FOURTH POSTING.

By Ken Francis.Airframes.


So, early 1965 and back from Germany to the UK for a few weeks, then the entire Sqn - aircraft, aircrew and groundcrew were off to Borneo to confront Mr Sukarno's Indonesia.

The helicopters and a few air crew and ground crew were shipped by aircraft carrier to Singapore, while the majority of us were air trooped to the same destination by chartered civil aircraft. We were all reunited at RAF Seletar where we remained for about three weeks while we re-organised ourselves and the aircraft.

During our time at Seletar the aircrew and crewmen did a shortened version of the jungle survival course; the full version, I believe, took two weeks and was carried out in up-country Malaya. Ours was shortened presumably due to lack of time and for operational reasons. We did, however, during the course, use the only piece of jungle left in Singapore at that time. Much more recent visits to Singapore showed that it is now long gone and no one seemed to remember it.

We were all then moved on to RAF Labuan just off the Borneo mainland. The aircraft and some air crew again by carrier (a different one, maybe HMS Bulwark, did we have that many carriers then?). The remainder were air trooped again, this time by the military.

Labuan airfield seemed to make nonsense of the word 'field' by consisting mainly of psp (pressed steel plate). The local town was called Victoria (useful for a drink or two) and the island was at that time mainly jungle and a few villages. There were still signs of WW2, evidenced by the remains of aircraft and landing craft in the jungle and on the foreshore. The mainland of British North Borneo (Sabah) could be seen from Labuan and that was where we spent a lot of our time, flying across the very clear sea to get there.

Operating over on the mainland was all about army co-operation, mainly with Royal Marines and Ghurkas. Dropping them off for their covert operations and then later picking them up again in parts of the jungle known only by map references. In fact doing anything required of us, including casevac duty (once to Brunei 'city').

The major event for me was when we managed to fly into a set of telegraph wires. We were at a major village in the interior somewhere and were landing on an open space when we few into the wires that cut diagonally across the corner of the 'field'. I was sitting in the lower doorway, which was open (I was attached to a roving (monkey) strap) at the moment of impact. The telegraph wires broke up with lots of noise and sparks, lashed inwards towards the aircraft just above where I was sitting and cut into the cowling covering the main gearbox. We dropped to the ground with a loud 'F***!' coming over the intercom from the pilot (who I shall not name). The cowling damage was tolerable (not being a pressurised aircraft), but the rotor blades were too badly damaged to fly on. Thus we spent the night at the village (two aircraft), during which time we were royally entertained at the house of the local District Commissioner, I said it was a major village. This involved guard duty during the night, not easy when you've had a few drinks in the District Commissioner's house. Replacement blades were flown out to us the following day.

If I remember rightly a spare rotor blade could be carried by a Whirlwind by removing one of the hatches in the rear of the body of the aircraft and then feeding the tip end of the blade down the rear fuselage (careful of the tail rotor cables) and allowing the root end of the blade to project forward out of the main door (appropriate strapping applied of course).

Later on, one of our helicopters with air crew and ground crew (including myself) was detached for a few weeks to Tawau on the far side of Sabah - located by the island of Sebatik which was divided between Sabah and Indonesia. This involved flying round the northern part of Sabah via Kota Kinabalu (Jesselton?) and Sandakan. I understood that a lone helicopter flying across the centre of Sabah was not done at that time due to communication/navigation/rescue problems. Survival was a problem, should you go down in the jungle, as the tree top canopy could close in above you and you were then in real trouble.

We all carried our personal survival kits of course, largely made up by ourselves, including not only compo rations but additions for possibilities of hunting/fishing. We wore a mixture of jungle and flying clothing with each of us carrying a machete, a Sterling sub machine gun and several magazines of ammunition (I still have my survival kit knife somewhere).

Flying around the northern route was quite interesting as in a helicopter you are low enough and slow enough to see and take an interest in things. Rock formations that seemed to rise up out of the jungle (tourist destinations these days) and Mount Kinabalu (highest point in S E Asia I believe) in the distance were all duly noted.

We were kept busy at Tawau as there was more activity against the Indonesians there. On one occasion we were with the marines, at one of the jungle encampments, to support them during a raid on an Indonesian military camp on the other side of the border; not that it was obvious where the border was - there was just fold after fold of jungle covered ridges with streams/rivers between them. The army had taken a 105 mm artillery field gun (in pieces and rebuilt on site I suspect) to this jungle location with the plan to fire shells at the enemy camp. Meanwhile long canoes full of marines along with local guides/trackers made their way up one of the rivers to attack on the ground. A marine corporal climbed the tallest tree on one of the local peaks such that he could see the shells exploding on the target across the border. It didn't work because he couldn't see enough to radio any useful information in order to adjust the gun sighting.

Our main role was to take out any casualties from all of this, however because of the gun sighting difficulties, we found ourselves taking to the air and hovering at several thousand feet watching shells exploding in the camp over the border. The actual spotting was done by artillery major who came up with us.

It was an unnerving feeling sitting immobile, high in the sky, knowing that there was an Indonesian airfield not far away and that we were a sitting duck - we were normally a lot closer to the ground.

Nothing much seemed to come of this particular raid however, there were no casualties and I don't know whether the raid itself was successful or not (I suspect that I was not in 'the need to know' loop).

In due course we returned to Labuan and that corner of Sabah became just a memory - which included the army's use of hovercraft in the coastal area, the only time I came across them. Perhaps they were trialling them?

Back at Labuan, time having passed, we found ourselves being repatriated individually, the Sqn however remained. In my case, I applied for a resettlement posting (optional if you had 2-4 years left to serve) and was successful in being posted to RAF Thorney Island.

So that was it, after a short time at RAF Changi in Singapore, on the way home, it was goodbye to the Far East, goodbye (after 3 years) to 230 Sqn and hello again Blighty.