Frontier War

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Frontier War
Part of the East Indies Crisis and the Silent War
File:Frontier War.jpg
Pinang and the Malay Peninsula
  • Independence of the Vrystaat of Pinang and tenuous independence acknowledged

Frontier war

The Frontier War, also known as the “Oorlog van Overleving” or the “Grens conflict” was an armed conflict that was waged between 1976 up untill 1979, when a tentative unofficial peace agreement was reached. It had its origins in the final days of the East Indies Crisis when it was formed due to sheer brutality and the will of a rogue army of the KNIL that had its base of operations in the region.

It was from this, that an entire KNIL Army under the command of Lieutenant Generaal Marten de Vries, knowing that the Dutch government was abandoning them, that the Soendanese wanted their death and this was his home, decided to rebel. It was from this that the KNIL Army, known as the 46th Stoot Korps, which in general controlled the “Pinang area of operations” secured the territory of the sector. He did this in cooperation with the powerful Kongsi, which represented the Chinese community which dominated the area and had grown due to the influx of hundreds of thousands of Chinese refugees from the remainder of Soenda, this included Dutch refugees, Eurasians and anyone else that the Soenda wanted in essence to destroy. It was thus that the Vrystaat van Pinang was declared by the members of the KNIL Korps and leaders of the Kongsi.

It was an intense conflict, a conflict that at least by Soenda was undeclared, yet was large enough that it cost them divisions worth of manpower and by some estimates delayed recovery of the nation by years. It was because the region that surrounded Pinang was a mountainous hinterland, with valleys and a terrain that was well known by the KNIL, who all of them were battle-hardened and whose ranks had swollen due to many more disgruntled soldiers who did not want to stop the war, joining their ranks, including clandestine support from Tauland and elements of the Netherlands her military. It was a conflict that was brutal, small teams went into the jungle and fought the Soendanese, it was a conflict where numerous battles took place, but the largest took place in the first few months. It was during the siege of Taipai (December 1976), the battle of Gerik (February 1977) and at the last the battle of Vriesstad (April 1978). It was during the latter battle that KNIL armoured forces were able to push the Soenda attackers out of the region and Vriesstad for the first time in years was secured. The battles in general were waged by light infantry and on a small scale, yet at the same time, it was known for its intensive air battles. It was a conflict that was brutal and to this day one can find destroyed Soendanese aircraft in the thick jungle.

At the end of the conflict, it was said by Major Lodewijk Nije Bijvank, a man born in the Netherlands but had since 1963 constantly waged war in the east, said that;

It is only because the terrain is mountainous, the roads are few and underdeveloped and that we honestly blew the bridges and tunnels…and I won’t lie that we had the advantage in the air and those dam guys were half distracted…that we have survived..we the skin of our teeth we have survived

Due to the geographical reality and the logistical situation both sides deployed small teams and it was only since by some accounts the KNIL teams were all hardened veterans that they were able to come out on top, in combination with shrewd political maneuvering and by some accounts a never confirmed behind closed doors deal.


The origins of the conflict lay in the waning months of the East Indies crisis, as the Dutch started their overall withdrawal, chaos soon emerged. It was in this chaos that numerous units of KNIL even rebelled, and went into hiding, while others those that were more of the “independent formations” either followed orders or remained. It was in this chaos that Kapitein-Generaal Middendorp, saw an opportunity. Throughout the waning days of the war he had been in contact with his old friends in the Netherlands, other officers throughout the East Indies and the local Chinese Kongsi. over the final months, they had managed to siphon off supplies, additional units and in essence everything to wage a prolonged campaign with limited resupply. Officially it was to deal with the massive surge of refugees that came into their area of operations. Many of them being Chinese, Dutch or Eurasian. In his eyes, the government in the Hague was fumbling at best and at worst ignoring it. He could not let it stand and thus with the end of the conflict coming near, with the Malukku crisis starting, he in cooperation with the Kongsi council declared the formation of the “Vrystaat van Pinang”, of which he was immediately elected temporary supreme commander of its armed forces.

Despite the ongoing pressures of mopping up various KNIL holdouts, be it the Borneo Republic, emerging tensions with the Philipines and the fact they had to rebuild their nation from the ground up, did not want Pinang to remain. It saw it as a holdover of the colonial power they had just expelled. It was thus when in late 1976 the Borneo Republic fell, leading to the slaughter of all its Dutch people, Chinese and KNIL soldiers. It showed what the Vrystaat could expect if it would give in.

Gerik corridor

Instantly after declaring its independence on the 3rd of May 1975, the military forces of the Vrystaat were attacked by the Soenda. The attacks started on the 5th of January when a squadron of Soenda fighters, attempted a raid upon Willemshaven. The radars of the Vrystaat detected them and the raid was intercepted by the air patrols of the Vrystaat. It was tho only the beginning and at the same time, Soendanese infantry supported by armour and artillery took the town of Gerik, a critical road junction, that led to Pinang her heartland. It in other words meant that unless the tunnels were blown, something that the KNIL could not risk, the Soendanese needed to be stopped.

Battle of Gerik

With Gerik being taken, the road towards Vriesstad and Willemshaven being in essence open, the Vrystaat responded rapidly. With almost immediate haste the 58th Battalion “Huzaren van Bernard”, under the command of Colonel van Veen was deployed towards Gerik. This battalion consists of nearly 34 armored cannons, and 70 armored vehicles with a total of 930 soldiers. These soldiers were sent and within hours reached the edges of Gerik and almost immediately were attacked by Soendanese artillery.

