By Mr K. Williams
The 1962-1966 Confrontation with Indonesia began less than five years after the successful completion of the Malayan Emergency, and had a successful conclusion a decade before the US led coalition forces were defeated in Vietnam. This essay will examine how the campaign of the Commonwealth forces applied lessons from the Malayan Emergency, and developed new Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs) that could inform future New Zealand counter insurgency campaigns within a littoral jungle environment. The first president of Indonesia, Ahmed Sukarno, launched the Konfrontasi campaign to defeat what he depicted as Neocolonialism, Colonialism, and Imperialism (Nekolim) forces as part of his vision to unify Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia with Indonesia.(1) Sukarno’s failure to achieve tactical success was a factor that led to a coup that effectively led to the demise of his power and ultimately the victory of Commonwealth forces in the campaign against Indonesia. Looking at the Commonwealth campaign within a strategic, operational and tactical framework, this essay will propose that lessons identified in the Confrontation with Indonesia still have relevance for New Zealand campaign planning for future deployments within the Asia-Pacific region. Overall, this campaign analysis will argue that the success of Commonwealth forces in the Confrontation was a result of applying lessons from the Malayan Emergency in a context that recognised the idiosyncrasies of the new campaign, and exploitation of developing technologies and TTPs.
Indonesia gained independence from the Dutch in 1949, following a four year struggle led by Sukarno. As a result of high internal instability experienced in the fledgling nation, Sukarno introduced guided democracy to Indonesia in 1957. Sukarno supported and protected the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) to counter the power of the military, but because he was keeping control of the nation largely through military means he needed a way to rally domestic support. According to Yahuda, the internal incompatibility between the PKI and the more conservative armed forces meant that the only way Sukarno could achieve ‘great freedom of political manoeuvre without arousing domestic discord’(2) was through his foreign policy, arousing a nationalistic response. Dahm, disagrees, however, stating that it would be ‘a mistake to regard (Sukarno’s) aggressive foreign policy as dictated merely by the need to divert attention from the growth of economic distress or of the friction between the army and the PKI.’(3) The fight against imperialism which Sukarno pursued on a grand scale, acted as a relief to the internal tensions brought about by ‘guided democracy’, but it was also a belief that Sukarno strongly held. Sukarno was bitter about the treatment of Indonesians by the Dutch, and saw all imperialists as being the same. Sukarno’s success in elevating the West New Guinea issue into a major international dispute which resulted in the territory being incorporated into Indonesia demonstrated his political ability to rally popular support against the Nekolim. Crouch stated that Sukarno saw Indonesia’s role as a ‘leader of the ‘New Emerging Forces’ of the world with the destiny of destroying the remaining influence of the Nekolim.’(4) Milne said that the Indonesians as a whole ‘tended to think of Malaya/Malaysia as merely a small part of a potential Indonesia raya – Greater Indonesia.’(5) Sukarno formalised this popular belief within Indonesia into his nationalistic policy of Konfrontasi.
In 1961, when a Federation of Malaysia was mooted, Sukarno saw the formation of an independent pro-Western Malaysia as a frustration to his ambition. He therefore began to rally opposition to the concept, and support those who were prepared to fight against it. It was also beneficial for Sukarno that ‘engaging nationalist fervour against Britain distracted Indonesian public opinion from the appalling state of the nation’s economy.’(6) Ricklefs stated that many Indonesian leaders regarded Malaya as ‘somehow less truly independent since it had had no revolution, and were suspicious of the continuing British presence there.’(7) Sukarno was able to leverage off this belief to support his Konfrontasi policy against the Nekolim. He began inciting and supporting civil opposition to the formation of the Malaysian Federation, because he wanted international observers to believe that Konfrontasi was ‘the will of the people and that their aspirations were for a united Kalimantan within Indonesia.’(8) Mackie stated that the overall objectives of Konfrontasi were to ‘forestall the formation of Malaysia, to force the withdrawal of British forces from the region and, later, to crush Malaysia (Ganjang Malaysia).’(9) Mackie claims that Sukarno developed a strategy for the conduct of Konfrontasi which consisted of a propaganda offensive against the Nekolim character of the Malaysian Federation, diplomatic activity directed towards postponing the formation of Malaysia, and military reconnaissance across the Sarawak border, starting in April 1963.(10) The first act against the formulation of Malaysia by the Indonesian government was supporting the Brunei revolt led by Azahari in 1962.(11) Rather than being a confrontation between nations, Sukarno saw Konfrontasi as an ideological struggle between the Indonesian led ‘New Emerging Forces’ and the Nekolim exploitation of the peoples of Malaya, Singapore and North Kalimantan.(12) For this reason, a large aspect of Konfrontasi was to incite and support civil unrest within Malaysia. To support his legitimacy in this goal, Indonesian military forces targeted Commonwealth forces and avoided armed contact with Malaysian forces where possible.
