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Militaire Luchtvardienst (ML-KNIL)

The uniforms of 1918-1928

In 1914 the Dutch government wanted to experiment in the Dutch Indies with some kind of air force units. So in that year the test unit of the air force came in to existence. All the personnel of this small unit retained the uniforms of the troops they originated from, so we see in that period a very fast arrangement of uniforms in all styles and colours. And because there were even some Dutch officers assigned to this test unit we see also plain Dutch army uniforms worn in the Dutch Indies.

All this came to an end in 1918 because the test unit was renamed and reorganized to become the ML-KNIL (Military Air Force-RNIA). From that period on, the officers and men wore the same uniform as the KNIL army. To be specific: The gray green cotton field uniform of the 1912 model {see army section} For officers custom made in Europe, or at a local tailor in the Dutch-Indies. This means that we see the same problem as with the army, a fast variation of uniforms in material and colour. All the ranks had an insignia on the left and right lapel of the shoulder board. All made of metal, with a dull black paint on the surface. And fixed with the propeller blades pointing upwards.

The rank insignia worn on both sides of the collar were of the type shown in {see picture C and D}. They were detachable just like the ones in the army and were black, with a black piping along the sides of the patch for junior officers and the lower ranks. For senior officers mounted on a piece of golden, or silver lace. In a zigzag pattern. Ranking was as follows:

Private 1st class
red v shaped chevron
yellow v shaped chevron
golden v shaped chevron
golden double v shaped chevron
silver metal dot
2nd Lieutenant
1 silver star
1st Lieutenant
2 silver stars
3 silver stars
1 silver star mounted on golden lace
Lieutenant Colonel
2 silver stars mounted on golden lace
3 silver stars mounted on golden lace

Above the left side of the pocket we see a badge as seen on {see picture E}. It's the wing for active pilots, which had received the brevet A. Also a badge was introduced for the observers {picture F}. All made of metal, painted in a black dull paint (Both wings were introduced in 1923}. Those officers who were entitled to wear both the pilots and observer wing wore them both {see picture G}.

The uniforms of 1928-1942

In 1928 an all-new uniform was introduced for officers of the air force. This consisted of a tunic with revers and lying lapels. It had four bronzed buttons at the front, and was made of a khaki coloured cotton or wool, with four box pleated pockets. Also a belt of the same colour and material as the tunic was worn. Closed with a metal hook {see picture H}. Underneath a shirt was worn together with a black woolen tie. On the revers the rank stars for junior officers directly pinned on, for senior officers along with a v shaped metal bar at the corners. This uniform was also intended for walking out purposes. All the badges except for rank stayed the same size and material as on the preceding uniform.

So unlike the army, officers of the air force did not retain their gray-green uniforms of the model 1912. Personel below officer's rank retained their gray green army uniform right up to 1942, as a field and walking out uniform.

Also a shirt for all ranks was introduced which was called the sports shirt. It was also worn with the tie mentioned earlieer.and has 4 buttons made of brown horn at the front, and two box pleated pockets at the front. It was made in cotton in the same colour as the 1928 uniform {see picture I}. The rank insignia on this shirt were attached to the shoulder lapels, and were directly sewn on. Or attached with press on studs (The same type of insignia as we see quite often nowadays -but than fitted on a slip on schoulderboard- Are actually also KNIL, but were in use during the 1945-1950 period). All metal, fixed on a triangular shaped black piece of cloth {see picture J}.

Also a wing was introduced for those officers entitled, to wear both the pilot and observer wing, to be worn above the left pocket of the 1928 tunic. On the sportsshirt there were no wings worn {see picture K}.

Walking out uniforms

Officers up to 1928: The green army uniform of 1918 except that all the insignia now were made of a silver or gold metal shiny material. The buttons were embossed with the Dutch lion.

After 1928 the uniform of the model of 1928 came in use for walking out occasions, except that all the badges (propellers and wings) were of a shiny material to. Mostly the uniforms were custom made.

Below officers rank: These rank retained their green army uniform with the appropriate insignia as a walking out uniform up to 1942. Although air force personnel could have made, -at a local tailor- a made to fit uniform in the best quality of materials available. The buttons embossed with a Dutch lion.

The parade and ceremonial dress

Unlike the army where the Attila used for ceremonial and parade dress was abolished in 1936 for all ranks, in favour of the garoet b green uniform {see army section } the ranks of the ML-KNIL retained their atillas right into 1942. It had two basic designs for officers and ranks below officer. Both were introduced in the knil in 1909 and became available for the ML-KNIL in 1918.Its description was as follows.

