Annex F to Part III
of PERINTREP 4
THE ASSAULT ON LIMBANG, SARAWAK BY 'L' COMPANY GROUP,
42 COMMANDO ROYAL MARINES ON 12th DECEMBER, 1962
1. It is impossible to write a full account of events up to the time that the Company left BRUNEI for the operation, because 42 Commando was flying into BRUNEI and arriving by sea throughout this time.
2. The Company Commander was briefed for the operation by Commander 99 GURKHA Infantry Brigade, at BRUNEI Airport, at 0600hrs on 11 Dec 62, with instructions to pass the brief onto the Commanding Officer 42 Commando should he arrive in time. He (Company Commander) then had 56 men of 'L' Company and a section of Medium Machine Guns at BRUNEI Airport and immediately left - in a borrowed vehicle - for Force Headquarters in BRUNEI Town for a further briefing and to arrange motor transport and boats for the operation.
3. About an hour later the Commanding Officer and Intelligence Officer arrived and took over the responsibility for obtaining information for the operation, whilst the first Troop of 'L' Company set about commandeering river transport and the Company Commander took over an hotel to house the Commando, and found some motor transport to move them.
4. During the afternoon H.M. Minesweepers FISKERTON and CHAWTON came alongside in BRUNEI Town with additional members of the Commando embarked and started to examine and service the best of the craft which had been commandeered by the Company during the forenoon.
5. When it became clear that little of the Commandos, except 'L' Company Group and part of Support Company, would be available that day and the Commandos had been given additional responsibilities elsewhere the Commanding Officer briefed 'L' Company Commander on all available information and ordered him to carry out the LIMBANG operation.
6. The Company Commander then made arrangements with the Captain H.M.S. FISKERTON for the manning of the only two suitable - though not as suitable as would have been desirable - craft which were serviceable. They then made the plan which was in fact carried out.
7. This report, therefore, is concerned only with the Company Commander's view of the operation.
8. During the forenoon the Commanding Officer and Intelligence Officer made an air recce of LIMBANG in bad weather and managed to obtain some information in addition to what was available from the 1:253,440 scale maps (on which the town appeared as a red dot!) and the air photographs, taken in 1959 and somewhat out of date, which the Intelligence Officer had managed to obtain.
9. A sketch map is attached at Trace P.
10. Information as to enemy dispositions and strength was virtually non-existent but it was believed that the enemy held the town in some strength. Estimates, all eventually proved wrong, varied between thirty and a hundred.
11. It was known that the rebels held the British Resident (Mr. R. H. MORRIS) and his wife and four other Europeans as hostages. This was also later found to be an under-estimation.
12. Their place of imprisonment was not known.
13. The Company Commander was given the task of:-
a. Rescuing the hostages, and
b. Recapturing the town.
14. It was considered that the most likely place of activity was the Police Station and that this was also likely to house the rebel Headquarters.
15. It was also thought likely that if there was protracted fighting before the hostages were freed they would either be shot or used as a shield by the rebels. If on the other hand a very rapid assault could be made upon the place of captivity the rebels would be too busy fighting - or running away - to think about them.
16. The essence of the operation, if the rebels could not be persuaded to give themselves up, must, therefore, be speed, once surprise had been lost.
17. Thus it was decided, to land immediately opposite the Police Station with the assaulting force and to surround it at once.
18. The operation was to be carried out by 'L' Company (6 Troop was one section short, but this had been made up by ranks from Company HQ.) with under command one section MMGs [Medium Machineguns] and the Commando Intelligence Sergeant.
19. Two unarmoured Z craft had been serviced by the Minesweepers and the First Lieutenants, with crews from their own ships, had taken command of them. The only protection on the open decks of these craft was some 1 1/2 inch planking, varying in height from six to eighteen inches, and the Company's large packs which were used as sandbags.
20. In order to minimise casualties in the initial assault the landing craft was to land Company Tactical HQ, and 5 Troop only opposite the Police Station covered by the remainder of the Company and the Section MMGs from the second.
21. As soon as the Police Station had been captured the remainder of the Company were to be landed, and operations would be conducted according to information obtained. In the event of no other information being available it was intended to make for the Residency.
22. We were fortunate for this phase in having the assistance of the Director of Marine, BRUNEI Captain MUTON. He had previously brought
FISKERTON and CHAWTON up the BRUNEI River and although he did not know the LIMBANG River well, offered his services as pilot.
23. We were also fortunate in having a nearly full moon for the operation, and this was of great assistance to navigation.
24. In order to be certain of timing the assault for dawn on 12th December, it was decided that the force would sail from BRUNEI at midnight, and if necessary lie up in a side channel before entering the main LIMBANG River at 0430 hours.
25. The route from BRUNEI to the LIMBANG River lay through a complicated series of channels, between 50 and 100 yards wide, flanked by Nipa swamp. In spite of the leading craft losing one engine after an hour or so and one or two frightening but harmless arguments with the Nipa Palms, the force reached the LIMBANG River and lay up in the side channel at about 0200 hours.
