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40 Royal Marine Commando

Based at Burma Camp Malaya

1962 to 1966



40 Commando S Coy

RM Plamu Mapu 1965

by Olly Scarrott

Mortar Photos

Another Marine who came straight out of training and joined us in Borneo was Pat (Buck) Taylor and he was in Mortars like me. He arrived when we had moved from the old Plamu Mapu camp into the new one. Equipment we used was the old pattern OG shirts, floppy hat and trousers with Dunlop jungle boots.
Within 5-10 minutes of starting a patrol patches of sweat used to start around the arms and middle of your back on the shirt, like a huge stain. It was very hot and humid. After maybe half an hour your shirt was soaked with sweat and went a darker shade of green. Blended well into the jungle back ground. We never used cam cream much unless on operations as for normal patrols you sweated so much it wouldn't stay on for long. We only had brown cam cream at that time.
The British Dunlop jungle boots had a rubber sole and canvas uppers with lace ups fronts.
They only lasted a few patrols before falling to bits and we had plenty supplies of them. We preferred the US jungle boot with leather uppers with side canvas but had to obtain them ourselves.
Trouble with leather in the jungle is goes slimy and white when repeatedly soaked.
We were issued with a military machete - alternate names were 'gollak' or 'purang' but these tended to be short and heavy.
So we bargained with the local Dyaks or Ebans for theirs which were more effective.
Patrols were constant and lasted between two to 10 days - depending on mission.
All patrols were 'silent', everything being signalled by hand.
No smoking, no washing, no shaving etc. so you didn't give away your position by smells.
Anyone who was there should always remember the 'wait a bit' bushes. They were like a natural form of barbed wire and caught on your clothing, hands and neck. Also you had to watch out for the red ants as they really bite you.
I'll always remember the smell of those patrols, mixtures of rotting wood, stale sweat, and insect repellent.
We always took one paladrine tablet per day for malaria.
All food was backpacked on patrol which meant binning all the extras and carrying one main meal per day supplemented with boiled sweets, tins of cheese, the inevitable 'pusser's' biscuits.
In 1965 the ration packs were of the European war theatre kind and most food was tinned, which made carrying it a pain.
Later in the trip (1965) we got the new style rat packs which had vacuum packed dehydrated meat, noodles etc. and required mixing with water to eat. I preferred the old style rat packs as the food was better.
Ammo was minimum of 5 mags x 20 round (7.62 for SLR) and at least one bandolier of 50 rounds plus the odd grenade or smoke grenade.
Most grenades used were the old Mill 36 grenade but we all preferred the white phosphorus hand grenade (designated white smoke) as that really hurt.
Signallers and officers tended to carry the Sterling 9mm sub-machine gun. All right for up-close and in my opinion underestimated for jungle work.
With the M15 (AR -15) we would carry the same mags but extra ammo due to the lighter weight.
The AR15 was much easier to carry being lighter and shorter than the SLR but you carry a weapon for a reason. When you really need it, it had better drop the target with one or two shots and a lot of us were not convinced it would at the time.
Looking back, over time, if I had the choice I would have preferred the AK47 for jungle work as the bullet (7.62 short round) punched better than the 5.56 M15/16. People who really have not been in combat get too carried away about the choice of weapon as generally it's not the weapon but the individual using it that counts.
As long as the weapon is effective, reliable and accurate then it's okay.
Much like choosing a tool for a particular job from you kit box General Purpose machine gun team used to carry extra ammo and sometimes we each used to carry a 50 Rd ammo belt for them.
I was in Support Company and my main weapon, whilst in the camp was the 81mm Mortar.
The ammo used, during my first trip was mainly all old 3 inch ammo which rattled a bit when going down the barrel. The good thing about using 3 inch bombs in a 81mm mortar is you could get some twenty mortar rounds in the air before the first one landed, depends on range.
We liked to use 2 HE rounds followed by one white phosphorus.
The camps we stayed in like Plamu mapu looked similar to hilltop forts.
A minefield (claymores, flares), separated by barbed wire and dug in living quarters, and connecting slit trenches.
We used lots of panji sticks around the perimeters of the camp. These were sharpened bamboo stacks about 2- 3 foot long.
When we first got to Plamu Mapu we relieved the Gurkhas, who had taken over from 2 Para.
The place had lots of bullet holes everywhere from the battle between the Paras and the Indos who had attacked the camp.
The Gurkhas used to cook loads of boiled rice in their trenches and consequently the place was overrun by large rats.
