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The capture of Riouw Archipelago

The Riouw Archipelago during Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942


Riouw Archipelago is a large group of more or less tiny islands, located east of Sumatra Island and south of Singapore Island. The biggest islands in the archipelago are Batam Island (Pulau Batam) and Bintan Island (Pulau Bintan) with the capital the town of Tandjoengpinang. In December 1941 there were stationed several KNIL troops intended only for garrison duty. They were all under command of KNIL Major J.H. de Vries.
Bill Reynolds, a Navy Captain in World War One and later a mining engineer, fled to Singapore from the north of the Malaya peninsula where he had his own mine, which he had thoroughly blown up before Japanese troops arrived. He immediately offered his services to the Naval Command in Singapore to help them blowing up the harbour installations of Singapore Naval Base, which were pretty much intact due to a sudden and quick Royal Navy retreat. The Naval Commander was so impressed by his enthusiasm and fanaticism that he finally asked him if he could help to evacuate 262 Dutch people from the Bintan Island, which was about 128 km SE of Singapore.
You could hardly find a better man for this mission than Bill Reynolds. 49-year old Reynolds was an excellent navigator, who spent almost twenty years of his life in Malaya, Burma and on the islands of the Dutch East Indies. With the help of eight Chinese sailors he repaired the old Japanese fishing boat Kofuku Maru ("Lucky Ship"), which he had confiscated in Singapore Harbour and safely brought those Dutch people from Bintan Island to a small port of Rengat on the Indragiri River, Sumatra Island. Several minutes after he anchored at port of Rengat, a slightly bigger boat crashed into Kofuku Maru, and nearly sank it. The men on the boat were horrified when they saw a tall and angry Australian coming out of his cabin. They weren't scared much by his height, sun-burned skin, dirty shorts or square jaw under the dark glasses, which couldn't hide the anger, than by the bunch of juicy Australian terms of abuse, he directed at the men sitting on the boat which crashed into Kofuku Maru. Only when this "flood" of terms of abuse ended, he looked down to see who dared to crash into his ship. It was a tiny diesel engined boat. At its bow stood a young army medical orderly, and near the helm was sitting and staring at Reynolds a young British army officer, a Captain of the Gordon Highlands. His name was Ivan Lyon*.

The Imperial Japanese troops eventually occupied the Riouw Archipelago and stationed a small army garrison there throughout the war.

* Note Ivan Lyon was born in 1915 in a family which carried out the military tradition for quite a long time, so there was no surprise when a young Ivan decided to become a professional soldier. In winter 1936 he got the oppurtunity to serve in exotic Singapore and he grabbed it with both hands. With his father, who also came to Singapore, they made a small five and a half meter long boat and spent much of their time cruising between the islands and coasts in the South China Sea. Although this was more or less a holiday cruise, he once returned to Singapore with a report which convinced his commanding officer that there should be a lot more done for the defence of the North Malaya territory. As a crew member of a sailing vessel he once even came to Darwin, Australia. He was a regular "customer" in all well known premises and joints in Singapore. On one occasion, when he got terribly drunk with "tiger" beer, he went into the nearest tattoo bar, and came out with a large red, blue and yellow tiger's head on his chest, which made him famous among the Europeans living in Singapore; even more than for his cruises. During his cruise in August 1938, he met a beautiful French lady, Gabrielle Bouvier, a daughter of the French governor of Poulo Condore Island, located off the south coast of French Indochina. They got married on 27 July 1939 in Saigon.
Since then he wasn't seen much at his regiment's barracks in Singapore, as his commander was giving him numerous secret intelligence missions, which lead him and his boat
Vinette into the desolate coastal areas of the Malaya Peninsula and French Indochina, where Japanese Intelligence started to appear. Finally he found his place in a group which liquidated the Japanese spies and maintained contacts with De Gaulle supporters in the French Indochina, which was at that time already under Japanese occupation. When the Japanese attacked Malaya in December 1941, this group started to form guerilla detachments in the Japanese hinterland. At the end of January 1942, he returned to Singapore where he was given a new assignment-to transport refugees from Singapore to Sumatra Island. There he met on one sunny February day, after several near "meetings" with Japanese destroyers, a tall Australian, Bill Reynolds and his ship Kofuku Maru. They immediately became friends.
They both managed to get safely from Sumatra Island to Ceylon and India, where they met again and planned together probably the most daring, unbelievable and most successful Australian commando attack in World War II. They sailed with the Japanese fishing boat
Kofuku Maru (renamed to Krait) from Australia to the Riouw Archipelago, crossing a large portion of Dutch East Indies, to carry out a commando raid with canoes (!!!). Their targets were the anchored Japanese ships in Singapore Harbour. The raid was a huge sucess, as they sank 37,000 tons of shipping and returned safely to Australia.
The second, similar operation, named "Rimau", was not so sucessful. They again managed to sink ca. 30,000 tons of the Japanese merchant fleet anchored in Singapore Harbour, but all 23 men who took part in this operation were lost either killed or captured and beheaded, including Lt-Col Ivan Lyon, who was killed by the Japanese troops on the tiny island of Soreh on 16 October 1944.
Bill Reynolds also didn't survive the war. He started to work for the US Intelligence Service in Australia and was dropped by US submarine
Tuna on Lacet Island to collect intelligence information for MacArthur's HQ. Three days later Captain William Roy Reynolds was betrayed by the natives and captured by Japanese soldiers. He was send first to Balikpapan Gaol and later transfered to notorious Soerabaja Gaol, where he was, several months later, beheaded together with several other Indonesians and US airmen.
The story would still be a big mystery, if there wasn't a young Australian Lieutenant - Tom Hall who started to research Operation "Rimau" in 1958. He dedicated 31 long years to this research before the story was finally presented to the public.

Koninklijk Nederlands Indisch Leger (KNIL Army)
Dutch territorial commander for Riouw Archipelago and Dependencies was KNIL Major J.H. de Vries, who had following units under his command:
• Riouw and Dependencies KNIL Garrison Battalion in Tandjoengpinang
• Mobile Auxiliary First Aid Platoon
Landstorm Infantry Company in Tandjoengoeban
Landstorm Infantry Company in Poelau Samboe

Zeemacht Nederlands-IndiŽ (Royal Dutch Navy)
In January 1942 the Dutch sloop Soemba (Cdr. P.J.G. Huyer) was stationed for a while in the Riouw Archipelago. .

Bibliography . Article List . Geographic Names
Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942
Copyright © Klemen. L. 1999-2000