By Tony Wilson
HMS Albion 1962 - 1964
Tony Wilson served in Albion as a Naval Airman First Class (Photographer)
during the Far East Commission 1962 - 1964.
Albion commissioned on 1st August 1962 and following successful ship work up at Portland and military work up in the English Channel, sailed from Portsmouth on 3rd November for east of Suez. Embarked were Naval Air Squadrons 845 (Wessex), 846 (Whirlwinds), 41 Commando, Royal Marines, and 145 Commando Battery, Royal Artillery. The ship proceeded via Gibraltar, North Africa and the Suez Canal to Aden where Bulwark was waiting to hand over before heading home.
She reported that she had experienced a quiet commission in the Far East and hoped that Albion would enjoy the same; little did they know. During the five-day turn over, Albion exchanged 41 Commando for 40 Commando before proceeding to East Africa for the first amphibious exercises with 40 Commando, showing them what the big new Wessex could do. Albion sailed from Mombassa on 5th December but on the 9th received a signal ordering her to "proceed with all despatch" to Singapore to pick up reinforcements and proceed to Borneo. The rest of the commission was to be largely centred on Borneo.
Arriving in Singapore on 13th December she turned straight round for Borneo and disembarked HQ 3rd Commando Brigade and 40 Commando group to Kuching Race Course, with `A' Company remaining onboard as reserve. 845 deployed to Kuching, then Miri, Seria and Brunei until being detached to Labuan in early January 1963. Albion then rattled up to Brunei where 846 disembarked to the airport and 4 LCAs (Landing Craft Assault) went up river to Brunei Town. During the next twenty-six days, Albion helicopters flew nearly 1,200 sorties directly supporting `A' Company at Danau and helping many other units. The ship departed for Singapore on 8th January 1963, leaving 845 at Labuan Airfield where they had a busy month helping in flood relief operations.
The ship started trooping operations on 5th February and was to do this with little variety for the rest of the year. First customers were the 1st Battalion, 7th Ghurkha Rifles and the 1st, Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry carried to Brunei Bay. Albion had her first respite with a visit to Hong Kong on 23rd February but was soon back in business trooping. 846 re-embarked on Albion for this trip and when they returned to Brunei Tony Wilson landed with the squadron as aircrew. This gave him a unique opportunity to make a photographic record as the Squadron continued to support operations in Brunei before shifting it's activities on 13th April 1963 to Kuching and other locations in Sarawak to meet the Indonesian confrontation threat.
For the rest of the year Albion spent most of her time transporting various air squadrons and troops to, from, and around North Borneo. On her fifth run she carried 42 Commando and the 1st Battalion, The Royal Green Jackets, back from Labuan to Singapore. The ship operated light fixed wing aircraft (army Austers, Beavers and RAF Single Pioneers) from her deck - an operation watched at first with interest and caution, as the ship had no arrester wires or barrier. On one trooping trip Albion gave a lift to one of Ark Royal's groups. Ark Royal was unable to sail due to mechanical problems so 815 Squadron was transferred to Albion to be transported to North Borneo and deployed ashore at Labuan. These anti submarine warfare helicopters retained their ASW colour scheme and must have been an unusual sight in the jungle in their bright livery.
In April, following an Indonesian raid on Tebedu Police Station, Albion helicopters flew some of the Gurkhas into Sirikei, Sibu and Binatang and sent the rest upriver by Coastal Minesweeper. Before leaving Borneo the ship called at Brunei Bay to collect the Yorkshires before returning to Singapore. On her seventh trip Albion took the Queen's Own Highlanders out and the 1st/7th Gurkhas back before undergoing a 6-week maintenance period in Singapore. After this refit period and trials the ship carried out two more trooping trips to Borneo. Six RAF Whirlwinds, half of 40 commando and half of 2nd/10th Gurkhas were taken to Kuching, where they were exchanged for 42 Commando and 1st/10th Gurkhas. By mid-July 846 and most of 845 squadron were withdrawn for the ship's visit to Penang which was followed by another trooping trip to Borneo before joining the fleet for FOTEX 63 (Flag Officers Training Exercise 1963), with British, Canadian, New Zealand and Australian ships.
On 12th August Albion sailed for apparently just another trooping run which became rather complicated. The sequence was Singapore - Kuching - Labuan - Kuching - Brunei Bay - West of Kuching, Singapore bound - Kuching - Singapore. During this period, apart from replenishing and exercising the ship transported miscellaneous air squadrons and units including 1st Queens Own Highlanders. 7th September the ship did another Borneo run before proceeding to Hong Kong for some much needed R & R.
Leaving Hong Kong on 23rd September Albion returned to Borneo embarking and disembarking various helicopters at a variety of destinations. Albion helicopters operating from advanced bases at Song and Kapit deployed Gurkhas so successfully into cut off positions that a sixty-man rebel band was ambushed and destroyed at Long Jawi. By this time Albion aircraft were dotted all over North Borneo at Labuan, Kuching, Sibu, Simanggang, Song, Kapit, Belaga and later Nanga Gaat. Albion returned to Singapore in early October before returning to Borneo to put an organisation in Kuching to act for the ship and look after the squadrons - she was about to absent herself for a long period.
To meet the need for more helicopters in Borneo and RAF aircraft were to be moved from UK to Libya and Albion was despatched to collect them. Arriving in Tobruk on 3rd November she embarked ten Whirlwinds and five Belvederes before returning through the Suez Canal via Aden to the Singapore Straits where the RAF aircraft were launched for shore. The next stage was to deliver the RAF aircraft to Borneo. With the arrival of these aircraft Albion was able to withdraw her own teams who had helped to hold the fort for so long. As well as re-embarking all her own personnel and equipment Albion called at Labuan to exchange the 1st KOYLI and the 1st Greenjackets. Albion offloaded the troops in Singapore on 18th December before proceeding to Hong Kong for Christmas, arriving on 23rd December 1963. This break was cut short however and the ship sailed four days early for Borneo, landing 846 Squadron at Tawau and returning to Singapore on the 19th January. On 22nd January Albion sailed again for a last visit to Hong Kong, with home in mind, calling at Sibu en route to collect 845 aircraft and personnel.
During the confrontation either one or both of Albion's squadrons had been operating almost without a break since the previous December, and they had jointly flown 8,000 operational sorties. Albion eventually handed over to Bulwark in Aden on 23rd March 1964.