This forced the 58th Battalion to remain at the edges, where they quickly established a defensive perimeter, to ensure that the Soenda could not push into the heartland of Pinang. It was this tho that almost immediately came under attack from Soenda artillery, this was resisted which, was followed by an infantry attack that was repelled. It was now as the night was setting that the Colonel decided to attack the town and send in a company, this company moving throughout the jungle to attack the Soendanese from the side, catching them off guard and laying waste to them. It was however rapidly almost within minutes that the Soendanese responded, this tho was a distraction and the remainder of the Battalion attacked, using fighter aircraft to deal with the Soendanese fighters.

A Neushoorn A8 moving into Gerik during the third day of the battle.

Fighting continued at an intense pace but in the end, the 58th battalion was able to push the Soendanese out. It was after an entire night of fighting, followed by an entire day that the Vrystaat had managed to secure the town. It was then that the town was almost immediately attacked by Soenda artillery, under the constant barrages the troops of the 58th Battalion dug in to ensure they would not lose this town again. It was this constant barrage that cost the 58th battalion dearly, despite the losses, and the constant attacks by the Soendanese the Vrystaat her soldiers managed to hold the town. They held the town for over an entire week, a week that saw the town being destroyed, but was long enough for reinforcements to come, for the Vrystaat to have been able to properly repel the other incursions by Soenda. It was during this week that the hundreds of thousands of refugees that had been assembled in Gerik were able to flee into the Pinang heartland.

It was thus that in the end, Soenda withdrew her forces, as it was that it started her larger offensive against Pinang. An offensive that was hampered due to the scars of the war, the fact that they were still clearing out the other islands and the Philipines were causing trouble.

It was thus that the frontier war started, a conflict that would shape the region for decades to come.

A pair of Koolhoven ZJ-71's taking of during the frontier war, these aircraft proved to vital in ensuring Pinang survival.

Course of the conflict

Course of the war:

Southern front:

Scope: a principal avenue for attack, the siege of Taiping, the counter-offensive of 1977, the raid upon Ipoh,

Taiping a city that lies 23 meters above Sealevel, situated on a plain the west of the Bintang mountains, located 48 km to its southeast is Ipoh the capital of Perak’s state of the Soenda national union. Due to its geography, its nearby nature to Ipoh, and its being flanked to the west by the Bintang mountains, it had quickly become the gate to the core of the Vrystaat. It was thus that the city was of vital importance, this was known and already in the waning days of the East Indies Crisis, the KNIL had stationed the 7th Slag-Korps there, a force consisting of 6 divisions that had started to fortify the city as rapidly as they could. During this they used the influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees as cheap labour, to dig trenches, build fortifications, traps and all other methods that could be used to hamper an enemy advance, in what in essence was a narrow valley.

It was understood by the General staff led by Kapitein-Generaal Willem de Vries, that if Taiping fell the road to Willemshaven, Oranjestad and the core of Pinang itself would be open. It was thus that command of the 7th Slagkorp, or the position of Korpscommandant was given to Lieutenant-Generaal Rikkert in 't Bouwhuis, he was a man who was a veteran of the war, even a veteran of the Great war, the Johor Uprising and numerous other conflicts the Netherlands partook in the early 20th century. He was a man who had risen throughout the ranks of first the Korps Mariniers and now the newly formed Vrystaat Landmacht, he was a man who during the Crisis had become famed for his ability to do a lot of things with little resources, to work under pressure but always had a streak of defiance, something that had seen him promoted as often as demoted. It was now with the precarious situation that the Vrystaat was in, no reinforcements to come, limited supplies and an enemy that outnumbered them almost seven to one, that a man like him was the right man for the job.

It was thus that he immediately took charge of the 1st of February 1976, with the defence of the vital city, almost just in the nick of time. For it was on the 3rd of February 1976 that the Soendanese national army launched its first attack upon the city, to break it and capture it.

1st siege of Taiping

It was on the 3rd of February 1976 at 09:43 local time, that the first of the shells started to come down upon the city. Fired from the positions near the city of Ipoh and even some fired from within the Bintang mountains, the shelling was furious. It is reported that it lasted for a total of 7 hours and that during that time, the soldiers of the Vrystaat were forced to hold tight in their fortifications, which proved to be sufficient to stand the bombardment. It was tho that in the aftermath of the bombardment, the true attack of the Soenda army began, launched by the 4th mechanized guard division, and supported by air elements attacked the damaged fortifications that guarded Taiping.

It was an attack that was by all accounts well coordinated, and well launched but in the end, it was repelled, after it became clear that an attack was imminent during the bombardment, units were ordered to immediately be ready to repel and to holdfast. It was this determination and the knowledge that no room for retreat stood the tide of the enemy. That almost was said to have destroyed the 4th mechanized guard division in its infancy, which ripped apart entire battalions as they tried to break the defence kill zone that surrounded Taiping. It was a brutal set of attacks that in the end managed to not succeed a lot, besides revealing where the defensive emplacements of the Landmacht were located. It was here with the first direct attack repelled that at least it was hoped by the soldiers that this was it, that they had broken the Soenda attack, yet it proved to be wrong.

It was later that week, during still constant morning barrages, that from the Bintang mountains, several companies of Soenda irregulars managed to infiltrate the city and launched a campaign of terror. This campaign was marked by heavy urban fighting but also a quick response from the Korpscommandant. The deployment of what he called “Territorial defence units” was swift, suppoted by veterans of the war, they managed to route out the infiltrates, even going as far as to publicly execute them on the frontline, in the eyes of many Soenda soldiers, or at least their intelligence officers. It was here that the Korpscommandant started to show his brutality, for it was said he walked to the front of the line and shot all of the captured infiltrators in the back of their heads, something that made him an enemy of the state of Soenda.

Foreign involvement