26. At 0430 hours we got under way again and at about 0500 hours the lights of LIMBANG came into view some miles ahead.
27. One of the navigational difficulties had been that the strength of the current in the LIMBANG River was not known and therefore the speed we would make up river could not be calculated. As soon as LIMBANG came into view it was realised that we should arrive too early while it was still dark, and speed was reduced.
28. Shortly after five the lights in LIMBANG went out but it has still not been established whether this was done deliberately by the rebels because they had become aware of our approach, or because there was a fault in the system. It certainly did not work efficiently during the next 48hrs.
29. There did not appear to be any sign of life in the riverside KAMPONG area NORTH of the town as we approached, very slowly. In fact there was an ominous silence everywhere.
30. As the leading craft rounded the bend leading to the Customs Wharf, the Bazaar area suddenly sprang to life. It was just light at this time and a large number of rebels (not specifically recognizable as such) were seen running in all directions but very quickly disappeared into houses and other cover.
31. The Police Station was immediately recognizable and the leading craft increased speed and made for the bank at a point about thirty yards upstream of it.
32. The Intelligence Sergeant, using a loud hailer, announced that the rebellion was over and called upon the insurgents to surrender but they replied by opening heavy fire upon both craft.
33. Enemy positions were identified in and around all the buildings in the Bazaar area, the Police Station buildings and compound and along the river front to the SOUTH, including a considerable number in the area of the Hospital.
34. During the final run in a number of casualties were suffered in both craft. Two Marines were killed and the Coxswain wounded in the leading craft, and the Company Second-in-Command and a seaman were wounded in the second.
35. Both craft continued on course and the enemy positions were engaged from both. The fire from the medium machine guns' Section in the second was most effective against the Police Station until the leading craft had closed the bank, after which it was switched to the bazaar area.
36. Immediately the leading craft reached the Troop Commander of 5 Troop led his two leading sections ashore to attack the Police Station. Corporal Lester, according to plan, led his section across the road, through the enemy positions and to the rear of the Station, whilst Sergeant Bickford with Corporal Rawlinson and his section pressed the attack from the front. At this stage Corporal Rawlinson was wounded in the back but continued to lead his section.
37. The enemy commander, one SALLEH BIN SAMBAS, who was manning the Bren gun, was wounded and withdrew, followed by most of his force. However three rebels did remain in the Police Station, including SALLEH's second in command, and were captured without resistance when the Station was occupied, though one of them tried to run away and was shot.
38. Almost immediately the leading sections were ashore the leading craft drifted off the bank, probably because the coxswain had been wounded, but the Captain immediately took the wheel and brought her into the bank again near the District Office about three hundred yards upstream.
39. Here the Troop Sergeant, accompanied by the Commando Intelligence Sergeant, who had decided that his loud hailer was no longer a suitable weapon, led the reserve section ashore to clear the bank towards the Police Station. Some enemy were found hiding in the bushes in this area later in the day but they did not attempt to interfere with this landing.
40. This section moved along the river bank and cleared the enemy in the area of the Hospital, of which there was a number both around the buildings and in the jungle which reached down the hill to within five yards of the back of the Hospital.
41. In this very close country the Troop Sergeant cleared beyond the Hospital to join up with the remainder of the troop whilst the Intelligence Sergeant cleared the buildings.
42. Just NORTH of the Hospital a group of determined enemy were concealed and the Troop Sergeant and two Marines were killed and another wounded before they were also killed or had fled into the jungle.
43. Through the sounds of battle the Intelligence Sergeant heard Europeans inside the Hospital singing and called out to them. The Resident and his wife and seven other hostages were found unharmed inside.
44. Shortly after this a junction was made with the two sections in the area of the Police Station. One Marine in the section behind the Station was found to have been wounded.
45. Immediately the Company Second-in-Command was wounded the Company Sergeant Major went up to the bridge of the second craft and took over the direction of the supporting fire and kept Commando Headquarters informed of progress on the rear link. During the early part of the fighting this craft was manoeuvred in the river in order to give the best supporting fire.
46. Once the two leading sections were established ashore, and whilst the leading craft was landing the remainder of 5 Troop further upstream, the second craft was beached and the Company Sergeant Major sent the reserve troops ashore, and then took the craft back into midstream to give further fire support with the medium machine guns.
47. There was a number of enemy in an ATTAP house about thirty yards up the hill behind the Hospital and these were neutralized before the craft returned downstream opposite the bazaar area.
48. Meanwhile 6 Troop cleared the Police Station, and 4 Troop moved up behind and NORTH of it past the MOSQUE to the back of the town where one of the rebels gave some difficulty by engaging them from a room full of women and children at the EASTERN end of a block of shops. However he was dislodged and the Troop entered the block.
49. From this time on most of the enemy resistance collapsed although a number of individuals held out in the town and the jungle and there was considerable movement and some sniping for a further 24 hours.
ACTION DURING THE REMAINDER OF 12th DECEMBER
50. Now that the position had stabilized somewhat Sergeant Bickford was able to regroup and reorganize 5 Troop, which had suffered nine casualties, and was ordered to hold the perimeter from the area of the Police Station to the ATTAP house behind the Hospital. This involved clearing a number of houses and it was during this time that the only civilian casualty occurred - an old woman was killed by a 36 grenade in her house.
