|Part of the decolonization of Asia and Cold War in Asia|
Clockwise from top left:
|Commanders and leaders|
Malayan Communist Party
Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA)
Over 451,000 troops.
Over 7,000 troops.
|Casualties and losses|
Civilians killed: 2,478|
Civilians missing: 810
Civilian casualties: 5,000+
Total killed: 11,107
|History of Malaysia|
|History of Singapore|
The Malayan Emergency, also known as the Anti–British National Liberation War (1948–1960), was a guerrilla war fought in British Malaya between communist pro-independence fighters of the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA) and the military forces of the Federation of Malaya, British Empire and Commonwealth. The communists fought to win independence for Malaya from the British Empire and to establish a socialist economy, while the Malayan Federation and Commonwealth forces fought to combat communism and protect British economic and colonial interests. The term "Emergency" was used by the British to characterise the conflict in order to avoid referring to it as a war, because London-based insurers would not pay out in instances of civil wars.
The war began on 17 June 1948, after Britain declared a state of emergency in Malaya following attacks on plantations, which in turn were revenge attacks for the killing of left-wing activists. Leader of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) Chin Peng and his allies fled into the jungles and formed the MNLA to wage a war for national liberation against British colonial rule. Many MNLA fighters were veterans of the Malayan Peoples' Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA), a communist guerrilla army previously trained, armed and funded by the British to fight against Japan during World War II. The communists gained support from a high number of civilians, mainly those from the Chinese community. The communists' belief in class consciousness, and both ethnic and gender equality, inspired many women and indigenous people to join both the MNLA and its undercover supply network the Min Yuen. Additionally, hundreds of former Japanese soldiers joined the MNLA. After establishing a series of jungle bases the MNLA began raiding British colonial police and military installations. Mines, plantations, and trains were attacked by the MNLA to gain independence for Malaya by bankrupting the British occupation.
The British attempted to starve the MNLA using scorched earth policies through food rationing, killing livestock, and aerial spraying of the herbicide Agent Orange. British attempts to defeat the communists included extrajudicial killings of unarmed villagers, in violation of the Geneva Conventions. The most infamous example is the Batang Kali massacre, which the press has referred to as "Britain's Mỹ Lai".[a] The Briggs Plan forcibly relocated between 400,000 to 1,000,000 civilians into concentration camps called "New villages". Many Orang Asli indigenous communities were also targeted for internment because the British believed that they were supporting the communists.
Socioeconomic issues (1941-1948)
The economic disruption of WWII on British Malaya led to widespread unemployment, low wages, and high levels of food price inflation. The weak economy was a factor in the growth of trade union movements and caused a rise in communist party membership, with considerable labour unrest and a large number of strikes occurring between 1946 and 1948. Malayan communists organised a successful 24-hour general strike on 29 January 1946, before organising 300 strikes in 1947. To combat rising trade union activity the British used police and soldiers as strikebreakers, and employers enacted mass dismissals, forced evictions of striking workers from their homes, legal harassment, and began cutting the wages of their workers. Colonial police responded to rising trade union activity through arrests, deportations, and beating striking workers to death. Responding to the attacks against trade unions, communist militants began assassinating strikebreakers, and attacking anti-union estates. These attacks were used by the colonial occupation as a pretext to conduct mass arrests of left-wing activists. On 12 June the British colonial occupation banned Malaya's largest trade union the PMFTU.
Malaya's rubber and tin resources were used by the British to pay war debts to the United States and to recover from the damage of the Second World War. Malaysian rubber exports to the United States were of greater value than all domestic exports from Britain to America, causing Malaya to be viewed by the British as a vital asset. Britain had prepared for Malaya to become an independent state, but only by handing power to a government which would be subservient to Britain and allow British businesses to keep control of Malaya's natural resources.
Sungai Siput incident (1948)
The first shots of the Malayan Emergency were fired during the Sungai Siput incident, which happened on June 17, 1948, in the office of the Elphil Estate near the town of Sungai Siput. Three European plantation managers were killed by three young Chinese men suspected to have been communists.
The deaths of these European plantation managers was used by the British colonial occupation to either arrest or kill many of Malaya's communist and trade union leaders. These mass arrests and killings saw many left-wing activists going into hiding and fleeing into the Malayan jungles.
Origin and formation of the MNLA (1949)
Although the Malayan communists had begun preparations for a guerrilla war against the British, the emergency measures and mass arrest of communists and left-wing activists in 1948 took them by surprise. Led by Chin Peng the remaining Malayan communists retreated to rural areas and formed, on 1 February 1949, the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA).
The MNLA was partly a re-formation of the Malayan Peoples' Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA), the communist guerrilla force which had been the principal resistance in Malaya against the Japanese occupation of Malaya during WWII. The British had secretly helped form the MPAJA in 1942 and trained them in the use of explosives, firearms and radios. Chin Peng was a veteran anti-fascist and trade unionist who had played an integral role in the MPAJA's resistance. Disbanded in December 1945, the MPAJA officially turned in its weapons to the British Military Administration, although many MPAJA soldiers secretly hid stockpiles of weapons in jungle hideouts. Members who agreed to disband were offered economic incentives. Around 4,000 members rejected these incentives and went underground.
The MNLA began their war for Malayan independence from the British Empire by targeting the colonial resource extraction industries, namely the tin mines and rubber plantations which were the main sources of income for the British occupation of Malaya. The MNLA attacked these industries in the hopes of bankrupting the British and winning independence by making the colonial administration too expensive to maintain.
