The capture of Balikpapan, January 1942

The following article is based on the Japanese Monograph No.29: Balikpapan Invasion Operation Records , USAFFE 1953 and updated by other additional information.

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The city of Balikpapan lies on the southeast coast of Borneo Island, just south of Samarinda and north of Tanahgrogot. It was important due his oil fields and apart that it was also important oil harbour with big oil refineries.

  The map of the Dutch East Indies 1941-1942
The map is courtesy of Graham Donaldson

Having secured Tarakan Island, Balikpapan, with its rich oilfields and strategically important airfields, was the next target of Japan's sweep southward. The 56th Mixed Infantry Group, the Sakaguchi Detachment, under the command of Major-General Shizuo Sakaguchi, was ordered to take Balikpapan with its oilfields, oil installations and airfields with as little damage as possible.

Order of Battle for Japanese forces
Balikpapan, January 1942
Major-General Shizuo Sakaguchi
commander of the 56th Mixed Infantry Group - Sakaguchi Detachment
Assault Unit
Colonel Yamamoto (commander)
146th Infantry Regiment (less 2nd Battalion)
Armored Car Company
Field Artillery Battalion
One Engineer Company (less one platoon)
Surprise Attack Unit
Major Kaneuji (commander)
2nd Battalion of the 146th Infantry Regiment
One Engineer Platoon
One Independent Engineer Platoon
One Radio Squad

Units under direct command of the Group Commander, Major-General Shizuo Sakaguchi were the following:

Salvage Unit
Major Takagi (commander of the AAA Battalion)
two infantry companies of the 146th Infantry Regiment
One AAA Battalion
One Independent Engineer Company (less one platoon)
One Transport Company
Two Radio Platoons
Group Medical Unit
One company of the Special Naval Landing Force

Before the start of the operation, the following pre-landing measures were to be carried out:
- it was decided that emissaries would be dispatched to prevent the destruction of the oil refinery installations
- native policemen would be dispatched to the area to be used as road guides by the Surprise Attack Unit
- the Surprise Attack Unit would receive training and instruction in the important points of secret movement up the river.

The Dutch East Indies Army had in Balikpapan City a reasonably strong garrison with approximately 1,100 troops under the command of KNIL Lieutenant Colonel C. van den Hoogenband. The city itself was also very well protected with coast, anti-aircraft and field batteries. There were coastal guns at the harbour (2 x 120mm guns and 4 x 75mm guns), while the entrance to the harbour was protected by a minefield; the last passage laid by auxiliary minelayer Soemenep (Lt. T. Jellema). At Balikpapan and the nearby oilfields in Samarinda were also stationed some well-trained destruction groups with the mission to destroy the important oil installations in case of Japanese attack.

Meanwhile back at Tarakan Island, a former manager of the Tarakan Branch of the Borneo Petroleum Manufacture Company agreed to work for the Japanese Army on condition they would employ him in repairing the wrecked oilfields in Tarakan. The Group Commander,therefore, with the consent of the Navy's commander, dispatched this men, together with a captured Dutch officer and three Japanese soldiers-interpreters, to Balikpapan on a captured Dutch ship, the motor boat Parsifal. They carried a message to the Balikpapan Garrison Commander, Lieutenant Colonel C. van den Hoogenband, demanding that the oil refinery installations there be handed over to the Japanese Army without being damaged. These emissaries left Tarakan Island on 16 January 1942. On January 20th, 1942, the Dornier flying boat X-21 spotted a small vessel off the coast of Samboaja, heading for Balikpapan. The flying-boat landed near the vessel, the motor boat Parsifal, and took aboard two KNIL Captains, G.L. Reinderhoff and A.H. Colijn, and flown to Balikpapan to deliver the message to the Balikpapan Garrison Commander. Lieutenant Colonel C. van den Hoogenband refused their demands and three Japanese soldiers-interpreters were immediately returned back to their unit on 23 January, while both Dutch officers did not return.

