Interview with Felix Bakker

the Netherlands
The Netherlands

Name & Surname: Felix Bakker
City of Birth & Country: Soekaboemi, Java Island, the Dutch East Indies
Rank in the Royal Dutch Marine Corps in 1942: Marinier Third Class

[This interview with Mr. Felix Bakker was done in February 2001 via e-mail and is posted here by his kind permission.]

Felix, please tell us a little about your background.

When I became 16 years old in October 1941, the war was already more than two years old and my fathers country Holland was occupied by the Germans. I was living in a small town called Sukabumi, West-Java, and at that time still at secondary school. I was not so naive to believe that the Netherlands East Indies would stay out and not to be involved in that war. So I decide to join the Marines, because at the age of sixteen you may join the Navy and the Marines. The other reason was that my mother was an Indonesian, so as a Eurasian, born and raised in Java, I consider it my duty if need be, to fight for what I consider at that time my country. So November 24th, 1941 was the date of my enrollment in the Marine Corps. Well, as you know on December 8th, after Pearl Harbor, our Government declared the War on Japan. A full three months later at Ngandjoek and Kertosono, East-Java I got my fire-baptism, with the Marine Batallion.

I see. Actually it is interesting how people in the Dutch East Indies knew at that time that the war with Japan is imminent, yet the leadership and especially the KNIL was not preparing itself for the war properly. No joint-plans were made with Allieds, no additional training...what all later contributed to the Allieds defeat. It is a known example from the Java Sea battle where the Dutch, British, Australian and American ships were using each of their own code book... Were you perhaps an eyewitness to any defence preparations in the Dutch East Indies before the start of the war ? Maybe in your home town ?

I had not seen any defence preparations, because in Sukabumi there was not one KNIL soldier at all. Only town's police and of more importance, the school (the only) for policemen of the N.E.I.

This is a bit strange. I thought that each reasonably large city in NEI had its own military garrison in order to control the sorrounding areas. Yet, I guess the KNIL HQ was the opinion that the police school was already enough for the town's defence ... ?

As far as concerning the police school in Sukabumi, I believe your guessing is right about the conception of HQ KNIL.

Does this mean that you have to travelled from Soekaboemi (Sukabumi) to Soerabaja, where the marines had their headquarters in the Goebeng barracks in order to join the marines (i.e. there was no marines in Soekaboemi to my knowledge)? What was your father and mother reaction finding up that you have joined the army ? Were they against or they supported your act ? Did you see any other volunteers who wanted to join the marines together with you ?

To join the marines I went to Surabaya at the baracks in Goebeng. My mother had no objection and my father died several years before. Three classmates also applied for the marines.

Was the same feeling also present among your colleagues in your school class for example ? What was the general feeling among the native, especially Javanese population about the coming war ? It is a known fact that the only troops the Dutch could thrusted, besides the Dutch (white) one, were those composed from Ambonese and Menadoese soldiers, while the Javanese were not exactly to be thrusted.

In my opinion the general feeling of the Javanese people was indifference. Most of the people in the inland had not even the faintest idea about that there was already a war on. Only the Indonesian intellectuals and nationalists knew that.

What was the general opinion of the Dutch population about those Indonesian nationalist movements? Exist there also any Indonesian political or nationalist groups which perhaps supported the Dutch authorities ?

There was a different opinion in the Dutch population about the Indonesian nationalist movement. In general they rejected the call for Indonesian independence. Only a minority, and after May 10th, 1940, a growing number are tending to acknowledge the strife for self-determination. But also, the Dutch Goverment in London and the mayarity want not listen. Even the fact that several moderate Indonesian nationalist organisations had given twice a manifesto of loyalty to the N.E.I. Goverment, the first on 10 May 1940, when Holland was occupied by the Germans, and the second time with the outbreak of the Pacific War, made no difference. With their manifesto the Indonesians hoped and expected the Dutch will give an opening for negotations and giving some concrete proposals for future independence of Indonesia. They referred for example to the USA and the Philipines. Again in their shortsightedness the Dutch Goverment did not come to meet those secular and islamic nationalists, not even halfway. When war broke out, the Japanese propaganda, aimed at the people of Western colonies in South East Asia, came to full intensity, promising liberation and Asian co-prosperity. So it is not difficult to guess how the attitude was of the majority of the Indonesian nationalists, even of those moderates.

