World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

South East Asia Command

South East Asia Command
South East Asian Command insignia
Active 1943 to 1946
Country  United Kingdom
Type Command
Garrison/HQ Kandy, British Ceylon
SEAC flag

South East Asia Command (SEAC) was the body set up to be in overall charge of Allied operations in the South-East Asian Theatre during World War II.


  • Background 1
  • Description 2
  • Post–World War II 3
    • Indonesian National Revolution, 1945–46 3.1
  • Disbandment 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7


The initial supreme commander of the theatre was General Sir Archibald Wavell while head of the short-lived American-British-Dutch-Australian Command which was dissolved after the fall of Singapore and the Dutch East Indies. In August 1943, the Allies created the combined South East Asian Command, to assume overall strategic command of all air sea and land operations of all national contingents in the theatre. In August 1943, with the agreement of the Combined Chiefs of Staff, Winston Churchill appointed Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten as Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia, a post he held until 1946. The American General Joseph Stilwell was the first deputy supreme Allied commander, as well as heading the US China Burma India Theater (CBI) command. Mountbatten arrived in India on 7 October[1] and SEAC came formally into being in Delhi at midnight 15–16 November.[2] The headquarters moved in April 1944 to Kandy in Ceylon.[3]

On 2 December 1943 the Combined Chiefs of Staff approved in principle a staff plan designating the main effort against Japan to be the Pacific as the most rapid means of coming in range of the home islands for aerial bombardment. The secondary advance was "along the New Guinea-N.E.I.-Philippine axis" under the South West Pacific Area Command. The South East Asia theatre, along with the North Pacific, the South Pacific and China efforts were designated to be supportive.[4] At that time available forces were seen to be limited due to British commitment against Germany with major advances not anticipated until autumn of 1944 and after the defeat of Germany.[5] The focus on the Central Pacific and South West Pacific were a compromise reached at the Casablanca Conference in which British views focused on the war against Germany with the entire war against Japan being limited "to the defense of a fixed line in front of those positions that must be held"—an approach unacceptable to the United States.[6] Offensive actions in Burma, support of China and other theatre activity beyond holding a defensive line in South East Asia, the position of the British Chiefs, were the result of US demands that the Japanese be kept off balance throughout areas of Allied/Japanese contact.[7]


The initial land forces operational area for SEAC was India, Burma, Ceylon, Malaya, northern islands of Sumatra, and, for offensive operations, Siam (Thailand). On 15 August 1945 this was expanded to include the rest parts of Dutch East Indies and southern part of French Indochina.

Lieutenant-General Montagu Stopford, the second and final commander of SEAC, who commanded June–November 1946.

Command arrangements in SEAC were always complicated. Ideally there should have been under the Supreme Commander a Commander in Chief for each of the land sea and air forces. This was implemented for the naval and air forces but the British

  • Jon Latimer, Burma: The Forgotten War, London: John Murray, 2004. ISBN 978-0-7195-6576-2
  • Peter Dennis, Troubled days of peace : Mountbatten and South East Asia command, 1945–46, Manchester : Manchester University Press, 1987, ISBN 0719022053.

Further reading

  • Morton, Louis (1962). Strategy and Command – The First Two Years. Washington, D.C.:  
  • Woodburn Kirby, Major-General S. (2004c) [1st. pub.  
  • Woodburn Kirby, Major-General S. (2004d) [1st. pub.  
  • Woodburn Kirby, Major-General S. (2004e) [1st. pub.  


  1. ^ Woodburn Kirby 2004c, p. 11.
  2. ^ Woodburn KIrby 2004c, p. 45.
  3. ^ Woodburn Kirby 2004c, p. 52.
  4. ^ Morton 1962, pp. 668–669.
  5. ^ Morton 1962, pp. 670–671.
  6. ^ Morton 1962, p. 381.
  7. ^ Morton 1962, pp. 382–386.
  8. ^ Woodburn Kirby 2004c, p. 47.
  9. ^ Woodburn Kirby 2004c, pp. 45 to 49.
  10. ^ Woodburn Kirby 2004d, pp. 117–119.
  11. ^ Woodburn Kirby 2004e, p. 2.
  12. ^ Graham Watson, Allied Land Forces South East Asia 1945,, accessed November 2008


As 1946 drew on, under its second and final commander, Lieutenant-General Montagu Stopford (June to November 1946), SEAC discharged its final tasks and was disbanded. It was no longer felt that a joint command was needed in the area.


British troops found themselves in increasing conflict with the nationalists. The nationalists attacked JSP garrisons awaiting repatriation, to seize their arms. A British Brigadier, A. W. S. Mallaby, was killed, as he pushed for the nationalists to surrender their weapons. As a result, on 10 November 1945, Surabaya was attacked by British forces, leading to the bloody Battle of Surabaya. The city was secured later that month. The battle for Surabaya was the bloodiest single engagement of the Indonesian National Revolution (1945–49). However, the British were reluctant to devote their scarce resources to a defence of Dutch interests, and withdrew from Indonesia.

