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The Fall of Dutch New Guinea, April 1942

I think we can all agree that the Dutch New Guinea (West Irian) battlefield has not been properly researched yet, as there are very, very few books (if any) entirely dedicated to this remote place/battlefield of the Dutch East Indies Campaign. This is one of the main reasons that I have especially engaged myself in searching for new information in order to enlighten us with the course of the Japanese advance in this part of New Guinea Island, which was also marked with some very hard fighting between the Dutch, Australian and Japanese forces. I hope you will enjoy reading this section. I would like to thank on this ocassion Allan Alsleben, Graham Donaldson, Henry Klom, Akira Takizawa and Leland Ness for their invaluable help and support in creating the Dutch New Guinea section.

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

Order of Battle of the
Dutch New Guinea Invasion Force

Dutch New Guinea, April 1942
The Imperial Japanese Naval Force which ocuppied the Dutch New Guinea territories was called the "N" Expeditionary Force and it was assembled at Ambon Island at the end of March 1942. It departed from Ambon Island on the night of 29/30 March 1942.

The Order of Battle of the "N" Expeditionary Force, led by Rear-Admiral Ruitaro Fujita was as follows:

Main Force
• 11th Carrier Division with seaplane carrier Chitose
• 3rd Section of 16th Cruiser Squadron with light cruiser Kinu

Support Force
• 1st Section of 16th Destroyer Division with destroyers Yukikaze and Tokitsukaze, torpedo boats Tomozuru, Hatsukari and patrol boats No.1, No.2, No.38 and No.39
• 54th Submarine-chaser Division with submarine-chasers Shonan Maru #5, Shonan Maru #17, Fukuei Maru #15 plus assorted smaller craft

Naval Landing Force
under the command of Captain S. Shibuya

• 4th Guard Unit (about a battalion size)
• 24th Special Base Unit (about 500 men)
The NLF troops were under Captain S. Shibuya's command, and he was subordinated to the 24th Special Base Force then at Ambon Island. The 24th Special Base Force would be moved to Endeh, Flores Island on November 15th, 1943.

Transport Force
• 2nd Gunboat Division with gunboats Manyo Maru, Taiko Maru and Okuyo Maru
• oil tanker Seian Maru and transport ship Hokuriku Maru

On 5 March, Imperial General Headquarters by Navy Directive No.62 ordered Commander-in-Chief, Combined Fleet, upon completion of the Java operation, to annihilate the remaining enemy force in Dutch New Guinea and to occupy strategic points of that territory. The objectives of the occupation were to survey the country for possible sites for air bases, anchorages and oilfields, as well as to secure a good communication and supply line with 'British' New Guinea.

  The map of Dutch New Guinea 1942

Plans called for landings at Fak Fak, Babo, Sorong, Manokwari, Moemi, Nabire, Seroei, Sarmi and Hollandia with the garrisoning of troops in the Fak Fak and Manokwari areas. Also it was planned that the force used would touch at Boela (Ceram Island) to investigate the condition of an oilfield known to be there. To carry out these operations the 2nd Southern Expeditionary Fleet organized the Dutch New Guinea Invasion Force under command of Rear-Admiral Ruitaro Fujita at Ambon on 15 March 1942.

The Japanese invasion fleet left Ambon Island on the night of 29/30 March 1942 and arrived at the town of Boela, Ceram Island, on 31 March 1942. They found the town deserted and decided to divide their forces into two separate detachments.

The 1st Detachment occupied the town of Fak Fak on 1 April 1942. The small KNIL garrison surrendered without a fight.

In Babo was stationed a Dutch garrison of about 200 KNIL soldiers. An airfield was still in construction. The town was important because of its rich oilfields in the vicinity. Babo was raided by Japanese planes for the first time on 30 December 1941, and was considered as a substitute base in case Laha and Namlea became untenable to operate from. Three Hudson bombers were sent there to act as 'fighters', this temporary duty was regarded to be against four-engined enemy flying boats. The Dutch garrison at Babo was hard at work improving defences and clearing for a second runway. The 2nd Detachment arrived in Babo on 2 April 1942, landed their NLF unit and occupied the town. Most KNIL soldiers managed to escape to Australia.

