Djohor Uprising

From Roses, Tulips, & Liberty
Djohor Uprising
Part of the History of Soenda
DateMay 4 – May 30, 1952
Sultanate of Djohor, Dutch East Indies (present-day Soenda)
  • Dutch victory
  • Widespread atrocities and international condemnation
  • Growth of National Republicanism in Soenda
  • Netherlands
  • Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (KNIL)
  • 7th Brigade
  • 9th Batavian Regiment
  • 101st Bomdong regiment
  • Sultanate of Djohor
  • Partai Rakjat Islam Djohor (PRID)
  • Commanders and leaders
  • Governor-General Martien van der Goot
  • Lieutenant-General J.A. Vetter
  • Sultan of Djohor
  • The Djohor Uprising (May 4 – May 30, 1952) was an unsuccessful rebellion against Dutch colonial rule in the Sultanate of Djohor, then part of the Dutch East Indies (present-day Soenda). Though unsuccessful, the event marked a pivotal moment in the country's history and led to significant political and social changes. The uprising began with the assassination of Dutch administrators and the arrest and execution of Dutch-loyalist police forces by the Sultan's supporters. The brutal counteroffensive by the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (KNIL) led to widespread atrocities, international condemnation, and the growth of National Republicanism in Soenda.


    Following the aftermath of the Great War, the Netherlands underwent a period of economic and industrial exhaustion, largely due to the Lowlands campaign and the French advance along the Rhine. The Netherlands depended heavily on the Dutch East Indies for raw natural resources, leading to increasing pressure on the region and subsequent reforms.

    Centralization reforms in the East Indies

    In 1941, the Netherlands initiated a series of reforms, called the Herschikking ("reordering"), to centralize governance in the East Indies and enhance the efficiency of resource extraction. This involved a large-scale mechanization of the agricultural sector, resulting in significant social changes including mass internal migration, urbanization, and the growth of informal housing in cities. Several local sultanates and kingdoms, including Djohor, were politically neutered, contributing to a sense of dissatisfaction and unrest among the populace.

    Unrest in Djohor

    The Sultanate of Djohor was notably affected by these changes, with significant social unrest within its urbanizing cities. In the late 1940s, the Sultan of Djohor began to associate with various anti-colonial political parties and staff the royal guard and provincial police with supporters. One group the Sultan drew close to was the conservative Santri Islamic anti-colonial Partai Rakjat Islam Djohor (PRID). Utilizing their position close to the Sultan, the PRID, along with other parties who were discontented with the Dutch reforms, began to sway the Sultan towards rebellion. They argued that the Netherlands was in a weak state due to internal political upheaval, the enduring economic effects of the Great War, and a geopolitical refocusing of key military assets towards Europe. After a year of clandestine preparations, which included gathering arms and consolidating their position, the Sultan was eventually persuaded, leading to a decision to revolt.

    The uprising

    In the early hours of May 4, 1952, local Dutch administrators across Djohor were killed in their sleep, and Dutch loyalist police forces were arrested and executed. This was the start of what would become known as the Djohor Uprising, or as it's known in Soenda: "The Butchering of Djohor".

    Following these initial strikes, the Sultan of Djohor and his forces moved swiftly to consolidate their hold over the region. They attempted to disband Dutch governmental institutions, and local administrative control was assumed by members of the Sultanate loyal to the cause. Law enforcement and military forces were reorganized, purged of Dutch loyalists, and restaffed with supporters of the rebellion.

    With the KNIL and Dutch East Indies government forces in the sultanate effectively neutralized, the Sultan's forces were confident in their ability to resist any counter-offensive from the Dutch. They also believed that the Netherlands, given its own challenges, would not have the capability to mobilize adequate forces to quell the uprising. When news of Djohor's rebellion reached Batavia, colonial authorities were thrown into a state of alarm. At this time, Batavia was under intense pressure from the Netherlands to harness the cheap natural resources from the East Indies to aid in the country's rebuilding process. For The Hague, tolerating any form of rebellion was inconceivable, as they could not risk losing what was essentially their crucial economic lifeline.

    Dutch response and atrocities

    The 9th Batavian regiment disembarking near Djohor prior to the start of the Djohor counteroffensive.

    The 9th Batavian regiment disembarking near Djohor prior to the start of the Djohor counteroffensive.Governor-General Martien van der Goot of the Dutch East Indies was adamant that the Djohor rebellion needed to be quelled to prevent the potential for a "domino effect" of uprisings across the East Indies. He was personally affronted by the ease with which the Djohor sultanate had managed to eliminate the Dutch authorities in the region, a factor which had a significant impact on Dutch colonial policy leading up to the East Indies Crisis in the 1960s and 1970s. According to recently declassified documents, Governor-General van der Goot issued a controversial order to the commander of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (KNIL), Lieutenant-Generaal J.A. Vetter: “Make an example out of these rebels; kill them all.”

    Capturing of Singapura

    On May 7th, the KNIL's 9th Batavian Regiment landed on the island of Singapura, just off Djohor, after encountering minimal naval resistance. Over the next six days, the regiment engaged in protracted skirmishes with the Sultan's forces stationed on the island, gradually gaining ground. Ultimately, they managed to seize control of Singapura, establishing it as their forward operations base.

    Capturing of Djohor

    Soldiers of the 9th Regiment in Johor, firing from their positions.

    In the weeks that followed, the KNIL forces gradually encircled the city of Djohor, clashing with the Sultan's forces, which were both poorly equipped and inadequately organized. By the end of May, KNIL forces had successfully breached the city's defenses, marking the shift of the rebellion to urban warfare.

    The conflict grew increasingly brutal and destructive as the fighting was concentrated within the city itself, taking place on a street-by-street, house-by-house basis. This intense urban combat resulted in significant structural damage to the city and shifted the nature of the uprising into full-fledged urban warfare.

    The last week of May 1952 has later been referred to as "The Butchering of Djohor" due to the widespread atrocities committed by KNIL soldiers. Reports of mass killings of civilians, rape & torture are attested to by first hand and third party investigation of the event. Additionally the KNIL were known to utilize "death squads" in rounding up opposition or suspected rebel forces.

    KNIL soldiers with a Stier Panzerkannon, routing out the last of the resistance in the city.

    Reports suggest that the KNIL soldiers were indiscriminate in their handling of the local population, perceiving all locals as potential rebels. This approach resulted in widespread devastation and significant population displacement. On May 30, the palace of Djohor fell to the KNIL forces. Subsequent accounts indicate that the sultan and his family were subjected to a period of purported torture before being executed without trial.


    International Response

    The Butchering of Djohor saw widespread international condemnation. Countries aligned with the International Republican Coalition were among the most vocal in their condemnation, decrying the violent suppression of the rebellion as a breach of human rights and international law. The Muslim world, sharing strong cultural and religious ties with Djohor, voiced their concern, calling for immediate cessation of violence and the initiation of peace talks. Additionally, the newly established Association of North American Nations (ANAN) expressed their disapproval of the Dutch East Indies' harsh measures.

    Radicalization of the Soendanese population

    The event also contributed to the radicalization of the Soendanese intelligentsia and significant portions of the Muslim middle and lower classes across the colony. The event also saw the growth and expansion of National Republicanism within the East Indies as anti colonial political movements sought out a political ideology that could hopefully unify the anti-imperial struggle in the East Indies with foreign supporters abroad. Several political scientists have also posited the theory that the destruction of the Partai Rakyat Islam Djohor was a a massive boost to later national republican parties as the early PRID was the primary competitor of early national republican parties like the Partai Pembebasan Hindia Timur.