Sleeping quarters for me was next to the mortar pit so I could go straight into action.
The camp was badly designed as our mortar pit was next to the main camp entrance and the first barbed wire fence ran alongside the pit.
I remember I lined the inside ledge of the mortar pit with mills grenades for quick use.
At night the entrance to the individual or group sleeping area was covered by canvas sheeting, same material as the sandbags and we used candles for illumination inside. I can still remember waking in the night when a large rat run over my chest - the candle had gone out.
Strange but the sandbags we used were desert colour and some of the guys who had been in Aden said the ones they used over there were green.
The locals were really pro-British and every Kampong we visited was friendly. They really trusted us and inside some huts were pictures of the Queen’s coronation etc. In some kampongs were heads cut off victims from past tribal wars. The locals all had relatives over the border and the impression I got was the ones over the other side were treated brutally or that may be too strong a word but they weren't treated good. The drank 'arak' a strong local rice type wine that tasted awful but would down an elephant.
We really worked on the 'hearts and minds' approach to them.
When we passed through the villages most of the young girls (17-30) when doing the washing were bare breasted.
All were friendly but off limits for anything more.
The unit I joined (40 CDO RM) had, at that time, a lot of ex-conscription marines who had stayed on. To join the Royal Marines you had to volunteer but as they were being called-up anyway some thought it better to go in the Marines. They did three years’ service not two as the army did.
So we had guys who had fought in Korea, (Sgt Haywood) others who had been in Cyprus (Nick?) and Suez and some small wars I had never heard of.
A real tough bunch - brought up in the forties and fifties but who all helped each other.
A lot of small soldiering techniques used disappeared when these men left the RM. Such as how to really build sandbag fortifications and using the mortar tube caps as markers for the legs of the mortar, in the dark.
They also taught me how to uses the mortar without a bipod for when your being overrun.
For the rest of my time in the marines I never saw that taught to anyone else after that.
Every day in Borneo started just before first light when we had 'stand-to.'
If in a camp you would take your weapon and sit in your allotted slit trench until after it was light.
If in the 'Ulu' (jungle) you would take defensive positions until it was light.
So you were up around 4 to 4.30 in the morning every day.
We also did stand-to a last light until it was dark.
These periods of time were when we expected any surprise attacks.
The personal water bottles we had when I first went to Borneo were made of metal alloy with a metal cup.
We used to put black masking tape on the lip to stop you burning your lip when drinking tea.
During my 'tour' the water bottles were changed to green plastic ones with a black plastic cup.
The cup being plastic wasn't much good as you couldn't brew up in it or make 'scran' (food).
So you then had to carry a mess tin which was one more item to carry.
Water was purified by letting it seep through a millbank bag (light green colour bag used as a strainer) and then you put one white purifying tablet into your water bottle and half an hour later one blue one to neutralize the chlorine.
The water was always safe to drink after that but tasted funny, sort of metallic.
Some of the smaller rivers were crystal clear and very cold - which made great drinking water.
Lots of guys got jungle sores on their legs that never went away until they returned to Singapore.
Leeches were also a problem sometimes, depends on the type of jungle you were traversing, usually swamp areas but I have had them on me in wet tall grass.
You also had to be aware of Leptospirosis in stagnate pools or slow rivers. Its disease spread through rat’s urine which penetrates skin and attacks the liver - can be fatal if not treated.
We lost a helicopter on my first tour. It had a prisoner on board and I think it was a Sioux type chopper, you know with a Plexiglas bubble front. I heard from someone who had worked out there, for one of the oil company’s years later, that the joystick was found in a river bed and identified. No bodies or anything else found.
I personally never saw the chopper take off as it left from the next camp along but everyone heard about it at the time.
Sorry not much good in the remembering the name of the chopper types.
We also had a large artillery piece (5.5inch -if I can remember right) in our first camp that used to make a large bang when fired.
One day the artillery support teams were shelling our wire for ranging in case we were attacked and possible overrun, in Plamu Mapu new camp. When by accident a shell landed right next to one of the mortar pits. Luckily we were all undercover.
In the new camp we also had a group of dancers and singers come out on tour who visited us, it should have been Frankie Howard but the weather stopped him visiting.
