Dutch East Indies campaign
Part of the Pacific Theatre of World War II

Japanese forces land on Java.
Date8 December 1941 – 9 March 1942[1]
Result Japanese victory
Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies

ABDA Command:
Netherlands Netherlands

 United Kingdom
 United States
 New Zealand

Portuguese Timor
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom Archibald Wavell
Netherlands A. T. van Starkenborgh Surrendered
Netherlands Hein ter Poorten Surrendered
United States Thomas C. Hart
Netherlands Conrad Helfrich
Netherlands Karel Doorman 
United Kingdom Richard Peirse
United States George Brett
Empire of Japan Hisaichi Terauchi
Empire of Japan Kiyotake Kawaguchi
Empire of Japan Ibō Takahashi
Empire of Japan Hitoshi Imamura
Empire of Japan Shōji Nishimura
Empire of Japan Jisaburō Ozawa
Empire of Japan Takeo Takagi
Empire of Japan Nobutake Kondō


  • 100,000 local forces[3]
  • 40,000 Dutch regulars[3]
  • 8,000 Anglo-American regulars[4]
33 warships[5]
41 submarines[6]
234 aircraft[3]
52 warships[7][8]
18 submarines[6]
107,800 personnel
193 tanks & tankettes
2,017 guns & mortars
5,898 motor vehicles
11,750 horses
609 aircraft[9]
Casualties and losses

2,384 killed
100,000+ captured[10]

24 Allied ships sunk (9 American, 9 Dutch, 5 British, 1 Australian):
1 seaplane tender
2 heavy cruisers
3 light cruisers
1 coastal defense ship
15 destroyers
1 oil tanker
1 gunboat
5,000–10,000 sailors and Marines killed on the sunken ships
thousands of sailors and Marines captured[11]
671 killed[12]

The Dutch East Indies campaign of 1941–1942 was the conquest of the Dutch East Indies (present-day Indonesia) by forces of the Empire of Japan in the early days of the Pacific campaign of World War II. Allied forces attempted unsuccessfully to defend the islands. The East Indies were targeted by the Japanese for their rich oil resources which would become a vital asset during the war. The campaign and subsequent three-and-a-half-year Japanese occupation was also a major factor in the end of Dutch colonial rule in the region.


The East Indies was one of Japan's primary targets if and when it went to war because the colony possessed abundant valuable resources, the most important of which were its rubber plantations and oil fields;[13][14] the colony was the fourth-largest exporter of oil in the world, behind the U.S., Iran, and Romania.[14][15] The oil made the islands enormously important to the Japanese, so they sought to secure the supply for themselves. They sent four fleet carriers (Akagi, Kaga, Hiryū, and Sōryū) and a light carrier along with the four fast battleships of the Kongō class, 13 heavy cruisers, and many light cruisers and destroyers to support their amphibious assaults in addition to conducting raids on cities, naval units and shipping in both that area and around the Indian Ocean.[16]

Access to oil was the main goal of the Japanese war effort, as Japan has no native source of oil;[17] it could not even produce enough to meet even 10% of its needs,[14] even with the extraction of oil shale in Manchuria using the Fushun process.[18] Japan quickly lost 93% of its oil supply after President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order on 26 July 1941 which froze all of Japan's U.S. assets and embargoed all oil exports to Japan.[19] In addition, the Dutch government-in-exile, at the urging of the Allies and with the support of Queen Wilhelmina, broke its economic treaty with Japan and joined the embargo in August.[17] Japan's military and economic reserves included only a year and a half's worth of oil.[14] As a U.S. declaration of war against Japan was feared if the latter took the East Indies, the Japanese planned to eliminate the U.S. Pacific Fleet, allowing them to take over the islands; this led to the attack on Pearl Harbor.[20][21]

Declaration of war

In late November, the Netherlands government in the East Indies under the Dutch government-in-exile (already at war with Imperial Japan's Axis power ally Germany in Europe) began preparing for war against Japan itself: ships of the Royal Netherlands Navy were sent to sea and the KNIL Air Force was mobilised.[22] On 4 December, three days after having decided on a policy of war against America, Britain and the Netherlands, the Japanese government decided instead to "treat the Netherlands as a quasi enemy until actual hostilities ... occur."[23][24] This was in the hope that the Dutch would not preemptively destroy oil installations before the Japanese were ready to invade.[23]

On 8 December 1941, in a public proclamation, the Netherlands declared war on Japan.[25] By 07:00 on the day of the attack, the East Indies government had warned merchantmen at sea to make for the nearest port. At that hour, the governor general made a public announcement over the radio that the Netherlands "accepts the challenge and takes up arms against the Japanese Empire."[22] Instructions had been telegraphed to the embassy in Tokyo at 02:30, even before news of the attack on Pearl Harbor had reached the Dutch government in London at 04:00. The instructions were only received on the evening of the next day, and the declaration of war was finally handed to the Japanese foreign minister, Shigenori Tōgō, by the Dutch ambassador, J. C. Pabst, on the morning of 10 December.[22] The Swedish ambassador agreed to handle Dutch interests for the duration of the conflict.

