Operation H (i)

This was the Japanese seizure of Celebes island in the Netherlands East Indies (11/24 January 1942).

Celebes is a large and very irregularly shaped mountainous island located just to the east of Borneo. It is characterised by its four large peninsulas, of which the largest is the Minahassa peninsula extending in a long curve to the north and then to the east at about 500 miles (805 km) in length and 40 miles (65 km) in width. The other three peninsulas, which are shorter and generally wider, extend as one to the east and two to the south. The island has an area of some 67,400 sq miles (174600 km²) and a coast some 3,405 miles (5480 km) long. The highest peaks reach more than 8,000 ft (2440 m) on each of the four peninsulas, and the highest point is Mt Rantekombola at 11,411 ft (3478 m) at the base of the south-western peninsula. The island is covered with jungle, and timber was an important export. Significant mineral despots were nickel, manganese, copper, precious metals and coal. The area of arable land was small, but there was some rice and coconut production.

The population in 1941 was about 3.1 million, mostly from seven indigenous ethnic groups, but also some Europeans and Chinese. The latter were extremely hostile to the Japanese. The chief cities were Manado at the tip of Minahassa peninsula, Kendari on the east coast of the south-eastern peninsula, and Makassar (the island capital) on the west coast of the south-western peninsula. The Manado and Makassar areas had reasonably well-developed road nets, but these did not interconnect, and there were also a few roads in the Kendari region. The chief nickel mines were at Soroaka, in the central part of the island, and Pomalaa on the west coast of the south-eastern peninsula.

The island was conquered early in the Pacific War by Japanese troops who landed at Manado on 11 January, Kendari on 24 January and Makassar on 9 February. Only at Manado was there significant resistance. Once in Japanese hands, the island became Japan’s chief source of nickel for armour plate, and remained in Japanese hands throughout the war.

The battle for Manado, at the very northern tip of the island, was fought on 11/13 January as the first stage of the Japanese campaign to secure the Molucca Passage and Banda Sea for a possible assault on northern Australia from bases in the south of the Philippine islands group.

Under the overall command of Colonel M. Vooren, the Dutch garrison of Celebes totalled some 3,100 men: 1,500 were located in the area of Manado under the command of Major B. F. A. Schilmöller, 1,200 at Makassar, and 400 at Kendari. The main elements of Schilmöller’s force were the Compagnie Menado (a unit of 188 local men under the command of Captain W. F. J. Kroon and reinforced by two or three machine gun sections); Mobiele Colonne (a mobile unit of about 45 men under the command of Sergeant Major A. J. ter Voert and intended for use against Japanese paratroopers); Reserve Korps Oud Militairen (five companies of retired Netherlands East Indies army personnel with an average age of over 50 and under the command of Captain W. C. van den Berg); Kort Verband Compagnie (nine sections under the command of Captain J. D. W. T. Abbink); Europese Militie en Landstorm Compagnie (about 200 poorly trained men under the command of 1st Lieutenant F. Masselink); Menadonese Militie Compagnie (about 400 native troops under the command of Captain J. H. A. L.C. de Swert); Stadswacht (about 100 men armed with hunting rifles and commanded by 1st Lieutenant M. A. Nolthenius de Man); two obsolete 75-mm (2.95-in) guns; and three still older 37-mm naval guns mounted on lorries for the defence of Lake Tondano.

Schilmöller’s primary task was the retention of the airfields at Langoan (‘Manado II’) and Mapanget (‘Manado I’), the naval base at Tasoeka, and Manado itself.

The main Japanese strength responsible for the assault on the eastern part of the Netherlands East Indies was Vice Admiral Ibo Takahashi’s Eastern Force. This was based on the 3rd Fleet (5th and 7th Cruiser Squadrons, and 2nd and 4th Destroyer Flotillas) as part of Vice Admiral Nobutake Kondo’s Taiwan-based Southern Force. The Eastern Force was tasked with the assault landings at Manado, Kendari and Makassar on Celebes as well as the descents on Amboina, Timor and Bali islands.

