Malayan Emergency

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Malayan Emergency
Darurat Malaya
Part of the decolonization of Asia and Cold War in Asia
Outdoor portrait of Lee Min, leader of the communist Kepayang Gang in the Ipoh district in 1951 (AWM 4281801).JPG
Briggs' Plan civilians - IWM GOV 3821.png
King's African Rifles in Malaya - IWM K 14004.png
Clockwise from top left:
  • Australian Avro Lincoln bomber dropping 500lb bombs
  • Communist leader Lee Meng in 1952
  • RAF staff loads bombs to be used against communist rebels
  • King's African Rifles search abandoned hut
  • Civilians forcibly evicted from their land by the British as part of the Briggs' Plan
Date16 June 1948 – 31 July 1960
(12 years, 1 month, 2 weeks and 1 day)

Commonwealth forces victory


British Empire and Commonwealth forces:
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom


Flag of Australia (converted).svg  Australia
Flag of New Zealand.svg  New Zealand
Supported by:
Flag of Thailand.svg  Thailand
(Thai–Malaysian border)

Communist forces:
Flag of the Communist Party of Malaya.svg Malayan Communist Party

Commanders and leaders

Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom

Flag of Malaya.svg Malaya

Flag of Singapore (1952-1959).svg Singapore

Flag of Australia (converted).svg Australia

Flag of New Zealand.svg New Zealand

Flag of the Communist Party of Malaya.svg Malayan Communist Party

Flag of the Malayan National Liberation Army.svg Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA)


Over 451,000 troops

Over 7,000 troops

Casualties and losses
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg 1,443 killed
Flag of Malaya.svg 1,346 killed
Flag of the United Kingdom.svgFlag of Malaya.svg 2,406 wounded
Flag of Australia (converted).svg 39 killed
Flag of New Zealand.svg 15 killed
Flag of Southern Rhodesia (1924-1964).svg 8 killed
6,710 killed
1,289 wounded
1,287 captured
2,702 surrendered
Civilians killed: 2,478
Civilians missing: 810
Civilian casualties: 5,000+
Total killed: 11,107

The Malayan Emergency, also known as the Anti–British National Liberation War [1] (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. [2] [3] [4] 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. [5]

The war began on 17 June 1948, after Britain declared a state of emergency in Malaya following attacks on plantations, [6] which had been revenge attacks for the killing of left-wing activists. [7] 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. [8] The communists gained support from many civilians, mainly those from the Chinese community. [9] 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. [10] Additionally, hundreds of former Japanese soldiers joined the MNLA. [11] 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. [16] British attempts to defeat the communists included extrajudicial killings of unarmed villagers, in violation of the Geneva Conventions. [17] The most infamous example is the Batang Kali massacre, which the press has referred to as "Britain's My Lai". [lower-alpha 1] The Briggs Plan forcibly relocated between 400,000 and 1,000,000 civilians into concentration camps called "New villages". [22] [23] [24] Many Orang Asli indigenous communities were also targeted for internment because the British believed that they were supporting the communists. [25] [26]

Although the emergency was declared over in 1960, communist leader Chin Peng renewed the insurgency against the Malaysian government in 1968. This second phase of the insurgency lasted until 1989.


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. [27] Malayan communists organised a successful 24-hour general strike on 29 January 1946, [28] before organising 300 strikes in 1947. [28] 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. [27] Colonial police responded to rising trade union activity through arrests, deportations, and beating striking workers to death. [29] Responding to the attacks against trade unions, communist militants began assassinating strikebreakers, and attacking anti-union estates. [29] These attacks were used by the colonial occupation as a pretext to conduct mass arrests of left-wing activists. [27] On 12 June the British colonial occupation banned Malaya's largest trade union the PMFTU. [29]

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. [29] 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. [30] [3] 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. [31]

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. [32] Led by Chin Peng the remaining Malayan communists retreated to rural areas and formed, on 1 February 1949, the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA). [33]

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. [34] Chin Peng was a veteran anti-fascist and trade unionist who had played an integral role in the MPAJA's resistance. [35] 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. [34]

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.[ citation needed ]

Commonwealth propaganda leaflet dropped across Malaya, urging people to come forward with a Bren gun and receive a $1,000 reward Malayan Emergency Bren Gun.jpg
Commonwealth propaganda leaflet dropped across Malaya, urging people to come forward with a Bren gun and receive a $1,000 reward

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. [36] 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 Communist 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. [37] 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. [38] 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. [39]

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. [8] 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. [40]

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. [41]

British and Commonwealth strategies

Workers on a rubber plantation in Malaya travel to work under the protection of Special Constables, whose function was to guard them throughout the working day against attack by communist forces, 1950. SC protection team.jpg
Workers on a rubber plantation in Malaya travel to work under the protection of Special Constables, whose function was to guard them throughout the working day against attack by communist forces, 1950.

