Australian service personnel, both Army and Air Force, served at Butterworth Air Base (BAB) throughout the 1968-1989 Malaysian Communist Insurgency War. BAB was shared with Malaysian forces who conducted operations against the enemy from the Base. Despite clear evidence of Communist activity in the vicinity of BAB and security assessments concluding the Base could come under attack at any time without warning the service of these veterans remains classified as peacetime.
Service at BAB during the Insurgency War is clearly comparable with that rendered in Ubon, Thailand in the late 1960s and at BAB during most of the 1948-1960 Malayan Emergency. In both instances veterans have been granted active service recognition. Peacetime service classification denies BAB veterans medallic and repatriation benefits that have been granted to others with comparable service and is at odds with established precedents for recognising Australian military service. BAB veterans are being treated unjustly by the Government and any delay in rectifying this situation only exacerbates that injustice. It is a betrayal of men and women who pledged their lives to the defence of Australia.
This article presents evidence supporting an outstanding claim by members of an Australian Rifle Company to have their service at BAB recognised for what it was – active service. It provides evidence of Communist activity in the area around Butterworth, Australian service chiefs’ concerns over BAB security, and compares service at BAB during the war with that at Ubon and Butterworth during the earlier Emergency. It also demonstrates the selective use of evidence by Government as well as immaterial data to deny the claim.
Butterworth Air Base
BAB is located in Seberang Perai, previously called Province Wellesley, which is part of Penang State. Seberang Perai has an area of approximately 750 square kilometres on the mainland of North West Malaysia. It shares its northern and eastern borders with Kedah and its southern border part with Kedah and the remainder with Perak. A ferry service to Georgetown, Penang’s capital, operates from the nearby town of Butterworth. On 17 June 1968 communist forces killed 17 members of the Malaysian Security forces in the Kroh-Betong area on the Thai border on 17 June 1968, approximately 80 kilometres from Bab. This incident marks the beginning of the Insurgency War[i].
Communist Activity In and Around Butterworth
Evidence listed below relating to communist activity in and around Butterworth during the war is sourced from Singapore’s Straights Times[ii].
- March 1971 – communist terrorists (CTs) dynamited the railway bridge spanning Sungei Jarak, two miles from the northern Province Wellesley village of Tasek Glugot[iii].
- April 1971 – two bombs exploded in Penang. Communist banners were found on the island and in Province Wellesley and arrests were made[iv].
- May 1971 - four CTs were killed and another four wounded by Malaysian security forces near Kulim ‘just 12 miles from Butterworth’[v].
- June 1971 – Malaysia Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak named Penang as one of five states where the communist threat was ‘very real’[vi]
- October 1974 – communist flags and banners were found in five Penang villages[vii]
- May 1975 – Penang and the other northern states Perak, Kedah and Perlis arrange a meeting of the ‘recently formed … joint co-ordinating security committee … to jointly discuss and … co-ordinate … security forces actions’[viii].
- May 1975 – CTs bombed two railway bridges at Berapit and Permatang Tinggi near Bukit Mertajam, Province Wellesley[ix].
- September 1975 - three districts of Butterworth were placed on a five hour curfew from midnight till 5 a.m. as a ‘direct consequence of the establishment of the Inter-state Security Committee’[x]
- September 1975 – suspected communist agents were held during a house-to-house search during curfew hours in Butterworth[xi].
- January 1976 – the Malaysian Inspector-General of Police identified the Sungei Bakar area of Province Wellesley as a place where CTs were active[xii].
The communist’s 8th Assault Unit began moving into the South Kedah region including the area around Kulim in early 1969 and remained active there until it was forced out by security forces in 1978[xiii]. In May 1971 four members of this unit were killed by Malaysian Forces close to BAB (see above)[xiv]. This unit, operating in close proximity to BAB, is one of three assault units described by the Malaysian Army as ‘active guerrilla forces of substantial strength and capability’. The others were the fifth, which operated in the neighbouring state of Perak, and the sixth located in Pahang[xv].
1971 Security Assessment
In 1971 an intelligence assessment of threat faced by BAB to the end of 1972 considered it ‘possible, but still unlikely, that the CPM/CTO [Communist Party of Malaya/Communist Terrorist Organisation] could take a decision to attack the Base …’ However, it also concluded that; ‘There is definitely a risk that one or more CTs or members of subversive groups could regardless of CPM/CPO policy and / or acting on their own initiative, attempt an isolated attack on or within the Base at any time’. It was believed these ‘isolated’ attacks could occur at ‘any time’ without advanced warning. Anticipated methods of attack included penetration of the base at night by one or more (up to 20) CTs, sabotage, booby traps, small arms fire or mortar attacks ‘if the CTs acquired this capability …’[xvi] Clearly, the CTs were using mortars in early 1974 when they attacked the military air base at Sungai Besi outside Kuala Lumpur on 31 March 1974, damaging a Caribou aircraft[xvii].
