‘Confrontation’ was the term used to describe the period of undeclared war that existed between Indonesia and Malaysia, supported by forces of the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, between December 1962 and September 1966. The word ‘konfrontazi’ had been coined by the Indonesian Government for its policy of ‘wearing down the opposition by repeated demands, rather than by use of force’. This had brought them a successful outcome to the disputes over West Irian in the1950s.
The involvement of coastal minesweepers in this new Confrontation was in three distinct phases:
- The rebellion in Brunei in December 1962; a brisk action resolved within weeks,
- A prolonged period during 1963-65 in which the TONs transported army personnel and stores up rivers and inshore round to coastal garrisons in Borneo
- This phase overlapped with patrols to deter small craft carrying Indonesian infiltrators adjacent to Tawau close to the border on the east coast of Borneo and across the Sumatra Straits, right up to Singapore harbour. This activity peaked in 1965-66 and involved boardings and night actions with small, fast-moving targets.
Tactics evolved as each phase threw up new challenges.
The resident 104th Minesweeper Squadron (re-numbered the 6th MSS in 1963) was reinforced by the 8th MSS from Hong Kong. Additional TONs were brought forward from reserve in Singapore. Eventually other Coastals, including minehunters, would be rotated out from Britain to bolster the Inshore Flotilla. Ships of the Royal Malaysian Navy (Tentera Laut di Raja), including their six TONs and smaller patrol craft, conducted patrols, principally on the east coast of Borneo and along coastlines of Johore. The Royal Australian Navy sent four TONs of the 16th MSS and the Royal New Zealand Navy contributed crews to operate two RN TONs. The RN also transferred two Seaward Defence Boats to the Inshore Flotilla, shipping the craft from Britain as deck cargo and diverting Boom Defence personnel as their crews.
Coastal minesweepers were not ideally suited to any of the three phases. Fast, manoeuvrable, heavily armed coastguard cutters would have been better suited to the task but the Royal Navy had abandoned its motor gun boat capability during the 1950s. In the event, the TONs just got on with the job and many ingenious innovations resulted.
Confrontation ended with the ousting of Indonesian President General Sukarno and ratification of the Treaty of Bangkok, in August 1966. It had been a full-scale war involving 100 warships, nearly one third of the strength of the Royal Navy, over a period of nearly four years, but it was played down in the media of both sides. Even today, the extent of the action and the scale of the forces involved is not widely known. There are few comprehensive histories of this period and little recognition given to the contributions of ships cutting off sea-borne Indonesian incursions, of helicopters operating both from Commando carriers and from log forts hastily erected in the jungle, and of fixed wing aircraft operating from HMS VICTORIOUS and airfields ashore.
Click on the images in the gallery for a slide show.