War in the Post-War World

Tours: The Emergency & Malaysian War with Indonesia

With the end of the war in Asia and the formal Japanese surrender in Singapore on August 15, 1945 it appeared that peace had come to the region. However ethnic Chinese with Communist sympathies who had formed part of the resistance forces in Malaya now saw the opportunity to seize power.

This long counter-insurgency campaign fought between 1948 and 1960 by British and Commonwealth forces against the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA) the military arm of the Malayan Communist Party was called an “Emergency” since the use of the word “war” would have voided insurance cover and for damage done to the valuable tin and rubber industry of the country.

The MNLA planned to oust the British colonial administration and establish a Communist government and looked to the defeat of the Nationalist Chinese in China and the French in Indo-China (Vietnam) by the Communists as their model and inspiration. They initially targeted the tin and rubber industry as well as the transport infrastructure to demonstrate the incompetence of the British administration and to show that Malaya was ungovernable.

The Emergency saw 1,346 Malayan troops and policemen and 519 British troops killed in action and  nearly two and a half thousand wounded. The MNLA, which at its maximum strength numbered 8,000 with about 40,000 supporters, suffered 7,710 killed, 1,289 wounded and 1,287 captured. They had been hunted, ambushed, corralled and killed by 250,000 Malayan Home Guard, 40,000 British and Commonwealth troops, 37,000 Special Constables and 24,000 Federation Police.

The MNLA were finally defeated by a variety of weapons - military, diplomatic and psychological and the Emergency remains the iconic example of fighting and winning a counter insurgency campaign. The Emergency dragged on to 1960 and then, as in 1945 there was a hope that peace had come to the young Malaysian Federation, but it was not to be.

In 1962 in Indonesia the rabble rousing national leader Achmad Sukarno saw the Federation  as both a threat to his territorial ambitions and an opportunity to further these ambitions by destabilising and destroying it.  For four years he would send raiding parties across the border from  Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo into the Malaysian sates of Sarawak and Sabah and later launch airborne infiltration raids on the Malayan peninsula.

The conflict became known the Confrontation from Konfrontasi a word used by the Indonesian Foreign Minister Dr Subandrio to describe the p[osture that Indonesia had adopted.  Britain a country that was withdrawing from its last colonial responsibilities  had limited military resources with which to assist Malaysia with which it had treaty  obligations but this meant that unlike the Vietnam War that was to follow the Confrontation never escalated out of control.

Low level patrolling, raids and ambushes kept Indonesian raiders at bay and later top secret cross border operations took the war to Indonesia with attacks on military camps.  The cost in lives and money eventually became too high for the Djakarta government and Sukarno was ousted in a military coup.  In March 1966 the war ended  following discreet negotiations by both sides.

Now Malaysia was set on course to grow, prosper and become a powerful force for good in the region.      



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