Relevant to the above assessment is that fact that by October 1974 the MCP leadership had split into three different factions following internal conflicts going back to early 1970[xviii]. Cheah Boon Keng says that consequently ‘each faction tried to outdo the other in militancy and violence’[xix]. The CPO no longer had control over all elements of the insurgency. Communist activities continued to escalate after this time. The Malaysian Army describe the 1975 – 1980 period as one of intensified CT activities.[xx]
Increased Concern of Australian Service Chiefs in 1975
Australian concerns for the security of Butterworth are expressed in a secret minute to the Minister of Defence from the chairman of the Australian Chiefs of Staff committee, dated 14 October 1975[xxi].
a. There has always been a risk, though seen to be slight in the past, that an attack would be made on Butterworth.
b. Our own assessment is that the risk has increased in recent months. A new factor is that the insurgents now have3.5 inch (8.9 cm) rockets available to them as a stand-off weapon[xxii].
In an attachment to the above the Chief or Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshall J.A. Rowland, presented Defence’s concern that the area around the base gave the CTs ample cover from which to launch an attack with weapons of ‘considerable destructive force’. Defence believed it required as a minimum two infantry battalions to ‘provide an effective deterrent in the area surrounding Butterworth’. Commitments of the Malaysian Army Brigade responsible for security in the area could not be assessed[xxiii]. At this stage it is worth noting that when the war started in 1968 the Malaysian Army was ill-prepared to deal with threat. It was not until the 1980s that it had built up its numbers and established the command structure to enable a coordinated and systematic strategy against the enemy[xxiv].
The CAS commented that ‘The RAAF co-operates with the OC RMAF for the on-base defence of property and assets and in joint arrangements for the safeguarding of personnel and dependents off base.’ Regarding internal security arrangements the CAS stated:
On-base security arrangements to protect against sabotage or to react quickly to any attempted incursions by CT groups are satisfactory. An ARA Company on three-monthly rotation [the RCB] provides a quick reaction force against attacks on the base, but is currently prevented from operations off-base’[xxv].
Two points are worth stressing here:
- The reference immediately above to the RCB’s role in response to sabotage and incursions reflects the security concerns highlighted in the 1971 security assessment (see above.
- Australian and Malaysian forces co-operated on internal defence arrangements. This can only mean one thing - that in the face of an external armed threat Australia had a role in the protection of Malaysian assets, thereby involving Australian personnel in the conflict.
Another paper also prepared in October 1975 by the Department of Foreign Affairs contained commentary on Malaysia’s internal security situation.
In the past year there has been an upsurge in terrorist incidents approaching the scale of the last years of the Emergency. Incidents have included co-ordinated rocket attacks on military bases, the selective assassinations of Special Branch officers and ambushes of security force patrols. The Malaysian national monument in Kuala Lumpur was blown up two months ago. This was followed by a terrorist attack on Kuala Lumpur’s Police Headquarters when terrorists lobbed a number of grenades over the wall killing and wounding a number of police officers…[xxvi]
The author returned to Australia following a 30 month posting to BAB in March 1974 and returned for a second tour in July 1977. An obvious change was the presence of revetments on the Mirage flight lines to protect the aircraft from attack.
Australia Clearly Involved in the Insurgency
The facts are irrefutable.
- Malaysia was fighting an internal war against communist insurgents.
- CTs attacked military bases, police stations and other security force targets in Peninsular Malaysia.
- The Communists were active in and around Province Wellesley.
- The Australian military had real concerns regarding the security of BAB.
- In 1975 the CAS considered that the presence of the RCB as a quick reaction force were satisfactory. The presence of the RCB protected against the type of attacks considered ‘definitely a risk’ in 1971.
- Australian and Malaysian commanders cooperated on BAB security arrangements to protect assets against attack from hostile forces. Australia was clearly involved in the war.
Nature of Service to be Determined against Objective Criteria
The type of service a veteran has rendered should be determined against objective criteria and not the whims of the relevant minister or Government Departments. As demonstrated below, these criteria have been ignored in the case of Butterworth veterans.
Types of Australian Military Service
According to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs fact sheet DVA DP 07 Australia has three types of defence service. The type of service given determines the veteran’s eligibility for compensation under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 and a service pension. The definitions are as follows[xxvii]:
● Warlike service – is determined when the application of force is authorised to pursue specific military objectives and there is an expectation of casualties. This includes a state of declared war and conventional combat operations against an armed adversary. It also includes peace enforcement activities, that is peacemaking and not peacekeeping operations, when armed forces are authorised to restore peace and security.