Did the marines had their own training ground where you train ? Did you conduct any military exercises for the jungle warfare or went let's say outside the barracks for the exercises in the nature (crossing rivers, climbing mountains...) ?

The marines in Surabaya had their very limited training ground around the rifle range some kilometers distance from the outskirts of the city. There was no time or transport for training inland for instance in mountainous terrain.

Which company did you serve in and who was your commanding officer ? Did you have any training before March 1942, when Japanese troops landed on Java ?

Battalion commander was Lt. Col. Roelofsen and my company commader was 1st Lieutenant Nas.
Sure we start first with basic miltary training, but immidiately after December 8th, 1941, our training was adjusted to the situation, what means shorter basic training and intensive field training by day and by night; many hours a day learning sharp-shooting at the rifle range, extensive close combat and and bayonet fighting. It were very tough months for us, so in March, we were eager to prove that we were ready for combat. Quite boyish toughts. Because we had not yet trained in units like a company let alone as a battalion. So I was placed in the First Marine Company of the Marine Battalion. This battalion also consisted of 2 companies of Navy Militia.

What kind of tactic did you train then to use in combat against the Japanese? Inflitrate through their positions, for static defence...? Were you ever provided with any information about the Japanese forces ?
Did you in your company ever fought of guerilla war ?

We were then tactically trained to eliminate enemy troops in case of attacks from parachutists and for other small scale operations. I never heard about guerrilla warfare till the moment of our retreat to the mountain ciy of Malang, March 7th. As I can remember no static defence for us; that was primary a KNIL task. Information about the Japanese forces - we got little or nothing really useful.

It is widely believed that there was approx. 400 marines in the East Indies in December 1941, and I count here only "ground" marines, those who were in Goebeng. Have not counted those who were aboard the ships. I think that some even were shipped to USA before March 1942 for some additional training. So my next question here would be how come that there was "only" 400 marines in the Dutch East Indies in December 1941? There were considered the best elite troops the Netherlands had in that time and it would be expected that a large number of them would be send to NEI, which was one of the richest colonies in Asia ?

I do not kwow exactly how many marines there were in the N.E.I in December 1942. On the cruisers "De Ruyter","Java" and "Tromp" an estimate of 250, I think. I only know from records of the Netherlands War Graves Foundation, that in the last battle of the Java Sea, 42 marines of the De Ruyter, and 57 marines of the Java were killed together with their marine detachment commanders. During the battle in Badoeng Strait a short time before about four marines were killed.
Klemen, I can tell you for sure,there were definitely no 400 "ground" marines in the Goebeng barracks, December 1941. Because in January, 1942 they were beginning to organise a "Marine Half Battalion". And I am strongly convinced, our recruit classes, meanwhile included into this formation. The Dutch Marine Corps (Korps Mariniers), exists since many years only as a very small contingent of the Navy. Due to the economic policy of the thirty years and before, it was even suggested in the thirties by leftist members of the parlement, to abolish the whole corps. The marines who were sent to the USA were sent for the purpose of the organisation of a Dutch Marine Brigade, March 1943.

Do you recall the March 1st when the Japanese troops landed at Kragan ? What orders you recieve ? Some sources I have read says that the Dutch Marine Battalion formed together with 6th NEI Infantry regiment a weak (weka due lack of soldiers and the size of the line which was too big) defence line along Solo River, which should stop the Japanese advance ? Is that true ?

I do not think that the we are ment to reenforce the 6th KNIL Regt., but came under direct command of 3d division Cdr., East Java. The Marine bataljon was intended to operate as a mobile unit. We must avoid a misunderstanding about the name marine bataljon. Litterally translated in English, it means Naval Battalion. If it is a battalion of marines, then in Dutch the should be "Mariniers Bataljon". So by order of the Cdr. of 3rd KNIL Division on February 28th, 1942, the "Half Bataljon Mariniers" had to incorporate 2 companies of naval militia personnel of the naval base guard unit (M.B.A. Marine Bewakings Afdeling). They lacked of training of marines. The newly shaped unit named as "Marine Bataljon" and had a strenght of about 400 men. The 1st of March 1942 as I can recall, the then two days old newly formed Marine bataljon was confined to barracks. A stand-bye for an immidiate marching out, at the order of the 3rd KNIL Division Commader.