Communist guerrilla strategies
The Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA) employed guerrilla tactics, attacking military and police outposts, sabotaging rubber plantations and tin mines, while also destroying transport and communication infrastructure. Support for the MNLA mainly came from the 3.12 million ethnic Chinese then living in Malaya, many of whom were farmers living on the edges of the Malayan jungles and had been politically influenced by both the Chinese Revolution and the resistance against Japan during WWII. Their support allowed the MNLA to supply themselves with food, medicine, information, and provided a source of new recruits. The ethnic Malay population supported them in smaller numbers. The MNLA gained the support of the Chinese because the Chinese were denied the equal right to vote in elections, had no land rights to speak of, and were usually very poor. The MNLA's supply organisation was called the Min Yuen (People's Movement). It had a network of contacts within the general population. Besides supplying material, especially food, it was also important to the MNLA as a source of intelligence.
The MNLA's camps and hideouts were in the inaccessible tropical jungle and had limited infrastructure. Almost 90% of MNLA guerrillas were ethnic Chinese, though there were some Malays, Indonesians and Indians among its members. The MNLA was organised into regiments, although these had no fixed establishments and each included all communist forces operating in a particular region. The regiments had political sections, commissars, instructors and secret service. In the camps, the soldiers attended lectures on Marxism–Leninism, and produced political newsletters to be distributed to civilians.
In the early stages of the conflict, the guerrillas envisaged establishing control in "liberated areas" from which the government forces had been driven, but did not succeed in this.
British and Commonwealth strategies
During the first two years of the Emergency, British forces conducted a 'counter-terror,' characterised by high levels of state coercion against civilian populations; including sweeps, cordons, large-scale deportation, and capital charges against suspected guerrillas. Police corruption and the British military's widespread destruction of farmland and burning of homes belonging to villagers rumoured to be helping communists, led to a sharp increase in civilians joining the MNLA and communist movement. However, these tactics also prevented the communists from establishing liberated areas' (the MCPs first, and foremost objective), successfully broke up larger guerrilla formations, and shifted the MNLA from a plan of securing territory, to one of widespread sabotage.
Commonwealth forces struggled to fight guerrillas who moved freely in the jungle and enjoyed support from the Chinese rural population. British planters and miners, who bore the brunt of the communist attacks, began to talk about government incompetence and being betrayed by Whitehall.
The initial government strategy was primarily to guard important economic targets, such as mines and plantation estates. In April 1950, General Sir Harold Briggs, most famous for implementing the Briggs Plan, was appointed to Malaya. The central tenet of the Briggs Plan was to segregate MNLA guerrillas from their supporters among the population. A major component of the Briggs Plan involved targeting the MNLA's food supplies, which were supplied from three main sources: food grown by the MNLA in the jungle, food supplied by the Orang Asli aboriginal people living in the deep jungle, and MNLA supporters within the 'squatter' communities on the jungle fringes.
The Briggs Plan also included the forced relocation of some 500,000 rural Malayans, including 400,000 Chinese civilians, into internment camps called "new villages". These internment camps were surrounded by barbed wire, police posts, and floodlit areas, all designed to stop the inmates from contacting and supplying MNLA guerrillas in the jungles, segregating the communists from their civilian supporters.
In 1948 the British had 13 infantry battalions in Malaya, including seven partly formed Gurkha battalions, three British battalions, two battalions of the Royal Malay Regiment and a British Royal Artillery Regiment being used as infantry.
The Permanent Secretary of Defence for Malaya, Sir Robert Grainger Ker Thompson, had served in the Chindits in Burma during World War II. Thompson's in-depth experience of jungle warfare proved invaluable during this period as he was able to build effective civil-military relations and was one of the chief architects of the counter-insurgency plan in Malaya.
In 1951, the British High Commissioner in Malaya, Sir Henry Gurney, was killed near Fraser's Hill during an MNLA ambush. General Gerald Templer was chosen to become the new High Commissioner in January 1952. During Templer's two-year command, "two-thirds of the guerrillas were wiped out and lost over half their strength, the incident rate fell from 500 to less than 100 per month and the civilian and security force casualties from 200 to less than 40." Orthodox historiography suggests that Templer changed the situation in the Emergency and his actions and policies were a major part of British success during his period in command. Revisionist historians have challenged this view and frequently support the ideas of Victor Purcell, a Sinologist who as early as 1954 claimed that Templer merely continued policies begun by his predecessors.
Control of anti-guerrilla operations
At all levels of the Malayan government (national, state, and district levels), the military and civil authority was assumed by a committee of military, police and civilian administration officials. This allowed intelligence from all sources to be rapidly evaluated and disseminated and also allowed all anti-guerrilla measures to be co-ordinated.[better source needed]
Each of the Malay states had a State War Executive Committee which included the State Chief Minister as chairman, the Chief Police Officer, the senior military commander, state home guard officer, state financial officer, state information officer, executive secretary, and up to six selected community leaders. The Police, Military, and Home Guard representatives and the Secretary formed the operations sub-committee responsible for the day-to-day direction of emergency operations. The operations subcommittees as a whole made joint decisions.[better source needed]
During the Malayan Emergency, Britain became the first nation in history to use of herbicides and defoliants as a military weapon. It was used to destroy bushes, food crops, and trees to deprive the guerrillas of both food and cover, playing a role in Britain's food denial campaign during the early 1950s. A variety of herbicides were used to clear lines of communication and destroy food crops as part of this strategy. One of the herbicides, brand name Trioxone, was a 50:50 mixture of butyl esters of 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D. This mixture was virtually identical to the later Agent Orange, though Trioxone likely had a heavier contamination of the health-damaging dioxin impurity.
