Tag Archives: surabaya

Pacific War: the Battle of Badung Strait

It was a tough time for Bali seventy-one years ago, when the Japanese forces conquering Southeast Asia reached the paradise island soon after the start of the Pacific War in December 1941. They had swept down from Thailand through the Malay Peninsula and also from the Philippines past Borneo, with a battalion landing on Bali on 18 February 1942. A small garrison of Indonesian militia were no match for them, and the Japanese met no real resistance on land. The sea was a different story.

Bali is the little brown island under the letter 'O' in Indonesia

Bali is directly below the letter ‘O’ in Indonesia.

The ABDA (Allied) sea power in the region was under the command of Dutch Admiral Doorman, based at Surabaya in Eastern Java, across the water from Bali. Learning of the imminent danger, he quickly cobbled together what Allied vessels he could and dispatched them that very day to confront the Japanese. The vanguard were two submarines and 20 planes, which inflicted virtually no damage on the enemy. Then the first Allied ships on the scene engaged the Japanese vessels, again with no damage, but a Dutch destroyer was sunk and two American destroyers were obliged to retreat.

Map from asiawegdirect.com

Map from asiawegdirect.com

Several hours later, a small fleet of Allied ships reached Badung Strait, between today’s tourist resort of Sanua and Nusa Penida island. This time mutual damage was inflicted, but without any ship being sunk. A third Allied fleet arrived later, but failed to encounter the enemy.

The battle was a significant victory for the Japanese, who had driven off a larger Allied force and protected their transport ships. To the east, they invaded the island of Timor next day and, though resistance there was stiffer and lasted longer, the ultimate outcome was inevitable.

[This is mainly paraphrased from en.wikipedia.org “Battle of Badung Strait”. For a detailed account, see http://www.historynet.com/battle-of-badoeng-strait-world-war-ii-naval-duel-off-bali.htm%5D

cover.edEast Java 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.


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.


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.

MALANG, EAST JAVA: a reflection

Malang is arguably the prettiest town in Java.

The town square with fountain. Right next to the main mosque is the main Christian church.

This small city of about one million souls nestles in the uplands of East Java, Indonesia, some 90 km south of the regional capital, Surabaya.

Even the very centre of Malang has a small-town feel to it. True, the traffic zips along Indo-style, but pedestrians move slowly, usually finding someone to chat with. It’s the kind of place you can go just to loiter, browsing the shops, hanging out in the food halls or dawdling around the town square, with its shady trees and grassed areas surrounding its central fountain and ornamental pool. In the cool of evening, this place becomes very much a family affair.

The prompt for this reverie about Malang is that right now marks (unbelievably, for me) twenty years since I went to live there. It was my first time to relocate abroad & my first teaching post, at Merdeka University. I was over forty and the move marked a sea-change in my life, when I made the great leap to another country and another culture. Below is the complex for the hospitality course where I taught – and lived, for a short while, in a room at the back of these buildings.

The culture of East Java is greatly different from my Western background: very  Javanese/Madurese, very rural, very traditional. In the more remote villages, you can still find a scene of bullock-drawn carts, fence-less housing compounds, shared ablutions at the communal well or water-trough, and a very close sense of community.

Nevertheless, Malang has plenty of modern facilities, especially for people with a bit of money to spare (but not necessarily much: a dollar can still go a long way in local terms). There are hotels, nightclubs and other attractions, including sites of historical interest within driving distance, and beautiful countryside. Within day-trip distance are some wonderful lakes and waterfalls.

“Tugu”, the monument designed by President Sukarno, with city hall in background.

Malang is something of a campus town, with a clutch of sizeable universities and any number of academies and institutes.  Having so many young people around adds to the buzz of the place.

I revisited some years ago and found the place little changed. Large swathes of suburbia still retain houses in the Dutch-colonial style, neatly kept for the most part.  Still going was the wonderful Toko Oen, a restaurant/patisserie built in

Toko Oen (Photo: kapanlagi)

1930, with its original furniture and decor still in place. I usually dined there, and they used to switch on the reading lamp at my regular table when I came in. It retains its former charm, to judge from photos. Long may it do so.

cover.edEast Java 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.


On the first of March sixty years ago,  Japanese forces commenced their takeover of the vast island of Java in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). Only a few weeks beforehand they had conquered Singapore, Britain’s “fortress”, having swept down the Malay peninsula from landing points in the north. They then proceeded to push onwards through Sumatra in the west and the Phillipine and Molucca islands in the east.

