to perpetuate the memory and history of our dead

34.07 KNIL

In the run-up to WW2 in the Pacific, the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (aka Koninklijk Nederlands Indisch Leger or KNIL) was utterly unprepared for the kind of fight that was to come. First of all, they were organied and equipped more as a national police force than a defense force. They were light infantry at best with their heaviest vehicles being armored trucks similar to the half-tracks used in the Euopean Theater. Secondly, they were cut off from any support when the Nazis overran the Netherlands in 1940.

About 28,000 of the 85,000 members of the KNIL were native conscripts, they received little actual military training. The bulk of the force consisted of European Dutch and men of mixed blood. Many of the officers with actual military training were from the former group. In addition, there was a small air force (<400 obselete planes) and a Navy of reasonable size and strength but with little training. Their largest ship was the light cruiser DeRuyter. The most plentiful were their 10 destroyers.

The bulk of the army was maintained on the island of Java which contained the capital city of Batavia (later: Jakarta). The advancing Japanese had no problems securing control of Borneo and other outlying islands to Java’s north and east. There they established airfields and support bases for the final assault on Java.

On Feb 27th 1942, a flotilla of ships under the command of ADM Doorman sailed out to met the oncoming invasion fleet. Formed under the ABDACOM banner, these 5 cruisers and 9 destroyers were as the name implies: Australian, British, Dutch and American. They had never trained together and there was difficulty in that the Dutch spoke little English nor did the admiral.   Throughout the day they fought a running battle at some distance from the IJN combat ships that sailed forward to met them. They never sighted the main invasion force. By evening, only the USS HOUSTON and HMAS PERTH were left in the fight. There was nothing standing in the way of the invasion.

The main landing force arrived on the NW corner of Java at Bantam Bay. They quickly advanced their beachhead and within days were on the outskirts of Batavia. In the weeks, prior to the invasion, Australian, US and British troops had been diverted to Java to try to assist the Dutch. Many of the AUS and UK troops had combat experience in North Africa or the Middle East. The US and Dutch had none.

With a reported force of over 80,000 landing at three points on the island, there was no real hope of stopping the Japanese. On 8 March, the Dutch authorities capitulated. Thousand more Allied POWs were added to those taken in Singapore.

As the Japanese had done with the native Indian troops in Singapore, the Javanese were separated and encouraged to join the Japanese as PETA (Pembela Tanah Air). They would ostensibly assist the Japanese in ending the Dutch colonization of their homelands. As with the Indians, this ploy was only moderately successful. 

The Dutch prisoners were sent to prison camps along with the AUS, UK and US POWs. Most of the Dutch and many of the other Allied POWs from Java were eventually sent north via Singapore to work on the Thai-Burma Railway. They would be joined by an unknown number or Javanese civilians.