War against Sukarno

Looking Back at Sukarno's Navy
The Indonesian Navy During the Confrontation and After

Dave (Syd) Morris

Looking back at the confrontation with the wisdom (and cynicism) of age, my immediate thoughts are that as a young (19/20) and lowly sailor on a small ship, I had little appreciation of the strategic or even the wider, tactical picture of naval operations in the war against Sukarno.  However, as a Radio Operator (Tactical), I saw most of the signals, so perhaps I'm doing myself an injustice.  Perhaps we knew enough to appreciate the situation and do our jobs, even though we didn't have today's multimedia to inform or misinform but others who were in a similar position may remember things differently. Dave (Syd) Morris (seated)

It could just have been that we knew what was happening but didn't bother much and got on with our task in our relatively small sphere of operations. Perhaps we had more important things to worry about, like when and where our next run ashore was and did we have enough money?  I do recall that we had some idea of the composition of the Indonesian Navy, but never considered them to be much of a realistic threat.  Rightly or wrongly we didn't fully appreciate that there was really any risk, particularly compared to those engaged in the front line ashore.

Prior to Sukarno the Indonesian Navy was a small hotch potch of old British, Dutch, American and Italian built ships but in the late 50s and early 60s Indonesia acquired a significant number of Soviet warships.  It was as though Sukarno was gathering around him, like badges of office, the hardware he considered to be the essential trappings of a dictator with expansionist ambitions.  But like a child collecting baubles, his fleet turned out to be decorational rather than operational. Time would show that Sukarno was either unwilling or unable to commit his naval forces. He may even have been deterred by an earlier loss, for on January 5th 1962 an Indonesian German-built `Jaguar' torpedo boat named Madjan Tutal was sunk by Dutch warships whilst trying to land infiltrators in Borneo. It could be argued that during the confrontation Indonesia had in some respects, albeit on paper, a larger naval force in the Far East than the UK.  Sukarno certainly seemed to have sufficient vessels necessary for limited naval operations and the forthcoming confrontation.  During the period January 1963 to December 1965 Sukarno had a substantial and varied naval force at his disposal but the number of ships actually in an operational state is a matter of speculation.  It was known that the Indonesian Navy was reduced in operational efficiency through lack of material, maintenance, and personnel and it was even rumoured that the Indonesian submarines were manned predominantly by Soviet personnel.

Although the UK had a large force available during the confrontation, the primary task at sea was a defensive one in support of the extensive and varied shore operations.  Whilst there was so much action happening ashore, the primary role of the minor war vessels was to patrol the Borneo and Malaya coastal areas, stopping and searching suspect fishing boats. When necessary the sweepers conducted other operations such as inshore, short distance, troop transportation including transporting SBS canoeists and their canoes for launching outside Indonesian waters.  The main aim, however, was to deter transportation of men and military material. The inshore phase of this task was conducted almost exclusively throughout 1963 by the eight Ton class coastal minesweepers of the 6th Minesweeping Squadron based in Singapore.  From the very start of operations in Brunei the ships of the 6th MSS adopted the title of `8th Assault Squadron' and flew a specially designed flag.  This flag, based on flag `S', incorporated an anchor, a Commando dagger, the figure 8 and a jagged line to represent the river on which Brunei stands.  The Ton class was lightly armed with one 40mm Bofors gun and a twin 20mm Oerlikon, with a maximum speed of 15 knots (operational speed normally 13).  However, these small workhorses were limited in what they could achieve.  With their lack of speed and given the distance from Singapore to Kuching, the base for Borneo operations, there was little slack in the system.  There would usually be one ship in refit in Singapore and another undergoing docking.  When not in the patrol area (two ships at a time, one at sea, one in Kuching) or transiting to or from the patrol area, there wasn't much time for recreational visits.  During patrol periods the only places we visited, apart from Kuching, were upriver to Sibu, Song and beyond to Kapit, the island of  Labuan, which was quite a good respite, and Turtle Island.  On Labuan Island there was an old naval cemetery but it was another cemetery that I found very moving.  As the ship's postman I had to travel across the island to collect the mail and running alongside the main road for a great distance were rows upon rows of war graves, mainly ANZACS killed during the fighting to clear Borneo of the Japanese during World War II.  It seemed such a lonely place so far away from home for young Australians and New Zealanders to die.  Turtle Island was an idyllic island populated only by turtles and we often stopped there for a banyan (beach picnic) and swimming.  These visits were stopped when we received a signal from the Far East Naval Command ordering us not to visit there anymore as it was `interfering with the turtles' copulation'.  Thirty-seven years, later whilst reading `SBS The Invisible Raiders' by James D. Ladd, I learnt that an SBS canoe team had been secretly inserted onto Turtle Island from where canoes ran into Datu Point at night and established a hidden OP.  On one occasion a patrolling RN vessel mistook the canoes coming in to relieve the men in the OP for Indonesians - fortunately with no 'own goals'.  So it wasn't just the turtles we were disturbing.

