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Unexpected Allies

Java 1945-1946
With the 5th Parachute Brigade
(Please note that we will be covering other forces involved in the DEI at a later date)

 

No. 5 Jungle carbineShortly after VE-day, the 5th Parachute Brigade was alerted for operations in the Far East and the Brigade was moved from Germany to Larkhill, Wiltshire. They set about the hectic preparations necessary for a new theatre of war; tropical dress, jungle boots, new equipment and a new rifle, the No. 5 Jungle carbine. This rifle fired the .303 round from a detachable 10 round box magazine, and was equipped with a flash suppressor and rubber recoil pad on the butt stock.

The Brigade, which consisted of the 7th, 12th and 13th Battalions of the Parachute Regiment, 22nd Independent Parachute Company, 4th Air-Landing Anti-Tank Battery RA, 3rd Airborne Squadron RE, 225 Parachute Field Ambulance RAMC, and detachments of Airborne RASC, REME, RAOC and CMP units. The Brigade sailed for India in HM troopship Corfu on July 19th, 1945 and reached India 17 days later to start an intensive training period in jungle warfare, but before it was completed, Japan surrendered.

In late August the Brigade embarked in the troopship Chitral arriving off the beaches of Northern Malaya in early September and advanced inland towards Kuala Lumpur. No opposition was encountered and the Brigade was later re-embarked in the Chitral and taken to Singapore. In Singapore the Japanese garrison were in POW camps, the docks in chaos, and the population subdued and bewildered. Between September and December 1945, the Brigade's job was to help bring life back to normal. The Brigade helped to restore order and control, at the same time helping to reconstruct the police force.

In early December 1945, 5th Parachute Brigade Group moved to Indonesia, where it was deployed in Batavia (now Djakarta), the capital city of Java. Trouble was brewing as a result of agitation by nationalists led by Dr. Sukarno, an Indonesian politician who had proclaimed himself President and had declared independence. Several other Indonesian politicians and a large number of armed extremists supported him. Until 1942 Java had been a Dutch colony, although its administration had not been popular with the Indonesians. Consequently, after the Japanese invasion in 1942, the Indonesians were not unhappy to see their former masters being imprisoned. When the Japanese surrendered in August 1945 they had handed over some of their weapons to the Indonesians and had withdrawn to camps inland to await the arrival of the Allied forces to which they would surrender. This move was contrary to the orders issued by Admiral Mountbatten who had instructed them to remain in their locations and maintain law and order pending the arrival of Allied troops.

Leaflet dropped to Japanese troops explaining that the war was over

Leaflet dropped to Japanese troops
explaining that the war was over

Inevitably, in the vacuum resulting from the withdrawal of the Japanese from the towns throughout the country, there was chaos. Indonesians seized the opportunity to settle old scores while indulging in a wave of crime and terrorism.

Only one thing united the various factions: a hatred of the Dutch and a determination that their country would not return to its former status as a Dutch colony. The main initial problem facing the Allies was the thousands of prisoners of war and civilian internees in Java who were at risk from the increasing violence. With the Japanese withdrawn to their barracks and no Dutch troops in the country, law and order had completely broken down and the situation was worsening as each day passed. The British therefore had to step in and take control. On its arrival in Batavia, 5th Parachute Brigade Group found that British forces had already occupied the capital. Elsewhere, serious fighting was taking place on the outskirts of the towns of Semarang and Surabaya.

Almost immediately the Brigade took part in the clearing of Batavia. Units of the Brigade dispersed riots, carried out searches, and by night they patrolled the sniper-infested streets of the city. The Brigadier of the 5th Brigade, unhappy that his Brigade was not being used to best effect, approached the commander of 23rd Indian Division, Major General D. C. Hawthorn, under whose command the Brigade was operating, and requested that he and his troops be given a role more in keeping with their capabilities. Consequently the 5th Brigade was dispatched to the town of Semarang on the coast between Batavia and Surabaya. Under command were a number of additional supporting arm units, including A Squadron 11th Cavalry (Prince Albert Victor's Own) and 6th Indian Field Battery Royal Indian Artillery. Semarang was the most important town and port on the northern coast of Java. The main part of the town was situated on low-lying terrain nearest to the sea. The residential area was on high ground three miles inland and it was totally dependent upon supplies of food from further inland.

