East Indies Crisis

From Roses, Tulips, & Liberty
East Indies Crisis
Part of the Silent War

(From left to right) Two soldiers standing after a military operation somewhere on Sumatra, A soldier running to cover during the early years, A Soendanese village after a battle
Date3 February 1960 – 22:03 11 November 1976
Location
Indonesia
Result
  • Withrawal of the Dutch and formal end of the East Indies (1610-1976)
  • Independence of Soenda and Pinang
  • Refugee crisis
Belligerents

Kingdom of the Netherlands

Supported by:
Britain
Philippines

PKKN
Soendanese Liberation Army
Thaitania

Supported by:
Russia
Commanders and leaders
Cornelis van Langen
Willem Middendorp
Koen Haverman
Soedjojo Hok
Andries Peta Taba
Kasan Said Narajau
Djoeneid Siahaija
Pieter-Bas Teterissa
Bassil Patawala
Strength
Netherlands
3,581,929 (total number deployed)
1960-1967: 2,400,000 (estimated)
1967-1973: 5,000,000 (estimated)
1973-1976: Unknown
Casualties and losses
Killed: 294,918
Missing: 149,582
Total Casualties 444,500
Civilian dead: 8,000,000–11,000,000 (estimated)
~5,205,000 wounded (estimated)
Military dead: 1,690,624
Total Casualties 9,391,694–11,895,624

The East Indies Crisis (Dutch: Indische Oorlog), from 1976 commonly known as the War of Soendanese Independence (Indonesian: Cwang Kemerdekaan Sunda), was a military conflict chiefly fought between the Netherlands and various pro-independence parties in modern Soenda under the umbrella of the PKKN and its military arm, the Soendanese Liberation Army. Lasting sixteen years, it is the longest-lasting of the colonial conflicts fought in the 20th century and is considered one of the most destructive wars in history. The Crisis occurred alongside the rise of popular visual media throughout the world, becoming the first 'internationally perceptible' war (from a French media phrase 'perceptible dans le monde entier).

Background and origins

The Dutch East Indies found itself under a period of intensified turmoil following the aftermath of the Great War (1935-1939). The Netherlands, having experienced economic and industrial exhaustion as a result, relied heavily on its East Indies colony for the extraction of raw natural resources. This dependency caused an increasing strain on the region, leading to a series of sweeping reforms and elevated colonial pressures to exploit the colony.

The Herschikking reform

In 1941, in an attempt to maximize resource extraction efficiency, the Netherlands initiated a centralization reform called the Herschikking ("reordering") in the Dutch East Indies. This included the large-scale mechanization of the agricultural sector, causing unprecedented social changes. Mass internal migration, rapid urbanization, and the emergence of informal housing in urban areas became the norm. Meanwhile, the political authority of several local sultanates and kingdoms, Djohor included, was significantly curtailed, fueling a sense of dissatisfaction and unrest among the local populace.

Djohor Uprising

The dissatisfaction led to the Djohor Uprising in 1952, where the Sultanate of Djohor and other anti-colonial forces rebelled against colonial troops. The brutal response of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (KNIL) to the rebellion led to a wave of atrocities and international condemnation, further intensifying anti-colonial sentiments among the Soendanese people. The collective memory of the uprising, alongside the execution of the Djohor Sultan and his family, incited outrage and served as a potent symbol of Dutch colonial oppression.

The radicalization of the Soendanese intelligentsia and the Muslim middle and lower classes can be traced back to these events. Their political mobilization and subsequent involvement were instrumental in the eruption of the East Indies Crisis. Simultaneously, the Dutch East Indies government's isolation and repeated failure to manage internal tensions only served to compound these issues.

In the wake of the Djohor Uprising, the Dutch East Indies government sought to regain control through a new series of reforms and security measures. In 1954, the Dutch reorganized its East Indies colony and set up the Dominion of the East Indies in 1954, which effectively functioned as a puppet to the Netherlands. This establishment did little to quell the growing dissatisfaction and anti-colonial sentiments.

Emergence of the PKKN and the consolidation of anti-colonial Forces

In the aftermath of the failed uprising, national republican organizations retreated to the countryside where they began to organize, instigating a low-level rebellion towards the end of the 1950s. Simultaneously, the nationalist and Islamic urban movements consolidated with this guerilla insurgency, leading to the formation of the Soenda Rebirth Movement and the creation of the Party of National Rebirth (Partai Kelahiran Kembali Nasional or PKKN) in 1958 by Mohammad Harahap.

Over the next two years (1958-1960), the PKKN rapidly grew in size and influence. This period was characterized by escalating tensions between the PKKN and the Dutch East Indies authorities.

