Friday, 24 October 2008

A little more about the Dutch capitulation in Java

I pause for a moment in my narrative to interpolate a word or two about the Dutch capitulation in Java.

For some reason or other it seemed to be generally expected that when the Jap chose to tackle Java, he would find himself up against a tough opposition. I cannot recall that there was the slightest concrete foundation for this idea, but can merely record that their view was the accepted one.

As I have already mentioned the abrupt and mysterious departure of Wavell and his staff caused many to wonder uneasily if Java was really such a touch nut to crack as had been imagined.

The Dutch Navy and Air Force did brilliant work out of all proportion to their actual strength and literally gave their all. There was not a ship and hardly a plane left when the Jap invasion occurred. Practically all planes had been at the behest of the Allied Command used in Malaya to bolster up the sadly deficient air strength there in a vain effort to patch up the swiftly crumbling defences of the Peninsula and very few, if any, returned from these operations.

Navy and Air Forces went out in a blaze of glory, one may say. The so far inexplicable and unexplained collapse of the Army is still shrouded in mystery. The Dutch Parliamentary Commission Van Poll, which visited Java in March this year (1946) states that an investigation in this connection is urgently desirable and as it is evident from this that even official circles are still in the dark as to the reasons for the ignominiously defeat of the Military Forces it would be ridiculous for me to even try to give an explanation.

One thing must be considered, in my opinion, to have vitally weakened the Army as a fighting force and that was the tragic death of General Berenschot, the Commander in Chief who lost his life in a plane crash in Batavia. image Berenschot was recognised as a brilliant soldier and as C in C very popular with the troops. At the time of the crash it was broadly hinted in many quarters that there had been foul play, that the plane had been tampered with by enemy agents, but this can have been more rumour on the part of sensation loving news mongers.

Berenschot's successor was the former Chief of Staff, General Poorten. image I know nothing of his military qualification, but the man in the street, like myself, can only naturally assume that the failure of the Army, when put to the test, was his responsibility in the first instance and that the collapse was due to his lack of vision and judgement.

The strength of the Army, numerically was I believe, somewhere in the region of 80,000 including native troops, but of this number only about half were professional soldiers. The number of Europeans was about 20,000, I understand. This means that 50% of the Army was made up of untrained men, those who had hastily mobilised from all peaceful walks of life at the outbreak of hostilities.

The Dutch had always had the conscript system which meant that at a certain age, those males who were deemed fit for military duty were called up and put through a course of training lasting, I understand, about 9 months and were then relegated to the Reserves and liable, like our Territorial Force, to be called up at once in the event of war. On reaching the age of 40, such men became automatically transferred to the Landstorm, which may be translated as Home Guard.

But when the Dutchmen in Java were called up, the great majority of them had this period of military training anything from 10 to 20 years behind them, and were probably not even capable of forming fours smartly let alone be expected to take any efficient part in modern methods of warfare. True, they were called up in rotation for shooting practice at the range for one day, and on that day expended 5 rounds of ammunition each at the butts, receiving their soldier's pay of about 20 cents for their trouble.

But even these facts, which could very reasonably be put forward as an explanation of the Army not having fought well, does not explain the complete and utter breakdown of every form of organised resistance.

There are tales of officers who just disappeared and of the failure of the Air Support Command to deliver supplies to the troops abandoned to their fate in Tjiater and elsewhere, but as this is all hearsay it is better not to enlarge on these matters. One instance I can mention from personal observation. It was on, I believe, the fourth day of the invasion that Ena and I were driving down the Lembangweg to town in pouring rain when we overtook four young lads, weary, bedraggled and mud stained. Their uniforms were sodden and they were actually walking barefoot. They had walked all the way from Tjiater some thirty kilometres distant and had been on the road for two days.

Their story was the same as that of one of the employees which I have already mentioned. No food, and nobody in authority to tell them what they were to do.

We crowded them all into the car and brought them in turn to their respective homes.

Granted, as the events would seem to indicate, that the Allied High Command had decreed that the defence of Java was impossible, it is still clear that a token resistance was imperative in the interests of future Dutch prestige and it is unthinkable that it could have been suggested that the Army should have laid down its arms with hardly a blow being struck in self defence, even if it should necessarily have resulted in severe losses. The Navy and Air Force did not hesitate to make their sacrifices and there seems no reason, looking at the matter quite dispassionately why the Army should have done less. An investigation in due course is definitely necessary and no one will welcome light on this obscure subject more than the Dutch in Java themselves.

**** to be continued

1 comment:

kim* said...

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