Return to home page

The Malayan Emergency,



A mortar firing at night during the
Malayan Emergency

The background to the conflict

The Malayan Emergency had its roots in colonial insurgency, but then also became a fight against communism. With India leading the way the British colonies began to call for independence but in Malaya the process was not a smooth transition. During World War II the British and American government supported the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) as they provided the only organised resistance against the Japanese. This, however, trained the MCP in guerrilla tactics and led to the hero worship by the Malayan people. The end of the war was accompanied by calls for independence, by 1947 some were campaigning for the establishment of the Federation of Malaya. It was during this campaign that the MCP turned against the British. To the MCP, the British agreement to the Federation of Malaya signalled that the British wanted to control the independence process and to prevent the establishment of a communist government in Malaya. It was also believed that an armed revolt by the MCP would ensure a communist government.

The conflict

The uprising began in June 1948 with the murder of three British rubber-planters, it soon evolved into a  continuous terror campaign, which saw the murdering, butchering, torturing and terrorising of British and native inhabitants. The infrastructure was also sabotaged and a general air of civil unrest grew. The terrorist forces, numbering about 10,000, were mainly based in the jungle but were supported by a vast network of Chinese spies living in local villages. The first action taken by the British was a holding operation to keep the terrorists continually on the move, whilst also relocating whole villages to safe areas in order to stop the flow of food and information to the terrorists.

The Somerset Light Infantry did not join the conflict until November 1952. Their first action was a session of intense jungle training, where the term 'shoot to kill' had to be learnt, along with how to fight, live and survive in the jungle. The regiment's first operation began in early 1953, which saw them trying to clear a jungle swamp south-west of Kuala Lumpur. Although the operation was successful, most time in Malaya was spent on jungle patrol, looking for elusive terrorists who often had prior knowledge of patrols and soon vanished into the jungle.  

After the successful completion of operations in the swamp the regiment's attention was turned to hills that lay to the east of Kuala Lumpar. The operation aimed to cut food supplies to the terrorists. In October 1954 the regiment became responsible for the State of Selangor, before moving to the State of Pahang in December.

In September 1955, a major change occurred in the attitude to the terrorists; the Malayan government declared an amnesty, which meant that captures and surrenders became more important than kills. It was soon after this amnesty that the 1st battalion was relieved of duty by the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment. The battalion's success had varied during their stay in Malaya, in total they killed 54 bandits and captured seven, they also achieved the emptying of the North Swamp and Pahang of terrorists.

Return to timeline

'A' company crossing a river whilst on jungle patrol