a memorial for all wars: the Polynational War Memorial


Indonesian Independence

Years: 1945-1946
Battle deaths: 5,400 [1]

Nation(s) involved and/or conflict territory [note]
United Kingdom, Netherlands, Indonesia

Published prior to 2013 | Updated: 2014-03-17 16:26:05
The independence struggle of Indonesia was long and protracted for when Japan surrendered, in August 1945 the Netherlands - just liberated itself - was in no shape to reclaim authority over Indonesia and the nationalists claimed independence. They had collaborated with the Japanese, who had instituted an army. They managed to establish de facto control over parts of the huge archipelago, particularly in Java and Sumatra. In many parts, however, chaos reigned.

Initially the United Kingdom sent in troops to take over from the Japanese and they soon found themselves in conflict with the fledgling Republic. British forces brought in a small Dutch military contingent which it termed, perhaps misleadingly, the Netherlands Indies Civil Administration (NICA). When a member of the NICA raised a Dutch flag on a hotel in Surabaya, there was an emotional outburst by the Indonesian nationalists who overran the Japanese proxies guarding the hotel and tore the blue stripe off the flag, forming the the red-and-white Indonesian flag.

The British became worried about the increasing bravado of the nationalists in attacking and forcibly getting arms from demoralized Japanese garrisons across the archipelago with crude weapons like bamboo spears. A British Brigadier General A.W.S Mallaby was killed as he pushed for an ultimatum that the Indonesians surrender their weapons or face a major assault. On November 10, 1945, the second largest city, Surabaya was attacked by British forces in a bloody street-to-street battle. The city was secured later that month far surpassing British military planners’ expectation of a three day token resistance.

The battle for Surabaya was the bloodiest single engagement in the war and had successfully sent the message of the determination of the rag-tag nationalist forces to the international world. It also made the British reluctant to be sucked into a war it did not need, considering the outstretched resources it had over southeast Asia during the period after the Japanese surrender and its miscalculation of the Indonesian nationalist strength.

Then the Netherlands were asked to take back control, and the number of NICA forces increased dramatically. Initially the Netherlands negotiated with the Republic and came to an agreement at Linggarjati. A major point of concern for the Netherlands was that all Dutch in Indonesia had been put in rather awful concentration camps by the Japanese. The Indonesians were not very cooperative in liberating these people.

Soon the agreement was violated on an ever greater scale in a way reminiscent of what would happen to the Oslo peace accords between Israel and the Palestinians several years later.

The hawkish forces won out on both sides and eventually the Netherlands mounted the biggest military effort in its history to conquer back what it believed was its territory. The two wars that followed were therefore considered mere ’police actions’ to downplay the extent of the operations.

There were atrocities and violations of human rights in many forms. Although the Netherlands managed to defeat the republican army in major engagments and put Sukarno (its President) back in jail, Indonesian forces waged a major guerrilla movement led by General Sudirman who escaped the Second Dutch onslaught. Sudirman’s token force was considered to be the symbol of the survival of the anti-colonial, especially after the republican forces had internal disturbance after its communist elements staged a failed coup at the time of the second police action to hijack the secular nationalist leadership of the movement, this was known as the Madiun Affair.

The existence of Republican resistance after the second ’Police action’ paired with active diplomacy marked the end for Dutch colonialism, proved to be a good combination. The rest of the world, notably the United States of America had enough. The Netherlands were forced to negotiate, and at the Round Table conference in The Hague in 1949, the Dutch assented to Indonesian independence.


Notes on fatalities

[1] Battle deaths: Correlates of War, Extra-State War Data v4.0

More about sources


NOTE! Nation data for this war may be inconlusive or incomplete. In most cases it reflects which nations were involved with troops in this war, but in some it may instead reflect the contested territory.



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