Two native policemen, who had moved from Balikpapan to Tarakan Island two months previously, were secretly landed near Balikpapan. It was planned to use them as guides for the Surprise Attack Unit. They were to change to a canoe near Samboaja and land on the coast south of that city. They were then to proceed to Balikpapan and reconnoiter in its vicinity. They landed as planned and later successfully guided the Surprise Attack Unit up the river by lighting lamps at all important points as signals. They were also used as road guides for the unit.

In order to test the possibility of proceeding up the river secretly, the Surprise Attack Unit placed mangrove tree branches on both sides of landing craft and had a destroyer direct a searchlight on them from the distance of one kilometer. The test proved successfull and it was decided that the river near the Dutch fort could be successfully navigated in this manner. The planned date of departure was delayed from 16 January until the 20th, because of a lack of air support which was still needed in the Celebes Operation. On the 18th, the Dutch commander ordered the destruction of oil installations in Balikpapan. After that, the destruction teams were evacuated from Balikpapan to Samarinda II airfield, while the smaller group at Samarinda was transported by the flying boats of the MLD. The oilfields were, however, not badly damaged. The only serious damage was to tanks, pipes and special wharves in the harbour area.

At 2000 on the 22nd the convoy crossed the equator and advanced southward. From early morning to sunset of the 24th formations of Dutch bombers attacked the convoy every fifteen to twenty minutes. The convoy successfully reached the designated position, approximately three miles southeast of Balikpapan airfield, on the evening of the 24th. About 2000 on the 24th, the four USN destroyers - USS Paul Jones, USS Parrot, USS Pope and USS John D. Ford of the 59th USN Destroyer Division under the command of Commander Paul H. Talbot, under cover of darkness, slipped into the midst of the convoy, torpedoed the transports and sank six of them. As the Assault Unit had already transfered most of its men to the landing craft, only 29 men of the Sakaguchi Detachment were reported killed or missing in this raid.

The Assault Unit landed as scheduled without meeting enemy resistance and, by dawn, had occupied the airfield. Their advance southward, however, was slow as the bridges on the coastal road had been destroyed and the unit did not reach the northern outskirts of Balikpapan City until the night of the 25th. The Dutch garrison troops had been withdrawn and the unit entered the city without a fight. Also that night the 56th Mixed Infantry Group Headquarters with Major-General S. Sakaguchi followed the main unit into the town.

After leaving the main body of the convoy the Surprise Attack Unit, while proceeding southward, was attacked by approximately 20 Dutch bombers, but none of the transport ships were hit. The ships arrived at the designated position after sunset and at 2200 hours, the unit began to move up the river in landing craft. While passing Balikpapan Fort, the craft were compelled to pass through an area strongly illuminated by Dutch searchlights, but due to their camouflage and well-timed movement, they luckily passed through unseen. Guided by the lights placed by the native policemen, who had proceeded them, the Surprise Attack Unit landed just south of the reservoir at 0430 on the 25th. No Dutch troops were encountered and while part of the unit occupied the area around the reservoir, the main body proceeded to the village of Banoeabaroe, arriving there at 1440 hours, thus cutting off the Dutch line of retreat. While the main body of the unit was advancing along the road to Balikpapan City, it ran into a Dutch military column, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel C. van den Hoogenband (garrison commander), attempting to escape from Balikpapan. After defeating this Dutch column, the Surprise Attack Unit proceeded to Balikpapan City. The city was completely occupied during the night of the 25th. Having completed mopping up the surrounding area on the 26th, the men of the 56th Mixed Infantry Group assisted the naval infantry units in repairing the airfield.

After the capture of Balikpapan City, a new unit - the Kume Detachment, was formed under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Kume, which was dispatched to secure and to protect the oilfields together with naval infantry units. The part of the detachment advanced from Balikpapan City through the village of Banoeabaroe to Samarinda, while the main force moved forward along the Balikpapan City-Samboaja-Sangasanga-Samarinda-Road, mopping up the remained Dutch troops in the vicinity of Samarinda.