The Japanese navy had decided on the use of two main landing forces for the Manado part of the whole operation, and these were Mori’s 1st Sasebo Combined Special Naval Landing Force and Commander Toyoaki Horiuchi’s 1st Yokosuka Special Landing Force. The former had a strength of some 2,500 men, and comprised two reinforced battalions and support units, the 1st Battalion and 2nd Battalion being commanded by Majors Masanari Shiga and Uroku Hashimoto respectively. Attached to the 1st Sasebo Combined Special Naval Landing Force was an armoured company equipped with Type 95 light tanks.

The Japanese force left Davao in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao on 9 January 1942 in eight transport vessels, and during the early morning of 11 January landed at Kema and Manado at 03.00 and 04.00 respectively. Horiuchi’s 1st Yokosuka Special Landing Force used 519 paratroopers to attack Langoan airfield. The 26 transport aircraft from Davao dropped the first 334 paratroopers on 11 January, and on the following day another 185 paratroopers were dropped. The paratroopers quickly took their objective, but lost 130 of their own number: in reprisal, the Japanese killed nearly all of the captured defenders of Manado airfield.

The troop transport convoy was protected by the Escort Force, commanded by Rear Admiral Raizo Tanaka in the light cruiser Jintsu, and otherwise including the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla with its 8th Destroyer Division (1st Group) comprising Oshio and Asashio, the 15th Destroyer Division comprising Natsushio, Kuroshio, Oyashio and Hayashio, and the 16th Destroyer Division comprising Yukikaze, Tokitsukaze, Hatsukaze and Amatsukaze. The Japanese navy air force units allocated to the operation comprised the landplanes of the 21st Air Flotilla operating from southern Mindanao and the seaplanes of Rear Admiral Ruitaro Fujita’s 11th Seaplane Division (seaplane tenders Chitose and Mizuho as well as the patrol boat PB-39).

Commanded by Rear Admiral Kyuji Kubo, the Base Force included the 1st Base Force with the light cruiser Nagara (flagship) and the patrol boats PB-1, PB-2 and PB-34, the 21st Minesweeper Division with the minesweepers W-7, W-8, W-9, W-11 and W-12, and the 1st Submarine-chaser Division with the submarine chasers Ch-1, Ch-2 and Ch-3.

The Covering Force, led by Rear Admiral Takeo Takagi, comprised the 5th Cruiser Squadron with the heavy cruisers Nachi (flagship), Haguro and Myoko, and the 6th Destroyer Division (2nd Group) with Ikazuchi and Inazuma.

The 388 men of the Compagnie Menado (188 men) and Landstorm Compagnie (200 men) could not check the numerically superior Japanese who poured ashore in the amphibious assault on the northern side of the peninsula from 04.00 on 11 January, and the two units were ordered to fall back to the Tinoör stronghold some 5 miles (8 km) inland. After sporadic fighting, and as a result of poor communications, instead of defending the Tinoör line, the Compagnie Menado moved to Koha, leaving the defence of the Tinoör line to Lieutenant van de Laar of the Reserve Korps Oud Militairen reinforced by the Europese Militie Landstorm Compagnie. The fighting at Tinoör lasted until 15.00, when the Dutch had exhausted their ammunition and had to retreat to Kakaskasen. The part of the Reserve Korps Oud Militairen commanded by Lieutenant Radema was responsible for the defence of Kema, on the southern side of the peninsula opposite Manado. Radema had two of his platoons placed along the coast and one at his command post, located at Ajermadidih. The rest of the company had to defend Mapanget airfield, Likoepang and Bitoeng.

The Japanese landings at Kema started at 03.00 on 11 January, and as soon as the assault forces had landed, the transport vessels left the area. When Radema heard of the landings he ordered his troops to regroup at Ajermadidih. When the first Japanese troops, including three tanks, reached Ajermadidih at 09.00, Radema tried to stop the Japanese advance with the few men available to him, but was forced to withdraw as a first step toward implementing a pre-planned guerrilla warfare campaign. But as a result of the desertion of many of his local troops, Radema had to abandon this plan.