Onset of the Rebellion

1960 Soematra General Strike

The political climate of the Dutch East Indies took a significant turn on January 15, 1960, when the Partai Kelahiran Kembali Nasional (PKKN) organized a widespread general strike across Soematra. Lasting until the end of the month, the strike had a profound impact on the local economy, especially damaging the financial interests of several large plantations and enterprises allied with the colonial administration.

Initially, the colonial authorities hesitated to respond. However, on January 31, colonial authorities decided to forcefully intervene, and the general strike was put to an end.

Execution of the 'Soematran 16'

A large number of high-ranking PKKN officials were detained, including the PKKN president Mohammad Harahap. The Soematran governor sanctioned the execution of the sixteen highest-ranking PKKN leaders, known as the 'Soematran 16,' for treason, aiming to dissuade the PKKN and its followers. The execution of the 'Soematran 16' elicited widespread indignation throughout the region. Subsequently, in February 1960, extensive protests broke out which rapidly escalated into riots during the first week of the month.

On February 8, the PKKN appointed a new president, Kasan Said Narajau. Distinguished by his reluctance to negotiate with the Dutch, Narajau immediately commanded the establishment of the Soendanese Liberation Army (SLA) and appealed for a united Soenda Liberation Front (SLF), meant to be a coalition of anti-colonial parties.

Soenda Liberation Front and Soenda Liberation Army

The Soenda Liberation Front, under Narajau's leadership, represented a general call for revolution and served as a unified political platform against the Dutch colonial rule. In contrast, the Soendanese Liberation Army was formed as a literal military force responsible for executing the proposed revolution.

PKKN and SLF Consolidation (1960-1962)

The period from 1960 to 1962 was characterized by the consolidation of the PKKN and SLF, against the backdrop of an ongoing low-intensity 'colonial war.' During this time, the PKKN, guided by its new leadership, gained enough legitimacy to attract direct funding and support from international powers, notably the Russian National Republic. It was reported that Russian operatives were embedded within the party, and there were indications of Russia smuggling equipment to the Soenda Liberation Front via Thaitania.

Northern Soematran Uprising (1960)

An uprising in northern Soematra in February 1960 had escalated into a full-fledged revolt by January 1st, 1962. The KNIL (Royal Netherlands East Indies Army) had been gradually pushed out of the northern and central interior, confining their presence to the coastal regions, while retaining control over the southern parts of Soematra. Simultaneously, uprisings also erupted in Malaya, Borneo, and Celebes, further exacerbating the strain on the KNIL's already limited manpower. However, these uprisings were swiftly suppressed.

Deployment of European Dutch troops to Soenda (1962)

On February 1st, 1962, the States-General of the Netherlands authorized the deployment of 120,000 Dutch soldiers to Soenda, with the mission of assisting the KNIL in suppressing the rebellions and restoring Dutch authority over the archipelago. Throughout the year, Dutch forces appeared to be making progress, successfully crushing revolts on various islands and reclaiming control over central Soematra. This process followed a conventional colonial campaign strategy, focusing on securing major population centers before expanding further. Unbeknownst to the Dutch forces, however, the Soendanese Liberation Army (SLA) continued to grow its ranks by recruiting from the countryside, which remained beyond Dutch control but was still perceived as conquerable.

Phase of Fire: 1963–1967

New Year Offensive (1963)

On New Year's Eve in 1963, the SLA initiated a major conventional assault on strategically vital areas held by Dutch forces in central and northern Soematra. The offensive targeted Padang in northwest Soematra and Pekanbaroe in central Soematra. The Liberation Front's conventional attack caught Dutch forces off guard as it involved the utilization of older Russian tanks and heavy weaponry, including artillery and mortars. The element of surprise, combined with the timing of the assault on New Year's Eve, severely limited the Dutch's capacity to mount an effective response. As a result, the Dutch lost control of Padang and Pekanbaroe, resulting in the establishment of a new frontline extending across Djambi and the interior of southern Soematra.
A Dutch soldier near Palembang during the fighting around the city in late February.
The New Year Offensive, marked an important transformation in the nature of the conflict. Previously characterized as a simple "colonial conflict" where rebels engaged in asymmetric warfare while the Dutch adopted a strategy of limited action, this new phase witnessed a shift due to the SLA's firm control over northern and central Soematra. Despite the relatively modest size of their operational base, the rebels were able to bolster their forces. The offensive also demonstrated that the Dutch were not invincible, prompting the revolutionary fervor to more effectively permeate the entire archipelago.

Two months after the offensive, as the SLA had stabilized the frontlines, the Dutch began to adopt a more concerted approach. This period saw the initial extensive utilization of strategic bombers and an increasing prevalence of shoreline bombardments. Search and Destroy tactics also became the norm.

