World War II: Indonesia (Dutch East Indies)


Figure 1.--These Indonesian boys are drilling in Batavia (Jakarta) during 1943. Many Indonesians at first saw the Japanese as liberators, ousting the Dutch. Japanese attrocities, however, gradually changed Indonesian attitudes.

The Dutch East Indies (DEI) figured prominently in Japan's decession to launch the Pacific War. The Netherlands itself was invaded and occupied by the NAZIs (May 1940). The Dutch royal family and the Dutch government fled to London and established a government-in-exile. The Dutch DEI colonial administration in Batavia recognized the government-in-exile. The DEI was one of the principal colonies the Japanese wanted for their empire because of the petroleum resources, primarily located on Sumatra and Borneo (shared with Britain). Japan had virtually no petroleum and had been importing American oil. Japan needed oil to continue its war in China. Importing oil from America was a serious strategic weakness for a country bent on war. The United States embargoed oil exports after the Japanese moved into French Indo-China. The Japanese demanded that DEI officials export oil to them and DEI officials complied. Even so the Japanese after the fall of the British bastion at Singapore (Fenruary 1942). The Japnese Navy smashed an Allied naval flotilla, leaving the DEI defenseless. The Japanese then invaded the DEI (March 1942). Parchute landing seized the oil fields intact. Captured Allied soldiers were dealtwith savagely. Dutch civilians were interned under terrible conditions. The Japanese despite their stunning successes benefitted little. The American submarine campaign by 1943 was making it difficult to ship raw material from the DEI and other occupied territories (Southern Resourse Zone) to the Japan Home Islands. The American destruction of the Imperial Fleet and reconquest of the Philippines (October 1944) made it virtually imposible. The Japanese in the DEI committed terrible attrocities despite the fact that the nationalist groups largely cooperated with them. There was nob resistance movement of any importance as in the Philippines. The Japanese occupation proved to be a disaster. Largely because the Japanese ceased food stocks, about 4 million people died, largely new to famine. Indonesian nationalist figures like Sukarno largely collaborated with the Japanese who offered, but of course never granted independence. The Japanese held most of the DEI throughoutthe War. The Japanese demonstrated, however, the fragility of Dutch colonial rule.

Historical Background

The Dutch East Indies (DEI) was the Dutch colony now known as Indonesia. The Dutch played a major role in developing trade with Asia. One of the major objectives were spices. Some of the colonies founded by the Dutch were seized by larger countries with more powerful navies. The Dutch, however, manasged to hold on to the Dutch East Indies.

Resources

The Dutch interest in the Indies was initially spices. With the Industrial Revolution in Europe, demand rose for a range of natural resources. And the DEI was rich in many important industrial resources. The single most important resource was oil. Most of the oil came from from Sumatra. The DEI oil was most abundant and among the sweetest crude oil produced anywhere in the world. The Dutch Indonesian oil fields were some of oldest in the world. Commercial fields were discovered in northern Sumatra (1883). The Koninklijke Nederlandsche Maatschappij tot Exploitatie van Petroleum-bronnen in NederlandschIndië (Royal Dutch Company for Exploration of Petroleum sources in the Netherlands Indies) ws founded (1890). The Shell Transport and Trading Company was a British company that had began drilling in Kalimantan (1891). The two companies merged to form Royal Dutch Shell (1907). Royal Dutch Shell became a major international oil giant. Initially they dominated oil exploration in the British and Dutch Malay-Indonesian colonies for three decades. Royal Dutch Shell was soon operating concessions in Sumatra, Java, and Kalimantan (Borneo). Royal Dutch's output from the DEI came to represent about 4 percent of total world production. What was to become Indonesia's most important oil fields (Duri and Minas) in central Sumatr, were discovered just prior to World War II by Caltex (a joint venture between the American companies Chevron and Texaco). Production did not, however, figure in World war II. By the time of World War II, the annual output of 65 million barrels annually was more than enough to make Japan self-sufficent and fuel not only Japanese industry, but all of the increased demands that would be rquired for a naval war in the Pacfic. The DEI did not produce crude oil. The Dutch at a cost od 150 million gilders built a huge refinery at Balik Papan in eastern Borneo (1920s). Oil was, however, not the only resource. The DEI ranked only behind British Malaya in tin production. Production totaled 44,563 tons (1940). The Dutch also mined bauxite and coal in the DEI. ubber, copra, nickel, timber, quinine, and important foodstuffs such as sugar, rice, tea, and coffee. T