● Non–warlike service – is determined where military activities are operations with a limited objective and casualties could occur but are not expected. The only force allowed is in self–defence.
● Peacetime service – is routine operations, including training and military exercises, that are not warlike or non–warlike.
These definitions have been used to determine repatriation and medallic entitlements since 1975. In 1994 the Committee of Inquiry into Defence Awards (CIDA), at Principle 8, considered their use appropriate when reviewing service entitlements between 1945 and 1975[xxviii]. As will be shown, arguments used to deny BAB veterans warlike service rely on the selective use of documents and a retrospective assessment of the risk in violation of established precedents.
Retrospective Assessment Precluded
The above service type descriptors are quite specific. Warlike service is rendered when ‘… force is authorised … [and] there is an expectation of casualties …’ The 1971 security assessment cited above is also clear – ‘There is definitely a risk …’ of attack. Any attack of the type identified brought with it the risk of casualties. It could not be argued after such an attack that casualties were ‘not expected’, ruling out non-warlike service. Evidence presented below demonstrates that the RCB were authorised to use force in the defence of BAB. They were clearly armed with live ammunition to repel attacks by communist forces. The warlike classification is the only one of the three available that fits with the facts.
Warlike service includes service in ‘conventional combat operations against an armed adversary.’ Throughout the Insurgency War Malaysian forces at BAB were engaged on ‘conventional combat operations against an armed adversary’ and Australian forces were located in the operational area. This was not by any stretch of the imagination ‘normal peacetime service’.
The words ‘there is an expectation of casualties’ mean that it is the expectation at the time that must be considered, not the events as they unfolded. This was the position taken by Justice Mohr, in his February 2000 ‘Review of Service Entitlement Anomalies in Respect of South-East Asian Service 1955-75’[xxix] (see below).
The 1994 Committee of Inquiry into Defence Awards (CIDA) established 10 principles to ensure Defence Awards maintained the Australian values of fairness, equity, compassion and egalitarianism[xxx]. The following discusses the application of these to BAB service during the Insurgency War.
Principle 3 states, ‘To maintain the inherent fairness and integrity of the Australian system of honours and awards care must be taken that, in recognising service by some, the comparable service of others is not overlooked or degraded’.
Comparison with Service at Ubon, Thailand
Within this context it is appropriate to compare Butterworth with conditions existing at Ubon, Thailand between July 1965 and August 1968. In May 1962 number 79 Squadron, equipped with Sabres, was deployed to Ubon to assist Thai security. From the beginning of 1965 America began a build-up of air power at Ubon to launch air attacks against North Vietnam and targets on the Ho Chi Mihn Trail. This meant Ubon faced the likelihood of attack, both from the air and communist insurgents operating in Thailand[xxxi].
Justice Mohr, in his ‘Review of Service Entitlement Anomalies in Respect of South-East Asian Service 1955-75’, accepted that Ubon veterans ‘incurred danger’ from hostile forces and were therefore entitled to repatriation benefits under Section 7A of the Veterans Entitlements Act 1986. He ruled that, in order to incur danger, the veteran must face ‘objective danger’, something he addressed at length[xxxii].
Mohr concluded that an ‘objective danger’ was established by the presence of an armed enemy. He stated:
On the assumption we are dealing with rational people in a disciplined armed service (i.e. both the person perceiving danger and those in authority at the time), then if a serviceman is told there is an enemy and that he will be in danger, then that member will not only perceive danger, but to him it will be an objective danger on rational and reasonable grounds. If called upon, the member will face that objective danger. The member’s experience of the objective danger at the time will not be removed by ‘hindsight’ showing that no actual enemy operations eventuated.
… It seems to me that proving that the danger has been incurred is a matter to be undertaken irrespective of whether or not the danger is perceived at the time of the incident under consideration. The question must always be, did an objective danger exist? That question must be determined as an objective fact, existing at the relevant time, bearing in mind both the real state of affairs on the ground, and in warnings given by those in authority when the task was assigned to the persons involved[xxxiii].
Regarding Ubon specifically, Mohr said:
The question then remains as to whether or not this was ‘warlike’ or ‘non warlike’.
