Veteran Royal Navy Battleship Malaya at Sea World War Two

Battleships HMS Barham, HMS Malaya and aircraft carrier HMS Argus at sea circa 1935.  (US Navy Archive)

Both HMS Barham and HMS Malaya were Queen Elizabeth class battleships built during World War One. Neither received significant modification between the wars and were past their design life when World War Two came. They were both old and slow. HMS Barham was sunk in the Mediterranean while HMS Malaya spent much of the war escorting Allied troop convoys. Under specific instructions from the Admiralty, all troop convoys, many from America, had to be escorted by a battleship plus a heavy close escort force.

The Cunard liners, RMS Queen Elizabeth and RMS Queen Mary were exempt from this because of their speed. When accepted into service as troop transports, their designation was changed to HMT/S (His Majesty’s Transport ship)

HMS Malaya, in spite of not being reconstructed like several of her sisters including HMS Warspite, still performed yeoman service in the war. Her engines were not in great condition and she could not make more than 20 knots which limited her from staying with a battle fleet. In the Med, she often feel far behind HMS Warspite, flagship of C-in-C Mediterranean.

ON BOARD THE CRUISER HMS HERMIONE OPERATING WITH HMS MALAYA AND DESTROYERS OF FORCE H. 10 TO 13 FEBRUARY 1942, AT SEA IN THE ATLANTIC. (A 7493) HMS MALAYA at sea. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205141570

 

HMS MALAYA LEAVING NEW YORK HARBOUR AFTER REFITTING IN AMERICA UNDER FACILITIES AFFORDED BY THE US GOVERNMENT. (A 5435) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205139658

After being hit by a German torpedo in March of 1941, HMS Malaya spent four months in dry dock in New York being repaired. She was scrapped in 1948 after long and honourable service.

ON BOARD HMS MALAYA. OCTOBER 1941. (A 5692) Seamen replacing the guard rails after a Fairey Swordfish sea plane had been catapulted from the deck of HMS MALAYA. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205139902

 

Fairy Swordfish torpedo bombers were rugged planes in spite of their fragile look. A handful of them were made as amphibious planes and used for shot spotting during battle or reconnaissance. Once landed in the water, the plane would position itself so that its home ship only had to slow down but not stop to when a tow rope was thrown to the crew. They attached this to a special fitting and a crane lifted them out of the water.

ON BOARD HMS MALAYA. OCTOBER 1941. (A 5693) After a reconnaissance flight the Fairey Swordfish sea plane returns to HMS MALAYA and is hoisted in board. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205139903

 

ON BOARD HMS MALAYA. OCTOBER 1941. (A 5691) A Fairey Swordfish sea plane catapulted from the deck of HMS MALAYA. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205139901

 

ON BOARD HMS MALAYA. OCTOBER 1941. (A 5695) Sunday morning Divisions on board HMS MALAYA. The Captain, Captain C Coppinger, DSC, RN, inspecting a division on the quarterdeck. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205139904

Malay Emergency Instead of War So Insurers Will Pay

Headline from New York Times 16 August 1951

 

THE MALAYAN EMERGENCY 1948-1960 (BF 48) British 25 pounder field guns of the Royal Artillery in position outside a Malayan village during the Malayan Emergency. They are ready to give fire support if called for by the infantry. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205212425

 

The Communist insurgency and successful counter-insurgency by British, Commonwealth and Malaysian troops became known as the “Malayan Emergency,” or “Malay Emergency.”

Had the British government used the word “war” then Lloyds of London and other property insurers would have been able to avoid paying out damage claims on policies written on tin mines, rubber plantations, and manufacturing plants destroyed or damaged in war. Insurance policies written for property exclude from recompense damages caused by war and “Acts of God.” These are defined as natural catastrophes over which no human agency could exert control or caused. Tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, typhoons, tidal waves etc are “Acts of God” in the legal sense of the term.

Many policies also include exemptions from paying claims by civil unrest, riot and other events of mass violence. What constitutes such events area the kinds of things which keep lawyers busy.

 

THE MALAYAN EMERGENCY 1948-1960 (MAL 35) Men of the Malay Police Field Force wade along a river during a jungle patrol in the Temenggor area of northern Malaya. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205212413
“Don’t you think, sir, you should have an escort,” said a policeman to the British Adviser to the Sultan of Perak, then part of the British colony of Malaysia. A Communist insurgency had recently broken out and the Adviser had come to inspect a rubber plantation where several British estate managers had just been murdered by Communist thugs.
“Escort? Good God! Why on earth should I need an escort? I’ve got my walking stick and my wife.”

[Source: War of the Running Dogs: Malaya, 1948-1960 by Noel Barber, foreign correspondent of the London Daily Mail in the 1950s and 1960s who later became a bestselling novelist including several romance novvels the most famous of which was “A Farewell to France.”