The defence of Lake Tondano and the airfield at Longoan was the responsibility of the ‘Tactical Command Kakas’ led by Captain W. C. van den Berg. Kakas is a small town near Lake Tondano, and the airfield itself was defended by 41 sections under the tactical command of 1st Lieutenant J. G. Wielinga and reinforced with one armoured car. Wielinga had his command post in Langoan, where he held 11 sections back in reserve. The rest of his troops and the armoured car were located at the airfield under the immediate command of Sergeant Major H. J. Robbemond. Soon after 09.00 on 12 January some 334 Japanese paratroopers were dropped on and around the airfield. van den Berg ordered the two remaining armoured cars to attack the Japanese troops on the airfield, but although they suffered heavy casualties the paratroopers captured the airfield.

Appreciating that the battle was lost, van den Berg ordered his remaining troops to retreat inland and start a guerrilla resistance. In several area the remaining Dutch forces attempted to launch a guerrilla campaign against the Japanese invaders. Kroon assembled what was left of the Compagnie Menado, totalling some 50 men, and retreated toward Kembes in the hope of starting an active guerrilla effort from this place. But most of his local troops deserted and Kroon reached Kembes with only nine men. Here the group was taken prisoner by the Japanese. All the European soldiers except Kroon were executed at Langoan on 26 January. Sergeant Maliëzer of E Company started a guerrilla campaign with 15 of his men, and on 8 February attacked a Japanese unit at Kanejan. The fighting lasted the whole day and the Japanese counterattack failed. In retaliation the Japanese burned a nearby kampong and executed five civilians including two women. On 12 February the Japanese returned in greater strength and this time captured the Maliëzer group: Maliëzer and 12 of his men were executed. van den Berg and his group were captured on 20 February after his men, mostly pensioners, had attacked the Japanese units on several occasions and inflicted heavy casualties. Out of respect for the high average age and fighting spirit, the Japanese commander spared their lives.

A small town on the south-eastern peninsula, facing the Banda Sea, Kendari was important to the Japanese as they wished it to become an air base from which their bombers could attack Kupang in West Timor and Soerabaja, the main Dutch naval base in Netherlands East Indies.

After securing Manado, on the night of 23/24 January Mori’s 1st Sasebo Combined Special Naval Landing Force moved to the south along the east coast of Celebes and landed to the north of Kendari, whose airfield was quickly secured against minimal resistance. By the evening of 24 January Kendari had been fully occupied, and most of the 400-strong Dutch garrison, under the command of Captain F. B. van Straalen, had been taken prisoner. Kendari airfield became the base for the 21st Air Flotilla and, slightly to the south of Kendari, a naval base was constructed at Staring Bay as an important refuelling point. On 19 February, the bombers involved in the Japanese air attack on Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia flew from Kendari.

Before the end of their operations on Celebes, the Japanese seized Amboina off the south-western end of Ceram in the Molucca islands some 400 miles (645 km) to the east of Celebes. Amboina is only about 30 miles (48 km) long and 2/3 miles (3.2/4.8 km) wide, and located on the Laitimor peninsula on the south central portion of the island is Ambon, its major town and port, with the second largest naval base in the Netherlands East Indies. Amboina was held by 2,800 Dutch troops under Major General J. R. L. Kopitz, whose main unit was the Molukken Battalion backed by numerous artillery and anti-aircraft batteries. Also present were the 1,170 men of the Australian 2/21st Battalion. Allied air and naval elements, which had already withdrawn before the arrival of the Japanese force, included a US seaplane tender and its patrol wing of 10 flying boats.