Near the end of my time in Dartington, the newly acquired patrol craft of the Malaysian Navy took on some patrol duties.  After I left, the confrontation escalated to the Malaysian mainland coast. The number of ships was increased and the ships of the Hong Kong Squadron and others joined in operations around Borneo, Singapore and Malaya.  For river and close inshore work in North Borneo, every conceivable small boat in Brunei, and later Sarawak, was pressed into service with a Royal Naval or Royal Marine crew. These included cabin cruisers, dories, assault boats, inflatables and canoes.  Even the Sultan of Brunei's yacht was utilised in the early stages of operations and an SRN-5 hovercraft, piloted by an SBS officer, proved effective in the swamps near the border.  Those craft crewed by the RN were usually commanded by a Midshipman or Sub-Lieutenant, with a stoker, seaman and perhaps a communicator.  The smaller of the boats operating up river sometimes had a crew of just three junior rates - seaman, communicator and stoker.

The Ton class sweeper's operational speed of 13 knots did not always give a significant speed advantage and the process of searching suspect vessels usually relied on being able to outrun the suspect vessel or encouraging it to stop so that it could be caught and searched.  On one occasion a native longboat was spotted close to the shore proceeding very quickly.  To encourage it to stop we fired small arms in its general direction and eventually the Bofors gun crew was closed up and break up shot was fired.  It had no effect.  The native boatman knew he was safe.  We were some distance away and he had a great speed advantage; he ignored us and went on his way.  During the course of our stop and search operations I don't remember Dartington finding any Indonesians.  Although all our searches continued to be negative we still approached each one with due seriousness.  Reports of positive searches by other sweepers and incidents of armed resistance and casualties, were constant reminders that each stop and search was a potential danger.

Whilst I was in Dartington, we had no real contact with the Indonesian Navy.  On one patrol, some distance from the coast in company with another sweeper, we spotted an Indonesian missile patrol boat close inshore.  It was too far away for either to take any notice of each other.  Just as well really - Bofors, Oerlikons and an operational speed of 13 knots are no match for a Styx missile on a 40-knot patrol boat!  I don't remember seeing any reports of any significant RN contact with the Indonesian Navy, but no doubt someone, somewhere, has a record of such contacts.

Overall the naval aspects of the confrontation were a typical British approach of limited and necessary force, generally and overtly defensive in nature.  Sukarno may have made the same mistake that the Argentineans would make some years later.  He probably misread the messages and then grossly underestimated the response, commitment and resolution of the British government, the British people and the British armed forces.  Having witnessed the initial response, Sukarno would have been reluctant to escalate the confrontation at sea by committing his naval forces to an offensive role.  By this time he will have realised that the British reaction would have been predictable and swift.  Britain had committed only those forces necessary for the limited sea operations, but if provoked, there would have been no hesitation in bringing the larger units of the Far East Fleet into play in a more offensive role. Carriers with fixed wing strike aircraft, big gun cruisers, destroyers, frigates and submarines.  There was also the possibility of further strengthening of the fleet by other RN, Commonwealth or Allied units - Australian, Canadian and New Zealand units took part in FOTEX 63 (Flag Officer's Training Exercise 1963).  Forty units from 5 different navies participated in FOTEX 65, and this included 4 flat tops - Melbourne, Eagle, Victorious and Bulwark.  Maybe Sukarno didn't have the will or the confidence in his navy and so the only significant operation in which his ships engaged, that I am aware of, was to set up caches of arms and explosives in the Riau Archipelago, a line of islands south of Singapore. Attempted incursions into Malaysian waters by small Indonesian naval craft were generally deterred by low flying fixed wing aircraft.