Dornier Do-24K
Dornier Do-24K
In Sorong was stationed Dutch Naval Air Group GVT-2 with 3 Dornier Do-24K flying boats (flying boats X-11, X-12 and X-25) under the command of Lieutenant 2nd Class W.J. Reynierse plus a support ship, the seaplane tender Arend. During a reconnaissance mission northwest of Vogelkop Peninsula, on December 8th 1941 (the first day of the war!!), the crew of the Dutch flying boat X-12 (Lt. A. Höfelt) spotted a group of Japanese fishing vessels and a big schooner located in the Straight of Bougainville, between the islands of Sajang and Waigeo, all trying to make a run for home. Bombs were dropped, but the result was only one near miss. The next day, two other Dutch flying boats X-11 and X-25 atacked the Japanese schooner leaving it on fire, probably sunk. On Tuesday, December 16th 1941, the seaplane tender Arend was attacked by a big Japanese Kawanishi H6K5 type 97 "Mavis" flying boat, but it did not score any hits. The Japanese Kawanishi flying boat attacked again the next day. Three bombs exploded behind the accelerating X-11. The two other Do-24K-1's that were already airborne tried to intercept the Kawanishi, but failed. The 1st Detachment arrived in Sorong on 4 April 1942, landed their NLF unit and occupied the town. The town's small KNIL garrison surrendered after a short skirmish with the NLF force. The elements of the Japanese 5th (Amphibious) Infantry Division arrived at Sorong in December 1942 in order to garrison the town and nearby vicinity for a while.

In Ternate (situated on a small island near Halmahera Island) was stationed Dutch Naval Air Group GVT-5 with 3 Dornier Do-24K flying boats. Ternate was raided by Japanese planes for the first time on 17 December 1941. The 2nd Detachment arrived in Ternate on 7 April 1942, landed NLF and bombarded the enemy positions. The KNIL garrison soon surrendered and the Japanese managed to capture appproximately 150 Dutch POWs. Both 1st and 2nd Detachments met in Ternate harbour.

On 8 April 1942 the Japanese forces landed and occupied without a fight the town of Djailolo, Halmahera Island.

The re-united "N" Expeditionary Force arrived in Manokwari on 12 April 1942, landed their NLF unit and quickly occupied the town. Approximately 150 Dutch KNIL troops were reported at Manokwari, but by the time of the landing there on 12 April they had fled to the mountains. To counter any possible action by these troops, a detachment (192 men) of the 4th Guard Unit remained in Manokwari as a garrison. The Dutch garrison commander, KNIL Captain J.B.H. Willemsz Geeroms, took the command of approximately 60 Dutch militiamen and 17 native soldiers and retreated into the jungle to fight a guerilla war against the Japanese troops. On April 18th, 1944 he fell sick and exhausted into enemy hands and was executed by the Japanese in Manokwari in May 1944. However, the remains of the KNIL troops, now under command of KNIL Sergeant Mauretz Christiaan Kokkelink, retreated inland and continued with the fighting until October 1944 when they (by then only 14 militiamen and 1 native soldier were still alive) made contact with the American troops at Sansapor. They were eventually evacuated to Australia.

The small town of Moemi (situated south of Ransiki) was in pre-war time a post for the civil administration of the area. There exist several plantations that in pre-war times were run by Japanese citizens. As Moemi is absolutely unimportant in a military sense (no harbour, no garrison, no airfield), it might be that the Japanese plantations were the reason for their landing in this small town. The 2nd Detachment arrived in Moemi on 15 April 1942, landed its NLF unit and occupied the town without a fight, as there were no KNIL military stationed at the place.

The 1st Detachment arrived in Seroei, Japén (Yapen) Island, on 16 April 1942 and occupied the town without a fight. There were no KNIL troops on the island. Biak Island was not occupied until December 25th, 1943 when elements of the Japanese 36th Infantry Division landed on the island and started airfield construction.

In the prewar days the Japanese had a forestry concession in Nabire. The 2nd Detachment arrived in the town of Nabire on 17 April 1942, landed its NLF unit and occupied the town after a short fight with the local KNIL military outpost.

The 2nd Detachment arrived in the town of Sarmi on 19 April 1942, landed its NLF unit and occupied the town after a short fight with the town's KNIL garrison. The Japanese left a small garrison in Sarmi of about 68 NLF troops until Army units relieved them in late 1942.

The 1st Detachment arrived in the town of Hollandia on 19 April 1942, landed his NLF unit and after a short fight overran the town's KNIL garrison. The invasion force left a small garrison of NLF troops in Hollandia until Army units relieved them in July 1942.

The "N" Expeditionary Force assembled at Manokwari on 21 April 1942 and as a result of having met so little resistance, the force was dissolved, with all the participating units returning to Ambon Island. There were (by Japanese reports) no casualties during the "campaign". After the expedition they established 7 garrisons with guard (garrison) units. They all belonged to the 24th Special Base Unit. The garrisons were as follows: Manokwari (207 men), Fak Fak (67 men), Ternate (79 men) near Halmahera Island, Boela (76 men) on Ceram Island, Babo (86 men), Hollandia, Nabire, Sarmi and Sorong.

