This is a book from Osprey that I have waited for a long time. I think I first became aware of the Netherlands East Indies in WW2 in the novel Tarzan and the Foreign Legion. In that novel, Col. John Clayton, Lord Greystoke is shot down while an observer on an American heavy bomber on the island of Sumatra. He reverts to Tarzan and kills many Japanese.
Burroughs had some Dutch guerrillas operating on the island that link up with Tarzan. Later I read H. P. Wilmot’s Empires in the Balance. This was the first information I ever read on the Royal Netherlands Indies Army (KNIL). From there, I discovered the old geocities Netherlands East Indies in WW2 website and used to participate on the forum there. There had been talk 18 years ago of contacting Osprey to get a booklet on the KNIL done.
Finally, we have a book devoted to the KNIL 1936-1942. Marc Lohnstein is the author, Adam Hook the illustrator. Lonnstein is the assistant curator at the Royal Home for Retired Military Personnel & Museum Bronbeek in the Netherlands. He translated information from Dutch not available in English before.
H. P. Wilmot pointed out that the Netherlands had the third largest colonial empire at the outset of World War 2. The Netherlands East Indies, modern day Indonesia was probably the most profitable colony in the world. The N.E.I. produced 29% of the world’s rubber, 20% tin, 97% of quinine. It also produced a large amount of oil including 13% of Japan’s imports.
The KNIL was created in 1814 and lasted until Indonesian independence. It was the organization that expanded Dutch authority throughout the East Indies suppressing piracy and native revolts. It was a classic colonial army meant to keep order, not to fight European battles.
The organization was 38,500 strong, 20% European, 43% Javanese. 25% were natives from Ambon and Manado from northern Celebes as they were Christian and not Moslem.
Lohnstein goes into the organization of the KNIL and the history of its attempted modernization program starting in 1936. Unfortunately, the start of WW2 ended shipment of equipment on order from the U.K., France, and Austria.
The KNIL was weak on logistics and staff training for its officers. Holland avoided WW1. As a result, you did not have officers with battlefield experience as in the British, Australian, and American armies. An Australian general concluded the KNIL “should be regarded more as well-equipped Home Guards than an Army capable of undertaking operations in the field.”
A Japanese officer said when commanding the invasion of Ambon, that Dutchmen did not worry him, it was Australians who worried him.
The Dutch had a total of 122,600 professionals, reservists, militia, home guard, and auxiliaries in the N.E.I. A few did escape (mostly from Timor) and fought later with the Australians at Tarakan Island.
This Osprey booklet has a brief overview of sequence of the Japanese campaign that overran the Netherlands East Indies. You can get more detail on the “Breaking of the Dutch” as H. P. Wilmot put it.
The Dutch attempted to prepare for war with Japan. Makes me think if the Anglo-Indian Army had held the Jitra line in Malaya, that would have secured the western portion of “the Malay Barrier.” The Japanese moved up their schedule for conquest of the N.E.I by a month due to the quick occupation of Manila and Luzon. The Philippine Army was still in the process of mobilization when war broke out. The mobilization order has sat on Roosevelt’s desk since late 1940. He did not order mobilization until the end of July 1941. With another eight months of organization and training, not to mention some of the Lend Lease equipment he was hell bent on giving to Stalin, the Philippine Army might have given a better showing. That might have slowed the Japanese juggernaut delaying their conquest by a month or two.
Two Australian infantry divisions and a British armored brigade were on the way when Java fell. Roosevelt seemed convinced the Wehrmacht was going to be landing in the Caribbean at any time. The island of Trinidad ended up with 15,000 U.S. Army personnel alone. What if Adm. Kimmel allowed a good portion of the Pacific Fleet to be transferred to the Atlantic? In our timeline, he protested and got his way. Then what if the midget submarine attack on Pearl Harbor before the air attack and the radar warning was heeded? You have the Japanese losing maybe 130 planes instead of 30. You also have a fleet not completely crippled. Troops meant for the Caribbean are rushed to hold Rabaul in New Britain, Ambon, Kendari and Makassar in Celebes before the Japanese get there. The Dutch had built nice airfields all over the N.E.I. in anticipation of war with Japan. Unfortunately, they seized the airfield in Kendari which was used to bomb Java daily and destroy Allied air strength. Ditto with airfields on Borneo.
You could have had a situation of Australians in Borneo, Americans in Celebes backing up Dutch forces and grinding up Japanese troops like later happened at Guadalcanal. The Japanese used 11 divisions for their push south. The 38th Division that took Hong Kong was then used to take Timor and finally chewed up at Guadalcanal. The Imperial Guards used in Malaya and Singapore then took northern Sumatra. The 48th Division first invaded Luzon in the Philippines and then Java. The Japanese were operating on a very thin margin.
Seems all the alternative histories have Japan even more victorious. It all could have gone very wrong much earlier. Would be interesting to have a time line where the KNIL plays a major part in defeating Japan that gets no farther than Borneo and Celebes.