Malayan Peoples' Anti-Japanese Army

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Malayan Peoples' Anti-Japanese Army
Participant in the Anti-Japanese resistance movement in Malaya during World War II
The British Reoccupation of Malaya SE5878.jpg
MPAJA guerrillas marching through the streets of Johor Bahru during their disbandment ceremony in December 1945.
ActiveDecember 1941 (1941-12) – December 1945 (1945-12)
Ideology Communism
Political position Far-left
Leaders Lai Teck, Chin Peng
Area of operationsJapanese-occupied Malaya and Singapore
Size~6,500 (claimed); 10,000 (estimated) [1]
Opponent(s)Merchant flag of Japan (1870).svg  Empire of Japan
Flag of PETA (Pembela Tanah Air).svg PETA (Malayan branches) [2]
Battles and war(s) World War II
Flag of the MPAJA Flag of the Malayan Peoples' Anti Japanese Army.png

The Malayan People's Anti-Japanese Army (Chinese :马来亚人民抗日军; abbreviated MPAJA) was a paramilitary group that was active during the Japanese occupation of Malaya from 1942 to 1945. Composed mainly of ethnic Chinese guerrilla fighters, the MPAJA was the biggest anti-Japanese resistance group in Malaya. Founded on 18 December 1941 during the Japanese invasion of Malaya, the MPAJA was conceived as a part of a combined effort by the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), British colonial government, and various anti-Japanese groups to resist the Japanese occupation of Malayan territory. 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. [3] Many of the ex-guerrillas of the MPAJA would later join the MCP in its open conflict with the BMA during the Malayan Emergency. [4]

Chinese language family of languages

Chinese is a group of related, but in many cases not mutually intelligible, language varieties, forming the Sinitic branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family. Chinese is spoken by the ethnic Chinese majority and many minority ethnic groups in China. About 1.2 billion people speak some form of Chinese as their first language.

An abbreviation is a shortened form of a word or phrase, by any method. It may consist of a group of letters or words taken from the full version of the word or phrase, for example, the word abbreviation can itself be represented by the abbreviation abbr., abbrv., or abbrev.; nil by mouth is an abbreviated medical instruction. It may also consist of initials only, a mixture of initials and words, or words or letters representing words in another language. Some types of abbreviations are acronyms, initialisms, or grammatical contractions or crasis.

Japanese occupation of Malaya Empire of Japan military rule in contemporary Singapore and Malaysia

Malaya was gradually occupied by the Japanese between 8 December 1941 and the Allied surrender at Singapore on 16 February 1942. The Japanese remained in occupation until their surrender to the Allies in 1945. The first Japanese garrison in Malaya to lay down their arms was in Penang on 2 September 1945 aboard HMS Nelson.



Rise of anti-Japanese sentiments and the Malayan Communist Party

Anti-Japanese feelings among the Chinese community in Malaya first began in 1931, with the Japanese invasion and annexation of Manchuria. Anti-Japanese sentiments reached new heights again when a formal full-scale war was declared between Japan and China in 1937.

British Malaya Former set of states on Malay Peninsula

The term "British Malaya" loosely describes a set of states on the Malay Peninsula and the island of Singapore that were brought under British hegemony or control between the 18th and the 20th centuries. Unlike the term "British India", which excludes the Indian princely states, British Malaya is often used to refer to the Federated and Unfederated Malay States, which were British protectorates with their own local rulers, as well as the Straits Settlements, which were under the sovereignty and direct rule of the British Crown, after a period of control by the East India Company.

Japanese invasion of Manchuria part of the Second Sino-Japanese War

The Japanese invasion of Manchuria began on 18 September 1931, when the Kwantung Army of the Empire of Japan invaded Manchuria immediately following the Mukden Incident. After the war, the Japanese established the puppet state of Manchukuo. Their occupation lasted until the Soviet Union and Mongolia launched the Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation in 1945.