Population

The population of the DEI was about 70.5 million people. This included about 1.0 million ethnic Chinese. In addition there were about 0.25 million Dutch nationals who worked in various capacities with both the Dutch colonial admnistration or Dutch enterprises active in the colony.

German Western Offensive (May 1940)

The Netherlands itself was invaded and quickly occupied by the NAZIs (May 1940). The Dutch had remained neutral in World War I and had not expected a German invasion. Te country was quickly overwealmed with the strength and ferocity of the NAZI attack. The Luftwaffe attack on Rotterdam was especially terrifying. The Dutch royal family and the Dutch government fled to London and established a government-in-exile. The Dutch DEI colonial administration in Batavia recognized the government-in-exile. The Dutch had essential a colonial police force in their colony and no military force capable of resisting a Japanese invasion. The Dutch would have had difficulty doing this even if they had not been invaded by the NAZIs.

Dutch Government in Exile (DGE)


People's Council in Batavia

The People's Council in Batavia (PCB), the legislative body in Java, afirmed their loyalty to the Dutch Government-in-Exile (DGE) (May 1940). With the German occupation of the Netherlands, however, the People's Council was essentially autonomous. The Japanese in additin to moves against the French in Indochin, began to put presure on the DEI. A Japanese mission led by Ichizo Kobayashi, Minister of Commerce and Industry demanded 3.5 million barrels to be paid in yen. The Dutch agreed to sell 1.0 million tons of refined oi, 0.8 million tons of crude, and no aviation gasoline to be paid in hard currency. ["Japanese in Java"] The Japanese referred to the DEI as within their Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere. The PCB protested (January 1941). The PCB also rejected Japanese demands which included unrestricted fishing and prospecting rights along with unrestricted access to DEI ports. The PCB did increase export shipments of raw materials. The trading relationship with Japan, however, soon deteriorated. When the United States embargoed oil shipments to Japan (August 1941), the DGE ordered the PCB to cut off oil shipments as well which it did.

American Resistance to Japanese Expansion

The United States in the late 1930s began presuring Japan to end the war with China and withdraw. American pressure increased when after the fall of France, the Japanese moved into Indo-China (Viet-nam). President Roosevelt moved the Pacific Fleet forward to Pear Harbor. The United States also begun limiting shipments of strategic mterials. The most crucial was an embargo on oil. The United States at the time was Japan's principal source of petroleum. At the time of the embargo, Japasn had about 18 months stocks of petroleum.

The Axis

The Axis was an outgrowth of NAZI and Japanese efforts to oppose Communism and the Soviet Union. It was a loosely organized alliance with no real mechanism for coordinating actions, in part because Hitler acted so unilaterally. Hitler invaded the Soviet Union (June 1941). Italy joined the campaign, but the Japanese did not. The full story as to how the Japanese did not join the campaign against the Soviet Union is not fully understood. Their experience with border clashes with the Soviets (July 1939) is probbly one factor. Another factoris probably Hitler's failure to involve them in the planning, thinking that it would be a quick campaign nd the Japanese were not needed. But a major reason was the policies of the Roosevelt Administration which distrated the Japanese.

Oil

The DEI figured prominently in Japan's decession to launch the Pacific War. The DEI was one of the principal colonies the Japanese wanted as part of the Southern Resource Area (SRZ). The Japanese wanted the DEI for their empire because of the petroleum resources, primarily located on Sumatra. Japan had virtually no petroleum and had been importing American oil which the United States embargoed after the Japanese moved into French Indo-China. The Japanese demanded that DEI officials export oil to them and DEI officials complied.

