British Far East Command

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British Far East Command
Active1940 to 1942; 1963 to 1971
Country United Kingdom

The Far East Command was a British military command which had 2 distinct periods. These were firstly, 18 November 1940 – 7 January 1942 succeeded by the American-British-Dutch-Australian Command (ABDACOM), and secondly, 1963–1971 succeeded by Australia, New Zealand, and United Kingdom Force (ANZUK Force)


The British had two commands with responsibilities for possessions in the Far East. GHQ India under General Sir Archibald Wavell the Commander-in-Chief, India and the Far East Command under Air Marshal Robert Brooke-Popham and from 23 December 1941 by Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Royds Pownall.[1]

The C-in-C Far East Command was responsible directly to the Chiefs of Staff for the operational control and general direction of training of all British land and air forces in Malaya, Burma, and Hong Kong, and for the co-ordination of plans for the defence of those territories. But the CinC exercised no command or control over any naval forces.

It was intended that C-in-C should deal primarily with matters of major military policy and strategy, but it was not the intention that the C-in-C should assume any administrative or financial responsibilities or take over any of the day-to-day functions at that time exercised by the General (or Air) Officers Commanding (GOC) of the different areas. The degree of "operational control" of British land and air forces, which the Commander-in-Chief Far East should assume, was defined as meaning "the higher direction and control" as distinct from "detailed operational control". To complicate matters, the GOCs correspond with the War Office, Air Ministry, Colonial Office and Local Governor's Offices on all matters on which they had previously dealt with those departments. But the GOCs had to keep the C-in-C informed if he wished.

To enable the Commander-in-Chief Far East to carry out his functions, he was allowed a small staff, initially consisting of seven officers drawn from all three Services with the necessary clerical and cipher staff. For intelligence purposes, he had at his disposal the Far East Combined Bureau, though it remained under Admiralty control. Although the establishment of his staff was later increased to fifteen it was never large enough. The Naval Base was a considerable distance across Singapore from the Malaya Army Headquarters which discouraged frequent meetings.

On 5 December 1941 London gave permission for C-in-C Far East Command to decide if Operation Matador should be activated. The chief strategic decision to be decided was whether Siam should be invaded in a pre-emptive move, before any Japanese landings took place. The Malaya Command was responsible for the planning of Operation Matador.

When the Allied governments appointed General Sir Archibald Wavell as supreme commander of American-British-Dutch-Australian Command (ABDACOM), British Far East Command became redundant because its functions would in future be carried out by ABDACOM. So when Wavell arrived in Singapore, where the British Far East Command was based, on 7 January 1942, ABDACOM absorbed the British command in its entirety and C-in-C Far East Command Henry Royds Pownall became Wavell's Chief of Staff. On 15 January, Wavell moved his headquarters to Lembang near Bandung on Java and assumed control of Allied operations.[2][3]


Commanders-in-Chief have included:[4][5][6]

Command Headquarters Rank Name Appointed
Far East Command Singapore Naval Base Commander-in-Chief Air Chief Marshal R. Brooke-Popham 18 November 1940
Lieutenant-General Sir H. R. Pownall[7] 23 December 1941
Far East Air Force (Royal Air Force) Seletar Field, Singapore Air Officer Commanding Air Vice Marshal J.T. Babington 12 August 1938
Air Vice Marshal C.W.H. Pulford 6 May 1941
Air Vice Marshal P.C. Maltby[8] 11–14 February 1942
Burma Command Rangoon, Burma General Officer Commanding Major General D.K. McLeod 1939
Lieutenant General T.J. Hutton 29 December 1941
Malaya Command Army HQ, Singapore General Officer Commanding Lieutenant General A.E. Percival[9] May 1941
British Forces Overseas Hong Kong Flagstaff House, Hong Kong General Officer Commanding Major General C.M. Maltby August 1941

After the Far East came under the jurisdiction, from August 1943, of South East Asia Command ('SEAC'). The initial land forces operational area for SEAC had been India, Burma, Ceylon, British Malaya, Sumatra, and, for offensive operations, Siam (Thailand) and French Indochina. On 15 August 1945 this was expanded to include the Dutch East Indies and French Indochina. SEAC was disbanded in 1946 and in 1947 the Army Command was reformed under the name Far East Land Forces.

General Officers Commanding included:


1963 Far East Command was established, covering the region covered China, Hong Kong, British Commonwealth Occupation Force, Japan and Singapore. Major bases included Hong Kong (HMS Tamar) and Singapore. It was organised as an interservice command:

On 11 January 1971, Far East Command was disbanded at Singapore, succeeded by ANZUK Force.


Commanders-in-Chief have included:[5][6][10]
British Commander-in-Chief, Far East Command

Commander, British Far East Land Forces

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Britain at War
  2. ^ L, Klemen (1999–2000). "The conquest of Java Island, March 1942". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941–1942.
  3. ^ L, Klemen (1999–2000). "General Sir Archibald Percival Wavell". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941–1942.
  4. ^ Whitaker's Almanacks 1940 – 1963
  5. ^ a b Far East Command at
  6. ^ a b Army Commands Archived 5 July 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ L, Klemen (1999–2000). "Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Royds Pownall". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941–1942. Archived from the original on 25 March 2012.
  8. ^ L, Klemen (1999–2000). "Air Vice-Marshal Sir Paul (Copeland) Maltby". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941–1942. Archived from the original on 25 March 2012.
  9. ^ L, Klemen (1999–2000). "Lieutenant-General Arthur Ernest Percival". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941–1942. Archived from the original on 24 September 2011.
  10. ^ Whitaker's Almanacks 1963 – 1972

External links[edit]