Fighting in SurabayaElectricity and water were supplied from Oengaran, some 15 miles inland. Two miles inland from the residential area was a feature called Gombel Hill, which dominated the town and the surrounding areas for several miles in all directions. Three miles to the west of Semarang lay an airstrip capable of taking aircraft the size of a Dakota. The town's population consisted of three different ethnic groups: the Indonesians, who numbered some 185,000, about 40,000 Chinese, and approximately 5,000 Dutch, many of whom had held key positions in the administration before the Japanese occupation.

While the Dutch were regarded by the Indonesians with distrust, it was the Chinese who fared worst of all. Having suffered badly under the Japanese, they were subsequently treated with hostility by the Indonesians, who accused them of collaborating with the British. 5th Parachute Brigade arrived in Semarang on 9th January 1946. As it did so it found that the troops of the 49th Indian Infantry Brigade had completed the final phase of operations to secure the town and had evacuated a large number of Allied prisoners of war and civilian internees to Batavia. During the evacuation, fighting had broken out between the troops and Indonesian guerrillas who had been indulging in murder, arson and looting.

Extremists had, however, succeeded in cutting off all supplies of power and water and were refusing to allow any supplies of food into the town. 49th Indian Infantry Brigade had been assisted in maintaining order by a battalion of Japanese troops. Commanded by a Major Kido, this unit had been based at Semarang when the Japanese had surrendered. All had gone well until Sukarno had made his declaration of "independence", which roused the extremists among the population and resulted in unrest.


 

Far East POWsAt the same time an organisation called RAPWI (Recovered Allied Prisoners of War and Internees), whose role was to provide medical and humanitarian relief to POW's and internees, had established its headquarters in Semarang. This caused suspicion and unease amongst the Indonesian extremists and Major Kido and his troops had thus assumed the task of maintaining law and order in the town. The situation worsened when Indonesians established checkpoints in and around town, halting all traffic and subjecting locals and Europeans alike to interrogation. Kido felt it prudent to reinforce the guards in the internment camp, which by then held over 20,000 European internees. However, the situation began to deteriorate once again. The extremists cut the railway line, leaving the airstrip as the only route by which supplies could be brought into town. Armed Indonesians attacked Europeans, incarcerating British, Dutch and Eurasians alike. All telephone links with the rest of Java were cut. By 15th October the situation was such that Major Kido had no alternative but to take matters into his own hands and restore order in the town. In the early hours his battalion moved out of its barracks and cleared the area of Djomblang before pushing forward to recapture the internment camps.

It went on to retake key areas and buildings that were occupied by extremists. All the time under heavy fire from machine guns and snipers, the Japanese fought their way towards the centre of the town. On the following day, 16th October, Major Kido and his men stormed the jail at Boeloe, where they found the bodies of 85 Japanese soldiers, airmen and civilians who had been slaughtered. They also discovered a further 50 Japanese and over 300 Europeans due to be executed the next day. The following day saw the arrival of elements of the 3rd Battalion 10th Princess Mary's Own Ghurkha Rifles. They landed at Semarang docks but came under fire from a patrol of Japanese troops. Two Japanese soldiers were killed in the ensuing action, after which Major Kido and his men were placed under the command of the Ghurkha Rifles. Shortly afterwards a composite brigade of troops, under the command of the 23rd Indian Division's Commander Royal Artillery (CRA), arrived and began the task of evacuating 11,000 Allied prisoners of war and civilian internees. Despite the fighting that continued in and around Semarang, the evacuation was successfully carried out. By mid December all POW's and internees had been moved from camps via Semarang to Batavia. On December 17th it was relieved by 49th Indian Infantry Brigade, which remained in the town until the arrival of 5th Parachute Brigade Group.

One problem facing the Brigadier 5th Brigade was the deployment of the Japanese battalion. While they had done much to re-establish order, and had since been deployed on guard duties throughout Semarang, their presence was not welcome by the local people, many of whom had suffered during the Japanese occupation. However, they were a welcome addition to the 5th Brigade, whose resources would be stretched in providing the manpower for the defence of the town and restoring essential services. The problem was resolved by deploying Major Kido and his men to Gombel Hill and the southeast sector of the perimeter, where they would be out of sight of the town.

