The Dutch East Indies were occupied by the Japanese Empire during the Second World War from March 1942 to 1945 . This period marks the end of the Dutch colonization and the changes it caused in 1945 made possible the Indonesian National Revolution , unthinkable 3 years ago 1 .

The Japanese occupation is the first serious challenge to Dutch rule in the archipelago. Even under German occupation , the Netherlands was hardly able to defend their colony against the Japanese imperial army . Less than three months after the first attacks on the island of Borneo , the Japanese submerged the Dutch and Allied forces, ending nearly 350 years of Dutch presence in the archipelago. Between 1944 and 1945 Allied troops rounded the country and did not fight in Sumatra or Java. Most of Indonesia was still under Japanese rule at the end of the war in August 1945 .

The deepest and most lasting effects were, however, more visible on Indonesians than the Dutch. Optimistic, they had first welcomed the Japanese as liberators. This feeling changed rapidly, as the Japanese occupation proved to be the most brutal and ruinous in the country’s history. As a result, Indonesians politicized for the first time in the countryside. Part of this political awakening was desired by the Japanese: in Java, and to a lesser extent in Sumatra, they educated, trained and armed many young Indonesians and promoted their nationalist leaders. So that by destroying the Dutch colonial regime and by helping Indonesian nationalism, they created the conditions for the proclamation of the independence of the. After the end of the Second World War, Indonesians experienced five years of diplomatic, military and social struggle to ensure this independence.


Until 1942, Indonesia was a colony of the Netherlands known as the Dutch East Indies . In 1929, during the national awakening of Indonesia, the nationalist leaders Soekarno and Hatta (future president and vice-president of Indonesia ), had foreseen that a war would take place in the Pacific and that a Japanese advance towards Indonesia could to be favorable to their cause 2 .

The Japanese spread the idea that they were “the Light of Asia” . Japan was the only Asian nation to have transformed into a modern technological society at the end of the xix th century and have remained independent when most others had fallen into the hands of European or American, and he had conquered power European, Russia, in 1905 ( Russo-Japanese War ) 3 .

After the beginning of the second Sino-Japanese war , Japan turned its attention to Southeast Asia , offering other Asian countries a sort of Japanese-dominated trading area, the ” Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere .” The Japanese had gradually increased their influence in Asia and established commercial ties with the East Indies during the 1920s and 1930s. These ranged from the installation of hairdressers in small towns to studios and photographic operators. , to department stores and the involvement of companies like Suzuki and Mitsubishi in the sugar trade 4. The Japanese attacks against Manchuria in 1931 and China in 1937 had caused fears among the Chinese of Indonesia , who contributed to finance the anti-Japanese struggle. Dutch intelligence services also guarding the Japanese in the country 5 . Some Japanese had been instructed by their government to establish contacts with Indonesian nationalist circles, particularly with Muslim parties, and Indonesian nationalists were invited to visit Japan. These encouragements to Indonesian nationalism were part of a larger Japanese plan for “Asia to Asians  ” 6 .

In November 1941, an organization of religious, political and trade union, the Majlis Rakjat Indonesia , handed a memorandum to the Government of the Netherlands Indies to demand the mobilization of the Indonesian people face the threat of war 7 . This memorandum was rejected because the government did not regard Madjlis Rakyat Indonesia as representative. Less than four months later, the Japanese had occupied the archipelago.

Japanese Offensive on Indonesia, 1942

The invasion

The Kingdom of the Netherlands declared war on the Empire of Japan on 8 December 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor 8 . In January 1942, Allied forces in Southeast Asia created the American-British-Dutch-Australian Command (ABDACOM). On the night of January 10 to 11, the Japanese attacked Manado in the north of the island of Celebes . At about the same time, they attacked Tarakan , a port and important oil production center in northeastern Borneo. On February 27, the allies were defeated at the Battle of the Java Sea . Between 28 February and stIn March, Japanese troops landed at four locations on the north coast of Java, almost without resistance. Allied forces in Indonesia surrendered on the 8th. The colonial army was confined in camps, while Indonesian soldiers were released. European civilians were also interned, when Japanese or Indonesian had been found to replace them in positions of responsibility 9 .

The end of the Dutch tutelage was first greeted with enthusiasm by the Indonesians, who came to meet the Japanese army waving flags and with cries of encouragement like ” Japan is our big brother ” and ” banzai Dai Nippon ” .