Second Sino-Japanese War military conflict between the Republic of China and the Empire of Japan from 1937 to 1945

The Second Sino-Japanese War was a military conflict fought primarily between the Republic of China and the Empire of Japan from July 7, 1937, to September 2, 1945. It began with the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in 1937 in which a dispute between Japanese and Chinese troops escalated into a battle. Some sources in the modern People's Republic of China date the beginning of the war to the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931. It is known as the War of Resistance in China.

Due to its leading role in promoting strong anti-Japanese and anti-Imperialist sentiments, the MCP enjoyed huge support from the Chinese community in Malaya. More importantly, many young Chinese were attracted to the communists because they believed the MCP represented a system that would oppose Japan and her imperialist expansionism. The anti-Japanese movement naturally attracted more support from the Malayan Chinese than the other races, hence resulting in Chinese dominance of the MCP leadership.

Forming a united front

While being anti-Japanese, the MCP was also involved in its local struggle against British Imperialism in Malaya. However, political developments in 1941 prompted the MCP to withhold its hostilities against the British and seek co-operation instead. First of all, war between the Soviet Union and Germany had made the Soviets join the Allies against the Axis powers which included Japan. Additionally, the Kuomintang (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had formed a united front against the Japanese invasion in mainland China. As a communist organisation closely associated with the CCP and the Soviet Union, the MCP had to alter its stance towards the British as the Soviets and CCP became wartime allies with them. [5] Secondly, the MCP viewed the imminent Japanese invasion of Malaya as a greater threat than the British. [4] Therefore, an offer of mutual co-operation against a potential Japanese aggression was first made in July 1941 to the British. [4] However, the offer was rejected as British officials felt that recognising the MCP would give them an unnecessary boost in legitimising its nationalist agenda [6]

Soviet Union 1922–1991 country in Europe and Asia

The Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was a Marxist-Leninist sovereign state in Eurasia that existed from 1922 to 1991. Nominally a union of multiple national Soviet republics, its government and economy were highly centralized. The country was a one-party state, governed by the Communist Party with Moscow as its capital in its largest republic, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Other major urban centres were Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Tashkent, Alma-Ata, and Novosibirsk. It spanned over 10,000 kilometres (6,200 mi) east to west across 11 time zones, and over 7,200 kilometres (4,500 mi) north to south. It had five climate zones: tundra, taiga, steppes, desert and mountains.

Allies of World War II Grouping of the victorious countries of World War II

The Allies of World War II, called the United Nations from the 1 January 1942 declaration, were the countries that together opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War (1939–1945). The Allies promoted the alliance as a means to control German, Japanese and Italian aggression.

Axis powers Alliance of countries defeated in World War II

The Axis powers, also known as "Rome–Berlin–Tokyo Axis", were the nations that fought in World War II against the Allies. The Axis powers agreed on their opposition to the Allies, but did not completely coordinate their activity.

Nevertheless, the eventual Japanese invasion of Malaya on 8 December 1941 presented the MCP another opportunity to seek co-operation with the British. After the Japanese forces made rapid gains against the British defences in Malaya, the MCP came out publicly to support the British war effort, encouraging Malayan Chinese to pledge their assistance to the British. As the British faced further military setbacks with the sinking of its battleships Prince of Wales and Repulse, the British finally accepted the MCP's offer of assistance on 18 December 1941. [4] A secret meeting was held in Singapore between British officers and two MCP representatives, one of whom was Lai Teck, the MCP's secretary general. [4]

HMS <i>Prince of Wales</i> (53) King George V class battleship

HMS Prince of Wales was a King George V-class battleship of the Royal Navy, built at the Cammell Laird shipyard in Birkenhead, England. She was involved in several key actions of the Second World War, including the May 1941 Battle of the Denmark Strait against the German battleship Bismarck, operations escorting convoys in the Mediterranean, and her final action and sinking in the Pacific in December 1941.