The Federation of Malaysia was initially envisaged by Britain to bring together the states of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak, Brunei and North Borneo (later renamed Sabah), with the intention of creating a stable post-colonial regime that favoured positive relations with Britain and would allow base facilities in return for strategic protection if it became necessary. Confrontation presented a number of issues for Britain. The Indonesian army held the PKI in check, which meant that British attacks on the Indonesian military could have the adverse effect of bringing the communists to power in Indonesia.(13) Although Confrontation required Britain to defeat Sukarno’s attempts to undermine the formation of Malaysia, Indonesia was a key non-aligned regional actor which made it a priority to restore positive relations as soon as possible.(14) The delicate balance that Britain sought was to keep conflict to the minimum level required to ensure success, so that relations could be resumed once a political settlement was reached. Subritzky stated that Britain’s concern of future political relations with Indonesia was also shared by policy makers in Wellington, stating that ‘in the event of considerable bloodshed, New Zealand’s relations with its closest Asian neighbour could be poisoned for generations to come.’(15) This concern was also keenly felt in Australia, which now shared a land border with Indonesia on the island of New Guinea.
The British military response to Confrontation was conducted in five main phases, which began with the response to the Brunei revolt over the period 1962 through to early 1963. The second phase began with the North Kalimantan National Army (TNKU) raid on the Tebedu police station on 12 April 1963, which was followed by a number of further incursions by the Indonesian supported TNKU militia into Sarawak with the purpose of precipitating another rebellion before Malaysia Day. The third phase was from September 1963 to April 1964, when regular Indonesian troops began to make incursions into Sarawak initially with forces of up to 90 men, primarily to gain information and provide support to freedom fighters.(16) The fourth phase from April to around June 1964 was where Indonesian incursions deep into Sarawak were replaced by night raids and ambushes close to the border.(17) The Fifth phase was when Indonesian efforts moved away from Borneo and focused more on peninsular Malaysia, beginning with the attempted amphibious landing at Pontian in August and paratrooper insertion at Labis in September 1964. There was no significant military activity along the Sarawak border during this phase, apart from some short lived Indonesian intensification in 1965. The October 1965 coup in Indonesia was put down by the Indonesian army, which resulted in Sukarno losing political power to General Suharto and his army establishment. The military leaders focused on restoring economic stability and suppressing the local communist party, abandoning the distractions of the costly Konfontasi.(18) The Confrontation was officially over when a peace agreement was signed on 11 August 1966 in Bangkok, Thailand. Subritzky stated that although Sukarno failed to ‘crush’ the federation of Malaysia, the British also failed in their ambition of ‘being a global power of substance, and retaining a significant role for itself east of Suez.’(19) Although Brunei and Singapore were not part of Malaysia in 1966, as originally planned by policy makers in Whitehall, both countries maintained membership of the Commonwealth and cordial relations with Britain.
Figure 1: Map showing relevant locations in Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and Indonesia.(20)
The strategic level of the campaign, and in particular the allocation of command between military and civilian components was fundamental to the achievement of the political goals. The national strategic level refers to ‘the political dimension of conflict at the macro level, both domestically and internationally, and the mobilisation of national military and non-military resources to meet the Government’s national strategic aim.’(21) This includes the whole of government approach to achieving a political end, whereas the military strategic level is ‘responsible for the military aspects of planning and directing conflict.’(22) A key element to the success of Commonwealth forces was the ‘cultural, political and military history the British had developed in Borneo.’(23) An example of this was Richard Noone, an SIS agent-handler. Noone was an anthropologist by training, who arrived in Malaya in 1939 to live with and study the indigenous tribes.(24) Another key strategic aspect of the Commonwealth response to Confrontation was maintaining diplomatic relations with Indonesia while also conducting a military response. The Australian government made a conscious decision at the beginning of the Confrontation to keep their ambassador in Jakarta and maintain trade and other links open despite the hostilities. Diplomatic pressure ensured that the Indonesian government was fully cognisant of the effects of maintaining a positive strategic relationship beyond Konfrontasi.(25) The political balance required of the Confrontation demanded that ‘Britain should avoid undeniable operations except in circumstances of a full-scale Indonesian attack or where such operations would be of the kind unlikely to result in Indonesian retaliation.’(26) This meant that military forces were required to avoid collateral damage, and act defensively.
The Commonwealth forces had access to good quality strategic intelligence to shape policy, provided from air photo-reconnaissance, human agents (HUMINT) and intercepted Indonesian signals (SIGINT). Air photo-reconnaissance was provided by the RAF, and a large portion of HUMINT was gained through British agents within the Indonesian government and military. The most significant intelligence, however, was the SIGINT gained by the British once they broke the Indonesian ciphers.(27) The reliability of intelligence meant that British forces were confident that limited raids across the border would secure the Malaysian population, and avoid international attention. Under the codename of Operation Claret, permission was initially granted for Commonwealth forces to cross the Borneo border to a depth of 5,000 yards to raid Indonesian positions in the second quarter of 1964.(28) The ability to protect intelligence, and the response to information gained was greatly enhanced by the lack of media coverage of the Confrontation campaign.
