Isaac Israëls, Het transport der kolonialen (Transport of the Colonial Soldiers), showing recruits for the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army walking through Rotterdam to their transport to the Dutch East Indies
The KNIL was formed by royal decree on 10 March 1830. It was not part of the Royal Netherlands Army, but a separate military arm specifically formed for service in the Netherlands East Indies. Its establishment coincided with the Dutch drive to expand colonial rule from the 17th century area of control to the far larger territories comprising the Dutch East Indies seventy years later, which remain the present boundaries of Indonesia.[not in citation given]
In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the KNIL prosecuted the conquest of the Indonesian archipelago. After 1904 the Netherlands East Indies were considered pacified, with no large-scale armed opposition to Dutch rule until World War II, and the KNIL served a mainly defensive role protecting the Dutch East Indies from the possibility of foreign invasion.
Once the archipelago was considered pacified the KNIL was mainly involved with military police tasks. To ensure a sizeable European military segment in the KNIL and reduce costly recruitment in Europe the colonial government introduced obligatory military service for all male conscripts in the European legal class in 1917. In 1922 a supplemental legal enactment introduced the creation of Home Guard (Dutch: Landstorm) for European conscripts older than 32.
No large-scale armed threat to Dutch rule existed until World War II.
Dutch forces in the Netherlands East Indies were severely weakened by the defeat and occupation of the Netherlands itself, by Nazi Germany, in 1940. The KNIL was cut off from external Dutch assistance, except for Royal Netherlands Navy units. The KNIL hastily and inadequately attempted to transform into a modern military force able to protect the Dutch East Indies from foreign invasion. By December 1941, Dutch forces in Indonesia numbered around 85,000 personnel: regular troops comprised about 1,000 officers and 34,000 enlisted soldiers, of whom 28,000 were indigenous. The remainder were made up of locally organised militia, territorial guard units and civilian auxiliaries. The KNIL air force, Militaire Luchtvaart KNIL (Royal Netherlands East Indies Air Force (ML-KNIL)) numbered 389 planes of all types, but was largely outclassed by superior Japanese planes. The Royal Netherlands Navy Air Service, or MLD, also had significant forces in the NEI.
During the Dutch East Indies campaign of 1941–42 most of the KNIL and other Allied forces were quickly defeated. Most European soldiers, which in practice included all able bodied Indo-European males, were interned by the Japanese as POWs. 25% of the POWs did not survive their internment.
A handful of soldiers, mostly indigenous personnel, mounted guerilla campaigns against the Japanese. These were usually unknown to, and unassisted by, the Allies until the end of the war.
Sumatra High Command, overseeing the island of Sumatra, commanded by MG R.T. Overakker. The Sumatra High Command divided into four territorial commands, i.e. North Sumatra, West Sumatra, Riouw and South Sumatra.
North Sumatra Territorial Command, overseeing northern part of Sumatra, commanded by Col G.F.V. Gosenson. Territorial units
North Sumatra 1st Garrison battalion, based in Koetaradja
North Sumatra 2nd Garrison battalion, based in Koetaradja
The KNIL was disbanded by 26 July 1950 with its indigenous personnel being given the option of demobilizing or joining the Indonesian military. However, efforts to integrate former KNIL units were impeded by mutual distrust between the predominantly Ambonese KNIL troops and the Javanese-dominated Republican military; leading to clashes at Makassar in April and the attempted secession of an independent Republic of South Maluku (RMS) in July. These revolts were suppressed by November 1950 and approximately 12,500 Ambonese KNIL personnel and their families opted for temporary resettlement in the Netherlands. Following this, the KNIL ceased to exist but its traditions are maintained by the Regiment Van Heutsz of the modern Royal Netherlands Army. At the time of disbandment the KNIL numbered 65,000, of whom 26,000 were incorporated into the new Indonesian Army. The remainder were either demobilised or transferred to the Netherlands Army.
Decorated indigenous KNIL soldiers, 1927.
During the 19th century the KNIL recruited Dutch volunteers, European mercenaries of other nationalities (especially Germans, Belgians and Swiss). During the protracted Aceh War the numbers of European troops were kept to 12,000 but continued Achenese resistance necessitated the deployment of up to 23,000 indigenous soldiers (mainly from Java, Ambon, and Manado). Even slaves of the Ashanti (Ivory Coast and Ghana) were recruited in limited numbers for service in the East Indies (see Belanda Hitam). The ratio of foreign and indigenous troops to those of Dutch origin was reported to be 60% to 40%. After the Aceh War, the enlistment of non-Dutch European troops ceased and the KNIL came to consist of Dutch regulars recruited in the Netherlands itself, Indonesians, Indos (Eurasians), and Dutch colonists living in the East Indies and undertaking their military service.
Indigenous KNIL troops, 1938
It was against the law to send Dutch conscripts from the Netherlands to the Netherlands East Indies but Dutch volunteers continued to enlist for colonial service. In 1890 a Colonial Reserve (Koloniale Reserve) was established in the Netherlands itself to recruit and train these volunteers and to re-integrate them into Dutch society upon the conclusion of their overseas service. On the eve of the Japanese invasion in December 1941, Dutch regular troops in the East Indies comprised about 1,000 officers and 34,000 men, of whom 28,000 were indigenous. The largest contingent of these indigenous troops had always consisted of Javanese and Sundanese soldiers. During the Japanese occupation, most of the Dutch and Ambonese personnel were interned in POW camps.
During the Indonesian National Revolution, the KNIL's officers were still largely Dutch and Eurasians although most of its troops were recruited from predominantly Christian eastern Indonesia, particularly the South Moluccas, Timor and Manado. Although there were smaller numbers of Javanese, Sundanese, Sumatran and other Muslim troops in Dutch service, these received comparatively lower rates of pay than their Christian counterparts, leading to resentment and distrust. The Dutch sought to take advantage of these ethnic tensions by claiming that the Ambonese would lose their special privileges and pensions under a Javanese-dominated government. As noted above, these factors contributed to clashes between demobilized KNIL units and the Republic of Indonesia's military throughout 1950.
^ abVickers, Adrian. (2005) A History of Modern Indonesia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p10–11
^Ibrahim, Alfian. "Aceh and the Perang Sabil." Indonesian Heritage: Early Modern History. Vol. 3, ed. [[Anthony Reid (academic)|]], Sian Jay and T. Durairajoo. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, 2001. p132–133
^Willems, Wim ‘Sporen van een Indisch verleden (1600-1942).’ (COMT, Leiden, 1994). Chapter I, P.32-33 ISBN 90-71042-44-8
^Willems, Wim ‘Sporen van een Indisch verleden (1600-1942).’ (COMT, Leiden, 1994). Chapter I, P.32-36 ISBN 90-71042-44-8
^The complicated story of the disbanding of the KNIL is set out briefly here. For a more extended analysis see Manuhutu (1987); Steylen (1996: 33–63); van Amersfoort (1982: 101–8). The psychological impact of the dissolution of the KNIL on the Ambonese servicemen is described in Wittermans (1991).