ON DECEMBER 7, 1941, came the treacherous attack of Japan on Pearl
Harbor. Immediately afterwards the Netherlands government in London
declared war on the Japanese Empire.
In his announcement of this decision, Governor General A. W. C. Tjarda
van Starkenborgh Stachower said:
“People of the Netherlands East Indies: In its unexpected attack on
American and British territories, while diplomatic negotiations were
still in progress, the Japanese Empire has consciously adopted a
course of aggression. These attacks which have thrown the United
States of America and the British Empire into active war on the side
of already fighting China, have as their object the establishment of
Japanese supremacy in the whole of east and southeast Asia. The
aggressions also menace the Netherlands East Indies in no small
measure. The Netherlands Government accepts the challenge and takes up
arms against the Japanese Empire.”
Full mobilization of the army was ordered immediately and defense
forces were sent into the Outer Possessions to guard against attacks.
The Netherlands East Indies army was estimated at a strength of about
100,000-125,000 men, including home guards and militia. The nucleus of
the army consisted of professional soldiers, many of them Amboynese
and Menadonese. All able-bodied Netherlanders in the Netherlands East
Indies had been conscripted about a year earlier. By a law of July 11,
1941, conscription had been extended to the native part of the
population as well, but through lack of equipment and some hesitancy
on the part of the government, only small contingents of this native
militia were inducted into the army towards the end of October, 1941.
Good progress had been made with the mechanization of the army while
the air force consisted of about 250-300 planes, many of them,
however, almost obsolete. Much equipment that had been ordered did not
arrive on time in the Indies.
The greatest part of Duch naval strength, consisting of five cruisers,
seven destroyers, over twenty submarines and a number of smaller craft
was concentrated in the Indies.
When the war with Japan broke out, all Japanese citizens were interned
immediately. The interned group consisted of 1069 Japanese, 301
Formosans and 25 suspect Europeans.
The Netherlands East Indies Army planes went to the aid of the British
in Malaya while Naval units were despatched to Singapore: on December
13 naval forces sank four Japanese army transports off the coast of
Thailand, while, from then on, news about the sinking of Japanese
ships became almost a daily item.
The Indonesian political parties issued a statement in which they
urged the people “to render all possible assistance to the government
in maintaining order and to keep calm.”
Occasional Japanese air attacks were the only enemy activity which
reached the Netherlands Indies in the first period.
On January 10, 1942, the all-out war on the Indies was started when
the Japanese launched a full-fledged attack on the Island of Tarakan,
off east Borneo, and on three different parts of the Minahassa, the
“northern arm” of Celebes. Dutch army and air forces put up strong
resistance and damaged several Japanese naval units. The Dutch were
quite aware that the odds were strongly against them, but destruction
of oil installations and other equipment was carried out according to
Bombing attacks on several points of the Archipelago in-creased in
intensity with the naval base of Ambon as one of the main targets.
Parachutists succeeded in completing the conquest of the Minahassa
where infiltration had also been used with some success. Dutch and
Australian air forces gave a good account of themselves, and Japanese
losses were reported at that time to have been heavy.
A great success was achieved by air attacks on January 23 on enemy
naval and transport concentration in Makassar Straits, between Celebes
and Borneo. Twelve direct hits were scored on eight Japanese warships
and transports. Next day, several transports of the same large convoy
were sunk. Attacks on ship concentrations near Balikpapan in Borneo
were also successful.
American air and naval forces joined in the various attacks and
achieved considerable results with torpedo attacks and bombings.
On January 25, landings on Borneo and at Kandari, in Southern Celebes,
Naval and air resistance to the Japanese invasion continued to inflict
serious damage but land resistance was whittled down quickly in most
cases by the superiority of the Japanese in numbers and equipment.
Resistance of Netherlands East Indies troops around Balikpapan
continued for some time while the scorched earth policy was carried
out completely in most regions. Ambon also became the subject of a
concentrated attack, while fighting in Celebes continued throughout
In the beginning of February air attacks on Java increased in
intensity. By that time Borneo was largely in Japanese hands although
resistance in the interior continued. Naval activities around Ambon
resulted in the sinking of several Japanese cruisers, as well as of a
destroyer and a submarine.
On February 14, heavy raids on Palembang, Sumatra, took place which
were followed by the landing of paratroops as
the Japanese were eager to stop the demolitions of the oilfields. They
succeeded in preventing some of the demolitions, but most of them had
been carried out successfully. Around the middle of February fighting
around Palembang as well as on Celebes continued.
On February 19, when the Japanese had surrounded Java on all sides,
the first reports came in of the arrival of detachments of British,
American and Australian troops, however, only in very small numbers.