Did the Squadron face an objective danger? Did they ‘incur’ danger? Even though no danger eventuated in the sense that there were no actual combat engagements, they [aircrew] were armed for combat and had been told by those who knew more of the situation that danger did exist and they must hold themselves in readiness to meet it, not at some indeterminable time in the future, but at five minutes’ notice…
Second, the ADGs [Airfield Defense Guards] patrolled both day and night outside the perimeter of the base and in so doing saw evidence of terrorist activity. So far as is known they were never engaged in an exchange of fire, but the danger of terrorist activity in the general area was known and precautions taken. These patrols were armed and authorized to fire if the situation called for fire[xxxiv].
It is significant that the decision was made for warlike service despite the fact that at the time ‘the Defence Committee considered “the probability of enemy air attacks [on Thailand] would be slight”’[xxxv].
Correspondence between RCB veteran Mr C. J Duffield and Dr Allan Hawke of the Department of Defense, dated 4th September 2000, confirms that the RCB carried out armed patrolling, were given rules of engagement and that there were confirmed incidents involving the CTs and members of the RCB[xxxvi].
The parallels with BAB are clear:
- Neither Ubon or BAB came under attack.
- In both places ‘the danger of terrorist activity in the general area was known and precautions taken. … patrols were armed and authorized to fire if the situation called for fire’.
- The ‘objective danger’ posed by the presence of an armed enemy existed in both places.
Service at BAB during the Insurgency is clearly comparable with that at Ubon in the late 1960s.
Comparison with Service at Butterworth 1948-1960
Province Wellesley and adjoining areas of South Kedah, including 12 mukims (sub-districts) of the Kuala Muda district and three in the Kulim district were declared ‘white areas’ in August 1954 during the earlier 1948-1960 Malayan Emergency. Speaking at the time the Resident High Commissioner for the Penang Province Wellesley area, Mr R.P. Bingham, congratulated the people on this achievement and asked them to keep it so – by continuing to resist Communist ideas and co-operating with the Government’. At the same time the Sultan of Kedah also congratulated his people ‘for proving themselves loyal citizens who had refused to help the Communists[xxxvii].
The introduction of ‘white areas’ in 1953 was part of a strategy to isolate CTs from the civilian population. It proved successful in cutting the communists off from their food supplies and resulted in them being forced further and further into the jungle. A ‘white area’ was considered free of communists and effectively out of the war. All Emergency restrictions were lifted on the understanding that they would be reintroduced if the civil population were found to be aiding the enemy[xxxviii].
Evidence presented above demonstrates an active Communist presence in Province Wellesley and its surrounds during the 1970s. Curfews similar to those imposed during the earlier Emergency were enforced and the author recalls roadblocks in the town of Butterworth between July 1977 and January 1980. One obvious change when the author noted on his return to BAB was the presence of revetments on the Mirage flight lines. He understands from communication with other RAAF Butterworth veterans that these were erected during 1976. This was after the April 1974 mortar attack on Sungai Besi and the heightened Australian concerns expressed in October 1975 regarding the increased risk of attack associated with the CTs acquisition of new rockets.
Recognition of Service during the 1948-1960 Emergency
Service on the Malay Peninsular throughout the 1948-60 Malayan Emergency, including the service of those whose service was confined to BAB, is recognised as active. This recognition extends to service on the surrounding waters to a distance of 18.5 kilometres[xxxix] in a war that from 1953 onwards saw the enemy forced ‘deeper and deeper’ into the jungle[xl].
Regarding its involvement in the conflict, the Royal Australian Navy says:
The naval component's secondary role in combating the communist terrorists (CTs) during the Emergency was largely symbolic. However, it should be noted that the effective naval blockade against the supply of arms and ammunition to the CTs from sources outside the country denied them any effective use of the sea throughout the Emergency[xli].
Returning to Mohr’s discussion of ‘objective danger’, the risk to which service personnel at BAB were exposed was higher during the 1970s owing to communist activities in the near vicinity of the base than it would have been following the declaration of the area as ‘white’ in August 1954. It must also be considered higher than that faced by members of the RAN serving some distance off shore in a war that was fought in the jungles against an enemy equipped with small arms.
Comparable Service Overlooked
‘To maintain the inherent fairness and integrity of the Australian system of honours and awards care must be taken that, in recognising service by some, the comparable service of others is not overlooked or degraded[xlii]’. On the basis of the above evidence the ‘comparable service’ of Australian veterans at BAB during the insurgency war is being ‘overlooked or degraded’.