                  Japanese invasion paths to the Netherlands East Indies                    (Malaya & Singapore top left, PNG at right & Australia at bottom)

Many people attempted to escape in all kinds of craft, but Japanese air and sea power put paid to many such efforts. Luckier ones made it either to the Indian Ocean and thence (usually) to Fremantle in Western Australia, or to the large islands of Sumatra or Java. Sumatra was no real sanctuary, as Japanese invasion of it had begun at the same time. As escapees there made their way toward Java, being variously aided or betrayed by locals, the Nips were on their tails.

Also in the days before the fall of Singapore, Dutch Rear-Admiral Doorman set out with a small Allied fleet northwards from Surabaya to join the fray, but were beaten back by Japanese fighter aircraft, as the invasion of that region of the Indies had already begun. The Dutch, British and Australian craft survived for the moment, only to come to grief later, along with USS Houston & HMAS Perth.

Japanese soldiers celebrate invading the west of Java

In the western highlands of Java, a hastily put-together collection of Australian and British soldiers called Blackforce put up resistance to harry the invaders and thus aid the escape of Allied forces and Dutch civilians. They were quickly betrayed and joined the thousands of unfortunate escapees from Singapore and elsewhere as POWs in atrocious concentration camps. (This was the situation depicted in the movie Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence, starring David Bowie.)

It took only eight days for the Japanese to establish beachheads at key points in the 900km-long island, securing the eastern port city of Surabaya on March 8. There was barely any resistance to speak of. It would be three and a half years before the residents were released from the Japanese yoke, and another four years before there was true peace, because of the struggle for independence by Indonesian nationalists.

Naval battle to the east of Surabaya

Here’s an extract from my novel Shadow Chase, available online now for Australian deliveries.   It is 8th March 1942, and Heleen, a Dutchwoman born in the East Indies, awaits her fate.

For Heleen Froger, the coming day was beyond prediction. Locked in her Surabaya bungalow, she was waiting for what would happen to her and little Eduard, waiting for Dirck to magically arrive home, waiting for the giant hand of God to pluck them away to safety. Safe from the Japanese.

When the Dutch troops had begun retreating in the face of the inevitable, panic had spread like contagion among the expatriate community. Heleen had felt it best to go nowhere, not without Dirck. But he – the fool! – had been off somewhere ‘doing his duty’ at some damned government office, and had then phoned to say he couldn’t make it home until late, but not to worry. Not to worry! She had fretted herself sick all through the night, at times peering through a crack in a window shutter into the darkness, as if that would make him appear. But he hadn’t appeared and then dawn had come, and with it a strange sound, a rumbly sound.

It was the sound of thousands of feet – feet in Nippon boots marching into all parts of the city. With it was a lesser noise, of little metallic creaks and clanks. Heleen had looked cautiously out and seen the source of it: bicycles! Bicycles being ridden or pushed by short, stocky men in dusty brown uniforms with old-style leggings, men in khaki cloth caps with sun-flaps over their ears and necks, men often with wispy moustaches and circular spectacles. Highly disciplined men following orders, occupying the city with virtually no resistance.

Surabaya in the 1940s

Then more waiting. Waiting all day with nothing happening, with no friends answering their phones, with government and military offices disconnected. Waiting in a state of extreme anxiety, fretting in her mind even as she played games with Eddie and pretended nothing was wrong. She half expected gunfire, screams and sounds of mayhem but, although she thought she’d heard the odd shot in the distance, all was quiet in her neighbourhood. The absence of signs of what was going on had made the tension worse. It had been worst of all when Eddie had his daytime sleep and she had nothing to do but wait in silence (the Dutch radio station had ceased broadcasting), fidgeting, fussing, praying. She had felt quite crazed by it all.

Now it was nightfall and Heleen was still waiting. Then it happened: a loud hammering on the door. Fearfully, she opened it a fraction…

[Most of the action of Shadow Chase occurs in the present day, and the events of the Pacific War and Indonesian independence struggle serve as a backdrop to what happens to some of the characters. The novel is now available at https://www.amazon.com/Shadow-Chase-Coppin-Mike-ebook/dp/B01LYM3G3D/ref=sr_1_9?ie=UTF8&qid=1498136800&sr=8-9&keywords=mike+coppin or, for Aussies, at https://www.amazon.com.au/d/ebook/Shadow-Chase-Coppin-Mike/B01LYM3G3D/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1498136927&sr=8-1&keywords=mike+coppin. Also available as paperback at http://www.shadow-chase.com.]