51. The machine gun section was now landed to hold the SOUTHERN end of the perimeter, which was the only area which afforded a field of fire of more than about 50 yards.
52. Whilst 6 Troop held the NORTHERN end of the perimeter and gave support, 4 Troop cleared the first EAST-WEST block of shops in the bazaar area and then 6 Troop cleared the first SOUTH-NORTH block, supported by 4 Troop.
53. Immediately the second craft beached Sick Berth Attendant CLARKE made his way to the Hospital and set up a Company Aid Post. He organized the released hostages preparing dressings and set about collecting and caring for the casualties. It is interesting to note that four out of six gunshot wounds were in the legs. During the fighting in the town further casualties occurred as the result of men falling through the roof or floor of the house they were clearing.
54. As soon as the situation stabilized the Intelligence Sergeant began interrogating the released hostages and prisoners. As the result of this it transpired that further hostages were held in the Gaol and their houses in the SOUTHERN end of the town.
55. During the morning the Assault Engineers and the Mortar Troop Commander, with a Section of mortars, arrived to reinforce the Company. The Regimental Medical Officer of 1/2 GURKHA Rifles also arrived because the Commando Medical Officer had not yet reached BRUNEI.
56. The Z craft then returned to BRUNEI with the casualties who were that night flown to LABUAN before being evacuated to British Military Hospital SINGAPORE the next day.
57. As soon as the first blocks of shops in the town had been cleared 4 Troop took over the NORTHERN end of the perimeter and 6 Troop was transferred to the EASTERN side whilst the Support Company elements cleared to the SOUTHERN end of the town and released the remainder of the hostages. 5 Troop was withdrawn from the perimeter for some rest.
THE NIGHT 12th/13th DECEMBER
58. By the time this had been completed it was well on into the afternoon and it was decided that, because the first cross street made a convenient stopping place, the remainder of the town would not be cleared until the following day.
59. As will be seen from the sketch map the Jungle reached right down to the backs of some of the buildings. It was known that a number of enemy were hiding up in the fringes of the jungle and three had been flushed out, within fifteen or twenty yards of the Hospital, during the afternoon.
60. A perimeter was therefore held from the first cross street along a track through the edge of the jungle to the ATTAP house and then down to the river bank. The SOUTHERN part of the town, which had been cleared during the afternoon, was patrolled to prevent the enemy reoccupying it.
61. During the night the enemy on a number of occasions fired on our positions in the town from further to the NORTH but was not engaged because he could not be accurately located. In the jungle on the other hand the enemy was moving about, in all probability attempting to escape, and anything which moved was fired upon. Enemy, animals, shadows, and banana plants were engaged. One enemy was killed about ten yards from the ATTAP house. There was no activity in the SOUTHERN part of town.
THE CLEARANCE OF THE BAZAAR AREA
62. The remainder of the bazaar area was cleared, by the Support Company Troop and 4 Troop, working on the WESTERN and EASTERN halves of the town respectively, during the forenoon of 13th December. The bodies of two enemy killed during the previous day's fighting were discovered during this operation, but the enemy had gone.
63. During the afternoon 'K' Company and Commando Headquarters arrived in LIMBANG and the former took over the perimeter for the night.
64. The interrogation of released hostages, prisoners and a Police Constable, who had spent five days hiding in the roof of the Police Station without food or water revealed a lot of information about what happened in the town.
65. The Resident and his wife had been held in the Gaol for the first three days of the rebel occupation but had been moved to the Hospital at the demand of some of the local civilians.
66. The rebels had made no attempt to provide food for the hostages but did not prevent civilians from bringing food and cigarettes to them.
67. The hostages themselves had overheard their guards discussing their fate and knew that they were to be hanged. The police constable, from his hiding place in the roof, had heard the leaders on the evening of 11th December decide that these murders would be carried out the following morning. Had the Company arrived six hours later it would have been too late.
68. The enemy strength appears to have been in excess of three hundred. A hundred and fifty of these are known to have occupied the area of the Police Station and thirty to have held the Hospital. It is probably therefore that the landing was actively opposed by about two hundred rebels.
69. The majority of the enemy were armed with Shot Guns and used single gauge cartridges, but they also had a light machine-gun (.303 Bren), a STERLING and fifteen rifles captured from the Police and a variety of .22 rifles, muzzle loading muskets and other pieces.
70. The light machine-gun, which is now in use by Support Company, and eight rifles were recaptured and their main magazine was found in the Police Station. Two light machine-gun magazines had been badly filled and one sterling magazine was recovered with thirty rounds in it, all of them the wrong way round.
71. Fifteen of the enemy were killed during the battle; three wounded prisoners were taken and eight unwounded. Many more have been taken or have surrendered subsequently but most of the leaders are still at large.
72. Although some casualties would probably have been avoided by a landing further downstream and an advance on foot it is not considered that the hostages lives would have been saved if this course had been adopted.
[Source: TNA WO 305/2519, transcribed by www.arcre.com]