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The Free Dutch vs The Emperor in the East Indies

Following the fall of the Netherlands East Indies, the remnants of the Dutch colonial army– the KNIL– and Royal Dutch Navy fell back to Australia to regroup and carry on the fight for independence from exile. They were the lucky ones. Of the 42,000 European POWs taken by the Japanese in the East Indies in early 1942, almost one in five (8,200) would die before liberation.

This rag-tag group of survivors would carry on the war– with the Dutch submarine force being especially active— while the land forces would reform. Ultimately, in the liberation of Borneo in 1945, a 3,000-strong force dubbed 1ste Bataljon Infanterie and the Technisch Bataljon of the KNIL, landed on the beaches alongside Allied troops. Before that, the unit had its baptism of fire supporting the Americans at Biak.

Australian and Dutch units land in Borneo on the island of Tarakan. On April 30, 1945, units of the Australian Imperial Forces 9th Division and the KNIL land on the island of Tarakan of Borneo, starting the first combined Australian and KNIL attack on the Japanese army in Dutch- India. The photo shows Captain FE Meynders, commander of the 2nd Company of the 1ste Bataljon Infanterie of the KNIL, discussing the progress of the Tarakan campaign with Mr. L. Broch, war reporter for the Dutch news agency Aneta, on the beach of Lingkas on Tarakan Island.

However, before the 1ste Bataljon Infanterie and the Technisch Bataljon went back to the East Indies, the islands were often visited by Free Dutch forces running a clandestine war that gets no attention.

Meet the NEIFIS & the Korps Insulinde

The Netherlands East Indies Forces Intelligence Service, or NEIFIS, was formed in Australia from KNIL remnants starting in April 1942, some 80 years ago this month.

Regrouping of exiled Dutch/Dutch East Indies soldiers in Perth, Australia. Inspection by, among others, lieutenant commander of the first-class JAFH Douw van der Krap. Van der Krap was later assigned to the Netherlands Forces Intelligence Service (NEIFIS) as head of Division II; Internal Security & Security.

Besides counterintelligence duties such as censoring mail of Dutch refugees in the region and vetting volunteers, they soon formed commando units in conjunction with MacArthur’s Inter-Allied Services Department (ISD) that, dropped covertly via coasters and submarines on beaches in the East Indies, and later by parachute into the interior, they tried to gather intel on the Japanese and ignite a guerilla resistance in the archipelago.

NEIFIS was eventually given its own clandestine operations unit, dubbed the Korps Insulinde. Drawn initially from 150 men of the 1st Battalion, Koninklijke Brigade “Prinses Irene,” which had trained in England in 1940-41 then had been shipped to the Pacific, arriving at Ceylon just after the fall of Java, these Free Dutch went commando quite literally, and served alongside the SOE’s Force 136 Intelligence in the region. Ultimately, No. 2 (Dutch) Troop of the No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando would contribute volunteers to the enterprise as well.

In all, the Korps Insulinde would muster no less than 36 teams made up of 250 agents. They made 17 landings in Sumatra alone in 1943-44, in addition to operations in Borneo, the Celebes, New Guinea, and Java.

Members of the Korps Insulinde, made available to the Netherlands Forces Intelligence Service (NEIFIS), patrolling a fordable area in the vicinity of Merauke, New Guinea. Second from left is possibly First Lieutenant Infantry of the Royal Dutch East Indies Army J. de Roo. 2.9.1944. Note the American weapons and uniforms. NIMH AKL027827

Some of the operations performed by the Dutch:
 
Operations Tiger I-VI (Java) November 1942- July 1943, 10 men landed in six different teams. It is thought all members were captured and shot as none were seen again.
 

An IDS report on Tiger II

 
Operation Lion (1942) Celebes, all men missing in action. The follow-on Operation Apricot which landed in January 1945 to find the Lion commandos was also unlucky but was able to extract via Cataline after losing just one man.
 
Operation Flounder (1942)  Ceram Island, eight men, at least two executed
 
Operations Walnut I-III (1942-43) Aroe Islands, all teams presumed killed
 
Operation Oaktree/Crayfish (1942–44)– saw Dr. Jean Victor de Bruyn, a Dutch colonial district officer who had escaped in early 1942, return via Australian flying boat insertion in November 1942 with rifles and ammunition to organize and train native Papuan guerillas that spent the next 22 months raiding and ambushing Japanese positions, pillaging supplies and destroying ammunition dumps. Dr. De Bruyn was withdrawn by PBY in July 1944 from Hagers lake, escaping advancing Japanese once again
 

Dr Jean Victor de Bruyn and his native Papuan soldiers in Dutch New Guinea, 1943. Note the five soldiers in KNIL uniforms. Never stronger than a platoon, De Bruyn’s partisans tied down a battalion-strong Japanese force

 
Operation Whiting (1943) A joint six-man Dutch/Australian force was sent in to establish a coast watching station above Hollandia in February. By October, they had been captured and publicly beheaded. 
 

A photograph found on the body of a dead Japanese soldier showed Indonesian Private (Pte) M. Reharin, a member of the Netherlands East Indies (NEI) Forces wearing a blindfold about to be beheaded with a sword by Yunome Kunio. The execution was ordered by Vice Admiral Kamada, the commander of the Japanese Naval Forces at Aitape

 
Operation Prawn (1944) landing seven men of a NEFIS shore party from the Dutch submarine K XV on the coast of Sorong, New Guinea. 
 
Operation Firetree (1945) involved a 10-man NEIFIS team landing on the Soela Islands to access the situation. The detailed report on the shore party by its English-speaking Christian Ambonese commander, LT (and future Indonesian minister) Julius Tahija, shines a light on the types of operations these groups conducted. 
 