The Dutch declaration did not alter the Japanese decision, and the latter's declaration of war did not come until 11 January 1942.[23] When Japan was charged with waging a "war of aggression" before the International Military Tribunal for the Far East in 1946, it was argued that her attitude towards the Netherlands proved otherwise, since the Dutch had declared war first. The tribunal rejected this, on the grounds that Japan's sole intention was "to give less time to the Netherlands for destroying oil wells."[23] They found that the Netherlands' declaration was in self-defence.[24]


General Hisaichi Terauchi, commander of the Southern Expeditionary Army Group, began the campaign by sending the 16th Army under command of General Hitoshi Imamura to attack Borneo. On 17 December 1941 Japanese forces landed at Miri, an oil production centre in northern Sarawak, with support from a battleship, an aircraft carrier, three cruisers and four destroyers.[26]

Initially, the Japanese launched air strikes on key areas and gained air superiority. Following the air strikes, landings were made at several locations, targeting airfields and other important points in the area. In addition to the landing at Miri, forces made landings at Seria, Kuching, Jesselton and Sandakan between 15 December 1941 and 19 January 1942. After these main objectives in Borneo were achieved, the Japanese planned a three-pronged assault southward using three forces named Eastern Force, Center Force and Western Force. The goal was to capture the oil resources of the East Indies. The Eastern Force was to advance from Jolo and Davao and move on to capture Celebes, Amboina and Timor, while protecting the Center Force's flank. The Center Force was to capture oil fields and airfields in Tarakan Island and Balikpapan. Both these forces would support the Western Force, which was to attack and capture the oil refineries and airfields in Palembang. The Japanese launched their assault on 11 January and landed at Tarakan.[27]

The Japanese lines of advance in the Dutch East Indies, Sarawak and North Borneo (British), and Portuguese Timor

To coordinate the fight against the Japanese, the American, British, Dutch, and Australian forces combined all available land and sea forces under the American-British-Dutch-Australian Command (ABDACOM or ABDA) banner. This command was activated on 15 January 1942, commanded by British Field Marshal Sir Archibald Wavell.[28] The command structure had the American Army Air Force Lieutenant General George Brett as deputy commander, the British Lieutenant General Henry Royds Pownall as chief of staff; under them were the American Admiral Thomas C. Hart as naval commander, the Dutch Lieutenant General Hein ter Poorten as ground forces commander, and the British Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Peirse as the air commander.[29] Although the forces were combined, they had differing priorities: the British believed the defense of the territory of Singapore and the eastern entrances to the Indian Ocean (the route to British Ceylon and British India) to be paramount; the Americans and Australians did not want a total penetration of Southeast Asia that would deprive them of bases necessary for any serious counterattack; and the Dutch considered Java and Sumatra, their "second homeland where [they] had been trading and living for over three centuries", to be the most important place to defend.[30]

Even the combined forces could not stop or even slow the Japanese advance because of their much greater numbers; to face the attacking naval forces, the ABDA command had a conglomerate of ships drawn from any available units, which included the U.S. Asiatic Fleet (fresh from the fall of the Philippines), a few British and Australian surface ships, and Dutch units that had previously been stationed in the East Indies. Major forces included two seaplane tenders (USS Langley and Childs), two heavy cruisers (USS Houston and HMS Exeter), seven light cruisers (HNLMS De Ruyter, Java and Tromp, USS Marblehead and Boise [though Boise was forced to leave the area after striking a shoal on January 21], HMAS Hobart and Perth), 22 destroyers, and, perhaps their greatest strength, 25 American and 16 Dutch submarines. Being based on Java, these ships had to take on the central and western prongs of the three-headed Japanese assault.