In 1952, Trioxone and mixtures of the aforementioned herbicides, were sprayed along a number of key roads. From June to October 1952, 1,250 acres (510 ha) of roadside vegetation at possible ambush points were sprayed with defoliant, described as a policy of "national importance". The experts advised that the use of herbicides and defoliants for clearing the roadside could be effectively replaced by removing vegetation by hand and the spraying was stopped. However, after that strategy failed, the use of herbicides and defoliants in effort to fight the guerrillas was restarted under the command of British General Sir Gerald Templer in February 1953 as a means of destroying food crops grown by communist forces in jungle clearings. Helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft despatched sodium trichloroacetate and Trioxone, along with pellets of chlorophenyl N,N-dimethyl-1-naphthylamine onto crops such as sweet potatoes and maize. Many Commonwealth personnel who handled and/or used Trioxone during the conflict suffered from serious exposure to dioxin and Trioxone. An estimated 10,000 civilians and guerrilla in Malaya also suffered from the effects of the defoliant, but many historians think that the number is much larger since Trioxone was used on a large scale in the Malayan conflict and, unlike the US, the British government limited information about its use to avoid negative world public opinion. The prolonged absence of vegetation caused by defoliation also resulted in major soil erosion to areas of Malaya.
After the Malayan Conflict ended in 1960, the US used the British precedent in deciding that the use of defoliants was a legally-accepted tactic of warfare. US Secretary of State Dean Rusk advised US President John F. Kennedy that the precedent of using herbicide in warfare had been established by the British through their use of aircraft to spray herbicide and thus destroy enemy crops and thin the thick jungle of northern Malaya.
Nature of warfare
The British Army soon realised that clumsy sweeps by large formations were unproductive. Instead, platoons or sections carried out patrols and laid ambushes, based on intelligence from various sources, including informers, surrendered MNLA personnel, aerial reconnaissance and so on. An operation named "Nassau", carried out in the Kuala Langat swamp is described in The Guerrilla – and how to Fight Him[b] ):
On 7 July, two additional companies were assigned to the area; patrolling and harassing fires were intensified. Three terrorists surrendered and one of them led a platoon patrol to the terrorist leader's camp. The patrol attacked the camp, killing four, including the leader. Other patrols accounted for four more; by the end of July, twenty-three terrorists remained in the swamp with no food or communications with the outside world. This was the nature of operations: 60,000 artillery shells, 30,000 rounds of mortar ammunition, and 2,000 aircraft bombs for 35 terrorists killed or captured. Each one represented 1,500 man-days of patrolling or waiting in ambushes. "Nassau" was considered a success for the end of the emergency was one step nearer.
MNLA guerrillas had numerous advantages over Commonwealth forces since they lived in closer proximity to villagers, they sometimes had relatives or close friends in the village, and they were not afraid to threaten violence or torture and murder village leaders as an example to the others, which forced them to assist them with food and information. British forces thus faced a dual threat: the MNLA guerrillas and the silent network in villages who supported them. British troops often described the terror of jungle patrols. In addition to watching out for MNLA guerrillas, they had to navigate difficult terrain and avoid dangerous animals and insects. Many patrols would stay in the jungle for days, even weeks, without encountering the MNLA guerrillas. That strategy led to the infamous Batang Kali massacre in which 24 unarmed villagers were executed by British troops.
Royal Air Force activities, grouped under "Operation Firedog" included ground attacks in support of troops and the transport of supplies. The RAF used a wide mixture of aircraft to attack MNLA positions: from the new Avro Lincoln heavy bomber to Short Sunderland flying boats. Jets were used in the conflict when de Havilland Vampires replaced Spitfires of No. 60 Squadron RAF in 1950 and were used for ground attack. Jet bombers came with the English Electric Canberra in 1955 The Casualty Evacuation Flight was formed in early 1953 to bring the wounded out of the jungles; it used early helicopters such as the Westland Dragonfly, landing in small clearings  The RAF progressed to using Westland Whirlwind helicopters to deploy troops in the jungle.
The MNLA was vastly outnumbered by the British forces and their Commonwealth and colonial allies in terms of regular full-time soldiers. Siding with the British occupation were a maximum of 40,000 British and other Commonwealth troops, 250,000 Home Guard members, and 66,000 police agents. Supporting the communists were 7,000+ communist guerrillas (1951 peak), an estimated 1,000,000 sympathisers, and an unknown number of civilian Min Yuen supporters and Orang Asli sympathisers.
Commonwealth forces from Africa and the Pacific fought on the British backed Federation of Malaya side during the Malayan Emergency. These included troops from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Kenya, Nyasaland, Northern and Southern Rhodesia.
