- Francis, Richard
- History - post WWII, Humour
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 2001 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
During the Confrontation period 1963-67 there were often little incidents which came to light from the very different experiences enjoyed by the many vessels from several navies who participated. This account came from a subsequent old shipmate in later years, but after he recounted it I could remember the event when it came out.
After about a year of aggressive patrolling by the ships of the Far East Fleet, the Australian ships of the Commonwealth Strategic Reserve, the Royal Malaysian Navy, the Singapore Volunteer Naval Reserve and the Royal New Zealand Navy, the Fleet Commander ordered a general meeting of all the officers present in Singapore Naval Base to attend a briefing in the NAAFI canteen at HMS TERROR Barracks. There must have been about 200 of us gathered there to listen to the good oil from the Fleet Staff officers, and of course the Admiral himself. We were briefed on the political situation with Indonesia (where President Sukarno was behaving as a maverick dictator, being somewhat unapproachable and erratic in his direction of “Konfrontasi”). We were led to believe that our shipping patrols in the Malacca and Singapore Straits, and also in Borneo, had begun to contain the subversion, incursions and sabotage across the borders. This was reassuring, as particularly in the Singapore Strait patrol craft were constrained in the employment of live firings, using only small arms and machine guns, because of the proximity of the industrial oil refineries on both coastlines, and the hazard of ricochets from larger calibre weapons which could end up anywhere.
Towards the end of the briefing, as the officers were becoming restless with the approaching deadline of midday when the bar in the wardroom and officers’ club would be open, the Admiral finally called for last minute questions. There was a slight pause, with no one willing to challenge the wrath of their peers. From the back of the room a confident voice spoke up. He was a tall piratical-featured RN lieutenant with distinguished whiskers (colloquially known as “bugger lugs”). He stated briefly that he had earlier that month been patrolling the northern reaches of the Malacca Strait as the loan CO of a RMN patrol boat (former inshore minesweeper) when he happened upon a foreign gunboat pirating a group of Malaysian fishing boats. Gearing up to full speed (12 knots) and clearing for action with his Malayan crew, he ordered his main armament (a single antique hand-cranked Bofors gun) to open fire on the pirate vessel as soon as he was in range. Meanwhile his only signalman was struggling to raise RMN Headquarters at Kuala Lumpur on the radio: “Request Permission to Open Fire” – (following existing standing orders).
It took some time to pass the message by morse, and an hour had passed before his ship reached the scene, having driven off the intruder by sheer resolute bravado. Having fired off the very last clip of ammunition (the outfit was several hundred rounds) at the departing gunboat, he reached the nearest fishing vessel to render assistance and first aid.
At this point, the CO said, he received a reply from FHQ KL – “NO!” A roar of laughter rippled round the assembly, since RN rules (then) allowed ships to open fire in hostile situations first and ask questions afterwards. The tall Lieutenant then came to the point of his tale of woe.
“How am I going to explain the loss of my entire outfit of ammunition to my (RMN) superiors?”
Again we all had a good chuckle – what a hoot!!
The Admiral stood up with a benevolent smile on his face: “You did the right thing, Boy.”
He beamed: “Just run your ship up alongside the RN Ammunition Depot next thing, and we’ll fill you right up…. !”