Tuesday, August 11, 2009

RPKAD vs 2nd Para

Landing at Pontianak in February 1965 during Dwikora campaign, three RPKAD companies walked directly northeast to the border, and then shifted east along the frontier to the village of Balai Karangan, West Kalimantan.
Just 1,090 meters across the border was a British outpost near the village of Plaman, Mapu. Hosting a company from the 2nd Parachute Battalion, Mapu was situated on a small hill in a valley, exposing it to observation from the ridgeline along the border. Even worse for the British defenders, their main airborne companies were in bases 32 kilometers away; through they could call in heliborne reinforcements during the daylight, chopper support would be unavailable during the night hours.
Sizing up Mapu’s vulnerability, the Indonesians decided the target was too good to ignore. Over the next two months, select members from the three RPKAD companies began a series of reconnaissance forays to map out the base’s layout. To disguise their affiliation from priying eyes while at Balai Karangan, all of the commandos wore shoulder insignia used by the army’s combat engineers.
On 25 April, final preparations were underway for the raid on Mapu. All three platoons from Company B – nicknamed Company “ Ben Hur” after the popular 1959 film – were to participate in the actual mission; the other two companies would remain just inside Indonesian territory as a reserve.
The raiders were heavily armed for the occasion. Most were equipped with the AK-47 assault rifle (the RPKAD had fully purged with the unwelcome Pindad SP-1 BM59). Each platoon had three British-made Bren light machine guns; every squad had a Yugoslavian rocket launcher M-57 44mm. And for the first time for the RPKAD, they had been given two Bangalore torpedoes – an explosive-filled tube used for breaching minefields and barbed wire.
Crossing the border after last light, Company Ben Hur moved at a glacial pace. Resting during the day, they did not come within sight of Mapu until 02.00 hours on 27 April. Stealing past Mapu village – which consisted of just five huts – they crept toward the adjacent British base. The outpost was circular and divided into wedge-shaped sectors, each wedge featuring a machine gun nest. The outer perimeter was protected by barbed wire, punji stakes, and claymore mines.
In pouring rain – which helped disguise the sound of their movement – the commandos split in three directions. The center platoon, with its Bren guns trained on the high point with lights, was set to initiate the assault. The two other platoons circled to the sides and began snaking their Bangalore torpedoes through the outer wire.
At 04.30 hours, the Brens kicked off the attack. Seconds later, each of the Bangalore torpedoes sliced through the barbed wire on the flanks. The defenders were at a major disadvantage; not only were they caught by surprise, but nearly all of the paratroopers assigned to the base were off on patrol. What remained was an under strength platoon of fresh British recruits, numbering just 34 men in total.
Rushing to man their machine guns, the British put up a spirited fight. One RPKAD private, a Catholic named Sunadi, received a fatal chest wound on the left flank. Another private was felled on the right.
But the RPKAD gave as good as it got. Over the next two hours, a withering amount of rockets and bullets all but razed the Mapu outpost. Two British paratroopers were killed; another seven seriously wounded including their commander Captain Thomson and Sergeant Major “Patch” Williams which was shot in his left eyes.
Withdrawing back into West Kalimantan, Company Ben Hur was greeted at Balai Karangan by the RPKAD’s senior most officers. In what would be the largest single battlein the entire Confrontation, they were hailed as victors. Most of the company’s platoon leaders were given field promotions. Even more welcome, the company was allowed to cut its short tour and return to Jakarta, where they marched at the front of President Soekarno in the 17 August Independence Day parade.

The Red and White Flies Over West Irian

Of the numerous heroic incidents during the Trikora campaign, the airborne operation at Teminabuan stands out. On 19 May 1962 under the name of Operation Serigala, a total of eighty-one PGT paratroopers under Air First Lieutenant Soehadi boarded a C-130 transport plane at Laha airfield in Ambon. In anticipation of this mission, the PGT commandos had been freshly outfitted with Heckler & Koch G-3 automatic rifles, Hongkong-made camouflage jumpsuits and Czechoslovakian jumpboots.
The aircraft took off at 01.00 a.m local time. By 02.30 a.m, they were over the drop zone. One by one, the PGT soldiers exited the plane. At that early hour, it was still dark and they could not see the ground. As it turned out, some of them landed directly in a top of Dutch military barrack, waking the Dutch troops. Both sides were understandably startled. The situations became confused as the Dutch hit back, but they were finally pushed out of the barracks and toward the small town of Teminabuan. As the sunrise, the PGT troops attempted to regroup. Seeking each other out in the thick jungle, by 20 May forty of the PGT had come together. This group was led by Sergeant Martin Paulus Mengko.
As the Teminabuan incident was a psychological hit to the Dutch, the colonial authorities moved to counter-attack. In response, the Dutch Royal Airforce dropped paratroopers in the area on 19 and 21 May, together with the local Papuan Voluntary Army (PVA) or Papuan battalion. Two marine companies also dispatched aboard from two warships, while Neptune and Firefly came overhead to combat the Indonesian invaders. Four days later, Dutch marines and PVK soldiers killed around 20 Indonesian paratroopers in the forest between Wersar, Beriat, and Konda, and two Indonesian soldiers in Teminabuan town on 27 May.
By 21 May, fifty of the PGT had been able to regroup at nearby Wersar village. At they gathered, Sergeant Mengko wanted to fly the Indonesian flag and ordered his men to look for a four-meter pole. At 10.00 a.m, the flag was raised. This was the first time the Red and White colors flew above West Irian.
The PGT only stayed for a short time at this locale so as not to be discovered by the Dutch forces. That same day, the came upon a local Irianese who told them to wait while his mother returned with fried bananas. Lieutenant Soehadi, however, become suspicious and confronted him. The suspicious were confirmed a short while later when Neptune and Firefly appeared overhead. The commandos entered into the jungle to evade the enemy. They all faced severe hardships from weather, the terrain and the enemy.
Through 26 May, the PGT were getting constantly hit by air and land, so the commandos spread out in the jungle in small groups. Overwhelmed by the Dutch, their positions were getting squeezed. In the end, many got killed including Air First Lieutenant Soehadi, while others were wounded or captured. During their internment, they were treated harshly and move among detention centers at Teminabuan, Sorong and Wundi island. In June, after many more deaths, the Netherlands’ control over Teminabuan was re-established. Totally during Operation Serigala in Teminabuan PGT lost 54 men, 30 personnel were killed and 24 personnel declared as missing in action.