 

THE MALAYAN EMERGENCY 1948 – 1960 (GOV 3828) Soldiers of 1st Battalion, Royal West Kent Regiment patrol in the jungle shortly after arriving in Malaya, c 1951. A patrol spreads out across the ‘lallang’ (tall grass) as they move into the jungle after leaving the shelter of their armoured vehicles. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205189572

The Communist insurgency in Malaya was heavily supported by the Communist Government of the People’s Republic of China. In spite of the immense difficulties involved in chasing down the Communist guerrillas and killing or capturing them in some of the most forbidding terrain in the world, this was the only successful anti-Communist campaign won by any of the Western powers in Asia that did not involved either outright defeat or a partition of the original nation.

 

THE MALAYAN EMERGENCY 1948-1960 (MAL 304) A soldier practicing stalking in the Malayan jungle in preperation for jungle patrols as part of the counter-insurgency campaign of the Malayan Emergency. He is using an air rifle and has a fencing mask to protect his face and eyes from pellets. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205212410

After the defeat of the Japanese, the British re-occupied Malaysia which had been a British crown colony before World War Two, that is, a colony ruled by a Governor appointed by the Crown as advised by the sitting Prime Minister. The British wanted the opportunity to re-open tin mines and rubber plantations because of their desperate need of foreign currency.

 

THE MALAYAN EMERGENCY 1948-1960 (MAL 157) British and Malay infantry being transported up river on an armed launch of the Malayan Naval Force during a sweep to locate communist guerillas hidden ain the jungle along the riverside. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205212404

 

The British were also determined to hand over a stable, democratic, free and independent nation to the native Malay officials and Parliament. It was a very long haul. This conflict began in 1948 and continued until the destruction of Communist forces in 1960.

Through the use of Malaysia soldiers and police, British and Commonwealth troops, and funds and supplies from the USA, the British succeeded and after they succeeded, they left. This was one of the few success stories of a country emerging intact from its days as a colony of the British Empire. Malaysia was and continues to be a multi-ethnic state because over the decades the British glued different pieces of territories into one colony. So it wasn’t as if one large piece of territory was just sitting there and they came along and snatched it.

 

THE MALAYAN EMERGENCY, 1948-1960 (MAL 2) A patrol of the Security Forces, possibly from either the Malayan Police Field Force or the Malayan Regiment, prepare to travel by raft down a river in the Temenggor area of northern Malaya. The local men accompanying the troops were employed as armed trackers, scouts, guides and boatmen. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205212411

The British Empire was built on trade and the suppression of ethnic violence. In many colonies the ethnic mix was such that these different groups had been warring with each other for endless amounts of time. The British usually imposed order by recruiting native police and military units under British command backed up by British troops and the Royal Navy. Hence, there was an unspoken social contract. The British ruled the colony and made money from it and in return provided order and stability so that native elites could also make money and maintain their traditional powers.

The British preferred to rule through native elites and these groups were often among their strongest supporters.

Malaysia was never a “settlement” colony such as Canada or Australia.  At its peak the white population before World War Two might have number 10,000 people. The brutally hot climate of Malaysia was such that few white Europeans wanted to go there for any length of time. It was a trading colony exporting raw sap from rubber trees as well as an immense amount of tin from mines that had been opened up. Because of this, Malaya earned large amounts of foreign currency, especially dollars for the British and this became more and more important as the twentieth century went on.

 

 

BRITISH FORCES IN THE MALAYAN EMERGENCY 1948-1960 (DM 138) Members of the Malay Regiment inspect equipment, supplies and documents captured in a raid on a communist terrorist jungle camp. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205127197

 

BRITISH FORCES IN THE MALAYAN EMERGENCY 1948-1960 (DM 179) Sergeant A J Foster of the Malayan Police sets up a trip-wire across a path on a rubber plantation known to be used by communist terrorists. When touched the wire would set off a flare to illuminate the surrounding area. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205127194

 

“In all the war I never received a more direct shock.”

The sinking of the HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales off Singapore by Japanese aircraft on 1o July 1941. Winston Churchill said in the all of the war he never received a greater shock.

 

 Admiralty_Arch,_London,_England_-_June_2009

Admiralty Arch in London, 2009

This magnificent photograph by David Iliff is a four segment exposure blended image of the Admiralty Arch in London England, as viewed from the Mall facing north-east.

 

The blame for the loss of the HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse to Japanese naval planes on 10 December 1941 can be laid directly at the feet of Vice-Admiral Tom Phillips. He was a protege of First Sea Lord Dudley Pound and had been jumped over a number of more competent admirals to become Vice Chief of the Naval Staff because Pound wanted him.

It is true that at the beginning, Churchill liked Phillips but that affection waned over the next months and Churchill came to actively dislike Phillips who many thought blunt and rude.

Subsequently it was Pound who informed Churchill that he had appointed Phillips as Admiral Commanding the force being sent to Malaysia. What makes this appointment by Pound so inexplicable and unfortunate, was Phillips had spent seven his years of previous eleven years spent in staff positions.

While Pound had only seen action once, as Captain of a battleship at Jutland, he had commanded many types of ships and squadrons as well as the Mediterranean Fleet. Phillips had never, not ever, been captain of a battleship and yet he was put in charge of one of the newest and most powerful battleships in the entire Royal Navy–HMS Prince of Wales. At the time of his appointment he had not commanded at sea during the war and had not been on the receiving end of German air attacks.

