The World’s First Hovercraft was Tested by British Military in Tawau during Konfrontasi [Video]

If there are things that Sabah can really be proud of, this could be one of it. The world’s first hovercraft technology was tested in the waters of Kalabakan near Tawau in early 1965. Watch the video here.

Just a few weeks ago I blogged about the Indonesian Confrontation (Konfrontasi) in the mid 60’s. Tawau, in the Southeast Coast of North Borneo was one of the major front-lines of the conflict. Interestingly, not many people know that it was also the place where the British military tested the hovercraft.

In the video that you’re about to watch below, I took the time to write the narration so please pardon me if you see any error.

The hovercraft invented and developed in Britain was being tried out this week in a military row.

Success in its trials could revolutionize amphibious warfare, more precisely it could revolutionize swamp warfare the kind now being fought in Malaysia and Vietnam.

This is the SR.N5 built on the Isle of Wight. It’s been on trial for four months now in the creeks and rivers of Eastern Borneo (which is in Kalabakan, Tawau).

It can travel up to 90mph far faster than any landing craft. It can clear six-foot wave or solid obstructions up to 4 feet high. It carries 20 men or 2-tonnes of equipment and its range nearly 300 miles. Its cost – 75,000 GBP.

This country is an ideal testing ground, the labyrinth of mangrove, pickets and mudflaps like a puzzle without a solution. The only life is amphibious like the hovercraft itself.

American army officers from Vietnam have been to Borneo to study it. The American government has bought five. Its capacity for high speed pursuit and reconnaissance along canals and across paddy fields might make it the deciding factor against surprise attacks by the elusive Vietcong.

The trials are in the hands of a joint service team until it’s decided if it should go to the army, navy or air-force another words whether it’s a vehicle, a boat or an aircraft.

To border villagers it must look like fire breathing dragon from the James Bond thriller. Certainly the strangest machine to enter their lives since president Sukarno first challenged Malaysia 21 months ago.

When it stops, it flops with a rather ungainly courtesy onto its rubber skirts. It looks clumsy – a far fetched answer to the war againts the Vietkong. But that’s the sort of thing they said about the tank when it first appeared in war.

The man in charge of the war againts Sukarno in this area a vital spot in the defense system for Malaysian Borneo is a Gordon Highlander, Major John Simpson. His title…

Great – now watch this great video.

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Image courtesy Mr. Gus Breymann and

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About The Author

I love the history of North Borneo (Sabah) and strive to digitally any related information on this website. I'm also the author of and Follow me on Twitter @richardker.


  1. Ronald J. Ker says:

    Two thumbs up!

  2. alan robinson says:

    travelled from tawau to serudong laut in 1965 whilst in royal engineer paras constructing helicopter pads for 42 commando royal marines

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