The Central Force's combat ships included the light carrier Ryūjō, the seaplane tenders Sanyo Maru and Sanuki Maru, three light cruisers, and 16 destroyers, while the Western Force contained five heavy cruisers and seven destroyers. In addition, four Japanese fleet carriers (Akagi, Kaga, Hiryū and Sōryū) and the four Kongō-class battleships were in the theater of operation.[8]

The manner of the Japanese advance resembled the insidious yet irresistible clutching of multiple tentacles. Like some vast octopus it relied on strangling many small points rather than concentration on a vital organ. No one arm attempted to meet the entire strength of the ABDA fleet. Each fastened on a small portion of the enemy and, by crippling him locally, finished by killing the entire animal. [...] The Japanese spread their tentacles cautiously, never extending beyond the range of land-based aircraft unless they had carrier support. The distance of each advance was determined by the radius of fighter planes under their control. This range was generally less than 400 miles, but the Japanese made these short hops in surprisingly rapid succession. Amphibious operations, preceded by air strikes and covered by air power developed with terrifying regularity. Before the Allies had consolidated a new position, they were confronted with a system of air bases from which enemy aircraft operated on their front, flanks and even rear.[31]

The Japanese were using Tarakan airfield as a forward airbase by 17 January, and Balikpapan was captured a week later. However, the Dutch garrisons had destroyed the oil fields before they were captured by the Japanese in both cases. Several Japanese vessels were destroyed or damaged by Allied naval and air counterattacks, but the defending Dutch battalions were overrun. By 28 January, the Japanese had taken control of the airfields at Balikpapan, and their aircraft were operating from them.[27] By the end of January, Japanese forces had captured parts of the Celebes and Dutch Borneo,[32] and by February they had landed on Sumatra and encouraged a revolt in Aceh.[32]

Most of the naval components of the Allied forces were crushed in the battles of Java Sea, Sunda Strait and Second Java Sea;[17][33] the only American ship larger than a destroyer to survive the battles was the old cruiser Marblehead.[34] In addition, the land forces on the islands were quickly overwhelmed, and most major resistance was overcome within two months of the initial assaults, although a guerrilla campaign in Timor was successfully waged for a time.[17][33] The ABDA command was dissolved 1 March, less than two months after its inception, by Admiral Conrad Helfrich.[35]


On 8 March 1942 the Dutch surrendered without condition to Japan in Kalijati, Subang, West Java. This is also known as the Kalijati treaty.[36] On 9 March the Dutch Commander-in-Chief of Allied forces on Java, Lieutenant General Hein ter Poorten, surrendered along with Governor General Jonkheer A.W.L. Tjarda van Starkenborgh Stachouwer. Ter Poorten's surrender announcement was made without consulting the commanders of the British and US forces, who wanted to continue fighting but who had no choice but to comply with the surrender.[37][38]

The military power of the Netherlands Indies was never calculated to wage war single-handed against the Japanese empire. For such purposes it is, to begin with, entirely inadequate... Our troops have suffered heavy losses, because of the impossibility of protecting them against the enemy's air attacks; they are exhausted... May God be with us. Long live the queen!

Ter Poorten announcing the surrender on radio, 9 March 1942.[39]


See also: Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies

Allied forces did not attempt to retake the islands of Java, Sumatra, Timor, or Bali during the war. Japanese forces on those islands surrendered at the conclusion of World War II. Most of the Japanese military personnel and civilian colonial administrators were repatriated to Japan following the war, except for several hundred who were detained for investigations of war crimes, for which some were later put on trial. About 1,000 Japanese soldiers deserted from their units and assimilated into local communities. Many of these soldiers provided assistance to Indonesian Republican forces during the Indonesian National Revolution.[40]