Dutch response: the Lange Doctrine

The following years saw guerrilla strikes became more frequent. Soematra, which had initially been the focal point of the conflict, now represented just one of the many fronts in the conflict. Between 1963 and 1967, the Dutch engaged in a brutal campaign against an ever-growing insurgent force. Entire villages were razed, and the widespread use of chemical agents such as tear gas, along with the deployment of napalm firebombing, transformed once-thriving jungles into desolate wastelands.

While Dutch and KNIL units consistently achieved victory in individual battles, Dutch forces suffered a high attrition rate. Long-range patrols conducted by the KNIL frequently resulted in casualties, with up to three out of every ten soldiers killed and an additional four wounded. It became increasingly clear that the Dutch forces' existing strategy, which focused on holding and reclaiming territory, was unsustainable in the face of rising casualties. The Soendanese rebels possessed superior knowledge of the terrain, maintained higher recruitment rates, benefited from shorter supply lines, and had access to advanced weaponry. This alarming attrition rate compelled a significant reassessment within the Dutch command structure, catalyzed by the events of the New Year's offensive.

In April 1963, Lieutenant-General Cornelis van Langen of the Dutch Army proposed a new strategic doctrine, which came to be known as the Van Langen Doctrine. This new doctrine redefined victory as the destruction of the enemy's war-making capabilities rather than territorial control. It advocated the establishment of strategic strongholds in key urban centers, economic sites, and coastal regions for offensive operations. The Dutch military adopted an aggressive, offensive posture, targeting enemy assets such as supply depots, recruitment zones, and sympathetic population centers relentlessly.
Cornelis van Langen in 1964
This approach emphasized rapid mobility, strong command structures, and a focus on denying and destroying enemy resources. Because of the doctrine's more aggressive outlook, it was sometimes pejoratively referred to as the terreurdoctrine ("terror doctrine").
“Annihilate the rebels' ability to fight the war, not just this one but for all future conflicts.”
— Cornelis van Langen
On the 22nd of March 1963, Van Langen proposed this idea to the general staff, and it received approval on the 23rd of March 1963. As a result, Cornelis was promoted to the rank of General with a straightforward mission: to initiate military reform. On the same day, rapid planning began for the transformation of the Netherlands' military. Units were strategically withdrawn to designated areas, leaving the SLA forces in confusion as the Netherlands vacated recently reclaimed territories. This consolidation of valuable territory allowed rotation of veteran troops back to the Netherlands or Zeylan for retraining, while newly formed forces took their place.

The short respite, lasting from March 1963 until early 1964, witnessed a swift transformation in the training and overall capabilities of Dutch forces. During this period, there was a substantial buildup of personnel and resources to support the new approach to warfare. Initially, Russian intelligence sources were unable to discern the underlying cause of this rapid shift in doctrine, equipment, and related factors. Contrary to popular belief, this transformation was not an abrupt change but rather the consolidation of pre-existing plans for the rapid replacement of equipment, including armored vehicles, air assets, uniforms, and weaponry.

This shift in military doctrine was not entirely unprecedented; it had roots dating back to the Great War (1935-1939), with the Netherlands enacting a law after the Great War requiring all factories to maintain the ability to switch to wartime production as technology advanced. This, coupled with the nation's defense policy that allowed for the rapid conscription of a large portion of the population, laid the foundation for such a doctrinal shift.

Reforms to the Dutch Conscription System

By the end of March, orders had been sent to most military companies, outlining the requirements for the development of new weaponry. The unprecedented pace of weapon delivery marked a significant moment in Dutch military history, leading to the mass production of highly effective and efficient military equipment. Simultaneously, orders were made with specific specifications at foreign factories in Tauland and New Netherland. A notable change came in the reorganization and reformation of the conscription system, known as Dienstplicht. The service duration was extended to 24 months, with six months dedicated to more extensive basic training aimed at enhancing military quality. The remaining eighteen months months involved deployment, with the obligation to be called up for service in times of conflict extending up to the age of 50.

Before these organizational reforms, Dienstplicht had primarily served a "reserve" role, focused on expanding the size of the reserves. However, the reforms, including the expansion of the training regimen and educational requirements, resulted in Dutch conscripts becoming superior to those of any other nation at the time. This enhancement in the military education of the average conscript was essential to accommodate the new style of mobile warfare, which could not thrive under the old requirements.

Although these changes were not popular with the Dutch public, they were passed in parliament, leading to increased military spending. This period also witnessed the emergence of the anti-war movement, advocating for the Netherlands to withdraw from Soenda and seek a peaceful resolution.