Australia and Pacific Commonwealth forces
Australian ground forces first joined the Malayan Emergency in 1955 with the deployment of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (2 RAR). The 2 RAR was later replaced by 3 RAR, which in turn was replaced by 1 RAR. The Royal Australian Air Force contributed No. 1 Squadron (Avro Lincoln bombers) and No. 38 Squadron (C-47 transports). In 1955, the RAAF extended Butterworth air base, from which Canberra bombers of No. 2 Squadron (replacing No. 1 Squadron) and CAC Sabres of No. 78 Wing carried out ground attack missions against the guerrillas. The Royal Australian Navy destroyers Warramunga and Arunta joined the force in June 1955. Between 1956 and 1960, the aircraft carriers Melbourne and Sydney and destroyers Anzac, Quadrant, Queenborough, Quiberon, Quickmatch, Tobruk, Vampire, Vendetta and Voyager were attached to the Commonwealth Strategic Reserve forces for three to nine months at a time. Several of the destroyers fired on communist positions in Johor State.
New Zealand's first contribution came in 1949, when Douglas C-47 Dakotas of RNZAF No. 41 Squadron were attached to the Royal Air Force's Far East Air Force. New Zealand became more directly involved in the conflict in 1955; from May, RNZAF de Havilland Vampires and Venoms began to fly strike missions. In November 1955 133 soldiers of what was to become the Special Air Service of New Zealand arrived from Singapore, for training in-country with the British SAS, beginning operations by April 1956. The Royal New Zealand Air Force continued to carry out strike missions with Venoms of No. 14 Squadron and later No. 75 Squadron English Electric Canberras bombers, as well as supply-dropping operations in support of anti-guerrilla forces, using the Bristol Freighter. A total of 1,300 New Zealanders were stationed in Malaya between 1948 and 1964, and fifteen lost their lives. Approximately 1,600 Fijian troops were involved in the Malayan Emergency from 1952 to 1956. The experience was captured in the documentary, Back to Batu Pahat.
African Commonwealth forces
Southern Rhodesia and its successor, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, contributed two units to Malaya. Between 1951 and 1953, white Southern Rhodesian volunteers formed "C" Squadron of the Special Air Service. The Rhodesian African Rifles, comprising black soldiers and warrant officers led by white officers, were stationed in Johore between 1956 and 1958. The King's African Rifles from Nyasaland, Northern Rhodesia and Kenya were also deployed to Malaya.
The October Resolution
Later, MNLA leader Chin Peng stated that the killing of Henry Gurney had little effect and that the communists were already altering their strategy, according to new guidelines enshrined in the so-called "October Resolutions". The October Resolutions, a response to the Briggs Plan, involved a change of tactics by the MNLA by reducing attacks on economic targets and civilian collaborators, redirecting their efforts towards political organisation and subversion, and bolstering the supply network from the Min Yuen as well as jungle farming.
On 8 September 1955, the Government of the Federation of Malaya issued a declaration of amnesty to the communists. The Government of Singapore issued an identical offer at the same time. Tunku Abdul Rahman, as Chief Minister, offered amnesty but rejected negotiations with the MNLA. The amnesty read that:
- Those of you who come in and surrender will not be prosecuted for any offence connected with the Emergency, which you have committed under Communist direction, either before this date or in ignorance of this declaration.
- You may surrender now and to whom you like including to members of the public.
- There will be no general "ceasefire" but the security forces will be on alert to help those who wish to accept this offer and for this purpose local "ceasefire" will be arranged.
- The Government will conduct investigations on those who surrender. Those who show that they are genuinely intent to be loyal to the Government of Malaya and to give up their Communist activities will be helped to regain their normal position in society and be reunited with their families. As regards the remainder, restrictions will have to be placed on their liberty but if any of them wish to go to China, their request will be given due consideration.[better source needed]
Following this amnesty declaration, an intensive publicity campaign was launched by the government. Alliance Ministers in the Federal Government travelled extensively across Malaya exhorting civilians to call upon communist forces to surrender their weapons and accept the amnesty. Despite the campaign, few Communist guerrillas chose to surrender. Some political activists criticised the amnesty for being too restrictive and for being a rewording of earlier well established surrender offers. These critics advocated for direct negotiations with the communist guerrillas of the MNLA and MCP to work on a peace settlement. Leading officials of the Labour Party had, as part of the settlement, not excluded the possibility of recognition of the MCP as a political organisation. Within the Alliance itself, influential elements in both the MCA and UMNO were endeavouring to persuade the Chief Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, to hold negotiations with the MCP.[better source needed]
Baling Talks and their consequences
In 1955 Chin Peng indicated that he would be willing to meet with British officials alongside senior Malayan politicians. The result of this was the Baling Talks, a meeting which took place between communist and Commonwealth forces to debate a peace treaty. The Baling Talks took place inside an English School in Baling on 28 December 1955. The MCP and MNLA was represented by Chin Peng, Rashid Maidin, and Chen Tien. The Commonwealth forces were represented by Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tan Cheng-Lock and David Saul Marshall. Despite the meeting being conducted successfully, the British forces was worried that a peace treaty with the MCP would lead to communist activists regaining influence in society. As a result, many of Chin Peng's demands were dismissed.
Following the failure of the talks, Tunku Abdul Rahman withdraw the amnesty offers for MNLA members on 8 February 1956, five months after it had been offered, stating he was unwilling to meet the Communists again unless they indicated beforehand their intention to make "a complete surrender".