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. [42] 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. [42]

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. [43]

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. [37]

A wounded suspected MNLA supporter being held and questioned after his capture in 1952 Terrorist in Malaya.jpg
A wounded suspected MNLA supporter being held and questioned after his capture in 1952

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. [13] [12]

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. [44]

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. [45] [46]

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." [47] 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. [48]

Control of anti-guerrilla operations

Police officers question a civilian during the Malayan Emergency. Police in Malayan Emergency.jpg
Police officers question a civilian during the Malayan Emergency.

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. [49] [ 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. [49] [ better source needed ]

Agent Orange

During the Malayan Emergency, Britain became the first nation in history to make 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. [14] [15] 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. [50]

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".[ citation needed ] 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. [50] However, after that strategy failed[ citation needed ], 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. [51]

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. [52] [53]

Nature of warfare

Malayan Police conducting a patrol around the Temenggor, 1953 The Malayan Emergency 1948-1960 MAL35.jpg
Malayan Police conducting a patrol around the Temenggor, 1953

The British Army soon realised that clumsy sweeps by large formations were unproductive. [54] 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 [lower-alpha 2] ):

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. [55]

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. [56] [57]

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. [58] 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 [59] 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. [60]

Commonwealth contribution

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. [61]

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). [62] 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.[ citation needed ]

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 [63] 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.[ citation needed ] Approximately 1,600 Fijian troops were involved in the Malayan Emergency from 1952 to 1956. [64] The experience was captured in the documentary, Back to Batu Pahat.[ citation needed ]

African Commonwealth forces

"C" Squadron, the all-Southern Rhodesian unit of the Special Air Service (SAS), in Malaya in 1953 C Squadron (Rhodesian) SAS, 1953.jpg
"C" Squadron, the all-Southern Rhodesian unit of the Special Air Service (SAS), in Malaya in 1953

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. [65] [66] The Rhodesian African Rifles, comprising black soldiers and warrant officers led by white officers, were stationed in Johore between 1956 and 1958. [67] The King's African Rifles from Nyasaland, Northern Rhodesia and Kenya were also deployed to Malaya.[ citation needed ]

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". [68] 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.

Headline on page 1 of The Straits Times of 1952. Chin Peng: Public Enemy No.1 Chin Peng wanted by Malaya.jpg
Headline on page 1 of The Straits Times of 1952. Chin Peng: Public Enemy No.1

Amnesty declaration

On 8 September 1955, the Government of the Federation of Malaya issued a declaration of amnesty to the communists. [69] 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:

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. [70] [ better source needed ]

Baling Talks and their consequences

British artillery firing on MNLA guerrillas in the Malayan jungle, 1955 Malya Emergency British Artillery.jpg
British artillery firing on MNLA guerrillas in the Malayan jungle, 1955

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.[ citation needed ] 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.[ citation needed ]

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". [71]

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 guerrillas. In July 1957, a few weeks before independence, the MCP made another attempt at peace talks, suggesting the following conditions for a negotiated peace:[ citation needed ]

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.[ citation needed ]

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. [72] [73]


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. [74] 1,443 British personnel died, in what remains the largest loss of life among UK armed forces since the Second World War. [75] 2,478 civilians were killed, with another 810 recorded as missing. [76]




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.[ citation needed ] 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".[ citation needed ] 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.[ citation needed ]

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". [56] [ 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. [77] 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. [78] [79] [80] [81] Soon afterwards the British colonial government staged a coverup of British military abuses which served to obfuscate the exact details of the massacre. [82]

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. [83] [ page needed ]

Internment camps

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. [84] [56] [57] [53]

Collective punishment

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". [85]


[ more detail needed ]Over the course of the war, some 30,000 mostly ethnic Chinese were deported by the British authorities to mainland China. [9] [86] 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." [84]

Headhunting and scalping

A Daily Worker article exposing newly uncovered images of British atrocities involving headhunting during the Malayan Emergency This Horror Must End.jpg
A Daily Worker article exposing newly uncovered images of British atrocities involving headhunting during the Malayan Emergency

During the war British and Commonwealth forces hired over 1,000 Iban (Dyak) mercenaries from Borneo to act as jungle trackers. [87] With a tradition of headhunting, they decapitated suspected MNLA members; the authorities held that taking the heads was the only means of later identification. [88] Iban headhunters were permitted by British military leaders to keep the scalps of corpses as trophies. [89] [88] 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. [90] Privately, the Colonial Office noted that "there is no doubt that under international law a similar case in wartime would be a war crime". [57] [91] [90] Skull fragments from a trophy head were later found to have been displayed in a British regimental museum. [88]

