Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies

  (Redirected from Japanese occupation of Indonesia)

The Japanese Empire occupied the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), during World War II from March 1942 until after the end of the war in September 1945. In Indonesian history, the period was one of the most critical.

Japanese-occupied Dutch East Indies

Ranryō Higashi Indo
Motto: Hakkō ichiu
Anthem: Kimigayo

Indonesia Raya (Unofficial)
The former Dutch East Indies (dark red) within the Empire of Japan (light red) at its furthest extent
The former Dutch East Indies (dark red) within the Empire of Japan (light red) at its furthest extent
StatusMilitary occupation
by the Empire of Japan
Common languagesJapanese, Indonesian
GovernmentMilitary occupation
Historical eraWorld War II
8 March 1942
27 February 1942
1 March 1942
• Pontianak incidents (Pontianak Massacres)
1943 - 1944
14 February 1945
15 August 1945
17 August 1945
CurrencyNetherlands Indian roepiah
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Dutch East Indies
Portuguese Timor
Free Republic of Nias
Dutch East Indies
Portuguese Timor
Today part of Indonesia
 East Timor

The Dutch East Indies had been a colony of the Netherlands (the Dutch) since 1819. However, the Netherlands itself had been occupied by Germany in 1940, and thus had little ability to defend its colony against the Imperial Japanese Army, and less than three months after the first attacks on Borneo,[1] the Japanese navy and army overran Dutch and allied forces. Initially, most Indonesians welcomed the Japanese as liberators from their Dutch colonial masters. The sentiment changed, however, as between 4 and 10 million Indonesians were recruited as forced labourers (romusha) on economic development and defense projects in Java. Between 200,000 and half a million were sent away from Java to the outer islands, and as far as Burma and Siam. Of those taken off Java, not more than 70,000 were found alive at the end of the war.[2][3] Four million people died in the Dutch East Indies as a result of famine and forced labour during the Japanese occupation, including 30,000 European civilian internee deaths.[4]

In 1944–1945, Allied troops largely bypassed the Dutch East Indies and did not fight their way into the most populous parts such as Java and Sumatra. As such, most of the Dutch East Indies was still under occupation at the time of Japan's surrender in August 1945.

The occupation was the first serious challenge to the Dutch in their colony and ended the Dutch colonial rule. By its end, changes were so numerous and extraordinary that the subsequent Indonesian National Revolution, became possible.[5] Unlike the Dutch, the Japanese facilitated the politicisation of Indonesians down to the village level. The Japanese educated, trained and armed many young Indonesians and gave their nationalist leaders a political voice. Thus, through both the destruction of the Dutch colonial regime and the facilitation of Indonesian nationalism, the Japanese occupation created the conditions for the proclamation of Indonesian independence within days of the Japanese surrender in the Pacific. However, the Netherlands sought to reclaim the Indies, and a bitter five-year diplomatic, military and social struggle ensued, resulting in the Netherlands recognising Indonesian sovereignty in December 1949.


Map prepared by the Japanese during World War II, depicting Java, the most populous island in the Dutch East Indies

Until 1942, what is now Indonesia was a colony of the Netherlands and was known as the Dutch East Indies. In 1929, during the Indonesian National Awakening, Indonesian nationalist leaders Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta (later founding President and Vice-President), foresaw a Pacific War and that a Japanese advance on the Dutch East Indies might be advantageous for the independence cause.[6]

The Japanese spread the word that they were the 'Light of Asia'. Japan was the only Asian nation that had successfully transformed itself into a modern technological society at the end of the 19th century and it remained independent when most Asian countries had been under European or American power, and had beaten a European power, Russia, in war.[7] Following its military campaign in China, Japan turned its attention to Southeast Asia, advocating to other Asians a 'Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere', which they described as a type of trade zone under Japanese leadership. The Japanese had gradually spread their influence through Asia in the first half of the 20th century and during the 1920s and 1930s had established business links in the Indies. These ranged from small town barbers, photographic studios and salesmen, to large department stores and firms such as Suzuki and Mitsubishi becoming involved in the sugar trade.[8]

The Japanese population peaked in 1931 with 6,949 residents before starting a gradual decrease, largely due to economic tensions between Japan and the Netherlands Indies government.[9] A number of Japanese had been sent by their government to establish links with Indonesian nationalists, particularly with Muslim parties, while Indonesian nationalists were sponsored to visit Japan. Such encouragement of Indonesian nationalism was part of a broader Japanese plan for an 'Asia for the Asians'.[8] While most Indonesians were hopeful for the Japanese promise of an end to the Dutch racially based system, Chinese Indonesians, who enjoyed a privileged position under Dutch rule, were less optimistic. Also concerned were members of the Indonesian communist underground who followed the Soviet Union's popular united front against fascism.[10] Japanese aggression in Manchuria and China in the late 1930s caused anxiety amongst the Chinese in Indonesia who set up funds to support the anti-Japanese effort. Dutch intelligence services also monitored Japanese living in Indonesia.[11]