Operation Claret was successful because of strict control by policy-makers, and because the operations were conducted by highly-trained, professional troops.(29) Major General Walker, Director of Borneo Operations, disagreed with the secrecy of Operation Claret, stating that ‘as the truth would have to be admitted at some stage, it is arguable that it might be better to present our offensive action as justifiable reprisals in the first place.’(30) Strategically, the secrecy of Operation Claret allowed the Indonesian government a face-saving way of backing down once Konfrontasi proved fruitless. This was well understood at the strategic level, which is why policy makers maintained the need for secrecy regarding cross border operations. The initial success of Operation Claret to push Indonesians out of Malaysia, and the Commonwealth forces to gain the control of the border allowed the British politicians to extend the depth of cross border operations to 10,000 yards in early 1965. This was a ‘clear example of SIGINT influencing Britain’s military strategy in the Confrontation.’(31) Later in 1965 the depth of operations across the border was extended to 20,000 yards. By this time Commonwealth forces had pushed the Indonesian military far enough away from the border that raids into Malaysia became less frequent. The effect that Operation Claret had on the Indonesian military is hard to quantify, but the lack of Indonesian strategic military success protracted Konfrontasi allowing internal instability in Indonesia to lead to the attempted coup in October 1965.(32) The Indonesian strategy was so ambiguous that even when the Commonwealth strategy looked successful, following the peace agreement signing in Bangkok a number of British policy makers believed that Indonesian aggression was still a possibility. This led to the desire to get Commonwealth forces out of Malaysia expeditiously so that ‘if Confrontation did begin again, meeting it would not be a specifically British responsibility.’(33) This demonstrated that even with very good intelligence available, ambiguity will always be a factor.
At the operational level of the campaign, the use of joint enablers allowed Commonwealth Forces to achieve success against Indonesian forces. The operational level ‘links military strategy to tactics by establishing operational objectives and end-states, initiating actions, and applying resources to ensure the success of the campaign or operation.’(34) The importance of the operational level of command ensuring tactical actions were compatible with strategic goals were well understood within the Commonwealth hierarchy in Malaysia. Once the Confrontation campaign in Borneo began, Major General Walker advocated for a system of unified command similar to that used in the Malayan Emergency. This system acknowledged the true nature of a counterinsurgency being a contest for political legitimacy.(35) What eventuated, under his command, was a unique command and control arrangement for the time; a Joint Service and civil command structure at all levels, with an intelligence sharing approach.(36) This provided an important link between the strategic whole of government approach and the tactical level of the Confrontation. In particular, it enabled coherent use of the intelligence gained from civilian, police and military sources to determine the tactical use of resources, without the domination of purely military considerations. This was demonstrated by limiting military commanders’ offensive aspirations, which avoided unnecessarily antagonising international opinion and alienating Indonesian political leaders.(37) In contrast to the coherent Commonwealth operational linkage between strategic and tactical level, the Indonesians had no logical relationship between the tactical, operational, and strategic levels of activity. The Indonesian command structure and strategy to support Konfrontasi has been described instead as ‘chaotic, disaggregated, and ad hoc.’(38) This caused problems for the Commonwealth forces when trying to make sense of Indonesian activities, adding to the ‘fog of war’.
When Major General Walker assumed command in Borneo at the end of 1962, he disseminated his key principles for successful military operations against the Indonesians: ‘unified operations; timely and accurate information; speed, mobility and flexibility; security of friendly bases; domination of the jungle; and winning hearts and minds.’(39) The unified operations were from the operational command all the way down to the tactical level, the passage of intelligence and information was key to the successful prosecution of military operations, and was arguably the most important aspect to the success of the Commonwealth forces in the Confrontation. Speed, mobility and flexibility was achieved through the coordinated use of joint enablers such as helicopters in the jungle areas and naval craft in the littoral waters. The security of friendly bases was an important way of denying Indonesian raid success against Commonwealth forces. Domination of the jungle was achieved through having well trained soldiers, both in the SAS and the regular units that operated in Borneo such as the Ghurkhas and later the 1st Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment. The hearts and minds campaign was a way of denying support to the Indonesians, but also provided some useful intelligence. The ability to minimise civilian casualties was an important part of the Commonwealth force maintaining legitimacy amongst the local populations.
