|Dutch Indies Campaign - Part III: Raid!|
|by Pete Gade|
The Other Side
The East Indies held the world’s powers in its sway as early as the 17th century.
Drawn to its wealth of natural resources, Portugal, England, and The Netherlands dueled for control of the archipelago. The Dutch came out on top of these early conflicts, which eventually resulted in tremendous dividends for the Dutch East India Company. The company prospered throughout the better part of the 17th and 18th centuries until financial woes broke its back in 1798, yet the East Indies were to firmly remain a Dutch holding. In 1815, the Congress of Vienna awarded the East Indies to the Kingdom of the Netherlands during its re-drawing of Europe’s post-Napoleonic political map.
Enter the industrial age and the discovery of oil in the East Indies. With drilling and refining operations in place, the region presented a resource-strapped Japan with a coveted prize. In the wake of invasions that overran France and the Low Countries in 1940, the Axis powers made a point of including colonial territories in southeast Asia in their dealings with the conquered. Germany coerced state officials of the Vichy French regime to turn Indochina over to Japan, and the Dutch government in exile harbored worries as to the fate of their own colonial holdings in the region.
It fell upon the Dutch navy and a variety of territorial forces to secure the Kingdom’s holdings abroad. Things did not go well, which is perhaps more a reflection of the resources Dutch fighting men had at their disposal than a lack of willingness to fight. The navy’s strongest ships were vintage light cruisers and necessity deemed that the air forces use American light bombers as fighters.
Dutch naval elements joined the ABDA (American-British-Dutch-Australian) fleet, which suffered a crushing defeat in February 1942 at the Battle of the Java Sea. Japanese forces then landed on Java in March 1942 and the defeated Dutch were then sent to all manner of prison and labor camps throughout Japan’s holdings. The Dutch forces that remained in the region fought on, and with distinction. Submarines took their toll on Japanese shipping and Dutch airmen helped protect Australia and eventually helped the Allies regain control of Indonesia from the Japanese.
A Return to the Airfield
Unsurprisingly, wartime Japan leveled its gaze upon the Dutch East Indies. The sprawling empire was in desperate need of fossil fuel to support its operations and maintain its holdings. Although securing the oil refineries in Palambang, Sumatra remained their primary goal, the Japanese sent a significant number of paratroopers after the British Royal Airforce Base that was located just north of the city.
As detailed earlier in this set of scenarios, two groups made up of the Second Japanese Raiding Regiment were meant to assault the base - one from the southeast and one from the west. The western force fell victim to terrain that made finding their weapons containers impossible, not to mention each other. The southern force was split into two groups when a faulty door on one transport plane delayed the jump of the 4th Company.
Of these two groups, the main force landed roughly one mile south of the airfield and gathered its bearings. The 4th Company, meanwhile, landed roughly another mile further south from there. They encountered one convoy of fleeing Dutch forces and forced their surrender—only to engage yet another Dutch convoy traveling north toward the airfield. This convoy included an armored car, and one can only imagine the look on the regimental commander’s face when the 4th Company linked up with the main southern force courtesy of a captured armored car. The regimental commander immediately pressed this windfall of men and motorized firepower into service and called for an attack on the disorganized Allied forces. Meanwhile, British aircrews leveled their Bofors anti-aircraft guns and salvaged heavy weapons from a number of planes. Dutch territorial troops took up positions next to their British allies and readied themselves for a fight.
Armed with a captured Dutch armored car, Japanese airborne forces close in on their target - a British airfield. Salvaging heavy weapons from aircraft and manning anti-aircraft guns, Dutch territorial troops and British ground crews make their stand.
A bloody firefight for the airfield offices broke out as Allied troops pushed up toward the P1 airfield. The Japanese, with their armored car, came out on top. More Japanese poured out the jungle, having made their way to the location from their drop locations, and assisted in mopping up the fleeing defenders. The airfield of P1 was secured, and the world came to know that the Imperial Japanese Navy wasn’t the only Imperial service branch with paratroopers - the army had them too.
Early 1942 represented a grim time for the Allied nations fighting in the Pacific. It seemed that the Japanese could reach out and land surprise strikes at will.
As for the eventual fate of the Dutch East Indian holdings, the Japanese attempted to negotiate a separate peace with Indonesian nationalists. These were ongoing when Australian forces successfully invaded Borneo in 1945, yet the wave of Indonesian independence was already set in motion. British Commonwealth and Dutch forces clashed with Indonesians fighting for independence, and this conflict ravaged the Dutch East Indies for more than three years after World War Two ended. In December 1947, Indonesia gained its independence.
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.”