SAS Secret War in Southeast Asia

Review by Martin Koenigsberg


Just finished my 17th Book Review of the Year!!

I really enjoyed this book as I had been looking for books on the Conflict generally – and books on conflict in the area as I was traveling regionally. Peter Dickens, a journalist and writer on WWII Special Forces Actions, takes on the “Konfrontasi” – Indonesia’s quixotic attempt to create “Maphilindo” – a State made up of what is now Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and of course under the “tutelage” of Indonesia’s strong Man Sukarno. The campaign towards the Philippines was all diplomatic as they had the mighty US as their sponsor- but Malaysia- just leaving the British Empire for the new Commonwealth seemed a likely mark. Thus the British Army- and their special forces, the Special Air Service, got involved in another Colonial Insurgency war- but one where they were protecting a former Colony’s independence, not trying to snuff it out. They were remarkably successful- even though they did it in an entirely different way from the contemporary American Vietnam experiences. The British first patrolled aggressively- mapping and familiarising themselves with the border regions- parts of Sarawak and Brunei. Then they came up with a plan for spoiling attacks no deeper than 5000 meters on the Indonesian – “Claret Operations”. Dickens skillfully tells the stories of the most interesting patrols, using a lot of interviews with retired operators- and their “ruperts’- the officers, some of whom will become more famous in later wars. With serious material to cover, one appreciates Dickens’ lighter touches. We really get the feeling of constant long -range penetration Jungle Warfare- lots of Recon- and tiny bits of major violence when ambushes are tripped. I learned a lot about the History of the early 1960s in Asia- and differing approaches to COIN challenges in the period. There are some adult themes and graphic injury passages in this book , so it’s probably best for the Junior Reader over 13/14 years with a Historical interest. For the Gamer/Modeler/Military Enthusiast, this book and its few b/w photos are real finds. The Gamer gets a lot of scenarios- for both sides- as well as basic painting instructions. For the Modeler, a tonne of diorama and build ideas for this little known Cold War struggle. The Military Enthusiast is also a big winner- there are not that many books on the “Confrontation”/”Konfrontasi”- so any coverage is nice to find. I think more general interest readers will be intrigued by an approach to Jungle Warfare so different from the US Army’s in the same period as Vietnam.


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