HMS <i>Repulse</i> (1916) Renown-class battlecruiser of the Royal Navy

HMS Repulse was a Renown-class battlecruiser of the Royal Navy built during the First World War. Originally laid down as an improved version of the Revenge-class battleships, her construction was suspended on the outbreak of war because she would not be ready in a timely manner. Admiral Lord Fisher, upon becoming First Sea Lord, gained approval to restart her construction as a battlecruiser that could be built and enter service quickly. The Director of Naval Construction (DNC), Eustace Tennyson-D'Eyncourt, quickly produced an entirely new design to meet Admiral Lord Fisher's requirements and the builders agreed to deliver the ships in 15 months. They did not quite meet that ambitious goal, but the ship was delivered a few months after the Battle of Jutland in 1916. Repulse, and her sister ship Renown, were the world's fastest capital ships upon completion.

Lai Teck, was a leader of the Communist Party of Malaya and Malayan People's Anti-Japanese Army. A Vietnamese of mixed Sino-Vietnamese descent, prior to his arrival in Malaya, Lai Teck was believed to have led his life as Truong Phuoc Dat until 1934, during which Dat disappeared and Lai Teck appeared.

The agreement between the MCP and the British was that the MCP would recruit, and the British would provide training to resistance groups. Also, the trained resistance fighters would be used as the British Military Command saw fit. [7] The recruits were to undergo training in sabotage and guerrilla warfare at the 101 Special Training School (STS) in Singapore, operated by the Malayan wing of the London-based Special Operations Executive (SOE). [4] On 19 December 1941, the MCP also brought together various anti-Japanese groups, organisations such as the KMT and the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, under a broad front called the "Overseas Chinese Anti-Japanese Mobilisation Federation" (OCAJMF) with Tan Kah Kee as the leader of its "Mobilisation Council". [4] [5] The OCAJMF became a platform to recruit Chinese volunteer soldiers to form an independent force, which would be later known as Dalforce. The MCP contributed the most soldiers to Dalforce, although it had also received volunteers from the KMT and other independent organisations. [4] Dalforce was disbanded upon Singapore's surrender to the Japanese on 14 February 1942.

Tan Kah Kee Chinese businessman

Tan Kah Kee, also known as Chen Jiageng, was a Chinese businessman, community leader and philanthropist active in Southeast Asia, Hong Kong, and various Chinese cities such as Shanghai, Xiamen, and Guangzhou. A prominent figure in the overseas Chinese community in Southeast Asia in the 20th century, he was responsible for gathering much support from the community to aid China in major events such as the Xinhai Revolution (1911), the Kuomintang's Northern Expedition (1926–28), and the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–45). Apart from donating most of his assets and earnings to aid China in those major events, Tan set up funds in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong and contributed to the establishment of several schools in Southeast Asia and China's Fujian Province, including Xiamen University.

Dalforce, or the Singapore Overseas Chinese Anti-Japanese Volunteer Army was an irregular forces/guerrilla unit within the British Straits Settlements Volunteer Force during World War II. Its members were recruited among the ethnic Chinese people of Singapore. It was created on 25 December 1941 by Lieutenant Colonel John Dalley of the Federated Malay States Police Force. The unit was known to the British colonial administration as Dalforce, after its chief instructor and commanding officer, John Dalley, whereas the Chinese in Singapore only knew it as the Singapore Overseas Chinese Anti-Japanese Volunteer Army. This formation took part in the Battle of Singapore and some members conducted a guerrilla campaign against Japanese forces during the Japanese occupation.

MPAJA during the Japanese occupation (1942–1945)

Birth of the Malayan People's Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA)

The 101 Special Training School may be regarded as the birthplace of the MPAJA. [6] A total of 165 party members were selected by the MCP to participate in the training, which began on 21 December 1941. [6] The training was rushed through, with individual courses lasting only ten days and a total of 7 classes. Receiving only basic training and poorly-equipped, these graduated recruits would be sent across the peninsula to operate as independent squads. [6] The first batch of 15 recruits was sent near Kuala Lumpur, where they had some success in disrupting Japanese communication lines in northern Selangor. [5] However, many were killed within the first few months of fighting, but the surviving ones went on to form the core leadership of the MPAJA and train new recruits. In March 1942, after liaising with the Central Committee of the MCP, these graduates of the 101 STS would officially form the First Independent Force of the MPAJA. [5]

Kuala Lumpur Capital of Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur, officially the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur and commonly known as KL, is the national capital and largest city in Malaysia. As the global city of Malaysia, it covers an area of 243 km2 (94 sq mi) and has an estimated population of 1.73 million as of 2016. Greater Kuala Lumpur, also known as the Klang Valley, is an urban agglomeration of 7.25 million people as of 2017. It is among the fastest growing metropolitan regions in Southeast Asia, in both population and economic development.