Pearl Harbor (December 1941)

It was the Japanese carrier attack on Pearl Harbor that brought America into the War. While Pearl Harbor was a stunning tactical victory, it was a strategic blunder by the Japanese of incaluable proportions. It was a stunningly successful military success, brilliantly executed by the Japanese. Eight battle ships, the heart of the American Pacific fleet were sunk. But the three carriers were not at Pearl. Despite the success of the attack, it was perhaps the greatest strtegic blunder in the history of warfare. The Japanese attack on the Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor changed everything. A diverse and quareling nation, strongly pacifistic was instantly changed into a single united people with a burning desire to wage war. The isolationism that President Roosevelt had struggled against for over 7 years instantly disappeared. Even Lindburg asked for a commision to fight for the United States.

Invasion (February-March 1942)

While the United States had embargoed oil, DEI officials complied with Japanese demands that they export oil. Even so the Japanese after the fall of the British bastion at Singapore (February 1942) invaded the DEI (March 1942). The whole purpose of the Pearl Harbor attack was to clear the way for Japan to seize the resources of Southeat Asia and none were more important than the DEI oil. 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 Allied naval forces. The Navy ordered American 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 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, the Allies order two surviving cruisrs (Houston and Perth) to evacuate and retire to Australia. They refueled at Batavia and sail south. While moving through the Soenda Strait (March 1, 1942) the cruisers find 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. The Japanese Army quickly occupied the major DEI islands. The Japanese seized the Sumatran oil fields intact through a daring parachute operation.

New Guinea

Only southeastern New Guinea, the area around Port Moresby, remained in Allied hands. (Eastern New Guinea including the southeast was not part of the DEI, but administered by Australia.) The Japanese attempted to seize Port Moresby both by sea and by land operations. The amphibious invasion force was turned back by an American carrier force in the Battle of the Coral Sea (May 1942). The Japanese then mounted a land invasion over the formidable Owen-Stanley Mountains. The Australians stopped them only 30 miles short of Port Moresby. The Japanese Army's focus on New Guinea was a factor in their faolure to take the American invasion of Guadacanal seriously at first (August 1942). The fact that the Imperial Navy refused to reveal the enomity of the losses at Midway. The Americans and Australians overseen by General MaxcArthur began the long process of retaking the northern coast of New Guinea while the U.S. Navy and Marines launched their Central Pacific campaigns (1943).

Japanese Occupation

The Japanese established a military government and divided the DEI into three administrative zones (Sumatra, central islands, and eastern islands). Sumatra where most of the oil was located was joined with the military jurisdiction of Malaya with Singapore as its administrative center. Java and a number of other islands were also administered by the Japanese Army. The other two Japanese administrative areas centred on Borneo (British and Dutch) and on the Celebes, the Moluccas, and Dutch New Guinea, were controlled by the Japanese Navy. The Japanese released nationalist leaders (Sukarno and Hatta) and allowed them to set up puppet political organizations. The Japanese promised independence to the Indonesians (1943). They never actually delivered on that promise.

Seizing the Oil

The primary reason Japan had to go to war was the resources of Southeast Asia (the Southern Resource Zone), especially oil. Lt-General Imamura Hitoshi's Sixteenth Army which had invaded Mindanao in the Philippines, attacked Dutch Borneo, Celebes, and the Moluccas (December 20, 1941). The Japanese staged a daring paratroop attack on a north Celebes airfield (January11, 1942). They also moved against the oil-rich ceners of Dutch Borneo and important airfields at Kendari (southern Celebes) and Amboina (Moluccas). On the very day that Singapore fell to the Japanese (February 15, 1942), the Japanese dispatched another 16th Army invasion fleet to seize the Palembang oilfield in southern Sumatra. Japanese army troops landed at night on Balikpapan (January 23-24). They immediately occupied the town and using paratroops again seized the great Palembang oil refinery complex without significant Dutch resources. Some KNIL troops surrendered to the Japanese. Others managed to escape to Samarinda.

