Skip main navigation

The Far East – Malaya

During the Malayan Emergency the RAF developed tactics in helicopter warfare which were applied in later conflicts, particularly in Vietnam.

In this video we consider the following questions and comments:

  1. The Malayan Emergency occupied the RAF Far East Air Force from 1948 through to 1960. What was the influence of air power in fighting the counter-insurgency campaign?

  2. Although anti-communist, the Malayan Emergency was well away from the main Cold War deployment of the RAF. What equipment was used?

  3. One of the innovations in the conflict, however was the use of helicopters.

Ross and I looked to discuss these themes in the video; but please look to raise other points in the comments.

The Malayan Emergency

Ian Madelin’s discussion below emphasizes the long term roots of the ‘Malayan Emergency’, and essentially reflects on some of Ross’ comments in Week 1 as to how far back we need to go to find the origins of the Cold War. Predating the Korean War, this was Britain’s contribution to anti-communist conflict in South East Asia, and helps to explain why the RAF’s role in the Korean War was so limited – the ‘Malayan Emergency’ was occupying the RAF at the time.

Extract from Ian Madelin ‘The Origins of the Malayan Emergency’ in The Royal Air Force Historical Society Journal 21 (2000): 7-8.

Assessed against the background of wars and warfare in the twentieth century the Malayan Emergency would not be judged a major campaign. … [A]s a milestone in the flow of events, the Malayan Emergency is more important than it is remembered to be, and neither here nor in the region itself is the extent of its accomplishment and its historical significance fully appreciated. How did it start?
The real origins of what has come to be called the ‘Malayan Emergency’ go back to the foundation of the Malayan Communist Party in 1929 following the formation… of the Far East Bureau of the COMINTERN, the Soviet-backed organisation for the spread of communism world-wide. From the beginning, the Malayan Communist Party, the MCP, was a subversive organisation which aimed to overthrow the Malayan Administration and establish in its place a communist state. …
[I]n 1937, in China a truce was called between the Chinese Communist Party and the Kuomintang so as to present a united front against the Japanese. In the Chinese community in Malaya there was also a faction sympathetic to the Kuomintang. The MCP, expediently taking its cue from what had happened in China, and under the guise of patriotism, started to form anti-Japanese groups among people, both Malay and Chinese. In this way the Party increased its strength and broadened its base in the population so that by 1940 it had several thousand members and an experienced underground organisation.
When the Japanese invasion came in 1941 the Administration saw the advantages of creating an underground network of partisans which could act as a resistance movement against the Japanese, serving the Allied cause. … A hard-core cadre of about 200 [MCP members] withdrew into the jungle with British instructors and in the transition changed its name to the ‘Malayan Peoples Anti-Japanese Army’ (MPAJA). … The established organs of public administration did not yet exist and when British forces re-occupied the peninsula the MPAJA was kept in-being for a while to help re-establish some control during this period of uncertainty. The future political scene was unclear and against a background of strikes and disturbances the communist hard-core of the MPAJA undoubtedly hoped that the country would just drift into its hands. They would have been encouraged in this by noticing that Britain’s commitment to its Empire was declining, as evidenced by the intended withdrawals from India and Burma.
The MPAJA was officially disbanded in December 1945. Already though they had realised that a peaceful takeover was unlikely. … At first they concentrated on subversion by provoking strikes and infiltrating public organisations. By the beginning of 1948 it was plain that this was not getting them anywhere so they stepped up the campaign with a programme of intimidation, terrorism and sabotage. The scale of this insurrection reached such a level that in June 1948 the Federal Government invoked Emergency Powers and the military were called in to assist the Administration in restoring law and order. This event is looked on as the nominal start of the Emergency, though perhaps ‘Emergency’ is an understatement to describe a campaign which lasted twelve years and at its height occupied a quarter of a million men.
This article is from the free online

From World War to White Heat: the RAF in the Cold War

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now