The occupation of Bali caused the Japanese several naval losses.
Air raids continued to be successful and the “ship a day” tradition of
the Dutch was kept up pretty well. Official figures on the number of
Japanese ships sunk are still not available.
On February 27, strong Japanese formations were reported to be
approaching Java. They were attacked repeatedly by Allied squadrons.
On the 28th, the first phase in the battle of Java opened when
Japanese invasion troops established three beach heads on the north
In this period the Dutch navy, with the naval forces of some of its
Allies, played an heroic role. When the news of the attack on Bali
came, Admiral Karel Doorman raced his small fleet to the South Cape on
Bali, and, in the dark of night, they made a daring attack on the
Japanese fleet, the cruiser “De Ruyter” leading, followed by the
“Java” and the “Piet Hein,” with Dutch and American destroyers making
up the rear. When, by firing star shells, the “De Ruyter” could see
the enemy, she was too close to train her guns properly. But the
“Java” had that chance while the “Piet Hein,” coming up astern, caught
the withering fire of the 8-inch guns.
Later in the night, a similar attack was made by four American
destroyers and the “Tromp.” The Japanese took heavy punishment that
night in Bandia Strait, but the small fleet of Admiral Doorman was
further depleted. He was left with the “De Ruyter,” the “Java,” the
damaged “Houston,” the “Perth” and the “Exeter.”
On February 26, this fleet was looking for the enemy around Madoera
Island. Finally at 4 o’clock, when they were racing northward, the “De
Ruyter” sighted the enemy. She opened fire immediately, and in the
beginning Allied gunnery was good although the Japanese guns outranged
them. One Japanese destroyer was hit, but the “Exeter” was put out of
action. The destroyer “Kortenaer,” trying to cover her limping
retreat, was hit by a torpedo and broke in two. A little later the
British destroyer “Electra” fell victim to a Japanese torpedo also.
However, in this stage of the encounter, three Japanese destroyers
Admiral Doorman in an effort to break off the struggle in which he was
so hopelessly outnumbered, tried to find the convoy where he could do
more damage. He failed, and later at night he came once more upon the
enemy fleet. With all guns blazing, his small force, now entirely
without destroyer protection, went into action. Then he flung his
force sharply around, but it was too late: torpedoes caught the “Java”
as well as the “De Ruyter” and both went down into the blazing sea.
The Allied navy had done all it could to prevent the Japanese
landings, and nothing was left to do except the blowing up of all
The invasion of the Japanese army was resisted valiantly by the
Netherlands East Indies army, reinforced with American, Australian,
and British units but the battle was hopeless from the beginning and
demoralization set in at an early stage. The air force continued its
attacks as long as possible but its strength was wearing down rapidly.
The Japanese fanned out from their three beachheads and succeeded in
making pretty steady progress.
On March 3, the Allied Commander, General Archibald P. Wavell, left
Java for British India, leaving the command of the Allied forces in
the hands of the Dutch.
On the same day, it was admitted that air control had passed into the
hands of the enemy.
From that time on, fighting spread throughout the island without
taking on a definite front line. The situation had become hectic, and
coordination between the defenders was more or less lost.
On March 6, Batavia was evacuated and the government moved to Bandoeng
where the last ditch defense was being organized.
The complete control of the air made Allied troop movements
practically impossible. On March 7, the northern defenses of Bandoeng
were cracked, and the situation was admittedly critical. On March 8,
the official radio station at Bandoeng sent its last message: “We are
now shutting down. Goodbye until better times. Long live the Queen.”
Except for guerilla activity in the outlying possessions, and for some
parts of New Guinea, which were not occupied by the Japanese, the
entire archipelago was in the hands of the enemy.
The Japanese were surprised about these things in the Netherlands
Indies: the European population had stayed behind except for a few
high officials whom Governor General van Starkenborgh Stachouwer had
sent away in the interests of the country; there was order in the
archipelago; the population on the whole was loyal to the Dutch.
As the Japanese regarded the Westerners as the leaders of the East,
they began by interning all Europeans and by removing all Dutch signs.
The interned Europeans were given small rations but received
considerable aid from the Indonesians and the Chinese.
The Japanese started by prohibiting all political activity but on
March 9, 1943, they founded the “Poetera,” intended as the
all-embracing political party. This organization lasted only one year
and was replaced by the Djawa Hoko Kai, or- ganizing the Indies as a
section of Greater East Asia. The organization was on a cooperative
basis, and only those who were members received the materials needed
for their occupations. Soekarno was a leading figure in the “Djawa