After the Second World War, the disintegration of Britain's empire transformed global politics.
Before the war, Britain maintained colonies all over the world, which provided valuable raw materials, manpower and strategic bases. By 1945, however, colonies were an expensive liability for Clement Attlee's newly elected Labour government. The United States' rising global influence and its opposition to imperialism made colonialism less politically viable, while Japan's wartime victories had destroyed Britain's imperial prestige.
Indian residents celebrate India's independence by raising it's new flag at Klang, in Malaya, on 15 August 1947.
In 1947 India, having contributed enormously to Britain's war effort, became independent. Less than a year later, communist guerrillas launched a violent campaign aimed at forcing Britain from Malaya. Thousands were killed, but an effective political and military response prevented a Communist take-over. Malaya became an independent democracy on 31 August 1957. In the Middle East, Britain hurriedly abandoned Palestine in 1948. Ghana became Britain's first African colony to reach independence in 1957. By 1967 more than 20 British territories were independent.
Decolonisation was a complex process. Each colony's unique societies presented different political pressures which could sometimes lead to violence ranging from riots to massacres.
The Cold War added further complexities, as Britain attempted to insulate former colonies from the influence of the Soviet Union.
In 1997 Hong Kong returned to Chinese administration. Though Britain still maintains overseas territories, the handover marked the final end of Britain's empire.