Frits, when did you unit received an order to move out from the barracks to the battlefield ? Where were you send first ? When did you first encounter the Japanese troops and could you briefly describe this engagment ?

Our unit for the first time did receive the order to move inland was at March 2nd, but was cancelled the same day. Only one section of marines, transport equipment with sidecar-motorbikes were sent to nortwest of Surabaya near Grissik. Some Indonesian from the civil administration have been murdered that day by a group of plundering bandits. On request of the governor of East Java the KNIL Division Commander give Roelofsen, Cdr. of the Marine Bataljon the order for movement. So within 12 hours the matter was fixed by that marine section and from Grissik they had to make a reconaissaance patrol westward as far as the place Babad at the Solo River bridge over there. They encountered no Japanese and came dogtired back to Surabaya on 4 March.
That night at about 21:00 hours, we after getting the order again, move to Djombang. I was with the first marine section under command of Warrant Officer named Faber. We arrived I think at about 24:00 hours or bit later. Encamped in a school building and I belong to the first turn of guard duty, but not for long because our section reinforced with one overvalwagen of one of the militia companies got the order for a reconnaissance in force under command of 1st Lt. Nas, to Ngandjoek or farther to intercept infiltrated Japanese forces.
By daybreak we took position at the western outskirts of Ngandjoek between the road bridge and the railway bridge. Very short time later we saw the retreating KNIL motorized cavalry eskadron approaching and passing our line to continue their retreat. Then a Japanese seaplane came at low height and we heard his machingun firing at the retreating unit. Let me first tell you about our strenght: at the most forty marines, includeding militia drivers. My marine section consisted of four rifle squads. Each rifle squad had 6 privates and one corporal what makes altogether 7 men. The two squads had one sergeant, so one section of 4 squads had plus the section commader and his 1 batman, altogether 32 men. Our section belonged to the so called "Detachment Nas". Weapons of section: 2 Lewis light MGs of year 1904; 2 light MGs of Italian made Scotti-Breda war booty from North Afrika (very bad unreliable weapons). Rifle squad commander had rank of corporal and was armed with a tommygun and we with Mannlicher rifles Model 1895. Each men had 2 handgrenades. That was our whole weaponry. Our section were equipped as transport with three overvalwagens. You know that trucks built around with armour plates but without one of the earmarked heavy MG 0.50. But fortunately the overwalwagen of the militia company was armed with a 0.50 Machine-Gun, and last but not least with an old 37 mm canon, used by the marines in landing-sloops; with marines as the driver and as MG plus canon crew. That was all we had at the moment of our first clash with the Japanese.
The "kanonwagen" was posted beside of the road just behind the bridge. We do not have to wait for long and all at once the canon commenced firing, a nice thundering sound to hear. But then everyone of us were firing at the approaching Japanese infantry in a line, left and right from the road through the padifields and bushes. It was an eardeafening hell of firing all around. All that matters was now to keep calm when aiming and firing at your targets and in that way I had the satisfaction to made some hits. But then the Japs throwing at us with their mortar shells, aimed in the first place at our MG's, so we had to move them every now and then. We realized then that they were not infitrated patrols but for sure at least a battalion because they soon easily attacked us from our rear. In the meantime our wagens were turned around at the road and with firing to the left and right from the wagens, we broke through their line behind us, just before they can put up a road block to stop us. In the centre of the small town Ngandjoek we take positions again about 600 metres from our first line.
And again hell broke loose and now the seaplane made diving flights at us but not firing his MGs, because the confusional situation on the ground with enemy and friendly troops fighting within short distances between houses and gardens. Again we were surrounded by them and now we had to walk beside our wagens in the breaktrough. At the road crossing we went into the southward direction road to Kediri, where we had to take position again about 3 km south of Ngandjoek, but the whole advanced Japanese force after the fight went through direction Kertosono. We would meet them there again later that day.

I have to add something to my info about that Marine motorbike section at Grissik, because of fatigue there was an road accident and one men died and the driver was seriously wounded, so this were our first dead casualties in March '42.

Was perhaps the motorised cavalry unit, which was hastily retreating by your positions, the 3rd Cavalry (Motorised) Squadron of 1st Cavalry Regiment ?