The Indonesians abandoned their colonial masters in masses and welcomed the Japanese as liberators. As the Japanese advanced, Indonesians revolted in virtually all parts of the archipelago slew of smaller European groups (especially Dutch) and provided the Japanese with reliable information on the situation of other larger groups 10 .  “

In Aceh , the population revolted against the colonial authorities even before the arrival of the Japanese. As noted by the famous Indonesian writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer :

With the arrival of the Japanese, everyone was full of hope, except those who had been serving the Dutch 11 . “


The Japanese were first welcomed by Indonesians as liberators 13 . Under occupation, the Indonesian nationalist movement became more and more popular. In July 1942, nationalist leaders like Soekarno acceded to the Japanese demand to urge the population to support the Japanese war effort. Soekarno and Hatta were decorated by the emperor in 1943.

Japanese identity card for Indonesian citizens during the occupation, registered in Japanese and Indonesian. With fingerprint and photo.

The Japanese divided the archipelago into 3 regions. Sumatra was entrusted to the 25 th Army, Java and Madura to the 16 th Army and Borneo and eastern Indonesia to e Fleet Southern Imperial Japanese Navy . The 25 th Army had its headquarters in Singapore 1 . It also controlled British Malaysia until April 1943. Its command was then restricted to Sumatra and its headquarters transferred to Bukittinggi . The 16 th Army had its headquarters inJakarta , and E South Fleet in Makassar , South Sulawesi.

The perception of the Japanese occupation varied considerably according to the place of residence and the social position of each one. Many of those living in areas of importance for the war effort were victims of torture , sexual slavery , arbitrary arrests and executions, and other war crimes . Several thousand people were deported as forced laborers ( romusha ) for Japanese military projects, including the death row between Thailand and Burma, and many died of ill-treatment and starvation. Between 4 and 10 million romusha were forced to work for the Japanese army inJava 14 . About 270,000 of them were sent to other parts of South-East Asia, of which only 52,000 were repatriated to the island, with a mortality rate of 80%.

Internment camp in Batavia in 1945.

Civilians of European descent and half-breeds were particular targets and were confined in camps. Almost all Europeans and Indo-European males had been conscripted into the Royal Netherlands Indian Army (KNIL) or the National Guard and were therefore interned as prisoners of war . The mortality rate in Japanese POW camps was 25% 15 .

A report of the United Nations late states that four million people died of starvation or forced labor in Indonesia during this period, of which 30 000 civilians died in captivity in Europe 16 .

A rupiah of the Netherlands Indies – the Japanese occupation currency.

In Java, factories and entire railway lines, with their rolling stock, were confiscated by the Japanese and sent to Japan and Manchuria . British intelligence reports point to a significant recovery of any material that can be used for the war effort.

The only major opposition politician was Amir Sjarifuddin , who received 25,000 guineas from the Dutch in early 1942 to organize a resistance network using his Marxist and nationalist relations . The Japanese arrested him in 1943 and he escaped execution only thanks to the intervention of Sukarno , whose popularity the Japanese recognized and therefore the importance for the war effort. Apart from the group of Amir, based in Surabaya , the most active pro-Allied activities were actually Chinese, Ambonais and residents of Manado 17 .

The Indonesian nationalism [ change | change the code ]

Indonesian children trained by the Japanese army (around 1945).

During the occupation, the Japanese encouraged and supported Indonesian nationalism, created new institutions, and promoted nationalist leaders like Sukarno. In the decades before the war, the Dutch were able to completely remove the small Indonesian nationalist movements that the Japanese found fundamental for the country’s independence 18 .

The Japanese regime regarded Java as the most politically evolved zone, but the least important from an economic point of view; its inhabitants were its main resource. In this perspective – opposed to that of the Netherlands – they encouraged nationalism, whereas they did it in Sumatra , rich in strategic resources, only once their defeat was obvious. The navy-controlled outer islands, on the other hand, were considered backward, but economically vital to the war effort, and they were the most oppressed. These different experiences and the resulting political differences had a profound impact on the course of the Indonesian national revolution (1945-1950).

Besides rebuilding of this Indonesian nationalism, the methodical destruction of the Dutch colonial state, both economically and politically and socially, played a key role in the events after the war 18 .

In order to gain the support of Indonesians in their war against the Allies, Japanese occupying forces recruited nationalist leaders Sukarno , Hatta , Ki Hajar Dewantara and Kyai Haji Mas Mansyur to rally the population around the Putera mobilization center ( Pusat Tenaga Rakyat ). April 16, 1943 (he was replaced by the Jawa Hokokai the st March 1944). Some of the mobilized Indonesians were sent to forced labor as romusha .

The Japanese army also provides Indonesian youth with military training and weapons, creating a volunteer army called PETA ( Pembela Tanah Air – Defenders of the Fatherland). It was originally intended to rally the people to the collapsing regime, but it then provided an important resource for the Republic of Indonesia during the national revolution from 1945 to 1949 and led to the formation of the Armed Forces. Indonesian .

