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Dutch Indies Campaign - Part II: Armored Carjacking
by Pete Gade

With a Pistol and a Prayer

Once on the ground, the Japanese airborne fighting man had little more than a sidearm and a few grenades to his name.

Like his German counterpart during the early years of the war, the Japanese paratrooper often found himself faced with a scavenger hunt of sorts when it came to securing his heavy weapons. In the case of the German Fallschirmjaegers, the narrow doors of Luftwaffe transport planes prevented stowing heavy gear on one’s own person. The 1941 air assault on Crete provided one notable example as to how this could play out in combat. When New Zealand defenders quickly realized that the freshly dropped German paras were armed with pistols and grenades, they simply sighted their heavy guns on the weapons containers scattered on the ground before them. When German troops made a dash for their gear, they were cut down.

The Japanese faced similar situations, such as during the Yokosuka 1st SNLF drop on Celebes. A number of troops landed near Dutch pillboxes and took heavy casualties until the strongpoints were suppressed. Although sources do not elaborate as to the exact methods the Japanese used here, one can surmise that they made use of the high explosive, tear gas, and white phosphorous grenades typically distributed to airborne troops - plus more than a hint of the élan instilled into these elite troops. Sources go on to state that it wasn’t until 1943 that Japanese airborne troops were able to jump into action with anything more than pistols and grenades.

One-Way Ticket

Striking a balance between firepower and ease of deployment remains a primary concern for airborne forces. In some cases, though, the Japanese took a decidedly short-term view on this issue. Some tickets into combat were one way. Such was the case for the Giretsu Airborne Unit, an elite band of what essentially amounted to suicide troops, tasked with landing on Allied airfields and affixing demolition charges onto enemy planes. The Japanese contrived two interesting solutions toward this end - a sort of plunger and suction cup device that stuck an explosive device onto planes, and a weighted chain with charges along its length plus a sandbag that made it easy to toss across a wing.

When the Giretsu Airborne Unit was finally placed into action at the end of May 1945 against an American airbase, the overwhelming majority of the unit’s inbound aircraft fell to anti-aircraft fire. Some planes managed to crash land, allowing troops to pour out and unleash significant havoc. One can only imagine the sight before the stunned American ground crews as thousands of gallons of aviation fuel went up in flames and dozens of aircraft were either damaged or destroyed outright. Not a single commando came home from that raid, and sources state that some of them committed suicide rather than be captured.

Before the Days of Desperation

Of course, not all airfield raids resorted to the desperate measures of the war’s final days. In 1942, during the height of Imperial power in the Pacific, the Japanese took aim at a number of Allied airfields with the intention of capturing them and bringing victorious Japanese troops home for further operations.

As part of the oil field operation in Sumatra, covered earlier in this series of scenarios, paratroopers of the Imperial Japanese Army sought to secure a British airfield just north of Palambang and its refineries. Guarded by elements of the Dutch colonial forces, anti-aircraft crews, and lightly armed British airfield personnel, the base provided yet another ready-made airfield in the South Pacific, plus the chance to deal the Allies yet another black eye by means of a nasty surprise.

The plan involved dropping two groups of units near the airfield, with one to the west and another to the southeast. As fortune would have it, the western force, made up of the 2nd Company of the 2nd Raiding Regiment, essentially got mired in reedy terrain and failed to locate its weapons containers. Meanwhile, a faulty door placed the 4th Company far south of its mark after it flew past its assigned drop zone. What could have been disastrous ended up as a tremendous stroke of luck. The 4th Company soon encountered a convoy of Dutch troops heading south along the road from the airfield to Palambang. Armed only with pistols and grenades at this point, the Japanese paras forced the Dutch to surrender. Later, another convoy streamed north along the road, this time escorted by an armored car. Another firefight erupted at what was now a de facto roadblock precipitated by something so simple as a stuck door.

Scenario: Armored Carjacking

An Allied convoy rushes headlong into a Japanese ambush and engages in a bloody firefight. Some spirited Japanese attackers have set their sights on a grand prize—a Dutch armored car.


One of a paratrooper’s greatest weapons is surprise. When that is gained, even the most daunting of odds can be equalized. The 4th Company blindsided the convoy, beat back the Dutch, and then found itself in possession of an armored car. The unit proceeded north toward the airfield where they joined up with the rest of the southern attack force. The regimental commander, when presented with this prize, immediately put it into action against the unit’s objective - the British airfield.

The fate of the airfield, and said armored car, is covered in the next scenario of this series.

Author’s Note:

Given the lack of western resources on the subject of Japanese airborne forces, the author would like to acknowledge a recently published text that made creating these scenarios possible: Rottman and Takizawa’s “Japanese Paratroop Forces of World War II.”

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