Although the KNIL received its first armoured vehicles in the mid-1930s, there was little effort to upgrade the quality and scale of these forces until the German invasion of Holland in May 1940. With the homeland occupied, the Dutch colonies were cut off from supplies, reinforcements and new equipment. This was particularly threatening as Japan had long coveted the Netherlands East Indies since the early 1920s.
This was an "armoured shell" that could be fitted
to Krupp's Type L2H 143 6x4 light truck to create an ersatz armoured
car. Originally offered in 1936, the original version came with a
single machine gun mount in a small, high turret. Later production
models featured machine guns in the front and rear hulls with a third
weapon in a broad, low turret. Although the KNIL bought an unknown
number for use in the Netherlands East Indies, little else is known
An enhanced version of the Carden-Lloyd M1934 light tank, this vehicle weighed 3.8 tons with a crew of two. It was armed with a single .303 Vickers machine gun in a fully rotating turret and featured armour protection ranging between 7-9mm. A water-cooled 90hp engine provided a top road speed of 40mph.
The KNIL received 24 of these vehicles in 1936. Upon their arrival in the Netherlands East Indies on December 15, 1937 they were formed into an "Experimental Section" for further testing. In December 1939 this section was formally reorganized into the KNIL's first armoured battalion with a unit deployed to Bandoeng and another to Malang. The KNIL ordered an additional 50 vehicles, but these were seized by the British Army when war broke out in Europe in September 1939. So although officially listed as an operational unit on paper, in reality it never had the strength to function as more than a training unit.
All the original M1936s were badly worn by the
time of Pearl Harbor. None-the-less, two vehicles were deployed to
southern Borneo shortly after the outbreak of the Pacific War. They
reached Pontianak Harbour via a Dutch merchant ship on December 19,
1941, where one was almost immediately destroyed in a Japanese air
raid. The remaining M1936 was lost later that month in a holding action
at Singau near Singkawang II Airfield. The remainder were destroyed or
captured during the fighting on Java.
The KNIL also purchased a small number of Carden-Lloyd M1931 light tanks. Manufactured by the British firm of Vickers-Armstrong, this amphibious vehicle mounted either a Vickers .303 or 7.7mm light machine gun in a fully rotating turret. It featured balsa wood beams enclosed in armoured containers to increase buoyancy with a small rudder and propellor on the back of the hull to facilitate movement and maneuverability. A 90hp engine generated 3.72 mph in the water and up to 27 mph on dry land.
The KNIL ordered two M1931s for trials in 1937 and
they were used primarily for training. Although both were severely worn
by the outbreak of the Pacific War, one was shipped to southern Borneo
delivered to support KNIL forces there. It reached Pontianak on
December 19, 1941 with the two M1936 tanks listed above, but was almost
immediately destroyed in a Japanese air raid. The fate of the second
vehicle is unknown, but was almost certainly destroyed or captured when
Java fell in March 1942.
Alvis Straussler AC3D armoured Car
The KNIL purchased 12 of these vehicles from the United Kingdom in 1938. They weighed in at 13 tons with a crew of four and were armed with a 12.7mm heavy machine gun in the turret and a Vickers .303 machine gun in the front hull. Maximum road speed was 48 mph with a radius of approximately 90 miles.
Upon arrival on Java in 1939, they were used to form four armoured car platoon, each consisting of three vehicles. Two of these were attached to the 1st and 6th Cavalry Squadrons respectively. The remaining two platoons were detailed to form an armoured car squadron at Bandoeng. Primarily utilized in a reconnaissance role, they were supported by jeeps and White Scout Cars ordered from the United States.
The author has seen reports that one of these platoons was deployed to support Home Guard formations on Bali. If true, this unit may have seen action during the Japanese invasion of the island in February 1942. However this is unconfirmed, and the eventual fate of this unit, if the reports are true, is unknown. The remainder were lost, destroyed or captured during the fighting on Java.
Upon arrival on Java in 1939, they were assigned to
the KNIL's cavalry squadrons, which were in the process being
motorized. Primarily utilized in a reconnaissance role, they operated
in platoons of three vehicles supported by jeeps and White Scout Cars
that had been ordered from the United States. It appears that one of
these platoons was deployed to support Home Guard formations on Bali,
although the fate of this unit is unknown. The remainder were lost,
destroyed or captured during the fighting on Java.