On 29 April 1945, Lieutenant General Kumakichi Harada, commander of the 16 th Japanese Army, founded in the Java BPUPKI (Exploratory Committee for the Independence of Indonesia) ( Japanese Dokuritsu Jyunbi Choosakai). The meetings and discussions leading to the declaration of independence took place within the framework of this organization.

End of occupation

The General MacArthur wanted to release Java in 1944-45, but the staff and President Roosevelt the banned him. The Japanese occupation officially ended on the day of the Japanese surrender on 14 (or 15) August 1945, and two days later Soekarno proclaimed the independence of Indonesia . The fact that the Americans did not land in Java has certainly saved many Japanese, Indonesian, Dutch and American lives. From another point of view, the Indonesian independence might have been faster and less chaotic if MacArthur had won and that American troops had occupied Java 19 .

Japanese war criminals at a court martial in Makassar (1945).

Most of the Japanese military and colonial administrators were repatriated to Japan after the war, except for a few hundred who were detained for war crimes investigations , some of whom went on to trial. About a thousand soldiers deserted and merged into local communities. Many of them subsequently lent support to the rebels in the Indonesian National Revolution 20 .

Before 1949, the Dutch authorities conducted 448 war crimes trials against 1,038 suspects. 969 of them were convicted (93.4%), including 236 (24.4%) died at 21 .

Notes and references

  1. ↑ a and b Ricklefs (1991), p.  199 .
  2. ↑ Theodore Friend , Indonesian Destinies , The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, (ISBN  978-0-674-01834-1 ) , p.  29
  3. ↑ Vickers (2005), page 87
  4. ↑ ( in ) Adrain Vickers , A Modern History of Indonesia , Cambridge, ( ISBN  0-521-54262-6 ) , p.  83-84
  5. ↑ Vickers (2005), page 83
  6. ↑ Vickers (2005), pages 83-84
  7. ↑ ( in ) Charles Bidien, ” Independence the Issue ” , Far Eastern Survey , vol.  14, o 24,p.  345-348 ( DOI  10.1525 / as.1945.14.24.01p17062 , read online  [archive ] )
  8. ↑ ( in ) ” THE KINGDOM OF THE NETHERLANDS DECLARED WAR WITH JAPAN ”  [ archive ] , ibiblio (accessed 5 October 2009 )
  9. ↑ Cribb (1995), p.  13 .
  10. ↑ Tom Womack, The Dutch Naval Air Force against Japan: the defense of the Netherlands East Indies, 1941-1942 , McFarland: 2006, ( ISBN  0-7864-2365-X ) , 207 pages: p.  194-196 google books reference: [1]  [ archive ]
  11. ↑ Pramoedya Ananta Toer, The Mute’s Soliloquy , trans. Willem Samuels (New York: Penguin, 1998), p.  74-106 (St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1975). Cited in Vickers (2005), p.  85
  12. ↑ Reid, Anthony and Akira Oki (Eds) 1986) The Japanese Experience in Indonesia: Selected Memoirs of 1942-1945 Ohio University ( ISBN  0-89680-132-2 ) , page 6.
  13. ↑ ( in ) Encyclopædia Britannica Online , ” Indonesia :: Japanese occupation ”  [ archive ], (accessed January 21, 2007 ) :”Thoughly receiving as liberators. Their policies vary according to the requirements of the war, but their general purpose is to make the Indies serve Japanese war needs. “
  14. ↑ Library of Congress, 1992 “Indonesia: World War II and the Struggle For Independence, 1942-50; The Japanese Occupation, 1942-1945”  [ archive ] Access Date: February 9, 2007.
  15. ↑ Kousbroek Rudy (2005) ‘Het Oostindisch kampsyndroom’ (Publisher: Olympus, Amsterdam, 2005) p.  541 ( ISBN  90 467 0203 0 )
  16. ↑ Cited in: Dower, John W. War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (1986; Pantheon; (ISBN  0-394-75172-8 ) )
  17. ↑ ( in ) Anthony Reid , The Indonesian National Revolution from 1945 to 1950 , Melbourne, Longman Pty Ltd ( ISBN  978-0-582-71046-7 ) , p.  12
  18. ↑ a and b Vickers (2005), page 85
  19. ↑ Theodore Friend , Indonesian Destinies , The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, (ISBN  978-0-674-01834-1 ) , p.  33
  20. ↑ Tjandraningsih, Christine, ( Kyodo News ), ” Japanese recounts role fighting to free Indonesia  [ archive ] “, Japan Times , Sep 9, 2009, p.  3 .
  21. ↑ Piccigallo, Philip; The Japanese on Trial; Austin 1979; ( ISBN  0-292-78033-8 ) (Kap. “The Netherlands”)