Special Forces, controlled at the operational level, identified Indonesian incursions that could then be ambushed by regular soldiers, at the tactical level, that were able to rapidly concentrate through the use of helicopters. The inability of the Indonesians to utilise helicopters for moving troops and supplies restricted Indonesian troops to utilise river transport and established jungle tracks which were easily ambushed, and the Commonwealth forces successful use of operational command enabled them to dominate the border region.(40) Cross-border operations were closely controlled at the operational level, which ensured that tactical patrols reinforced the strategic goals and political developments. A good example of this occurring was when cross-border operations were suspended in early 1965 for a period of time to allow Malaysian peace talks with Indonesia.(41) There was some confusion at the operational level despite the functioning lines of communication between Whitehall and Borneo Headquarters. This was demonstrated when Borneo Headquarters believed that Britain was on the verge of political defeat even though Commonwealth forces had dominated Indonesian activity near the border.(42)
The lack of media coverage of the Confrontation was largely due to reporters ‘unwillingness to join troops on patrol’ in the difficult and demanding jungle.(43) Because the Commonwealth forces were able to minimise the impact of the conflict to the civilian population there was not a lot of ‘headline news’ to attract journalists. The absence of journalists worked to the advantage of the Commonwealth forces because ‘it allowed them to conduct one of the largest clandestine operations in military history – Operation Claret.’(44) In New Zealand, the media’s coverage was also limited, because of light casualties, New Zealand’s Commonwealth ties, and Indonesia’s international position.(45) New Zealand media largely agreed with the government’s commitment to the Confrontation in support of the Commonwealth, and against Indonesia which had withdrawn from the UN and appeared to be influenced by China and Russia.
Another factor at the operational level that affected New Zealand involvement in the Confrontation was that our military equipment was old and in some cases not suitable for the task. Examples include the New Zealand navy borrowing two old minesweepers from the Royal Navy, and New Zealand SAS soldiers relying significantly on their British counterparts to provide suitable equipment.(46)
At the tactical level of the campaign, each individual service achieved local success that contributed to the conduct of the campaign. Jackson stated that the tactical level is where ‘battles, engagements, and actions – that is, the execution of the operation or campaign – actually take place.’(47) It is through the operational coordination of tactical effects that strategic goals are achieved.
The maritime component was effective in maintaining a naval blockade in the Malacca Strait, and projection of land forces, including insertion along rivers. The Royal Navy lent powerful logistical support, with aircraft carriers providing floating bases and a variety of other support vessels almost continuously ferrying battalions of Commonwealth troops and items of equipment, including light aircraft and helicopters, to the operational area. The navy conducted continuous patrols of the coastline and rivers vulnerable to infiltration by sea, to guard the western coastline of Malaysia against attempted infiltration by Indonesians. ‘During the peak period of the Confrontation, British and Commonwealth warships were continuously on patrol in the straits for over 700 days and nights, and intercepted 90 per cent of known attempts to infiltrate.’(48) The success of the naval blockade prevented Indonesian forces from being able to successfully conduct operations on the Malaysian peninsula, largely restricting military conflict during the Confrontation to Borneo.
Commonwealth air forces during the Confrontation were effectively utilised for close air support, aerial resupply of land forces along the border region, and tactical movement of land forces by air. Tactical air operations, such as air strikes on Indonesian soldiers in Malaysian territory, were controlled by Forward Air Controllers in helicopters.(49) The use of Forward Air Controllers in helicopters was a new innovation, and proved to be highly successful. The RNZAF B170 Bristol Freighter medium range transport and aerial resupply functions during the Confrontation was highly valued by New Zealand’s allies because this niche was always difficult to fill.(50) This was particularly important for the aerial resupply of Forward Defence Locations along the Kalimantan border, and rotation of Commonwealth forces within the operational theatre.
One of the key roles of the air component at the tactical level was through the use of helicopters. Co-ordinated with medium-range transport aircraft, helicopters could rotate an entire battalion of several hundred men between the Forward Defence Locations in Borneo and Singapore in a single day.(51) The use of helicopters was vital in the deployment of blocking forces against Indonesian incursions, but were also instrumental in the movement of scarce artillery along the border. Two Belvedere helicopters were used to transport 105mm howitzers, with one carrying the guns ammunition, flying at treetop level to escape detection.(52) By utilising helicopters to rapidly insert troops and move artillery, the Commonwealth forces were able to be flexible and agile when responding to Indonesian movement across the border. Major General Lea, who replaced Major General Walker as the director of operations in Borneo in March 1965, believed that there were tensions between the army and air force ‘on the extent to which assets should be devolved to local army commanders.’(53) The control of joint enablers at the operational level, however, ensured that tactical commanders were able to effectively conduct their missions with the required support.