Vickers Utility Tractor
The KNIL ordered 50 of these small utility
tractors from the Familleureux factory in Belgium in October 1939. They
were to be used for the training of tank crews and to tow its new
Böhler 47mm AT gun. The first 20 reached Java in April 1940. An
additional 30 vehicles had been ordered in December 1939 and scheduled
for delivery in May 1940. However, the Germans captured this batch and
those on Java were destroyed or captured during the Japanese invasion.
Praga TIII/3 Artillery Tractor
In 1939, the KNIL contracted with the Czech firm of CKD to produce artillery tractors for use in the Netherlands East Indies. Designated the TIII/3, one prototype and 40 production vehicles were eventually built. However only the prototype reached the Netherlands East Indies, with the remainder being taken over the German when they absorbed Czechoslovakia.
At the same time, American foreign policy initially restricted the amount and types of weapons available for purchase. This was because the U.S. Government feared the NEI would follow the "French Model" in Indochina. After the fall of France in June 1940, Indochina's Vichy Government allowed the Japanese to occupy key parts of the colony, effectively making it a Japanese protectorate.
As expected, the Japanese put similar pressure on the NEI colonial government and the United States feared the Dutch would make similar concessions and was unwilling to waste front-line equipment on what might well become a lost cause in the foreign policy arena. However, a firm Dutch stand rebuffing Japanese demands convinced the U.S. Government of the NEI's willingness to remain independent, thus opening the door for increased arms sales.
The KNIL immediately placed large orders for tanks and armoured cars through the Netherlands Purchasing Commission (N.P.C.). Following the fall of Holland, the Dutch government-in-exile sent this purchasing body sent to the United States in June 1940 to purchase arms and equipment for its military forces in the Far East. The KNIL also made plans to initiate a comprehensive program to raise and train the large number of personnel that would be required to operate the vehicles. It was anticipated that the new armoured force would be place by the end of 1942.
At the same time, American foreign policy
initially restricted the amount and types of weapons available for
purchase. This was because the U.S. Government feared the Netherlands
East Indies would follow the "French Model" in Indochina. After the
fall of France in June 1940, Indochina's Vichy Government allowed the
Japanese to occupy key parts of the colony, effectively making it a
Japanese protectorate. The Japanese put similar pressure on the
Netherlands East Indies colonial government and the United States
feared the Dutch would make similar concessions and was unwilling to
waste front-line equipment on what might well become a lost cause in
the foreign policy arena. However, a firm Dutch stand rebuffing
Japanese demands convinced the U.S. Government of the Dutch East
Indies' willingness to remain independent, thus opening the door for
increased arms sales.
Marmon-Herrington Light Tanks
The biggest order for American equipment by the KNIL went to the Marmon-Herrington factory. The firm had originally built tractors for the civilian market, but moved into the military market with considerable success, making a number of sales to Central and Latin America between 1935-41.
Although the United States Army and Marine Corps bought a few light tanks, they were regarded as unsuitable for U.S. military use. As a result, the bulk of Marmon-Herrington's business was export related. In 1940, the KNIL ordered 628 vehicles in four versions, including:
This small, 2-man light tank was designed and built exclusively for export to China and the Netherlands East Indies. It was armed with three .30-caliber light machine guns in the front hull and a fourth in a small rotating turret. Two versions were built, including the CTLS-4TAC and CTLS-4TAY. The 4TAC had its turret offset to the right side of the hull, while that of the 4TAY was mounted to the left. A total of 234 CTLS were ordered by the Netherlands Purchasing Commission, with their delivery dates scheduled between August 1941 and February 1942. The only difference between them was that the 4TAC had its turret off-set to the right side of the hull, while that of the 4TAY was mounted to the left.
Eighty of these vehicles arrived in the Netherlands East Indies aboard the 8,148 ton KPM merchant ship Straat Soenda in January 1942. However, while en route to the port Tandjoeng Priok, she ran hard aground in the Soenda Strait just off the coast of Java on January 20, 1942. Salvage efforts to pull her off began on January 22, but were unsuccessful. A large fleet of small inter-island merchant vessels and native fishing boats were then dispatched to take off her cargo, which in addition to the tanks, consisted of 6,500 tons of cement and 2,500 land mines.
