Malayan Peoples' Anti-Japanese Army
The Malayan Peoples' Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA) was a resistance movement during Japanese-occupied Malaya during World War II. It originated among ethnic Chinese cadres of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP). Some units were trained by the British. The equipment and skills gained in guerrilla warfare against the Japanese served the MPAJA in good stead when it fought Commonwealth forces during the postwar Malayan Emergency (1948–1960).
Long before Malaya fell to Japan in 1942, many Chinese Malayans had been hostile to Japan, because of the Second Sino-Japanese War (which began in 1937). On 18 December 1941 shortly before the Fall of Singapore, the British and the MCP, formerly enemies, agreed to co-operate against the Japanese in Malaya. The British freed those MCP members they were holding in jail. They also gave some MCP members a crash course in guerilla warfare at 101 Special Training School (STS) in Singapore. These people then dispersed into the countryside to form an underground resistance force against the Japanese. Although small in number (about 165), they were one of the nuclei around which the MPAJA formed. The majority of the MPAJA's soldiers came from the general population in Malaya, which was wholly occupied by the Japanese after the fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942.
For various reasons, including the enmity of China and Japan in their recent history, and the racial policy pursued by the Japanese in Malaya (they were much harder on the Chinese than on the Malays), the membership of the MPAJA became predominantly Chinese, although there were significant numbers of ethnic Malays and Indians also. The MPAJA was closely related to the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), and was directed by the MCP, but the organisations were not identical and most MPAJA members were not Party members. The MPAJA was joined by isolated Allied personnel who had been left behind in the retreat, or had escaped prisoner of war camps.
Cheah (Boon Kheng) has characterised the MPAJA's struggle against the Japanese as having gone through three periods. From February 1942 until mid 1943 they "fared badly, lacking food, capable leadership, and sufficient training and experience in guerrilla warfare. Japanese terrorism prevented people of all races from helping the guerrillas. One-third of the guerrilla force was said to have died during this period."[this quote needs a citation] The second period lasted from mid 1943 until mid 1944. This period "saw the MPAJA improve its organisation, food supplies, communications system, and military training; consequently, it was said to have increased four times in size."[this quote needs a citation] The third period, from mid 1944 until the end of the war in August 1945, was one of both "consolidation" and continued growth. Also during this period the British were at last able to help the MPAJA by air-dropping them supplies.
After Singapore's fall, the MPAJA and the British in Southeast Asia had lost contact. The British attempted to reestablish communications by landing army agents in Malaya by submarine. The first party, consisting of Colonel John Davis and five Chinese agents from the irregular warfare organisation Force 136, landed on the Perak coast on 24 May 1943. Other groups followed, the last on 12 September 1943. On 1 January 1944, MPAJA leaders arrived at the Force 136 camp and entered into discussions with the Force 136 officers. "It was agreed that in return for arms, money, training, and supplies the MPAJA would cooperate and accept the British Army's orders during the war with Japan..." However, Force 136 was unable to keep several pre-planned rendezvous with its submarines, and had lost its wireless sets; the result was that Allied command did not hear of the agreement until 1 February 1945, and it was only during the last months of the war that the British were able to supply the MPAJA by air.
The MPAJA benefited from the collapse of the Malayan economy due to the Western campaign against Japanese shipping. This cut off Malaya's tin and rubber exports to Japan. The Japanese had already cut off exports to the West. It also caused hunger in traditionally rice-importing regions of Malaya. Many ethnic Chinese, faced with hunger as well as Japanese discrimination which on some occasions went as far as massacre, moved into the jungle and cleared land to grow food. They formed a large pool of undocumented people who could be persuaded or intimidated into supporting the MPAJA. The MPAJA initially based themselves in the jungle within reach of ethnic Chinese or Malay communities, who provided them with food and recruits. However, the Japanese countered this by engaging in reprisals against the villagers, usually by burning down the village. As a result, the MPAJA retreated into the foothills of the central mountains. According to Cheah, "Many Chinese farmers followed them and cleared large fields where they planted vegetables, sweet potatoes, and tapioca to feed themselves and the guerrillas."
Cheah, in his assessment of the military results of the MPAJA insurgency, says that "British accounts have reported that the guerrillas carried out a number of military engagements against Japanese installations. The MPAJA's own account claims its guerrillas undertook 340 individual operations against the Japanese during the occupation, of which 230 were considered "major" efforts -- "major" meaning involving an entire regiment."[this quote needs a citation] The MPAJA claimed to have eliminated 5,500 Japanese troops while losing 1,000 themselves. The Japanese claimed that their losses (killed and wounded) were 600 of their own troops and 2000 local police, and that the MPAJA losses were 2,900. Cheah believes that the Japanese report is probably more reliable, although only approximate. A previous version of this article characterises the MPAJA campaign as a "low-level insurgency against the Japanese."
The MPAJA engaged in reprisals against members of the local population who collaborated with the Japanese. Because of Japanese policy, these tended to be ethnic Malays, many of whom the Japanese employed as policemen. Although the MCP and MPAJA consistently espoused non-racial policies, the fact that their members came predominantly from the Chinese community caused their reprisals against Malays who had collaborated to be a source of racial tension. They have been criticised for this and also for occasionally wasting time attacking the Kuomintang instead of the Japanese.
- Bayly, Christopher Alan and Harper, Timothy Norman, Forgotten armies: the fall of British Asia, 1941-1945, London: Allen Lane, 2004. ISBN 0-7139-9463-0
- Chapman, F. Spencer, The Jungle is Neutral, Corgi Books: London, 1957
- Chin Peng, My Side of History, as told to Ian Ward and Norma Miraflor, Singapore: Media Masters, 2003. ISBN 981-04-8693-6
- Chin,C.C. and Karl Hack, "Dialogue with Chin Peng --- New Light on Malayan Communist Party",
- Singapore University Press: Singapore, 2004
- Tan Chong Tee, Force 136, Story of a WWII resistance fighter, Asiapac Publications, Singapore 1995, ISBN 981-3029-90-0
- Cheah Boon Kheng, Red Star Over Malaya, 1983, Singapore.
- T. N. Harper, The end of empire and the making of Malaya, 1999, Cambridge.
- Cheah, pp. 58-59
- Cheah, pp. 59,60.
- Cheah, p.60
- Cheah, p.73
- Cheah, p.65
- Cheah, p.64