Major General Takeo Ito’s ‘Ito’ Detachment (38th Infantry Group with the 228th Regiment of Lieutenant General Tadayoshi Sano’s 38th Division) and the 1st Kure Special Naval Landing Force arrived from Davao and landed at two points on the eastern end of the peninsula on 31 January. The Dutch surrendered on 1 February, but the Australians continued to fight until 3 February. The Australians lost more than 300 men and the rest of the force went into captivity. On 9/10 February men of the 1st Kure Special Naval Landing Force beheaded 230 Australian and Dutch prisoners and buried them in a mass grave at Laha airfield.

By this time the Dutch garrison at Makassar on Celebes had already come to the inescapable conclusion an effective conventional defence was impossible, and had started to prepare for a guerrilla campaign. They established a base at Enrekang, 110 miles (175 km) to the north of Makassar, and recruited 400 more local troops.

Almost 8,000 Japanese army troops landed just to the south of Makassar on 9 February and met no resistance. The Japanese then moved north to the town against only light resistance and quickly secured their primary objective. However, as they started to move north from Makassar, the Japanese started to meet heavier resistance as the Dutch forces withdrew toward Enrekang. By the end of the month the local troops had deserted, however, and the surviving Dutch troops, now numbering some 300 men, surrendered.

Timor is the southernmost major island of the East Indies, and lies some 400 miles (645 km) to the north-west of Darwin on the north coast of Australia and 670 miles (1080 km) to the east of Java. The south-western half of Timor was part of the Netherlands East Indies, while the northern-eastern half was a Portuguese possession. The defence of the Dutch portion of the island was the responsibility of Colonel N. L. W. van Straten, whose 600 men were centred on the Timor Garrison Battalion, a company of the 8th Garrison Battalion, and an artillery battery. To stiffen the defence of an island whose seizure would provide the Japanese with an advanced base lying within easy striking distance of Australia, the Australians had sent 1,320 troops of the 2/40th Battalion, 2/2nd Independent Company (commandos), and an anti-aircraft battery. Commanded by Brigadier W. C. D. Veale, these Australian units had been on Timor since 12 December. Veale established the Combined Defence Headquarters at Penfui airfield.

On 17 December, the 2/2nd Company and 260 Dutch troops landed at Dili, the capital of Portuguese Timor, despite protests by the governor, Ferreirade de Caralho. A diplomatic agreement had previously been reached by the UK, Australia, the Netherlands and Portugal that the governor of Portuguese Timor would request Australian troops if the colony was attacked, though Portugal and its colonies had been declared neutral. Since the Australian and Dutch force arrived before he had issued any request, the Portuguese governor threatened resistance. The Portuguese had 400 colonial troops, mostly of local origin. The local population was friendly, however, and the Dutch occupied the city and Australians the airfield. To appease Portuguese sentiments, the Dutch troops were ordered to return to the west. The 2/2nd Company, however, was decimated by malaria. An 800-man Portuguese reinforcement force was on its way from Mozambique on the east coast of Africa and was due to arrive in Dili on 20 February, although the subsequent Japanese landing caused the force to be recalled while still at sea.

On Dutch Timor the Australian battalion defended the Baai van Koepang beaches to the north-east of the town of Koepang and also the airfield, while the Dutch covered the beaches to the west of the town. Penfui airfield, some 6 miles (10 km) inland, was a staging base for aircraft flying from Australia to Java. A minor Japanese air attack was flown against the airfield on 26 January, and four days later a heavy air raid was delivered to cover the Japanese landing on Amboina island. On 15 February the Australians attempted to reinforce the garrison with another infantry battalion and also a US 75-mm (2.95-in) artillery battalion originally, which had been intended for the Philippine islands group before the convoy in which it was being transported was turned back by Japanese air attacks. The squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force based at Penfui was withdrawn on 19 February, the day on which the Japanese launched a major carrierborne air attack on Darwin, sinking 10 US, Australian and British ships.

