Artillery in Borneo

Australian artillery served in Malaya during the Emergency and Royal Australian Artillery units remained in the country after 1960 as part of Australia's contribution to the Far Eastern Strategic Reserve. Within a few years the artillery was once again involved in operations in what was by then Malaysia, this time against the Indonesians during the Confrontation. Unlike the communists against whom the Australians fought in the Emergency, the Indonesian military possessed both artillery and heavy mortars. Commonwealth forces thus needed the ability to counter this capability, but artillery was also needed to provide support to patrols and to defend company bases.

103 Battery served in west Malaysia during the early months of the Confrontation but its replacement, 102 Battery, took part in operations on Borneo beginning in May 1965. Along with British artillery, the Australians were engaged mainly in supporting clandestine cross-border infantry operations known by the codename Claret. For this reason the artillery was often deployed along the Indonesian border, usually guns were sited individually or in pairs in order to have the ability to bring as much territory as possible under fire. Each battery also kept one gun in reserve, ready to be moved at short notice by helicopter to any area in which it was needed. Infantry patrols into Indonesian territory were often accompanied by an artillery forward observer.

During their service on Borneo, the Australian artillerymen engaged in daily defensive and harassing fire missions but, according to the Australian Official Historian of the Confrontation, boredom was one of the main problems facing gunners. Bouts of intense activity would be followed by long periods of relative inactivity. The Australian artillery spent three months in Borneo, leaving in late July 1965.

The Indonesians' field artillery, and fears that they might augment their efforts against Malaysia with air assaults, led to the deployment of Australia's 111 Light Anti-Aircraft Battery to Butterworth in June 1964. The airfield was home to two RAAF Sabre squadrons and a Canberra bomber squadron, all thought to be possible targets for an air raid. However, the raid never came and the battery was not required to fire in anger during its deployment. At the conclusion of its deployment, the battery was replaced by the 110th Light Anti-Aircraft Battery which remained at Butterworth until 1969.


Last updated: 10 March 2020

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DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2020), Artillery in Borneo, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 25 September 2020, http://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/wars-and-missions/indonesian-confrontation-1963-1966/australian-operations-borneo/artillery-borneo
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