The use of Commonwealth land forces during the Confrontation included the application of lessons learnt during the Malayan Emergency, the evolution of Special Force employment, and adaptation of new TTPs that led to successful operations within the campaign. The operational control of cross-border operations meant that there were constraints on what could be achieved tactically, and this was most obvious in the employment of SAS in a reconnaissance role. The SAS assessment of their operations from a tactical perspective indicate that ‘only a minority were unqualified successes.’(54) The large number of SAS patrols that didn’t achieve their tactical aims because of compromise were largely due to the operational need of maintaining deniable operations in Indonesian territory.(55) The ability to focus on the operational tasks given to SAS patrols demonstrated the professionalism of the soldiers, foregoing the desire for tactical success in order to enable strategic success.
The SAS conducted two main tasks during the Confrontation. Their primary task was reconnaissance on the border, and this was enabled by the secondary task of gaining the trust and support of the jungle inhabitants. Once the jungle tribesmen realized that the SAS patrols were friendly and willing to provide medical aid to their families, they provided information from their own experiences in the jungle, and from relatives across the unmarked border.(56) Winning the hearts and minds of the local population ‘was a tripwire and proven intelligence resource.’(57) Another perspective is that the hearts and minds campaign achieved valuable support of the locals, but it did nothing to foster Malaysian nationalism. Tucks argues that ‘the hearts-and-minds campaign was too British and that a greater role should have been given to Malaysians.’(58) While the hearts-and-minds campaign was highly successful, there is the possibility that an opportunity to partner the campaign with the Malaysian military was lost.
A large amount of skills and knowledge was either possessed by the soldiers from experience in Malaya, or was passed on to the soldiers before they began operations in Borneo. Particular focus was placed on troops being properly trained in jungle warfare skills.(59) New Zealand soldiers benefitted greatly from this experience due to the continuity of having a professional battalion in Malaya whose central core was a growing group of Regulars who knew the jungle and continued to improve their tactical skills.(60) Major General Lea, however, believed that the SAS ‘found that many of the techniques and tactics which they had learned during the Malayan emergency had to be radically altered to meet the different conditions in Borneo.’(61) This is more likely in relation to the SAS role in the Malayan Emergency, as helicopter Quick Reaction Forces, compared to the reconnaissance role that they carried out in Borneo. As a result of the high professionalism of Commonwealth soldiers, they were described as ‘dominating the jungle with imaginative tactics and good quality intelligence to ensure that almost every Indonesian move was detected.’(62) Mackie, pointed out, however, that ‘very small forces, not particularly well armed, were capable of tying down very large numbers of British and Malaysian troops in Borneo.’(63) At the peak of the conflict, British armed forces were fully stretched to maintain the Confrontation against Indonesia.
The purpose of Commonwealth cross-border patrols was to identify Indonesian logistics and incursions, and because the dense jungle restricted swift ground movement to formed tracks and rivers Indonesian raiding parties largely used track systems. This channelled Indonesian movement, and with information provided from the local population, most enemy movement was detected.(64) Through the ability to tactically question Indonesian prisoners, NZ troops were also able to gain valuable information on enemy troop movement that allowed NZ forces to capture other Indonesian soldiers in the area.(65) Over the period of the Confrontation, the losses suffered by Indonesian forces as a result of contact was nine times those of the Commonwealth forces despite the roughly even number of contacts where the Indonesians fired first.(66) This highlights the high level of training evident in the Commonwealth forces, through marksmanship TTPs. These statistics are even more one sided when ambushes from each side are compared. On average, Indonesian initiated ambushes inflicted only 1.2 more casualties on Commonwealth forces than they suffered. Commonwealth ambushes, however, caused 15 times more Indonesian casualties.(67) The ability of Commonwealth forces to coordinate regular troops, with intelligence provided by the SAS patrols, to target the Indonesians in forward operating bases on their side of the border effectively denied them bases from which they could mount their own cross border operations.(68) When contacts were unplanned, however, the thickness of the jungle caused confusion and could prolong firefights. Some contacts could end up lasting more than 12 hours, with limited artillery support. It was common for a single artillery gun to use nearly 200 rounds in support of Commonwealth forces in a contact.(69) In the end, the tactical superiority of the Commonwealth forces blocked Indonesian plans with attacks on their military infrastructure, resulting in ‘the offensive initiative (being) wrested from the Indonesians.’(70)
Example of new technologies used by the Commonwealth forces during Confrontation include the automatic capable M-16, which replaced the 7.62mm L1A1 SLR (semi-automatic). The shorter, lighter weapon was much more suited to the thick jungle, and the important few seconds of automatic fire when the contact was initiated often swayed the firefight. Other technology that replaced older weapon systems during the Confrontation included the 81mm mortar, which replaced the 3-inch mortar, and the 84mm Carl Gustav anti-tank weapon which replaced the 3.5-inch rocket launcher. A new technology to the Confrontation was the TOBIAS seismic sensor system that could detect a person at 50 yards, which was used as early warning ‘beyond the perimeters of border forts to detect the approach of the enemy.’(71) The ability to successfully introduce new weapons and technologies during the Confrontation was a contributing factor to the overmatch enjoyed by Commonwealth forces against the Indonesian military.