Selangor State of Malaysia

Selangor, also known by its Arabic honorific Darul Ehsan, or "Abode of Sincerity", is one of the 13 states of Malaysia. It is on the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia and is bordered by Perak to the north, Pahang to the east, Negeri Sembilan to the south and the Strait of Malacca to the west. Selangor surrounds the federal territories of Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya, both of which were previously part of it.

Going underground

The MCP decided to go underground as British defences collapsed quickly in the face of the Japanese army's onslaught. A policy of armed resistance throughout the occupation was declared by all top-ranking MCP members at a final meeting in Singapore in February 1942. [5] This decision proved beneficial to the MCP's political and military advancement, as they were the only political organisation prepared to commit itself to a policy of active anti-Japanese insurgency. After the fall of Singapore resistance forces were cut off from external assistance. The lack of proper equipment and training had forced the MPAJA to go on the defensive. Hanrahan describes the early months of the MPAJA as "an all-out struggle for bare survival. Most of the Chinese guerillas were ill-prepared, both mentally and physically, to live in the jungle, and the toll from disease, desertions, enemy attacks and insanity increased by the day". [8] At the end of 18 months, an estimated one-third of the entire guerrilla force perished. [5]

Nevertheless, the harsh and brutal treatment of the Chinese by the Japanese occupation forces drove many Chinese to the relative safety of the jungle. The desire for revenge against the Japanese inspired many young Chinese to enlist with the MPAJA guerrillas, thus ensuring a steady supply of recruits to maintain the resistance effort despite suffering from heavy losses. [6]

Lai Teck's betrayal and the Batu Caves massacre

Unbeknownst to the leadership of the MCP, the MCP Secretary-General and MPAJA leader Lai Teck was a double agent working for the British Special Branch. [4] Subsequently, he became triple-agent working for the Japanese after his arrest by the Kempeitai in early March 1942. There were many different accounts of how Lai Teck was caught by the Kempeitai and his subsequent agreement to collaborate with the Japanese. In his book Red Star Over Malaya, Cheah Boon Keng describes Lai Teck's arrest as such:

"Lai Teck was arrested by the Kempeitai in Singapore in early March 1942. Through the interpreter Lee Yem Kong, a former photographer in Johor, Major Onishi and Lai Teck struck a bargain. They agreed that Lai Teck would give the names of the MCP's top executives and gather them in one place where they could be liquidated by the Japanese. In return, Lai Teck's life would be spared and he could earn a considerable sum of money. Towards the end of April he walked out of Kempeitai headquarters 'a free man with a bundle of dollars in his pocket'. Contact was thereafter to be established at a certain cafe in Orchard Road, or Lai Teck would call on his bicycle at the home of Lee Yem Kong, who acted as interpreter for Warrant Officer Shimomura, the man present to receive all information." [4]

In August 1942 Lai Teck arranged for a full meeting which included the MCP's Central Executive Committee, state party officials, and a group leaders of the MPAJA at the Batu Caves, about ten miles from Kuala Lumpur. The party meeting was then held in a small village near the caves. At daybreak of 1 September 1942, Japanese forces surrounded and attacked the village where the MCP and MPAJA leaders were resting. Caught by surprise, the ambush ended with 92 members of the resistance dead. [5] Among those who were killed, 29 were top-ranking party officials which included 4 MPAJA "Political Commissars". [4] The Batu Caves Massacre had effectively wiped out the entire pre-war leadership of the MCP and influential members of the MPAJA.

