SAS Trooper, Borneo 1965

Shadowy guerrilla wars fought in far eastern jungles dominated world events of the Cold War era…

While most people would think of Vietnam as the 60s Jungle War, Britain fought her own highly successful war against insurgents in Borneo.

In the turbulent post-war years, many former Colonial nations had gained their independence from French, British and German yokes. In the 1950s Britain had fought a successful war against communist guerrillas in Malaya partly with the help of a reformed SAS regiment. The SAS had been disbanded after WWII as the top brass at the War Office were highly suspicious of what they considered “private armies” but had reformed out of necessity as The Malayan Scouts. The Malayan Scouts became 22 SAS and would lend their valuable jungle warfare experience to the coming confrontation in Borneo,

Malaya had by 1960 been given its independence but other regions in the area were still under the protection of Britain. The Malayan Prime Minister proposed a union of Malaya, the island of Singapore and the north of the Borneo territories, to which Britain and the UN eventually agreed. This however was not to the liking of Indonesia. Indonesian territory covered a large swathe of the region and most importantly, the Southern part of Borneo (which is around 5/6th of the island’s area!). President Sukarno of Indonesia had other plans; he foresaw a Superstate of territories in the area called “Maphilindo” (Malaya, PHILipines and INDOnesia) and saw the new state of Malaysia as a threat and promised ‘Konftontasi’ (confrontation) against the state, proclaiming he would “smash” Malaysia but stopping short of declaring full on war.

Opening Moves
The early years of “The Emergency” (as the British Government euphemistically called the situation) saw some haphazard failed minor rebellions under the pretext of a “Communist uprising” but in more serious terms it also saw Indonesia equipping and training its troops for war.

Several regiments of the British Army and detachments of Royal Marine Commandos were sent to the Islands to bolster the small standing British defence contingent stationed there and among these units was 22 SAS. The SAS had initially been asked to act as a “rapid reaction force” and to parachute into the jungle to recapture outposts and villages captured by the Indonesians. The commander of the regiment was appalled by this idea and rightly believed it would lead to high casualties amongst highly trained troops for little practical results. Instead he suggested that as in Malaya, the SAS should win over the trust and respect of the local tribes and fight a “hearts and minds” campaign to win over the indigenous population. When 22 SAS took to the jungle their medic with his first aid kit and their radio operator were their key items!

Hearts and Minds
22 SAS’s strategy for the campaign was to embed small patrols in with the villagers and by acting as doctors, advisors and engineers become accepted by the tribe who would, in turn, become “thousands of eyes and ears in the jungle” for the British. Whereas the men had trained to operate as four man patrols, this “village life” approach allowed them to reduce patrol sizes to three (and sometimes two) men, allowing them to field over 20 patrols at a time. A typical patrol would use simple medicines like antibiotics to clear up complaints that had troubled tribesmen for months and assumed God-like status. One particularly enterprising patrol built a small hydroelectric power plant in a mountain river and provided the only electric light to their village for over 300 miles! The time spent in hearts and minds was well spent indeed.

Indonesia began to step up its cross-border raids and sent in sizable contingents of well-trained paratrooper and ranger units. While out of the scope of this article, if one cannot imagine the appearance of an Indonesian raider (or as the British called them, IBTs – Indonesian Border Terrorists) then simply picture a WWII USMC raider in “duck hunter” camouflage and US WWII webbing, as Indonesia used largely US WWII surplus or direct copies thereof.

On nearly every raid however, due to the excellent Intelligence gathered by 22 SAS the raiders were intercepted and destroyed either en route to their target, or occasionally if enough notice has not been given, on their way out.

Black Ops Begin Here
Britain built extensive “jungle forts” along the border at key locations easiest to infiltrate and kept them staffed with mix of native volunteers and professional army regulars from doughty formations like the Ghurkha rifles, Parachute regiment and Green Jackets. The border forts were resupplied by RAF Whirlwind helicopters and each fort had its own compliment of mortars, MMGs and even light artillery with which to defend it. For those interested in studying the confrontation further I would highly recommend doing some web, or good old paper book research on the gallantry of Company Sargent Major Williams (2PARA), who won a DCM for his pretty much single handed defence of a jungle fort when it was overrun by an overwhelming attack!

With the border raids largely contained, it was now time for Britain to strike back.

