sited our ambush, and waiting for him. OK - it wasn’t always as successful as that. Sometimes the intelligence was inaccurate and we ambushed the wrong track at the wrong time. There was, however, a high success rate.
History will, once again, reinforce that technological superiority will always overcome sheer numbers. There is, however, a big BUT. The but is: - That it is very unwise to think that one can sit on an every-expanding bum in a comfortable operations room, then to press buttons and win a war. It is still necessary, and will always be so, that the attainment of military success relies on the tactical skills of its officers (at all levels) and the courage and skill of the soldiers to respond to the orders they receive. Military action in the face of any aggressive enemy is a total team effort, where everyone plays his important part in the team. It is essential that everyone in a regimental team have trust in, and loyalty to, his mates.
I would be insulting the reader’s intelligence if she/he thought every jungle fort would be exactly as I have depicted. It obviously depends on the shape of the ground. There are, however, some common factors. These are:-
1.Platoon living areas are always nearest to the protective wire. The reason - in the event of an attack the riflemen need to be the first people to repel it.
2.The command post needs to be in the centre of the fort, on the highest ground, so that it has the best view of any action that is taking place, and is in the best position to pass wireless messages, should it be necessary to call for assis tance.
3.All the other force amenities can be juggled around to fit the ground, which has been selected for the jungle fort.
How are jungle forts sited and constructed?
I think that the clearest way to explain this is to tabulate by stages:-Stage 1 A commanding officer of a battalion will first select from the map the areas he thinks most tactically suitable. He has under his command four rifle companies so he will plan for four jungle forts in the area for which he is responsible.
Stage 2 The four rifle companies will then move into the jungle as a long range patrol, exactly as was practiced in the Malay emergency, their objective being the selected sites. There will be with the company an interpreter whose job will be to assist the company commander in his negotiations with the tribal elders.
Stage 3 On arrival at the selected site the first task for the company will be to create a heli-pad.
Stage 4 Into the heli-pad will be delivered by helicopter:-
i. RE experts who will plan the water supply system and the provision of electrical power to the fort, and give general engineering advice, which the company commander may require.
ii. Addition lightweight equipment, such as extra shovels, chain saws, etc, that will enable the company and their Dyak neighbours to expand the heli-pad into a formidable DZ.
Stage 5 It is at this stage that the transport aircraft based at Butterworth can start to air-drop heavier equipment, e.g. the protective wire and the six foot angle iron pickets that support the wire coils.
And so, like Topsy, the jungle fort “growed and growed”. It normally only took about three weeks before one could say that a fort was functional and operational, and that wireless communications had been established and were working. It can easily be seen that, should a battalion commander wish to mount an operation that demanded the co-ordinated involvement of more than one company he had only to select the most suitable fort for his coordinating HQ, and all the instruments of command were already in place, including maps and wireless communication. He just had to get himself a helicopter - a bit like calling a taxi!
Command and Control
The whole military effort in Borneo could only he described as a contribution by a light Division. Light, because we had no armour - it could not have functioned in the terrain -, not a great deal (if any) of artillery units, and no need for Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (we had little need for mechanical maintenance).The operation was under the command of General Sir Walter Walker (a Gurka officer) when I first became commandant of J.W.S., and later General Sit’ Peter Hunt (ex Queen’s own Cameron Highlanders). The HQ of the whole force was established on Labuan Island. The GOC was assisted and advised by the following senior staff officers, although the final decision was his. President Harry Truman put a notice on his desk: “The buck stops here”.
So it was with the GOC in Borneo, but he had the expert advice of the following staff officers:- The BGS (Brigadier General Staff) - co-ordinating Army tactics with the requests to sister services for support. SNSO (Senior Naval Staff Officer) - a past captain, Royal Navy, who was responsible for the co-ordination of the protection of nearly a thousand miles of Eastern Malaysian coast line, against a possible sea incursion. SASO (Senior Air Staff Officer) - a Group Captain, Royal Air Force. I am sure that the reader appreciates how vital was the soldiers ability to be airborne. To be provided with equipment, fed, and generally supported by air supply. The co-ordination of all these requirements requires very skillful staff work. It never failed.
The threat of Indonesian invasion of Eastern Malaysia was over in a period of only eighteen months. It was achieved because we had better led, better trained, better motivated armed forces and an enormous technological advantage. Our success, however, was not attained without professional tactical skill, imaginative leadership, physical and mental toughness, and considerable individual courage. The British armed forces are the envy of the world, as perhaps the most professional, although certainly no longer the most powerful, military units that a country/state possesses. I feel intense pride in the fact that, for the first thirty years of my working life, I was a humble cog in this magnificent military machine. An Afternote Units that were prepared and trained at J.W.S. for operations in Borneo included battalion’s from: -
1.The Royal Green Jackets 2.The Scots Guards 3.The Royal Scots Fusiliers 4.The Parachute Regiment 5.The Royal Australian Regiment
*Col E.Steve Purcell became the Garrison Commander of British Forces in Cameron Highlands, that year was 1969. I was honoured to receive a scholarship to Outward Bound School, in Lumut from Colonel ES Purcell in the year 1969.I was then 15 years old and had just completed my LCE. The scholarship consisted of $300/xx for the 25 day course and of course pocket money of $50/xx, which was a fortune those days. I thank him once again for his generosity in making me realise my dreams. Bless you, sir.