Revival and expansion

The untimely deaths in the MCP and MPAJA hierarchy provided an opportunity for a new breed of leaders to emerge. Among this new generation of leaders was Chin Peng, who would eventually become leader of the MCP and one of the key figures in the post-war conflict with the British government of Malaya. Another individual would be Liao Wei-chung, also known as Colonel Itu, who commanded the MPAJA 5th Independent Regiment from 1943 till the end of the war. [6]

By late 1943 many of the veteran Japanese soldiers were replaced by fresh units which were less successful in executing counter-insurgency operations against the MPAJA. Meanwhile, the MPAJA were able to gain sympathy and widespread support among the Chinese communities in Malaya, who supplied them with food, supplies, intelligence and also fresh recruits. The main link and support organisation which backed the MPAJA was the Malayan People's Anti-Japanese Union (MPAJU). The MPAJU pursued an open policy of recruiting people regardless of race, class, and political belief as long as they were against the Japanese regime. [4] Therefore, members of the MPAJU were not necessarily Chinese or communists.

The MPAJA recruited manpower by organising volunteer units called the Ho Pi Tui (Reserves) in villages, towns and districts. These volunteers were not required to leave their local areas unless they were called up. After a 2-month course in the jungle, they were sent back to their villages and left under the control of village elders or other trusted community representatives to provide self-defense in the villages. [5] By the end of 1944, the MPAJA had increased their membership to over 7,000 soldiers. [6]

Contact with Force 136

After the fall of Singapore, the MPAJA had lost contact with the British command in Southeast Asia. The British attempted to reestablish communications by landing army agents in Malaya by submarine. The first party, consisting of Colonel John Davis and five Chinese agents from the Special Operations Executive organisation called Force 136, landed on the Perak coast on 24 May 1943 from a Dutch submarine. [5] Other groups followed, including Lim Bo Seng, a prominent Straits-born Chinese businessman and KMT supporter who volunteered to join the Force 136 Malayan Unit. [5] On 1 January 1944, MPAJA leaders arrived at the Force 136 camp at Bukit Bidor and entered into discussions with the Force 136 officers. [9] The MPAJA agreed to accept the British Army's orders while the war with Japan lasted in return for arms, money, training, and supplies. [4] It was also agreed that at the end of the war, all weapons supplied by Force 136 would be handed back to British authorities, and all MPAJA fighters would disarm and return to civilian life. [5]

However, Force 136 was unable to keep several pre-planned rendezvous with its submarines, and had lost its wireless sets; the result was that Allied command did not hear of the agreement until 1 February 1945, and it was only during the last months of the war that the British were able to supply the MPAJA by air. [4] Between December 1944 and August 1945, the number of air drops totalled more than 1000, with 510 men and £1.5 million worth of equipment and supplies parachuted into Malaya. [5]

End of Japanese occupation

For the MPAJA, the period from 1944 until the end of the war in August 1945 was characterised as one of both "consolidation" and continued growth. [4] With the Japanese surrender on 15 August 1945, an "interregnum" followed which marked a period of lawlessness and unrest before the delayed arrival of the British forces. [4] During this time, the MPAJA focused its efforts on seizing control of territory across Malaya and punishing "collaborators" of the Japanese regime. [5] Many of the "collaborators" were ethnic Malays, many of whom the Japanese employed as policemen. Although the MCP and MPAJA consistently espoused non-racial policies, the fact that their members came predominantly from the Chinese community caused their reprisals against Malays who had collaborated to be a source of racial tension. As a result, interracial clashes involving the Chinese-dominated MPAJA and Malay settlers were frequent. For example, the Malays in Sungai Manik in Perak, fought with the MPAJA and local Chinese settlers after the MPAJA attempted to take over Sungai Manik and other neighbouring towns. Fighting continued until the arrival of the British army in September. [4]


Return of British rule

British Brigadier J J McCully inspects men of the 4th Regiment of the MPAJA guerrillas at Johor Bahru after the end of war in 1945. The British Reoccupation of Malaya SE5882.jpg
British Brigadier J J McCully inspects men of the 4th Regiment of the MPAJA guerrillas at Johor Bahru after the end of war in 1945.