A page from the Firetree after action report

 
Operation Inco (1945) Dutch submarine K XV landed and extracted a small NEIFIS shore party at six different places along the Damar islands off Java for recon. 
 
Operation Opossum— April 1945, a 10-man Z Special Unit op with 3 Dutch officers attached to the island of Ternate near Borneo to rescue the Sultan of Ternate, Muhammad Jabir Syah. The sultan and his family were taken to Morotai by PT boat. 
 
Operation Parsnip (1945) a five-man NEIFIS shore party landed from Dutch submarine K XV on the north coast of Java. They were picked up almost immediately by the Japanese and two commandos were killed.
 
Operations Platypus I-XI (1945) involved small 2-man teams of mixed Australian and Dutch commandos inserted by folboats, prahu canoes, and rubber dinghies from submarines along the Balikpapan area of Dutch Borneo between March and July then resupplied by air as needed. This is one of the more successful operations and most operators survived. The companion all-Australian Operations Python I-V, Agas, and Semut, involving about 90 Z Special Unit Commandos operating deep into the interior of British Borneo and Sarawak, were likewise successful. 
 
As noted by the Australian War Memorial: 
 
These operations were at best dangerous, and at worst suicidal. The series of landing parties on Java known as “Tiger I–VI” were captured and executed almost to a man. Similar fates befell the “Walnut” ( Aroe Islands ) and “Whiting” (Dutch New Guinea) groups, and in all, nearly 40 lives were lost.
 
However, some successful operations were undertaken. In general, however, they tended to be those involving groups already cut off behind enemy lines, reasonably well-armed, and acting as guerrillas. The “Oaktree” party, in particular, based in the remote country of central Dutch New Guinea, and under the command of the redoubtable Captain J.V. de Bruijn, remained a thorn in the side of the Japanese for more than two years between 1942 and 1944. This group was able to supply valuable intelligence, tie-down a superior enemy force, and maintain the prestige of the Dutch among the inhabitants of the area. Sadly, it was the exception rather than the rule.
A Dutch commando is a character, Lieutenant J.A. (Jan) Veitch, in the 1982 Australian war sleeper, Attack Force Z, featuring an Australian Z Special Unit team in a covert operation based on Operation Opossum, where a team of commandos rescued the local sultan on the Japanese-occupied island of Ternate near Borneo.
 
 
In the end, the NEIFIS and Korps Insulinde would accept the surrender of some 15,000 Japanese troops on Sumatra. 
 
Speaking of the end, post VJ-Day, the NEFIS and Korps Insulinde would soon morph into the Korps Speciale Troepen to fight the budding Indonesian insurgency into 1950, then grow into today’s modern Korps Commandotroepen. 
 
But that is another story. 

Warship Wednesday, Mar. 30, 2022: Jesse James of the Java Sea

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Mar. 30, 2022: Jesse James of the Java Sea

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #NH 99230

Here we see the Salmon-class fleet submarine USS Sturgeon (SS-187) off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 3 May 1943. Note the barrage balloon in the right background as it is just 18 months past Pearl Harbor and just over a year past when Japanese Navy submarine I-17 shelled the Ellwood Oil Field to the South in Santa Barbara. While the Cold War-era USS Sturgeon is well known to the current generation of naval enthusiasts, her WWII namesake gets little attention.

The Salmon class boats, and the successive very similar 10-boat Sargo class submarines, set the Navy on the road for the mass-produced WWII “fleet boats” of the Gato, Balao, and Tench classes. Some 308 feet in length, they were the first American boats able to hit 21 knots while surfaced, meaning they could help screen and scout for the fleet, and conduct a lengthy 75-day/11,000nm patrol without refueling/replenishment. They took with them a 3″/50 DP deck gun capable of sinking a small craft under 500 tons as well as space available for 24 torpedoes stored both in the hull and in topside deck storage. This put the whole Pacific at the feet of these vessels, and it was no surprise that Admiral Hart’s Philippine-based Asiatic Fleet in 1941 included all 16 Salmon and Sargo-class boats. 

The six boats, all with fish names beginning with an “S” (Salmon, Seal, Skipjack, Snapper, Stingray, Sturgeon) were ordered in 1936 from three yards: Electric Boat (SS 182-184); Portsmouth (SS 185,186), and Mare Island (SS 187) with our vessel being the sole West Coast model.

Class leader USS Salmon (SS-182) running speed trials in early 1938. Note the S1 designator. NH 69872

Salmon class subs USS Stingray (SS-186), foreground Operating in formation with other submarines, during Battle Force exercises, circa 1939. The other three submarines are (from left to right): Seal (SS-183); Salmon (SS-182) and Sturgeon (SS-187). Collection of Vice-Admiral George C. Dyer, USN (Retired). NH 77086

Same as the above, Submerging. NH 77089

Sturgeon, named for the large, bony-plated fish with an elongated body. It is found in both fresh and saltwater, was the second such vessel in the Navy with that name, the first being an early E-class submarine (SS-25) that was christened USS Sturgeon but was renamed USS E-2 before she entered the fleet in 1911 and went on to make four war patrols against the Germans in 1918.

Laid down at Mare Island on 27 October 1936, our Sturgeon was sponsored at launch by the wife of a Great War Navy Cross holder who retired as a vice admiral.

USS Sturgeon (SS 187) was launched by Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, CA. Note St. Vincent Church in distance and the temporary “S6” designator on her hull. Via Mare Island Navy Museum

Commissioned on 25 June 1938, she was assigned to SubRon 6 and conducted her shakedown along the coast of Latin America, then made two summer squadron cruises (1939 and 1940) to Hawaii with the Pacific Fleet.