Lessons applicable to future campaign planning
One of the geopolitical lessons of Konfrontasi was that it underscored the strategic importance of International Relations in South-East Asia. Dee described the after effect of Confrontation being that ‘it awakened an entire region to its collective responsibility to seek and maintain the stability and well-being of the whole.’(72) This has been reinforced by a former Malaysian Foreign Minister, who described ASEAN as being developed ‘out of the pains of Konfrontasi.’(73) Another lesson was the realisation to New Zealand, but more importantly Australia, that neither Britain nor the US could be relied upon to become involved in South-Asia conflicts, and that their defence and foreign policies required reform.(74) This has been reflected in New Zealand and Australia entering into a Closer Defence Relationship following the break-up of ANZUS, and today both of these countries have most recently partnered in the ‘step up’ and ‘reset’ towards the Pacific.
One of the key lessons applicable to the NZDF from the Confrontation at the strategic level was having a permanent presence in the region enabled a high level of jungle skills that could become institutionalised within land forces and continually developed. The role played by the New Zealand Navy in South-East Asia also shows that one of the most immediate and effective ways of projecting New Zealand’s presence overseas has been to use ships of the RNZN.(75) New ships expected to enter service with the Navy in the next two years include a new ‘Logistics Support Vessel’ and ‘Dive and Hydrographic Vessel’ that will have new capabilities, and together with the ‘Multi Role Vessel’ provide excellent means to project New Zealand’s military presence in the Pacific and South-East Asia. The importance of coordinating political and military efforts to achieve strategic objectives was identified as being vital in the successful outcome of conducting a counter insurgency.
The key lesson identified at the operational level was concerned with the unity of command. It was at the operational level that the campaign provided effective joint direction, and responsive links between the theatre commander and politicians.(76) An example of the effectiveness was where the military’s own preferences for offensive action were curtailed for the strategic imperatives, even when the political effectiveness of military action was unclear to the tactical commanders. The use of the SAS was identified as needing to be independent of regular troops, particularly in the information gathering role, to provide intelligence for targeting by conventional units.(77) For these reasons, history has shown that command of Special Forces should be taken at the highest level.(78) New Zealand was able to attach NZDF personnel to combined headquarters, and this provided both operational and staff experience.
The management of media involvement and reporting on the operation played an important role in the ability to maintain secrecy around Operation Claret. The key lesson identified was that the way the campaign was conducted away from civilians meant that it did not attract the attention of media, unlike the war in Vietnam. This was complemented by the succesful use of ‘hearts and minds’ and intelligence to target Indonesian movement. Another lesson identified for the NZDF was that obsolete equipment that can result in ineffectiveness on the battlefield can be overcome by utilising coalition partner’s logistics, or obtaining NZ equipment under urgency to enable combat effectiveness. Another important operational lesson was the use of air power – that tactical aircraft, supported by strategic airpower and operated in close partnership with the ground forces, are an essential factor in a successful military campaign.(79)
The key lesson identified at the tactical level was that success was achieved by directly copying the successful procedures utilised in the Malayan Emergency, but adopting best practices applicable to the unique environment of Borneo.(80) Tuck agreed, stating that ‘important differences in Borneo, particularly the scale of the external threat and the possibility of escalation, meant that general ‘good practice’ learned in Malaya had to be tailored in specific ways to meet the challenge from Indonesia.’(81) Conversely, Major General Lea argued that it was dangerous to blindly utilise inappropriate models from past experiences. He stated that although a ‘learning process can inspire counterinsurgency success, this must be conducted with caution and appreciation of the specific factors entailed in each operational situation.’(82) Major General Lea, and his predecessor Major General Walker were both Malayan veterans, so were able to draw on these experiences as well as discount them when necessary.