That cavalry unit was indeed the 3d Motorised Cavalry Squadron, commanded by Ritmeester (captain of the cavalry) De Iongh. They had been in action at the Solo River bridge near Tjepu on March 2 and in the fight at Tjaruban the night of March 4th. They looked tired, sleepy and dejected. Their morale seemed low. So Nas could understand why De Iongh told him his troops were to tired to try again ckecking the Japanese advance at Ngandjoek together with the marines.

Did you carry any rucksacks during the marches in which you had spare ammunition ? Did marines had any German machine-gun pistols like Schmeisser's ?

No, we had no Schmeissers, the KNIL had it, and also we marines had no mortars at all, so when the Japanese used his very efficient light 50mm mortars, we were very handicapped.

Were the Japanese troops advancing day and night ? Did they used in night times any infiltration tactics, like small groups of soldiers breaking through enemy lines and conducting mess behind the enemy lines, like they were doing so gladly on Malaya, when small detachments of Japanese soldiers broke through British defence lines and started with small rifle fire, so that British and Indian units, although being ten times stronger than that detachment, thought they're surounded and they promptly retreated or in some cases even surrendered ?

That is exactly what they did; same tactics as in Malaya.

Did you afterwards tried to stop the Japanese advance elsewhere ? Could you briefly describe this engagments ? Very little is known about them, at least I haven't read or got many information about them. Usually all the books says that the Japanese quickly occupied the town and rapidly advance on to their next target...

When the mainbody of the attacking Japanese forces went straight to Kertosono, the detachment Nas was waiting for them on the road to Kediri near Lotjeret, where we had the order to block an eventual Japanese advance to Kediri, by delaying tactics. All the time Nas could only communicate with Roelofsen by civil phone connections from the local post office at Ngandjuk (by his aide during the fighting) and in Kediri no radio equipment was available. When we stopped at Lotjeret Lt. Nas pointed to me and to the batman of the section cdr., who had a tommy-gun, that we had to stay at that cross road and if the Japanese would come in our direction for Kediri, we had to hold them up as long as possible so that the detachemnt had time to took position about two kilometers farther behind a small river again. From there Nas sent an aid by motorbike to the telephone office at Kediri to report the situation to Roelofsen. But when the Japanese did not apear we went to Kediri and there got the order to advance to Kertosono from the south and along the east-bank of the river Brantas. When we arrived at maybe 300 meters of the bridge of Kertosono, we run into an enemy force, which already had crossed the river. Our kanonwagen again in the lead commenced fire and again we were engaged in a fight. The road was quite narrow and on the left and right were fields of high grown sugarcanes, therefore we had very limited field of fire on the ground, so some men had to take position in the overwalwagen for getting a higher level for firing around. At first the Japanese were a bit surprised and confused by our attack, but not for long, because when they used their mortars again and begin to attack us from the flank, so we came into a thorny situation. Retreating was difficult because of the narrow road to turn around the overvalwagens, which a damaged one blocked the road and had to be pushed aside. The situation became more serious when the Japanese hastily brought into bear against our kanonwagen in the first place of course, an antitank gun, but when it start firing our all our wagens were already around a bend of the road. Nevertheless they kept firing at point blank in the hope to gain a lucky hit. During the fire fight our men in the wagons from their higher firing postion had a a good sight on the moving Japs by the undulation of the sugarcane plants, so could bring out well aimed fire. But for them too, it was not a relaxed turkey's shoot, because the "turkey's" were shooting back. Back to Kediri we went with the Japanese for some time still firing at us from behind. Back in Kediri, Lt. Nas got the order from Roelofsen to go back to Djombang via Pare, a southern route to Djombang. We arrived there by sunset. Very tired, sleepy (had not sleep since our depart from Surabaya), hungry and thirsty. So we had not any comprehension for what we heard about what happened with the 2nd Marine Company at Kertosono that day. Just only interested for food, drinking water and the blessing of a few hours sleep. But it worked out to be wishful thinking. We only had some food and drinking water and a bit relaxing, but we soon alerted in the dark evening, because rifle and MG fire and mortars, which we could hear too, was coming from the west side of Djombang. And then when some of us who stood at the side of a street listening all this and looking, we saw a couple of sedan cars loaded with army officers in it, passing by and driving fast in eastern direction. We could not say anything but just looking at each other. I have red somewhere a sentence in a book something like this "nothing deflates morale more rapidly than seeing an officer leave in haste". For us no morale problems, those were army officers. It was for the first time I saw such thing. But we saw it repeatedly in the next two days, and everytime it was followed by the order to pack and move for retreat.