Battles of the campaign


  1. ^ Dutch military commanders and the Governor-General surrendered on 9 March. Adrian Vickers, 2005, A History Modern of Indonesia, Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, p. 87.
  2. ^ Does not include naval personnel
  3. ^ a b c "Chapter 10: Loss of the Netherlands East Indies". The Army Air Forces in World War II: Vol. 1 – Plans & Early Operations. HyperWar. Archived from the original on 7 April 2010. Retrieved 31 August 2010.
  4. ^ George McTurnan Kahin and Adrian Kahin, Subversion as Foreign Policy, New York: The New Press, 1995 (ISBN 1565842448), Pp 22
  5. ^ Morison (1948), pp. 158, 271–273, 293 and 311
  6. ^ a b "Submarine War in the Dutch East Indies (1941–1942)". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941–1942. 1999–2000. Archived from the original on 16 April 2021. Retrieved 31 August 2010.
  7. ^ Morison (1948), pp. 274– 276, 296, 384
  8. ^ a b Morison (1948), pp. 275–276
  9. ^ War History Office of the National Defense College of Japan; Willem Remmelink, trans., The Invasion of the Dutch East Indies Archived 2017-03-11 at the Wayback Machine (Leiden University Press, 2015) pp. 95, 98, 417. Retrieved 11/21/2017
  10. ^ "World War II: The Defensive Phase" Archived 2019-07-12 at the Wayback Machine, US Army Center Of Military History, p. 87
  11. ^ Records for an accurate count of how many killed, wounded, and captured from the 24 sunken ships were not available due to the destruction of the fleet. Many of the ships' crewmen were captured by the Japanese and the fate of the lost ships were unknown for many years.
  12. ^ Francis Pike, "Hirohito's War: The Pacific War, 1941–1945" Archived 2023-04-11 at the Wayback Machine, 2015, p. 309.
  13. ^ Morison (1948), p. 280
  14. ^ a b c d Arima, Yuichi (December 2003). "The Way to Pearl Harbor: US vs Japan". ICE Case Studies Number 118. American University. Archived from the original on 20 December 2016. Retrieved 27 February 2009.
  15. ^ The statistics given are for 1935. The top five oil exporters that year were, in order, the United States, with 6,958 kt, Persia (Iran), with 6,860 kt, Romania, with 6,221 kt, the Dutch East Indies, with 5,139 kt, and the Soviet Union, with 3,369 kt. See: The Way to Pearl Harbor: US vs Japan Archived 2016-12-20 at the Wayback Machine, accessed 27 February 2009. Full citation given below.
  16. ^ Morison (1948), pp. 274–276, 296, 384
  17. ^ a b c d "The Netherlands East Indies and the Pacific War". Allies in Adversity; Australian and the Dutch in the Pacific War. Australian War Memorial. 1997–2009. Archived from the original on 28 February 2009. Retrieved 27 February 2009.
  18. ^ Dyni, John R. (2006). "Geology and Resources of Some World Oil-Shale" (PDF). Deposits Scientific Investigations Report 2005–5294. U.S. Department of the Interior. U.S. Geological Survey: 13. Archived (PDF) from the original on 13 April 2018. Retrieved 27 February 2009.
  19. ^ Worth Jr. (1995), pp. 4 and 66
  20. ^ "Pearl Harbor Raid, 7 December 1941". Naval Historical Center. Department of the Navy. 7 October 2000. Archived from the original on 6 December 2000. Retrieved 27 February 2009.
  21. ^ Reynolds, Paul (20 April 2004). "Oil and conflict – a natural mix". BBC News. Archived from the original on 1 April 2020. Retrieved 28 February 2009.
  22. ^ a b c Hubertus Johannes van Mook (1944), The Netherlands Indies and Japan: Their Relations, 1940–1941 (London: G. Allen & Unwin), pp. 106–07 and nn.
  23. ^ a b c d Ken'ichi Goto (2003), Tensions of Empire: Japan and Southeast Asia in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, ed. Paul H. Kratoska (Singapore: Singapore University Press), p. 52.
  24. ^ a b Gabrielle Kirk McDonald and Olivia Swaak-Goldman, edd. (2000), Substantive and Procedural Aspects of International Criminal Law: The Experience of International and National Courts, Volume II, Part 1 (The Hague: Kluwer Law International), pp. 764–65.
  25. ^ "The Kingdom of the Netherlands Declares War with Japan", Inter-Allied Review, Inter-Allied Review via Pearl Harbour History Associates Inc. hosted at ibiblio, December 15, 1941, archived from the original on 2019-10-20, retrieved 2009-10-04
  26. ^ Morison (1948), p. 191
  27. ^ a b Bradley, John N.; Bradley, John H.; Buell, Thomas B.; Griess,Thomas E.; Dice, Jack W. (2002). The Second World War. Square One Publishers. p. 85. ISBN 0757001629. Archived from the original on October 3, 2023. Retrieved March 29, 2009.
  28. ^ Morison (1948), p. 277
  29. ^ Morison (1948), p. 278
  30. ^ Morison (1948), pp. 281–282
  31. ^ Morison (1948), pp. 292–293
  32. ^ a b Vickers, Adrian. (2005) A History of Modern Indonesia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p86-87
  33. ^ a b "Japanese conquest". Allies in Adversity; Australian and the Dutch in the Pacific War. Australian War Memorial. 1997–2009. Archived from the original on 28 February 2009. Retrieved 27 February 2009.
  34. ^ Morison (1948), p. 375
  35. ^ Morison (1948), p. 377
  36. ^ Parinduri, Alhidayath (20 January 2021). "Sejarah Perjanjian Kalijati: Latar Belakang, Isi, & Tokoh Delegasi". tirto.id (in Indonesian). Archived from the original on 2022-06-09. Retrieved 2022-06-09.
  37. ^ Vickers (2005), p. 87
  38. ^ Kahin (1952), p. 101
  39. ^ Benda (1956), p.542
  40. ^ Tjandraningsih, Christine, (Kyodo News), "Japanese recounts role fighting to free Indonesia Archived 2009-09-10 at the Wayback Machine", Japan Times, Sep 9, 2009, p. 3.


Further reading