Enlisted and warrant officers

An Attila tunic made from dark blue wool or serge. With six rows of copper or silver buttons in the midlle and on both sides. The middle buttons rounded, at the sides half rounded buttons. The buttons are connected by means of a double row of cord from wool or serge in a black colour. The collar of the tunic is an approxamatly 5cm high stand collar of the same material as the tunic. Closed with two hooks. Around both sides of the collar we see a piping made of wool in branch of service colour. This piping can be a lot of colours because the ML-KNIL personnel had no branch colour up to 1941, then the branch of service colour became blue, and also the piping became blue. Till then the uniform was worn of the branch the soldier originated from. For all ranks alike on the side of the collar we find the badge earlier described.

For enlisted personel in red cotton embroidered, for warrant officers embroidered in yellow cotton. The propellor blades pointing inwards, and slightly tilted. At the back there were two slits topped with a small button and lined with a black double cord. On the left side just above the first double cord we see an internal pocket. A so-called fouragere was not worn by personel of the ML-KNIL. In the lower ranks no belt was worn. Ranking was shown on the lower half of the sleeve by means of broad chevrons, piped in the same branch of service colour as the collar. In cotton for enlisted personel and in gold lace for warrant officers. This is much like the regular Dutch army {see picture O}. And was of the following description:

Soldier 1st class
red cotton chevron
yellow cotton chevron
golden lace chevron
double gold laced chevron


This was basically the same uniform as for the lower ranks, but made of very fine cotton. And made to fit. The metal buttons we see in the uniform above, are now made from cotton. The middle row so-called balloon buttons, the rows at the side so-called half balloon buttons. Although the regulations state that the uniform must be made from dark blue cotton, Although I have never seen an Attila in that colour all were in a black colour. On the end of the sleeve we see a figure in black cotton much like a double Hungarian knot. The piping along the collar can also be made from a variaty off colours because officers in the ml knil also wore the uniform of the unit they originated from, and as said earlier the branch of service colour for the ML-KNIL {blue} came in to existence in 1941 {see picture R}. The Attila was worn with an orange coloured ceremonial cotton belt. On the left side hanging we find the so-called fouragares. They were also attached as a further rank identification. And were made for the junior officers of gold cord and for the senior officers also from gold cord but the cord double in thickness .The ranks were also shown on the collar. The stars of the junior officers directly pinned on. For senior officers mounted on a piece of golden lace.

The wings worn by the ML-KNIL wore also available on this uniform but now directly embroidered in silver or gold thread* between the first and second cotton row. In 1940 a wing for the medical personnel was also introduced {see picture S} for officers directly stitched on the atilla in gold thread. It became also available for the officers wearing the 1928 uniform but now made of copper or messing. Fastened with a large pin at the back! I have seen some wings fitted at the back with a metal screw you have to turn, but these are falsifications. The material they are made of is also much thicker.

The very much distinctive badge of the ML-KNIL also became in use on the atilla but now made from golden thread and directly stitched on to the collar of the uniform.

* This is very confusing, but it had something to do, with the unit the officer originated from. If he came from the cavalry, intendance, topographical service or administration. The wings were in silver or silver finished metal. For all the other units in gold or copper.


To have a much more clearer picture of the uniforms worn by the ML-KNIL. I have found it a wise idea to make a summary.

Officers Undress


The cotton green Uniform as worn by the the badges were of a dull black painted surface.


The Uniform of the badges were of a dull black material.

Officers Dress

Walking out 1918 -1928

The cotton green uniform as worn by the army. But now all the metal badges were made shiny, and the buttons were embossed with the Dutch lion.

Walking out 1928-1942

The uniform of 1928 but now with all the metal parts shiny.

Parade-ceremonial dress 1928-1942

The Attila as described in the article in 1941 with blue piping around the collar and a small chevron at the bottom of both sleeves in blue.

Non-Officers Undress


The cotton green uniform as worn by the army all metal badges painted in dull black.

Non-Officers Dress

Walking out 1918-1942

The cotton green uniform as worn by the army, with all the metal badges shiny. The buttons embossed with the Dutch lion.

Parade-ceremonial dress 1918-1942

The Attila as described in the article. In 1941 with blue piping around the collar and a small chevron at the bottom of the sleeves in blue.

Uniform Index . Bibliography . Article List
Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942
Copyright Felix A. Sint 1999-2000