Using intelligence gathered by SAS patrols and local spies, “CLARET” missions were authorised to secretly cross the border into Indonesian territory and destroy Indonesian bases and ammo dumps. These missions were among the first true “Black Ops” as Britain fully intended to deny they had made any such raids and fighting patrols were under strict instruction not to allow anyone to be captured, or leave any evidence of British involvement. Early CLARET missions went mere two and half kilometres into enemy territory but as the men became more experienced the Government authorised raids up to 12Km into southern Borneo. With both Indonesia and Britain denying their troops involvement of this border clash this truly was a secret war!

SAS CLARET ops strayed even closer to the mark and the men, often miles behind enemy lines, developed the now famous “shoot ‘n scoot” tactic when engaging Indonesian patrols. By utilising short, savage and unexpected fusillades of heavy firepower and then immediately breaking contact, a four man patrol of SAS could tie up company strength units of IBT for weeks!

Winged Soldiers
cww-sas-borneo-1965-02This month Cold War Warriors would like to thank Peter Seal of the excellent 22SAS re-enactment group “Bersayap Tentara” (you can find more about the group at or hook up with them on Facebook by searching for the group name). While normally Cold War kit is quite easy to source this loadout really is a challenge, as much of the kit worn by the SAS in the 60s is very hard to find these days. This is largely because most of it rotted to pieces in the jungle or was burnt in theatre, rather than waste shipping space sending surplus kit back to the UK. Suffice it to say, Pete’s impression is top notch so, without further ado, we’ll investigate our trooper’s kit.

Our SAS trooper represents a man who could typically be found taking part in an SAS CLARET raid around 1964/65. Headwear consists of a 1950s bush hat that has been cut down to personal taste and a scrim sweat rag soaks up the sweat from operating in the jungle heat. The jungle uniform itself is part of the 1951 pattern jungle uniform. This jungle green suit consisted of cotton drill baggy combat trousers with a single map pocket on the left leg and a lightly woven “aertex” jungle shirt. The trousers featured an unusual “crossover” waistband fastener, with two straps that crossed at the front and buckled over each hip (a design feature that would still be found on SAS windproof trousers as late as 1985). While most men were fine with this, the garment was criticised heavily by some soldiers as chafing and when patrolling in wet clothes the metal hip buckles could rub the skin raw.

DMS ankle boots and wool socks are worn in preference to the issue high leg jungle boot of the 50s and 60s (see Cold War Warriors – Infantryman, Malaya), a choice made by many SAS soldiers as the canvas and rubber jungle boot was too flimsy for extended jungle patrols and could literally rot off a man’s feet. The remainder of our trooper’s kit for his arduous mountain-climbing cross-border raid is carried in a WWII-era commando Bergan. While some 25 year vintage by this point, it was still infinitely superior to the 44 webbing haversack, or the poorly designed 58 pattern “large pack” (a pack that is curiously not that large and hard to pack very much into!)

cww-sas-borneo-1965-04Special attention has been drawn to the trooper’s webbing. Unlike regular army units who would wear full 58 pattern webbing with a supporting shoulder yoke, SAS troopers reduced their webbing to a “belt kit” of essential items that could be quickly donned and adjusted. The belt kit is an interesting combination of 58 and 44 pattern webbing, custom pouches made specifically for the unit and novel utilisation of cargo strapping. The regular 58 pattern belt is replaced by a cargo strap with a roll-pin closure of the type used to secure loads on helicopter drops. This was easier to adjust than the fiddly 58 pattern belt and could easily be unfastened in an emergency. Threaded onto the belt itself are custom “drop down” 58 pattern webbing pouches to hold 20-round US M16A1 magazines (a popular choice with SAS patrols due to its high rate of fire when “shooting” and its lightweight to aid in “scooting”). Regular 58 pattern pouches are too voluminous for short M16 mags and sit badly on a belt when not worn with a joke but this ingenious solution did the regiment justice. Alongside the twin ammo pouch is a survival “escape and evasion” pouch containing bushcraft and emergency supplies, flanked by two 44 pattern water bottles in their carriers. While in many ways 58 pattern was an improvement on 44 pattern, the 58 pattern water bottle pouch was a poor design, as it fitted tightly on the bottle and was awkward to open and close in a hurry with its buckle closure. Substitution with a 44 pattern bottle and carrier would be a common place thing in many regiments among old soldiers, right up until 1990 (one main advantage of the 44 pattern kit was that it was made of metal rather than plastic so could be used to heat water on a fire). The belt kit is rounded off with a compass pouch and an issue brass compass – an essential tool for jungle navigation.

So there you have it, a great 60s Jungle Fighter loadout with a British flavour and, with the scarcity of some of the items, you can guarantee that if you put this kit together you will definitely stand out from the crowd at your local site!

Pictures by: Zoe Seal.