USS Sturgeon (SS-187) arriving at Pearl Harbor pre-war, likely on summer maneuvers in 1939 or 1940. Note the Somers-class destroyer USS Sampson (DD-394) in the distance. An East Coast-based tin can, Sampson was in Hawaii for both the 1939 and 1940 fleet exercises. 

It was around this time that LCDR William Leslie “Bull” Wright (USNA 1925), a colorful six-foot-three cigar-chomping Texan, arrived as her skipper.

A brand new beautiful West Coast submarine, the Navy detailed her to help film the 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer action movie, Thunder Afloat, whose plot involved a piratical submarine, played by Sturgeon on screen.

Stock footage of Sturgeon surfacing, her crew dutifully barefoot and bare-chested, firing her deck gun at targets unseen and resubmerging all within a couple of minutes, was reused in other films for years.

On 18 November 1941, the submarine tender USS Holland (AS-3) with Salmon, Swordfish (SS-193), Skipjack, and our Sturgeon, arrived at Manila and formed SubDiv 21 of the Asiatic fleet.

War!

Sturgeon was moored in Mariveles Bay at the southern tip of Bataan on 7 December 1941, then put to sea the next afternoon to patrol an area between the Pescadores Islands and Formosa. After missing a chance at a target on the third day of the war, she spotted a Japanese cruiser escorting a coastwise invasion convoy on 18 December– the whole reason the Salmons were in the PI– but her attack was spoiled, and she received her first depth charge attack instead.

From her First War Patrol records:

Bull Wright and company returned to embattled Mariveles Bay on Christmas, then left again just three days later for her second war patrol.

Hart ordered Sturgeon and two other S-boats to patrol off Tarakan, Borneo, in the oil-rich Netherlands East Indies, with the hope of sniping Japanese convoys in the Makassar Strait. Meanwhile, other members of his submarine forces were left to try to run the blockade around the PI to keep Bataan in the fight. 

While Sturgeon claimed torpedo hits that were not borne out by post-war examination boards– and after believing she sank a Japanese ship, signaled to Pearl Harbor “Sturgeon no longer virgin!”– she ended her second war patrol at Surabaya on Java on 13 February 1942. She was then was forced to head for Australia within the week due to the looming fall of Java. She sailed with sisters Sturgeon and Stingray, escorting Holland, and the destroyer tender USS Black Hawk (AD-9) safely to Fremantle. Bull Wright received a Navy Cross. 

Departing on her third war patrol on the Ides of March, she headed for the Makassar Strait once again and, 80 years ago today, chalked up her first confirmed kill, that of the Japanese AK Choko Maru (842 GRT) off Makassar city.

Another notable incident of this patrol was to put ashore LT Chester William “Chet” Nimitz Jr. (yes, that Nimitz’s son) and a small search party looking for evading Australian personnel on Japanese-held Java.

Her fourth war patrol, which began on 5 June 1942 from Freemantle, would be both successful and incredibly tragic.

Montevideo Maru

Constructed at Nagasaki in the 1930s, the 7,266 ton, twin-screw diesel motor vessel passenger ship MV Montevideo Maru was used by the Imperial Japanese Navy as a troop transport in the early days of the war, supporting the landings at Makassar in February 1942 and was part of the Japanese seizure of New Britain. The vessel and her two sisters were well-known to U.S. Naval Intelligence before the war.

Via ONI 208J.

Sailing 22 June unescorted for Hainan Island off China, Montevideo Maru ran into Sturgeon eight days later. Our submarine pumped four fish into the “big fella” in the predawn hours of 1 July, after a four-hour stalk, with young Nimitz as the TDC officer.

Tragically, in what is now known as the “worst maritime disaster in Australian history,” Montevideo Maru was a “Hell Ship,” carrying more than 1,000 prisoners of the Japanese forces, including members of the Australian 2/22nd Battalion and No.1 Independent Company of the incredibly unlucky Lark Force which had been captured on New Britain.

All the prisoners on board died, locked below decks. Of note, more Australians died in the loss of the Montevideo Maru than in the country’s decade-long involvement in Vietnam.

Sturgeon, of course, was unaware that the ship was carrying Allied POWs and internees.

DANFS does not mention Montevideo Maru‘s cargo.

Four days later, Sturgeon damaged the Japanese oiler San Pedro Maru (7268 GRT) south of Luzon, then ended her 4th war patrol at Fremantle on 22 July.

A new skipper

On 13 August, Bull Wright left his submarine, replaced by LCDR Herman Arnold Pieczentkowski (USNA 1930), who would command Sturgeon for her 5th and 6th war patrol.

Of the Piaczentkowski period, only the 5th patrol, which sank the Japanese aircraft ferry Katsuragi Maru (8033 GRT) off Cape St. George on 1 October 1942 with a spread of four torpedoes, was the boat’s only success.

IJN Katsuragi Maru had just delivered A6M fighter aircraft to Bougainville when Sturgeon found her. Struck by at least three torpedoes, she carried two crew members and 27 ship gunners to the bottom. Here she is seen in an ONI photo taken in 1937 as she passed through the Panama Canal. NH 111553

On Christmas 1942, Sturgeon was sent to California for a five-month refit that would include swapping out her original diesels for a more reliable set of GM Detroit’s, relocating her main deck gun from aft of her sail to forward, and installing new sensors and equipment.

