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The capture of Manokwari, April 1942

  The map of Dutch New Guinea 1942

The garrison at Manokwari lost contact with KNIL HQ and Java at the beginning of March 1942. On April 12, 1942, a Japanese convoy steamed into Dore Bay and began landing approximately 4,000 (exact number unconfirmed and my source is old and somewhat unreliable when it comes to specifics) men. At the beginning of 1942, The KNIL garrison at Manokwari consisted of approximately 125 KNIL troops, which included a number of civilians reservists and home guard who had been called up at the start of February 1942.

The only Dutch naval presence at Manokwari was the small Government Marine patrol boat Anna under the command of 2nd Officer Hans Fuhri. Without enough fuel to escape, Fuhri ordered his crew to open the seacocks and burn the ship to prevent her capture, as a Japanese destroyer moved in. He and his wife then tried to escape upriver into the interior in a small sloop. However, they were soon caught and interned with the rest of the European population.

For sinking the Anna , the Japanese sentenced three of her native crewmen to death. To save them, Fuhri stepped forward and accepted responsibility for the scuttling. He said that he was still acting under Royal Navy orders, although Java had fallen the Royal Navy command structure in the Netherlands East Indies had been dissolved 6 weeks earlier.

Fuhri was then put on trial by the Japanese. During the trial, he was frequently punched and slapped for insisting that he was still a Dutch naval reserve officer and was simply following orders that said not to let his ship fall into enemy hands. The Japanese maintained that with the fall of Java, all his orders were null and void, since he could no longer take orders from a command structure that no longer existed.

In any event, 2nd Officer Fuhri was condemned to death. He was first tied to a tree in the blazing sun while the Japanese periodically beat him. One kicked him in the face so hard that his front teeth were knocked out. At night, he was swarmed by mosquitos. After three days of this, he was cut loose and bayoneted; however, when this failed, the Japanese beheaded him and left his mutilated corpse lying out in the open under a huge swarm of flies.

As the KNIL ground force had no chance of successfully engaging the Japanese invasion force, it withdrew into the interior of Dutch New Guinea and initiated guerilla warfare. In preparation for such an event, the garrison commander had already established a number of hidden food and weapons depots deep in the jungle of the "Vogelkop" (Bird's Head...the odd shaped region of land that is connected to western New Guinea by a small strip of land). These depots would allow the KNIL force to operate for months without resupply.

Unable to accompany the military column, the women and children colonists were left behind to face internment by the Japanese. They were soon joined by approximately 65 KNIL reservists, whom the garrison had released from duty. These men had neither the equipment nor training to effectively operate in a prolonged guerilla warfare environment. In addition, their families were also at risk and the men undoubtedly faced a moral crisis at having to leave their loved ones to an unknown fate with the Japanese.

The remainder of the column reached their designated operational area after a 9-day march through rough terrain. They established a base camp and sent out reconnaissance patrols. The Dutch troops quickly encountered Papuan natives, who were sent by the Japanese commander with a message. He told the Dutch that it was pointless to continue resistance and that if they surrendered, they would be treated well and allowed to see their families.

The Dutch force never made a formal reply to the Japanese commander. However, they did reach an "agreement" amongst themselves. While there would be no surrender, they did reach a unanimous agreement to simply sit out the war and minimize their contact with Japanese forces occupying the region.

However, a short time later, a Japanese column discovered one of the hidden supply depots on a track near the guerilla base camp. After a brief fight, the heavily outnumbered Dutch force was forced to evacuate the camp. The Japanese pursued the Dutch relentlessly from that point onwards. Although the guerillas managed to evade them, a substantial portion of their supplies fell into enemy hands. Any hope the Dutch had of quietly sitting out the war now evaporated as the Japanese hounded them from hideout to hideout.

On one occasion, the Japanese succeeded in surrounding the KNIL force while they were camped, taking them completely by surprise. Although badly outnumbered, small groups of guerillas managed to fight their way out of the trap and escape into the jungle. Although many survivors managed to regroup at a prearranged rendevous point deeper in the jungle several days later, all of the column's remaining supplies had been lost.

The Dutch were now in a desperate position. With only enough emergency rations to last 6 days, they were now in danger of starving. To stretch out their remaining supplies for as long as possible, the men resorted to eating cooked vines, plants and other flora. Although they were able to supplement their diet with the occasional wild boar, disease broke out and the resulting infections caused a number of deaths among the Dutch force.

Toward the end of 1942, a KNIL patrol encountered three American servicemen near the coast. They had escaped from the Philippines during the Japanese invasion earlier that year and had landed on the "Vogelkop." The Americans were, needless to say, greatly relieved to discover that the Asian soldiers who discovered them were friendly KNIL troops. However, one died within a month from malaria and dysentery. The second was killed in action shortly afterwards during one of the column's many skirmishes with the Japanese.