What about battle at Kertosono ?

I will write to you now the story of Kertosono from what I know of official sources and of that of some of my comrades of the 2nd Marinie Company under command of Lt. Den Hartog. On the morning of the 5th March, their still exist the (2nd, 3rd??) plan of General Ilgen, the 3rdd division commander, to make a counter-attack with two collums, one consisting of 6th KNIL Rgt. by Colonel van Kuilenburg - the north collum from Bodjonegoro and south collum under Lt.Col. Roelofsen with mechanised cavalry squadron led by Cpt. de Iongh. Both with the object to march toward Tjepu to destroy the emergency bridge the Japanese had made there and so stop their further advance. He still had the supposition that the Japanese had not yet only patrol units as strong as a battalion on the south side of the Solo river. Inconprehensible to think such silly thing, that 4 days after landing in force and with no resistance during the landing and just a few at Tjepu the Japanese were not able to cross with his main force the river. The scarce but reliable information he got from 3rd cavalry and 6th Inf.Rgt. patrols. He pushed these aside and cling to his plan of a counter-attack. That means a move by daylight by his forces without any aircover. But on March 1st, early in the morning, he cancelled his first (?) plan for attacking the Japanese landing force at Kragan because during the day they would be observed from the air and sea along the beach road even in spite of available small paralel roads for such a move, and ... because of the "superior forces" of the enemy. This last thing caused angry mood at some of his subordinates, especially Colonel van Kuilenburg of the 6th KNIL Inf. Rgt. who has said something like "our navy and our airforce had done their duty against a superior force too and honourably went down". In my opinion that with the forces under his command and the following mobile units later, there was a chance of some succes and in keeping the honour of the KNIL, even at the sacrifice of some units involved. Before six in the morning he got already reports from patrols and coastwatch that a landing at Kragan was taking place.
So the situation in the morning of March 5, was that the Cavarly Squadron No.3 was retreating from Solo River, Ngawi, Caruban, Detachment Nas was in Ngandjuk, the 2nd Marine Company was sent to Kediri first then after changing 3rd Division orders via Roelofsen, to Kertosono. On their way to Kertosono they came across the retreating elements of 3rd Cavalry. To add to the vagueness and cunfusion, Ilgen had formed a " Southgroup", under command of Colonel van Dyke, for defence of the two bridges at Kertosono, consisting of 2 rifle companies of Javanese soldiers at the east bank of the Brantas river and one more inf. company in reserve, about 5 km behind, together with 2 artillery batteries and the Battalion HQs. The moment the 2nd Marine Company, about 80 men strong, arrived there, there were no more KNIL troops in the small town of Kertosono, located at the westbank. They were told there were still no Japanese there and den Hartog crossed the bridge into the town with his men. One section in overvalwagens, the other with motorbikes (same of the Grissik action). The collum came to a stand still when den Hartog went to the office of the Indonesian civilian administrator trying to communicate with Roelofsen by the telephone of that office. And at that time the Japanese, who were already arrived in Kertosono opened fire. So the figthing began. It was probably the same Japanese battalion as in Ngandjuk, but now reinforced with more regimental units like heavy MG company, anti-tank company etc. So from the moment the battle begun, the marines suffered their first casualties. In the real confused battle situation the marines re-grouped and fought back as much as possible, while slowly retreating to the bridge, but just shortly before this bridge was blow up by the KNIL, so they had to use the railway bridge about 200 meters further down. At the same time the Javanese troops at the other bank, when they heard all the firing, started to in Kertosono,they start firing in panick to that direction ,so the marines were fire in the back of friendly forces. Fortunately just for a short time because the Javanese troops left their positions and retreat. For several hours the fight in the streets of Kertosono lasted till the remaints of the marine company were across the river, after they had to fight their way till on the railway bridge with hardly any cover. They had all the way to endure intensive mortar fire also when they were at the other side. Because of the heavy mortar fire, the marines and with them several militia drivers of the vehicles, who were weaponed only with a pistol, had to disperse and in went in smaller groups direction Djombang. The first groups were lucky because they could join the last retreating troops of the army in their vehicles. Also the artillerie batteries, located 5 km from Kertosono, had not may fired one shot by order of South Group coammnder and later by the bat. cdr. Lt.Col. Roodenburg, and got the order to follow in the retreat of the infantry. Roelofsen was for the second time then that morning, on his way to Kertosono but now with the other section of the 1st Marines. But because of the traffic jam, caused by the chaotic retreating troops with their vehicles, it was nearly impossible to go forward and lost much of time to do any more good. His request to attack with the rest of his battalion with support of the artillery still on the spot then, was not permitted. He had to stay in Djombang because for not yet cancelled general Ilgen's order for the counter-attack he planned. This order was at last cancelled late in the afternoon when ultimately the general realized it is no more possible. As what I know now, our 2nd Company lost slightly more than a third of his strenght in Kertosono, and according to my Japanese correspondent source, especially two of their rifle companies suffered there their heaviest losses during the campaign in East Java.
Of course I know that the Japanese Monographs as official documents are not telling the details about the losses on their side. They were from the beginning not exactly accurate. A former Japanese soldier who I have spoken with and another who had written to me, told me about the censored number of dead and wounded in their regimental unit. Losses of the one company must not be mentioned to another company of the same regiment at all.

