Towards Systematic Bombing: The Royal Flying Corps and Experience on the Western Front, 1915

Defence-In-Depth

In a recent post, Dr Nick Lloyd described 1915 as the ‘forgotten year‘ of the First World War. To correct this, in occasional posts throughout 2015 members of the First World War Research Group based in the Defence Studies Department will examine unknown or forgotten aspects of the war during 1915.

by Dr IAN GOODERSON

‘Considerable experience has now been gained in the methods of carrying out bombing attacks’ noted a report produced by Headquarters, Royal Flying Corps (RFC), in December 1915, but it also acknowledged that the experience was ‘insufficient to lay down any hard and fast rules as to the system to be adopted, and probably it is undesirable to do so.’ The purpose of the report was twofold; to disseminate the experience of bombing so far gained, but also to obtain from the wings and squadrons ‘suggestions which may be of assistance in shaping…

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The Royal Navy and the Gallipoli Land Campaign

Someone should rewrite Gallipoli as an example of 19th century meets 20th.

War and Security

Allied troops landed on the Gallipoli peninsula on 25 April 1915, two days later than originally planned because of bad weather.

All the troops, equipment and supplies had to be brought, and wounded evacuated, by sea. Warships provided fire support. Submarines raided Ottoman ships bringing reinforcements and supplies. The small Allied air force came from the Royal Naval Air Service. There was even a naval contribution to the land campaign: the Royal Naval Division.

In 1914 the RN found that it had more reservists than it needed to man its ships. It therefore formed the extra men and some Royal Marines into an infantry division. Some men also volunteered directly for the RND.

The RND was landed at Dunkirk on 20 September 1914 in order to help defend Antwerp. Some of its troops managed to return from Antwerp to the UK, arriving on 11 October; others were forced to…

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The Malay Emergency 1948-1960: An Assessment

The Cold War skirmish on the Malay Peninsula just after WWII has been said to have been a “post-colonial, nationalist struggle,” but there is evidence that it was somewhat more, and less, than that.  It was one of the first long-term modestly successful counterinsurgencies by Britain since the Act of Union in 1804, and used successful techniques known as “hearts and minds” to win popular support away from the insurgents.  However, there were several motives behind the conflict in the first place that went beyond the many post-1945 Third World struggles of  at nation building:  it was an extension of the generations-long Chinese civil conflict that ended a most important phase in 1949.  The Chinese communist-led Malay uprising pitted the Maoists and other crypto-Marxists against all those who would get in their way.

All insurgencies start from some grievance somewhere, so it is instructive to look at the situation in Malaya before the “emergency” was declared. Before 1941 the ground was ripe for rebellion, and some stirrings of rebellion.  European contact with the peninsula began with the first Portuguese contact in 1511.  By the end of the 18th Century the British East India Company gained control as a counterweight against the growing Dutch presence in the East Indies, and to prevent revolutionary France from exploiting the feuding sultanates that controlled the strategically vital Straits of Malacca.  The British found their new sources of latex and tin ores to be lucrative, and settled in for a stay by 1867.

The Malays apparently had little control over their own destiny.  While the colonial administration and the plantation and mine workers enjoyed a very high standard of living, most of the native workers were edging poverty.  By 1895 the last sultan of a major Malay state was no more than a figurehead, and the largest and most populous states accepted confederation status with Britain.  And just in time, because the British situation in the area was becoming desperate.  The lavish and powerful naval base at Singapore, built as an anchor against the growing German presence in the East Indies before WWI, was immune to seaward invasion but vulnerable to landward attack.  Worse, the British Army garrison troops were forbidden to train in the jungle-covered peninsula because it was so disease and hazard-infested for European troops.

By the end of the 1914-18 war European influence was restricted to Britain and the Netherlands, but China was beginning to affect events in the region.  Seeking external sources of support, both KMT and communist agents had infiltrated the large Chinese refugee population working in Malaya and Singapore.  The Malayan Communist Party (MCP) was founded in 1920 by Maoists of the Nan Yang, also known as the South Seas Communist Party, a fairly obscure study-group-style movement with little power, and little heard of until the 1930s.  Both the KMT government and the Chinese communists encouraged various anti-colonial movements in the East Indies and Indochina, even while they were at each other’s throats.

When war with Germany began in 1939 the flow of German arms to China (the KMT government was Germany’s biggest overseas customer) came to an end, and with it the trickle of support to the Malay nationalist movements.  The two Chinese factions joined forces when Japan invaded China, but their influence was beginning to wane as Japanese agents fomented the ideals of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere in 1940, and soon the Chinese were again at odds with each other in Malaya.