Dili was shelled that night as the Japanese invasion fleet prepared to land at Koepang and Dili. Having taken Amboina island, the ‘Ito’ Detachment was the main landing force accompanied by 300 men of the Yokosuka 3rd Special Naval Landing Force. During the morning of 20 February the Japanese landed on the south coast of Dutch Timor, to the south of Koepang and in the defenders’ rear. Some 350 Japanese army paratroopers of the 1st and 2nd Raiding Regiments were dropped 5 miles (8 km) to the north-east of Babau at 08.30, and about 350 more were dropped on each of the two following days. After three days of fighting most of the Australian force surrendered after 84 men had been killed and more than 170 wounded. Veale had withdrawn his headquarters to the east and, with 250 men who had escaped the general surrender, later linked with 2/2nd Independent Company in Portuguese Timor.

On 25 February the inter-Allied ABDACOM, having signally failed to halt the Japanese advance, was dissolved and the Australian and US forces on Java and elsewhere in the Netherlands East Indies were placed under Dutch command.

The Japanese landed on Portuguese Timor near Dili during the night of 20 February in complete disregard of Portugal’s neutrality. After sharp engagements with the invaders, the 2/2nd Company withdrew to the south-west on 3 March and began fighting as guerrilla campaign in the Ramelau mountain range. Later in the month Veale joined the company, which established a base at Mape to the south-west of Dili and 15 miles (24 km) inland from the south coast. The company, now known as ‘Lancer’ Force, with other Australian and Dutch troops, locals and a few Portuguese, conducted an effective guerrilla war, even raiding Dili in mid-April. More Portuguese and locals joined the Australians, and before long a well-developed guerrilla force was operational. Veale was evacuated late in May and the company was supplied by air and sea from Australia.

The Japanese attempted without success to eliminate the guerrillas on several occasions, and some local factions sided with the Japanese in the belief that the Japanese would give them independence. The Australians considered an undertaking to retake the island in June, but decided that they lacked sufficient forces. General Douglas MacArthur, commanding the South-West Pacific Area, wished ‘Lancer’ Force to remain as a support for possible future operations.

On 23 September the 2/4th Independent Company was landed at Betano Bay on the south coast opposite Dili to reinforce ‘Lancer’ Force. The two companies and their guerrillas assumed a more passive role as the Japanese were reinforced and their puppet native troops became more aggressive. Between August and October Lieutenant General Yuitsu Tsuchihashi’s 48th Division (1st and 2nd Formosa Regiments, 47th Regiment and 48th Mountain Artillery Regiment) reached Timor from the Philippine islands group to replace the ‘Ito’ Detachment, and placed garrisons in Koepang, Dili, and Malaca on the eastern end of Timor.

Japanese propaganda was also having an effect and more of the local population was siding with the Japanese. The 2/2nd Company was finally withdrawn in December after 11 months in action, and the 2/4th Company departed in January 1943 leaving behind an organised guerrilla force and intelligence-gathering elements. Hundreds of Dutch and Portuguese refugees departed with the Australian companies. The independent companies and their guerrillas had killed 1,500 Japanese, but failed to take any prisoners. The Australians lost only 40 men in this period.

The 48th Division was especially well established on Portuguese Timor’s north central coast around Dili, but only strong patrols entered other areas for brief periods. The Japanese maintained they were there to protect the colony from Dutch and Portuguese colonialism and essentially held the Portuguese hostage. More than 40,000 of the local population of Portuguese Timor died during the Japanese occupation through starvation, lack of medicine, reprisals, and fighting as guerrillas.

The last entire element of the Japanese Eastern Force’s operations in the Netherlands East Indies was the capture of Bali, an island lying immediately off the eastern end of Java and originally not a target for the Japanese, who had had planned to use the airfields on the south-western part of Borneo, taken by the Central Force, for the air support of the invasion and conquest of Java in collaboration with the Western Force otherwise tasked with the capture of Sumatra.

Heavy rains prevented the implementation of this Japanese plan and suggested the seizure of Bali for its airfield at Denpassar on the south coast, which was free of rain in March. Bali’s only defence was the Prajoda Corps of 600 Dutch-led local auxiliaries. On 19 February 2,000 men of the ‘Kanemura’ Detachment (3/1st Formosa Regiment of the 48th Division) landed on the south-east coast at Sanur opposed only by US air attacks from Java. The Japanese advanced across the small southern peninsula and secured the airfield by a time late in the morning of the same day without encountering resistance as most of the native troops had deserted.