The British Military Administration (BMA) formally took over control of Malaya on 12 September 1945. The British army saw the MPAJA guerrillas as hindrance to their tasks of establishing law and order in the country and were anxious to demobilise the MPAJA as soon as possible. Fearing that the MPAJA might challenge British authority, the British army ordered all MPAJA units to concentrate in certain centres and to come under its overall command. [4] Force 136 officers would continue to be liaison officers with the MPAJA. The BMA also declared the MPAJA no longer operational after 12 September, although they were allowed to remain armed until negotiations were finalised for their disarmament. Additionally, the MPAJA was not allowed to conduct further extrajudicial punishment on collaborators without permission from the British authorities. [4]

Disbandment of the MPAJA

Thousands of MPAJA guerrillas during their disbandment ceremony in Kuala Lumpur after the end of war in 1945. The British Reoccupation of Malaya SE5883.jpg
Thousands of MPAJA guerrillas during their disbandment ceremony in Kuala Lumpur after the end of war in 1945.

The MPAJA was formally dissolved on 1 December 1945. A gratuity sum of $350 was paid to each disbanded member of the MPAJA, with the option for him to enter civilian employment or to join the police, volunteer forces or the Malay Regiment. [4] 5,497 weapons were handed in by 6,800 guerrillas in demobilisation ceremonial parades held at MPAJA headquarters around the country. [5] However, it was believed that the MPAJA did not proceed to disarm with full compliance. British authorities discovered that most of the surrendered arms were old-type weapons and suspected that the MPAJA hid the newer weapons in the jungles. One particular incident reinforced this suspicion when the British army stumbled upon an armed Chinese settlement that had its own governing body, military drilling facilities and flag while conducting a raid on one of the old MPAJA encampments. Members of this settlement open fired at the British soldiers on sight, and the skirmish ended with one Chinese man dead. [4]

Post-disarmament influence

Nevertheless, after the formal demobilisation of the MPAJA, associations for demobilised personnel, known as the Malayan Peoples Anti-Japanese Ex-Service Comrades Association, were established in areas where regiments had operated. [5] The president and vice-president of the associations were the same men who commanded the MPAJA regiments in their respective areas. In other words, the leadership structure of these veteran clubs mirrored that of the former MPAJA. Although there was no direct evidence that all leaders of these associations were communists, representatives of these veteran clubs participated in meetings with communist-sponsored groups that passed political resolutions. [4] Cheah Boon Keng argues that these ex-guerrilla associations would later become well-organised military arms for the MCP during its open conflict with the BMA in 1948. [4]


Organisational set-up

Between 1942 and 1945, the MPAJA had a total of 8 independent regiments as follows: [9]

Independent RegimentsPlace of OriginDate of InceptionLeaders
1stSelangorDecember 1941Chen Tian Ching
Chou Yan Pin (1945)
2ndNegri SembilanApril 1942Lai Loi Fook
Teng Fu Long (1945)
3rdJohor (North)January 1942Xiao Yang
Wu Ke Xiong (1945)
4thJohor (South)January 1942Ah Fu
Chen Tien (1945)
5thPerakDecember 1942Lai Loi Fook
Liao Wei Chung (1945)
6thPahang (West) and TerengganuAugust 1943Zeng Guan Biao
Wang Ching (1945)
7thPahang (East)November 1944Chang Chi
Chuang Ching (1945)
8thKedah and Perlis15 August 1945He Xiao Li

All eight independent regiments took orders from the Central Military Committee of the MCP. [9] Therefore, the MPAJA was de facto controlled by the Communist leadership. Each MPAJA regiment comprised five or six patrols, and the average regimental strength was between 400 and 500 members. [4] The 5th Regiment was considered the strongest under the leadership of Chin Peng, then-Perak State Secretary of the MCP, and Colonel Itu (aka Liao Wei Chung).