Despite heavy seas, most of the tanks were transferred to the fishing vessels and transported to Java. The remainder reached Java when Straat Soenda was pulled off and towed into Tandjoeng Priok on January 28. It is believed that the remaining Marmon-Herringtons were off-loaded before the damaged merchant vessel departed the Netherlands East Indies for repairs. It appears that the ship's main hold containing the tanks may have been partially flooded.
Of these vehicles, only seven were ready for service when the Japanese landed on Java in late February. Most of these were lost during the fighting and the remainder were likely destroyed to prevent their capture. Another 54 CTLS (enough to equip an entire armoured battalion, including headquarters vehicles) were en route to the NEI aboard five Dutch merchant ships when Java fell in March 1942. They reached Australia in early 1942 and were handed over to the Australian army.
The Marmon-Herrington factory completed another 240 vehicles, which the U.S. Army assumed and gave the designation T-16. Used primarily for training, their only front-line service came during the recapture of the Aleutian Islands of Kiska and Attu in 1943. An unknown number were also delivered to KNIL forces garrisoning Dutch territories in the Caribbean.
Known as the "Dutch 3-Man Tank" this vehicle was built export to the Netherlands East Indies in 1942. It weighed in at 12½ tons and was equipped with a single 37mm cannon in a rotating turret with provisions for 2-3 machine guns. A water-cooled 152hp engine allowed a maximum speed of 25mph. The N.P.C. ordered 194 of these tanks, with deliveries scheduled to arrive between September 1941 and June 1942.
However, Marmon-Herrington proved unable to handle the huge increase in production brought on by the Dutch orders. As a result, production suffered and delivery was pushed back to the middle of 1942. Because of these delays, none of the vehicles were completed before the NEI fell and all were eventually parceled out to the military forces of Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala and Mexico.
Similar to the CTMS-ITBI, this vehicle was known as the "Dutch 4-Man Tank" when ordered by the KNIL. A fully rotating turret housed twin 37mm cannons with a .30-caliber machine gun mounted in the right side. An anti-aircraft machine gun mount was also provided on the back of the turret with two more ball mounts in the front hull. A liquid-cooled 240hp engine generated 26mph on the road.
The N.P.C. ordered 200 vehicles of this model, with deliveries scheduled for arrival in the NEI between January 1942 and November 1942. But as with the "3-Man Tank" design and production was delayed, pushing the initial deliveries back to the end of 1942. It is unknown how many were actually completed by Marmon-Herrington before production shut down. However, none were delivered to the KNIL forces on Java before the fall of the NEI.
M3 Light Tank
As Marmon-Herrington's production lagged on its "4-Man Tank," the KNIL approached American Car and Foundry to find a suitable replacement. They ordered 200 M3 light tanks to replace the Marmon-Herringtons. This was the same standard light tank used by the U.S. Army throughout World War II and was armed with a 37mm cannon in the turret and four .30-caliber machine guns. In addition, all the Dutch vehicles were equipped with radios.
The orders for these vehicles were placed in early 1941. In addition, the KNIL ordered 400,000 rounds of 37mm ammunition and suitable quantities of .30-caliber ammunition. They also ordered spare parts and a large number of replacement tracks. The first batch of 50 M3s had been shipped and was en route to Java aboard two Dutch cargo vessels when the NEI formally surrendered. They were diverted to Australian ports, where the tanks were turned over to the Australian Army.
White M3A1 Scout Car
A top priority in the KNIL's pre-war reorganization plan was the desire to fully motorize its cavalry and infantry formations. With this in mind, the Dutch ordered 400 White M3A1 Scout Cars in 1941. All featured four-wheel drive transmissions, radios and were armed with two .30-caliber and one .50-caliber machine gun. 200 of these vehicles were intended to replace the 194 Marmon-Herrington "3-Man Tanks" which had been delayed and were not expected to arrive until mid-1942.
Only 40 arrived before the fall of Java and the rest were probably delivered to the U.S. Army. The KNIL vehicles were assigned to cavalry reconnaissance units on Java and took part in a number of skirmishes and holding actions against the Japanese. Those not destroyed in action were probably wrecked to prevent their capture.