Operation Testveld (1963)

All these reforms were put to the test in December 1963 during Operation Testveld, where approximately 12,000 newly trained recruits, equipped with the latest gear and undergoing a new training regime, were deployed in Malaya. The operation yielded significant success, with around 57,000 enemy combatants killed at the cost of 1,200 Dutch casualties, affirming the effectiveness of these reforms.

Operation Slachthuis (1965)

Operation Slachthuis, launched on the 2nd of January 1966 by the Krijgsmacht (Netherlands Armed Forces) and KNIL (Royal Netherlands East Indies Army), marked a significant and sustained escalation in military operations against the Soendanese rebels in Soematra.

Situation by 1965

Initially, the operation had four evolving objectives: first, to boost the morale of the Dutch forces; second, to induce the Soendanese Liberation Army (SLA) to engage in negotiations by disrupting their logistical systems, lowering their morale, and crippling their limited industrial capacity; third, to obstruct the SLA's flow of men and materials into Dutch-controlled territories; and fourth, to weaken the SLA's air defense systems. Additionally, the operation aimed to send a clear message to Dutch allies, affirming their commitment to winning the conflict and their capability to do so.

The operation saw the most intense air-to-ground battles from 1966-1967. This campaign was exceptionally challenging due to the scattered distribution of enemies across various islands, equipped with a mix of Russian fighter interceptors and advanced air-to-air and surface-to-air weapons. This allowed the SLA to create a highly effective air defense network. However, by the end of the operation, this air defense network had been significantly weakened, and in certain areas, completely dismantled.

Stalemate: 1966–1972

The following six years were characterized by a persistent pattern of small-scale jungle warfare, with intermittent periods of high-intensity military operations undertaken by both Dutch and Soendanese forces. During this period, the Netherlands maintained control over significant portions of southern Soematra, the coastal parts of the Malay peninsula, Java, and most urban centers within these regions. The contested areas were primarily Borneo and Celebes, where control of urban centers was fiercely disputed.

Stalemate by 1970

To deal with the new strategic reality of the theatre of operations, characterized by the challenge of facing numerically superior enemy forces, the KNIL units underwent operational decentralization while maintaining integration at the divisional command level. This era witnessed a notable increase in large-scale bombing operations that inflicted extensive damage on entire sections of jungles, urban areas, and other key areas believed to be hubs of rebel activity. The scale of devastation was unprecedented, causing harm not only to human populations but also leading to the extinction of several species due to the destruction of their habitats.

Reorganization of the Soendanese Liberation Army (SLA)

Meanwhile, the SLA, controlling most of the the interior of the Malay peninsula and Northern Soematra, developed their armored forces and adopted a hybrid doctrine combining elements of indirect warfare and conventional operations. Although they achieved only a few outright victories against the Dutch in open battles, the SLA believed that they could gradually erode Dutch strength by inflicting casualties, thereby undermining morale back in the Netherlands.

The SLA also used the period of relative calm to infiltrate Java, which was the stronghold of Dutch colonial control. During the stalemate, Java saw strikes, acts of terrorism, and small-scale uprisings, all of which were ultimately suppressed.

Phase II, The Bloodening: 1972–1976

Soldiers in the Malayan jungle, December 1972.

By 1972, Dutch forces were strategically dispersed throughout the Soenda archipelago. Java accommodated around 83,000 KNIL and regular Dutch soldiers, while 70,000 Dutch soldiers were stationed and actively engaged on Borneo. In Celebes, a contingent of approximately 90,000 soldiers was still embroiled in guerilla warfare. Moreover, about 120,000 troops were stationed in Soematra, and another 100,000 personnel were positioned in the Malayan peninsula, spanning Djohor and Penang. The Dutch military presence also extended to the naval and air forces, comprising 73,000 naval personnel and 120,000 air force personnel stationed across the entire archipelago.

Insurrection in Java (March 1972)

Java Massacres

On March 5, 1972, a large-scale, coordinated uprising erupted across the Djember region in eastern Java, encompassing both rural and urban areas. The uprising was marked by a surge in anti-Dutch and anti-allied sentiments, leading to widespread violence within the initial 48 hours. During this chaotic period, Dutch officials, Chinese individuals, and Indo-Eurasians were subjected to large-scale violence and slaughter. The uprising caught Dutch forces off guard, disrupting their command structure and revealing inadequacies in their available troops.

The delayed response allowed for the widespread slaughter of Eurasian civilians in eastern Java, with only coastal towns holding out due to the presence of Dutch marines defending the civilian population. This period, known as the Java Massacres, lasted for four days until local army forces coordinated a large-scale counteroffensive and suppression campaign. The situation deescalated after a major Dutch offensive was launched across the peninsula on March 11th, marking the end of the massacres. Dutch forces managed to regain control over major urban centers, but the events in Java had already resulted in countless casualties.

