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RAF Far East Air Force

The RAF Far East Air Force was the command organisation that controlled all Royal Air Force assets in the east of Asia. The first organisation dedicated to this task was formed in Singapore in 1930 as Royal Air Force Base Singapore. This was upgraded to Headquarters Air Force Far East Command in 1933. During WWII, when Malaya, Singapore, Burma and Hong Kong were conquered by the Japanese, the command retreated to India, there receiving the name Air Headquarters Bengal.

The true ancestor of the postwar Far East Air Force was formed in November 1943, under Allied Forces South East Asia. It was called Air Command, South East Asia. In 1946, this was renamed Air Command Far East, and finally Far East Air Force in June 1949.

During the war years, it was subordinate to Allied Forces South East Asia. The triservice headquarters remained in place after the war over to coordinate re-occupation of territory within the bounds of the command that had not yet been liberated from the Japanese. That included parts of Burma; the other British colonies of Singapore, Malaya, British North Borneo and Brunei; the independent nation of Siam, the French colony of French Indo-China up to the 16th parallel, and most of the Dutch colony of the Netherlands East Indies. After the completion of the re-occupation duties, SEAC was disestablished in November 1946.

However, the benefits of a supreme commander were not forgotten, and a triservice headquarters was revived in 1962, when the Far East Command was formed. The Far East Command was also disestablished in 1971.

Table of contents
1 Postwar Occupation Duties
2 Malayan Emergency
3 Short Respite
4 Konfrontasi
5 Drawdown and Departure
6 Squadrons
7 Stations
8 Commanding Officers
9 Subordinate Commands

Postwar Occupation Duties

Unlike in Europe, war ended very unexpectedly in the Far East. The dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, combined with the American blockade of Japan, and the Soviet entry into the war on August 9 1945 finally shocked the Japanese into suing for peace. Once peace came, there was a period of euphoria within the RAF units, but the forces in the region came back down to earth with a bump a few days later.

Instead of the end to operations that a great many of the conscripts had naively thought would occur, if anything, operations in some parts of the forces increased in tempo. South-East Asia Command had been incresed in size from the day after the surrender, taking in south French Indo-China, and much of the Netherlands East Indies. The command was now half as big again in area as it had been during the war. The strain imposed by the high operations tempo that occupation duties, when combined with the downsizing of the command due to demobilisation and return of American lend-lease aircraft was very great, and it manifested itself in a series of mutinies around the command in early 1946.

The first of these was at Mauripur in Karachi, India. Enlisted airmen downed tools and refused to work until their grievances about demobilisation had been met. Given the nature of the times, this was impossible, although their complaints were passed up the chain of command. The stoppages were non-violent almost to a fault, and since the personnel involved were hostilities-only conscripts, rather than regular professional members of the RAF, the stoppages were not formally treated as mutinies. Had they been so, punishments up to and including execution by firing squad could have been imposed on those responsible. Other mutinies occurred in Ceylon, elsewhere in India and Singapore. They also spread to units of the Royal Indian Air Force for a short while.

The easiest of the occupation tasks was in Siam. Unlike elsewhere in the region, Siam had retained a functioning civil government throughout the war, and thus British troops did not have to deploy to restore order over most of the country. RAF forces set a headquarters in Bangkok, at Don Muang airfield, under Group Captain D O Finlay on 9 September 1945. The headquarters was from RAF No. 909 Wing. The Wing left its previously controlled aircraft, P-47 Thunderbolts in Burma. Three squadrons were represented in Siam during the occupation, RAF No. 20 Squadron with Spitfire VIII aircraft, RAF No. 211 Squadron with Mosquito VI aircraft, and a detachment of RAF No. 685 Squadron with Mosquito photo reconnaissance aircraft. The airfield was defended by No. 2945 Squadron RAF Regiment. In addition to the resident forces, C-47 Dakota transport aircraft were frequent users of Don Muang. They made supply runs to the airport, stopped over on trips to and from French Indo-China, and evacuated prisoners of war and internees who had been imprisoned in Siam at the end of the war. The job in Siam was completed very quickly, with almost all of the RAF personnel at Don Muang being gone by January 1946.

Burma was also relatively straightforward to deal with, although more complicated than Siam. Much of the colony had been conquered several months before the war ended, in the big British offensive of summer 1945. That gave ACSEA crucial breathing space to start getting the colony back on its feet before the massive increase in occupation duties postwar occurred. RAF Burma was well established under Air Marshal Sir Hugh Saunders. At the end of the war, it had 28 squadrons under its control. This quickly reduced as the demobilisation really kicked in. Again, the transport squadrons saw the largest amount of work, evacuating POWs and internees and supplying garrisons and the civilian population. Second to the transport squadrons in workload were the photo reconnaissance aircraft. The opportuinity was taken to complete the process of surveying SE Asia from the air, and using the survey to bring maps up to date. The survey was not completed until August 1947. After the cleanup immediately postwar, came the task of preparing Burma for independence. AHQ Burma moved out of Rangoon to Mingaladon on 1 January 1947. The headquarters was disbanded on 31 December 1947, and three months later Burma became independent.

The most prickly tasks in the entire command were the temporary occupations of the colonies of other European powers. One was the occupation of part of French Indo-China, and the other the occupation of part of the Netherlands East Indies.

The easier of the two was French Indo-China. Resentment against the French was strong, with Ho Chi Minh's Viet Minh movement beginning to become a rea problem. British forces were responible for the southern part of the country, south of the 16th parallel, whilst Chinese forces dealt with the north. An RAF headquarters was set up near Saigon on 8 September, at Tan Son Nhut airfield. However, the main occupation forces were slow to arrive, so that Mountbatten had to use Japanese forces still in the area for internal security duties for a short while. One aspect of the occupation that was mercifully smaller in magnitude than in other areas of the command was prisoners of war. Only about 5,000 were in French Indo-China, and thus that part of the repatriation problem was small.

At Tan Son Nhut, a large amount of space was available for transport aircraft; hard standings for about 70 Dakotas. This was fortunate, since a great deal of transport aircraft effort was required in the country, despite the low numbers of POWs. The other aircraft at the airfield were Spitfires of RAF No. 273 Squadron and yet again, a detachment of photo recon Mosquitos. The situation in French Indo-China and the Netherlands East Indies was particularly tricky because of the hostility of the locals to the returning colonial powers. French Indo-China was handed back to French control a great deal more quickly than the Netherlands East Indies to Dutch control, meaning that RAF aircraft did not have to get involved in suppressing any revolts in the area, apart from one occasion when Spitfires attacked enemy forces with cannon fire to support French ground troops. One way that more commitments of this type were avoided was to provide some spare Spitfires in the command to Armeť de l'Air pilots who were being sent to the colony, and had flown the type in Europe. The main RAF presence was withdrawn in mid February 1946, when the Air Headquarters was disbanded. However, a small RAF presence was retained for a few more months to help direct military transport aircraft using the airfield.

Malayan Emergency

Short Respite

Konfrontasi

Drawdown and Departure

Squadrons

Stations

Commanding Officers

Subordinate Commands