Paul Budde's History Archives

Dutch involvement in the broader war in SE Asia

While the overall Dutch combat contribution to the war in South East Asia was limited, its transport contribution to the war effort with ships, aircraft and specially flying boats to the Allied Forces was very significant.

With the shipping fleet of the Koninklijke Paketvaart-Maatschappij – KPM (Royal Packet Navigation Company) being one of the largest in South East Asia its ships played a key role in assisting the Dutch, British and Australian war ships with the protection of Singapore. During the Battle of the Java Sea, KPM ships also assisted with the supply of ammunition. In the NEI, several of KPM ships were leased by the Royal Netherlands Navy to participate in the defence of the Netherlands East Indies.

During the Japanese Malayan Campaign (8 December 1941 – 31 January 1942) KPM ships were involved in the movement of supplies and troops aimed at the defence of Singapore. In January 1942 plans were made for the ship Aquitania to transport troops from Sydney to Singapore, it was escorted by the cruiser Canberra. In all 3,456 troops left Sydney on January 10th. However, concern about putting such a large and valued transport in danger of Japanese air strikes led to the decision to divide the troops over smaller KPM vessels[1]. The transfer took place at Ratai Bay in the Sunda Strait, between Java and Sumatra. The convoy reached Singapore on 24 January. The Battle of Singapore only lasted a week and the city state fell on February 15th. Australia could now no longer depend on the British Forces to defend their country. This massive defeat marks the start of the end of the British Empire.

After the Fall of Singapore KPM ships reaching Australia during the Japanese advance were now incorporated in the newly formed Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA) Aliied Forces of which Douglas MacArthur was appointed Supreme Commander in April 1942′

The KPM ships were incorporated into the fleet being assembled in Australia for the support of the defence of Australia and the campaign against the Japanese in the SWPA. The crews of the KPM vessels fighting on the allied side were mainly made up of Indo Europeans of the NEI. Only the very senior officers were Dutch.

Flying boats

During the 1930s the Dutch had built one of the largest fleets of flying boats, they were largely used in NEI. These planes were critical in a time when proper airstrips were still a rarity, especially beyond the major cities. The Flying Boat ‘airport’ in Rose Bay in City is one of the last reminders of this era.   The Dutch fleet were mainly Dorniers, originally build in German but later under license manufactured by Aviolanda in the Netherlands. The British and Americans predominantly used US build Catalinas   By the time the Japanese started the war in South East Asia, the Dutch flying boat fleet (90 planes) was larger than the British and American fleets combined, several planes were therefore lent to British and American forces during battles in Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines. The planes were used for reconnaissance and naval rescue operations, but they also successfully bombed a Japanese flying boat as well as a cruiser and were able to delay Japanese invasions, enough for people to be able to flee and for installations to be destroyed before the Japanese landed.   With the Japanese advances the flying boats withdrew to Java and after the surrender of the Dutch East Indies the remaining planes were flown to Roebuck Bay in Western Australia.  

As we will see later most of what was left over from the fleet of flying boats fled to Australia after the fall of NEI.

[1] They included: Both, Reijnst, Van der Lijn, Sloet van de Beele, Van Swoll, and Reael and the British flagged ship Taishan