Many blame Churchill for this but the Prime Minister cannot be held accountable for the stupidity of men whom he had had every right to believe knew their trade. Neither Pound nor Phillips seemed to understand the threat posed to warships by aircraft even after the horrendous losses of and damage to British warships in the Norwegian Campaign April-June 1940.

Captain Stephen Roskill, an experienced and intelligent career officer, was serving on the Naval Staff when Phillips arrived as Vice-Chief.  That planes regularly sank warships and that the British system of AA gunnery was fatally flawed, something known before the war, was not something Roskill seemed to be able to get through to Phillips or the senior admirals in the navy.

Roskill had read all the reports from Norway and talked to many of the officers who were his contemporaries. After the war, Captain Roskill, RN, became the official historian of the Royal Navy. Despite his great capabilities Roskill suffered a fair amount of discrimination because he was Jewish. Anti-Semitism was alive and well in the Royal Navy to their discredit.

Writes Roskill,

“….the Norwegian campaign brought many new troubles, and heavy losses to the fleet; and it was then that the navy learnt the hard lesson that, so long as adequate air cover was lacking, control of coastal waters by warships in support of military operations was impossible….

….Rear Admiral Tom Phillips, the Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff, who had no first hand experience of the deadly effect of unopposed dive-bombers on warships, insisted that all the was needed to deal with them effectively was greater courage and resolution; and he took it very badly when told that such ideas were unjust to those officers who had the experience, and were in fact far from the truth.”

quoted from Churchill and the Admirals by Stephen Roskill
In a footnote to these paragraphs in the book cited above, Roskill, never a man to be rude, writes the following:
“I had a stormy interview with Phillips on this matter when I brought back to the Admiralty first-hand reports of the effect of bombing off Norway in April 1940. Phillips would not accept that it was suicidal to send warships to operate off an enemy-held coast without air cover.”
(Author’s emphasis)

For Roskill to write that he had a “stormy interview” means he must have gone right up to the line of insubordination with Philips whom he detested and made no secret of his feelings. In face, I get the impression that Roskill no doubt raised his voice to a level just below yelling. For a man of Roskill’s diplomatic abilities, disposition and exuisite manners, this must have been quite an argument but it shows how deeply Roskill felt.

The responsibility of the debacle of the sinking of the HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales is summed up best by Martin Middlebrook and Patrick Mahoney in: Battleship: the Loss of the Prince of Wales and the Repulse. Writing of Phillips they say,

“…the facts speak for themselves: two great ships and many good men were lost because one stubborn old sea-dog refused to acknowledge that he had been wrong.”

 

Sources:

Churchill and the Admirals by Stephen Roskill

Churchill’s Anchor–a biography of Admiral of the Fleet, Sir Dudley Pound

Alarm Starboard

Battleship my Middlebrooks

British Imperturbability in Malayan Emergency

 

“Don’t you think, sir, you should have an escort,” said a policeman to the British Adviser to the Sultan of Perak, then part of the British colony of Malaysia. A Communist insurgency had recently broken out and the Adviser had come to inspect a rubber plantation where several British estate managers had recently been murdered by Communist thugs.
“Escort? Good God! Why on earth should I need an escort? I’ve got my walking stick and my wife.”

[Source: War of the Running Dogs: Malaya, 1948-1960 by Noel Barber who later became a bestselling romance novelist.

 

The Communist insurgency and successful counter-insurgency by British, Commonwealth and Malaysian troops became known as the “Malayan Emergency.” Had the British government used the word “war” then Lloyds of London would have been able to wiggle out of paying out damage claims on policies written on mines and rubber plantations and manufacturing plants which were destroyed or damaged.

THE MALAYAN EMERGENCY 1948-1960 (MAL 35) Men of the Malay Police Field Force wade along a river during a jungle patrol in the Temenggor area of northern Malaya. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205212413
“Don’t you think, sir, you should have an escort,” said a policeman to the British Adviser to the Sultan of Perak, then part of the British colony of Malaysia. A Communist insurgency had recently broken out and the Adviser had come to inspect a rubber plantation where several British estate managers had just been murdered by Communist thugs.
“Escort? Good God! Why on earth should I need an escort? I’ve got my walking stick and my wife.”

[Source: War of the Running Dogs: Malaya, 1948-1960 by Noel Barber who later became a bestselling romance novelist.

THE MALAYAN EMERGENCY 1948 – 1960 (GOV 3828) Soldiers of 1st Battalion, Royal West Kent Regiment patrol in the jungle shortly after arriving in Malaya, c 1951. A patrol spreads out across the ‘lallang’ (tall grass) as they move into the jungle after leaving the shelter of their armoured vehicles. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205189572

 

BRITISH FORCES IN THE MALAYAN EMERGENCY 1948-1960 (DM 138) Members of the Malay Regiment inspect equipment, supplies and documents captured in a raid on a communist terrorist jungle camp. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205127197

 

BRITISH FORCES IN THE MALAYAN EMERGENCY 1948-1960 (DM 179) Sergeant A J Foster of the Malayan Police sets up a trip-wire across a path on a rubber plantation known to be used by communist terrorists. When touched the wire would set off a flare to illuminate the surrounding area. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205127194