The March Offensives

Stier ZPKs providing cover for Dutch Landmacht soldiers in Gambang

In reaction to the uprisings, the Dutch mounted their own counteroffensives, collectively known as the March Offensives. The Dutch counteroffensive was executed across multiple theaters of operation, with a primary focus on Java, where rapid and decisive responses were initiated. In Java, air mobile units were deployed in force to assert control and suppress any signs of resistance in towns.

Meanwhile, on the Soematra and Malayan fronts, these air mobile units, accompanied by armored forces, spearheaded a swift and aggressive campaign, embarking on a comprehensive clearing operation throughout the countryside. In contrast to previous operations, Dutch military forces conducted extensive clearance operations across towns in both the Malayan and Soematran peninsulas, demonstrating a comprehensive effort to assert control.

Liberation of Eastern Java

The city of Semarang, where Dutch forces faced SLA insurgents, was eventually reclaimed in a campaign marked by its intensity, resulting in significant casualties and widespread damage to both urban and rural areas. While this operation played a crucial role in stabilizing the broader front, it did so at a considerable cost. The Dutch forces, influenced by the challenging circumstances created by the Java insurgency and associated incidents, adopted a less clear distinction between Soendanese combatants and non-combatants. The Java uprising, officially considered to have ended on the 28th of March 1972 according to Dutch historical records, resulted in a devastating toll. On the Dutch side, the casualties included approximately 11,000 civilians killed, 5,400 soldiers killed in action (KIA), 617 missing in action (MIA), and 19,182 wounded. The SLA, on the other hand, suffered even higher casualties, with disputed figures but estimates indicating that around 43,019 insurgents died in the first three days, followed by an additional 111,179 casualties (71,192 killed and 39,987 wounded) over the next 15 days. This phase of the conflict was characterized by some of the war's most brutal fighting and the highest casualty rates, setting a grim tone for the remainder of the conflict.

Suspected involvement of Thaitania

In 1973, Dutch intelligence reported existence of SLA encampments in Thaitania, sparking concern within the Netherlands. Accusations emerged that Thaitania had been facilitating the supply of equipment and materials to the rebels, effectively acting as an intermediary for Russia since 1967. It was also suspected that members of the Soendanese Liberation Army (SLA) had found refuge in Thaitania during the stalemate period. These developments led to a significant diplomatic crisis between the Netherlands and Thaitania, with the Dutch government demanding the extradition of any SLA officials present in Thaitania. Thaitania vehemently denied all allegations and expressed strong condemnation towards the Dutch government for its accusations. The Dutch military remained skeptical and tensions escalated, hinting at the possibility of a looming military confrontation.

Operation Dolle Dinsdag (1973)

Dutch shock troops preparing for Operation Dolle Dinsdag near Pinang

Following the diplomatic standoff, the Dutch initiated Operation Dolle Dinsdag (lit. "mad Tuesday") in southern Thaitania on February 5, 1973. This operation aimed to target and covertly eliminate SLA training facilities and resupply depots. The operation comprised a series of forty military incursions along Thaitania's southern frontier, most of which were successful. However, the operation had broader implications, leading to increased tensions between the Netherlands and Thaitania.

Upon discovering the Dutch military operations, Thaitania swiftly lodged a strong protest against the Netherlands, condemning their actions as an act of war and a violation of Thaitanian sovereignty. In response, Thaitania sought support from Russia and called upon the International Republican Coalition (IRC) for assistance. However, the the ongoing power struggle within Russia rendered any concrete response from both Russia and the IRC unattainable. This lack of response not only intensified the diplomatic strain between Thaitania and the Netherlands but also created a significant rift in Russo-Thaitanian relations.

Final Years of the War

Situation by 1974

By late 1973, any pretense that this conflict was merely an internal police action had vanished, both in propaganda and Dutch official reports. While the Dutch military was capable of addressing these assaults on the theater level, the overwhelming number of enemy armored units and infantry placed the Dutch at a significant disadvantage, with military experts placing odds as low as one to seven. This shifting dynamic prompted a transformation in the mindset of not only commanders but also frontline soldiers. This shift was notably evident in the evolving operational doctrine. The prior principles of "ask first, shoot second" and the exercise of restraint gave way to a more straightforward approach: prioritize neutralizing the enemy to preempt any threats to one's own forces.

During this period, armored confrontations became a common feature in the dense jungles of Soematra, as the Dutch resumed practicing combined arms warfare, a concept they had significantly contributed to its modern development. However, this had dire consequences for much of Soematra's jungles, which witnessed more environmental destruction.