Senator David Feeney Overturns Previous Decision – a Case Study in Departmental Spin
In May 2012 the then Parliamentary Secretary for Defence, Senator David Feeney, wrote to Mr Robert Cross of the RCB Review Group. The Secretary informed Mr Cross that owing to an administrative error ‘Instruments of Determination of Hazardous Service from 6 December 1972 to 31 December 1989 and non-warlike service from 15 November 1970 to 6 December 1972’ (both meeting the current criteria accepted as non-warlike service) signed in September 2007 by the then Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, the Hon. Bruce Billson, MP in relation to BAB had not been registered. Subsequently the Departments of Defence and Veterans Affairs were able to thwart Billson’s action and, on the basis of ‘new evidence’ the decision was overturned by Feeney, as advised in a letter to Mr Robert Cross of the RCB Review Group, dated 19 May 2012.[xliii]
Feeney states that following the discovery of the error Defence ‘conducted a “first principles” review’ of ADF service at Butterworth during the period under question in mid-2011.
This review examined official Government and Defence Force correspondence available within Defence and from the Australian War Memorial and National Archives of Australia, as well as the various submissions which had been made by various claimants over the years.
… It assessed that the previous 2007 review relied heavily on selective information and that little objective research was undertaken to either corroborate or disprove the statements that had been made by the claimants. Although the advice provided to Minister Bilson was the best available at the time, it has subsequently been shown to be inadequate and misleading. ...[xliv]
Reasons for this decision are contained in two documents prepared by the Nature of Service Branch dated 14 October 2011: 2011 Nature or Service Branch Review ADF Service at RAAF Butterworth – 1970-1989 (referred to below as Review); and Background Information Paper Nature of Service Classification – ADF Service at RAAF Butterworth (referred to below as Background Information), both enclosed with the letter.
The Review document relies on eight documents to ‘disprove the statements that had been made by the claimants’. These documents can best be described as selective in the light of counter evidence. Other ‘evidence’ presented amounts to retrospective assessment which is clearly at odds with precedent established by Mohr (above).
Rather than demonstrate that BAB service was nothing other than peacetime the documents provided by Feeney support the claim.
At paragraph 37 the Background Information Paper cites the 2003 Review of Veterans’ Entitlements (Clarke Report). Clarke acknowledged that security forces at BAB were issued with Rules of Engagement (ROE) that were protective only. He then stated ‘that although there is no doubt that the RCB was engaged in armed patrolling to protect Australian assets, it was clear that training and the protection of Australian assets were normal peacetime garrison duties.’ As can be testified to by any military veteran, neither armed patrolling nor ROE have ever been ‘normal peacetime’ practice. The Clarke statement is at the best misleading. Armed patrolling with ROE, defensive or otherwise, only makes sense in the presence of an armed threat.
Six of the eight documents cited in the Review are dated 1969, one of which was an extract from Hansard, dated 25 Feb 1969 in which the Prime Minister advised the House that following the British withdrawal an Australian Army battalion would ‘be based in Singapore, although one company will be detached on rotation to Butterworth except on occasions when the whole force is training at either the Jungle Warfare School [in Johore] or elsewhere in Malaysia.’ It was considered this would involve ‘considerable financial savings’. Other documents show that the Butterworth detachment was ‘additional to normal training activities carried out in the State of Johore’. The Company remained under Army control but ‘would be placed at the disposal of AOC [Air Officer Commanding] Butterworth’ if required for defense with part of its training role at Butterworth being to prepare for such an eventuality. In 1969 the Insurgency War was in its infancy and the possibility of the Australian Army Battalion based at Singapore being withdrawn was not considered.
The next document is an extract from the 22 August 1973 Chiefs of Staff Committee. This must be seen in context.
Reference is made above to the 1971 security assessment that concluded BAB could come under small scale attack at any time without advanced warning.
Following its election at the end of 1972 the Whitlam Government moved quickly to withdraw all combat troops from Vietnam and Singapore. It was Labor policy that any deployment of combat troops overseas must include a training role. The referenced document refers to arrangements effective September 1st when the RCB would be rotated from Australia on a ‘three-monthly’ rotation. This was said to be consistent with Australian policy of ‘deploying troops overseas for training purposes. If required, the company was to be available to assist with Base security. While press statements were to be issued no publicity was sought.
Significantly, training away from the Base was ‘Subject to agreement by OC [Officer Commanding] Butterworth ...’ effectively placing training under the control of the OC Butterworth, not the Army.
Minutes of the Defence Committee dated 11 January 1973, stamped ‘Secret’, state: ‘when the Australian battalion is withdrawn, the requirement for a company for security duties at Butterworth will be met by providing the unit on rotation from Australia. This could be presented publicly as being for training purposes’. Members of the Defence Committee included service chiefs, and the secretaries of the Departments of Defence, Prime Minister and Cabinet, Foreign Affairs and Treasury[xlv]. Minutes of a subsequent meeting of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, which is subordinate to the Defence Committee, held on 17th October 1973 and marked ‘Confidential’, record that the Chief of Air Staff ‘supported the CNS’s [Chief of Naval Staff] comment that in moving away from Butterworth for the training, the Committee was losing sight of the primary task of the Company’[xlvi]. Clearly, in the minds of the Chiefs of Staff, training was a secondary task.
