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Malayan Emergency

Malayan emergency was an insurrection and guerilla war of Malay Races Liberation Army in Malaysia in 1948-1960.

Malay Races Liberation Army (MRLA in this text) was a creation of Malayan Communist Party (MCP) and by extension lead and dominated by ethnic Chinese communists. It was also a successor of Malayan Peoples' Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA) that British had trained and equipped in the World War Two. MCP had been legalized after the war. They had stored most of the weapons for later use.

MCP disagreed with the British idea of Malayan Federation because there seemed to be no direct way to communism. Party’s new leader Ching Peng decided to set the revolution rolling.

In June 16 1948 MRLA guerillas killed three British rubber planters. Britain declared a State of Emergency. The enemy was named CT – Communist Terrorists. Despite of the term “emergency” it was a full-scale guerilla war between MRLA and British and Malayan authorities. MRLA tortured and killed dozens of British and Malay civilians (including children), ambushed soldiers, sabotaged installations, attacked slightly defended rubber farms and destroyed transportation in a deliberate terror campaign. Four hundred civilians died in the first year.

Support of the MRLA was mainly based on about 500,000 ethnic Chinese (there were 3.12 million Chinese in total); the Malay population at large did not support them. The Chinese had no franchise in elections, no land rights to speak of and were usually very poor. MRLA called their agents within the Chinese population as Min Yuen.

MRLA had its hideouts in the rather inaccessible jungle. Most of them were Chinese with some Malays and Indonesians. They were organized into communist political regiments with political sections, commissars, instructors and secret service. They also had lectures about Marxism-Leninism and political newspapers. MRLA included many women and soldiers had to get official permission for romance.

Abroad, the emerging Korean War eclipsed the developing conflict. Part of the British attempt of solution was the so-called Brigg’s plan that meant resettlement of people – especially 400.000 Chinese - living in jungle areas to relative safety of new, partially fortified villages. People resented that but some became content with better living standards in the villages. They were given money and ownership of the land they lived in.

The British also brought in soldiers from units like Worchester regiment and Highlander Marines. One side effect was a re-creation of Special Air Service as a jungle commando unit in 1950.

In 1951 some British army units begun a "hearts and minds campaign" by giving medical and food aid to Malays and indigenous Sakai tribes. At the same time, they put pressure on MRLA by patrolling the jungle. Units like the SAS, Royal Marines and Gurkha Brigade drove MRLA guerillas deeper into the jungle and denied them resources. MRLA had to extort food from Sakai and earned their enmity. Many of the captured guerillas changed sides. In turn, MRLA never released any Britons alive.

In the end there was about 35,000 British and 100,000 Malay troops against maybe up to 80,000 communist guerillas.

On October 7 1951, the MRLA ambushed and killed British High Commissioner Sir Henry Gurney. Gurney’s successor Lieutenant-General Gerald Templer pushed through measures to give ethnic Chinese residents a right to vote. He also continued the Brigg’s plan, installed Malay executives and speeded up formation of a Malayan army. His most important deal was a promise of independence once the insurrection was over. He also instituted financial rewards for detecting guerillas and expanded intelligence gathering.

Australia was willing to send troops to help a SEATO ally; Australian troops arrived in 1955. Ching Peng failed to come into agreement with the Malayan leaders in Baling in 1955.

With the independence of Malaya under Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman on August 31 1957, the insurrection lost its rationale as a war of colonial liberation. The last serious resistance from MRLA guerillas ended with a surrender in the Telok Anson marsh area in 1958. The remaining MRLA forces fled to the Thai border and further east.

In July 31 1960 the Malayan government declared that the Emergency was over. Ching Peng fled to China.

During the conflict security forces killed 6710 MRLA guerillas and captured 1287. Of the guerillas, 2702 surrendered during the conflict and about 500 at the end of the conflict. There were 1346 Malayan troops and 519 British military personnel killed. There were 2478 civilians killed and 810 missing as a result of the conflict.

In late 1960s the coverage of the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War prompted the initiation of investigations in the UK concerning alleged war crimes perpetrated by British forces during the Emergency. No charges arose, and it has been suggested that the incoming government of Edward Heath acted improperly to abort the investigations.

In literature

The Emergency provided the subject and setting for the novel ... And the Rain My Drink by Han Suyin published in 1954.

See also