USS Sturgeon (SS-187) At the Hunters Point Navy Yard, San Francisco, California, 23 April 1943, following overhaul. White outlines mark recent alterations, among them the relocation of Sturgeon’s 3/50 deck gun, installation of watertight ready service ammunition lockers in her sail, and fitting of 20mm machine guns. Note the large concrete weight on deck, indicating that Sturgeon was then undergoing an inclining experiment to check her stability. 19-N-46405

USS Sturgeon (SS-187) Off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 3 May 1943. Note the barrage balloon and tall radio towers to the right. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. 19-N-46400

USS Sturgeon (SS-187) Off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 3 May 1943. Ship in the left-center distance is the Fulton-class submarine tender USS Bushnell (AS-15), which was then completing her post-commissioning outfitting. Of note, Bushnell would remain in service until 1970 and be expended in a 1983 SINKEX– appropriately enough sent to the bottom by submarines. NH 99231

Another new skipper and five more patrols

Getting back into the war in June 1943, Piaczentkowski would command Sturgeon for her 7th patrol– another quiet one despite being in Japanese home waters– then leave the boat on 6 August, replaced by LCDR Charlton Lewis Murphy (USNA 1932) who had already commanded the old R-boat USS R-7 (SS-84) on the East Coast.

Murphy and the gang would embark on a fruitless 8th war patrol then strike the Empire hard on the 9th. Conducted in Japan’s Home Waters, Sturgeon sank the transport Erie Maru (5493 GRT) on 11 January 1944, blew both the bow and stern off the destroyer Suzutsuki— killing 135 including the tin can’s skipper– four days later, then sank the transport Chosen Maru (3110 GRT) before the month was up. This earned Philadelphia-born Murphy a Navy Cross. 

On her 10th patrol, she sank the Japanese transport Seiryu Maru (1904 GRT) north of Chichi Jima on 11 May 1944.

Her 11th patrol, like her encounter with the Montevideo Maru, would earn the boat a degree of infamy.

Toyama Maru

Built in 1935 at Nagasaki as a 7,090-ton cargo ship for Nippon Yusen Kaisha, K. K. (NYK) Line, Tokyo, MV Toyama Maru was requisitioned by the Imperial Army as Army No. 782 in January 1941 to help move troops to Manchuria.

Japanese cargo ship Toyama Maru at the dock in Vancouver before the war. Photograph by Walter E. Frost, Vancouver City Archives CVA 447-2781.

Departing Koniya on 29 June 1944 for Naha as part of Convoy KATA-412, Toyama Maru was transporting over 6,000 men of the 44th Independent Mixed Brigade’s 298th IIB, 299th, 300th IIB, and 301st IIBs and a cargo of gasoline in cans, all of which would have proved a formidable reinforcement to the defenders on Okinawa.

Would have.

Sturgeon found her the same day and, four torpedoes later, she was ablaze and sinking, carrying some 5,400 IJA troops and ship’s crew members to the bottom in very short order– often described as the greatest loss of life in a ship sunk by a U.S. submarine. As payment for the title, Sturgeon’s crew withstood an estimated 273 depth charges and aircraft bombs between 29 June and 3 July, as the boat’s war history says, “All went for naught, for she was as tough-skinned as the fish whose name she bore.”

Murphy’s report on Toyama Maru sinking

As noted by RADM Cox in H-Gram 33, “Yanagi Missions and Submarine Atrocities”:

Of 6,000 Japanese troops of the 44th Independent Mixed Brigade on board, over 5,400 died, the highest death toll of any ship sunk by a U.S. submarine (and the fourth highest of any ship sunk by a submarine of any nation. The two highest tolls were German ships packed with thousands of civilian refugees sunk by Soviet submarines, and the third-highest was a Japanese “hell ship” crammed with thousands of Allied prisoners of war and native forced laborers unknowingly sunk by a British submarine).

Sturgeon ended her final patrol when she returned to Pearl Harbor on 5 August 1944 then was sent back to California for further overhaul, with it being likely those 273 depth charges and bombs left more damage than the war history would imply. Sent to the East Coast in early 1945, she ended the war as a training boat with SubRon 1 out of New London.

Sturgeon earned ten battle stars for World War II service, with seven of her war patrols deemed successful enough for a Submarine Combat Insignia.

She was decommissioned on 15 November 1945.

Epilogue

Ex-Sturgeon was sold for scrapping, on 12 June 1948, to Interstate Metals Corp., New York, New York, just short of 12 years after she was laid down.

Her class was very successful– and lucky– with all six boats still afloat on VJ Day, earning a total of 54 battle stars after completing 70 war patrols:

  • Class leader Salmon (nine battle stars, 11 patrols) was a constructive loss due to battle damage after a late war surface action with Japanese surface escorts that earned her the Presidential Unit Citation, was soon disposed of in late September 1945.
  • Seal (10 battle stars, 11 patrols) was used as a Naval Reserve training ship after the war and sold for scrapping in 1956.
  • Skipjack (seven battle stars, 10 patrols) was sunk as a target twice after the war, the first time at Bikini atoll in 1946 and then, raised and examined, off California in 1948.
  • Snapper (six battle stars, 11 patrols) assisted with training for a while post-war then was sold for scrap in 1948.
  • Stingray, with an impressive one dozen battle stars after 16 war patrols (the record for any American submarine), was scrapped in 1946 but two of her GM diesels were saved and are now part of the Gato-class museum sub USS Cod (SS-224) in Cleveland.

Speaking of relics and museums, few relics are around of the Sturgeon, but her war patrol reports are digitized and in the National Archives.

Her war flag is preserved at the USS Bowfin Museum in Hawaii.

There is also a smattering of period art.