Much of 1942 was spend moving continuously through the depths of the New Guinea interior. Much of this area had never been explored before and they were the first outsiders to visit the area. By now, their clothes were beginning to rot, leaving them wearing rags.

At the beginning of 1943, a KNIL patrol successfully ambushed a Japanese motorboat near the village of Wekari. In the brief firefight that followed, the Dutch killed 11 Japanese troops without loss to themselves.

In May 1943, an 11 man patrol from the Dutch force was ambushed by the Japanese in their camp. Six of the men were sick and unable to move, so the commander left them behind with a single attendant while he took the remainder out to forage for food. The Japanese attacked while the patrol was gone and killed five men. This included the third American, who had been wounded in the hip during an earlier skirmish. Although wounded, he resisted fiercely until shot and killed.

When the patrol returned, all it found were their dead comrades and a number of dead Japanese. The only survivor was a wounded Dutch sergeant who had rolled into a ravine and was missed by the Japanese. He proved too badly wounded to transport, so the patrol left him behind in the care of a second soldier until he was well enough to move. The others then moved further down the valley to evade any Japanese who might return.

Four days after their departure, the sergeant's keeper spotted approximately 100 Japanese troops moving through a ravine in the direction of the main KNIL force. Leaving the wounded man, the soldier took both their carbines and engaged the Japanese from a hidden position to draw their fire and alert the main body. The Japanese, unsure how many troops were facing them, took cover. The main Dutch force then came up and engaged the Japanese, driving them off long enough to retrieve the wounded sergeant.

When the action ended, there was no sign of the lone trooper who had bravely held off the Japanese and everyone assumed that he had been killed. However, he was not dead and wound up wandering through the jungle alone when he was unable to contact the main force. He was periodically fed by friendly natives and eventually rejoined the main force several months later.

Throughout 1943, the KNIL force received increased support from the local Papuan natives, who were now frequently mistreated by the Japanese. On numerous occasions, native porters hired by the Japanese to carry captured ammunition and supplies back to the Japanese camps would instead deliver them to the Dutch on their own initiative. This helped the Dutch maintain their declining supply of 6.5mm carbine ammunition. The Papuan natives also provided the guerillas with a great amount of information on Japanese movements.

By the end of 1943, the Dutch troops were becoming more exhausted with each day. A number of men came down with a new disease that sapped their strength and robbed them of their memory. All who exhibited these symptom soon died.

Around the beginning of 1944, the KNIL force heard native rumours that Allied forces would soon land on the north coast of New Guinea. Although they had no specific information on the date or place of the landings, Dutch hopes were further bolstered by the frequent appearances of Allied reconnaissance aircraft. They gave the Dutch enough hope and energy to attempt to try and reach the Allied forces.

On April 18, 1944, the KNIL force numbered 35, down from its original number of 60 men. The commander and several men were sick, so they remained in camp while the others went on patrol. Shortly afterwards, the Japanese overran the camp and killed or captured most of the remaining Dutch guerillas. This included the commander, who was captured and most likely executed.

A sergeant now took command of the few remaining guerillas. Fearful of being surrounded and wiped out, he ordered them to break into small groups and individually try to contact the approaching Allied forces. Closely pursued by Japanese forces, the following trek took them through rough, swampy terrain that taxed the mens' resolve to survive. With virtually no food, the common mind-set was simple - march or die.

In August 1944, one of the patrols heard from friendly natives that the Allies had landed at Sansapor on the northwest point of Dutch New Guinea. The leader of the exhausted patrol sent ahead a group of natives to the Allied commander to deliver a message. The message requested 100 reinforcements, 50 extra rifles to arm his Papuan auxiliaries together with food and medical supplies so that his force could continue the war.

After a 3-week trip, the natives delivered the message to an astonished Allied force, who had no idea of its presence after the fall of Manokwari. In response, KNIL HQ promptly ordered the patrol to cease combat activities and prepare for evacuation. In the meantime, another patrol that included three Dutch civilians who had remained with the guerillas, also made contact with Allied troops. Then in October, the sergeant in command made contact with Allied troops and was also evacuated to Australia.

With his evacuation, the role of the Manokwari garrison in the Netherlands East Indies campaign officially ended. Their guerilla campaign had lasted 30 months.

The article ''The Manokwari Garrison'' is copyright protected (August 15, 1999) by Tom Womack

Please do not use any material from this article without permission of its author!

The Fall of Dutch New Guinea, April 1942 . Bibliography . Article List . Geographic Names
Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942