The confrontation had been going on for three years. The SAS cross-border operations had kept the enemy on the back foot, reducing attacks in Borneo and making the Indonesian’s think twice everywhere they went. SAS attacks were successful, with many enemies killed and few troopers lost.
With political trouble in Indonesia on the increase the SAS backed off, a be nice to Indo campaign to see if the trouble would lead to the government realising there were more important things to be focussing on than getting over the border to harass locals in Borneo.
It didn’t work fully. The Indonesians acted like fools. The SAS decided to go ahead with another cross-border attack. Major Terry Hardy took over command from Johnny Watts. Hardy had some serious men at his disposal. This wasn’t going to be a four-man patrol like most of the SAS attacks, but a large-scale ambush. He took 6, 7 and 8 troops, picked up 9 troop and also grabbed nineteen Cross-Border Scouts to join the party. Practice began with claymore setting a focus for this ambush to act as the flanks for the attack. The men were going deep into enemy territory and protection would help make the attack a success.
For four days the men travelled to the site, a crest of a spur that overlooked a well-trodden track. A crossroads sat in the middle. The main target with the greatest view being a 40-yard clearing that was quite obviously a helicopter landing site. The men were in place 25 yards to either side of this crossroads, which looked more like a roundabout than a crossroads but it was where the enemy was hopefully coming so it was the place they needed to be. Now it’s time to wait.
Locals were the first visitors to the track. They carried bananas for their village as 100 eyes peered at them from the jungle. The men passed through without any realisation of the wall of death watching just yards away. Then another pair came, this time a boy with a man. Now, they could have passed on through like the first pair but this time the ambush wasn’t silent. Someone farted. The pair turned their heads to check out the sound.
The troopers had a choice, orders said no locals were to be killed unless in self-defence. The locals didn’t attack the troopers so this wouldn’t be self-defence. They could capture the pair, but this would almost certainly alert the rest of their village and their disappearance could signal the start of a search party to head their way, which would ruin the ambush.
The last choice was to let them crack on with what they were doing. The locals could report their suspicions to the Indonesians, who could then come to investigate. The troopers watched the man mutter to the boy. It was clear what the man said; ‘keep moving and pretend you didn’t hear.’
Helping the Enemy
Just out of sight of the centre of the ambush, the pair stopped and the man inflicted knife cuts onto a tree at the side of the track. Sergeant Jimmy Hughes was hiding right behind the tree. He remained unseen. The SAS knew that now the enemy would almost certainly be upon them shortly. The man was marking the tree to signal to the Indonesians where to look.
With a full parade of men ready and waiting, if the enemy came up to investigate it would be almost perfect. The enemy soldiers could walk right into the ambush. Even if they sent up many more men, the superior training and firepower would most likely see out the victory.
And so the waiting game began. The troopers sat waiting in what was the largest operation mounted by the SAS in Borneo since the confrontation began. Some men were new to the jungle and some experienced in this game of cat and mouse. Each man sat alone in the bush just a few yards away from the man next to him. The men couldn’t even see each other the jungle being so dense.
Sleeping in the Jungle
Every other man was allowed a doze, grabbing a quick rest in turn until mid-afternoon. The SAS heard heavy feet thumping close by. The enemy was covering and moving. They moved fast, they knew would be seen when they got too close so speed was vital.
The SAS watched as the first enemy appeared from the cover onto the track. They knew it was the enemy attacking. Hughes took the lead and shot him dead. This produced more enemy from both sides of where the dead man lay. More SAS opened up, peeking through the jungle but letting rip with lead wasps at close range to take down anything in their path.
The enemy returned fire but their shots were mostly too high. A couple of rounds fell short. They sprayed dirt up into the eyes of John White, temporarily blinding him. The blinded trooper washed his eyes to clear the dirt away, taking with it the fears of being blinded during a firefight in the middle of the jungle.
The SAS saw five enemy soldiers charging towards their flank. Well-placed claymores destroyed the lot of them, scattering limbs, uniforms and bodies all around the track. Two more claymores covering further down the track were fired blind and sent screams and groans towards the troopers. The follow-up force was most likely taken care of.
The Indonesian’s started firing mortars on the SAS’ position, landing at the rear of the ambush. The enemy was close. The SAS spotted two enemy soldiers on the other side of the clearing. The pair fired the mortars until one was shot and the other one ran away. They left the mortar in its place.
Hardy ordered the men to stop firing. He wanted to check if the enemy were still engaging. The enemy had stopped firing back. The SAS counted eleven dead enemy soldiers although more could be out of sight. The SAS had no casualties. This was a big victory for the SAS 10,000 yards inside enemy territory.
Heading Back to Safety
The journey back to the border was tough. The route is an uphill march at full speed so the men made only one night stop. They didn’t know if the enemy were following so it was risky to stop more.
According to intelligence, the SAS killed around twenty enemy soldiers despite only eleven bodies being seen. It was a great win from what was the largest deployed SAS force in the Borneo confrontation.