Tag Archives: Brigadier Mallaby

DUTCH EAST INDIES November 1945: the Battle of Surabaya part 2

This post is about a pivotal battle in the Indonesian struggle for independence. For an account of the first month of struggle, see https://mikecoppin.wordpress.com/2012/10/25/east-java-anniversary/ 

British forces advancing in Surabaya.

On 1st November, a further 1,500  British troops arrived in Surabaya on warships. The regional Republican government and army seemed to want some degree of order, even peace, but rebel elements within them plus groups beyond their control continued to cause trouble; no area of the city was really safe. Some survivors of ambushes and captivity found their way to safe haven, giving accounts of torture and butchery. The Brits were taken aback at this and outraged at the murder of Brigadier Mallaby the previous day.

On 4 Nov, the 5th Indian Division (including Gurkhas)  under Major General Mansbergh arrived as reinforcements, with 9,000 troops, two dozen tanks and bomb-equipped combat aircraft, which perked morale. However, negotiations with the Republican regional governor, Soerio (or Suryo) soured after Mansbergh was perceived by him to be overbearing and threatening.

Truth was that the British were already preparing extended military action. On 9th November, they demanded that all Allied captives be released and that all irregulars hand in their arms or risk being shot. Tension grew as the hour of the British ultimatum (6am next morning) approached, but the nationalists did not buckle to the demand.

Governor Soerio

On November 10, the British troops advanced methodically through Surabaya, with support from aircraft cannon and bombs as well as shelling form their ships in the harbour. The Indonesians fought bravely and fanatically (“Freedom of death!” was their battle cry), with many of them armed only with knives or bamboo stakes. The regular Republican army, TKR, was equipped with captured Dutch or Japanese arms and tanks, but it had no anti-aircraft guns. Estimates of the two sides’ forces vary according to whom you read, but there were perhaps 6,000 British troops on the ground and well over 100,000 Indonesian TKR, militia and irregular fighters. The outcome was a slaughter of nationalists.

November 10 has become known as National Heroes’ Day in Indonesia, but the conflict did not stop then. The British advanced slowly thereafter, moving from building to building to clear them, and half the city was secured in three days. As they went, the Brits tried to secure the release of internees (including women and children), but many of these were massacred before help arrived.

To give a sense of what it was like at the time, here is an edited extract from my novel, Shadow Chase, based on real accounts from the time. A British soldier writes in his diary at the end of November: It’s ten days since 9 Brigade occupied the Chinese quarter, where the locals refused to move and suffered a lot of grief for several days. Sections of 3/2nd Punjab dug into their gardens and even punched holes through the sides of houses to connect up: Punjabis with machine guns in front rooms, Chinese families out the back! The rebels fought like fiends but the 3/2nd won out. During the fighting we ran out of bombs, our artillery was limited and we weren’t allowed to damage Chinese or Dutch areas. We made progress, but at awful cost to the rebels – thousands of native lads fell to machine guns. At last, we occupy all of Surabaya. What a tough few weeks! The first 3 days were worst, but it’s taken all this time to secure the city. Our chaps have been scouring it to make sure no rebels are hiding with their weapons, but we’ve been subjected to sniping, shelling and mortaring. Now we’ve got ‘mopping up’. We plan to clear a strip ten miles wide all around Surabaya to keep snipers and heavy guns out of range of the city.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians fled to the countryside during the worst of the fighting.

By the end of it all, British dead numbered about 600, while Indonesian deaths are variously estimated at 6,000 to 10,000, or even upwards of that. The whole business was a tragedy, but the battle was seen by nationalists as a sign of Indonesian grit and a symbol of the freedom struggle. One of the sad things about the British foray was that most of the troops were Indian (in the British-run Indian Army), often with hopes of independence for their own country but forced to fight other colonised Asians.

Similar resistance occurred in other parts of Java but not quite so intense except, perhaps, in Bandung. Gradually more Dutch troops (KNIL) arrived and the Brits handed over, with the last British troops departing in November 1946. The Dutch fought for another four years to try and reassert their control, but nationalist resistance and pressure from other nations eventually won the day, and Indonesia’s independence was finally recognised by the world in 1949.