Oil Production

Japan did attempt to exploit the DEI's natural resources (oil, rubber, tin, etc.). Oil of course was the key resource. The Japanese managed to seize only about 4 million barrels of oil as many of the storage tanks were destroyed. Even worse for the Japanese, actually producing oil proved to be a much more difficult undertaking than seizing the oil fields. This is because the Dutch had anticipated the invasion and did a very through job on puting the fields out of operation, especially the all important refineries. The Japanese war planners had anticipated quickly bringing the oil fields and refineries back on line. It proved to be a much more difficult undertaking than anticipated. The whole task was furthur set back when a transport ship carrting refinery equipment and even more important skilled refinery personnel was sunk. This meant that the refineries were off line all of 1942. For the Japanese this proved a disaster. The American submarine campaign was crippled in 1942, as strange as it might sound, by the lack of a torpedo that worked. The Japanese finally managed to get production up to 50 million barrels, 76 percent of its 1940 output rate (1943). The problem for the Japanese was that producing oil in the DEI did them little good. They needed to trnsport it back to the Home Islands. And thisproved a serious problem. By the time the refineries wre operational, the American submarine campaign had begun to bite. Thus only limited quantities of oil actually reached Japan. And after the Amercans seized the Philippines (October 1944-January 1945), Japan was entirely cut off. So Japan failed to achieve its primary war aim, obtaining access to oil.

Utilizing the Resources

Japanese planners believed that the resources of Southeast Asia would give them the capability of fininishing the War in China and protecting their new empire. Tey had not anticipated that a resurgent American navy, especially the submarine campaign, by 1943 would make it difficult to deliver these resources of the Southern Resource Zone to Japan's war industry. it was virtually impossible by 1944 because Japan's merchant marine had been essentially destroyed. The U.S. Navy in major naval battles off the Marinanas and Leyte destroyed the Japanese Imperial Navy as an effective force (1944). This and the the American landings in the Philippines (October 1944) virtually cut Japan off from the raw materials in the DEI and other occupied areas. The 1943-44 submarine campaign had been highly effective, but after the Battles of the Philippine Sea (July 1944) and Leyte Gulf (October 1944), the sea lanes were virtually totally severed. This was complete when the United States seized Okinawa (April 1945). The resources of course were the reason that Japan lunched the War to begin with. If Japan had moved north and attacked The Soviet Union in 1941, the Axis may well have win the War. But unlike the sitution in the Allies camp, there was an almost total lack of coordination within the Axis. By moving south and attacking America, not only did Japan fail to secure the resources it so coveted, but brought America into the War--thus dooming the Japanese Empire and the the Axis. Cutting Japan off from resources suignificantly reduced industrial output and crippled the Japanese war economy.