Another important tactical lesson identified from Confrontation was how to win the hearts and minds of the local population, an approach which enabled operational and strategic objectives within the campaign. Minimising civilian casualties was important in winning hearts and minds, and this can be attributed to the fact that most of the fighting took places on isolated tracks and rivers.(83)
Confrontation provided a testing ground of the following new military technologies to good effect; use of helicopters to transport troops, supplies and artillery guns. Ground sensors and mortar-locating radar played an important role where observation was often difficult. VHF radios replaced heavier HF sets, and improved the quality of communication. Weapons were improved, and the pack-portable howitzer was important.(84)
There were a number of lessons identified in the TTPs employed by the soldiers. An important lesson of jungle warfare was the danger of returning over ground previously covered, which could result in walking into an ambush. Another lesson, that was learnt the hard way, was that throwing of grenades in a jungle environment is likely to result in hitting a tree and causing friendly casualties.(85)
This analysis has examined how the campaign of the Commonwealth forces against Indonesia applied lessons from the Malayan Emergency, and developed new TTPs that could inform future New Zealand counter insurgency campaigns within a littoral jungle environment. The first president of Indonesia, Ahmed Sukarno, launched the Konfrontasi campaign to defeat what he depicted as Nekolim forces as part of his vision to unify Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia with Indonesia. The inability of Indonesian leaders to develop clear strategy in support of Konfrontasi that could be linked through operational control to the tactical level ultimately enabled the victory of Commonwealth forces in the campaign against Indonesia. Tuck described the Confrontation as being an ‘exemplar in relation to the staple principles of successful low-intensity operations: political control; unity of objectives; effective joint and combined operations; obtaining and sustaining popular support; intelligence; and discrimination.’(86) Looking at the Commonwealth campaign within a strategic, operational and tactical framework, this essay has proposed that lessons identified in the Confrontation with Indonesia still have relevance for New Zealand campaign planning for future deployments within the Asia-Pacific region. Overall, this campaign analysis proposes that the success of the NZDF in future operations can be achieved through; unified command, applying past lessons in a context that recognise the idiosyncrasies of the new campaign, and exploitation of developing technologies and TTPs.
1 Carver, M. (1980), War Since 1945, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, p. 84.
2 Yahuda, M. (1996), The International Politics of the Asia-Pacific, 1945-1995, London: Routledge, p. 72.
3 Dahm, B. (1971), History of Indonesia in the Twentieth Century, London: Pall Mall Press, p. 205.
4 Crouch, H. (1988), The Army and Politics in Indonesia, New York: Cornell University Press, p.44.
5 Milne, R.S. (1967), Government and Politics in Malaysia, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, p. 186.
6 Subritzky, J. (2000). “Confrontation”, in The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History. Auckland: Oxford University Press, McGibbon, I. (Ed.), p. 113.
7 Ricklefs, M.C. (1993), A History of Modern Indonesia Since c.1300, London: Macmillan, p. 272.
8 Carver, p. 95.
9 Mackie, J.A.C. (1986). “Low-Level Military Incursions: Lessons of the Indonesia-Malaysia ‘Confrontation’ Episode, 1963-66” in The Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Working Paper No. 105, p24.
10 Ibid, p.11.
11 Milne, p. 185.
12 Mackie, J.A.C. (1974). Konfrontasi: The Indonesia-Malaysia Dispute 1963-1966. Kuala Lumpar: Oxford University Press, p. 203.
13 Dee, M. (1999), “The Regional Significance of the Indonesian-Malaysian Confrontation 1963-1966, and the Lessons Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain Drew From It” in Melbourne Historical Journal, Vol 27, No 1, P. 88.
14 Tuck, C. (2016), “The Limits of Covert Action: SAS Operations During ‘Confrontation’, 1964-66” in Small Wars & Insurgencies, Vol 27, No 6, p. 1001.
15 Subritzky, J. (2000). The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History. Auckland: Oxford University Press. McGibbon, I. (Ed.) p. 114.
16 Mackie, Konfrontasi: The Indonesia-Malaysia Dispute 1963-1966, p. 210.
17 Ibid p. 212.
18 Subritzky, J. (2000) “Britain, Konfrontasi, and the end of empire in Southeast Asia, 1961–65” in The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 28:3, p. 223-224.
19 Ibid p. 225.
20 https://encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcT0bXoCeXUZsPKzP6yewz7DuY8ZVkp_LvNH_1fD4yPJJhkI6v3lsg, retrieved 27 September 2018.
21 New Zealand Defence Force Directorate of Future Force Development. (2014). New Zealand Defence Force Doctrine Publication: Campaigns and Operations NZDDP-3.0 (2nd Ed.). Wellington: Author, p. 11.
23 Van Der Bijl, N. (2007). Confrontation: The War with Indonesia 1962-1966. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Books Ltd, p. 243.
24 Ball, R. (2009) The Platforms: An Examination of New Zealand Special Air Service Campaigns from Borneo ‘Confrontation’ to the Vietnam War, 1965-1971 Doctorate Thesis, Massey University, p80.
25 Edwards, P. (February 2015), “Australia, Indonesia and Confrontation” in The Strategist, https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/australia-indonesia-and-confrontation/ retrieved 23 Jul 18.
26 Tuck, p. 1010.
27 Easter, D. (2001), “British Intelligence and Propaganda during the ‘Confrontation’, 1963-1966” in Intelligence & National Security, Vol 16, No 2, p. 84-85.
28 Hall, B. & Ross, A. (2008), “The Political and Military Effectiveness of Commonwealth Forces in Confrontation 1963-66” in Small Wars & Insurgencies, Vol 19, No 2, p. 251.