Sturgeon Herz Postcard via the UC San Diego Library

Of her seven skippers, Bull Wright was the best known but, despite his Navy Cross, he never commanded a submarine again– perhaps dogged over the Montevideo Maru, or perhaps because he was 40 years old when he left Sturgeon— and he retired quietly from the Navy after the war as a rear admiral. Although a number of WWII submarines and skippers with lower tonnage or fewer patrols/battle stars under their belt were profiled in the most excellent 1950s “Silent Service” documentary series, Bull Wright and Sturgeon were skipped.

In late 1945, an author by the name of Carl Carmer, after sitting with Bull Wright, would pen the 119-page “Jesse James of the Java Sea,” which is filled with gems reportedly from the mouth of the submariner including, “You fire a fish, and it hits or misses. You sink one or get pasted. There isn’t much variety in our pattern, you know.”

Another anecdote about Bull:

He passed in 1980 in Corpus Christi, a Texan to the end.

Her other Navy Cross-earning skipper, the quieter CDR Charlton Lewis Murphy, who commanded the boat during her 8th-11th War Patrols and chalked up five big marus including the brigade-carrying Toyama Maru, ended the war on the USS Carbonero (SS-337) and retired as a rear admiral before passing in 1961, aged 53.

Don’t worry, we aren’t throwing rocks at Piaczentkowski, he too would earn a star before he retired.

Speaking of admirals, Chet Nimitz would skipper two submarines of his own after he left SturgeonUSS Haddo (SS-255) and USS Sarda (SS-488)— then retire as a one-star in 1957, commanding SubRon 6– which was ironically the old Sturgeon’s first squadron. He saw the 21st century and passed in 2002.

The third, and so far, final, USS Sturgeon was the lead ship (SSN-637) of the last class of American submarines named for fish. Ordered in 1961, she had a career more than twice as long as “our” Sturgeon and was decommissioned in 1994, earning two Meritorious Unit Commendations and a Navy Unit Commendation. Her sail is preserved at the Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport, Washington, while her control center is now on display at the Submarine Force Library and Museum in Groton, Connecticut, giving her the distinction of stretching from coast to coast.

A starboard bow view of the nuclear-powered attack submarine USS STURGEON (SSN-637) underway off Long Island, N.Y, 2/1/1991 Photo by PH1 Grant. National Archives Identifier:6467979

As for Montevideo Maru, in July 2012 a new memorial by Melbourne sculptor James Parrett was dedicated on the grounds of the Australian War Memorial to commemorate those Australians who died in the defense of Rabaul, and those who later died as prisoners in the sinking of the Japanese transport.

Specs:

Displacement: 1,449 tons Surfaced; 2,198 tons Submerged.
Length: 308 feet
Beam: 26 ft. 2 in.
Draft 14′ 2″
Watertight Compartments: 7 plus conning tower.
Pressure Hull Plating: approx. 11/16 in. mild steel.
Propulsion:
4 main motors with 2,660 shaft horsepower (Hoover, Owens, Rentschler Co. diesels replaced in 1943-1944 with four General Motors 278A diesel engines
4 Elliot Motor Co. electric motors, 3,300 hp
2 126-cell main storage batteries.
Maximum Speed: 17 knots surfaced; 8.75 knots submerged.
Cruising Range: 11,000 miles surfaced at 10 knots.
Submerged Endurance: 48 hours at 2 knots.
Fuel Capacity: 96,025 gallons.
Patrol Endurance: 75 days.
Operating Depth: 250 feet.
Complement: 5 Officers 50 Enlisted
Armament:
Torpedo Tubes: 4 bows; 4 sterns.
Torpedo Load, Max: 20 internal, 4 external (later removed)
Deck Guns:
1 x 3″/50-cal Mk21 (relocated in 1943)
2 x .50 caliber M2 machine guns
2 x .30 caliber M1919 machine guns


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Warship Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022: Royal Dutch Shelling

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022: Royal Dutch Shelling

Here we see a sentry of the Koninklijk Nederlands Indisch Leger (KNIL), the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army, overlooking the lengthy coastline of what is today Indonesia, in January 1941. While this is a warship blog, and we’ll cover an ill-fated class of minesweepers of the Imperial Japanese Navy in it, the KNIL holds a special place in this week’s post, now 80 years after the fact.

But we’ll get to the Dutch colonial forces in a minute.

First, let’s talk about the Japanese No.13 class minesweepers.

Built at three domestic yards– Fujinagata, Mitsui Bussan, and Hitachi– the four original Project number I3A/No. 13s were small vessels, hitting the 533-ton mark on a 242-foot long hull. Capable of 20 knots on a pair of coal-fired Kampon boilers and triple expansion reciprocating engines, they could either sweep mines via traditional mechanical minesweeping gear (i.e., paravanes) or lay mines, capable of carrying 40 of the latter.

Outfitted as light escorts and sub chasers, they mounted a pair of 4.7″/45 3-Shiki light guns, a pair of heavy machine guns, and three dozen depth charges between racks and throwers.

 

The four units of the class all carried sequential numbers rather than names: W-13 (13-go), W-14 (14-go), W-15 (15-go), and W-16 (16-go).

W-13 scanned from Maru Special, V. 50, via Combined Fleets.

Completed in 1933 and 1934, all four gave quiet peacetime service in Japanese home waters. By June 1941, the quartet was collectively assigned to MineSweepDiv 11 in RADM (later VADM) Hirose Sueto’s 2nd Base Force in VADM Takahashi Ibo’s Third Fleet.

Sent to the Pescadores Islands in early December 1941, they were part of Operation “M,” the Japanese attack on the Philippines where they swept mines, escorted troopships and supported the landings around Luzon and the Lingayen Gulf.