VIDEO: Google “Battle of Surabaya” to find old film footage of the times.

Surabaya in the late 1940s forms the setting for a major strand of my novel, Shadow Chase. Check it out at http://www.shadow-chase.com, where you can also find other material related to Indonesia.

DUTCH EAST INDIES October 1945: the Battle of Surabaya part 1

In October 1945, British forces descended upon Surabaya, capital of East Java.

Dutch & Asian POWs in Java

Why? A month previously, the Japanese had admitted defeat in the Pacific War (World War Two in Europe had ended earlier), having occupied Southeast Asia three years earlier. The Dutch government-in-exile was not ready to take up the reins on its old colony, the Netherlands East Indies, as Indonesia was then called.

The Allies decided that, in the interim, the (British) Indian Army should “mind the shop” in the western part of the Indies (which included Java), with a major task of organising the release from concentration camps of Dutch civilians and Allied POWs. Australia was to manage things in the eastern regions, including Bali and the ‘spice islands’. However, local nationalists had already declared independence and wanted to run their own new nation, but the Brits were unaware of the strength of the nationalist movement before they went in. Frictions and bloodshed sporadically broke out between the Indonesians, the Dutch and the Japanese, who were meant to maintain order until the Brits arrived in force.

Republican Army troops, known as TKR

In East Java, Admiral Shibata formally surrendered to the Dutch on 23 October but, being sympathetic to the Indonesians, contrived to allow weapons to fall into their hands. In East Java, the violence subsided and Republican officials considered their military bargaining position was much stronger now. Allied ships arrived at the harbour on 25 October and 3,000 troops of the 49th Indian Infantry Brigade disembarked. Their commander, Brigadier Mallaby, reached agreement with the Republican commander, Major General Moestopo, to limit the spread of the British troops, at least for that day.

Next day (26 Oct), Mallaby and Moestopo agreed that the Allied Forces would assist with peace-keeping and that only Japanese were to be disarmed. However, British units expanded into the business districts and even reached the southern outskirts of the city. The Republicans watched with alarm and their mood shifted from cooperative to being ready for retaliation.

Moestopo

Late morning on 27 October, a Douglas aircraft from the capital in Jakarta flew low over Surabaya, dropping thousands of pamphlets signed by the commander of Allied forces in Java. They  said that unauthorised persons carrying arms must hand them in within two days on pain of death, and that the Brits would occupy the city by force if there was non-compliance.

This was contrary the agreement with Mallaby, so the Indonesians felt betrayed by these Britishers they had dared to trust. Republican leaders angrily confronted Mallaby, who’d had nothing to do with the leaflet, as it had been arranged in Jakarta without consulting him. He agreed to extend the hand-in of arms by twenty-four hours.

Through the day, there was a lot of frenzied activity on both sides. Republican (TKR) and British vehicles rushed about on their own errands. There was an air of awful expectancy, but night finally came without bloodshed. Surabayans did not expect peace to last and felt the time for armed resistance had arrived.

 Mallaby

On 28th October, about 12,000 armed militia plus perhaps 100,000 ordinary folk rose up against the British troops, which were scattered in small units. Some TKR officers tried to rein in the wilder militia elements but they were beyond control. British casualty numbers were not great but the manner of their deaths was often savage. Many Dutch and Eurasians were also butchered. The whole city and surrounding countryside were in turmoil, so Mallaby signalled Allied HQ for assistance, asking whether Republican President Sukarno could intervene.

Mallaby also instructed the transfer of ex-internees from detention camps to a safer part of the city. In one instance, Allied vehicles collected 200 Dutch women and children, and had reached the neighbourhood of Deuteron when TKR soldiers barred their way, wanting to take both the British troops and internees into custody. The two sides began to parley. One truck became separated from the rest and a civilian mob surrounded it with yells of Kill the Dutchies! The passengers cowered in terror as several were dragged over the tailboard and disappeared into the milling crowd. Then the blockade was torn down as the TKR soldiers turned their attention from the Brits to the mob and struggled

Nationalist irregulars

to assert their authority. After several hours, the TKR realised they had lost control and worked instead to save as many Whiteys as possible, hiding some in houses and shops. By the end of the day, half of the ex-internees couldn’t be accounted for.

