The Malayan Emergency was an ideological armed conflict which was fought between a communist insurgent army of Malaya and the Commonwealth armed forces, from 1948 to 1960. The guerrilla army which started the war against the colonial government was the Malayan Communist Party’s military arm, which was called Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA).
The Malayan Emergency was the colonial government’s term to refer to the conflict. The insurgent army called it the Anti-British National Liberation War. The rubber plantations and tin mining industries convinced the government to use the word "emergency" instead of "war" since their losses would not have been covered by Lloyd’s insurers if it had been called a "war." Although the communists had been defeated by 1960, communist leader Chin Peng renewed the war seven years later. That new war would last until 1989, and became known as the Communist Insurgency War. Despite the fact that Australian and British armed forces had fully withdrawn from Malaysia years earlier, the insurgency was again defeated by the Malaysian government.
Background to the Malayan Emergency
After World War II the Malayan economy lay in shambles as major social problems broke out, such as unemployment, low wages, scarce food, and high inflation. These economic problems caused social malaise and considerable labor unrest. From 1946 to 1948, a large number of strikes took place in Malaya. The British administration tried to mend Malaya’s economy quickly, as revenue from Malaya’s tin and rubber industries was important to Britain’s own post-war recovery. In order to deal with the protesters who rioted and caused problems, the colonial government passed several measures which included arrests and deportations. As a result, protesters became increasingly ideological militant and biased to the extreme left.
Summary of the Malayan Emergency War
The Malayan Emergency War broke out on June 16, 1948, when three European plantation managers were killed at Sungai Siput, Perak, by the Malayan National Liberation Army. It was the first overt act of war. To counteract the insurgent attacks, the British Army’s Director of Operations in Malaya, Harold Briggs, developed an overall multi-faceted strategy called the Briggs Plan. One aspect of it was the forced relocation of some 500,000 rural Malayans from squatter communities on the fringes of the forests into guarded camps known as New Villages. These villages were newly constructed in most cases, and were surrounded by barbed wire, police posts and floodlit areas, the purpose of which was both to keep the inhabitants in and the guerrillas out, cutting off the insurgents from their supporters amongst the population. Although People resented it at first, the majority 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 begining of the Malayan Emergency conflict, the British deployed 13 infantry battalions in Malaya: 7 Gurkha battalions, 3 British battalions, two battalions of the Royal Malay Regiment and a British Royal Artillery Regiment, which was used as infantry. Nevertheless, this force was too small to effectively fight the communist terrorists, and more infantry battalions were needed in Malaya. So, the British brought in more units, such as the Royal Marines, three battalions from Royal Australian Regiment, and a Special Air Service unit. The Australians would become extremely skillfull in this counter-insurgency war. Along with the SAS, they became the British lethal weapons in the jungle guerrilla war against the Malayan National Liberation Army. Operating deep in the jungle behind the enemy lines, the Australians and SAS wreaked havoc on the enemy.
By 1960, after twelve long years of savage fighting, the National Liberation Army had been defeated and the commander of the leftist guerrilla army, Chin Peng, had left the country for Beijing where he was given political asylum by the Chinese authorities in the International Liaison Bureau, where many other Southeast Asian Communist Party leaders were housed. With the independence of Malaya under Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman on August 31, 1957, the communist insurrection had 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.
Malayan Emergency Documentary