    The Japanese map of the New Guinea Operation, April 1942
The map is the courtesy of Akira Takizawa

The struggle for the southwest coast of Dutch New Guinea, 1942

West of Port Moresby, along the south coast of Papua and Dutch New Guinea, only one place was of any interest to the Japanese; Kokonau. Kokonau (Kokonao in Indonesian) is located west of Agats, and it is as far as the Japanese went on the south coast. The Japanese evidently decided in 1942 that this inhospitable country, edged with vast areas of swamp, was of very little military value. A minor naval engagement took place on 22 December 1942 when two 40 foot long barges (Daihatsus) carrying 10 Japanese (5th Engineer Unit) approached within machine-gun and mortar range of a launch carrying a survey party of Captain Wolfe. The Australians replied with Bren Gun and grenades and the three vessels closed range. After 2 minutes of exchanging fire, the Japanese withdrew. As a result of this encounter, the Australians established a post at the mouth of the Eilanden River (the Eilanden River is located some 15 miles east of Kokonau), and was manned by machine-gunners, who were on duty when the Japanese returned as expected. 3 Diahatsu's and 5 launches were intercepted. The Japanese losing in excess of 60 men. The Japanese later confirmed that they lost 47 men with 11 wounded. The RAAF and AIF patrols were in control of this section of the southern New Guinea coast for the duration of the war.

On the Northwest New Guinea coast, it appears that the Japanese set up a refueling base at the village of Aoeta composed of anchored non-motorized fuel barges. The staging base was for Daihatsus being used in the delta areas to the South.

Dutch and Australian troops in New Guinea, 1942

Australian and Dutch KNIL troops marching through an airfield (probably Merauke), Dutch New Guinea, 1942

The Japanese survey ship Tsukushi, made soundings and landed parties at various sites along the southwest coast of Dutch New Guinea in early 1942. They even landed a party of 30 men at Cape De Jong. Since it was only a small unit of men, they were not a garrison and as a result abandoned what landings they made, including that temporary outpost at Cape de Jong. The survey ship Tsukushi made port at Davao in late July of 1942.

In December 1942 the AMF 62nd Battalion was deployed to Merauke forming the remote western flank of the Allied forces in Dutch New Guinea. There the Australians had patrol encounters with the enemy and learnt to live in the tropical bush, and survive. To the end of March 1942 the Japanese had made 19 air attacks on Merauke in Dutch New Guinea. Nevertheless Merauke stayed as the only piece of the Dutch East Indies, which was never occupied by the Imperial Japanese forces.

Between October and December 1943, seven Torres Strait Islanders joined white Australian troops, led by Wing Commander Donald Thomson, on patrols into areas of Dutch New Guinea which were disputed by the Japanese Army. During the patrols, two islanders were wounded, one by an axe wielding Irian Jayan friendly with the Japanese and another by enemy small arms fire. These patrols were important in the minds of the Islanders, it signalled that they were accepted as soldiers, even to those that stayed behind defending the Torres Strait Islands, located between Cape York Peninsula and New Guinea.

Note The 24th Special Base Force supplied the bulk of the troops with the destroyers and Kinu providing the NLF.

Note Halmahera Island was occupied, then surveyed for airstrips. It had an anchorage in the south at Batjan. This area was occupied by Naval Defence Troops as well as construction workers from 2nd Southern Expeditionary Fleet. The troops that were there in 1942, were still there in 1944.

Note On Halmahera Island were stationed the following troops: 1,200 SNLF for local defence (these were not the elite troops) - 1,750 construction workers - 5,200 from the 32nd Division (Allied Intelligence, McArthur's HQ).

Note The barges used for actions in the shallow waters of Dutch New Guinea were mainly the 14 meter, 20 ton Diahatsu type, which were common during that period. They had only a 100 mile radius.

Note The 1st Section of 16th Destroyer Division consisted of destroyers Yukikaze and Tokitsukaze. The 2nd Section of the same division was at Christmas Island (Amatsukaze, Hatsukaze). Tomozuru and Hatsukari were torpedo boats assigned directly to the 24th Special Base Force.

Note During the Dutch New Guinea operation it often happened that the Japanese had no army (garrison) units to use for landings or various garrison duties, so they formed special units, assembled from the ship's crews. They were used for a temporary service on shore as garrison troops. Each light cruiser contributed a platoon for each operation and from the heavy cruisers, one company (usually 90 men). A platoon is half that (ca. 45 men).

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