Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Battle of Plaman Mapu Remembered

April 28 -- Fifty years on, veteran Paratroopers have returned to the scene of a battle in Borneo to remember those who lost their lives.

The Battle of Plaman Mapu, 50 years ago yesterday (27 April 1965), saw 36 members of B Company 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment (2 PARA), on operations in Borneo, defend their company location from 400 elite Indonesian soldiers who attacked the camp on the Malay border with Indonesia in a dawn raid.

During the battle, which lasted a few short hours, two Paras were killed and several more were injured. However, large numbers of the enemy were killed and the rest retreated back into the jungle.

Yesterday, a group of veterans returned to the scene to build a cairn and lay a memorial plaque for the two paratroopers killed, Lance Corporal Ian McKellar and Private Harry Smith, who are buried at Kranji Cemetery in Singapore.

Many of the paratroopers who defended the camp that day were teenagers, fresh from training, deployed to the jungles of Borneo as part of Operation Claret, a two-year mission involving British and Commonwealth forces, to defend the Malay border from Indonesian invasion.

Fierce battle

“We could hear the rustling in the jungle, which was just beyond the perimeter,” said battle veteran Les Simcock, who was an 18-year-old Private at the time, and the youngest soldier in Plaman Mapu. “But, there was nothing coming out of it apart from firepower. We couldn’t see anybody because it was still dark.

“And, gradually as first light came, we could see a lot of movement. It was mainly bamboo and it was very thick. We could see a lot of movement so we used to opened fire as and when," he said.

Following the battle, which saw the Indonesians breech one side of the camp and one of the two mortar pits, the injured soldiers were evacuated by helicopter and the remaining soldiers ate breakfast and repaired the damage to the camp. Three soldiers were recognised for their bravery with gallantry honours.

Les (68), who left the Army as a Major in 1986, said: “You didn’t know if it was ten people attacking you or a thousand. As it turned out it was 400, but you don’t know that. Afterwards, I thought we must have done a pretty good job to repel that amount of people.”

Mention in Despatches

Another veteran of the battle, who returned on 27 April, was Private Mick Murtagh. Mick, who was 19 at the time of the battle and was mentioned in despatches for his gallantry.

“There was a big dip this side and we could hear the enemy down below us,” said Mick, who was injured in the arm by shrapnel. “But the machine gun couldn’t get down the elevation to get amongst them, although it did what it was supposed to do, it was keeping them at bay."

Mick, who was awarded the Mention in Despatches, continued: “It wasn’t until I got to Singapore hospital that I lay in bed one day and the shutters banged and we all jumped out of bed and slid under the bed. That’s when the shock came, that was about 7 to 10 days later. And you realised what you’d been through. At the time you didn’t have time because you still had to do your job.”

The small group of the veterans, including Les Simcock, Mick Murtagh and George Averre, who was a mortar man in the battle, were accompanied to the battlefield by Major General James Bashall, a former commanding officer of 2 PARA, and a group of serving paratroopers from the 2nd battalion.

Watch video: Here, Les remembers how he was awoken by Indonesian troops trying to over-run the camp just inside the Malay border.

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