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Japanese Invasion 1941-1945

Force 136

Force 136 was a British-led underground resistance group that operated in Malaya during World War II. There were about 50 members in the group which performed acts of sabotage and espionage against the Japanese. Mr Tan Chong Tee was a member of Operation Gustavus which was sent to set up an intelligence network in Malaya. Throughout the operation, he had no knowledge of which unit he was under. It was only after the Japanese surrender that he found out he belonged to Force 136. His British officer, Col John Davies, told him that due to the good work put in by everyone involved in Operation Gustavus, the Allied Forces had decided to group them into Force 136. Force 136 disbanded when the war was over, but tales of its members' heroic acts and bravery are legendary, and live on till this day.


The Special Operations Executive was established by a War Cabinet decision of 22 July 1940 to create a new organisation demanded by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, 'to co-ordinate all action, by way of subversion and sabotage, against the enemy overseas'. Its headquarters were in Baker Street, London.

Tasks and History

Placed in overall charge in 1940 was the Labour politician Hugh Dalton, the Minister for Economic Warfare, who was replaced in the Cabinet re-shuffle of February 1942 by Lord Selborne, a Conservative and close friend of Churchill. SOE co-ordinated activities previously carried out by (a) Military Intelligence (Research) (b) the Department of Propaganda of the Foreign Office, known as EH (c) Section D of the Secret Intelligence Service. By the end of the war it had also established regional headquarters in the Middle East (Cairo) and Far East (Meerut, then Kandy), where it was known as Force 133 and 136 respectively. A branch in Australia operating into the south-west Pacific was known as Force 137, and a Special Operations branch of British Security Co-Ordination in New York handled its affairs in the Americas. Force 266, staffed by SOE and OSS (its American equivalent), supplied Tito's partisans and Mihailovic's chetniks in Yugoslavia until it was absorbed in June 1944 by Force 399 of the Balkan Air Force, based at Bari, the co-ordinating HQ for all special operations across the Adriatic.

After July 1941 SOE also had a mission in Moscow for liaison with the Soviet authorities. Strategically, SOE came under the Chiefs of Staff and was subject to Foreign Office veto on operations into neutral countries. SOE was officially dissolved early in 1946 and special operations were returned to the control of the Secret Intelligence Service. At its peak, SOE's total strength was 10,000 men and 3200 women. About half the men and far fewer of the women were active secret agents operating behind enemy lines, or in neutral countries.

MPAJA/Force 136 Resistance Against the Japanese in Malaya, 1941-1945

The Malayan People's Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA) originated from four battalions of Overseas Chinese-including Communists recently released from Changi Prison-trained by the British before the fall of Singapore. Though MPAJA and its parent organization, the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), suffered initial setbacks in 1942, they were able to regroup their forces with new recruits and reinforcements from British Force 136. By the end of the war another four battalions had been mobilized for a total of some 3-4,000 soldiers, who were supported by tens of thousands of sympathizers.

Beginning in 1943, Force 136 sent agents and supplies, first by submarine and later by air drops. These agents were largely KMT soldiers trained in India and Sri Lanka and brought together by a few men such as Lim Bo Seng. They waged anti-Japanese activities while laying groundwork for a planned Allied invasion of Malaya. The MPAJA operated in every Malay state, harassing the Japanese with hit-and-run guerrilla warfare, but the Third and Fourth Battalions, in Johore, and the Fifth Battalion, in Perak, were most active. Accordingly, these two states were described as "security risk" areas.

Though the Japanese military were kept busy maintaining peace and order, the enemy resistance posed little serious threat to security. Nonetheless, the skill in mobilization and guerrilla warfare tactics MPAJA acquired during the resistance served them in good stead in fighting against the British during the postwar period of emergency from 1948-1960.

In Asia, where S.O.E. was known as "Force 136", the life of a secret agent was quite different. Here there was no solid, well organized group of local people fighting the invaders, such as the French Resistance movement in France, with whom S.O.E. agents could align themselves. Most of the native peoples in the Japanese-occupied countries (Hong Kong, Malaya, Burma, the Netherlands East Indies, Siam, French Indochina and the Philippines) were either indifferent or antagonistic towards the Europeans who they felt were attempting to re-impose colonial rule. There was also much hostility among different factions within the countries. Most of the time, S.O.E. had to enlist the support of local communist guerrillas in the fight against the Japanese.

Furthermore, European agents could not move about in these Asian countries disguised as local people because of their skin colour and inability to speak the local languages. Therefore, European agents were forced to operate away from the main population centres, primarily in the jungle. This exposed them to a whole new set of dangers, including many tropical diseases. Rather than disguising themselves as local people, S.O.E. agents in Asia often wore a green jungle uniform, high canvas boots and an Australian type bush hat.

The surrender of the Japanese after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, changed the role of undercover agents in the Asian countries. Their role shifted to one of accepting the surrender of Japanese units and keeping public order until civil government could be restored. Force 136 also played a key role in assisting prisoners of war in these countries.


Wikipedia - Force 136

Burma Star Association - Force 136

Asia One - What was Force 136?

National Malay & Borneo Veterans


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