RSF - OCA Information
|Family Researched Articles|
|Lodge HLI/RHF No.1459|
RSF - Malaya The Undeclared War
MALAYA - THE UNDECLARED WAR 1948-1960
In 1945, we saw the end of the brutal Japanese occupation of Malaya and Singapore. Little did we know that within a few years our Armed Forces would once again be called upon to do battle, this time against Communism of the worst kind. This was to become Britain's bloodiest undeclared war and would last over 12 long weary years and cost many lives. It would be fought in one of the world's most beautiful countries, 90% of which was virgin jungle and swamps, reputed to be the densest, and thickest in the world, and home to some of the world's fiercest creatures.
The history of Communism is worthy of much study, and its lessson must be taken to heart. It's origin began in Russia, but the Chinese embraced it with an unbelievable fanaticism that still exists to this very day. The Malayan Communist Party had been well and truly established by 1930, and was working steadily and methodically converting the populace throughout the Malay Peninsula by the time of the Japanese Invasion. When Russia became an ally of Britain in 1941, the MCP was instructed to aid Britain in its war against the Japanese. Trained and supplied by the British, developing classic guerrilla warfare tactics, the results obtained were poor, for the MCP had a greater long term plan in mind. Even so, they were highly motivated and very resolute and ably led. Obviously inspired by Mao Tse-tung theory and practice- the people's revolutionary war.
By 1948, events on the political front in Malaya, meant that the MCP had to take a more extreme and harsher tactic in order to gain control of the country. They instigated a policy of murder and terror against those in authority, high ranking officials, both in the business and commerce, Police, politicians, planters, etc. etc. As Malaya was still under British Rule and part of the Commonwealth, the responsibility for law and order in support of the Malay Govt, lay in Whitehall. Because of external factors and the growing confrontation with Russia and it's Allies, there was a decided reluctance upon what action to be taken in response to this open threat by the MCP.
The Malayan economy provided most of the world's rubber and was indeed a vital asset that had to be sustained and protected ( tin and palm oil were other major produces ) The population was roughly 45% Malay, 40% Chinese, the rest being Indian/Tamil, Eurasian, and European. The country was slowly recovering its wealth after the War, and the MCP on behalf of the Chinese community wanted a bigger share and say in the running of the country. The Chinese, though many were native to Malaya, felt obliged to their former homeland, and were willing supporters of the MCP, as were the many illegal immigrants ( squatters ) as well as a sizeable portion of former residents of the Indian subcontinent, who relatives were at this time ousting Britain from India. The time was ripe for the MCP. The cold blooded murders of planters, estate managers and workers in various parts of Malaya on one single day, the 18th of June 1948, was a direct challenge to the whole British regime in Malaya. By that evening a State of Emergency had been declared and within two days the whole country was in the grip of a steadily increasing violent, bloody, and vicious, undeclared war that was to last many years and involve not only Britain but many other Nations. At first, the bulk of the British Garrison was perhaps 8-10 Regts, a Gurhka Brigade, 3 British Regts plus a unit of Royal Artillery, several RAF stations and the Naval Base in Singapore. The Malayan Police Force had perhaps some 10,000 men, but its morale was low, and it's equipment poor.The assassination of Sir Henry Gumey , the High Commissioner, in 1951 made the situation much worse, causing much fear and economic chaos on a daily basis. The successes of the Communists in Korea and Indochina added even more momentum to the MCP and their endeavours. To counter this, sterner and yet more sterner Emergency Regulations were brought in, one in particular was to prove to be the ultimate means of defeating the Communists. Everyone over the age of 12 years had to have an ID card with their photo and thumb print on it, without this, they could neither obtain work, food, travel permits, housing, medical aid, grants etc. etc. The MCP tried hard to counter this tactic, for it made it near impossible for them to move freely about the country and live among its people. The MCP was a bone fide political party, with a massive back-up. It's Armed Wing took to the jungle, the political sympathisers [Min Yuen] maintained an underground movement and support, and carried on in an even more determined fashion.; the notorious Regulation 17D was now brought in, the imprisonment without trial and detention. The rounding and deportation of dissident Chinese. It was a battle of wits the British were determined to win. The CTS ( COMMUNIST TERRORISTS as they were now called ) were just as equally determined and showed no mercy to those who complied, as