Operation Phlitt

This was the British and Dutch reoccupation of the island of Bali in the Netherlands East Indies after the surrender of Japan (3 March 1946).

Bali is an island of modest size with a length of 90 miles (145 km) and maximum width of 55 miles (88.5 km) wide with an area of 2,232 sq miles (5780 km²), and is located just to the east of Java in what was then the Netherlands East Indies. Extending from east to west, the island has a chain of six volcanoes, of which the highest is Mt Agung at 9,944 ft (3031 m) toward the island’s eastern end. These volcanoes are sufficiently active that, with the exception of those at the island’s southern extremity, the beaches are of black sand. The island is swept between December and March by a monsoon from the west and, in the Pacific War period, was covered with jungle.

On 21 January 1946 Admiral the Lord Louis Mountbatten, heading the South-East Asia Command, responded to a request of the Chiefs-of-Staff with his suggestions for the re-entry of Dutch troops into the Netherlands East Indies following the defeat of Japan. Mountbatten based his advice on the fact that two separate territorial groups had to be taken into consideration: one comprised the islands from Borneo and Soembawa to the east, and the other comprised Sumatra, Java, Bali and Lombok. In the first group, which by the end of the war had been occupied by the Australians, Brigadier E. C. J. Woodford’s Indian 32nd Brigade of Major General D. D. Gracey’s Indian 20th Division had already taken over British North Borneo, the deployment of Dutch troops in their own former possessions in Borneo was almost complete, and Brigadier G. L. Roberts’s Indian 80th Brigade, also of the Indian 20th Division, was already on its way from French Indo-China to take over Makassar in Celebes. Here the brigade’s arrival would complete the relief of Australian troops and bring the whole of the Netherlands East Indies under control of the Allied Forces Netherlands East Indies command, with Australian troops remaining in occupation of Timor.

The second group of islands would require all of the Dutch forces trained by the South-East Asia Command in Thailand and Malaya as well as those already on the way out from Europe, a total of six brigade groups each about 4,000 strong. With the six brigade groups Mountbatten said that he could relieve all the British and Indian troops in Java and disband the headquarters of Lieutenant General Sir Philip Christison’s Indian XV Corps, but this would leave no troops to be sent to Sumatra unless part of the Dutch division due from Europe in October could arrive at an earlier date. The relief of the RAF by Dutch air forces would be co-ordinated with that of ground forces.

The Chiefs-of-Staff accepted this plan on 1 February, the day Sir Archibald Clark-Kerr arrived at Batavia in an effort to organise mediation between the returning Dutch and the nationalist Indonesians. His informal talks seemed so successful that on 21 February Clark-Kerr was able to recommend that the re-entry of large bodies of Dutch troops into Java could begin early in March. The six Dutch formations at Mountbatten’s disposal were the 1st Netherlands Marine Brigade and the ‘T’, ‘U’, ‘V’, ‘W’ and ‘X’ Brigade Groups, and Mountbatten proposed to begin their deployment 1 March, the marine brigade in Soerabaja, ‘T’ Brigade Group in Semarang, ‘U’ and ‘V’ Brigade Groups in Batavia, and two battalions in Bali and Lombok. The ‘X’ Brigade Group would later go to Soerabaja and the ‘W’ Brigade Group to Batavia.

This plan was approved by the Chiefs-of-Staff subject only to the proviso that none of the moves was to be made without their approval. Preceded by a British mission that took the surrender of the Japanese, two battalions of Dutch troops landed in Bali on 3 March. The Dutch occupied key points on the island without meeting opposition, but patrol clashes with the nationalists soon occurred. One of the battalions moved to Lombok on 27 March and was well received.