Because the real reason for the RCB’s deployment, ‘security duties at Butterworth’ is contained in a Defence Committee document classified ‘Secret’ at the time and that the ‘training purposes’ was used as a ruse any communication about the role would be on a strict ‘need to know’ basis. Clearly, the August 1973 document referred to by the NOS Branch, emanating from the subordinate committee, which ‘advised of the new RCB rotation arrangements’ with its clear reference to overseas training in harmony with Government policy was part of the deception.
Also relevant to the case is a document generated by the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur dated 18 September 1973[xlvii]. It is clear from this that there were no guarantees that training with Malaysia forces could be guaranteed at the time.
[Para 2] … There has been absolutely no willingness on MINDEF’s [Malaysian Ministry of Defence] to exercise Malaysian ground forces with ANZUK forces. However, the willingness to have our Company carrying out training with Malaysian ground forces on bi-lateral basis was most encouraging.
3. The only problem which emerged is the one which we have suspected for quite some time and have reported separately to another area in the Department of Defence. At present there is no regular program for battalion or parts thereof to engage in formal training exercises in the sense that we understand them in Australia. MINDEF officers lamented that notwithstanding their efforts to have at least one battalion continuously under training they as yet have been unable to achieve this objective. Furthermore, they were unable to foresee when such an objective was likely to be realised…
4. They thought it more likely that any combined activity would be on an ad-hoc basis …
Which raises the question: ‘What training on a regular basis could be carried out in Malaysia by the RCB that could not be realistically done in Australia at less cost to the Australian tax payer?’
It must be noted that:
- In 1969 the army presence in Butterworth was not permanent. It was subject to battalion training requirements in other parts of Malaysia.
- The decision to rotate the RCB on a three monthly basis from Australia was made in the light of the decision to withdraw the Australian Battalion from Singapore.
- This decision was a significant increased commitment to BAB, especially given the additional cost of rotating troops from Australia.
- In 1969 the company detached to BAB remained under Army control. The 1973 directive that training away from BAB required the approval of the AOC Butterworth effectively placed control of the RCB with the RAAF.
- The Defence Committee minutes of January 1973 clearly identify the purpose of the RCB deployment as ‘security duties’. Training was used as a cover.
- Any training with Malaysia forces could not be guaranteed.
Evidence is presented above of the increased concerns of Australian Service Chiefs for BAB security expressed in October 1975.
The final document, dated 29 Nov 82, is a directive from the Chief of Air Staff to the AOC Operational Command. It again refers to a training role, states that the Company was available if needed for the protection of Australian assets and property, and that it was not to be ‘employed operationally outside the Air Base Butterworth perimeter’.
The Training Argument is Illogical
The training argument is illogical.
● When the decision to rotate the RCB from Australia was made it was recognised there was little opportunity for training with indigenous forces for the foreseeable future.
● Historically the Australian Army has conducted jungle warfare training at Canungra in Queensland. Canungra was used throughout the Vietnam era. Any number of air bases in Australia were available to train army personnel in air base defence. Overseas deployment for training purposes in the absence of opportunity to train with host nation forces incurred an unnecessary cost to the Australian taxpayer.
● That the RCB was involved in armed patrolling is not disputed. Weaponry included ‘… General Purpose Machine Guns M60, Self-Loading Rifles 7.62, Automatic Rifles M16, 66mm Rocket Launchers M72, 40mm Grenade Launcher M79, Claymore Mines and Hand Grenades’[xlviii].
● The use of live weapons, especially of the type used, in a training role would add an unnecessary level of risk to all personnel on the Base, the majority of whom were not involved in training, as well as civilians near the base. These included Australian service families living close by, workers in the adjoining rice paddies, and travellers on the heavily congested highway between Penang and Thailand running along one side of the base. An accidental weapon discharge in these circumstance had the potential to cause real embarrassment to the Australian Government both in Malaysia and Australia. Armed patrolling only makes sense in the presence of an armed threat.
● The April 1974 mortar attack on Sungei Besi air base near Kuala Lumpur was of the type foreseen in the 1971 Butterworth security assessment.