29 Gregorian, R. (1991) “CLARET Operations and Confrontation, 1964-1966” in Conflict Quarterly, Winter 1991, p. 65.
30 Tuck, C. (2013), “”Cut the Bonds Which Bind Our Hands”: Deniable Operations During the Confrontation with Indonesia, 1963-1966” in The Journal of Military History, Vol 77, p. 609.
31 Easter, p. 89.
32 Tuck, The Limits of Covert Action: SAS Operations During ‘Confrontation’, 1964-66 p. 1001.
33 Tuck, C. (2017), “’Winning While Losing’: Borneo Headquarters and the End of Confrontation, June-November 1966” in War in History, Vol 24, No 1, p. 101.
34 NZDDP-3.0, p. 11.
35 Shaw, A.N. (2016), “British Counterinsurgency in Brunei and Sarawak, 1962-63: Developing Best Practices in the Shadow of Malaya” in Small Wars & Insurgencies, Vol 27, No 4, p. 705.
36 Van Der Bijl, p. 246.
37 Tuck, The Limits of Covert Action: SAS Operations During ‘Confrontation’, 1964-66 p. 1014.
38 Tuck, ‘Winning While Losing’: Borneo Headquarters and the End of Confrontation, June-November 1966, p. 109.
39 Tuck, The Limits of Covert Action: SAS Operations During ‘Confrontation’, 1964-66, p. 1002.
40 Hall, & Ross, p. 251.
41 Tuck, ‘Winning While Losing’: Borneo Headquarters and the End of Confrontation, June-November 1966, p. 94-95.
42 Ibid, p. 99.
43 Van Der Bijl, p. 244.
45 Lim, A. (June 2016) “A Tale of Two Narratives: The New Zealand Print Media and the Indonesian-Malaysian
Confrontation, 1963-1966” in New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 18, 1, p.55.
46 Ball, p72.
47 NZDDP-3.0, p. 11.
48 Jackson, R. (2011). Malayan Emergency & Indonesian Confrontation: The Commonwealth’s Wars 1948-1966. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Books Ltd, p.142.
49 Jackson, p.129.
50 Pugsley, C. (2003). From Emergency to Confrontation: The New Zealand Armed Forces in Malaya and Borneo 1949-66. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, p. 349.
51 Jackson, p.131.
52 Ibid, p.131.
53 Tuck, ’Winning While Losing’: Borneo Headquarters and the End of Confrontation, June-November 1966, p. 96.
54 Tuck, The Limits of Covert Action: SAS Operations During ‘Confrontation’, 1964-66, p. 1014.
55 Ibid, p. 1011.
56 Weale, A. (1998). The Real SAS. London: MacMillan Publishers Ltd, p. 98.
57 Van Der Bijl, p. 243.
58 Tuck, ’Winning While Losing’: Borneo Headquarters and the End of Confrontation, June-November 1966, p. 96.
59 Tuck, “Borneo 1963–66: Counter-insurgency Operations and War Termination, p.96.
60 Pugsley, p. 352.
61 Tuck, The Limits of Covert Action: SAS Operations During ‘Confrontation’, 1964-66, p. 998.
62 Van Der Bijl, p. 243.
63 Mackie, Low-Level Military Incursions: Lessons of the Indonesia-Malaysia ‘Confrontation’ Episode, 1963-66, p24.
64 Hall & Ross, p. 250.
65 Gurr, R.M. (1995). Voices From a Border War: A History of 1 Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment 1963 to 1965. Melbourne: Landmark Printing, p. 59.
66 Hall & Ross, p. 248.
67 Ibid, p. 249.
68 De La Billiere, P. (1994). Looking For Trouble: SAS to Gulf Command. London: Harper Collins, p. 246.
69 Martin, J. (12 August 2008) “Redressing an Oversight: Distinguished Service in Malaya Recognised” in Army News, Issue 390, p 9.
70 Van Der Bijl, p. 244.
71 Jackson, p.138.
72 Dee, p. 98.
73 Leifer, M. (1990), ASEAN and the Security of South-East Asia, New York: Routledge, p. 2.
74 Ibid, p. 96.
75 Pugsley, p. 349.
76 Tuck, Borneo 1963–66: Counter-insurgency Operations and War Termination, p.96.
77 Van Der Bijl, p. 245.
78 Ball, p95.
79 Jackson, p.140.
80 Shaw, p. 704.
81 Tuck, C. (2010), “Borneo, Counter-Insurgency and War Termination” in Defence Studies, Vol 10, No 1-2, p.108.
82 Shaw, p. 720.
83 Van Der Bijl, p. 243.
84 Van Der Bijl, p. 245.
85 Crosby, R. (2009). NZSAS: The First Fifty Years. Auckland: Penguin Group (NZ), p. 400-402.
86 Tuck, ’Winning While Losing’: Borneo Headquarters and the End of Confrontation, June-November 1966, p. 95.
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