Here In My Home - Malaysian Artistes For Unity

Friday, 8 June 2007


The Royal Malaysian Navy can trace its roots to the formation of the Straits Settlement Naval Volunteer Reserve (SSNVR) in Singapore on 27 April 1934 by the British colonial government in Singapore. The SSNVR was formed to assist the Royal Navy in the defence of Singapore, upon which the defence of the Malay Peninsula was based. In the colonial era the British only knew too well the importance of the Straits of Malacca and the South China Sea and it is no surprise then that they made Singapore a bastion of their presence in the region. Another reason behind its formation was political developments in Asia, particularly Japanese that was increasingly assertive in Asia. They were keen to mount a volunteer service corps comprising of locals and the Straits Settlement Naval Volunteer Reserve (SSNVR) came into being on 27th April 1934.

HMS Laburnum, The Pride of MRNVR

The first SSNVR ship, HMS Laburnum was inducted on 18 February 1935 and was used as a naval training platform. She was an ex-royal New Zealand Navy 2000 ton Flower class corvette fitted with a three-pounder gun and a 4.7-inch gun. HMS Laburnum was later converted to the HQ and Administrative Centre for the SSNVR, and the smaller HMS Penyengat was brought in for seamanship and navigational training. By 1937, two motor launches HMS Panglima and HMS Pahlawan, equipped with Lewis guns, were commissioned for coastal patrols. The SSNVR was expanded in October 1938 when its Penang branch was established. Initially known as SSNVR Penang, it was later designated as the Malayan Naval Volunteer Reserve (MRNVR) and received HMS Panji, transferred from Singapore, for training purposes. However by 1940 MRNVR had acquired two additional patrol boats, HMS Trang and HMS Jerong and five minesweepers. These reservists were in essence local volunteers , comprising almost entirely of Malays whose recognition of their service has largely gone unrecognised.With the outbreak of the Second World War in Europe, the SSNVR increased the recruitment of mainly indigenous personnel into the force, to beef up local defences as Royal Navy resources were required in Europe. Members of the SSNVR were called up to active duty, and the force was augmented by members of the Royal Navy Malay Section.

With the winds of war blowing stronger, the British government had formed the Malay Section of the Royal Navy (RN) in 1939. This was the colonial government's effort to beef up the RN's power to defend the coastal waters of the Peninsula and the British Empire's interests in the archipelago, including Sarawak, North Borneo and Labuan. This was a separate unit of the Royal Navy and these men were given rigorous training in seamanship, communications and gunnery whilst shaping them into a fighting unit.This section, affectionately known as the Malay Navy, comprised exclusively of Malay men amongst the ranks as the RN was impressed with the will, abilities and service spirit of the Malay youths in the Malayan Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve (MRNVR). They comprised of fresh recruits and a number of MRNVR members mobilised into the new force. The section's training centre and barracks were established at HMS Pelandok, tucked inside the sprawling naval base in Singapore. Under the command of Lt.-Commander H. Vickers, the recruits were trained as telegraphists, seamen and signal visualisers before serving on board RN ships, mostly merchantmen hastily converted and armed for combat. These ships were part of 80 warships the RN had for the defence of Malaya against the Japanese, with the battleship HMS Prince of Wales and battle cruiser HMS Repulse leading the fleet.

The RN was however shocked on 2 December 1941 when these ships were sunk by Japanese warplanes, exposing the RN's fleet weakness against air attacks since there was no effective air cover available. Eleven days after the sinking of the capital ships, the HMS Lipis was sunk in Sarawak waters. By January 1942, the RN suffered further casualties with HMS Kudat sunk in Klang harbour, HMS Surveyor in Pulau Besar and HMS Kampar in the South China Sea. Meanwhile on 13 January 1942, HMS Matahari and HMS Larut were sunk by Japanese aircraft near Pulau Sabang while withdrawing from Malaya. The survivors who swam to the island were later rescued by HMS Kedah, which was heading towards Java Island after evacuating Borneo waters. In Singapore, HMS Pelandok was initially bombed on 8 December 1941 but was later destroyed in January 1942 by Japanese air raids. All able-bodied survivors were then moved to HMS Laburnum to join members of the MRNVR there. However, HMS Laburnum herself was damaged by the Imperial Japanese Navy on 11 February 1942 and was scuttled four days later at the Fall of Singapore to avoid her capture by the Japanese. By this time, all surviving ships were ordered to make a break from the harbour and sail for Australia via Indonesia, and for Colombo. Of the Malay seamen left behind in Singapore, 25 were killed by the Japanese in Tanjong Pagar after the surrender while the rest were sent as force labourers to Siam, Burma and Indonesia although some managed to escape to their kampongs.