Membership and life in the MPAJA

There was no class distinction in the MPAJA. Each member addressed each other simply as "comrade", including the Chairman of the Central Military Committee. Although the MPAJA was directly controlled by the MCP leadership, many members were not communists, contrary to popular belief. [4] Many had signed up for the MPAJA because of their resentment towards the Japanese army's brutal treatment of civilians.

When not engaged in guerrilla activities, a typical life in an MPAJA camp consisted of military drilling, political education, cooking, collection of food supplies, and cultural affairs. [4] The soldiers organised gatherings and invited residents, particularly the young, to participate in singing and drama events. Whenever these activities were going on, guards armed with machine-guns would be stationed at main exits of villages to keep a look-out for Japanese soldiers. The objectives of such activities was to demonstrate the strength of the group and instill public confidence. [9]

Personal accounts by British army officers who lived side-by-side with MPAJA guerrillas during the war revealed MPAJA cadres as “disciplined people” who had “great seriousness of purpose”. The MCP/MPAJA leader, Chin Peng, was also labelled as a man “with a reputation for fair dealing”. Also, the MPAJA in Perak was said to enjoy good relations with the aborigines, or Orang Asli, who “held a party for MPAJA forces” on New Year’s Eve. [10]

While the MPAJA was officially a multi-racial organisation, membership was made up predominantly by Chinese. Mandarin was the lingua franca of the MPAJA, although concessions to the Malay, Tamil, and English languages were made in some of the propaganda news-sheets published by the MPAJA's propaganda bureau. [4] Nevertheless, there were token numbers of Malay and Indians among their ranks. In Lim Pui Huen’s book, War and Memory in Malaysia and Singapore, an Indian war survivor Ramasamy recalled that “in the plantations, news of guerilla activities were often a great joy to the [Indian] laborers”, and that the Indian MPAJA leaders like “Perumal and Muniandy were looked upon… as heroes because they punish the estate kirani”. [11]

The total strength of the MPAJA at the time of demobilisation was said to be between 6,000 and 7,000 soldiers. [4]

Objectives of the MPAJA

The true objectives of the MPAJA remains a debatable issue. While officially the MPAJA was an organisation formed to resist the Japanese invasion, the true motives behind its formation has often been touted by historians as an elaborate ploy by MCP to create an armed force that would resist British imperialism after the end of the Japanese Occupation of Malaya.

In Ban and Yap’s book Rehearsal for War: The Underground War against the Japanese, both authors argued that “while the MCP cooperated with the British against the more immediate threat from the Japanese, it never detracted from its aim of seizing power” and that its ultimate aim “right from the formation of the party in April 1930… is a communist Malaya”. [6] Although the MPAJA was officially a separate organisation from the MCP, it was claimed that “from the start the Malayan Communist Party sought to exert an authoritarian and direct control…with Liu Yao as Chairman to oversee the activities and direction of the MPAJA”. [6] The Central Military Commission, which was “reorganized to take full control of the MPAJA”, was headed by MCP leaders “Lai Teck, Liu Yao and Chin Peng”. [6] Furthermore, the MPAJA deliberately kept “open and secret field units”, whereby “portions of the MPAJA field units were carefully kept out of sight, husbanded as reserves for a future conflict.” [6] One example was the comparison between the “open” 5th Independent Regiment based in Perak which was the strongest and most active in Malaya, and the “secret” 6th Regiment in Pahang which was as well-equipped but “had a less aggressive stance”. [6] In fact, according to Ban and Yap, “within a year of the fall of Malaya it was obvious [to the MCP]… that the return of the British was inevitable” and that the “MCP was ready to contend with its former colonial rulers.” [6] Although “clashes between the MPAJA and the Japanese Occupation Army occurred, these never threatened the overall Japanese control of the peninsula” as the “MPAJA was conserving its resources for the real war against colonialism once the Japanese were evicted.” [6] Therefore, the authors suggest that the MPAJA’s main enemy was all along the British, and its main purpose was to wrestle independence from the British rather than to resist the Japanese.