Much of the following information is taken from various editions of `Jane's Fighting Ships' and `The World's Navies'.  The maximum speeds shown relate to when the vessel was first built and the armaments listed are those usually fitted to that type of ship and do not include any local modifications.  Just because these ships are listed on the strength of the Indonesian Navy does not necessarily mean that they were operational, efficient or effective.  On the contrary, later experience showed that they went into rapid decline on the reduction and withdrawal of Soviet support on Sukarno's departure.  As late as 1999, the Indonesian Navy was still suffering from a lack of funding, manning, equipment and maintenance.


7 destroyers, 12 frigates, 17 corvettes, 6 submarines, 15 amphibious vessels.


12 missile boats, 18 gunboats, 21 torpedo boats.


6 submarine chasers, 25 patrol boats, 10 motor launches, 20 minesweepers, 4 survey vessels, 4 depot ships, 9 oilers,
10 auxiliaries

Details of all these vessels are contained in annex A.


The strength of an individual fleet at any given time is not as easy to ascertain as that of a national navy.  The size of the Far East Fleet was constantly changing depending upon policy and availability of ships, and the actual units that comprised the fleet were changed round at regular intervals. The following is gleaned from a variety of sources including the Drafting Forecast sections of Navy News July 1962 and May 1963, and information gratefully received from Peter Green.  Some of it is an estimate based on personal experience of three tours of duty East of Suez in the 1960s.

In the 1960s Britain's strategy for maintaining a fleet East of Suez took two forms.  Some units, usually minor war vessels but on occasion larger units, were kept on station and the crews changed as a whole or as individuals.  The larger units, including the destroyer, frigate, and submarine squadrons, changed at regular intervals as ships and even whole squadrons commissioned in the UK and proceeded East of Suez to relieve those on station.  The number of units on station could be easily increased by retaining those relieved by units from the UK.

In general terms the RN Far East Fleet at any one time in the 1960s would have probably have been:

1 strike carrier
Embarked - three fixed wing squadrons - fighters,  bombers and AEW (Air Early Warning) plus one ASW (Anti Submarine Warfare) helicopter squadron. Centaur, Eagle, Ark Royal, Victorious, Hermes in turn. The strike carriers usually handed over in the East and generally operated together before one headed for home.  Both Eagle and Victorious took part in FOTEX 65.  In 1967 Victorious handed over to Hermes off Aden in support of British run down and withdrawal operations.

1 Commando carrier.
Embarked - two squadrons of troop carrying helicopters plus one full Royal Marine Commando and supporting units. Bulwark and Albion in turn, usually handing over in Aden. The LPD  (Landing Platform Dock) Fearless also formed part of the Far East Fleet in 1967.

1 cruiser.
Belfast until 1962 then Lion, Tiger and Blake in turn.

1 escort maintenance ship.
Hartland Point 1960 - 1965.

1 destroyer squadron, ships on rotation from the UK - mainly CA class, Battle class, Daring class and County class.
1 frigate squadron, ships on rotation from the UK - mainly R class, Loch class, Type 61, Rothesay class and Leander class.
In 1963 destroyers and frigates were combined to form `Escort Squadrons' of mixed composition.

1 submarine squadron/division.
Conventional boats and depot Ship (Forth 1965 - 1972).

Inshore Flotilla (Singapore).

1 minesweeper repair ship
Mull of Kintyre 1961 - 1967.

1 Headquarters ship
(Captain Inshore Flotilla) Woodbridge Haven 1960 - 1963, Manxman from 1963

8 Ton Class Coastal Minesweepers Chawton, Dartington, Fiskerton, Houghton, Maryton, Puncheston, Soberton, Wilkieston. (From 1964 onwards further mine warfare vessels were sent to augment the Far East Fleet). Ships remained based in Singapore, individual members of the crew changed after 30 months if accompanied by family or 18 months if unaccompanied

Hong Kong Squadron.
Inshore minesweepers used to patrol the waters surrounding the colony. Ships remained based in Hong Kong, individual members of the crew changed after 30 months if accompanied by family or 18 months if unaccompanied

Survey vessels (e.g. Cook, Dampier), despatch boat Alert, auxiliaries.


