In year 1957, V-bombers have began to make familiarization flights to the Far East without nuclear weapons on board, and it was decided to construct a permanent storage facility for nuclear weapons at Tengah in the next year. By 1960, the RAF was involved in drawing up nuclear targeting places for SEATO and also make a plans as to move the 48 Red Beard tactical nuclear weapons to Tengah, Singapore in year 1962. Beside of this, three squadrons of V-bombers would also be based at Tengah, capable of dropping Red Beard weapons from high altitude, together with one squadron of smaller Canberra aircraft which would use a low-altitude bombing system.
In September 1960, RAF transport aircraft was flow a dummy Red Beard weapon for the
first time to Singapore via EI Adem, in Libya; Khormaksar, in present-day Yemen; and
Gan. Special equipment was deployed to these airfields to handle nuclear weapons and
also to Embakasi, Kenya, and Butterworth, a Royal Australian Air Force base which base
As early as 1957, when UK Minister of Defence Duncan Sandys seemed to announce that nuclear weapons would be stored in Malaya and Singapore at a press conference in Australia. In July 1961, Lord Selkirk, Britain High commissioner in Singapore, advised that it would be politically sensitive if the presence of dummy weapons in the Far East.
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Nevertheless, Prime Minister of UK Macmillan authorized the RAF to deploy both live and dummy weapons to Tengah on August 17 august 1962. The live weapon were to be held at all times in their special storage area but in the November 1962, permission was granted to train with dummy weapons in the open.
Militarily, the justification for these deployments was still the possibility of limited war between the SEATO powers and China. Politically, Macmilla was trying to gain a measure of influence over U.S nuclear policy in a region where British and the US had historically been at odds, by making a nuclear contribution to SEATO. Macmillan ministers had convinced him that British deployments, by contrast carried no risk but Malaysian Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman,although a generally pro-British, was not informed. The British government had made a visible military commitment to SEATO, choosing to do so through the relatively inexpensive medium of a squadron of nuclear-capable air craft, but it was coy about admitting even privately, to the actual presence of nuclear weapons.
1963 also saw the deployment of nuclear capable British V-bombers (Hanley Page Victor bombers) to Singapore as a deterrent to Indonesia at the beginning of the Indonesian Confrontation. Victor bombers were soon replace by Avro Vulcan nuclear capable V-bombers.
British Vulcan (V-bombers) were never sent permanently to the Far East. Instead, four to eight were dispatched to Tengah, Singapore and RAAF Butterworth, Malaya between 1963 and 1966 during the “confrontation” between Malaysia and Indonesia. These aircraft would have been tasked, if the confrontation had escalated, with conventional bombing of Indonesian airfields to begin with. Nuclear bombs would only be used as a last resort. In addition, the Canberra squadron at Tengah began low-altitude nuclear bombing exercises at the end of 1963. This squadron remained in the Far East until 1970, although it is not clear that it necessarily remained nuclear equipped. The British government decided that any further escalation by the Indonesians would result in British Vulcan bombers conducting raids against Indonesian targets using RAAF Base Darwin as their operating base, but there is no evidence that any of the 48 nuclear bombs were moved to Darwin. During confrontation only one raid by two Victor-bombers took place against Indonesia.. But throughout the 1960s V-bombers were also sent to the Far East on SEATO nuclear reinforcement training.
Bloodhound Missiles defend Darwin
RAAF Bloodhound surface to air missiles (SAMs) deployed to Darwin in 1964. It was not only the Indonesian hostility towards Malaysia that was of grave concern, but the Indonesian Air Force had been violating Australian airspace by overflying Darwin and penetrating well south over the mainland, all at a time when RAAF Base Tindal was under construction.
RAAF Nos 75 and 76 Squadrons were deployed to Darwin, however their Sabre aircraft were not capable of effectively intercepting the Indonesian aircraft. While the Mirage was coming, it was not yet operational and RAAF Base Darwin was vulnerable, a recognized fact in view of the proposal to move the 48 red beard nuclear weapons from Singapore to Darwin if the Indonesian Confrontation escalated
Back in 1961, RAAF No. 30 Squadron was reformed and equipped with Bloodhound Mk I surface to air missiles The Bloodhound flight envelope was more suited to short range high altitude interceptions than was the Sabre, so at some time in 1964 the decision was made to move a detachment of Bloodhounds to Darwin.