Cheah Boon Kheng’s Red Star Over Malaya also echos Ban and Yap’s argument. Cheah acknowledges that the MPAJA was under control of the MCP, with the “Central Military Committee of the MCP acted as supreme command of the MPAJA.” [4] Cheah also agrees that the MCP harboured hidden motives while agreeing to co-operate with the British against the Japanese by holding on to its “secret strategy of ‘Establish the Malayan Democratic Republic’”, “ready to take advantage of the opportunity to expel the British from Malaya as soon as practicable”. [4]

On the other hand, historian Lee Ting Hui argues against the popular notion that the MCP had planned to use the MPAJA to invoke an armed struggle against the British. In his book The Open United Front: The Communist Struggle in Singapore he asserts that the MCP “was pursuing the objective of a new democratic revolution” and had “preferred to operate in the open and in conformity with the law”. [3] The MCP had adopted Mao Tze Dong’s strategy of a “peaceful struggle”, which was to take over the countryside and get “workers, peasants and others” to conduct “strikes, acts of sabotage, demonstrations, etc.” [3] Following Mao’s doctrine, the MPAJA would “forge alliance with its secondary enemy against the primary enemy” in which secondary enemy referred to the British and the primary enemy was the Japanese. Therefore, during the war, the “MCP’s only target was the Japanese”. [3]

Contribution to the war

Casualty figures provided by both MPAJA and Japanese sources differed greatly: [4] [5] [6]

MPAJA claimJapanese claim
Japanese forces casualties5,500 Japanese soldiers
2,500 collaborators
600 Japanese soldiers
2,000 local volunteers
MPAJA casualties1,000 MPAJA2,900 MPAJA
Total8,000 Japanese forces
1,000 MPAJA
2,600 Japanese forces
2,900 MPAJA

With regards to the MPAJA's contribution to the war, here are some assessments given by historians:

Cheah, in his assessment of the military results of the MPAJA insurgency, says that "British accounts have reported that the guerrillas carried out a number of military engagements against Japanese installations. The MPAJA's own account claims its guerrillas undertook 340 individual operations against the Japanese during the occupation, of which 230 were considered "major" efforts -- "major" meaning involving an entire regiment." [4] The MPAJA claimed to have eliminated 5,500 Japanese troops while losing 1,000 themselves. The Japanese claimed that their losses (killed and wounded) were 600 of their own troops and 2000 local police, and that the MPAJA losses were 2,900. Cheah believes that the Japanese report is probably more reliable, although only approximate. [4]

Ban and Yap agree with Cheah in his figures, mentioning that the MPAJA "claimed it had eliminated 5,500 Japanese soldiers and about 2,500 'traitors' while admitting that they had lost some 1,000 men". [6] On the other hand, the Japanese released their "own figures of 600 killed or wounded and 2,000 casualties from their volunteer forces". [6] They also claimed to have "killed some 2,900 members of the MPAJA". [6] However, Ban and Yap feel that the Japanese might have "under-reported their casualties as the MPAJA had always been depicted as a band of ragged bandits who could pose no threat to the Imperial Army". [6] Also, they noted that towards the end of the war the "guerrillas were matching the Japanese blow for blow" and "Japanese records admitted that they suffered some 506 casualties in one of the attacks while 550 guerrillas were killed". [6]

Cooper mentions similar casualty figures of both MPAJA and Japanese accounts in his book Decade of Change: Malaya and the Straits Settlements 1936-1945, but nevertheless suggests that the “value of the MPAJA to the Allied cause is debatable” and describes their strategy as “tantalizing [the Japanese], invariably disappearing into the depths of the jungle whenever the Japanese tried to engage them” because they were “little or no match against the Japanese”. [5] He goes even further to add that the MPAJA’s contribution “is no more than a minor irritant and certainly no strategic threat to the Japanese". [5]

On the other hand, Tie and Zhong felt that "if the atomic bomb had not put an abrupt end to the 'war and peace' problems, the anti-Japanese force could have achieved even more". [9]

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