Based in Aden.

(in rotation)  - Loch Class frigates until the early 1960s then the Tribal Class.  These were newly built, the first RN ships to be constructed with a full air conditioning system.  They were purpose designed for service in the Persian Gulf.

Mine warfare vessels
Ton class coastal minesweepers.

Permanently based in Aden or other Persian Gulf ports.

The Amphibious Warfare Squadron
1 Headquarters Ship Meon
2 LST (Landing Ship Tank)
2 LCT (Landing Craft Tank)


The first RN ships to appear in the Far East with missile systems were the Leander class frigates armed with the Seacat short-range surface-to- air system and the County class destroyers armed with the Seaslug medium range surface-to-air system. These systems could theoretically be used in a surface-to-surface role but this may never have been validated in practice.   Both classes started to arrive in the Far East late 1963/1964.


A list of some of the units that formed part of the Royal Navy Far East Fleet at some time during 1962 to 1966 is contained in annex B.


There were few significant withdrawals/deletions from the reported strength of the Indonesian Navy during the period 1965 - 1974, but in reality Surabaya Dockyard in 1975 told a totally different story.

In the latter half of 1975, Task Group 317.3, on a round the world deployment out through Suez and home via Panama, visited Surabaya in Java, the chief port of the Indonesian Navy.  The Task Group was commanded by the Flag Officer Second Flotilla (FOF2) - Rear Admiral John D.E. Fieldhouse using HMS Glamorgan as his flagship.  This visit to Surabaya was significant in that it was the first visit to an Indonesia port by RN ships since the confrontation, although the Indonesian Navy had exercised with the New Zealanders as part of a SEATO exercise. This was the only time on this deployment that a Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel was refused access to a port.  Although previously classed as unarmed merchant ships and therefore having access to any commercial port, the fitting of a helicopter, which was classed as a weapon, changed this.  RFAs now often found themselves berthed or anchored some way from the RN ships and the main port and this was the case in Surabaya.  The RN group was scheduled to take part in an exercise with the Indonesian Navy, which they would organise, FOF2 taking charge of the more specialized and complicated serials such as replenishment.

The naval yard at Surabaya contained the remnants of Sukarno's navy.  It was crammed full of ships and although they were all fully manned they were generally non-operational, mainly due to lack of spares.  The Soviets had withdrawn all support on Sukarno's departure and the ships had been systematically depleted of machinery and equipment. They had been cannibalized in an effort to keep some of the major units of the navy afloat and operational. By this time their operational strength was down to two ex-USSR Riga class frigates and one submarine.  It was the two frigates, Nuku and Lambung Mangkurat, with whom the RN ships would be exercising.  A joint planning conference and harbour evolutions did not inspire confidence in the RN personnel who attended as part of the preparations for the forthcoming exercise and harbour training highlighted the material shortcomings and lack of expertise of the Indonesian ships.  Luckily the exercise at sea was only to last a few hours, all in daylight.  RN personnel sailed on the Indonesian ships, with one Seaman Chief Petty Officer and one Leading Radio Operator (Tactical) on each.  One of the tasks the Seaman CPOs undertook was to show the Indonesians how to rig a jackstay, which they had not done before.  The motivation was great because the RN personnel would be using the jackstay to return to Glamorgan.  The exercise went off without any major mishaps apart from one of the Indonesian frigates, the flagship, breaking down and limping back into port.  A reliable source stated that the one submarine that the Indonesians had left could not be submerged.  Whenever there were foreign ships in port they would steam it out of harbour each morning with due ceremony to attract attention.  The boat would spend the day out of sight somewhere on the surface, then steam back into port in the evening with more ceremony.  The Indonesians were, however, optimistic about the future, as they were about to take delivery of ex-US Navy ships.