After the New Year, with another invasion convoy loading up for operations further South, the four No. 13s made ready for a rendezvous with history.

Tarakan!

The island port city of Tarakan, on the Northeast corner of Borneo, today is home to more than a quarter-million inhabitants in Indonesia. Dating back over a thousand years to the old Tidong kingdom, the Dutch moved in in the 1860s and, noticing oil, by 1905 had formed Koninklijke Nederlandsche Petroleum Maatschappij— later dubbed Royal Dutch Shell– making Tarakan one of its primary fields.

By the 1920s, Tarakan was producing something like five million barrels of light sour crude oil a year. Something like 13 percent of Japan’s pre-WWII oil imports came from the port alone.

Boortorens op Tarakan, vermoedelijk van de N.V. Tarakan Petroleum Maatschappij, 1930s.

Olietanks van de Bataafsche Petroleum Maatschappij te Tarakan, 1930s.

Protecting all this was the KNIL.

The late 1930s recruiting posters for the KNIL, showing the pre-1938 uniform and the early WWII uniform, with the latter including a version of the M1936 helmet, complete with leather neck guard.

Formed in 1814, by 1929, the KNIL– a separate organization from the European-based Dutch military– numbered some 38,568 men, with Europeans accounting for about a fifth of that while native troops, heavily recruited from Christian Manadonese and Ambonese minorities, made up the balance.

The banner of the KNIL’s 7th Infantry Battalion (7e bataljon infanterie) that defended the island of Tarakan near Borneo against the Japanese in 1942. Note the M37 uniform with leather equipment, Hembrug Geweer M. 95 6.5mm “Dutch Mannlicher” carbines and distinctive klewang cutlasses that doubled as jungle machetes. The banner of the 7th was decorated in 1849 with the Military William Order. NIMH 2155_022352

As noted by Marc Lohnstein in his Royal Netherlands East Indies Army 1936-1942, besides oil, “The Dutch colony was a global exporter of strategic materials, providing 29 percent of the world’s rubber, 20 percent of its tin, and 97 percent of the anti-malarial drug quinine.”

With Japanese eyes on the colony, it was decided to ramp up the KNIL both in terms of men and equipment. By early 1942, after the fall of European Holland to the Germans, the force stood at some 122,600 men, evenly split between Europeans and Indonesians, with about a third of those being regulars and the remainder more recently joining the colors.

With klewangs and Mannlichers at the ready, KNIL in a hedgehog position in the field, so they can not be surprised from behind, Dutch East Indies (August 1, 1939) The force wore brown bamboo hats, turned up on the side, from 1912-33 when they switched to a more jungle friendly green color that they entered the war with in 1942.

Getting equipment was another challenge.

As the regular Dutch Army was howitzer-poor, the Navy saved the day and provided new (to them) coastal guns for the KNIL. With the disarmament/disposal of a half-dozen assorted “pantserdekschepen” protected cruisers built around the turn of the century, the Dutch Navy gifted the KNIL a stockpile of Krupp-made 5.9″/37cal, 4.7″/37cal, and 3″/40cal guns for use in shore-based coastal artillery (kustartillerie) emplacements. Low angled and slow to reload, they were simple to use, and shells were readily available. Further, as we shall see, they could still be effective.

Practice with a 7.5 cm gun. Probably aboard the minelayer Hr.Ms. Medusa (1911-1964) or Hr.Ms. Hydra (1900-1921). Image dated 1916. NIMH 2204-005-005

7.5 cm naval gun emplaced on Tarakan, early 1942. Note the overhanging tree cover, which made highly effective camouflage. 2158_037834

Rear of 12 Lang 37 kustgeschutdeck (12 cm L37, or 4.7″/37cal) gun, No. 1, aboard the protected cruiser (pantser-dekschip) Hr.Ms. Holland (1898-1920). NIMH 2158_040898

Dutch Army (Koninklijke Landmacht) coast artillery back in the Netherlands with a recycled 4.7″/37cal (12 cm Krupp) naval mount, around 1930. These were also used by the KNIL in the Dutch East Indies. NIMH 2155_007214

An old Krupp 15 Lang 40 kustgeschut (5.9″/37cal) naval mount in KNIL use, circa 1930s. These guns were often extensively camouflaged and emplaced in concrete batteries.

Native soldier of the Coastal and Anti-Aircraft Artillery Corps of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army in field uniform. (Inlandse soldaat van het Korps Kust- en Luchtdoelartillerie van het Koninklijk Nederlands-Indisch Leger in veldtenue.) 1938. NIMH 2155_082314b

Now, with the stage set, let us talk about the…

Battle of Tarakan island

Japan declared war on the Netherlands East Indies on 10 January 1942; and the Japanese invasion force was on the horizon, planning to hit the beaches at numerous places, assisted by parachute landings at strategic points.

The Dutch East Indies campaign, early 1942, with Tarakan, circled.

At Tarakan, KNIL Lt. Col. Simon de Waal had the 7th Battalion augmented by four coastal artillery batteries– two of ex-naval 3″/40s and two of 4.7″/37s. His only air power was a quartet of recently arrived Brewster Buffalos. The Dutch Navy was also on hand with a minelayer, the 1,300-ton Hr.Ms. Prins van Oranje and a few lumbering Dornier Do 24 flying boats. All told, the Dutch had about 1,200 men at Tarakan, not counting the sailors.