The battle of Kertosono has always been "marked" by a massacre of nine captured Dutch marines from the Den Hartong's detachment. Do you happen to know what exactly happen there and what was the reason for those nine men to be executed ?

When the 2nd Marine Company under Lt. Den Hartog had overcome the first shock of surprise when suddenly run into the enemy in the streets of Kertosono, they regrouped as fast and as much as possible. But although still dispersed in several groups with few to none visual contact because of their position between houses and alley-ways they fought back. Under pressure of the enemy attacks they moved backwards to the riverbank. As I told you before, while they were in a bitter fight, the bridge behind them were blown up by order of the division cdr., through KNIL Colonel van Dijk in spite of fierce protests of Roelofsen. But both officers could not get any form of communication with division cdr., so Van Dijk obeyed the order. The remnants of 2nd Company fight their way to the railway bridge, leaving the dead comrades behind, dragging their wounded all the way to and over the railway bridge. A very difficult matter because the exposed position on that bridge they had to continue firing. Most of them managed to reach the last retreating units of the KNIL some kilometres east of Kertosono. But one group of about 12 men straggling behind over the eastbank, where it was cut off by the Japanese troops who had been already crossing over the partly damaged road bridge. That group lost their way between the sugarcane fields and at the last, after more than four hours fighting, with practically no ammunition left, exhausted and thirsty and with two wounded comrades, no chance to breakout, so they surrendered.
Composition of the group was; 1 marine sergeant, 1 marine cadet sgt., 1 marine-cadet corpl., 4 young marine recruits like me, and 5 drivers (naval conscripts). The 4 marines and the 5 conscripts were Eurasians, the NCO's white Dutch. Nearly at sunset they were brought to a nearby rice-shed, all tied by hands and ankles with their leg-bandages (kind of leggins). There they lied the whole night, miserable and still thirsty without getting one drop of water, been kicked now and then and hit with riflebutt by their guards. Meanwhile the 3 N.C.O.'s with intervals had been interrogated under pressure and ill-treatment. By early daybreak, the 4 marines and the 5 drivers, all Eurasians, were bind to a line of trees along the road. The 3 NCO's were put aside the line at a distance of about 10 meters and ordered to look straight ahead. Then after some moments these three men could clearly heard that the nine where bayoneted to death. Then the Japanese soldiers threw the bloody rags they had used to clean their bayonets, into the faces of the Dutch NCO's. These 3 men, tightly binded at each other and to the truck were transported this way for two days without food or water to Surabaya POW camp.
Klemen, so far this is the story as told to us in prison camp and reported to the Dutch military authorities after the war, by the three survivors.

The Japanese soon overwhelmed the Dutch (marines) defence force at Djombang. Some troops retreated to Soerabaja, while other I think re-directed to Malang or Lamoenjang distict. Why did the marines didn't retreat into Soerabaja Fortress ? Were marines involved in any battles at Porong ?

