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Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Mayalan Emergency

Guerrilla War

Despite the usage of the term "emergency" it was in actuality a full-scale guerrilla war between the MNLA and British, Commonwealth, and Malayan armed forces; some have gone as far as to characterise it as a civil war. The rubber plantations and tin mining industries had pushed for the use of the term "emergency" since their losses would not have been covered by Lloyds insurers if it had been termed a "war". The MNLA commonly employed hit and run guerrilla tactics, sabotaging installations, attacking rubber plantations and destroying transportation and infrastructure.[1]

Support for the MRLA was mainly based on around 500,000 ethnic Chinese then living in Malaya (there were 3.12 million Chinese in total); the ethnic Malay population for the most part did not support them. The MNLA raised the support of the Chinese because they were denied the equal right to vote in elections, had no land rights to speak of, and were usually very poor. The MNLA's agents within the Chinese community were known as "Min Yuen."

The MNLA had its hideouts in the rather inaccessible tropical jungle with limited infrastructure. Most MNLA guerrillas were ethnic Chinese, though there were some Malays, Indonesians and Indians among its members. They were organized into communist political regiments with political sections, commissars, instructors and secret service. They also had lectures about Marxism-Leninism, and had political newsletters to be distributed to the locals. MNLA also stipulated that their soldiers had to get official permission for any romantic involvement with local women.

In the international scene, the emerging Korean War eclipsed the developing conflict in Malaya. Part of the British attempt at resolving the situation was the implementation of the so-called "Briggs' Plan" which meant the resettlement of people — especially 400,000 Chinese — living in jungle areas to the relative safety of new, partially fortified villages with full round-the-clock armed sentries. People resented this at first but some soon became content with the better living standards in the villages. They were given money and ownership of the land they lived on. Removing a population which might be sympathetic to guerrillas was a counter-insurgency technique which the British had used before, notably against the Boer Commandos in the Second Boer War (1899–1902).

At the start of the Emergency, the British had a total of 13 infantry battalions, comprising seven partly-formed Gurkha battalions, three British battalions, two battalions of the Royal Malay Regiment and a British Royal Artillery Regiment being utilised as infantry[2]. This force was too small to effectively meet the threat of the "Communist Terrorists" or "Bandits", and more infantry battalions were needed in Malaya.

The British brought in soldiers from units like the Worcestershire Regiment, Royal Marines and King's African Rifles. Another effort was a re-formation of the Special Air Service as a specialised reconnaissance, raiding and counter-insurgency unit in 1950. The Permanent Secretary of Defence for Malaya, Sir Robert Thompson, had served in the Chindits in Burma during World War II, which meant that his vast experience in jungle warfare may have proved valuable during this period.

In 1951, some British army units began 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 MNLA by patrolling the jungle. Units such as the SAS, the Royal Marines and Gurkha Brigade drove MNLA guerrillas deeper into the jungle and denied them resources. The MRLA had to extort food from the Sakai and earned their enmity. Many of the captured guerrillas changed sides. In comparison, the MRLA never released any Britons alive.

In the end the conflict involved up to a maximum of 40,000 British and Commonwealth troops against a peak of about 7–8,000 communist guerrillas.

On October 7, 1951, the MNLA ambushed and killed the British High Commissioner, Sir Henry Gurney. The killing has been described as a major factor in causing the Malayan psyche to roundly reject the MRLA campaign, and also as leading to widespread fear due to the perception that "if even the High Commissioner was no longer safe, there was little hope of protection and safety for the man-in-the-street in Malaya."[3] More recently, MNLA leader Chin Peng has, by contrast, said that the killing had little effect, and that the communists anyway radically altered their strategy that month in their 'October Resolutions'. These responded to the Briggs Plan by reducing unit sizes, increasing jungle farming, and attempting to boost political work.

Gurney's successor, Lieutenant General Gerald Templer was instructed by the British government to push for immediate measures to give ethnic Chinese residents the right to vote. He also pursued the Briggs's Plan, and sped up the formation of a Malayan army. At the same time he made it clear that the emergency itself was the main impediment to accelerating decolonisation. He also instituted financial rewards for detecting guerrillas by any civilians and expanded the intelligence network (Special Branch).

Australia was willing to send troops to help a SEATO ally and the first Australian ground forces, the 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (2RAR), arrived in 1955.[4] The battalion would later be replaced by 3RAR, which would in turn be replaced by 1RAR.

Realising that his conflict has not come to any fruition, Chin Peng sought a referendum with the ruling British government alongside many Malayan officials at Baling in 1955. The meeting was clearly intended to pursue a mutual end to the conflict but led by Tunku Abdul Rahman, representing the Malayan government at the Baling Talks, all of Chin Peng's demands were dismissed. As a result, the conflict would appear to have been heightened and in response, New Zealand sent NZSAS soldiers, No. 14 Squadron RNZAF and later No. 75 Squadron RNZAF, and other Commonwealth members also sent troops to aid the British.

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 guerrillas ended with a surrender in the Telok Anson marsh area in 1958. The remaining MRLA forces fled to the Thai border and further east.

On July 31, 1960, the Malayan government declared the Emergency was 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.

During the conflict security forces killed 6,710 MRLA guerrillas and captured 1,287. Of the total number of guerrillas, 2,702 surrendered during the conflict and about 500 at the end of the conflict. There were 1,346 Malayan troops and 519 British military personnel killed. 2,478 civilians were killed and 810 recorded missing as a result of the conflict.

[edit] Comparisons

Although the conflicts in Malaya and Vietnam differed on many points in so far as the details of their wars, it has been asked time and again by historians as to how a British force of 35,000 succeeded where over a half million soldiers of the U.S. and others failed. One of the main points that differentiated the two was that the MRLA never had a dependable ally close at hand like the Viet Cong did with the North Vietnamese Army.

Another key point was the effectiveness of the Malayan Police Special Branch against the political arm of the guerilla movement[5][6].

The MNLA was also, as mentioned above, a political movement almost entirely limited to ethnic Chinese; support among Muslim Malayans and smaller tribes was scattered if existent at all. The British war effort never suffered from anything approaching the criticism that hammered the U.S. in Vietnam, and the USSR and China were too involved in Korea to give serious aid to the MNLA. Also, many Malayans had fought side by side with the British against the Japanese occupation in World War II, including Chin Peng. This is in contrast to Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia) where French colonial officials often operated as proxies and collaborators to the Japanese. This factor of trust between the locals and the colonials was what gave the British an advantage over the French and later, the Americans in Vietnam; Commonwealth troops saw ordinary civilians as allies, not enemies.

posted by Steve @ 12:34:00 AM

12:34:00 AM

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