Following the failure of the Baling Talks, the MCP made various efforts to resume peace negotiations with the Malayan government, all without success. Meanwhile, discussions began in the new Emergency Operations Council to intensify the "People's War" against the guerillas. In July 1957, a few weeks before independence, the MCP made another attempt at peace talks, suggesting the following conditions for a negotiated peace:
- its members should be given privileges enjoyed by citizens
- a guarantee that political as well as armed members of the MCP would not be punished
The failure of the talks affected MCP policy. The strength of the MNLA and 'Min Yuen' declined to only 1830 members in August 1957. Those who remained faced exile, or death in the jungle. However, Tunku Abdul Rahman did not respond to the MCP's proposals. Following the declaration of Malaya's independence in August 1957, the MNLA lost its rationale as a force of colonial liberation.
The last serious resistance from MNLA guerrillas ended with a surrender in the Telok Anson marsh area in 1958. The remaining MNLA forces fled to the Thai border and further east. On 31 July 1960 the Malayan government declared the state of emergency over, and Chin Peng left south Thailand for Beijing where he was accommodated by the Chinese authorities in the International Liaison Bureau, where many other Southeast Asian Communist Party leaders were housed.
During the conflict, security forces killed 6,710 MNLA guerrillas and captured 1,287, while 2,702 guerrillas surrendered during the conflict, and approximately 500 more did so at its conclusion. 1,346 Malayan troops and police were killed during the fighting. 1,443 British personnel died, in what remains the largest loss of life among UK armed forces since the Second World War. 2,478 civilians were killed, with another 810 recorded as missing.
During the Malayan conflict, there were instances during operations to find MNLA guerrillas where British troops detained and allegedly tortured villagers who were suspected of aiding the MNLA. Socialist historian Brian Lapping said that there was "some vicious conduct by the British forces, who routinely beat up Chinese squatters when they refused, or possibly were unable, to give information" about the MNLA. The Scotsman newspaper lauded these tactics as a good practice since "simple-minded peasants are told and come to believe that the communist leaders are invulnerable". Some civilians and detainees were also allegedly shot, either because they attempted to flee from and potentially aid the MNLA or simply because they refused to give intelligence to British forces.
Widespread use of arbitrary detention, punitive actions against villages, and use of torture by the police, "created animosity" between Chinese squatters and British forces in Malaya and "were therefore counterproductive in generating the one resource critical in a counterinsurgency, good intelligence".[page needed]
Batang Kali Massacre
During the Batang Kali massacre, 24 unarmed civilians were executed by the Scots Guards near a rubber plantation at Sungai Rimoh near Batang Kali in Selangor in December 1948. All the victims were male, ranging in age from young teenage boys to elderly men. Many of the victims' bodies were found to have been mutilated and their village of Batang Kali was burned to the ground. No weapons were found when the village was searched. The only survivor of the killings was a man named Chong Hong who was in his 20s at the time. He fainted and was presumed dead. Soon afterwards the British colonial government staged a coverup of British military abuses which served to obfuscate the exact details of the massacre.
The massacre later became the focus of decades of legal battles between the UK government and the families of the civilians executed by British troops. According to Christi Silver, Batang Kali was notable in that it was the only incident of mass killings by Commonwealth forces during the war, which Silver attributes to the unique subculture of the Scots Guards and poor enforcement of discipline by junior officers.[page needed]
As part of the Briggs Plan devised by British General Sir Harold Briggs, 500,000 people (roughly ten percent of Malaya's population) were forced from their homes by British forces. Tens of thousands of homes were destroyed, and many people were imprisoned in British Internment Camps called "new villages". During the Malayan Emergency, 450 new villages were created. The policy aimed to inflict collective punishment on villages where people were thought to be support communism, and also to isolate civilians from guerrilla activity. Many of the forced evictions involved the destruction of existing settlements which went beyond the justification of military necessity. This practice is now prohibited by Article 17 (1) of Additional Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions, which forbid civilian internment unless rendered absolutely necessary by military operations. 
A key British war measure was inflicting collective punishments on villages whose people were deemed to be aiding MNLA guerrillas. At Tanjong Malim in March 1952, Templer imposed a twenty-two-hour house curfew, banned everyone from leaving the village, closed the schools, stopped bus services, and reduced the rice rations for 20,000 people. The last measure prompted the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to write to the Colonial Office to note that the "chronically undernourished Malayan" might not be able to survive as a result. "This measure is bound to result in an increase, not only of sickness but also of deaths, particularly amongst the mothers and very young children". Some people were fined for leaving their homes to use external latrines. In another collective punishment, at Sengei Pelek the following month, measures included a house curfew, a reduction of 40 percent in the rice ration and the construction of a chain-link fence 22 yards outside the existing barbed wire fence around the town. Officials explained that the measures were being imposed upon the 4,000 villagers "for their continually supplying food" to the MNLA and "because they did not give information to the authorities".
[more detail needed]Over the course of the war, some 30,000 mostly ethnic Chinese were deported by the British authorities to mainland China. This would have been a war crime under Article 17 (2) of Additional Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions, which states: "Civilians shall not be compelled to leave their own territory for reasons connected with the conflict."
Headhunting and scalping
During the war British and Commonwealth forces hired Iban (Dyak) from Malayan Borneo as "native" trackers in the jungle. With a tradition of headhunting, they decapitated suspected MNLA members; the authorities held that taking the heads was the only means of later identification. Iban headhunters were permitted by British military leaders to keep the scalps of corpses as trophies. After the practice of headhunting in Malaya by Ibans had been exposed to the public, the Foreign Office first tried to deny that the practice existed, before then trying to justify Iban headhunting and conduct damage control in the press. Privately, the Colonial Office noted that "there is no doubt that under international law a similar case in wartime would be a war crime". Skull fragments from a trophy head were later found to have been displayed in a British regimental museum.
