DUTCH KNIL ARMY CYCLISTS 1908
During the Java War (1825–1830), the Dutch government was forced to create a new type of military force to deal with that rebellion. This military force consisted of a professional army of Dutch officers, coupled with native Indonesian troops. These troops made up an army that operated against native populations, and a force that was not dependent on Dutch citizens to maintain its strength.
In 1830 Governor-General Johannes van den Bosch (1780–1844) officially organized these colonial forces into the Oost-Indisch Leger (East Indies Army). This army operated as the military arm of the colonial administration, with naval assistance provided by the Royal Netherlands Navy. From 1830 to 1870, the Oost- Indisch Leger was employed to control the numerous rebellions cropping up throughout the physical territory of the colony. Many wars, such as the Padri War (1821– 1836), were ongoing conflicts that were downgraded to allow the Oost-Indisch Leger to concentrate on more pressing matters, like the Java War. In the case of Bali in 1846 and 1848, the Oost-Indisch Leger, or Leger, was employed to force the local raja to honor agreements, and to prevent other nations from influencing Indonesian trade.
In 1867 the ‘‘Accountability Law’’ separated the finances of the Netherlands and its colony in the East Indies. This ruling enabled the East Indies to create its own Department of War (Department van Oorlog), and the colony became responsible for its own financing of military operations.
Beginning in the late 1860s, the problem of Aceh, a province on the island of Sumatra, began to rise to prominence within the colony. Aceh had operated independently for several decades, but the opening of the Suez Canal renewed its importance to trade within the Dutch East Indies. The rising influence of other nations in the internal politics of Aceh compelled the Netherlands Indies to send forces to control the region and force its submission to Dutch authority.
The Aceh War lasted from 1873 to 1903, and the conflict forced the Oost-Indisch Leger to change its tactics in the field. Initially, efforts were made to control Aceh’s territory through the use of a fortified line of outposts intended to contain the guerillas and marshal the limited resources of the colony. Soon, the Geconcentreerde Linie (Concentrated Line), which was a fortified line of sixteen forts protecting the town of Kutaraja, operated more as a prison for colonial troops that were constantly being harassed by Acehnese guerillas. The Leger employed a more modern force in the field that was made up of infantry battalions supported by artillery, cavalry, and engineers who were led by more professional officers like Colonel J. B. van Heutsz (1851– 1924). These officers were also employed as civilian administrators (officier-civiel gezaghebber) as a way to control the outer reaches of the colony. These officers acted as civil administrators during times of peace, and as military officers during war.
To further control areas occupied by the government, a force known as the Korps Marechaussee (District Police) was created in 1893. This corps consisted of select native infantrymen commanded by Dutch officers. These companies were armed with carbines and klewangs (native short swords), and operated without coolie trains (supply trains consisting of forced native labor), which allowed them to rapidly move against a native threat. The operations of the Korps Marechaussee were mostly directed toward the native population in an effort to control the resistance. These light troops committed atrocities against local tribes in their attempts to control the Acehnese people and find suspected guerrillas.
By the twentieth century, the Leger began to change its focus from subjugation of rebellious island natives to the control of Indonesian society. The colony was nearly pacified, but the influence of Islamic and communist groups began to grow into a source of trouble for the colony. The Leger began to experiment with aircraft in 1914, and an airborne auxiliary was soon started for field service. To maintain force levels, laws were soon passed to make military service mandatory for Dutch citizens, and native conscription was being considered by the colony.
In the 1920s, two attempted revolts by the Indonesian Communist Party (Partai Komunis Indonesia) signaled efforts by both the colony’s police and army to control dissent within the islands. Units were established to monitor political groups with the threat of exile or imprisonment in the Boven Digual Prison for political prisoners. In 1927 the Hague government set down the ‘‘Principles of Defense,’’ whereby the colony was to protect Dutch authority within the islands against possible rebellion first, before assisting the Netherlands in its national obligations.