From Djombang we were ordered to retreat nearby Modjokerto, but when arrived there to continue to Porong, we were riding as rear-guard behind the long column of army vehicles. The whole ride to Porong there was a slow and the flying seaplane was again observing our move but keepng himself out of range of our anti-aircraft machine-guns. We were told that we will in Porong, where are strong kind of fortifications of the KNIL, together with the troops already there, stay and fight. We took positions in real kind of trenches, with good field of fire in front and flank. We were there in the afternoon and when not had guard duty, men could rest for a while so preparing for the Jap night attack that surely would come as we thought. But after a couple of hours, again and much to our chagrin we got order to reatreat in the direction of Malang, without having one shot firing, because the Jap was not arrived in Porong when we still were there. Orders from Division commander had been time and again given and within half an hour cancelled and followed by a new order in contradiction to the former one. Like for Kertosono the orders from division cdr. were vague and causing misunderstanding on lower command level and mostly followed by counter-order. In his book, Nortier mentioned this also.

Frits, do you think you could hold a Japanese advance for a few days (let say two days) in Porong trenches, if this would be necessary ?

I have to make a correction again regarding my answer about Porong. We were not in Porong fortification but in sort of trenches in Pandakan several km's south of Porong. In my opinion now and also in 1942, we could had made a firm stand against the Japanese attack with a concentrated defence of marine bataljon, cavlary squadron No.3, another KNIL infantry batattalion with artillery and anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns, commanded by a capable and agressive leadership, for two or even more days. But in the end we will under the circumstances lost the battle of course. We knew that for sure, but so did our comrades (among them several schoolmates of mine from Sukabumi) which I have spoken before they were sailing out on 27 February, for their last battle on the Java Sea.

Did you ever saw any other Allied troops during March 1942 in East Java ? It is known that there was an American field artillery battery of 131st Field Artillery Rgt, stationed near Soerabaja.

No, I did not.

Has anyone from your military unit (outfit) opted to go into mountains and fight on the guerilla war ? Did you have any discussion about that before making the final decision ? What did your commander think about that ?

When we got the order to go to Malang it was at 7 March. On March 8th, we learned about the surrender but we thought only for Western Java. On that time we heard about continuing the fight as the guerrilla war. In the mountains south of Malang, Commander and officers of the Marine Battalion did not favor that guerrilla plan. First because the not so friendly and scared attitude of the Javanese people and probably also because the General van Ilgen in case of a guerrilla war, would take the overall coordinating command !! By radio broadcast we heard at the end that all the forces in Netherlands East Indies had to surrender by order of GHQ General Ter Poorten in Bandung. The "Marine Bataljon" surrendered on the 20 March 1942 in the village of Pasirian near the southcoast, as the only intact and well-organised unit of the 3rd KNIL Division, that had seen any action. There were no marines who opted for guerilla war. As I earlier wrote, our marine officers did not believe in it, and according to a special radio-broadcast from Bandung by a high military authority (I do not know who that was), we all had strictly order to surrender, otherwise we were considered deserters and responsible for enemy reprisals against our families in the cities. It was bitter but we had to accept. We had to wait for the Japanese till March 20, and after Roelofsen signed the surrender formalities. We were then in our own vehicles escorted by a Japanese unit to Malang.

Frits, do you happen to know what happen to Major-General G.A. Ilgen afterwards ? Did he survive the war ?

About Major-General Ilgen: I have only heard that he was during the first weeks in the same officers POW camp in Malang, many young officers did not hide their feelings of blaming him for bad leadership. Within in a couple of weeks, all senior officers from the rank of colonel were transported to a camp or prison in Bandung. After the war most of those senior KNIL officers were sent in pension, at least that is what I have heard.

During his time as a POW, Felix Bakker also had to work at the Thailand/Burma Railroad. Two months after the end of the Pacific War, he got a miltary re-training in Thailand. In February 1946, he came back to the Dutch East Indies with the "Red Elephant Brigade " from Thailand, landing on the island of Bali. The brigade, named in the Indonesian language the "Gadjah Merah", consisted of two KNIL infantry battalions and two companies of marines and sailors of the Dutch Navy, had the task to disarm the Japanese troops and to maintain peace and order on the island. About one month later, he was back in Soerabaja and was incorporated in the Netherlands Marine Brigade, that had been trained in the United States. Felix Bakker ended his service in the Dutch Marine Corps in 1950.

Veterans of the Dutch East Indies Index . Bibliography . Article List . Geographic Names
Copyright 2001 by Felix Bakker
Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942