Headhunting exposed to British public
In 1952, April, the British communist newspaper the Daily Worker (today known as the Morning Star) published a photograph of British Royal Marines inside a British military base openly posing with decapitated human heads. Initially British government spokespersons belonging to the Admiralty and the Colonial Office claimed the photograph was fake. In response to the accusations that their headhunting photograph was fake, the Daily Worker released yet another photograph taken in Malaya showing British soldiers posing with a decapitated head. Later the Colonial Secretary, Oliver Lyttelton, confirmed to parliament that the Daily Worker headhunting photographs were indeed genuine. In response to the Daily Worker articles exposing the decapitation of MNLA suspects, the practice was banned by Winston Churchill who feared that such photographs resulting from headhunting would expose the British for their brutality.
Despite the shocking imagery of the photographs of soldiers posing with decapitated heads in Malaya, the Daily Worker was the only newspaper to publish them and the photographs were virtually ignored by the mainstream British press.
A British soldier poses with the decapitated head of a suspected pro-independence guerrilla
An Iban headhunter wearing a Royal Marine beret prepares a human scalp above a basket of human body parts.
An Iban headhunter posing with a human scalp
The Daily Worker exposes the practice of headhunting among British troops in Malaya. 28 April 1952.
Commonwealth soldiers pose with a decapitated head inside a British military base in Malaya during the Malayan Emergency
Two corpses and a decapitated head belonging to guerrillas killed by the Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment.
Comparisons with Vietnam
- The MNLA never numbered more than about 8,000 fulltime guerrillas, but the People's Army of (North) Vietnam fielded over a quarter-million soldiers, in addition to roughly 100,000 National Liberation Front (or Vietcong) guerrillas.
- North Korea, Cuba and the People's Republic of China (PRC) provided military hardware, logistical support, personnel and training to North Vietnam, whereas the MNLA received no material support, weapons or training from any foreign government or party.
- North Vietnam's shared border with its ally China (PRC) allowed for continuous assistance and provided a safe haven for communist forces, but Malaya's only land border is with non-communist Thailand.
- Britain did not approach the Emergency as a conventional conflict and quickly implemented an effective intelligence strategy, led by the Malayan Police Special Branch, and a systematic hearts and minds operation, both of which proved effective against the largely political aims of the guerrilla movement.
- The British military recognised that in a low-intensity war, individual soldiers' skill and endurance were of far greater importance than overwhelming firepower (artillery, air support, etc.). Even though many British soldiers were conscripted National Servicemen, the necessary skills and attitudes were taught at a Jungle Warfare School, which also developed the optimum tactics based on experience gained in the field.
- Vietnam was less ethnically fragmentated than Malaya. During the Emergency, most MNLA members were ethnically Chinese and drew support from sections of the Chinese community. However, most of the more numerous indigenous Malays, many of whom were animated by anti-Chinese sentiments, largely remained loyal to the government and enlisted in high numbers into the security services.
The United States in Vietnam were highly influenced by Britain's military strategies during the Malayan Emergency and the two wars shared many similarities. Some examples are listed below.
- Both countries used Agent Orange. Britain pioneered the use of Agent Orange as a weapon of war during the Malayan Emergency. This fact was used by the United States as a justification to use Agent Orange in Vietnam.
- Both the Royal Air Force and the United States Air Force used widespread saturation bombing.
- Both countries frequently used internment camps. In Malaya, internment camps called "New villages" were built by the British colonial occupation to imprison approximately 400,000 rural peasants. The United States attempted to replicate the New Villages with their Strategic Hamlet Program. However, the Strategic Hamlets were unsuccessful in segregating communist guerrillas from their civilian supporters.
- Both countries made use of incendiary weapons, including flamethrowers and incendiary grenades.
- Both the Malayan and Vietnamese communists recruited women as fighters due to their beliefs in gender equality. Women served as generals in both communist armies, with notable examples being Lee Meng in Malaya and Nguyễn Thị Định in Vietnam.
- Both the Malayan and Vietnamese communists were led by veterans of WWII who had been trained by their future enemies. The British trained and funded the Malayan Peoples' Anti-Japanese Army whose veterans would go onto resist the British colonial occupation, and the United States trained Vietnamese communists to fight against Japan during WWII.
In the late 1960s, the coverage of the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War prompted the initiation of investigations in the UK concerning war crimes perpetrated by British forces during the Emergency, such as the Batang Kali massacre. No charges have yet been brought against the British forces involved and the claims have been repeatedly dismissed by the British government as propaganda, despite evidence suggestive of a cover-up.
Following the end of the Malayan Emergency in 1960, the predominantly ethnic Chinese Malayan National Liberation Army, the armed wing of the MCP, retreated to the Malaysian-Thailand border where it regrouped and retrained for future offensives against the Malaysian government. A new phase of communist insurgency began in 1968. It was triggered when the MCP ambushed security forces in Kroh–Betong, in the northern part of Peninsular Malaysia, on 17 June 1968. The new conflict coincided with renewed tensions between ethnic Malays and Chinese following the 13 May Incident of 1969, and the ongoing conflict of the Vietnam War.