In November 1941, Madjlis Rakjat Indonesia, an Indonesian organisation of religious, political and trade union groups, submitted a memorandum to the Dutch East Indies Government requesting the mobilisation of the Indonesian people in the face of the war threat.[12] The memorandum was refused because the Government did not consider the Madjlis Rakyat Indonesia to be representative of the people. Within only four months, the Japanese had occupied the archipelago.


Map of the Japanese advance through Indonesia, 1942

On 8 December 1941, the Dutch government-in-exile declared war on Japan.[13] In January the American-British-Dutch-Australian Command (ABDACOM) was formed to co-ordinate Allied forces in South East Asia, under the command of General Archibald Wavell.[14] In the weeks leading up to the invasion, senior Dutch government officials went into exile, taking political prisoners, family, and personal staff to Australia. Before the arrival of Japanese troops, there were conflicts between rival Indonesian groups where people were killed, vanished or went into hiding. Chinese- and Dutch-owned properties were ransacked and destroyed.[15]

The invasion in early 1942 was swift and complete. By January 1942, parts of Sulawesi and Kalimantan were under Japanese control. By February, the Japanese had landed on Sumatra where they had encouraged the Acehnese to rebel against the Dutch.[16] On 19 February, having already taken Ambon, the Japanese Eastern Task Force landed in Timor, dropping a special parachute unit into West Timor near Kupang, and landing in the Dili area of Portuguese Timor to drive out the Allied forces which had invaded in December.[17] On 27 February, the Allied navy's last effort to contain Japan was swept aside by their defeat in the Battle of the Java Sea.[18] From 28 February to 1 March 1942, Japanese troops landed on four places along the northern coast of Java almost undisturbed.[19] The fiercest fighting had been in invasion points in Ambon, Timor, Kalimantan, and on the Java Sea. In places where there were no Dutch troops, such as Bali, there was no fighting.[20] On 9 March, the Dutch commander surrendered along with Governor General Jonkheer A.W.L. Tjarda van Starkenborgh Stachouwer.[16]

Outline of the Japanese entry in Batavia, as depicted by the Japanese

The Japanese occupation was initially greeted with optimistic enthusiasm by Indonesians who came to meet the Japanese army waving flags and shouting support such as "Japan is our older brother" and "banzai Dai Nippon".[21] As the Japanese advanced, rebellious Indonesians in virtually every part of the archipelago killed groups of Europeans (particularly the Dutch) and informed the Japanese reliably on the whereabouts of larger groups.[22] As famed Indonesian writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer noted: "With the arrival of the Japanese just about everyone was full of hope, except for those who had worked in the service of the Dutch.[23]"

The occupationEdit

The colonial army was consigned to detention camps and Indonesian soldiers were released.[citation needed] Expecting that Dutch administrators would be kept by the Japanese to run the colony, most Dutch had refused to leave. Instead, they were sent to concentration camps and Japanese or Indonesian replacements were installed in senior and technical positions.[24] Japanese troops took control of government infrastructure and services such as ports and postal services.[20] In addition to the 100,000 European (and some Chinese) civilians interned, 80,000 Dutch, British, Australian, and US Allied troops went to prisoner-of-war camps where the death rates were between 13 and 30 percent.[16]

The Indonesian ruling class (composed of local officials and politicians who had formerly worked for the Dutch colonial government) co-operated with the Japanese military authorities, who in turn helped to keep the local political elites in power and employ them to supply newly arrived Japanese industrial concerns and businesses and the armed forces (chiefly auxiliary military and police units run by the Japanese military in the Dutch East Indies). Indonesian co-operation allowed the Japanese military government to focus on securing the large archipelago's waterways and skies and using its islands as defence posts against any Allied attacks (which were assumed to most likely come from Australia).[25] The Japanese colonial rulers divided Indonesia into three separate regions; Sumatra was placed under the 25th Army, Java and Madura were under the 16th Army, while Borneo and eastern Indonesia were controlled by the 2nd South Fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy (the IJN). The 16th Army and the 25th Army were headquartered in Singapore[5] and also controlled Malaya until April 1943, when its command was narrowed to just Sumatra and the headquarters moved to Bukittinggi. The 16th Army was headquartered in Jakarta, while the IJN's 2nd South Fleet was headquartered in Makassar.