Japanese Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere

The DEI because of its oil and ther resources were to be a critical component of the Japanese Greater East Asia Coproperity Sphere This was a propaganda concept to gain the support of subject peoples in European Asian colonies. The slogan coined by the Japanese was "asia for the Asians". The propaganda impage promoted by the Japanese was a grouping of independent Asian nations liberated by Western influences. The Japanese concept was very different, including two basic concepts. One was the racial and cultural superiority of the Japanese people and two obtaining access to the resources of the region, especially the petroleum of the Dutch East Indies. And as it function in the areas conquered, the Japanese established puppet governments with the primary purpose of exploiting local resources for the Japanese war effort. The concept originated with General Hachiro Arita, while serving as foreign minister. The Japabese plans were first enunciated by Foreign Minister Matsuoka Yosuke (August 1, 1940). It was a concept long discussed by strategic thinkers in Japan. Influential Japanese educator Fukuzawa Yukichi described his concept of "Japan's Mission in Asia" (1882) justifying Japanese imperialism and the "manifest destiny" of Japan to be the leading Asia nation. Secret socities such as the Black Dragon Society and Kita Ikki proved influential, especially among military leaders. The idea of a righteous war to expel Europeans from Asia achieved increasing currency. The concept was, however, essentially Japan displacing the Europeans and not freeing the Asians. As Japanese Word War II conquests unfolded, they were not infrequently met as liberators in the European colonies they conquered. Local populations, however, soon experienced the brutality of Japanese occupiers and enthusism for the Japanese quickly declined. The Asian colonies occupied by the Japanese soon found out the difference between Japanese propaganda and actual plans. Japanese oaccupation and military leaders proved more haughty and and more brutal than the former European colonial officials. Just how Australia and New Zealand fit into Japanese plans is unclear. Some Japanese theorists argued that the Europeans should be ousted from Australia and New Zealand. The Pacific War launched at Pearl Harbor, however, was a war launched with limited goals. Just what those goals were, however, are not entirely clear and I am not sure the Japanese militarists who launched the War clearly defined them.

Japanese Atrocities

Japanese atrocities in the DEI were widespread and directed at various groups. The attroicities were not limited to the Dutch and other European internees, but also Australian and Dutch POWs, The Indonesian civilian population also suffered. POWs were treated barbarically. Some of the worst attrocities occurred at the beginning of the occupation when the Japanese believed they had won and there would be no retribution. Other terrible attroctities included at the end of the War to cover up the killing and abuses during the occupation. A Dutch internne reports that her father saw Japanese military trucks with POWs (many Australians)cramed into large baskets. They laster learned that the baskets were thrown into the Java Sea. [van Kampen] The Japanese instituted forced labor (romusha). Japanese attrocities against European and American POWs and civilian internees are fairly well documented. Much less reported are the Japanese attrocities carried out against the civilian population of the occupied countries. The limited attention is in part because nationalists like Sukarno collaborated with the

POWs


Dutch Internees

The Japanese interned the Dutch military and civilians and both were treated outrageously. About 170,000 civilians were interned. Of those internees about 25,000 died. [Rummel] The Japanese treated the civilians taken in the Dutch and British colonies much more severely than the mostly American civilians taken in the Philippines. It is unclear just why this difference occurred, most likely it was the vageries of individual command decessions. The Dutch civilians in the DEI were treated similarly to the POWS. A reader writes, "I had some relatives myself who were interned. One of my mother's brothers used to live in the Dutch East Indies with his wife and four young children. I met my uncle and his family for the first time in Jakarta when I went to work for a Dutch company in Indonesia in 1949, the year the country became officially independent. The capital Batavia became Jakarta. My uncle did not say much about his treatment by the Japanese. He had been sent to Japan to work as a slave laborer in the coal mines together with many other Dutch prisoners. Many died, but he survived. My aunt and the children (one girl and three boys) were interned in the notorious Ambarawa Camp on the island of Java. It was a women's camp, but boys under 10 years of age were allowed to stay with their mothers. All I know is that they nearly died of malnutrition. Whenever they saw a Japanese officer they were forced to bow for him. If they did not do that they were beaten or got nothing to eat that day. The family returned to the Netherlands in 1956. I stayed 9 years in Indonesia and returned in 1958 to Europe. As a matter of fact all Dutch citizens were forced to leave at that time. More than 200 000 went to Holland. This included many mixed-blooded people, who never made any trouble after settling in the Netherlands. They integrated and assimilated very well in Dutch society, unlike the Turkish and Moroccan guest workers, or the Antillian and Surinam immigrants from the ex-Dutch possessions in the Caribbean and South America." [Stueck]

