The RAF and Counter Insurgency


At the end of WWII RAF forces in the Malayan peninsular during the communist insurgency consisted of two squadrons of Beau fighters, two squadrons of Spitfires, three squadrons of Dakotas, one squadron of PR Mosquitoes, three squadrons of Sunderland flying boats, and a flight of AOP Auster aircraft. Between the 1949-56 period the majority of aircraft were four engine Lincolns , twin engine Hornet and single engine Tempests and Spitfires, all but for the Lincoln dating to WWII, the Lincoln a derivative of the Avro Lancaster bomber coming into service just after the war.

The insurgency had been created out of the anti Japanese force set up by the British during their 'stay behind period' in Asia during the Second World War. The retreating British forces left a remnant force to continue the war behind Japanese lines using locally recruited guerrillas. At wars end these forces not only refused to disband but demanded to be given authority in the Malay peninsular as they reasoned that they, the Communist Chinese, had been responsible for the defeat of the Japanese .Their demands were refused and they slid into the jungle to set up an anti British guerrilla army led by their leader Chin Peng.Terror tactics were used upon the local population. Grenades hurled into crowds, attacks upon isolated rubber plantations and tin mines, the hijacking of cars upon lonely jungle roads far from intimidating the local population or the British civilians in fact served to stiffen their will to resist. British army units from the UK arrived in the form of the Guards Regiments plus Army Sergeants who had been serving in Palestine: which at the time was a hot bed of terrorism.

In the early stages it had been decided to attack CT (Communist Terrorist) camps in northern Perak on the west coast where they had been harassing, intimidating, and extorting the locals. Operation FIREDOG began with a photo reconnaissance operation by Spitfires stationed at Taiping , a photo interpretation unit also situated at the same base. It was necessary to fly below 15000 feet in order to get the 1:10,000 resolution photographs required so great care had to be taken so as not to alert CT units in the area. A large concentration of �basha� huts was discovered. These were huts made of straw and other materials found in the jungle which were easily destroyed by strike aircraft ,the roads leading into the camps patrolled by Beau fighters and Spitfires in order to prevent any attacks upon convoys going to the area. A cordon was thrown around the area the troops re-supplied by DC3 Dakota airdrops. After the camp was demolished the CT's fled into the surrounding jungle. From this time onwards they kept their camps small moving at the first hint of discovery. In the first six months more than 60,000 lbs of bombs were dropped. In July of '49 a large strike by 26 Beau fighters and Spitfires hit Johore in the south driving the CT's from Pahang province into Perak province in the northern border region thus allowing for the release of troops from static positions, the guard duties etc now handed over to the police. For the course of the emergency the situation remained this way. Only rarely did the CT's venture into the south where they had originally been so bold as to even attack police stations in Singapore.

In 1950 Lieutenant General Biggs had introduced what was to become known as the 'Biggs plan', an effort to not only to destroy CT units, but also to prevent them from reforming.He had commanded the 5th Indian Division in Burma from 1942 to 1945 aquiring much experience of Jungle Warfare. His plan to clear the country from south to north in a methodical manner cutting the MRLA(Malayan Races Liberation Army) off from its supporters and to force the insurgent fighters into the open. The main features of the plan were close civil administration, police and military co-ordination at all levels, and resettlement of Chinese squatters. The army was to clear the area initially and then hand them over to the police. There was also to be some re grouping of mine and rubber estate labour. Biggs implemented his plan on 1st June, 1950. Each of the resettlement of Squatters would establish a heavily guarded, well protected New Village. Each village guarded by a force of Special Constables until they were able to form their own Home Guard. There was a Reinforcement of the Lincoln bombers and Tempest fighters from RAAF squadrons fielding this type .In December of '51 Operation JACKPOT was launched against the 2nd MRLA consisting roughly 250 fighters in areas of northern Negri Sembilan.Aircraft attacked forces in areas where infantry ,due to the in hospitability of the terrain ,were unable to operate .Sorties were flown by Lincoln bombers backed up by 32 Bristol Brigand sorties , 26 Spitfire, 17 Tempest,1 Sunderland�s and 3 Dakota sorties ,the latter acting as tactical HQ.They succeeded in driving the gang out of the jungle and into a rubber estate were men of the 1st Suffolk Regiment killed 29 of them , captured 10, and took the surrender of 5.Casualties however are not the only indication of success. Police reports indicated that later on as a direct result of the air attack ,32 CT's surrendered and 12 more were captured.

The CT's now withdrew deep in to the jungle leaving behind killer squads, the designation MCA now changed to the more inclusive MRLA(Malayan Races Liberation Army) in order to bring in all of the population and not only the Chinese . In June of 1951 they mounted an all out effort killing 606 civilians and 11 men of the West Kent Regiment, the years tally coming to 505 civilian and security forces killed for a total of 1,025 CT's also killed. This represented the highest point of the CT's effort the combined casualties for the security forces and civilian population steadily declining to an average of 32 a month killed and wounded.