● In an address given at Curtain University on 10 Nov 2011 Defense Minister Stephen Smith stated: ‘In 1973, an Australian Infantry Company was established as Rifle Company Butterworth in Malaysia. This provided a protective and quick-reaction force to assist our regional partners during a resurgence of the Communist insurgency’.[xlix] This statement acknowledges the presence of the Communist threat and the role of the RCB to repel any attack on Butterworth base. If the primary role of the RCB was training why didn’t Smith mention this?
Shared Defence Emergency Plan not Activated
The Review document, at paragraph 24 and following, discusses the shared defence arrangements in place at BAB. At paragraph 30 it says:
It must be stated that the foregoing defence activities and responsibilities were only in place during a shared defence emergency at Butterworth. In that the Office of Air Force History have advised that, following the issue of the Op Order, the GDOC [Ground Defence Operations Centre] was never activated due to a shared emergency, then the nature of service must have remained peace time subsequent to 8 Sep 71.
The 1971 security assessment referred to above identified the most likely form of attack to be small scale and without advanced warning. This type of attack is consistent with the modus operandi of guerrilla forces. If there was no advanced warning the GDOC would not be activated before the event. In 1975 the CAS was satisfied that the security arrangements provided by the RCB were satisfactory to respond to this type of attack. To repeat Mohr (above): ‘The member’s experience of the objective danger at the time will not be removed by ‘hindsight’ showing that no actual enemy operations eventuated.’
The argument that peacetime service must have existed because the defence plan was never activated is illegitimate and cannot be used to dismiss the presence of the threat.
From paragraph 32 on the Review document outlines the civilian and domestic environment in the Butterworth region, including the location of the Officers and Sergeants messes, married quarters and hospital outside the base fence.
Throughout the 1948 – 1960 Emergency families accompanied Commonwealth service personnel to Malaya and schooling for their children was provided at Butterworth, Penang, the Cameron Highlands and in Singapore[l].
Defence also point to the fact that ‘Penang was a formal Rest and Recuperation leave centre’ during the Vietnam Conflict (ending 1972) and that there were no travel restrictions in Penang and Province Wellesley. Penang was likewise a popular ‘rest and relaxation centre’ for many Commonwealth troops and support personnel’, many of whom drove from Kuala Lumpur while others caught the overnight train, especially after 1955 ‘when it was evident that the communists were on the run and the government had gained the upper hand’ [li]. Obviously there were no restrictions on these personnel during the Emergency. Province Wellesley, as reported above, was declared ‘white’ in August 1954, meaning that all travel restrictions in the area were lifted.
Again, the arguments are invalid and not admissible according to the criteria governing defense awards and service recognition.
When all the facts are considered the evidence clearly supports the claim for recognition of service at BAB throughout the 1968-1989 Insurgency War as warlike. Anything less leaves Butterworth veterans ‘overlooked or degraded’ when compared to those who have rendered ‘comparable service.’ Justice has been denied this group for too long and any further unnecessary delay can only compound the injustice already suffered.
[i] Major Nazar Bin Talib, Malaysian Army, Malaysia’s Experience in War Against Communist Insurgency And Its Relevance To The Present Situation In Iraq, submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of master of military studies, AY 2004-05, United States Marine Corps, Command and Staff College, Marine Corps Combat Development, Marine Corps University, at , accessed 12 Sep 2012, p.17
[iii] The Straights Times, Reds blow up railway track in north Malaysia, 9 March 1971, p.1
[iv] The Straights Times, Two bomb blasts in Penang¸24 April 1971, p.2
[v] The Straights Times, Security Forces Kill 4 Reds, 16 May 1971, p.1
[vi] Ibid, Peril in five states; Red threat very real, says Tun, 29 Jun 1971, p.1
[vii] Ibid, New Red Group in Malaysia: Banners announce CPM split, 29 October 1974, p.1
[viii] Ibid, 4 states in joint action against reds, 10 May 1975, p.20
[ix] Ibid, Reds blow up rail tracks in Malaysia, 11 May 1975, p.1
[x][x] The Straights Times, Curfew in Province districts from tomorrow, 14 September 1975, p.8
[xi] Ibid, Suspected Red Agents Held, 16 September 1975, p.1
[xii] Ibid, IGP killing: ‘Clear evidence’ it was work of Marxists, 10 January 1976, p.14
[xiii] Mohamed Ghazemy Mahmud (Translator), The Malaysian Army’s Battle Against Communist Insurgency 1968-1989, Army Headquarters, Ministry of Defence, Wisma Pertahanan, Jalan Padang Tembak, 50634 Kuala Lumpur, First Printing and originally published in 2001 in the Malay language as ‘Tentera Darat Manentang Insurgensi Komunis 1968-1989, p.41.
[xiv] Ibid, pp.150 – 153.