Internment camp in Jakarta, c. 1945

Experience of the occupation varied considerably, depending upon where one lived and one's social position. Many who lived in areas considered important to the war effort experienced torture, sex slavery, arbitrary arrest and execution, and other war crimes. Many thousands of people were taken away from Indonesia as forced labourers (romusha) for Japanese military projects, including the Burma-Siam and Saketi-Bayah railways, and suffered or died as a result of ill-treatment and starvation. Between four and 10 million romusha in Java were forced to work by the Japanese military.[26]

Tens of thousands of Indonesians were to starve, work as slave labourers, or be forced from their homes. In the National Revolution that followed, tens, even hundreds, of thousands, would die in fighting against the Japanese, Allied forces, and other Indonesians, before Independence was achieved.[27][28] A later United Nations report stated that four million people died in Indonesia as a result of famine and forced labour during the Japanese occupation, including 30,000 European civilian internee deaths.[4] A Dutch government study described how the Japanese military recruited women as prostitutes by force in Indonesia.[29] It concluded that among the 200 to 300 European women working in the Japanese military brothels, "some sixty five were most certainly forced into prostitution." [30] Other young women (and their families), faced with various pressures in the internment camps or in wartime society, agreed to offers of work, the nature of which was frequently not explicitly stated.[31][32][33][34][35][36][37][38]

Netherlands Indian Gulden – the Japanese occupation currency

Materially, whole railway lines, railway rolling stock, and industrial plants in Java were appropriated and shipped back to Japan and Manchuria. British intelligence reports during the occupation noted significant removals of any materials that could be used in the war effort.

Underground resistanceEdit

Indonesian nationalist Amir Sjarifuddin organized an underground resistance against the Japanese occupation.

Next to Sutan Sjahrir who led the student (Pemuda) underground, the only prominent opposition politician was leftist Amir Sjarifuddin who was given 25,000 guilders by the Dutch in early 1942 to organize an underground resistance through his Marxist and nationalist connections. The Japanese arrested Amir in 1943, and he only escaped execution following intervention from Sukarno, whose popularity in Indonesia and hence the importance to the war effort was recognized by the Japanese. Apart from Amir's Surabaya-based group, the active pro-Allied activities were among the Chinese, Ambonese, and Manadonese.[39]

In South Kalimantan, a scheme by Indonesian nationalists and Dutch against the Japanese was uncovered before the Pontianak incident occurred.[40] According to some sources this happened in September 1943 at Amuntai in South Kalimantan and involved establishing up an Islamic State and expelling the Japanese but the plan was defeated.[41][42]

In 1943 the Japanese beheaded Tengku Rachmadu'llah, a member of the royal family of the Sultanate of Serdang.[citation needed] In the 1943–1944 Pontianak incidents (also known as the Mandor Affair), the Japanese orchestrated a mass arrest of Malay elites and Arabs, Chinese, Javanese, Manadonese, Dayaks, Bugis, Bataks, Minangkabau, Dutch, Indians, and Eurasians in Kalimantan, including all of the Malay Sultans, accused them of plotting to overthrow Japanese rule, and then massacred them.[43][44] The Japanese falsely claimed that all of those ethnic groups and organisations such as the Islamic Pemuda Muhammadijah were involved in a plot to overthrow the Japanese and create a "People's Republic of West Borneo" (Negara Rakyat Borneo Barat).[45] The Japanese claimed that- "Sultans, Chinese, Indonesian government officials, Indians and Arabs, who had been antagonistic to each other, joined together to massacre Japanese.", naming the Sultan of the Pontianak Sultanate as one of the "ringleaders" in the planned rebellion.[46] Up to 25 aristocrats, relatives of the Sultan of Pontianak, and many other prominent individuals were named as participants in the plot by the Japanese and then executed at Mandor.[47][48] The Sultans of Pontianak, Sambas, Ketapang, Soekadana, Simbang, Koeboe, Ngabang, Sanggau, Sekadau, Tajan, Singtan, and Mempawa were all executed by the Japanese, respectively, their names were Sjarif Mohamed Alkadri, Mohamad Ibrahim Tsafidedin, Goesti Saoenan, Tengkoe Idris, Goesti Mesir, Sjarif Saleh, Goesti Abdoel Hamid, Ade Mohamad Arif, Goesti Mohamad Kelip, Goesti Djapar, Raden Abdul Bahri Danoe Perdana, and Mohammed Ahoufiek.[49] They are known as the "12 Dokoh".[50] In Java, the Japanese jailed Syarif Abdul Hamid Alqadrie, the son of Sultan Syarif Mohamad Alkadrie (Sjarif Mohamed Alkadri).[51] Since he was in Java during the executions Hamid II was the only male in his family not killed, while the Japanese beheaded all 28 other male relatives of Pontianak Sultan Mohammed Alkadri.[52] Among the 29 people of the Sultan of Pontianak's family who were beheaded by the Japanese was the heir to the Pontianak throne.[53] Later in 1944, the Dayaks assassinated a Japanese man named Nakatani, who was involved in the incident and who was known for his cruelty. Sultan of Pontianak Mohamed Alkadri's fourth son, Pengeran Agoen (Pangeran Agung), and another son, Pengeran Adipati (Pangeran Adipati), were both killed by the Japanese in the incident.[54] The Japanese had beheaded both Pangeran Adipati and Pangeran Agung,[55] in a public execution.[56] The Japanese extermination of the Malay elite of Pontianak paved the way for a new Dayak elite to arise in its place.[57] According to Mary F. Somers Heidhues, during May and June 1945, some Japanese were killed in a rebellion by the Dayaks in Sanggau.[58] According to Jamie S. Davidson, this rebellion, during which many Dayaks and Japanese were killed, occurred from April through August 1945, and was called the "Majang Desa War".[59] The Pontianak Incidents, or Affairs, are divided into two Pontianak incidents by scholars, variously categorised according to mass killings and arrests, which occurred in several stages on different dates. The Pontianak incident negatively impacted the Chinese community in Kalimantan.[60][61][62][63][64]