Key to the effort was the finding of CT targets which was exceedingly difficult in the 200-foot high jungle. The SAS (Special Air Service) had just perfected the system of jumping onto the jungle canopy from a great and height and distance and then rappelling down to the ground. When contact was made with the CT's a position was radioed in and then colored panels were dropped from a pathfinder aircraft a distance away from the target so as to keep it unawares of the coming attack and giving the bombers a reference point to the target. Sometimes a smoke marker was used. One method found to be highly effective was the placing of flares at a measured distance from the target on a time delay allowing the party setting the flares time to escape. On a moon-lit night Lincoln's would form a five aircraft Vic formation dropping a pattern of explosives having loud detonation and visual effect, instantaneous and timed, the purpose being to panic rather than to cause casualties. On a dark night when no moon was visible a V pattern of three aircraft was used instead so as to avoid mid air collisions. It was found that to be effective it was necessary to stay over the target for at least three hours or more .While the bombing was going on twin engine Hornets and single engine Spitfires would attack road junctions and river crossing forcing the CT's ever deeper into the jungle. These measures were so effective that the MRLA was pushed deeper into the jungle. By September 1953 the government under General Templar was able to declare the first White Area, in which all Emergency restrictions were lifted.

One of the most important aircraft to the war effort was the Douglas Dakota of Indian WWII fame which by crossing the 'hump' from India re-supplied General Wavels forces in Burma. Later on twin engine Vickers Valletta transport aircraft (sometimes named 'pigs' because of their rolling motion)of RAF Transport Command played an increasingly important role. The RAF in coordination with the RASC (Royal Army Service Corps)air dispatch units who manned the aircraft alongside the RAF aircrew ,built up great expertise air dropping supplies to troops in the jungle. If not for these aircraft the CT's would have been able to stay immune from attack by the security forces staying outside the 5-10 mile jungle fringe, the limit of infantry relying upon its own supplies , travel in jungle but a few miles a day.

At the beginning of the emergency there were only 17 airfields in the entire peninsular . Eventually smaller strips were built allowing for the flying of lighter aircraft of the STOL (Short Take Off and Landing)type able to operate from short unprepared strips consisting in the main of the Scottish Aviation Twin and Single Pioneer aircraft. An invaluable contributor was the two seat high winged canvas covered Auster AOP(Air Observation Post)aircraft flown by the army and maintained by the RAF.These were the scourge of the CT's who upon hearing their drone would realize that they had been, or were in danger of being ,spotted and were now hunted prey. The single squadron of 22 aircraft was divided in to independent flights which were placed as the situation required in any part of the country.

By the end of 1955 the MRLA was reduced to 3000 fighting personnel. Over 14 000 square miles of Malaya were declared White. In the same year the RAF dropped an average of 15 million leaflets per month; over 170 crop-spraying missions were flown; and over 87 hours were spent on voice flight. In addition, the RAF flew some 750 bomber sorties and undertook 950 ground attacks. Seventy per cent of surrendered enemy personnel had been influenced by the voice flights.

The RAF first used 500lb bombs, but later found that 20lb pressure-fused, fragmentation bombs and 27lb cluster bombs were more effective. 60lb aerial rockets were used, as were Griffin (napalm) bombs, though the latter were found to have extremely limited effect in damp jungle.

In 1957 7,500 CT's were eliminated allowing for the setting up of the first 'white area� where emergency regulations were lifted allowing for a semblance of normality .At this time the Canberra jet bomber was introduced which was a failure regarding jungle bombing as its short loiter time over the target negated the psychological factor. It had been found that key to the war on the CT's was the psychological factor ,the prolonged bombing accompanied by visual and sound effects. The raids upon the communist hideouts could only be undertaken with any measure of success using slow flying ,long endurance aircraft. This now became a moot point as the CT'S had scattered sticking close to the Thai border where they were chased by the security forces northwards and then by the Thai's south again in a never ending yo yo motion. Although the war officially came to an end in 1959 the units of the CT's managed to hold out for decades leading a squalid in life in stinking encampments. In 1984 chin Peng the leader of the insurgency was finally captured and sentenced to life of incarceration in which he was required to undergo a period of re-education

The emergency had lasted for eleven years and tied up at one time nearly 90,000 British ,Commonwealth and Malaysian(as they were later to be called)troops. The RAF and the Army, allied with the police ,Malay and British, put a crimp upon the post war communist expansion in to South East Asia.

The war in Malaya occurred at an opportune time for the British as the state of technological weaponry was in their favour. If the SAM has been invented at the time could Britain have defeated a communistic army virtually immune from air attack as the CT�s could have had SAM�s sites dotted all around the country. It seems that there is a window of opportunity regarding the timing of small wars. Does the enemy have access to sophisticated weaponry or can it acquire such weapons? Does the opposing force have a heavy commitment to sophisticated weaponry and so be more of a mindset of needing a similar enemy rather than to rethink its entire military strategy? It seems that with the end of the cold war the need for conventional army has ended. Are we now entering an age similar to that of the nineteenth century where British Flying columns moved on horse back to trouble spots ahead of the slower moving field force.

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