This involved a complex land, sea and air operation to transport and install the fully operational live fire surface to air missile system alongside No. 2 Control and Reporting Unit at Lee Point.
Part of the Bloodhound system was the precision illuminating radar that also had a search capability which overcame much of the shortcomings of 2CRU. The system became operational in mid-1965 and remained until the end of 1968 when Bloodhound was withdrawn from service.
Even though the political climate did improve in these years, 30 SQN was called to full operating readiness on numerous occasions, the last being only weeks before closing down. Nothing can detract from the fact that the RAAF 75 & 76 squadrons, including No. 30 SAM Squadron, were deployed to Darwin for war with Indonesia.
The Royal Navy
The Royal Navy took delivery of its first tactical nuclear weapons, Red Beards, to be carried by Scimitar aircraft on navy carriers, in 1959. Clearance for the Scimitar to take off with nuclear weapons “only in conditions of an extreme operational emergency” was received in August 1960. Although the navy originally viewed the Red Beard as a weapon for sinking ships in the North Atlantic, by the time it entered service, it seemed most likely to be used in a limited war in the Far East.
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The aircraft carriers Victorious and Hermes (< photo) sailed for Singapore at the end of 1960, and for the next 10 years the operational lives of the Royal Navy carriers revolved around deployments east of Suez, where they took their place in SEATO war planning and nuclear targeting. Arrangements were in place to embark and disembark nuclear weapons at the Singapore naval dockyard for transport to nearby RAF airfields if necessary, but the weapons appear to have been stored on board ship. The fissile components were stored away from the assemblies, and permission to join the two was never given in peacetime. When in 1963, the Indonesian Confrontation began, the British airforce and navy were already nuclear capable in the region.
Like its U.S. counterpart, the Royal Navy has always followed a “neither confirm nor deny” policy on the presence or absence of nuclear weapons on its ships. By 1966, the governments of Ceylon and New Zealand had already expressed unease at the possibility of Royal Navy ships carrying nuclear weapons into their ports. In fact, the RN had only about 25 nuclear weapons. Only five aircraft carriers, two armament stores ships, and (by the very end of the 1960s) two Tiger class anti submarine cruisers, had been equipped to carry the weapons. The only ammunition stores ships in the Far East during Confrontation specially set up to resupply the RN carriers were RFAs Retainer (A 329) and Resurgent (A 280): there is no evidence to suggest that either of these RFAs ever carried any nuclear weapons, however it is most probable that they did.
Red Beard Â
Red Beard was the first British tactical nuclear weapon. It was carried by the English Electric Canberra and the V bombers of the Royal Air Force, and by the Blackburn Buccaneers and Super marine Scimitars of the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm. It entered service in 1962 and was withdrawn in 1971. Red Beard was about 4 meters (12 feet) long and weighed about 1,750 lb (794 kg).The perforated baffles were a feature to reduce bomb bay buffeting when the Canberra bomb doors opened, and were not needed on other aircraft. Red Beard was known to the RAF as Bomb, Aircraft, HE 2000 lb MC, although its actual weight was 1750 lb. It was deployed on a wide variety of aircraft of the RAF and Royal Navy, being stockpiled in the UK, Cyprus, Singapore and afloat on carriers.
The main concern for British military planners throughout the conflict, however, was containing the insurgency in Borneo. Here the security forces were in an impossible situation. They were required to defend a frontier of approximately 1600 kilometers, in extremely dense jungle and against an enemy who could retreat to the safety of Indonesian Kalimantan. Increasingly frustrated, Major-General Sir Walter Walker, director of operations in Borneo, requested permission to pursue the guerrillas across the border. After considerable debate, London finally agreed in April 1964.
The objective of cross-border operations, code-named “Claret”, was to wrest the initiative from the enemy. Accordingly, starting in May that year, predominantly SAS troops, British Special Air Service and Australian Special Air Service, operating in groups of four, regularly patrolled territory immediately across the border. When a patrol discovered enemy guerrillas moving towards Borneo, it would arrange for them to be ambushed as they crossed the border.