The Dutch had failed to demolish the airfield in the confusion and the next day Japanese aircraft arrived to support the invasion of Java. On 19/20 February a Dutch and Australian cruiser and destroyer force attempted to engage the invasion force and a series of sharp engagement followed in the Battle of the Badoeng Strait (otherwise the Battle of the Lombok Strait) between Bali island and its eastward neighbour, Lombok island.

The battle was fought between an ABDACOM naval force and elements of the Japanese navy, and in the course of this battle four Japanese destroyers defeated an Allied force that outnumbered and outgunned them, escorting two transports to safety and sinking the Dutch destroyer Piet Hein.

Rear Admiral Karel W. F. M. Doorman’s Allied naval forces were scattered around the Netherlands East Indies, but the invasion of Bali island could not be ignored as in Japanese hands Denpassar airfield would provide the Japanese with an air base within range of the ABDA naval base at Soerabaja. Doorman therefore decided on an immediate response, but this meant that a concentration of force was impossible. Thus several Allied forces were despatched in effect independently to attack the Japanese.

The first Allied vessels to engage were two submarines, the US Seawolf and British Truant. Both attacked the Japanese convoy on 18 February but did no damage and were driven off by depth charges from Japanese destroyers. Later on the same day 20 US warplanes attacked the convoy, but succeeded only in damaging the transport Sagami Maru. The Japanese were aware that their invasion convoy was likely to be attacked again, and therefore pulled back north as soon as possible. The light cruiser Nagara and destroyers Wakaba, Hatsushimo and Nenohi were well away and took no part in the action. The last ships to leave were the two transports, each escorted by two destroyers: Sasago Maru was escorted by Asashio and Oshio, and the heavily damaged Sagami Maru by Michishio and Arashio.

The first Allied group, comprising the Dutch light cruisers De Ruyter and Java, US destroyers John D. Ford and Pope, and Dutch destroyer Piet Hein, sighted the Japanese ships in the Badoeng Strait at about 22.00 on 19 February and opened fire 25 minutes later. No damage was done in this exchange of fire, and the two Dutch cruisers continued through the strait to the north-east in order to give the destroyers a clear opportunity to engage with torpedoes. Then the three Allied destroyers came into range. At 22.40 a ‘Long Lance’ torpedo from Asashio hit Piet Hein, which immediately sank. Asashio and Oshio exchanged gunfire with Pope and John D. Ford, forcing the two US destroyers to retire to the south-east instead of following the cruisers to the north-east. In the darkness, however, Asashio and Oshio mistook each other for Allied ships and fired on each other for several minutes, albeit without inflicting any damage.

About three hours later the second group of ABDACOM warships, in the form of the Dutch light cruiser Tromp and US destroyers John D. Edwards, Parrott, Pillsbury and Stewart, reached the Badoeng Strait. At 01.36 Stewart, Pillsbury and Parrott launched torpedoes but did no damage. Then Oshio and Asashio sortied again and there was another exchange of gunfire. Tromp was hit by 11 5-in (127-mm) shells from Asashio, sustaining severe damage that later forced the cruiser to Australia for repairs, but hit both Japanese destroyers, killing four men on Asashio, which suffered only slight damage, and seven on Oshio. Rear Admiral Kyuji Kobo, commanding the Japanese forces, had ordered Arashio and Michishio to turn back, and at about 02.20 they joined the battle. Michishio was hit by shells from Pillsbury, John D. Edwards and Tromp, losing 13 men killed and 83 wounded. The Japanese destroyer lost speed and had to be taken in tow after the battle. Both groups of ships turned away, and the engagement was over.

The third ABDACOM naval group of seven torpedo boats arrived in the Badoeng Strait at about 06.00 but did not encounter any Japanese ships.