Far East Air Force (Royal Air Force)

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Far East Air Force
Crest of HQ Far East Air Force
Active 1943-1971
Branch Royal Air Force
Role Command
Headquarters RAF Changi, Singapore
Roundel RAF roundel.svg

The former Royal Air Force Far East Air Force, more simply known as RAF Far East Air Force, was the Command organisation that controlled all Royal Air Force assets in the east of Asia (Far East). It was originally formed as Air Command, South East Asia in 1943. In 1946, this was renamed RAF Air Command Far East, and finally Far East Air Force in June 1949.

Early history

The first organisation dedicated to this task was formed in Singapore in 1930 as Royal Air Force Singapore. This was upgraded to Headquarters Air Force Far East Command in 1933. During the Second World War, when Malaya, Singapore, Burma and Hong Kong were overrun by the Japanese, the command retreated to India, there receiving the name Air Headquarters Bengal.

The true ancestor of the postwar Far East Air Force was formed in November 1943, under Lord Louis Mountbatten the supreme Allied commander South East Asia Command (SEAC). It was called Air Command, South East Asia. In 1946, this was renamed RAF Air Command Far East, and finally Far East Air Force in June 1949.

During the war years, it was subordinate to Allied Forces South East Asia. The tri-service headquarters remained in place after the war over to coordinate re-occupation of territory within the bounds of the command that had not yet been liberated from the Japanese. That included parts of Burma; the other British colonies of Singapore, Malaya, British North Borneo and Brunei; the independent nation of Siam, the French colony of French Indo-China up to the 16th parallel, and most of the Dutch colony of the Dutch East Indies. After the completion of the re-occupation duties, SEAC was disestablished in November 1946.

However, the benefits of a supreme commander were not forgotten, and a tri-service headquarters was revived in 1962, when the Far East Command was formed. The Far East Command was also disestablished in 1971.

Postwar Occupation Duties

Unlike in Europe, war ended very unexpectedly in the Far East. The dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, combined with the American blockade of Japan, and the Soviet entry into the war on 9 August 1945 finally shocked the Japanese into suing for peace. Once peace came, there was a period of euphoria within the RAF units, but the forces in the region came back down to earth with a bump a few days later.

Instead of the end to operations that a great many of the conscripts had naively thought would occur, if anything, operations in some parts of the forces increased in tempo. South-East Asia Command had been increased in size from the day after the surrender, taking in south French Indo-China, and much of the Dutch East Indies. The command was now half as big again in area as it had been during the war. The strain imposed by the high operations tempo that occupation duties, when combined with the downsizing of the command due to demobilisation and return of American aircraft provided under lend-lease aircraft was very great, and it manifested itself in a series of mutinies around the command in early 1946.

The first of these was at Mauripur in Karachi, India. Enlisted airmen downed tools and refused to work until their grievances about demobilisation had been met. Given the nature of the times, this was impossible, although their complaints were passed up the chain of command. The stoppages were non-violent almost to a fault, and since the personnel involved were hostilities-only conscripts, rather than regular professional members of the RAF, the stoppages were not formally treated as mutinies. Had they been so, punishments up to and including execution by firing squad could have been imposed on those responsible. Other mutinies occurred in Ceylon, elsewhere in India and Singapore. They also spread to units of the Royal Indian Air Force for a short while.[citation needed]


The easiest of the occupation tasks was in Siam. Unlike elsewhere in the region, Siam had retained a functioning civil government throughout the war, and thus British troops did not have to deploy to restore order over most of the country. RAF forces set a headquarters in Bangkok, at Don Muang airfield, under Group Captain D O Finlay on 9 September 1945. The headquarters was from No. 909 Wing RAF. The Wing left its previously controlled aircraft, Republic P-47 Thunderbolts in Burma. Three squadrons were represented in Siam during the occupation, No. 20 Squadron RAF with Spitfire VIII aircraft, No. 211 Squadron RAF with de Havilland Mosquito VI aircraft, and a detachment of No. 685 Squadron RAF with Mosquito photo-reconnaissance aircraft. The airfield was defended by No. 2945 Squadron RAF Regiment. In addition to the resident forces, Douglas Dakota transport aircraft were frequent users of Don Muang. They made supply runs to the airport, stopped over on trips to and from French Indo-China, and evacuated prisoners of war and internees who had been imprisoned in Siam at the end of the war. The job in Siam was completed very quickly, with almost all of the RAF personnel at Don Muang being gone by January 1946.


Burma was also relatively straightforward to deal with, although more complicated than Siam. Much of the colony had been conquered several months before the war ended, in the big British offensive of summer 1945. That gave ACSEA crucial breathing space to start getting the colony back on its feet before the massive increase in occupation duties postwar occurred. RAF Burma was well established under Air Marshal Sir Hugh Saunders. At the end of the war, it had 28 squadrons under its control. This quickly reduced as the demobilisation really kicked in. Again, the transport squadrons saw the largest amount of work, evacuating POWs and internees and supplying garrisons and the civilian population. Second to the transport squadrons in workload were the photo reconnaissance aircraft. The opportunity was taken to complete the process of surveying SE Asia from the air, and using the survey to bring maps up to date. The survey was not completed until August 1947. After the clean-up immediately postwar, came the task of preparing Burma for independence. AHQ Burma moved out of Rangoon to Mingaladon on 1 January 1947. The headquarters was disbanded on 31 December 1947, and three months later Burma became independent.

French Indo-China

The most prickly tasks in the entire command were the temporary occupations of the colonies of other European powers. One was the occupation of part of French Indo-China, and the other the occupation of part of the Dutch East Indies.