The Acehnese Ulama (Islamic clerics) fought against both the Dutch and the Japanese, revolting against the Dutch in February 1942 and against Japan in November 1942. The revolt was led by the All-Aceh Religious Scholars' Association ( PUSA). The Japanese suffered 18 dead in the uprising while they slaughtered up to 100 or over 120 Acehnese.[41][65] The revolt happened in Bayu and was centred around Tjot Plieng village's religious school.[66][67][68][69] During the revolt, the Japanese troops armed with mortars and machine guns were charged by sword wielding Acehnese under Teungku Abduldjalil (Tengku Abdul Djalil) in Buloh Gampong Teungah and Tjot Plieng on 10 and 13 November.[70][71][72][73][74][75][76] In May 1945 the Acehnese rebelled again.[77]

Japanese effort in building a puppet stateEdit

Young Indonesian boys being trained by the Imperial Japanese Army

In the decades before the war, the Dutch had been overwhelmingly successful in suppressing the small nationalist movement in Indonesia such that the Japanese proved fundamental for coming Indonesian independence. During the occupation, the Japanese encouraged and backed Indonesian nationalistic sentiments, created new Indonesian institutions, and promoted nationalist leaders such as Sukarno. The openness now provided to Indonesian nationalism, combined with the Japanese destruction of much of the Dutch colonial state, were fundamental to the Indonesian National Revolution that followed World War Two.[27]

Japan lifted the ban on the use of the national name "Indonesia", which was banned by the Netherlands, in public.[21] Nonetheless, within two months of the occupation, the Japanese did not allow the use of the nationalistic (red and white) Indonesian flag that was allowed at first.[78] In fact "any discussion, organisation, speculation or propaganda concerning the political organisation or government of the country" (also in the media) was strictly forbidden. They split up the Dutch East Indies into three separate regions and referred to it as the 'Southern Territories'. While Tokyo prepared the Philippines for independence in 1943, they simultaneously decided to annex the Indonesian islands into the greater Japanese Empire. Until late 1944 when the Pacific war was at a turning point the Japanese never seriously supported Indonesian independence.[79]

The Japanese regime perceived Java as the most politically sophisticated but economically the least important area; its people were Japan's main resource. As such—and in contrast to Dutch suppression—the Japanese encouraged Indonesian nationalism in Java and thus increased its political sophistication (similar encouragement of nationalism in strategic resource-rich Sumatra came later, but only after it was clear the Japanese would lose the war). The outer islands under naval control, however, were regarded as politically backward but economically vital for the Japanese war effort, and these regions were governed the most oppressively of all. These experiences and subsequent differences in nationalistic politicisation would have profound impacts on the course of the Indonesian Revolution in the years immediately following independence (1945–1950).

1966 ABC report examining Sukarno's alliance between imperial Japan and the Indonesian nationalist movement

To gain support and mobilise Indonesian people in their war effort against the Western Allied force, Japanese occupation forces encouraged Indonesian nationalistic movements and recruited Indonesian nationalist leaders; Sukarno, Hatta, Ki Hajar Dewantara and Kyai Haji Mas Mansyur to rally the people's support for mobilisation centre Putera (Indonesian: Pusat Tenaga Rakyat) on 16 April 1943, replaced with Jawa Hokokai on 1 March 1944. Some of these mobilised populations were sent to forced labour as romusha.