The following day, 29 October, President Sukarno and other senior men from the Republican Government arrived by plane and parlayed with Allied leaders, as angry crowds milled outside and TKR tanks rumbled down the street. During the day, Republican radio continued to broadcast calls for national uprising. The situation was very grave for British troops in the suburbs, who only had the ammunition they carried. Some in a Mahratta Regiment were defending a radio station when their ammo ran out; the station was set on fire and survivors tried to fight their way out, but were cut down with knives and machetes. Other units were also put to the sword.

President Sukarno

By nightfall, the Republican and Allied leaders had hammered out a cease-fire agreement. Sukarno broadcast details of the truce on radio and gave a guarantee for the safety of internees, but many Indonesians ignored the truce, as well as some Allied troops. There was sporadic gunfire through the night.

As 30 October dawned, isolated British units were still embattled. President Sukarno and the Allied leaders held another talk and a new truce was reached. The British disavowed the air-dropped pamphlet and agreed to control only the harbour area and the European quarter of Darmo district. Mallaby toured the city with TKR officers to enforce the cease-fire, bravely exposing themselves to the mobs. Despite their efforts, there was a lot of skirmishing in different places during day. A company of Mahrattas found itself in the Internatio bank building, surrounded by a twitchy mob.

Mallaby visited to calm things but, when he left, about 500  pemuda (nationalist irregulars) massed in square. There was occasional fire on the bank from other buildings, with some casualties. The pemuda blocked exit from the square and closed in on the bank. As the sun set, Mallaby with Captains

Internatio Square (also called Bank Square)

Smith, Laughland and Shaw plus Republican leaders returned in several cars with white flags flying, but a crowd surrounded them. They  explained the terms of the cease-fire and it seemed to settle the crowd. Then the convoy moved off in the direction of Jembetan Merah (‘Red Bridge’) across the Kali Mas canal but was stopped by a hostile mob. The pemuda demanded that the troops in the bank lay down arms and march out, promising safe passage back to the airfield. Mallaby decided that to fight would be hopeless and sent Capt. Shaw back into the bank building to instruct the Mahrattas to surrender. Noting that machine guns had been set up facing the entrance, he and the Indian commander inside took it upon themselves to open fire. An intense gun-fight erupted, lasting a couple of hours.

Mallaby’s burnt-out car

Mallaby, Smith and Laughland were trapped in their car. A pemuda came up to it and shot Mallaby. Smith lobbed a grenade out the window and he and Laughland made their escape in the confusion, jumping into the canal. It took them five hours in the filthy water to may their way to an Allied outpost and safety. McMillan* says Mallaby’s murder was the most serious episode of the British occupation, precipitating the Battle of Surabaya and “casting a shadow right up until the final departure of British forces” a year later.

That night, Radio Surabaya broadcast calls for the pemuda to stop fighting but these were later countered by the voice of ‘Surabaya Sue‘, a British woman who had reinvented herself through two previous identities and whose current incarnation was as heroine of the local masses. Next morning (31 October), Republican leaders tried to adhere to the terms of truce but there was still some random fighting. The Brits dropped supplies to the Darmo area and started moving ex-internees to the port again. The whole situation remained tense.

For what happened next, see DUTCH EAST INDIES November 1945: the Battle of Surabaya part 2

* Accounts differ about the Mallaby incident, even by those who were there. I’ve relied mainly on Richard McMillan, 2005, “The British Occupation of Indonesia 1945-1946″ Routledge, London.

cover.edSurabaya in the late 1940s forms the setting for a major strand of my novel, Shadow Chase. Check it out at http://www.shadow-chase.com, where you can also find other material related to Indonesia.