Aided by armed militias formed by the Japanese during the occupation, Indonesian nationalists in Java declared the Dutch East Indies a republic, and independent from the Netherlands. The British intended that the Dutch colonial administration should return, and assisted a small military contingent, the Netherlands Indies Civil Administration (NICA). However they initially avoided significant conflict with the nationalists. It was only possible for British forces to establish military government in parts of Indonesia, and they found that the location of Allied prisoners of war – and civilians interned by Japanese forces – were sometimes used by nationalists in bargaining for political ends.

Indonesian National Revolution, 1945–46

Because of shortages of personnel, some use was made of Japanese Surrendered Personnel (JSP) in these areas. The Allies found that their war-time allies in the Viet Minh in Indochina, and Indonesian nationalist forces in the East Indies, were well armed, well-organised and determined. It was intended that British forces would temporarily enforce military government over a small section of Indochina, because of local resistance, logistics and French sensibilities. However, in the end the commander of British forces declared de facto military government, to make it possible for French forces to return.

Thailand, although it had officially been an ally of Japan, quickly resumed both its independence and its ties with the western powers.

British Commonwealth troops were landed in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) and Indochina to facilitate the return of forces from the pre-war colonial powers. The force landed in the East Indies was the Indian XV Corps, which included 5th Indian Infantry Division, 23rd Indian Infantry Division and 5th Parachute Brigade.[12] Military government was soon established in Burma, Malaya, Singapore and British Borneo. Sarawak and Sumatra did not prove to be major headaches for the British, except that one Japanese unit in Borneo refused to surrender until November 1945.

The borders of SEAC were adjusted in the aftermath of the war. French Indochina was added, along with Borneo – most of which had already been captured by Australian forces, under the South West Pacific Command – and Java. This added immensely to the problems of the command. Western governments expected SEAC to re-establish colonial regimes in territories lost to Japan in 1941–45, and in which anti-colonial, nationalist forces had gained strength.

The command shifted its emphasis from combat operations to military government, and the repatriation of internees and prisoners of war.

General Joseph Stilwell (right), First Deputy Supreme Allied Commander of the South East Asia Command, together with General Frank Merrill, in Burma during the Burma Campaign.

Supreme Allied Commander of the South East Asia Command from October 1943 through the disbandment of SEAC in 1946. This photograph, taken in February 1944, is from his tour of the Arakan front, as part of the Burma Campaign

Post–World War II

Once most of Burma was re-captured by Fourteenth Army, the command turned its attention towards its next major operational objective: Malaya. However, the use of atomic bombs on the Japanese mainland brought the war to an abrupt end.

In February 1945 Air Marshal Keith Park was appointed Allied Air Commander of South-East Asia Command [SEAC] where he served until the end of the war.

RAF aircraft destined for SEAC had the word "SNAKE" applied after the serial during ferrying to prevent them being appropriated by other commands along the route.

It was not until late 1944 that the land forces chain of command was clarified, after Stilwell was recalled to Washington. His overall role, and the CBI command were then split among three people: Lt Gen. Raymond Wheeler became Deputy Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia; Maj. Gen. Albert Wedemeyer became Chief of Staff to Chiang, and commander of US Forces, China Theater (USFCT). Lt Gen. Daniel Sultan was promoted, from deputy commander of CBI to commander of US Forces, India-Burma Theater (USFIBT) and commander of the NCAC. The 11th Army Group was redesignated Allied Land Forces South East Asia (ALFSEA) under a new commander Lieutenant-General Oliver Leese who had relinquished command of the Eighth Army in Italy, and NCAC (which by this time included Chinese, American and British units) was placed under ALFSEA.[10] As the drive to liberate Burma began in earnest however, Chiang Kai-Shek and Wedemeyer made increasing demands for NCAC's formations to be moved to the China Theatre to meet the threat of Japanese attacks from the north. Once the Burma Road from Mandalay to Chungking was secured NCAC became passive and in March 1945 Mountbatten agreed to the US and Chinese troops in NCAC being gradually withdrawn to the China.[11]

[9], became the naval commander under Mountbatten.Eastern Fleet, Commander-in-Chief, James Somerville was providing almost all naval forces in the area. Admiral Sir Royal Navy – strategic bomber units based in India – were never controlled by SEAC but their operations were coordinated with SEAC. At sea, the command structure was relatively simple, since the Twentieth Air Force, which was based in China and the US Fourteenth Air Force. Tenth Air Force came under SEAC only through Stilwell as commanding General CBI Theater. To avoid a potentially cumbersome chain of command and overlapping effort Mountbatten gave orders in December for the two air forces to be integrated under the name Eastern Air Command. The US Tenth Air Force USAAF or the RAF Third Tactical Air Force was appointed the Air Commander in Chief under Mountbatten. Air units taking part in the Burma Campaign were, at first, part of either the Richard Peirse, who was officially the Supreme Allied Commander in China. Air Chief Marshal Sir Chiang Kai-Shek in Ceylon under its direct command. Stilwell also served as Chief of Staff to British garrison on the Burma front, and the Fourteenth Army The Eleventh Army Group had the [8]

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Hawaii eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.