Bantam GP "Blitzbuggy"
Although an earlier version without 4-wheel drive transmission, this was essentially the same jeep manufactured by the Willys Corporation throughout World War II and operated by the U.S. Army well into the mid-1980s. The KNIL ordered a total of 700 vehicles by October 1941, 300 of which arrived before the surrender of Java. They were assigned to cavalry squadrons in a reconnaissance role with the White Scout Cars and Alvis Straussler armoured cars. They were armed with 1-2 light or heavy machine guns and a few also had mobile radios. Their eventual fate is unknown, but some were undoubtedly captured when Java fell.
Marmon-Herrington Mk.III armoured Car
The KNIL received 49 of these obsolescent armoured cars from South Africa shortly before the fall of Java. They were shipped to the NEI in place of the M1936 light tanks seized by the British Army following the outbreak of war in Europe. All were veterans of the Desert War and arrived badly worn and without armament. Due to constant front-line duty without proper maintenance, their engines badly needed overhaul and the four-wheel drive transmission on many of the vehicles was also out.
Although hampered by a critical shortage of trained mechanics and technical personnel, KNIL depot units were able to arm each vehicle with a Vickers heavy machine gun and make 27 of the Marmon-Herringtons operational before the Japanese landed on Java. From these, two independent squadrons were formed, while a reconnaissance platoon with three vehicles was attached to the KNIL's Mobile Column.
After the surrender of the NEI, a number of captured Marmon-Herringtons were used by the Japanese for occupation duties. They later turned the surviving vehicles over to Indonesian nationalists at the end of the Pacific War, who operated a number against British and Dutch forces on Java. In turn, returning Dutch troops recaptured and operated several of these vehicles as well.
"Overvalwagens" armoured Car
Unable to quickly procure sufficient quantities of
armoured vehicles, the KNIL turned to the Braat Steel Works in Batavia
and the Soerabaja Drydock Company (a shipyard!) on Java for assistance.
These companies converted several hundred 4x2 trucks into armoured cars
using boiler plating. The result was a functional, but heavy and
hard-to-handle vehicle resembling an armoured bank car. There were three
- A personnel carrier with 2 x Vickers 7.7mm machine guns
- A patrol car with 4 x Madsen 6.5mm machine guns
- An airfield defence car with 1 x .50-caliber machine gun
Although initially planned and built for reserve and Home Guard units, these vehicles were pressed into service all over the Netherlands East Indies. In addition to Borneo, Tarakan and Java, they saw heavy combat at Menado, Kema and Palembang. In addition, a platoon of Overvalwagens was deployed to Billiton Island in February 1942 to support a company of the KNIL's 9th Infantry Battalion. It is unclear if the vehicles were abandoned when the island was evacuated, or if they were lost when Japanese bombers sank their transport in the Banka Strait.
A number were destroyed in action at the places listed above, including at least one knocked out at point-blank range by a Japanese tank on Java. Many others were captured by the Japanese and used for occupation duties. After the war, Indonesian nationalists also used them against Dutch and British forces in their war of independence.
Harley Davidson Motorcycles
The KNIL equipped its front-line and Home Guard units with a large number of motorcycles, including both solo machine and sidecar combinations. The bulk of these bikes had been purchased from Harley-Davidson and BMW. They were primarily used for reconnaissance and courier duties in areas where motorized vehicles and jeeps couldn't penetrate the jungle. A number were also converted into ambulances to carry wounded on stretchers attached to the sidecar.
At the time of Pearl Harbor, the KNIL owned 1,100 solo motorcycles and 450 more equipped with sidecars. Another 500 privately owned solo bikes could be immediately impressed for military use when war broke out. Still, the KNIL estimated that it needed an additional 400 solo motorcycles to equip its expanding armoured and reconnaissance formations.
The Dutch first attempted to place an order for these machines with Indian Motorcycle Company in the United States. However, the plant was backlogged and could not accept the order. The N.P.C. then turned to Harley-Davidson, which accepted an increased order for 800 "normal Army Models" with spare parts, tires and tubes. 400 of these were scheduled to deliver in December 1941 under the Lend-Lease Act, although it remains unknown if any of them arrived before the fall of Java.
Marmon-Herrington & Caterpillar Tractors
After the Germans seized its prewar orders for Praga and Vickers artillery tractors, the KNIL turned to the Marmon-Herrington and Caterpillar plants for replacements. In mid-1941, the KNIL notified the United States Government that it needed 185 light 6-ton artillery tractors, although none were ever ordered. They also stated the need for 105 T.B.S. 30 tractors in the 6-8 ton range for use in hauling AT and AA guns, although these were never ordered either.