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 severed human heads. [87] [88] [92] By republishing these images the British communists had hoped to turn public opinion against the war. [93] 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 severed head. Later the Colonial Secretary, Oliver Lyttelton, confirmed to parliament that the Daily Worker headhunting photographs were indeed genuine. [94] 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. [88] [95] However, Churchill's order to discontinue the decapitations was widely ignored by British soldiers who continued to behead suspected guerrillas. [96]

Despite the shocking imagery of the photographs of soldiers posing with severed heads in Malaya, the Daily Worker was the only newspaper to publish them and the photographs were virtually ignored by the mainstream British press. [90]

Comparisons with Vietnam


Jungle service dress of the 1st Battalion Somerset Light Infantry used in the emergency Jungle service dress.JPG
Jungle service dress of the 1st Battalion Somerset Light Infantry used in the emergency

The conflicts in Malaya and Vietnam have often been compared. [9] However, the two conflicts differ in the following ways:


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.


The National Monument commemorating those who died in Malaysia's struggle for freedom, including the Malayan Emergency Tugu Negara.jpg
The National Monument commemorating those who died in Malaysia's struggle for freedom, including the Malayan Emergency

The Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation of 1963–66 arose from tensions between Indonesia and the new British backed Federation of Malaysia that was conceived in the aftermath of the Malayan Emergency.

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. [104]

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. [105]

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. [106] 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 . [107]

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. [108]

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. [109]

A number of films were set against the background of the Emergency, including:

Other media:

See also


  1. eg The Times 2012, [18] The Independent 2015, [19] The Guardian 2012 [20] 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. [21]
  2. Fleet Marine Force Reference Publication (FMFRP) 12-25,'The Guerrilla - And How To Fight Him'

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Search and destroy</span> Military strategy

Seek and destroy is a military strategy which consists of inserting infantry forces into hostile territory and directing them to search and then attack enemy targets before immediately withdrawing. First used as part of counterinsurgency operations during military conflicts in Southeast Asia such as the Malayan Emergency and the Vietnam War, the strategy was developed to take advantage of new technological capabilities available to Western militaries such as the helicopter, which allowed for the adoption of new tactics like the air assault.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Batang Kali massacre</span> 1948 massacre by British soldiers of defenceless men during the Malayan Emergency

The Batang Kali massacre was the killing of 24 unarmed male civilians in Batang Kali by the British Army's Scots Guards on 12 December 1948. The massacre took place in Batang Kali, Malaya during the Malayan Emergency, an anti-colonial war between the British Commonwealth and communist guerrillas belonging to the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA). British author Christopher Hale described the massacre as "Britain's My Lai" in his book titled Massacre in Malaya: Exposing Britain's My Lai.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chin Peng</span> Leader of the Malayan Communist Party (1924–2013)

Chin Peng, born Ong Boon Hua, was a Malayan communist politician, guerrilla leader, and revolutionary, who was the leader and commander of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) and the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA). A Maoist, he led the CPM as secretary general from 1947 until the party's dissolution in 1989.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Malayan Communist Party</span> Far-left political party in Malaya

The Malayan Communist Party (MCP), officially the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM), was a Marxist–Leninist and anti-imperialist communist party which was active in British Malaya and later, the modern states of Malaysia and Singapore from 1930 to 1989. It was responsible for the creation of both the Malayan Peoples' Anti-Japanese Army and the Malayan National Liberation Army.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Briggs Plan</span> 1950 British forced resettlement plan during the Malayan Emergency

The Briggs Plan was a military plan devised by British General Sir Harold Briggs shortly after his appointment in 1950 as Director of Operations during the Malayan Emergency (1948–1960). The plan aimed to defeat the Malayan National Liberation Army by cutting them off from their sources of support amongst the rural population. To achieve this a large programme of forced resettlement of Malayan peasantry was undertaken, under which about 500,000 people were forcibly transferred from their land and moved to concentration camps euphemistically referred to as "new villages".

The Min Yuen was the civilian branch of the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA), the armed wing of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), in resisting the British colonial occupation of Malaya during the Malayan Emergency, The Min Yuen was mainly charged with supplying communist revolutionaries with food, information, and medical supplies.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">New village</span> Internment camps set up by the British during the Malayan Emergency

New villages, also known as Chinese new villages, were internment camps created during the waning days of British rule in Malaysia. These camps were originally created as part of the Briggs Plan, first implemented in 1950 to isolate guerillas from their supporters within the rural civilian populations during the Malayan Emergency. Most were surrounded by barbed wire and watchtowers to stop people from escaping, with guards being ordered to kill anyone who attempted to leave outside of curfew hours.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Malayan National Liberation Army</span> 1949–1989 communist guerrilla army in Malaysia (formerly Malaya)

The Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA), often mistranslated as the Tentera Pembebasan Kebangsaan Malaya, was a communist guerrilla army that fought for Malayan independence from the British Empire during the Malayan Emergency (1948–1960) and later fought against the Malaysian government in the Communist insurgency in Malaysia (1968–1989). Their central committee was a trade union activist known as Chin Peng who had previously been awarded an OBE by the British for waging a guerrilla war against the Japanese occupation of Malaya. Many MNLA fighters were former members of the Malayan Peoples' Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA) which had been previously trained and funded by the British to fight against Japan during the Second World War.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Too Chee Chew</span>

Too Chee Chew (杜志超 M.B.E., better known as C. C. Too, was a major exponent of psychological warfare in Malaysia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Communist insurgency in Malaysia (1968–1989)</span> Insurgency in Malaysia waged by the Malayan Communist Party from 1968 to 1989

The Communist insurgency in Malaysia, also known as the Second Malayan Emergency, was an armed conflict which occurred in Malaysia from 1968 to 1989, between the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) and Malaysian federal security forces.

The New Zealand armed forces saw action in Malaysia throughout the 1950s and 1960s, first as part of the British Commonwealth response to the Malayan Emergency, and then in defence of Malaysia in the Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Military history of Malaysia</span>

Malaysia's armed forces, which encompasses three major branches, originate from the formation of local military forces in the first half of the 20th century, during British colonial rule of Malaya and Singapore prior to Malaya's independence in 1957. The branches have undergone several restructuring, but fundamentally includes the army, navy and air force.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Baling Talks</span> 1955 diplomatic conference to resolve the Malayan Emergency

The Baling Talks were held in northern Malaya on 28 and 29 December 1955 in an attempt to resolve the Malayan Emergency situation.

Eu Chooi Yip was a prominent member of the anti-colonial and Communist movements in Malaya and Singapore in the 1950s and 1960s. Eu Chooi Yip was born in Kuantan, Malaysia.

The Special Operations Volunteer Force was a special program developed by the British and Malayan authorities during the Malayan Emergency. The unit existed from 1952 until the end of the Emergency in 1960.

Ferret Force was a counter-insurgency unit formed by the British and Malayan authorities as part of their response to the communist insurgency during the Malayan Emergency. The unit only existed for six months, but was to help establish doctrine for British operations in the jungle.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Malayan Peoples' Anti-Japanese Army</span> 1941–1945 paramilitary group resisting the Japanese occupation of Malaya

The Malayan Peoples' Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA) was a communist guerrilla army that resisted the Japanese occupation of Malaya from 1941 to 1945 in World War II. Composed mainly of ethnic Chinese guerrilla fighters, the MPAJA was the largest anti-Japanese resistance group in Malaya. Founded during the Japanese invasion of Malaya, the MPAJA was conceived as a part of a combined effort by the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) and the British colonial government, alongside various smaller groups to resist the Japanese occupation. Although the MPAJA and the MCP were officially different organisations, many saw the MPAJA as a de facto armed wing of the MCP due to its leadership being staffed by mostly ethnic Chinese communists. Many of the ex-guerrillas of the MPAJA would later form the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA) and resist a return to pre-war the normality of British rule of Malaya during the Malayan Emergency (1948–1960).

Australian involvement in the Malayan Emergency lasted 13 years, between 1950 and 1963, with army, air force and naval units serving. The Malayan Emergency was a guerrilla war fought between Commonwealth armed forces and the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA), the military arm of the Malayan Communist Party, from 1948 to 1960 in Malaya. The Malayan Emergency was the longest continuous military commitment in Australia's history. Thirty-nine Australians were killed and 27 wounded.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Southern Rhodesian military involvement in the Malayan Emergency</span>

Southern Rhodesia, then a self-governing colony of the United Kingdom, sent two military units to fight with the Commonwealth armed forces in the Malayan Emergency of 1948–60, which pitted the Commonwealth against the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA), the military arm of the Malayan Communist Party. For two years, starting in March 1951, white Southern Rhodesian volunteers made up "C" Squadron of the Special Air Service (SAS). The Rhodesian African Rifles, in which black rank-and-filers and warrant officers were led by white officers, then served in Malaya from 1956 to 1958.

The Malaysian Communist Party (MCP) was a merger of the Communist Party of Malaya/Marxist-Leninist (CPM-ML) and the Communist Party of Malaya/Revolutionary Faction (CPM-RF). Both factions split out from the Malayan Communist Party in the 1970s. MCP traced its roots to splinter groups amongst communist guerrillas in southern Thailand in the 1970s. The party conducted armed struggle in the Malaysian-Thai border areas between 1983 and 1987. The former CPM-RF members lay down their arms on 13 March 1987 and the former CPM-ML members lay down theirs on 28 April 1987. It eventually accepted a deal for cessation of hostilities with the Thai military and its cadres were resettled in 5 'friendship villages'.


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Further reading