In 1933 the Oost-Indisch Leger was renamed Koninklijk Nederlandsch Indsch Leger (KNIL), or the Royal Netherlands Indies Army. During that time, the KNIL numbered around 35,000 men, of which 5,000 were deployed from the Netherlands. In addition, there was a militia (landsturm) that fielded a force of 8,000 men. The KNIL operated training facilities at Meester Cornelis and Magelang on the island of Java for all branches, as well as its small armor force. The air forces of the colony operated second-rate aircraft from counties such as the United States and Great Britain. The navy remained under the control of the Royal Netherlands Navy, and consisted of three cruisers, seven destroyers, a number of smaller ships, and fifteen submarines.
With the German invasion and occupation of the Netherlands in 1940, the colony became one of the last areas of Dutch control. But the East Indies soon found itself facing an outside foe in Japan. The Netherlands declared war on Japan on December 8, 1941, but faced invasion in January 1942. The Japanese conquest of Indonesia lasted roughly three months. The KNIL found itself overwhelmed by the Japanese military forces, and the fighting renewed regional guerrilla activity in the field. The Dutch prisoners were sent to labor and prison camps, and native KNIL troops were given the opportunity to join the Japanese local forces, known as PETA (Pembela Tanah Air).
In 1945 Australian and Dutch forces landed in Tarakan to begin the liberation of the Dutch colony. The Japanese formally surrendered, and agreed to return the East Indies to the Dutch in August 1945. PETA units soon converted into an active revolutionary front against the Allied forces to win freedom for Indonesia. A month later, the government of the Netherlands East Indies was formally back in power, and KNIL prisoners were ordered back into service to regain control over the colony.
For a period of five years, the KNIL units fought to reestablish their colony against the Indonesian independence movement. Regular Royal Dutch Army units soon joined the KNIL in an attempt to win back their former colony. The KNIL units were mostly made up of troops of Dutch citizenry, and the total Dutch commitment ranged from 20,000 to 92,000 troops fighting in Indonesia. One of the worse units was the Korps Speciale Troepen, which was led by Captain Raymond Westerling (1919–1987). This force was similar to the Korps Marechaussee, and war crimes were committed to control the growth of the rebellion. In 1947 roughly 3,000 people were executed by elements of the KNIL over a period of two months. Due to pressure from the international community and a successful guerrilla movement, the Netherlands agreed to transfer control to the new Republic of Indonesia on November 2, 1949.
On July 20, 1950, the KNIL was officially disbanded by the government of the Netherlands. The effects of this force on Indonesian politics were still being felt after the collapse of the Dutch colonial administration. Much of the military training of the early leaders of the Indonesian independence movement was obtained when the men served as privates and noncommissioned officers of the KNIL. One example was Suharto (b. 1921), president of Indonesia from 1967 to 1998, who rose from private to sergeant in the KNIL before World War II.
BIBLIOGRAPHY Brown, Colin. A Short History of Indonesia: The Unlikely Nation? Crows Nest, NSW, Australia: Allen and Unwin, 2003. Gimon, Charles A. ‘‘Sejarah Indonesia: An Online Timeline of Indonesian History.’’ Available from http://www.gimonca.com. Klerck, E. S. de. History of the Netherlands East Indies, Vol. 2. Rotterdam, Netherlands: Brusse, 1938. Poeze, Harry A. ‘‘Political Intelligence in the Netherlands Indies.’’ In The Late Colonial State in Indonesia: Political and Economic Foundations of the Netherlands Indies, 1880–1942, edited by Robert Cribb, 229-243. Leiden, Netherlands: KITLV, 1994. Vandenbosch, Amry. The Dutch East Indies: Its Documents, Problems, and Politics. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1942. van den Doel, H. W. ‘‘Military Rule in the Netherlands Indies.’’ In The Late Colonial State in Indonesia: Political and Economic Foundations of the Netherlands Indies, 1880–1942, edited by Robert Cribb, 1-75. Leiden, Netherlands: KITLV, 1994. Willmott, H. P. Empires in the Balance: Japanese and Allied Pacific Strategies to April 1942. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1982.