2nd Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment

2 “Sabre” Squadron, Special Air Service (SAS), was raised in September 1964 as part of the SAS’s expansion into a regiment. To prepare this new and inexperienced unit for service in Borneo, the squadron conducted a major training exercise in Lae, New Guinea, from October to November 1965. The exercise consisted of three weeks of acclimatisation training around Lae, followed by three weeks of patrolling exercises in the mountains around Wau and Bulolo.

The first troops from 2 Squadron arrived in Borneo in January 1966, when the squadron’s advance party flew into Labuan on 14 January. After serval days of briefings, on 18 January the party flew to Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, where they were met by officers from B Squadron of Britain’s 22nd SAS Regiment. The Australians were to relieve the British.

The tactical and political situation in which 2 Squadron operated was different to that encountered by 1 Squadron six months earlier. Following the unsuccesful communist coup in Indonesia in September 1965, Indonesian enthusiasm for the Confrontation declined and so too did the operations conducted by their regular army. The principal threat was now from the various paramilitary organisations established by the Indonesians to undertake internal subversion in Malaysia. The SAS’s main role was locating these paramilitary bases and determining the strength of their forces.

2 Squadron was headquartered in the “Pea Green House”, Kuching, while the rest of the squadron was eventually quartered in nearby houses. The rest of the squadron’s personnel arrived in Kuching on 28 January and the next day began training at Matang. In February a sergeant and two corporals from the squadron accompanied a major raid by the British SAS on an Indonesian camp near Sentas, across the Sawarak border, giving the Australians their first operational experience.

The squadron began its own operational patrols in February. These were part of the Claret operations which were conducted across the border into Indonesia. The first patrol was sent out on 24 February with the task of establishing an observation post, and relieved a British post along the Sekayan River between Serankang and Segawang, 12 kilometres south-west of Tebedu. This reconnaissance patrol was one of a series conducted along the Sekayan River throughout March.

One four man patrol was led by Lieutenant Ken Hudson who established an observation post at Entabang on 19 March. They had to abandon this postition and during a river crossing in the early hours of 20 March, the men became separated. Two of them, Hudson and Private Bob Moncrieff, were subsequently reported missing, believed drowned.

During April and May, 2 Squadron conducted reconnaissance patrols along the Sawarak boarder, with the average length being 12.6 days. When the 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, relived the 1/10th Gurkha Rifles in the Bau Sector, at the end of April, the squadron was tasked with maintaining surveillance over the area to ensure there would be no enemy interference during the change-over period. In May the squadron operated patrols in the Lundu sector.

By now, though, operations were winding down. On 25 May a group of Indonesian army officers flew to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to begin peace negotiations; three days later the squadron received a message from SAS headquarters in Labuan stating that all cross border operations were to cease and all patrols were to return to base. The squadron concentrated its effors on hearts-and-minds operations on the Sarawak side of the border.

The usual system for hearts-and-minds operations was for patrols to live near local villages and to provide medical or other assistance to the villagers. The aim was to gain the confidence of the villagers and then encourage the villagers to pass on any information about the enemy. These operations continued until June.

Following reports that Indonesian Pasanda (undercover) forces were trying to infiltrate Sarawak, 4RAR and the Gurkas were given the main task of capturing the insurgents: from 12 to 25 June, the squadron also conducted patrols to aid the infantry. Thereafter, the squadron resumed patrolling along the border but there was no further contact or sign of the enemy.

On 21 July 2 Squadron was relieved by D Squadron, 22 SAS and on 27 July the Australians flew out of Kuching for Butterworth, Malaysia. From Butterworth they returned to Australia on 1, 8, and 15 August. The peace agreement between Indonesia and Malaysia was signed on 11 August.

Borneo was the SAS’s first operational deployment, highlighting its skill, ability and endurance. The SAS also gained valuable experience, which they later put into practice in Vietnam.

Glossary

Battle Honours

  • nil

Casualties

  • 2 died

For more information please see the Roll of Honour database.

Commanding Officers

Decorations

  • 2 MID

For more information please see Honours and Awards database

References

  • Horner, David Murray, SAS : phantoms of war : a history of the Australian Special Air Service, (Crows Nest, N.S.W.: Allen & Unwin, 2002)
  • Malone, Michael John, SAS : a pictorial history of the Australian Special Air Service 1957-1997, (Northbridge W.A.: Access Press, 1997)
  • McKay, Gary., Sleeping with your ears open : on patrol with the Australian SAS, (St Leonards, N.S.W. : Allen & Unwin, 1999)