In 1979 it was reported that the Indonesian Navy had obtained 4 ex-US Claud Jones class frigates in 1973/74 but there was no sign of these in Surabaya in 1975.  They were actually refitted in Subic Bay in 1979/82 so may not have been operational before this.  The navy was reported of consisting of  3 Riga, 2 Surapati and 2 or 3 Pattimura class frigates but it is doubtful if many, if any at all, were fully operational at this time. The same would apply to the submarines of which 3 Whisky class were reported.  Of the original patrol craft there were 4 torpedo boats and 3 large patrol craft left with 4 new missile boats on order from South Korea

THE NEW ERA  - 1979 and beyond.

In the mid 1970s Indonesia started the redevelopment of its navy and by 1999 boasted a fleet of mainly relatively modern ships and equipment from non-Communist sources.  However, the operational ability and development of  the navy was still adversely affected by funding, manning and maintenance problems - a symptom of the continuing political instability in the country.



17 frigates, 16 corvettes, 2 submarines, 25 amphibious vessels


24 patrol craft


9 mine warfare vessels, 10 miscellaneous vessels, 12 auxiliaries

Details of all these vessels are contained in annex C.

Annex A



Destroyers - 7

Four USSR 'Skory' class destroyers purchased from Poland in 1959, a fifth in 1962 and two more in 1964.
Built in the early to mid 50s, 5.1" gun, 33 knots.

Frigates - 12

Four built in Italy in 1958 - 2 `Surapati' class - 4" guns, 22 knots, 2 `Pattimura`' class - 3" guns, 18 knots.
Two `Riga' class transferred from the USSR in 1962, 2 more in 1963 and 4 in 1964 - 3.9" guns, 28 knots.

Corvettes - 17

Fourteen ex-USSR `Kronstadt' type corvettes acquired in 1958.   Built between 1951 and 1954, 3.9" gun, 24 knots.
That same year they acquired the first of four elderly ex-US PC corvettes built in 1942/43, one of which was removed from service in 1961.  These had a 3" gun and a maximum speed of 20 knots.

Submarines - 6

Between 1959 and 1962 Indonesia acquired a total of 14 ex-USSR `W' class medium size, long-range submarines. One was overhauled in Surabaya in 1960, no doubt with Soviet technical assistance.  On receiving the final four in 1962 it was reported that only six would be operational, with six kept in reserve and two used for spare parts. This policy of spare part cannibalization was to be applied ruthlessly to the whole of the Indonesian fleet in future years. The `W' class was armed with guns, heaviest 2.4 inch, and torpedoes, 4 tubes forward and 2 aft.  Maximum speed 17 knots on the surface, 15 submerged.

Amphibious Vessels - 15

6 LSTs and 9 LCTs, a mixture of ex-US, Japanese, Yugoslav and USSR ships acquired between 1958 and 1961.


Missile Boats - 12

Ex-USSR `Komar' Class.  Six were transferred to Indonesia between 1961 and 1963, four in September 1964 and the final two in 1965. Armed with 2 launchers for SSN2A (Styx) missiles, speed 40 knots.

Gun Boats -18

Ex-USSR `BK' Class transferred in 1961/62.  Armed with 85mm gun, speed 20 knots.

Torpedo Boats - 21

7 German-built (1959/60) `Jaguar' type.  40mm gun and four 21" torpedo tubes, 42 knots. Ex-USSR `P6' type.  8 delivered in 1961, 6 in 1962.  25 mm AA guns, two 21" torpedo tubes, 25 knots.


6 Submarine Chasers - ex-Yugoslavian `Kraljevica' type.  Purchased in 1958.  3" gun, 12 knots.
25 Patrol Boats - ex-British/Dutch HDML type built between 1943 and 46.  37 mm gun, 11 knots.
10 motor launches - ex-US and ex-Dutch.
20 minesweepers - 6 fleet, 14 coastal.
  4 survey vessels
  4 depot ships
  9 oilers
10 auxiliaries

Annex B.