[xv] Ibid, pp. 156, 158
[xvi] Document: ANZUK Intelligence Groups 1/1971 – The Threat to Air Base Butterworth up to the End of 1972, dated 30th November 1971, cited by RCB Review Group, p.p. 17,18
[xvii] Mohamed Ghazemy Mahmud, p.49
[xviii] Major Nazar Bin Talib, p.18
[xix] Cheah Boon Kheng, The communist insurgency in Malaysia, 1948-90: contesting the nation-state and social change, New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 11, 1 (June 2009), p.149, at , accessed 12 Sep 2012
[xx] Mohamed Ghazemy Mahmud, p.158
[xxi] Minute to Minister for Defence, From the Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee, 14 October 1975, Butterworth Security, cited in Walsh, J.R. & Munster G.J, Documents on Australian Defence and Foreign Policy 1968-1975, 1980,p.p. 272, 273.
[xxii] Ibid, p.272
[xxiii] Attachment to Minute to Minister for Defence, From Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee, 14 October 1975, cited in Walsh, J.R. & Munster G.J, Documents on Australian Defence and Foreign Policy 1968-1975, 1980, p.p.271-275.
[xxiv] Mohamed Ghazemy Mahmud, p.102
[xxv] Ibid, Walsh, J.R. & Munster G.J, p.p. 274, 275
[xxvi] Paper prepared by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Malaysian Domestic Situation, October 1975, cited in Walsh, J.R. & Munster G.J, Documents on Australian Defence and Foreign Policy 1968-1975, 1980, p.p. 256-261
[xxviii] Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Defence Awards
[xxix] Justice Mohr, Review of Service Entitlement Anomalies in Respect of South-East Asian Service 1955-75, 2000, p.9
[xxx] Ibid, p.19
[xxxi] Justice Mohr, p.p.68-70
[xxxii] Ibid,, p.p. 8-10
[xxxiii] Ibid, p.9
[xxxiv] Ibid, p.73
[xxxv] Ibid, p.70
[xxxvi] Email, Hawke, Allan SECRETARY Allan.Hawke@cbr.defence.gov.ay, sent Monday, 4 September 2000 9:46 AM.
[xxxvii] The Straights Times, Two More Areas Are Now Declared White: 160,000 people ‘freed’, 15 August 1954, p.3
[xxxviii] Noel Barber, The war of the running dogs – How Malaya defeated the communist guerrillas 1948 – 1960, William Collins, 1971, 2004 Paperback Edition by Cassell, p.p.28,29, 234-236.
[xxxix] Veterans Entitlement Act 1982 – Schedule 2
[xl] Military History Encyclopedia on the Web, The Malayan Emergency 1947-1960, at http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/wars_malaya.html, accessed 14 Nov 2013.
Ipoh World, General Sir Gerald Templer GCMG KCB KBE DSO High Commissioner of the Federation of Malaya, at http://www.ipohworld.org/search8/result.asp?strid=2841, accessed 12 Sep 2012.
[xli] Royal Australian Navy, at http://www.navy.gov.au/history/feature-histories/ran-strategic-reserve-and-malayan-emergency, accessed 14 November 2013
[xlii] Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Defence Awards, Principle 3
[xliii] Senator the Hon David Feeney, Parliamentary Secretary for Defence, Letter, to Mr Robert Cross, RCB Review Group, 19 May 2012
[xliv] Ibid, p.2
[xlv] National Archives of Australia, barcode 693064, Defence Committee, Minute of Meeting Held on 11 January 1973, Minute No. 2/1973
[xlvi] Chiefs of Staff Committee, Minute of Meeting Held on 17 October 1973, Minute No 67/1973.
[xlvii] Memorandum from the Australian High Commission, Kuala Lumpur, to: The Secretary, Department of Defence, Canberra; and The Secretary, Department of the Army, Canberra, Memorandum No. Def.739, Subject Australian Rifle Company at Butterworth, 18 September 1973.
[xlviii] As listed in the document Rifle Company Butterworth Supporters Group Complaint One, a copy of which is held by the Author.
[xlix] Minister for Defence, Address to the Australian Member Committee of the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific, 35th AUS – CSCAP Meeting, Curtain University, Perth, 10 November 2011, accessed at http://www.minister.defence.gov.au/2011/11/10/minister-for-defence-address-to-the-australian-member-committee-of-the-council-for-security-cooperation-in-the-asia-pacific/, 4 Dec 2013.
[l] RAAF School Penang Official Website, , accessed 8 Sept 2012
[li] MM2H Malaysia My Second Home Forum, at , accessed 10 Sep 2012.