Although it was not yet known, these years marked the final phase of the war, and they proved to be the most brutal. The Dutch faced new challenges from the SLA, combined with hybrid warfare tactics and a numerical disadvantage. Across various theaters of conflict in Malaya, Soematra, Borneo, and Celebes, Dutch soldiers engaged in increasingly intense combat with little mercy. By late 1973, it was popularly reported that, on average, for every Dutch soldier killed, fifteen Soendanese soldiers lost their lives.

Rise of the anti-war movement

Strains on Dutch Military and Society

The scale of combat placed a strain on Dutch manpower, necessitating frequent shipments of replacements. Many soldiers were on their second or third tour, turning the conflict into a total war for the Netherlands. As a result, anti-war proponents criticized the Dutch government and argued that Dutch society began to view the Soendanese through a dehumanizing lens, and they contended that the principles of civility had eroded.

During this period, reports of exhaustion, depression, and an increase in alcohol and drug consumption among soldiers became increasingly evident. Soldiers, some as young as eighteen years old, were frequently rotated out of the combat zones, returning as deeply emotionally-affected individuals. This phenomenon had become a disheartening norm, almost a grim rite of passage. The Dutch military's brutal fighting tactics also generated significant international condemnation. The culmination of these factors was marked by the occurrence of the first major anti-war demonstrations in Amsterdam.

April Revolution (1974)

On April 18, 1974, the Netherlands witnessed its largest anti-war protest to date, bringing the nation to a standstill. These protests were not limited to draft dodgers, anti-war politicians, and students; they included a wide cross-section of society. Mothers of the young men serving in the conflict, war veterans, fathers, and sons, as well as brothers who had lost their older siblings, all joined in.

A large protest in Den Haag, featuring Dutch citizens of all ages, voicing their opposition to the war.

This conflict witnessed the unusual phenomenon of multiple generations from the same families actively participating in the war effort. These individuals were accompanied by their partners, wives, and friends who supported them in various capacities. A notable change in the collective sentiment had occurred, as the populace grew increasingly averse to witnessing their loved ones lose their lives in the East Indies Crisis. The war's ubiquity through television broadcasts had a profound impact, fundamentally reshaping the nation's outlook. Educational institutions also played a role in preparing children for prospective service in the East, contributing to the shaping of an entire generation potentially destined for military service.

Prime Minister Geert Dijkman, who had been Dutch Prime Minister since 1971, and marked by his strong support for the war and staunch conservatism, ordered the Dutch government and military to prepare for a potential worst-case scenario: a revolution within the European Netherlands. However, the military's general staff conveyed their unwavering stance against using force against their own citizens, considering that many of the protestors were reservists, veterans, or active-duty soldiers on leave. These protests led to a "silent revolution", famously known as the April Revolution.

As a result of the April Revolution, a vote of no confidence towards Prime Minister Geert Dijkman was passed by both the parliament and the senate. This event prompted the scheduling of a new election.

New anti-war government: Party for Democracy (1974)

In the subsequent election held on July 17, 1974, the Conservative Anti-Revolutionary Party (CARP), the party of the former Prime Minister Geert Dijkman, faced a resounding defeat. The Partij voor Democratie (PVD), led by veteran-turned-politician Koen Haverman, emerged victorious. Haverman, who had previously served in Operation Slachthuis, assumed the role of Prime Minister on July 25, 1974. His party secured an absolute majority with approximately 83 seats in the lower house. On paper, their objective was straightforward: withdraw from the conflict. However, the practical challenges of disengagement would soon become apparent.

New Minister, New Policy

With the ascension of Koen Haverman, the fundamental nature of the war changed for the Dutch. "The War," or "de oorlog," as it was simply referred to, had radically changed overnight, from now on their objective would be to pull out of the fighting, but in such a way the Netherlands remained in a future advantageous position. The conflict had exacted a heavy toll on the vigor and vitality of the Dutch youth, leaving behind a generation of shattered and emotionally scarred individuals who had borne witness to an abundance of brutality at a young age. It had also imposed significant stress on the Netherlands' social services and cultural fabric, causing a profound transformation of society as a whole. The Dutch populace had endured nearly fourteen years of watching the war unfold on their television screens, rendering them weary and somewhat desensitized to its horrors. Prime Minister Koen Haverman, a veteran of the conflict himself, understood the nightmarish realities of war but grappled with the intricate strategic considerations that complicated the path to resolution.