Japanese military also provided Indonesian youth with military training and weapons, including the formation of a volunteer army called PETA (Pembela Tanah Air – Defenders of the Homeland). The Japanese military training for Indonesian youth originally was meant to rally local support for the collapsing power of the Japanese Empire, but later became the significant resource for the Republic of Indonesia during the Indonesian National Revolution, and also led to the formation of Indonesian National Armed Forces in 1945.

On 29 April 1945, Lt. Gen. Kumakichi Harada, the commander of 16th Army in Java established the Investigating Committee for Preparatory Work for Independence (Indonesian: Badan Penyelidik Usaha Persiapan Kemerdekaan (BPUPK)) (Japanese: 独立準備調査会, Dokuritsu Junbi Chōsakai), as the initial stage of the establishment of independence for the area under the control of the 16th Army.[80]

In addition to new-found Indonesian nationalism, equally important for the coming independence struggle and internal revolution was the Japanese-orchestrated economic, political and social dismantling and destruction of the Dutch colonial state.[27]

Unlike the ochlocratic policy that the Dutch government made towards the locals, the Japanese had opened training schools for government officials, normal schools, agricultural and forestry schools, commercial schools, engineering colleges, medical colleges, merchant marine school, for provide higher education to Indonesians, and made "Indonesian" the official language instead of English or Dutch.[21]

The Japanese banned the use of Dutch and English language.[81]

End of the occupationEdit

Japanese commanders listening to the terms of surrender

General MacArthur wanted to fight his way with Allied troops to liberate Java in 1944–45 but was ordered not to by the joint chiefs and President Roosevelt. The Japanese occupation thus officially ended with Japanese surrender in the Pacific and two days later Sukarno declared Indonesian Independence; Indonesian forces spent the next four years fighting the Dutch for independence. According to historian Theodore Friend, American restraint from fighting their way into Java saved Japanese, Javanese, Dutch, and American lives, but also impeded international support for Indonesian independence.[82] A later UN report stated that four million people died in Indonesia as a result of the Japanese occupation.[83] About 2.4 million people died in Java from famine during 1944–45.[84]

Liberation of the internment camps holding western prisoners was not swift. Conditions were better during post-war internment than under previous internment, for, this time, Red Cross supplies were made available and the Allies made the Japanese order the most heinous and cruel occupiers home. After four months of post-war internment, Western internees were released on the condition they left Indonesia.[citation needed]

Most of the Japanese military personnel and civilian colonial administrators were repatriated to Japan following the war, although the process took nearly a year for most individuals, and often two years or more. Following screening for war crimes, physical labor or security duty for thousands more, and war crimes trials for approximately 1,038 individuals, they were sent back to Japan aboard remaining Japanese vessels. Approximately 1,000 Japanese soldiers deserted from their units (then under allied command) and assimilated themselves into local communities. Many of these soldiers joined the TNI or other Indonesian military organizations, and a number of these former Japanese soldiers died during the Indonesian National Revolution, such as Abdul Rachman (Ichiki Tatsuo).[85][86][87][88]

Japanese soldiers on trial

The final stages of warfare were initiated in October 1945 when, in accordance with the terms of their surrender, the Japanese tried to re-establish the authority they relinquished to Indonesians in the towns and cities. Japanese military police killed Republican pemuda in Pekalongan (Central Java) on 3 October, and Japanese troops drove Republican pemuda out of Bandung in West Java and handed the city to the British, but the fiercest fighting involving the Japanese was in Semarang. On 14 October, British forces began to occupy the city. Retreating Republican forces retaliated by killing between 130 and 300 Japanese prisoners they were holding. Five hundred Japanese and 2000 Indonesians had been killed and the Japanese had almost captured the city six days later when British forces arrived.[89]

I, of course, knew that we had been forced to keep Japanese troops under arms to protect our lines of communication and vital areas ... but it was nevertheless a great shock to me to find over a thousand Japanese troops guarding the nine miles of road from the airport to the town.[90]

— Lord Mountbatten of Burma in April 1946 after visiting Sumatra, referring to the use of Japanese Surrendered Personnel.

Until 1949, the returning Dutch authorities held 448 war crimes trials against 1038 suspects. 969 of those were condemned (93.4%) with 236 (24.4%) receiving a death sentence.[91]

See alsoEdit


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