Kume Detachment
Lieutenant Colonel Kume (commander)
1st Battalion of the 146th Infantry Regiment (less two companies)
One Engineer Platoon
One Radio Squad

Immediately after the capture of Balikpapan City, the main elements of the Sakaguchi Detachment began to prepare for the invasion of Bandjermasin. On Japanese request, several employees of the local administration, a few patients in the town's hospital, several doctors, three priests and one parson stayed in Balikpapan City. Taken captivity were also some military personnel - members of the Dutch East Indies Army. A few days later (on February 20th or 24th), all these prisoners, about 80 of them, were executed at the beach near the old fortress Klandasan, in front of the eyes of the native inhabitants who were forced to watch this execution.

Order of battle for Dutch and Japanese Army

Koninklijk Nederlands Indisch Leger (KNIL Army)
The Dutch garrison in Balikpapan numbered approximately 1,100 men. Dutch Commander was KNIL Lieutenant Colonel C. van den Hoogenband.
The garrison had following units (Balikpapan Force):
• 6th KNIL Infantry Battalion
• Artillery Battery (4 x 75mm guns)
• Artillery Battery (4 x 75mm guns)
• Mobile Auxiliary First Aid Platoon
• Engineer Company
• Anti-Aircraft Battery (4 x 40mm guns)
• Anti-Aircraft Machine-Gun Platoon (3x AAMG)
• Anti-Aircraft Machine-Gun Platoon (3x AAMG)
• Anti-Aircraft Machine-Gun Platoon (3x AAMG)
• Coastal Artillery Detachment with 2 x 120mm, 2 x 75mm and 2 x 75mm guns

Militaire Luchtvaart, KNIL (Air Force)
At that time there were no Dutch planes. There exist however one airfield which was located near the town of Manggar.

Zeemacht Nederlands-IndiŽ (Royal Dutch Navy)
In Balikpapan existed Commandement Maritieme Middelen Balikpapan under (local) Naval Commander Cdr. F.H. Vermeulen. There were also some vessels in Balikpapan at the time of Japanese invasion: lightship Orion, auxiliary minelayer Soemenep, two ships from the "search service", a service which checks entering ships on contrabande, etc. They were sunk on the river by own crews in such a way, that they formed obstacles for entering ships. The "search vessel" was sunk in the "mouth" of the Sanga Sanga River. The lightship, apparently also in service as search vessel (most likely immobile) was sunk near the island of Noebi.

Nihon Rikugun (Imperial Japanese Army) & Imperial Japanese Special Naval Landing Force
• Sakaguchi Brigade (56th Regimental Group) under command of Major-General Shizuo Sakaguchi. The brigade numbered ca. 5,500 men.
• Kure 2nd Special Naval Landing Force under command of Navy Commander Masanari Siga.

Teikoku Kaigun (Imperial Japanese Navy)
Convoy for Balikpapan numbered 16 transport ships carrying the Sakaguchi Brigade and the Kure 2nd Special Naval Landing Force from Tarakan Island. Convoy escort was under command of Rear-Admiral Shoji Nishimura in light cruiser Naka (flagship) and consisted of:
4th Destroyer Flotilla
• 2nd Destroyer Division
destroyers- Harusame, Samidare, Yudachi, Murasame
• 9th Destroyer Division
destroyers- Asagumo, Minegumo, Natsugumo
• 24th Destroyer Division
destroyers- Umikaze, Kawakaze
Air Group
seaplane tender Sanyo Maru
seaplane tender Sanuki Maru
one oiler
Base Force was under command of Rear-Admiral Sueto Hirose.
2nd Base Force
Patrol boats- P 36, P 37, P 38
• 11th Minesweeper Division
minesweepers- W 15, W 16
• 30th Minesweeper Division
minesweepers- W 17, W 18
• 31st Submarine-chaser Division
submarine- chasers- Ch 12
and other auxiliary vessels.

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