Heading their way was Maj. Gen. Shizuo Sakaguchi’s reinforced brigade that had previously taken Mindanao in the Philippines, standing about 6,000-strong– including a battalion of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Special Naval Landing Forces. Escorting the Sakaguchi force (loaded in 14 transports) was RADM Shoji Nishimura’s covering force including the Sendai-class light cruiser Naka, 10 destroyers, a dozen patrol craft/minesweepers (including all four No. 13s), and two large seaplane tenders. The operation was under the overall command of RADM Sueto Hirose, fresh off the success of the invasion of Batan and the Camiguin Islands in the Philippines.

Just after the Japanese declaration of war, a Dutch flying boat spotted the incoming task force over the horizon and De Waal ordered his engineers to set the oil fields alight. This, naturally, put Hirose, Nishimura, and Sakaguchi in a foul mood even before they started sending troops ashore in the predawn hours on 11 January under the illumination of thousands of tons of oil flickering in the red-black sky.

The ground combat was never in real doubt, with the inexperienced Dutch outnumbered 5:1 by better-equipped, combat-tested foot soldiers of the Empire. By noon on 12 January, De Waal had ordered his troops to lay down their arms after 36 hours of maneuvering and artillery duels across beaches, oil fields, and jungles. Sakaguchi only lost seven soldiers. Meanwhile, Prins van Oranje, attempting to withdraw during the night of the 11th, was caught by a patrolling Japanese destroyer and gunboat and sent to the bottom, with heavy casualties.

However…

CDR Yamazumi Wakito’s MineSweepDiv 11’s W-13, W-14, W-15, W-16, along with CDR Kanaoka Kunizo’s MineSweepDiv 30’s W-17 and W-18 (near sisters of the No. 13s) were sent to clear the Mengacu Channel between the island of Tarakan and the coast of Borneo.

What Wakito and Kunizo did not know was that there were still batteries of 3- and 4.7-inch guns on the tip of the island that hadn’t gotten the word that the fight was over, due to cut telegraph lines.

Three of De Waal’s four coastal artillery batteries were located at Peningki and Karoengan on the South West coast of Tarakan Island with Peningki mounting two three-gun 3-inch batteries under CAPT J.W. Storm van Leeuwen while Karoengan had four 4.7-inch guns. It was the latter, under reserve LT Josephus Petrus Aloysius– a South African Boer from Adrichem who volunteered for military service at the Dutch counsel in Pretoria in 1940– who caused the most havoc.

As detailed on Combined Fleets:

Rear Admiral Hirose’s forces are warned that the Dutch coastal artillery battery at the south end of the island may not be aware of the Dutch offer to surrender. Hirose’s force is cautioned that “it would be dangerous to proceed to the Tarakan pier”, but the warning is ignored. Six minesweepers enter the bay and are fired on by the Dutch battery. LT Miyake Tadayoshi’s W-13 and LT Yoshimoto Yoshikuni’s W-14 are hit by 4.7 inch shells and sink with most of their crews.

Besides the two minesweepers sunk, at least one landing craft was also hit by a Dutch shell, killing a total of 156 Japanese sailors in the action– by far the bulk of the losses in the battle for Tarakan.

Sea Battle of Tarakan Island, Japanese propaganda painting by Minoru Tanabe, 1942.

In reprisal for the engagement between the Japanese mine craft and the ancient Dutch batteries, after the final surrender the next day, the deadly accurate crews were executed on 19 January. The body count and story of the condemned men varies widely. 

As detailed by one source:

The Japanese naval commander promised amnesty for the gun crews and based on this promise the Dutch Island Commander managed to persuade the gun crews to surrender. The Japanese Army Commander on the other hand was too brutal to have the prisoners turned over to him. So, he ordered to tie the men into small groups of three. Sometime later they were thrown into the water where all 219 Dutch soldiers drowned.

Another report is more graphic but has a lower body count, closely akin to the number of Japanese killed on the minesweepers:

Not long hereafter a Japanese interpreter and lieutenant Colonel Simon de Waal announced to the troops assembled at the Kampong Baru barracks, that the Japanese Army needed approximately 150 men of the POW’s to be transported to the Island of Java where they would be deployed in navigation operations and assisting in the transport of military arms and equipment. Every single POW assembled at the barrack had clearly heard this announcement. Alas, the truth turned out differently which came to light two days later.

After the Dutch officer and the interpreter had finished their announcement, about 150 men of the POW’s (which officially was determined as 168 men later) were horded into Japanese Army trucks, without any registration or identification, and taken to the harbor area. Here they were ordered onto a Japanese naval vessel. This vessel was then directed to the first light buoy, where on the same morning the two Japanese Destroyers [minesweepers] were sunk by the Dutch artillery.

The Japanese then stopped the engine and ordered the POWs to line up at the railing of the vessel. They were then all blindfolded and had both hands tied behind their backs. Subsequently every POW was killed by bayonet and thrust into the sea….

Donald Kehn, in his work, In the Highest Degree Tragic: The Sacrifice of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet in the East Indies during World War II, covers Tarakan in detail and holds that the men of the KNIL selected for reprisal were cast from the deck of the cruiser Naka, Nishimura’s flagship

Naka went on to be sunk west of Truk by three waves of SB2C Helldivers and TBF Avengers from the carrier USS Bunker Hill and TBFs of VT-25 of the carrier Cowpens, 18 February 1944.

While the local Indonesian troops were eventually paroled in an olive branch towards Tokyo’s imperialist Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere which would replace European colonies with those controlled by Japan, the Europeans captured in the Dutch East Indies would spend the rest of the war in a series of internments and mass executions.

Of the 42,000 European POWs taken by the Japanese in the Dutch East Indies in 1942, almost one in five (8,200) would die before liberation. The locals weren’t much better off under their new Emperor with an estimated 2.5 million Indonesians perishing during the war from famine while 200,000 romusha forced laborers were exported out of the colony, with many of those simply disappearing in the process.