Meanwhile, most of the ships escaping to Australia were sunk by the Japanese who were waiting in ambush in the south of Singapore. HMS Vyner Brooke was sunk by 9 Japanese Bombers on 14 February off Pulau Bangka with 20 Malay seamen dead. HMS Hwang Ho with Lt.-Commander Vickers was sunk off Lingga and he and his crew were taken as prisoner of wars (POW's) to Pulau Bangka where he later died. Sister ships HMS Siang Wo and HMS Shu Kuang were sunk on the same day but the survivors from the latter ship managed to reach Padang Sumatra where they were evacuated by the light cruiser HMS Dauntless to Chelicap Java. There, the Malay survivors joined those on board HMS Kedah that now headed towards Colombo as the way to Australia was no longer safe. Unfortunately after two days sailing. HMS Kedah had mechanical problems and was taken under tow by HMS Dauntless and arrived in Colombo in March 1942.

It was estimated that 10,000 British and Malay seamen were killed in the sinkings while about 85 Malay seamen survived. H.M.S. Kelantan, HMS Pangkor, HMS Pahang, HMS Perak, HMS Kepong, HMS Matang, and escort H.M.S. Medusa also safely arrived in Colombo in addition to H.M.S. Kedah. Of the 143 Malay Navy and MRNVR personnel now in Colombo, some were sent to East Africa to serve as intelligence operatives and others to India to prepare troops for the liberation of Malaya. Those remaining in Colombo were mainly deployed as telegraphists or harbour securitymen, while a number of selected personnel served with the British Military Force 136 and the USA's clandestine military unit OSS 404. These men later returned to Malaya with the liberation forces on September 1945.

H.M.S. Kedah - a typical converted merchantman Malay Navy men served on in WWII


Eddie Vickers said...


My great uncle was Lt Cdr Horace Vickers. There seems to be confusion as to whether he left Singapore on the Siang Wo or Hwang Ho. Does any one have any more information and also further details on the circumstances of his killing after he was taken prisoner ?

Eddie Vickers

Anonymous said...

Dear Eddie,

I am doing research on a MRNVR officer who was on the Siang Wo when she was attacked and run aground in Sumatra. What makes you think Lieut. Cdr. Vickers may have been aboard the Hwang Ho?
Please contact me at



Master Chief said...

My grandfather who now lives in Singapore is a veteran of WWII and a sailor on board HMS Burnam.

Sometime back in 1990's, the RMN had a ceremony to honor the war veterans of WWII and also launch a book - Membelah Ombak.

He still remembers the day his ship got bomb by Jap Zero's on their route to Australia.

mumuchi said...

Nice to hear from a grandson of a hero. I wonder if your grandfather is still alive as in my other blog there is another veteran's grandchildren who are wondering if they can get any information on their grandfather who they have never met who also served in the war as a naval sailor.

AZELNOR said...

Salam Memuchi,

I stumbled into your blog this morning and after reading "The Malay Navy In World War II", it reminded me of my late father's experiences during the 2nd World war.

When I was 8 years old and along my teen years, he related to me his unforgettable memories during the war.
He was with HMS Pelandok before WWII and later known as Lieutenant Nor-Pahlawan Gerila (Force 136).

Until I read the original post, I was rather reluctant to share his version of the event leading to their retreat to North Borneo and later to Colombo.

He was a gunner in The Malay Navy, took part in the Burma raid and eventually ended as 2nd-in-Command to Col. Dobree, operating guerrilla raids against the Japanese Army in Grik, Upper Perak.

I still preserve a photo of him clad in his Navy Uniform.

Peter Foston said...

I commanded both SDML 3508 and 3509 in 1951/3 At that time there were 5 Locally manned boats and two all RN ones. The crews were CO, Cox'n, 2nd Cox'n, Engineer, Signalman/ Radio operator, Officers Steward/seaman, six Seamen. All the Malayan based boats had 2 x 20mm Oerlikons. The ones at Hong Kong had a 40mm Bofors for'd and 20mm aft as they were always close enough to re ammunition whereas the Malay boats were working from Singapore right up to the Siamese (Thai)border.

I have a number of quite good photos of the boats and crews on patrol which I can send as jpgs if you are interested also a number of anecdotes

mumuchi said...

Mr Foston, if you are willing I would be glad to receive your jpgs and anectdotes to be published in my military blog

Please email to if you please.

Thank you sir in advance.

Mudzaffar @ mumuchi