5th Parachute Brigade Group lost little time in settling into Semarang. 13th Parachute Battalion was allocated responsibility for the docks and centre of the town, while the 12th Parachute Battalion assumed the task of defending the western sector of the perimeter and the airfield. 7th Parachute Battalion was held in reserve in the main residential area of the town and provided guards for the RAPWI camps. To prevent extremists infiltrating into the town, a patrol area was established outside the perimeter to a depth of 2,000 yards. Patrols from all three battalions operated frequently throughout this area, visiting local villages or 'kampongs', which were possible concentration points for guerrilla groups who appeared to recognise the authority of no one except their individual group leaders. They devoted much effort to terrorizing the local population while at the same time attacking troops, avowing that their aim was the expulsion of the British and the massacre of the Dutch and Chinese.

guerrillasThe guerrillas were armed with an assortment of weapons, which included small arms, a number of 75mm and 105mm guns, and some mortars. To begin with the guerrilla artillery and mortar fire was extremely inaccurate, but it improved with practice, Gombel Hill being its principal target. To counter this, observation posts were established by 2nd Forward Observation Unit RA from which sound bearings could be taken and reported. Counter-battery fire was provided by 6th Indian Field Battery RIA and the 4.2-inch mortar troop of 4th Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery RA. Brought to bear within minutes of a guerrilla gun or mortar attack, these proved to be very effective countermeasures.

Law and order in the town was swiftly re-imposed as was a curfew between 2230 Hrs and 0430 Hrs. Responsibility for this task and for policing the town fell upon the 2nd Forward Observation Unit RA, assisted by the 4th Airlanding Anti-tank Battery RA. The town's police force had to be completely reconstructed. The new force was organized as a headquarters and four divisions, of which two were staffed by Indonesians and one each by Dutch and Chinese personnel. A British officer, who was assisted by 20 gunners, commanded each division. Police posts were established throughout the different areas of Semarang and these were visited each night by troops who patrolled the streets in jeeps.

Japanese troops unloading a British AircraftGradually the confidence of the local population was restored. 3rd Airborne Squadron RE lost little time in restoring essential services such as power and water and soon started repairing the roads, railways and docks damaged by Allied bombing. 225th Parachute Field Ambulance organized medical facilities, while the Brigade Headquarters Signal Section took over the operation and maintenance of the town's telephone system and two exchanges. The RASC detachment organized the distribution of food. Most of the burden of returning conditions to normal within Semarang fell on the shoulders of the Sappers of 3rd Airborne Squadron RE assisted by local people who had worked as engineers in the town before the war. They had constructed new water points and repaired existing ones. They carried out extensive repairs on the main power station and installed new generators. They also repaired two dry docks, provided technical assistance in restoring the town's gas works and refrigeration plant, built two saw mills, repaired roads, demolished unsafe buildings, and converted a number of warehouses within the dock area into accommodation for 5,000 Japanese internees.

At the end of February 1946, the 5th Parachute Brigade was informed that they would be relieved by a Dutch formation, namely 'T' Regiment Group of the Royal Netherlands Army. The Brigadier 5th Brigade realised that there could be problems with regard to the reaction of the local people to the return of the Dutch and that the situation would have to be handled with delicacy and diplomacy. The first precaution was to ensure that there would be no friction between the British and Dutch troops. Subsequently, the heads of the different ethnic communities were informed of the impending arrival of Dutch troops but were assured that they would be under British command until such time as the 5th Parachute Brigade Group withdrew.

April 1946, the 5th Parachute Brigade Group handed over control to the Dutch Army and sailed for Singapore. It had been an odd assignment, but one well within the traditions of the British Army and proved once more that the British soldier makes an admirable ambassador.

The 5th Parachute Brigade had been the cutting edge of many of the British Army's battles during the war and on their return to Singapore and thence to the squalid tented camp at Muar Malaya, there was reason to doubt their suitability for peacetime duties. The lack of facilities, bad food and broken promises caused a mutiny in the May of 1946, the result of which 250 men of the 13th Battalion received prison sentences, only to have them quashed a month later for technical irregularities during the trial. The convictions were upheld and they all returned to there parent units where possible, and soldiered on until honorably discharged.

The General Service Medal with the bar SE Asia 1945-1946.

The campaign in Java led to the award of the first of the post war medals. The General Service Medal with the bar SE Asia 1945-1946. There was also a naval issue of the Naval general service Medal S.E. Asia.

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