Unfortunately they had to make a run for the chopper, you should have seen the panic on their faces, when the alarm went off and artillery support was called for by some of our patrols on the border. The chopper, a Wessex, actually flew into the path of the firing but the shells went over the chopper. If I remember right, the border was less than one click (one thousand yards) from our camp position by map.
Oh by the way the equivalent of Top of the Pops when I was in Borneo (1965) was Nancy Sinatra -Those boots were made for Walking. My mum had given me a transistor radio and I still remember listing to that while sitting in the mortar pit
I got four days off during my first tour and went to Kuching for R & R.
Can't remember much about it except I was very drunk.
We also cut a lot of chopper pads out of the Ulu on that tour, close to the border for future operations.
Used plastic explosives sometimes - and the stuff we used was old WW2 plastic explosives nitro-glycerine based.
Sometimes we used C4 or PE 4 - I think we called it PE4 and the yanks c4.
White colour plastic explosives.
One patrol I went on had to re-cut an old chopper position on the border, in fact it was just over the border by about 500 yards and when we got there we found the Indo army had set up an ambush previously around the old chopper pad.
No one was there when we got there and it was obvious that the ambush had been set months before.
The trees had some Indo names carved on them and there were well sited slit trenches they had dug.
Patrolling was a mixture of boredom with exhaustion but you couldn't relax and had to be alert all the time.
Incidentally they (Indos) were using the AR15 before us and we found some of their used cartridge cases on the border.
You could always identify their footprints because they wore small size US jungle boots which leaves different sole print that our Dunlop ones.
One thing most people don't really understand about that part of the world, unless they have been there, is how humid and hot it is.
Not the dry heat of the desert but this heat drains you, as you’re just dripping sweat all the time.
One raid in 1965 was done from our camp using a mixture of Alpha and Bravo rifle companies (40 Commando RM) that were based at Plamu Mapu. They had apparently caught the Indos bathing in a river at first light, early morning. They had actually got close to the Indo camp the night before and moved in before dawn.
Our lads shot about thirty five of them in the river. They had sighted a 50 caliber machine gun on the hill overlooking the river in a basha but couldn't depress the machine gun, which was on a tripod, enough to hit our lads.
Anyhow one guy fired an antitank grenade from his SLR, (and for the love of me I can't remember the grenades name but I trained on it). The grenade hit the basher and knocked out the gun.
One of our lads, I can still remember his face but not his name, was hit in the back by a bullet which landed on the GPM ammo belt he was carrying.
One round in the belt exploded and took of a small part of his ear and also left a nasty carved scar on his back.
I picked all these details up from the lads after they had returned to our camp, so this bit is not first hand.
I also nearly shot a 'green Howard'.
Our mortar pit was close to the wire, in Plamu Mapu and the 'heads' (toilets for a dump) was in a hut outside the first gate and in between the wire.
Stupid camp planning I know.
After about a month a bunch (4) of 'Green Howard's' walk into our camp.
They had been doing recce work over the border and we all knew they were SAS.
That night one of them decides to go to the 'heads' for a dump.
When he got to the first gate the sentry was just changing out with me. So I didn't see him go outside but I certainly heard him when he came back.
Though he wasn't making much noise he got quite a surprise when I shoved a SLR into his head.
Luckily I had been trained to be sure of my target before firing and when my rifle barrel poked him he made a noise which was distinctly British. At the time I was sweating badly as I couldn't work out where he had come from. So all ended well but when I reported what had happened the next day the routine for going to the heads was changed.
My second and last trip top Borneo was in 1966.
At one stage a big raid was planned but called off as Sukarno went after the CCO and the Indo offensive collapsed.
It called for a planned attack on an Indo camp at least eight clicks over the border using a lot of troops.
It was planned we would take the mortars to within 3-4 klicks of the enemy camp and uses para flares to illuminate the target during the night attack.
If I remember rightly the assault, by the rifle companies would be over rice paddies which meant us also giving smoke and He support. There quite a few body bags brought up when we were preparing as we expected to take casualties.
Anyhow it was all cancelled.
This would be around - maybe beginning of Sept. 1966 - I haven't thought about this for a long time so I apologies for my memory.

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