Indonesian victims

The Japanese did not just terribly mistreat the Dutch. The greatest victims of the Japanese were the Indonesians. Indonesian nationalists collaborated with the Japanese despite the people who perished during the occupation. Japanese. These actions are normally ignored or only mentioned in passing by many World War II historians. Some studies suggest that the Japanese killed sone 2.5-4.0 million Indonesian civilians during the occupation. They were especially brutal toward the Chinese minority. We have few details, but the bulk of the fatalities appear to come from two sources. There was little resistance to the Jaoanese. Many died from the brutality and lack of even minimal concern for the Indnesians dragooned into forced labor. Also the Japanese seized available food supplies and imposed regulations that caused a terrible famine. [Dower] The greatest number of victims resulted from Japanese occipation policies thht impaired agricultural output and the resulting famine. A Dutch reader writes, "You are right. Millions of native Indonesians were killed by the Japanese during the war. Thousands of Europeans and Chinese too. There are many books by Dutch authors (in Dutch of course) about the Japanese atrocities, although they addressed the sufferings of the Dutch in the camps." [Stueck] ese was hardly the only atrocities committed. Large numbers of Indonesians perished doing forced labor for the Japanese. A good example is the experience of Javanese men, women, and boys rounded up for genocidal forced labor on Noemfoor Island off western New Guinea.

Resistance

Japanese brutality gradually turned much of the local population against them. Actual resistance, however, was minimal and mostly regional. The resistance was especially active in Ache (western Sumatra).

Allied Reconquest (1944-45)

The Allies used their expanding air power to strike at Japanese military targets in the DEI. Allied forces (Australian, Dutch, and Acehnese rebels) began to retake islands. The first islands taken were in the east, but the Allied eventually reached Sumatra. The Allied campaign included: Hollandia (April 22, 1944), Morotai (September 15 1944), Tarakan (April 30, 1945), Halmahera and northern Sumatra (June 1945).

Borneo (May 1945)

The Joint Chiefs saw Australian operations in New Guinea as largely pointless. And six divisions in Pacific Island terms was a substantial force. They decided to ask the Australians to plan an operation on Borneo. It was before the War split betweem British and Dutch administration. MacArthur endorsed the operation, seeing it as the first step toward the evebtual retaking of the Dutch Wast Indies. Borneo was chosen because of the oil fielkds, refineries, and air bases. There was alsdo aesistance movement ob Borneo, including Chinese refugees (ethnic Chinese were targeted by the Japsnese throughout Southeast Asia), Allied soldiers who had not surrendered, and Dyak tribesmen. In other areas of the DEI there was considerable collaboration with the Japanese by the nationalist groups. (This was in sharp contrast to the Philippines.) Another concern was the Allied POWs and civilkian internees. An Australian corps with Allied naval ans air support landed on Borneo (May 1945). Australian casialties were light. The Japanese managed, however, to kill about 3,500 POWs and civilian internees on Birneo and Ambon Islands before Allied special forces could reach them.

Indonesian Nationalists (1945)

Indonesian nationalists began to disassocite themselves from the Japanese as it became apparent that they would be defeated by the Allies. They managed to seize some Japanese arms. Sukarno and Hatta declared Indonesian independence when Japan announced their surrender (August 1945). The Allies tried to prevent the Japanese from surrendering to the nationalists and turning over their weapons to them. Many islands including Java and Borneo remained in Japanese hands when the country surrendered. It was a major undertaking to get Allied forces to those islands and rescue the surviving internees who by this time were starving.

Sources

Dower. John. War Without Mercy (1986). Dower cites a UN report estimating 4 million civilan deaths.

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.

Rummel R.J. Statistics of Genocide : Genocide and Mass Murder since 1900 (1998).

Stueck, Rudi. E-mail message, March 28, 2006.

Van Kampen, Elizabeth. "Memories of my youth and the years of the Japanese occupation in the former Dutch East Indies during World War Two". Retreieved May 26, 2010.

"Japanese in Java," Time (December 30, 1940).






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Created: 5:04 AM 3/29/2006
Last updated: 5:14 AM 7/4/2018