The Malayan Campaign and Emergency



Ge, Sir Gerald Templer /

Gen. Sir Gerald Templer /

  The campaign was a military action in South-East Asia between December 1941 and August, 1945 during the Second World War. General Tomoyuki secured free passage through Thailand because of an agreement with the Vichy administration in France (pro-German). He then invaded northern Malaya in December 1941 while his companions were assaulting Singapore with great success. While Japanese aircraft bombed the city, British, Indian and Australian troops retreated to the south. It was a failure, as they were then taken prisoner after the fall of Singapore in February 1942.

During the retreat however the soldiers managed to create a small guerrilla force dedicated to sabotage; this operated behind the Japanese lines. The force had a name almost as long as Pinocchio’s nose – ‘The Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army- known in Army messes as ‘the Maparja’. It was efficient and deadly and mostly composed of Chinese Communists.

Allied troops advanced from Imphal in May, 1944, starting a gradual re-conquest of Burma (now Myanmar). Malaya was liberated in 1945.

The emergency was a very different thing; it was a communist insurgency in Malaya starting in 1948, and if mismanaged it could easily have caused havoc. But it was not mismanaged.

After the Second War the Chinese resented Malayan political dominance of their new Federation. Still there, though hidden, were most of the Chinese who had served with ‘the ‘Maparja’ (MPAJA), communists who had fought the Japanese in the campaign described above. They changed their jackets and began a series of murderous attacks on planters and other estate owners, and by 1950 the ‘little local difficulty’ had developed into a full-blown guerilla war.

The insurgents were led by the brilliant Chin Peng; they were supplied by the Min Yuen, and called themselves by a name almost as long as the ‘Maparja’ – ‘The Malayan Races Liberation Army’. They caused a terrific disruption into normal life in Malaya, but then Major-General Sir Gerald Templer arrived in 1952, in charge of British and Commonwealth soldiers more than just accustomed to jungle warfare. Ex-Chindits were there, and kukri-wielding Ghurkas from Nepal, plus British and Commonwealth regiments with much experience in such fighting. Templer took his soldiers deep into the jungles and fought the communists mostly hand-to-hand. The supply system Min Yuen was disrupted and dismantled. Most important of all was the fact that the Malay and Indian population was wholly loyal to the British, so unlike the villagers of South Vietnam during the US campaigns, who were not to be trusted.

Templer and the British used local tribal leaders in government committees, instead of throwing them in jail. By the end of 1957 the victory over the Chinese was important enough for a peaceful transition to independence to take place. By 1958 the insurgents had been almost completely defeated, though the emergency was not declared officially over until 1960.

Gerald Templer (1898 – 1979), one of History’s great commanders, became a Field-Marshal. He commanded the 6th Armoured Division in the Second War, and was the vice-Chief of the General Staff when he was intelligently appointed Commissioner and Commander-in-Chief in Malaya. With his noted military efficiency, calm, adaptability to circumstances (jungle fighting is quite different from normal soldiering) and above all the fostering of excellent relations with village chiefs, Templer turned the tables on the communist insurgents and thus avoided what might easily have been a disastrous defeat on the same scale as Vietnam.

About the Author:

‘Dean Swift’ is a pen name: the author has been a soldier; he has worked in sales, TV, the making of films, as a teacher of English and history and a journalist. He is married with three grown-up children. They live in Spain.

Leave A Comment