End of Empire100 days in 1945 that changed Asia and the world.

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  • The Dutch return

    Tom van den Berge

    In late September 1945, leaving Brisbane for Batavia (Jakarta), Lieutenant Governor-General H.J. Van Mook boasted to his members of government in exile, ‘I will bring you Sukarno in a cage’. Much to his dismay, Van Mook arrived in a chaotic and shaggy Batavia. The capital was being knocked about by gangsters and revolutionaries. Sackings, killings and kidnappings were daily routine. Red-white flags had been put out everywhere. Slogans chalked on walls and trams augured ill for the colony and for the lieutenant governor-general: ‘No more Dutch treat’, ‘For the right of self-determination’ and ‘Van Mook. Whatcha doin’ here’.

    Van Mook had not expected, not even in his most melancholy moods, that his return from exile would take place under such bad circumstances. Bad the circumstances were and boasted he had indeed, but Van Mook was a pragmatic and creative ruler. With ‘some show of force’, food supplies, constructive labour and generosity towards collaborators, Van Mook was convinced that good governance could save the day.

    With his troops, Admiral Lord Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander Southeast Asia Command, would help Van Mook on his mission. At least, that is what Van Mook and Mountbatten had agreed upon in a Civil Affairs Agreement in August 1945. In the meantime, however, intelligence had reached Mountbatten that Indonesian nationalism had developed into a powerful movement and Japanese forces had raised well-armed Indonesian troops. Mountbatten thus embarked on a new course. Fearing bloody battles with the Indonesian army, he refused to sacrifice his soldiers to restore Dutch colonial rule. However, Mountbatten was prepared to send more troops to Indonesia to rescue the estimated 150,000 Dutch internees, provided that the Dutch started negotiations with the Indonesian leaders. Van Mook protested strongly against this but he was completely dependent on the British forces and thus had to bow to the inevitable. Van Mook commissioned his advisor Abdulkadir Widjojoatmodjo to contact the Republicans.

    On 31 October, without consulting the Dutch government, Van Mook opened talks in Batavia with the Indonesian leaders. Among those present was Sukarno, ‘since otherwise’, Van Mook explained, ‘we could not even make a start’. Although they distrusted Van Mook’s intentions, the Indonesian leaders expressed their willingness to cooperate. In his report to Johann Logemann, his Minister of Overseas Territories in The Hague, Van Mook warned that it would be dangerous to underestimate the power of Indonesian nationalism or how far it had spread. Indeed, only a few days before, 4,000 well-armed Indian troops who had arrived in Surabaya to escort internees to safety had met with vehement opposition during which their commander, General Mallaby, was killed.

    Although the Indonesian leaders and Van Mook had agreed to keep their talks under wraps, the news got out that Van Mook and Sukarno had met. Back in the Netherlands, the Council of Ministers immediately was called into an emergency meeting on 1 November. The Council disclaimed all responsibility for Van Mook’s approach. After the meeting, Logemann telegraphed Van Mook that the Dutch government held its ground and that he had to break off contact ‘with that Sukarno person’. On the very same day, Prime Minister Schermerhorn and Minister Logemann flew to London where Queen Wilhelmina was temporarily staying. They requested her permission to dismiss Van Mook. Wilhelmina, however, refused their request. She did not doubt Van Mook had committed a serious mistake, but stated ‘it would be improper to change supreme commanders in the heat of battle’.

    And so the resolute queen saved the recalcitrant Lieutenant Governor-General. On 17 November, Van Mook was thus able to start talks on good governance with the newly appointed, first prime minister of the Indonesian Republic, Sutan Sjahrir.

    Tom van den Berge is a researcher at KITLV His research interests include the relations between religion, mission and empire building; the manner in which the Dutch military operations in Indonesia, 1945–1950, were dealt with at that time in history as well as in later periods. He is working on a biography of I.S. Kijne, 1899–1970, a Dutch missionary in New Guinea. Van den Berge is the author of H.J. van Mook 1894–1965: Een vrij en gelukkig Indonesië. Bussum THOTH, 2014.


    .0905.15Map: Central Java (NIAS Press 2016)

    1001.4Hubertus J. van Mook. Van Mook's authority was based on the Anglo-Dutch Civil Affairs Agreement. This agreement was formally completed on 24 August, but details continued to be worked out in subsequent months. (Australian War Memorial 010635)

    0815.25Japanese-run internment camps for Europeans in West Java, 1943–45. (Robert Cribb 2009) 

    1002.5Only some Japanese units handed over their weapons to local nationalist groups. Most obeyed the order to await the arrival of legitimate Allied representatives and to sur­render to them. Even when weapons were handed over to locals, often these were (say) Dutch arms captured in 1942, not Japanese weapons. The issue here for many Japanese troops was that weapons stamped with the imperial chrysanthemum symbol were the Emperor’s person­al property and could not be given away. This issue may have been a cause of the battle between pemuda and the Japanese garrison at Semarang two weeks later. Above: close-up of a Japanese rifle with chrysanthemum symbol stamped on it.

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