The Japanese invasion of Malaya in 1941 triggered open civil war between the factions, but the communists were getting help.  The MCP formed a front group called the Anti-Enemy Backing-Up Society (AEBUS) that received arms and training from the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS).  In 1942 the MCP also formed the Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Union and Forces (MPAJUF) that, with the AEBUS, fought the Japanese at the far end of a very long logistical tether.  With practically no supplies coming in the disparate groups did considerable damage to Japanese efforts, but Japan had no trouble recruiting sizable security forces from among the Malays.

In August 1942 the MCP leadership was arrested by Japanese authorities and large numbers executed, but Leninist party Secretary Lai Peck and his Stalinist assistant Chen Ping survived.   While the nationalist insurgency continued in a dispersed fashion, the communist effort was centrally and tightly controlled, not risking cadres in combat but exposing them occasionally to safer raids.  The MCP guerrillas also spent a great deal of resources in killing informers and reeducating recalcitrants who deviated from the party line.  When Japan surrendered and the SOE supplies ended, the MCP had some 7,000 highly trained and disciplined cadres.  Soon after the British returned to Malaya Lai Peck disappeared with the MCP treasury, and Chen Ping was left in the vacuum.

Taking advantage of the administrative confusion after the war, the MCP organized labor strikes and guerrilla raids to coordinate with the 100th anniversary of the 1848 revolutions that so inspired Marx and Engels.  They also introduced an organization called Min Yuen; a peacetime version of the Anti-Japanese Union, as a political front to coordinate a shadow government. The British reaction to the violence began with a conventional military response of large units in sweeps through unfamiliar territory that had practically no effect other than to embolden the guerrillas.  After ineffectively bungling up through 1950, the Korean conflict brought new prosperity to Malaya, and new attention to the insurgency as a communist Chinese effort to destabilize Asia.  While Chen Ping apparently wanted to liberate Malaya, there’s no evidence that Mao had a mind for a presence in the Straits of Malacca.

But no matter, because a distinct change in strategy was yielding results by late 1951.  While population control measures such as food rationing and strict curfews were imposed on the villages that supplied the guerrillas, the army turned to more auxiliaries, intelligence-gathering, police and small-unit operations that began to yield results by the end of 1951.  By 1953 MCP recruiting was less than half what it had been in 1950, and guerrilla casualties to starvation began to outnumber those to combat.   Local elections were held in 1955, when the combat phase of the British operation was at an end; a national government was in place by 1957; the consolidation of government control was complete by 1960.

Chen Ping, however, wasn’t done.  He and a few hundred of his followers retreated to the Malay-Thai border and operated an insurgency from there at least until the mid 1970s, concentrating his efforts on the 40% of Malaya’s ethnic Chinese population.  He was never captured, and the MCP still raids into Johore, mostly attacking the economic infrastructure of Malaysia.

While ultimately successful in keeping a communist-dominated group from controlling the Straits of Malacca, the British counterinsurgency was a mechanistic one that failed to address the root of the problem: discord among the ethnic Chinese and the refugees from the Chinese mainland that was about 40% of Malaya’s population, and that still boils over today.  While the MCP is a legal organization in modern Malaysia, its renegade counterpart is pirate band in the Straights, responsible for billions in shipping losses and a twenty-fold increase in insurance rates in forty years.  It boasts of control of large parts of the most rugged country close to Thailand, but exercises it only occasionally.  While the decentralized counterinsurgency approach the British used  to stabilize the country were effective, the problem of the large ethnic Chinese population remains..  Modern Malaysia may have to deal with a wider problem again soon.

Sources

Asprey, Robert, War in the Shadows: The Guerrilla in History, Volumes 1 and 2.  New York: Doubleday and Company, 1975.

Black, Jeremy, War Since 1945.  New York: Reaktion Books, 2006

Carver, Michael, War Since 1945.  New York: Prometheus Books, 1990

Kensington, Roger LTC (Ret) Special Air Service, British Army (Maintenance supervisor, MinePro Services Malaysia (a division of P&H Mining Equipment), personal interview with the author, July 2010.

Marston, Daniel, and Carter Malcasian (eds), Counterinsurgency in Modern Warfare.  Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2008.

Pye, Lucian W., Guerrilla Communism and Malaya–Its Social and Political Meaning.  Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1956.