The following are some of the units that formed part of the Royal Navy Far East Fleet at some time during 1962 to 1966:


Strike Carriers
Ark Royal, Centaur,  Eagle,  Hermes,  Victorious

Commando Carriers
Albion,  Bulwark

Belfast,  Blake,  Lion,  Tiger

Escort Maintenance Ship
Hartland Point

Agincourt, Aisne,  Barossa,  Caesar,  Cambrian, Caprice,  Carysfort, Cassandra, Cavalier,  Cavendish, Decoy,  Delight,  Devonshire, Diana, Duchess,  Hampshire, Kent,  London

Ajax,  Berwick,  Blackpool, Brighton,  Chichester, Cleopatra, Dido, Eastbourne, Euryalus,  Falmouth, Galatea,  Leander,  Leopard,  Lincoln, Llandaff,  Loch Alvie, Loch Fada, Lock Killisport, Loch Lomond, Londonderry, Lowestoft, Plymouth, Rapid,  Relentless, Rhyl,  Rocket,  Salisbury, Troubridge, Verulam,  Whitby

Minesweeper Support
Mull of Kintyre, Manxman, Woodbridge Haven

Minesweepers - Coastal
Bossington, Chawton, Dartington, Dufton,  Fiskerton, Hickleton, Houghton, Hubberston, Invermoriston, Kemerton, Kildarton, Lanton,  Lullington, Maryton, Penston,  Picton,  Puncheston, Santon,  Sheraton,  Thankerton, Wilkieston, Woolaston

Minesweepers - Inshore
Glentham, Hovingham, Davenham, Felmersham

Despatch Boat

Submarine Depot Ship

Alliance,  Ambush,  Amphion, Anchorite, Andrew,  Oberon,  Tapir

Survey Ships
Cook,  Dampier

Royal Fleet Auxiliaries
Brown Ranger, Eddycreek, Eddyrock, Fort Beauharnois,  Fort Charlotte, Fort Dunvegan, Fort Duquesne, Fort Langley, Fort Rosalie, Fort Sandusky,  Oakol,  Reliant, Resurgent, Retainer,  Tideflow, Tidepool,  Tidereach, Tidespring, Tidesurge, Wave Knight, Wave Sovereign

Curlew,  Gull,  Hawk,  Ibis,  Snipe,  Teal

Hickleton, Santon
Annex C



Frigates - 17

6 Ahmadiani class, ex Dutch Van Speijk class (British Leander design).  Transferred between 1986 to 1990.
Armed with Harpoon and Seacat missile systems, 3" gun and torpedoes.
3 Khristina Tiyahahu, ex British Tribal class (Zulu', Gurkha and Tartar).  Transferred in 1985 and 86.
Armed with Matra Simbad missile system, 4.5" gun and mortars.
3 Fatahillah class. Ordered in 1975 and built in Holland in 1979/80.
Armed with Exocet, 4.7" gun, torpedoes and A/S mortars. Officially rated as corvettes.
1 Ki Hajar Demantara class. Ordered in 1978 and built in Yugoslavia in 1981 (hull and engines).
Completed with Dutch and Indonesian armament and electronics in Surabaya, Indonesia.
Armed with Exocet and 5.7mm gun.
4 Samadikun class, ex US Claud Jones class. Transferred in 1973 and 74, refitted in Subic Bay 1979 to 82.
Were to be replaced by the Van Speijk class but remained in service, although much time spent in maintenance.

Corvettes - 16

16 Kapitan Patimura class, ex GDR. Transferred in 1993.
In 1999 some doubt remained about the operational state of these vessels due to a problem in training crews quick enough to keep them all in service.  Despite engine problems the class was widely reported as being very active.

Submarines - 2

2 Cakra class SSK, ex German type 206.  Built in 1981, transferred to Indonesia in 1997.

Amphibious Vessels - 25

A variety of LST and LSM ex US, South Korean, Japanese, including 12 new craft from West Germany in 1993.


Patrol Craft - 24

8 Sibaru class ex Australian Large Patrol Craft, built in 1967 and 68, transferred between 1973 and 85.
4 Dagger fast attack craft transferred from South Korea in 1979/80.
4 Suma large patrol craft commissioned between 1988 and 1993.
4 Kapak class large patrol craft built in West Germany and completed in Surabaya between 1988 and 95.
4 `57' class large patrol craft building in Surabaya.


9 mine warfare Vessels
10 miscellaneous Vessels
12 auxiliaries

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