The KNIL also listed a requirement for 50 heavy tractors in the 9-11 ton range for use with heavy bridging equipment. In addition, they stated the need for 100 pieces of construction equipment, including bulldozers and scrapers that would be ordered from Caterpillar at a later date. This equipment was likely planned for use in upgrading Java's extensive road network and bridges, which in 1941 could not accept armoured vehicles larger than a light tank.
Shortly after the Japanese landed on Java, the Mobile Column spearheaded a major counter-attack against Japanese units holding Soebang village and Kalidjati airfield on Eastern Java. Although all three tank platoons successfully penetrated the Japanese lines and briefly operated at will, the mechanized infantry company was unable to advance at the same pace. As a result, the tanks were cut off in an urban environment without infantry support. The Japanese then brought up 47mm AT guns and were able to knock out a number of tanks and armoured cars.
The Dutch attack stalled as night approached and the Column's commander decided to withdraw his forces and regroup. Although a few tanks had radios, most (including the newly arrived Marmon-Herringtons) did not, so he was forced to send motorcycles onto the battlefield carrying the orders to fall back. By the time the Dutch forces managed to extricate themselves, losses numbered 13 tanks, one armoured car, five Overvalwagens and one AT gun. In addition, the Column suffered 14 dead, 13 wounded and 36 missing.
By December 1941, all but one KNIL cavalry unit had been motorized.
Although none of the units were up to strength, the
authorized strength of a typical cavalry squadron on paper consisted of:
· 1 x command group
· 2 x jeep platoons (each with 11 x jeeps and support weapons consisting of two 7.7mm medium and six 6.5mm light machine guns)
· 1 x armoured car platoon (consisting of 1 x White Scout Car and 3 x Alvis Straussler armoured cars)
Squadron support weapons numbered 8 heavy machine guns (12.7mm Browning), 14 medium machine guns (Vickers 7.7mm) and 19 light machine guns (6.5mm Madsen or Lewis guns).
However, at the time of the Japanese invasion of Java,
this reorganization was incomplete. As a result, the organization
of the reconnaissance platoons was much closer to the following:
· 1st Cavalry Squadron - 2 or 3 Alvis Straussler armoured cars supported by an unknown number of White Scout Cars and Jeeps. Weapons included 100 carbines, 19 Madsen light machine guns (short barrel), 14 machine guns and 8 .50-caliber heavy machine guns.
· 2nd Cavalry Squadron - Identical to the 1st Cavalry Squadron
· 3rd Cavalry Squadron - 2 Jeep platoons, consisting of 3 groups each with two Madsen light machine guns (short barrel) and 1 machine gun platoon)
· 4th Cavalry Squadron - Identical to the 1st Cavalry Squadron
· 5th Cavalry Squadron - The lone non-motorized formation during the Java campaign. Deployed to Western Java, it had an authorized strength of 3 officers, 108 men, 109 horses, 3 trucks, 2 motorcycles and 1 bicycle. Support weapons consisted of 9 Madsen light machine guns (carbine version) and 100 troopers armed with carbines.
· Lijfwacht Cavalry - Identical to the 1st Cavalry Squadron, although its organization was incomplete.
written by Jacques Jost
During the 30s, Vickers-Carden-Loyd (VCL) was the major British tank manufacturer for both the home and foreign markets. The various light tanks were built in several variations and exported to many countries. The largest order for Light Tanks came from an now almost totally forgotten organisation: the Royal Netherlands Indies Army ...
The Royal Dutch Indies Army, Koninklijk Nederlands-Indisch Leger in Dutch (KNIL), had a first experience with armoured cars in 1934. 3 armoured cars were ordered in 1933 from the Dok- en Werf-Maatschappij Wilton-Fijenord, a Dutch dockyard in Schiedam near Rotterdam. One car was shipped to the NEI for trials in 1934, but was found unsatisfactory and was shipped back to the Netherlands ...
Both Allied and Japanese forces used few armoured vehicles during the fighting on various places on the island of Borneo. Used piecemeal, they never had a great influence on the outcome of the fighting. They are also seldom mentioned in books, reports or diaries.