a result, very few witnesses came forward. Curfews became even more severe, anyone found in possession of a weapon faced mandatory death penalty. Civil liberties and rights were set aside. These Regulations were added to as the years went by as events and situations spiralled out of control and worsened. Garrisons were heavily reinforced with all 3 Services both from Britain and the Commonwealth. Sir Harold Briggs [Director of Operations] refined the Regulations even further. Given EXECUTIVE POWERS over all civil and military and security forces, he brought in a resettlement plan, moving all squatters into heavily fortified New Villages, improved the living standards, set up War Executive Committees at State and District levels, introduced Home Guard units, encouraged the Malays to raise their own Regts thereby involving one and all in support of the Govt. With the appointment of Gen. Gerald Templar as both High Commissioner and Director of Operations in 1952, the Army and Security forces were given carte blanche to take the war to the enemy, not even the deepest jungle would be able to hide them. They were pursued and harried in a great many and widely varied operations. Well over 60 British and Commonwealth units were used extensively at any and one time, they were ably supported by Naval and Air Forces. It was an extremely hard and vicious campaign conducted in the most trying of conditions .The Malayan jungle is a fearsome and terrifying place. The CT'S were not overly fond of it either, but they knew how to use it effectively. If the MCP were to survive, they had to win! If Britain were to be defeated, the consequences didn't bear thinking about. During all of this time period, Britain was indeed hard pressed upon all quarters of the globe, other and more greater important conflicts were raging all around, and claiming the headlines. Red China had been fought to a standstill in Korea, but were growing in strength and gaining successes elsewhere in the region. The threat had to be defeated somewhere, and Malaya was the chosen battleground.
The military numbers involved reached into the tens of thousands. Of the enemy, estimates vary as to whom determines these figures. The population of Malaya was around the 5 million mark, on Singapore Island approx. 1 million plus, if 40% were of Chinese origin, the answer lies in there. The majority of British Forces were conscripts, the National Service Act of 1947 became a reality in 1949, and every British male upon their 18th birthday was called up to serve their country . Well over 100,000 National Servicemen were sent to fight in Malaya. They had to learn and quickly, to take on a very determined and ruthless enemy with no quarter asked or given in the most horrendous of swamps and jungles, where one wrong move or step meant death. This was a war in everything but name! A game of blind man's bluff, winners and losers on a minute scale. Malaya was a long slow and protracted war, that only those involved in it knew what went on and what had to be endured in pursuit of it. The MCP were beaten not only by military means but also by winning the hearts and minds of the people, gradually the tactics from all areas began to take effect, from the governments, business, industry, security forces, a very determined Police/Special Branch. Nearly 6000 lost their lives in this undeclared war, with approx. 500 BRITISH service personnel alone, with many more wounded and injured besides. With courage and fortitude and a willingness to serve their country loyally and proudly, these young men who served in the Armed Forces upheld the traditions nobly. The British and their Allies beat the enemy at their own game, they were willing to live and tight in the jungle for long sustained periods, from large scale operations right down to lightly armed small 5/6 man patrols. Massive military might is seldom the answer, success requires the prerequisites of low cunning and superb minor infantry tactics amongst its soldiers.These National Servicemen, backed by a solid reliable cadre of superb Professional Regulars, can rightly claim that the success of the Malayan Campaign was one Britain's finest achievements since the end of the war. The following paragraph was taken from an address given by Mr John Bishorek, BEM, at a Commemorative Service held on July 20th 1992, it reads...
"We must not forget to pay homage to those young men from the far flung comers of Britain and the Commonwealth who answered the call. Young men in the flower of youth , many just doing their National Service duty. Their ages, as a slow walk along the headstones will reveal, range from 18 to 22 years old. Young men looking forward to returning home to their loved ones, but now lie in eternal rest alongside those they had to come to look upon as comrades in arms, the planters, tin miners, police, the ordinary civilians in the fight against the communist insurgency... their sacrifice has not been in vain."
The Malayan Campaign was officially declared over on August 1st 1960. Malaya had gained her Independence.
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