In my youth I used to be a merchant navy deck officer. I started as a cadet and after passing the Second Mates ticket I was offered a job as Third Mate on an LST.
When I was interviewed for the position I asked what an LST was, and was told that it was a Landing Ship Tank. It was then that I found out that the Company had the contract, from the British Government, to supply officers for their LSTs in the Far East, Mediterranean (Malta), and Aden. I was being loaned out to the British Ministry of Defence, during the Indonesian ‘confrontation’ (Dec ‘62 to Aug ‘66) – it was never called a war, because this would have caused Lloyds insurance rates to sky rocket, and the Government had enough trouble on their hands.
The background of the ‘confrontation’ was that Indonesia objected to the creation of Malaysia, which included Malaya, Singapore, North Borneo, which was a Crown colony, and Sarawak, which was known then as British Borneo, and is now known as East Malaysia.
Indonesia used local militants, trained by the Indonesian army, to attack East Malaysia, which brought the British in to the conflict in defence of the new country. Later Indonesia committed regular troops to cross border attacks. Eventually Australia & New Zealand became involved.
My new posting was as Third Mate to LST ‘Frederick Clover’ – she was built as LST 3001 in 1945, and renamed ‘Frederick Clover’ in 1946.
Her displacement was between 2,140 tons and 4,820 depending on her cargo. She was flat bottomed for landing tanks and heavy vehicles on beaches. She had bow doors and a ramp as well as a secondary ramp within the enclosed deck to the main open deck, for driving lighter vehicles to the main deck
Because I was in the RNR (Royal Navy Reserve) I was put in charge of the oerlikon 20 mm AA gun, which was on the forecastle. The problem was, even though I was in the RNR, I’d never been trained in the use of ships’ guns, because I’d spent my time at sea in merchant ships in the Far East.
When I visited the forecastle to acquaint myself with my new responsibilities I realised that if we had to defend ourselves we would have to ask the Indonesians to return later, because the barrel of our gun was still in its wooden box bolted to the deck! I opened the box to reveal a brand new barrel covered in wax paper and grease. I couldn’t see us ever being in a position to have to use the gun. The other small problem was that we didn’t have any ammunition!
I reported back to the Captain who told me not to bother with the AA gun.
The following day we loaded troops and equipment for Borneo.
The above shows the main deck as we sailed up the Sarawak River to Kuching, on the island of Borneo.
Before sailing we’d been given special instructions to dump various secret cypher machines in the deepest part of the channel between Indonesia and Singapore.
The army did such a good packing job that the crates of secret machines floated away! We had to machine gun the boxes so as to allow them to sink. I had an army SLR (self-loading rifle) and it was good fun firing at the floating cases until they sank.
Frederick Clover was ‘old’, but even so I still had to sign the Official Secrets Act. Considering that Frederick Clover had been involved in the Korean War, as well as the creation of the State of Israel (1948), and possibly the Suez Crisis of 1956, I doubted that there was anything left of the LST of which a potential enemy would not be aware. She had two engines and our maximum speed was under ten knots. I have seen Chinese junks, with a following wind, over take us, but that is a secret.