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.

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