The SAS – Malaya

Hearts and Minds – Malayan Conflict

The SAS survived the radical war time cuts, but greatly reduced in number, it was reconstituted as 21 SAS.

The outbreak of the Malayan trouble gave the SAS their first post war fight against communist terrorist. In June 1948 the Malayan Racist Liberation Army launched attacks against estate owners and Rubber plants.  However, their opponents were not only skilled jungle fighters, the SAS were fighting men they had helped to train during the Second World War, because of SAS training and their local knowledge the communist terrorists (CT’s) were able to launch a campaign of terror and intimidation at will before disappearing into the dense jungle.

After two years the British General there (Sir Harold Briggs) was having little affect against the terrorists and asked General Calvert to Malaya, Calvert set off into the jungle, alone but with a rifle to devise a plan to fight the terrorists, counter revolutionary warfare was born.  Calverts’ tactics were simple, win the hearts and minds of the local aborigines to deny the terrorist food and assistance whilst simultaneously hitting known enemy basses, the Briggs plan was about to unfold. To this end they built forts all over Malaya and resettled the aborigines in them, Calvert set up the Malayan Scouts consisting of SAS veterans, commandos and local troops, B squadron was set up from the reservists of 21 SAS.  By 1951 they had started to mount operations, by 1952 the combined units were renamed 22 SAS, their role was now to penetrate deep into the jungle and destroy enemy basses, the jungle itself was the hardest part.  A typical patrol would consist of four men, each one carrying over 70pnds of supplies and ammunition in his burgeon, armed with shotguns and brenguns, they could be out for months at a time because it could take a day to cover just five kilometres.

For deep jungle penetration parachuting was an obvious means of entry, for the SAS this learning curve was swift and lethal, the jungle canapé grew to up to seventy metres and releasing from the harness at that height proved lethal (well durr!!!) Tree jumping, pioneered by Johnny Cooper became the order of the day, men would jump carrying 30 metres of noted rope, they’d go through the loose foliage at the top and then would abseil themselves down from the tree tops.

The helicopter came of age in Malaya, with out it the campaign could not of succeeded, its main role was to infiltrate and extract teams to and from missions, it also re-supplied patrols and air lifted casualties. In November 1957 Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Deane-Drummond was given command of 22 SAS, hearts and minds had proven a stunning success, combined with RAF supply drops the local population was convinced that their future was with the Government and not the ruthless terrorists.  By 1958 the terrorist activity was a fraction of that in 1950, many CT leaders had been killed or captured and the war was effectively won.  In November 1958 seventy men of D squadron were lifted from the Malayan jungle to a completely new situation that was in every sense the other extreme.