The patrols went up to 10 miles into Kalimantan, to detect Indonesian forces about to enter Sarawak. Conventional Commonwealth troops were then directed into position to ambush the invaders as they crossed the border.
The fact that nothing was know about these “Claret” operations until 1996, speaks volumes for the integrity of the soldiers of the time as operations were graded “top secret”.
These operations were a violation of official and international treaties; although the incursions were initially denied, both the British and the Australian governments admitted the attacks in 1996.
As we have seen, the Australian Government treated the Australian people with contempt by misleading them over operations and its own role during the Indonesian Confrontation.
Britain requests support
This strategy, both regarding deterrence and military operations, was remarkably successful in containing the insurgency to a low level of conflict. Nonetheless, it required a considerable deployment of Britains limited resources and manpower. By early 1965, for example, Britain had more than 60,000 servicemen deployed in the region, together with a surface fleet of more than eighty warships, including two aircraft-carriers. It was not surprising, therefore, that, starting in December 1963, repeated requests were made by the British for Australia and New Zealand to send combat forces into Borneo to assist in containing the insurgency. Australian Special Air Service forces had been deployed in secret to Borneo and Australia initially refused to “officially” send troops to Malaysia until January 1965 when HMAS Sydney now converted to a fast troop transport, carried troops and equipment to Jesselton in North Borneo. There were already Australian & New Zealand forces in place in Malaysia as part of an ongoing commitment to the BCFESR.
New Zealand refuses to send troops
In responding to these requests the National administration in NZ led by K.J. Holyoake had to weigh carefully certain countervailing policy considerations. On the one hand, there was no disagreement that Malaysia should be supported. In both official and public eyes, Indonesia had committed clear and frequent acts of aggression against the new state. On the other hand, however, Wellington was eager to avoid New Zealand becoming embroiled in a major war with Indonesia. Policy-makers realized that, in the event of considerable bloodshed, New Zealands relations with its closest Asian neighbor could be poisoned for generations to come. Consequently, the government initially refused to send troops into Borneo, arguing that British and Malaysian forces already stationed there were sufficient to deal with the problem.
NZ drawn in by Malay peninsula attack
Deeply aggravated by the failure of Confrontation to make any real headway, Sukarno decided in mid 1964 to intensify it by extending military operations to the Malay peninsula. On 1 September, ninety-eight Indonesian paratroopers landed just north of Labis in Johore. One of the few available Commonwealth units in the area was 1st Battalion, RNZIR, which, with Wellingtons permission, was used to hunt down the infiltrators, most of whom surrendered without a struggle. Later, on 29 October, the New Zealanders were involved in a similar operation to capture a small amphibious force which had landed at the mouth of the Sungei Kesang River north-west of Muar. In addition to these activities, the RNZAFs 14 Squadron, consisting of six Canberra bombers, was deployed to Singapore, where it remained as part of the Commonwealths air power deterrent until the end of Confrontation.
Holyoake agrees to send limited force
Sukarno responded to these failures by substantially increasing the flow of insurgents crossing the border into Borneo. With Britains military resources stretched to almost breaking point, the New Zealand government believed it could no longer decline the genuine appeals for assistance coming from London. On 1 February 1965 the Prime Minister announced that a small Special Air Service detachment, together with the 1RNZIR, would be deployed in Borneo as soon as possible. In addition, New Zealand crews would man two former Royal Navy minesweepers, renamed HMNZS Hickleton and Santon, which would join the new Type 12 frigate HMNZS Taranaki in patrolling Malaysian waters around the Malacca Strait.
During late February the 1st Ranger Squadron NZSAS, comprising about forty men under the command of Major W.J.D. Meldrum, began its tour of duty. They were replaced by a similarly sized detachment, commanded by Major R.S. Dearing, in October the same year. Both detachments took part in Claret operations alongside Britains 22nd Regiment SAS. 1RNZIR, commanded by Colonel R.M. Gurr, was not deployed in Borneo until May 1965, when it relieved a Gurkha battalion in Sarawak. In a series of skirmishes, it inflicted substantial losses on the enemy without suffering any fatal casualties. Relieved during October, 1RNZIR returned to its base in Malaya.
By the time it was redeployed to Borneo in May 1966, Confrontation had all but ended.
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