Empire at Twilight: The Struggle for Rhodesia, 1962-1980

While I struggle through my latest healh crisis, indulge me…

If ever there were an example of failure snatched out of the jaws of success,the struggle over the future of Rhodesia would be the model to emulate. The British government managed, by simply refusing to look for corruption and intimidation, to destroy the sacrifice of a generation of white Africans in favor of the appeasement of the oil sheikdoms of the Persian Gulf.

Rhodesia was always an odd duck.  Though self-governing as a state after 1965 she was not sovereign, and those of European extraction who lived there were not considered “African” by the natives: even Daniel Marston in Counterinsurgency in Modern Warfare refers to non-black Rhodesians as some undefinable “others,” while the insurgents were deemed “Africans” because of their skin color.  This is akin to claiming that the whites of 1888 living in the Australian colonies were not really Australians, but Europeans who just were born and spent their entire lives on the other side of the world.

The Chimurenga in Rhodesia–depending on dialect translates into either “insurrection,” “armed struggle” or “revolution”–began when the black nationalists refused to participate in a gradual transfer of power from the predominantly white government in 1962.  Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU was the first of several organizations that began a long campaign of violence, intimidation and propaganda.  Backed by the Soviets, the campaign was fought not just against the white-dominated government, but also against other, rival black nationalist organizations.

The Rhodesian government declared independence from Britain in 1965, but this was recognized by few.  Britain had its hands full elsewhere a the time, and had let Rhodesia govern itself for some time, and for this reason the declaration had little real function.  The Rhodesian army was small, the air force not much larger, but the police and auxiliaries were sizable.  Led by an effective cooperation that bordered on the breathtaking, the Rhodesian government successfully campaigned for nearly two decades, adapting their technological and organizational prowess to hold back the growing number of sophisticated organizations set on dislodging the government.

But the Rhodesian whites always knew that this was a war they were not going to win.  There were too few active supporters of the white government and too many passive supporters of the rebels.  Sophistication vs. numbers was ultimately a losing game.  Through the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s while the Americans were preoccupied by Vietnam and its aftermath and Britain was absorbed with Malaya, Aden and economic challenges at home, the Soviets and Chinese made inroads into the African National Congress (ANC) and all its offshoots.  South Africa and Mozambique were allies with the Rhodesian government but had their own problems with violent groups vying for power.

Ultimately Rhodesia was the victim of simple mathematics.  By 1979 blacks held a legal franchise, and in 1979 duly elected a black African to power, but it was the wrong black African.  Britain, under pressure by the Arab states that controlled the supply of petroleum, denounced the election results and demanded another.  The next election was only locally monitored, and the “right” candidate won.  The insurgents took charge and promptly destroyed the country by essentially disenfranchising white landowners, who fled in droves or waited to be murdered.

Lessons in Writing from a Master: Col John E. Greenwood, USMC (Ret.)

Writing is easy: Just sit at a keyboard and open a vein.

Defence-In-Depth

by Dr ROBERT T. FOLEY

I recently learned that my old friend and mentor, Col. John E. Greenwood, USMC (Ret.) has passed away. I first met Col Greenwood while editing the Marine Corps Gazette. After a distinguished career 30-year career in the Marine Corps, including numerous combat tours in Korea and Vietnam, Col Greenwood edited the Gazette for a further 20 years. Under his stewardship, the Gazette reclaimed its place as a forum for the exchange of professional knowledge on all matters relating to the US Marine Corps specifically and modern warfare more generally. Long before there was a Military Writers Guild, Col Greenwood played a key role in encouraging younger authors, from both inside and outside the Marine Corps, to publish their ideas. He gave unstintingly of his time and his experience to help authors develop their ideas and their writing skills, and this helped create…

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The Turning Point of the First World War, 1915

Thoughtful alternative to the “folly” of naval operations in the Bosporus.

Defence-In-Depth

In a recent post, Dr Nick Lloyd described 1915 as the ‘forgotten year‘ of the First World War. To correct this, in occasional posts throughout 2015 members of the First World War Research Group based in the Defence Studies Department will examine unknown or forgotten aspects of the war during 1915.

by Dr DAVID MORGAN-OWEN

In December 1914, British government was faced with difficult choice. The bloody battles of the summer and autumn of 1914 had all but consumed the original establishment of the British Expeditionary Force. These losses had more than been compensated for by the ‘rush to the colors’, which provided the manpower for a much expanded army, but the question of how best to deploy this new force remained unanswered. Despite growing pressure from her French ally, Britain had yet to adopt a ‘continental’ strategy. Rather, the government of Herbert Asquith attempted to adhere to…

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