The easier of the two was French Indo-China. Resentment against the French was strong, with Ho Chi Minh's Viet Minh movement beginning to become a real problem. British forces were responsible for the southern part of the country, south of the 16th parallel, whilst Chinese forces dealt with the north. An RAF headquarters was set up near Saigon on 8 September, at Tan Son Nhut airfield. However, the main occupation forces were slow to arrive, so Mountbatten had to use Japanese forces still in the area for internal security duties for a short while. One aspect of the occupation that was mercifully smaller in magnitude than in other areas of the command was prisoners of war.[clarification needed] Only about 5,000 were in French Indo-China, and thus that part of the repatriation problem was small.

At Tan Son Nhut, a large amount of space was available for transport aircraft; hard standings for about 70 Dakotas. This was fortunate, since a great deal of transport aircraft effort was required in the country, despite the low numbers of POWs. The other aircraft at the airfield were Spitfires of No. 273 Squadron RAF and yet again, a detachment of photo-reconnaissance Mosquitoes. The situation in French Indo-China and the Netherlands East Indies was particularly tricky because of the hostility of the locals to the returning colonial powers. French Indo-China was handed back to French control a great deal more quickly than the type were avoided was to provide some spare Spitfires in the command to French Air Force pilots who were being sent to the colony, and had Netherlands East Indies to Dutch control, meaning that RAF aircraft did not have to get involved in suppressing any revolts in the area, apart from one occasion when Spitfires attacked enemy forces with cannon fire to support French ground troops. One way that more commitments of this flown the type in Europe.[clarification needed] The main RAF presence was withdrawn in mid February 1946, when the Air Headquarters was disbanded. However, a small RAF presence was retained for a few more months to help direct military transport aircraft using the airfield.

Malayan Emergency

The Malayan Emergency was a guerrilla war fought between Commonwealth armed forces and the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA), the military arm of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), from 1948 to 1960.

The Malayan Emergency was the colonial government's term for the conflict. The MNLA termed it the Anti-British National Liberation War.[1] The rubber plantations and tin mining industries had pushed for the use of the term "emergency" since their losses would not have been covered by Lloyd's insurers if it had been termed a "war".[2]

Despite the communists' defeat in 1960, communist leader Chin Peng renewed the insurgency in 1967; it lasted until 1989, and became known as the Communist Insurgency War. Although Australian and British armed forces had fully withdrawn from Malaysia years earlier, the insurgency still failed.

Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation

The Indonesian–Malaysian Confrontation during 1962–1966 was Indonesia's political and armed opposition to the creation of Malaysia. It is also known by its Indonesian/Malay name Konfrontasi. The creation of Malaysia was the amalgamation of the Federation of Malaya (now West Malaysia), Singapore and the crown colony/British protectorates of Sabah and Sarawak (collectively known as British Borneo, now East Malaysia) in September 1963.

The confrontation was an undeclared war with most of the action in the border area between Indonesia and East Malaysia on the island of Borneo (known as Kalimantan in Indonesia). However, Sabah and Sarawak were ethnically, religiously and politically diverse and there was some local opposition to joining Malaysia that Indonesia attempted to exploit, with very little success.

The terrain in Borneo was challenging and there were very few roads, both sides relied on light infantry operations and air transport, although rivers were also used. There was almost no use of offensive airpower. The British and Malaysian Armed Forces provided a significant element of the effort with no small parts being played by the other member nations (Australia and New Zealand) from the combined Far East Strategic Reserve stationed then in West Malaysia and Singapore.

Initial Indonesian attacks into East Malaysia relied heavily on local volunteers trained by the Indonesian Army. The main military forces backing Malaysia were British and initially their activities were low key. However, the British responded to increased Indonesian activity by expanding their own. This included, starting in 1965, covert operations into Indonesian Kalimantan under the code name Operation Claret. In 1965 there were several Indonesian operations into West Malaysia, albeit without military success. By August 1966, following Indonesian President Suharto's rise to power, a peace agreement finally took effect as Indonesia accepted the existence of Malaysia.

Drawdown and Departure

RAF units and forces in Burma, the Netherlands East Indies, French Indochina, and Siam/Thailand left in 1945-1947. Forces in India departed in 1947, though many RAF officers and other personnel stayed on for a time with the Royal Pakistan Air Force and the Indian Air Force.

Air Headquarters Malaya (AHQ Malaya) was disbanded on 31 August 1957. No. 222 Group RAF was raised to command status as AHQ Ceylon on 16 Oct 1945. It was disbanded, on 1 November 1957.[3] Its stations, including RAF Negombo, 22 miles north of Columbo, had been handed over to the Royal Ceylon Air Force in the course of 1955-56.


Flying squadrons

[clarification needed]

Other squadrons

  • No. 5001 (Airfield Construction) Squadron, RAF Seletar, 1963-66



Commanders included:[4]

Air Command South East Asia

Air Command Far East

  • Air Marshal Sir George Pirie (30 September 1946 - 18 November 1947)
  • Air Marshal Sir Hugh Lloyd (18 November 1947 - 1 June 1949)

Far East Air Force

Subordinate Formations

See also


  1. Mohamed Amin and Malcolm Caldwell (eds.), The Making of a Neo Colony, (1977), Spokesman Books, UK, footnote, p. 216.
  2. Peng, Chin My Side of History, Media Masters, 2003, p10
  3. http://www.rafweb.org/Cmd_O3.htm, accessed July 2012.
  4. Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation - Overseas Commands - Iraq, India and the Far East

Further reading

  • Sir David Lee, 'Eastward: History of the Royal Air Force in the Far East, 1945-72,' Stationery Office Books; 1st Edition (April 1984), ISBN 0117723541.

External links