*** World War II Indonesia Dutch East Indies

World War II: Japanese Invasion of the DEI (January-March 1942)

Figure 1.--This is much of what was left of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (KNIL) marching through Melbourne, Australia (June 14, 1943). These men were very lucky because of the brutality the Japanese wreaked on the Dutch soldiers who surrendered to them. Notice the Africans and Asians. When the Amer8icans arrived (1942), special visas had to be arranged for African-American soldiuers because they violated Australia's White Only policy. We are not sure how the JNIL soldiers were handeled. We are unsure how the Africansere recruited by the Dutch sas he Dutch did niot have African colonies. Probably they came from Dutch Guiana (modern Suyriname).

The whole purpose of the Pearl Harbor attack was to clear the way for Japan to seize the resources of Southeast Asia and none were more important than the DEI oil. The Japanese Army was not heavily mechanized, but the oil was vital for both the Imperial Navy and Air Services. Japan did not immediately declare war on the Dutch after Pearl Harbor. They delayed this, concerned that the Dutch would destroy the oil facilities before they could seize them. The Japanese launched their campaign with air strikes. General Hisaichi Terauchi, commander of the Southern Expeditionary Army Group, commanded the invasion force. The invasiion began with the the 16th Army commanded by General Hitoshi Imamura attacking Borneo, an island divided by the British and Dutch. This preliminary attack was not so much aimed at defeating the British and Dutch, but go seixe the oil fields and refineries brfore they could be destroyed. The Japanese landed at Miri, an oil production center in northern Sarawak (December 17). The landing was supported by a battleship, an aircraft carrier, three cruisers. and four destroyers. 【Morison, p. 191】 The Japanese after the fall of the British bastion at Singapore (February 1942) invaded the DEI in force. 【Goto, p. 52.】 The Japanese Army quickly occupied the major DEI islands. Dutch forces offered minimal resistance on land. The Japanese seized the Sumatran oil fields intact through a daring parachute operation. This was one of the few time the Japanese actually used their parchutte units. 【Goto, p.62.】 The Japanese forces comtunued the Borneo campign with landings at Seria, Kuching, Jesselton and Sandakan (December 15, 1941-January 19, 1942. This essentilly were the main sites in Borneo. The Japanese plan for the main DEI islasnds was a three-pronged campaign. The three Japanese forces (Eastern Force, Center Force and Western Force) megoodically moved south. gain he gighest priority was to capture the oil production centers. The Eastern Force noved from Jolo and Davao to seize Celebes, Amboina and Timor, securing the Center Force's flank. The Center Force seized oil fields and airfields in Tarakan Island and Balikpapan. The Western Force captured the oil refineries and airfields in Palembang. This campaign began with an assault on Tarakan (January 11). 【Palazzo】 Though the Dutch had only limited forces and were poorly equipped, the Dutch aided by American, Australian, and British forces under General Wavell's ABDA Command, resisted as best they could The U.S. Pacific Fleet still reeling from Pearl Harbor was unable to effectively resist the Japanese invasion. There were naval actions in DEI waters, but the powerful Imperial Fleet inflicted heavy losses on the Allied short-lived American-British-Dutch-Australian Command (ABDA/ABDACOM) forces cobeled in the emergencu situation after Pearl Habor. It was together by Gen. Sir Archibald Wavell, the Nrutush commabnder in India. The idaa was to establish a Malay Barrier, but the Jaoanese smashed ABDA in a mere few weeks. The U.S. Navy ordered fleet units out of the Philippines to join up with British, Australian, and Dutch units in the DEI. The Allied forces were woefully inferior to the powerful Imperial fleet. In addition, there had been no joint maneuvers before the War. The different navies could not reach each other signal flags so a coordiated action against the poerful and well-drilled Imperial Navy was impossible. U.S. destroyers attempted to stop the Japanese in the Madagascar Straits between Borneo and Celebes (January 24, 1942). An Allied naval force engaged the Japanese in Bandoeng Straits in an effort to protect Bali (February 19-20, 1942). The final Allied action to save the DEI was fought in the Java Sea (February 27, 1942). The Allied loses there left them without the strength to mount continued organized naval resistance to the Japanese in the DEI. Following Java Sea Action, two surviving cruisrs (Houston and Perth) attemopted to evacuate and retire to Australia. They refueled at Batavia and sailed south. While moving through the Soenda Strait (March 1, 1942) the cruisers found themselves in the middle of a Japanese landing. The last message picked up at Corregidor was '"Enemy forces engaged' That was the last report on the ships until after the War. 【Hornfischer】 The details of the battle are largely lost to history. One survivor reports a Japanese destroyer lost, but the Japanese records do not confirm this.


Gioto, Ken'ichi. Goto. "Tensions of Empire: Japan and Southeast Asia in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, ed. Paul H. Kratoska (Singapore University Press 2003).

Hornfischer, James. Ship of Ghosts (2006). The author here describes the harrowing experiences of the survivors of the U.S. Houston. It had been the flag ship of the U.S. Asiatic fleet and a fleet often used by President Roosevelt for various cruises.

Morison, Samuel Eliot. The Two-Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War (Boston: Little, Brown, 1963).

Palazzo, Albert. "The Netherlands East Indies and the Pacific War," (Australian War Memorial: 2005).


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Created: 4:41 AM 6/12/2023
Last updated: 4:41 AM 6/12/2023