Communist leader Chin Peng spent much of the 1990s and early 2000s working to promote his perspective of the Emergency. In a collaboration with Australian academics, he met with historians and former Commonwealth military personnel at a series of meetings which led to the publication of Dialogues with Chin Peng: New Light on the Malayan Communist Party. Peng also travelled to England and teamed up with conservative journalist Ian Ward and his wife Norma Miraflor to write his autobiography Alias Chin Peng: My Side of History.
Many colonial documents, possibly relating to British atrocities in Malaya, were either destroyed or hidden by the British colonial authorities as a part of Operation Legacy. Traces of these documents were rediscovered during a legal battle in 2011 involving the victims of rape and torture by the British military during the Mau Mau Uprising.
In popular culture
In popular Malaysian culture, the Emergency has frequently been portrayed as a primarily Malay struggle against the Communists. This perception has been criticised by some, such as Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin, for not recognising Chinese and Indian efforts.
A number of films were set against the background of the Emergency, including:
- The Planter's Wife (1952)
- Windom's Way (1957)
- The 7th Dawn (1964)
- The Virgin Soldiers (1969)
- Stand Up, Virgin Soldiers (1977)
- Bukit Kepong (1981)
- The Garden of Evening Mists (2019)
- Mona Brand's stage production Strangers in the Land (1952) was created as political commentary to criticise the occupation, depicting plantation owners as burning down villages and collecting the heads of murdered Malayans as trophies. The play was only performed in the UK at the tiny activist run Unity Theater because the British government had banned the play from commercial stages.
- The Malayan Trilogy series of novels (1956–1959) by Anthony Burgess is set during the Malayan Emergency.
- In The Sweeney episode "The Bigger They Are" (series 4, episode 8; 26 October 1978), the tycoon Leonard Gold is being blackmailed by Harold Collins, who has a photo of him present at a massacre of civilians in Malaya when he was in the British Army twenty-five years earlier.
- Throughout the series Porridge, there are references to Fletcher having served in Malaya, probably as a result of National Service. He regales his fellow inmates with stories of his time there, and in one episode it is revealed that Prison Officer Mackay had also served in Malaya.
- Batang Kali massacre
- Battle of Semur River
- Briggs Plan
- British Far East Command
- British war crimes § Malaya
- Bukit Kepong incident
- Chin Peng
- Cold War in Asia
- Communist insurgency in Malaysia (1968–89)
- Far East Strategic Reserve (FESR)
- History of Malaysia
- List of weapons in Malayan Emergency
- Malayan Peoples' Anti-Japanese Army
- New village
- eg The Times 2012, The Independent 2015, The Guardian 2012 While the phrase has often been used in the British press, the scholar Matthew Hughes has pointed out in the journal Small Wars & Insurgencies that in terms of the number killed the massacre at Batang Kali is not of a comparable magnitude to the one at Mỹ Lai.
- Fleet Marine Force Reference Publication (FMFRP) 12-25,'The Guerrilla - And How To Fight Him'
- Amin, Mohamed (1977). Caldwell, Malcolm (ed.). The Making of a Neo Colony. Spokesman Books, UK. p. 216.
- Deery, Phillip. "Malaya, 1948: Britain's Asian Cold War?" Journal of Cold War Studies 9, no. 1 (2007): 29–54.
- Siver, Christi L. "The other forgotten war: understanding atrocities during the Malayan Emergency." In APSA 2009 Toronto Meeting Paper. 2009., p.36
- Newsinger 2013, p. 217.
- Burleigh, Michael (2013). Small Wars, Faraway Places: Global Insurrection and the Making of the Modern World 1945–1965. New York: Viking – Penguin Group. p. 164. ISBN 978-0-670-02545-9.
- Burleigh, Michael (2013). Small Wars Faraway Places: Global Insurrection and the Making of the Modern World 1945–1965. New York: Viking – Penguin Group. pp. 163–164. ISBN 978-0-670-02545-9.
- Newsinger 2013, p. 216–217.
- Hack, Karl (28 September 2012). "Everyone Lived in Fear: Malaya and the British way of Counterinsurgency". Small Wars and Insurgencies. 23 (4–5): 672. doi:10.1080/09592318.2012.709764. S2CID 143847349 – via Taylor and Francis Online.
- Datar, Rajan (host), with author Sim Chi Yin; academic Show Ying Xin (Malaysia Institute, Australian National University); and academic Rachel Leow (University of Cambridge): "The Malayan Emergency: A long Cold War conflict seen through the eyes of the Chinese community in Malaya," 11 November 2021, The Forum (BBC World Service), (radio program) BBC, retrieved 11 November 2021
- Khoo, Agnes (2007). Life as the River Flows: Women in the Malayan Anti-Colonial Struggle. Monmouth, Wales: Merlin Press. pp. 12–13.
- Hara, Fujio (2016). "Former Japanese Soldiers Who Joined Communist Guerrillas in Malaya". Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. 89 (2 (311)): 67–99. doi:10.1353/ras.2016.0025. JSTOR 26527760. S2CID 201734987. Retrieved 11 January 2023.
- "The Malayan Emergency – Britain's Vietnam, Except Britain Won". Forces Network. Gerrards Cross: British Forces Broadcasting Service. 4 October 2021. Archived from the original on 5 October 2021.
One of these strategies was the 'Scorched Earth Policy' which saw the first use of Agent Orange – a herbicide designed to kill anything that it came in contact with.
