03/09 – The Fall of the Dutch East Indies

An IJA “banzai” charge on Manado, Indonesia, sometime in 1942. (Reddit)

On this day in 1942, Dutch troops on Indonesia – then known as the Dutch East Indies – surrendered to Japanese forces. Beginning one day after the assault on Pearl Harbour in December of the following year, the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) launched a series of strikes on Dutch airfields and troop concentrations on the islands. Their main objective was to secure the Indies’ oilfields and rubber plantations, a move that would aid their war effort and consolidate power in the region. Despite aid from their Australian, British and American allies, the Dutch defenders were overwhelmed by Japanese airpower and infantry attacks. Although a small-scale guerilla warfare campaign continued after the main surrender, the Indies were effectively under Japanese control by March 9th of 1942.

A map of the IJA’s advances on the Indies in 1941. The sheer scale of the Japanese assault quickly overwhelmed the defenders. (Public Domain)

The Japanese conquest of the Dutch East Indies was a huge blow to the Allied war effort. Armed with new resources and territory, the Japanese were able to press their advantage in the region and extend their war effort. Part of their Southern Expansion Doctrine (formulated in 1939 in the wake of Khalkhin Gol), the seizure of the Indies was seen as a necessary step in securing a territorial buffer against American imperialism and granting Japan the empire it felt it deserved. Like in their other newly-conquered territories, the Japanese occupiers treated the local Indonesians poorly and extracted labour and resources with brutal efficiency.

A Dutch trooper providing clothes to Indonesians in the late 1940s. By this point, the relationship had grown strained and the Indonesians chafed under Dutch control. (Wikimedia Commons)

After the Japanese surrender in 1945, Dutch attempts to reassert control over the Indies ended in disaster. Tired of colonial domination, and inspired by their nascent nationalist movement (itself a result of Dutch educational reform), Indonesians rose up and evicted the Dutch in the Indonesian National Revolution. Like most independence movements in the wake of WWII, the Indonesian experience was a bloody and brutal affair; but by 1949, the dust settled on a free government under Sukarno. Like so many other former colonies, Indonesians had managed to capitalize on the post-war exhaustion of their former masters to achieve their long-sought independence.

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