Talks of withdrawal

Withdrawing the Netherlands from the conflict was a complicated task, one that neither the government nor the public expected to be swift or straightforward. When Haverman assumed the role of Prime Minister, the strategic landscape in the East Indies was dire. Soendanese forces had launched their most extensive and sustained offensive of the entire war. Dutch soldiers on multiple fronts fought relentlessly to maintain their positions, even as peace protests unfolded in Amsterdam. While these protests unfolded, soldiers in the Malay peninsula faced a relentless struggle for survival. It was reported that upon reviewing classified reports on the conflict, Haverman's reaction was one of physical distress, resulting in vomiting. The documents contained horrifying casualty figures and detailed operations that violated the Netherlands' public policy, showcasing the brutalities that an industrialized state could inflict.

Thus, an order was issued to the general staff to devise a method for the Netherlands to disengage from the conflict with minimal losses. The directive, though somewhat vague, prompted the general staff to craft an exit strategy, one that, despite the intention to reduce harm, would still result in significant destruction towards the SLA's capabilties. General Cornelis van Langen, the Commander of the Armed Forces, reluctantly acknowledged to these orders.

Withdrawal of Dutch forces (1975-1976)

Operation Vertrek

Despite General van Langen's concerns, Haverman remained determined to withdraw Dutch forces from the war. As a result, Van Langen and his team began formulating an exit strategy. In December 1974, Van Langen presented his plan, known as Operation Vertrek. The operation was expected to unfold over approximately a year and a half, with an emphasis on neutralizing existing infrastructure that could potentially be utilized by the SLA. It would be executed in distinct phases, requiring sustained high-intensity combat to secure strategic positions and prevent the loss of ground. The strategy was officially approved on the same day that Djambi suffered widespread devastation due to a Soendanese incursion against Dutch forces.

In the early stages of Operation Vertrek, the plan was intricate. Although it was never explicitly stated, there was a tacit understanding that the puppet regime in Batavia would not endure. This particular aspect of the plan had minimal impact on military operations, as many individuals within the government were effectively under Dutch influence. However, the decision did have repercussions on social services provided by the puppet regime and the taxation system. Native bureaucrats within the KNIL grew increasingly disheartened, contributing to a budding atmosphere of dissent.

The decision to withdraw also impacted the morale of the non-commissioned officer (NCO) corps. These career soldiers, who had experienced significant losses among their comrades, began to question the reasons behind their ongoing service. Although combat operations maintained an appearance of effectiveness, signs of discontent emerged within the barracks. This sentiment also extended to the general infantry, who, despite the Netherlands' decision to withdraw, still faced conscription, rotations, and demanding combat conditions.

Meanwhile, leaders of the Soenda Liberation Army (SLA) celebrated the Dutch decision to withdraw, heralding it as a morale victory. This boost in morale further invigorated the SLA, adding to their determination to continue fighting.

Loss of Eastern Java (July 1976)

SLA soldiers enter Semarang

In March 1976, the eastern urban areas of Java were on the brink of an impending attack by the SLA, prompting meticulous preparations by the Dutch for their evacuation from the region. As they left, they also undertook the destruction of key military installations along their path. This departure created a significant power vacuum in Eastern Java, one that the SLA quickly exploited.

By July 1976, the SLA launched coordinated offensives in the strategic cities of Soerabaja, Djember, and Malang, successfully capturing these vital urban centers. In anticipation of the SLA's arrival, the local population was swift to eradicate any remnants of Dutch influence, which included the removal of Dutch flags, the abandonment of Dutch clothing, and the elimination of other symbols associated with Dutch colonialism.

Fall of Batavia

Siege of Batavia (October 1976)

By October, the rebellion had gradually advanced towards western Java. Soendanese forces, comprising both regular and guerrilla units, took advantage of the Dutch withdrawal and the presence of rogue KNIL units. Their progress led them to Batavia, initiating a massive siege and intense urban warfare that inflicted substantial damage on the city. Chemical weapons were used to deter the advancing rebels. In the midst of this chaotic final phase, the main objective was the evacuation of the remaining civilian population.

Final Evacuations of Batavia (November 1976)

By November, a meticulous and orderly process unfolded as Dutch forces prepared for an imminent evacuation. During this phase, the Dutch still had firm control over both air and naval resources in western Java, enabling them to execute raids with remarkable efficiency. The bustling port of Batavia played a central role in these critical preparations. Government officials, accompanied by staunch Dutch loyalists, swiftly embarked on ships. At 23:00, November 11 1976, Dutch radio stations, broadcasting for the last time, officially ended their transmissions. Colonial institutions, which had long symbolized Dutch influence, followed suit with ceremonies that closed the era of Dutch colonialism. Finally, at precisely 23:48 on November 11, 1976, the last Dutch vessel weighed anchor and departed from the port of Batavia and to the nearby colony of New Batavia.

