Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

History Matters - New England's role in Indonesian and Netherlands' history

Jim Belshaw begins the story of Camp Victory and the Casino Boys
Melbourne 1943. KNIL Netherlands East Indies troops who escaped march through the streets of Mebourne.
Growing up, I was always a little confused that an uncle had apparently served in the Dutch Air Force during the Second World War. How did a boy from Kentucky with no Dutch connections end up in the Dutch Air Force?

The answer to this question provides another thread in the complex history of Northern NSW, one that would give the quiet Richmond River town of Casino a place in Dutch military history and in the history of the Indonesian struggle for independence.

The Nazi Germany invasion of neutral Netherlands began on 10 May 1940. Four days later, the main elements of the Dutch army surrendered. Queen Wilhelmina escaped to London, followed a day later by the Dutch government.

With the fall of France, Dutch PM De Geer concluded that the war was lost and sought to return to Holland to negotiate surrender terms with the Germans. Queen Wilhelmina, later described by Winston Churchill as the only man in the Dutch Government, would have none of this. She dismissed De Geer, replacing him as PM with Pieter Sjoerds Gerbrandy.

Despite the loss of the mother country, the Dutch Government in exile still controlled the Dutch overseas possessions and especially the Dutch East Indies with its resources including oil supplies. However, the position in the Far East was becoming increasingly cloudy with the growing threat from Japan.

The Dutch Government’s main military asset in the Dutch East Indies was the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (KNIL, short for Koninklijk Nederlands Indisch Leger). Air cover was provided by the KNIL's air arm, the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army Air Force (ML-KNIL). There were also some elements of the Royal Dutch Navy.

These forces were ill-equipped to face the growing Japanese threat. Urgent efforts began to expand and modernise them, but there were difficulties in acquiring skilled manpower and new equipment.

On 7 December 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour. The Dutch Government declared war on Japan the following day.
January 1942. Netherlands East Indies Martin 166 bombers in action over Malaya
Dutch East India oil supplies were of critical importance to Japan. The already prepared Japanese invasion began on 17 December 1941. The Allies established a unified command including the British and Americans, but the ill-equipped KNIL ground and air forces could not stop the advance.

On 8 March, 1942, the Dutch were forced surrender. In two months, the Japanese had seized effective control of all the Dutch East Indies, including its oil resources.
Dutch East Indies General Hein ter Poorten surrenders to the Japanese following heavy defeats.
Remnants of both the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army and Air Force escaped to Australia, laying the basis for the story that would follow.
 Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 1 February 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017.

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