Meanwhile, the sinking of W-13 and W-14 was a big boost to the Allies back home, with the New York Times on 14 January running on the center of the front page: 

Tarakan, off Northeastern Borneo, has fallen to a Japanese assault of overwhelming power, but the one prize for which the invader has paid so heavily in ships, planes, and men — the island’s oil -is still many a month out of his grasp, it was announced tonight.

Epilogue

Besides the 4 million barrels of fuel oil and aviation gasoline found in abandoned Allied storage tanks scattered throughout the region, Dutch East Indies crude oil became crucial to the Japanese war effort. According to Robert Goralski and Russell W. Freeburg in their excellent work, Oil & War: How the Deadly Struggle for Fuel in WWII meant Victory or Defeat, “In all, the captured fields could produce 116,000 barrels a day, enough to make Japan self-sufficient in oil.”

In addition to shipping oil to Singapore for use locally by the IJN throughout the Coral Sea and Guadalcanal campaigns, much was sent back to Japan directly, keeping the country in the war. Even as late as the summer of 1943, with the fields under constant air attack from B-24s, mines being sown off the terminals by RAAF PBY Catalina flying boats out of Darwin, and the tankers being sent to the bottom by Allied submarines at an unsustainable rate, Goralski notes that “Despite the shipping difficulties, about 90 percent of the oil consumed in Japan itself, by then 74,000 barrels a day, was coming from Borneo’s fields and refineries.”

Finally, once the vice had constricted this flow to a trickle, Goralski observed that “The crucial campaigns of 1944 were lost by the Japanese primarily because of no fuel.”

Even though the oil was no longer getting out, the Dutch East Indies were still under Japanese occupation. The Borneo Campaign in 1945 led to the eventual liberation of Tarakan. Operation Oboe One saw the Australian 9th Division’s 26th Brigade group– along with the “Free Dutch” the Ambonese 3e Compagnie, Technisch Bataljon, KNIL– totaling a combined 12,000 men, hit the beaches at Tarakan on 1 May 1945.

Australian Signalmen pause to watch a shell-torn oil tank blaze as they move inland on Tarakan island, off the east coast of Borneo, where Australian forces landed 1 May 1945

The opposing Japanese force, just 2,200-strong, was outnumbered over 5:1, a familiar ratio to 1942, only reversed. Within three weeks, the principal fighting was over and only 250 Japanese were captured, the rest killed, missing, or gone underground.

The NIMH holdings have some 300+ images relating to “Tarakan” in their files, with most coming from the liberation and its immediate aftermath.

This one is my favorite:

“KNIL troops have been dropped off on the landing beach of Lingkas with some vessels of the invasion fleet and are going inland,” Tarakan, East Borneo, Dutch East Indies, May 1945. NIMH 2155_019811

Meanwhile, the old batteries were captured relatively intact by Australian commandos, still with pre-1940 shells in the ready mag.

“Tarakan Island, 1945-05-27. One of Two 7.5cm Krupp Essen Dutch coastal defense guns made 1913 taken by a patrol comprising members of 8th Section and C Troop Hq, 2/4th Commando Squadron (attached to the Australian 9th Division), which penetrated to the Cape Djoeata Area.” 2/4th CS saw extensive service during the liberation of Tarakan, suffering heavy casualties with 56 men being killed or wounded in the operation– more than half its ranks. AWM photos.

The Japanese also found a use for some of the old 5.9-inch shells.

“Tarakan Island, 1945-05-22. A Japanese booby trap made from a captured 5-inch Dutch naval shell set at the edge of the path on the Elbow Feature. If exploded, it would cause a landslide of a large section of the road.” AWM 108083.

Of the two remaining No. 13s, W-16 was blown apart by a mine at Celebes in 1943 while the last of the class, W-15, caught a torpedo at Kyushu in 1945 from the Balao-class submarine USS Tilefish (SS-307) and never sailed again.

Of the three Japanese officers in primary command at Tarakan, RADM Sueto Hirose ended the war as a vice admiral in charge of the base force at Sabang, surrendered his sword to the British at Malaya, and died in 1968, having escaped war crimes scrutiny. Likewise, the Army commander, Sakaguchi, survived the war as well, and “It is unclear whether Sakaguchi was ever brought to account for this atrocity. The third senior commander at Tarakan in 1942, RADM Nishimura, head of the covering force, was killed in the Surigao Strait in October 1944 when his flagship, the battleship Yamashiro, was sunk after being hit multiple times from the U.S. battleships.

Meanwhile, De Waal emerged from a Japanese POW camp to become known as “The Hero of Tarakan” and became a key figure in the war between the Netherlands and Indonesia that lasted between 1945 and 1949, rising to the rank of major general. When the KNIL was disbanded in 1950, he retired. De Waal was knighted and received the Militaire Willemsorde, the highest Dutch award for valor, for Tarakan. He died in 1970 at the age of 74. 

The Loenen Memorial Cemetery in the Netherlands, formed in 1949, has a monument to 215 men of the KNIL thrown from the Japanese cruiser Naka. The names of the known are listed while 125 unknowns, mostly Indonesians, are lost to history.

The monument was dedicated by the Tarakan Remembrance Association in 2012

In 2019, the Dutch Defense Ministry presented posthumous Mobilization War Crosses to the families of seven who had been identified in recent years.

Finally, while it is very likely the Japanese wrecks were long ago stolen by scrap iron pirates notorious in the region, the Dutch guns of the Tarakan battery, marked “1902 Fried. Krupp” on the breech, are still standing guard, 80 years later.


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