- Mann, Michael (2013). The Sources of Social Power. Volume 4: Globalizations, 1945–2011. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 16. ISBN 9781107028678.
A bloody ten-year civil war, the Malayan Emergency was finally won by British forces using scorched earth tactics, including the invention of forcible relocation of villages into areas controlled by British forces.
- Hay, Alastair (1982). The Chemical Scythe: Lessons of 2, 4, 5-T, and dioxin. New York: Plenum Press / Springer Nature. pp. 149–150. doi:10.1007/978-1-4899-0339-6. ISBN 9780306409738. S2CID 29278382.
It was the British who were actually the first to use herbicides in the Malayan 'Emergency'...To circumvent surprise attacks on their troops the British Military Authorities used 2,4,5-T to increase visibility in the mixed vegetation
- Jacob, Claus; Walters, Adam (2021). "Risk and Responsibility in Chemical Research: The Case of Agent Orange". In Schummer, Joachim; Børsen, Tom (eds.). Ethics Of Chemistry: From Poison Gas to Climate Engineering. Singapore: World Scientific. pp. 169–194. doi:10.1142/12189. ISBN 978-981-123-353-1. S2CID 233837382.
- Siver, Christi (2018). "Enemies or Friendlies? British Military Behavior Toward Civilians During the Malayan Emergency". Military Interventions, War Crimes, and Protecting Civilians. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan / Springer Nature. pp. 2–8, 19–20, 57–90. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-77691-0. ISBN 978-3-319-77690-3.
British efforts to educate soldiers about the Geneva Conventions either did not ever reach units deployed in Malaya or left no impression on them...All of these regiments went through the introductory jungle warfare course and received the same instruction about 'snap shooting' and differentiating between targets. Differences in training do not seem to explain why some units killed civilians while others did not.
- "A mistake or murder in cold blood? Court to rule over 'Britain's My Lai'". The Times. London. 28 April 2012.
- Connett, David (18 April 2015). "Batang Kali killings: Britain in the dock over 1948 massacre in Malaysia". The Independent. London.
- Bowcott, Owen (25 January 2012). "Batang Kali relatives edge closer to the truth about 'Britain's My Lai massacre'". The Guardian. London.
- Hughes, Matthew (October 2012). "Introduction: British ways of counter-insurgency". Small Wars & Insurgencies. London: Taylor & Francis. 23 (4–5): 580–590. doi:10.1080/09592318.2012.709771.
- Keo, Bernard Z. (March 2019). "A small, distant war? Historiographical reflections on the Malayan Emergency". History Compass. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell. 17 (3): e12523. doi:10.1111/hic3.12523. S2CID 150617654.
Despite their innocuous nomenclature, New Villages were in fact, as Tan demonstrates, concentration camps designed less to keep the communists out but to place the rural Chinese population under strict government surveillance and control.
- Newsinger 2015, p. 50, "Their homes and standing crops were fired, their agricultural implements were smashed and their livestock either killed or turned loose. Some were subsequently to receive compensation, but most never did. They were then transported by lorry to the site of their 'new village' which was often little more than a prison camp, surrounded by a barbed wire fence, illuminated by searchlights. The villages were heavily policed with the inhabitants effectively deprived of all civil rights.".
- Sandhu, Kernial Singh (March 1964). "The Saga of the "Squatter" in Malaya". Journal of Southeast Asian History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 5 (1): 143–177. doi:10.1017/s0217781100002258.
The outstanding development of the Emergency in Malaya was the implementation of the Briggs Plan, as a result of which about 1,000,000 rural people were corralled into more than 600 'new' settlements, principally New Villages.
- Jones, Alun (September 1968). "The Orang Asli: An Outline of Their Progress in Modern Malaya". Journal of Southeast Asian History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 9 (2): 286–305. doi:10.1017/s0217781100004713.
Thousands of Orang Asli were escorted out of the jungle by the police and the army, to find themselves being herded into hastily prepared camps surrounded by barbed wire to prevent their escape. The mental and physiological adaption called for was too much for many of the people of the hills and jungle and hundreds did not survive the experience.
- Idrus, Rusalina (2011). "The Discourse of Protection and the Orang Asli in Malaysia". Kajian Malaysia. Penang: Universiti Sains Malaysia. 29 (Supp. 1): 53–74.
- Newsinger 2015, p. 41.
- Eric Stahl, "Doomed from the Start: A New Perspective on the Malayan Insurgency" (master's thesis, 2003)
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- Newsinger 2015, p. 43.
- Newsinger 2015, p. 44.
- Postgate, Malcolm; Air Historical Branch, Ministry of Defence (1992). Operation Firedog : air support in the Malayan emergency, 1948-1960. London: H.M.S.O. pp. 4–14. ISBN 9780117727243.
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|Library resources about |
- Australian War Memorial (Malayan Emergency 1950–1960)
- Far East Strategic Reserve Navy Association (Australia) Inc. (Origins of the FESR – Navy)
- Malayan Emergency (AUS/NZ Overview)
- Britain's Small Wars (Malayan Emergency)
- PsyWar.Org Archived 24 February 2021 at the Wayback Machine (Psychological Operations during the Malayan Emergency)
- www.roll-of-honour.com (Searchable database of Commonwealth Soldiers who died)
- A personal account of flying the Bristol Brigand aircraft with 84 Squadron RAF during the Malayan Emergency – Terry Stringer
- The Malayan Emergency 1948 to 1960 Anzac Portal