Final Military Operations

Air Offensives in Celebes and Borneo

Throughout the final years of the war, the Celebes and Bornean theatre of the conflict had been marked by continuous counter-insurgency and conventional warfare. Notably, it was during this time that Soendanese pilots gained valuable experience by engaging in a guerilla air campaign against the Dutch air forces, utilizing state-of-the-art Russian-supplied aircraft.

When the order for withdrawal finally arrived from higher authorities, the Captain-General Ronald Weerman, the commander of all Dutch forces on the island, set to work on a plan to gain air superiority in Celebes and Borneo, allowing for the safe evacuation of inexperienced recruits. All these preparations culminated in Operation Levensweg, launched on October 1, 1976. This operation marked the largest air offensive of the entire conflict. Operation Levensweg involved a total of 971 combat sorties, which led to the partial destruction of the SLA's air force.

Operation Retributie

Operatie Retributie, also known as "De laaste lag" in the Netherlands, commenced on November 11, 1976, and officially concluded on December 31, 1976. The operation involved a series of large-scale evacuation efforts, commando raids, air strikes, and maritime raids conducted by the Netherlands against the Soendanese forces. Its primary objectives were to safeguard New Batavia, prevent potential reprisals against Dutch interests, and secure Dutch shipping routes in the Malacca Strait and Kra Canal in Thaitania.

Post-War Situation (1977)

Formation of KNIL Rogue States

After the gradual de-escalation of the conflict between the Netherlands and Soendanese forces, several rogue states emerged in the areas of Soenda not under Soendanese control by early 1977. One of these entities was the Borneo Republic, founded by a rogue KNIL unit, which declared its sovereignty in Koetsjing, Eastern Borneo. However, the republic's lack of coordination and absence of connections with the local population quickly led to its disintegration within a few months. Similar rogue states emerged in early 1977, including the Free State of Brunei, and Bali (established by the self-proclaimed Balinese Liberation Army). These entities also proved short-lived and eventually capitulated to the Soendanese Liberation Front.

Free State of Pinang

The only rogue state to survive was Pinang, established by a rogue KNIL unit in July 1977, under the leadership of General Martin de Vries. What set Pinang apart was its predominantly Chinese population and a significant contingent of Dutch loyalists. General de Vries successfully collaborated with these factions to fend off Soendanese incursions into the region. The Chinese community in Pinang leveraged its connections with China, seeking assistance and recognition, which prompted China to engage in negotiations with Soenda to deter any invasion of Pinang. Although Soenda initially hesitated, external factors such as an impending conflict with the Philippines diverted their attention away from Pinang. In 1979, the Amoy Agreement, facilitated by China, was ratified by Pinang and Soenda, officially establishing the Free State of Pinang.

Aftermath

Rogue States

Following the war, a number of "rogue states" emerged in the region. These polities, often led by remnants of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army and Dutch loyalists, sought autonomy or continued alignment with Dutch colonial interests, challenging the new Soendanese government. There were several rogue states that appeared throughout the conflict: Bali, Borneo, Brunei Republic, Pinang, and South Moluccas, but only the latter two survived past the conflict.

Free State of Pinang

The Free State of Pinang was established by Dutch loyalists and former members of the Royal East Indies Army on Pinang Island and surrounding territories, a territory with a predominant Chinese population, and became a focal point of resistance against Soenda's efforts to consolidate power. This led to a conflict known as the Frontier War.

South Moluccas

Self-declared as an independent nation, the South Moluccas operated effectively as a puppet state of the Dutch. Despite lacking international recognition, it represented a continuation of Dutch colonial influence and a significant challenge to Soendanese authority. Its existence would be a point of tension between Soenda, which wants to consolidate and annex South Moluccas into the nation, and the Philippines which wants to preserve stability in the region.

Refugee Crisis

Over the sixteen year course of the conflict, more than 4.7 million refugees fled Soenda. A majority of the refugees went to the Kingdom of the Netherlands and its constituent territories: Fiji, New Batavia, and Zeylan. The Chinese community of Soenda mostly fled to the Free State of Pinang. Others fled to neighboring Southeast Asian nations, to the Americas, and western Europe.

The Indo Scheme in New Batavia

As a response to the growing refugee crisis, Dutch Prime Minister Koen Haverman approved the Indo Scheme, formally known as the New Batavia Resettlement Program, in 1975, aimed at the resettlement of Indo refugees in New Batavia.

Netherlands' Farmers' Revolt

The influx of refugees in European Netherlands also caused a strain on the nation's infrastructure, prompting the Dutch government to began expansion of urban infrastructure to the eastern parts of the nation, which were predominantly agricultural lands. This expansion, although widely supported by the public, was faced with strong backlash from the rural community, particularly in Achterhoek. This led to protests which were initially peaceful, but later turned violent, which forced the Dutch government to crack down on the protests.

See also