THE DEFINITIVE BEGINNING OF THE END OF COLONIALISM FOR THE
KINGDOM OF THE NETHERLANDS.
Everywhere in the Dutch East-Indies, rumors, based on intelligence reports, were being spread, that Japan was becoming a formidable military power with an eye to it’s “Grand Design” of changing the Asian continent into an area, which they themselves had declared as: “Asia for the Asians”, whereby they would free most of the Asian nations of the yoke of Colonialism and turn them into free Asian nations, one of which was, of course, the Dutch East Indies, Holland’s rich Crown Colony, of which our family at the time were Citizens. Everywhere in the Indies we received information that the threat of an attack by Japanese Aircraft was imminent and we were instructed to build bomb shelters on each of our yards and premises. After the shelters were built, they meant a lot of fun and adventure for us ,children, as we had a chance to play hide and seek and other games in them. However, this fun time for me turned out to be short lived when my father, Dr. George W.F.Lucardie, a Government health Officer and Army surgeon in the Royal Dutch Army, announced that he had received orders from headquarters in Batavia (now Jakarta), that he was being transferred and that he would bring my mother and two younger sisters, Rosaline, who was 5 years old and Gertrude, 8 months old, with him. He was being transferred to North East Borneo and the island of Tarakan in charge of a Mobile Emergency Medical service platoon in Northeast Borneo.
They would be living in a small town named Tanjung Redeb in North East Borneo and he would be commuting between this small town and Tarakan island, 70 KM (approx. 40 miles to the North.) I was going to stay in a boarding house of a distant aunt on the Island of Java, since it was in the middle of the school year; I was in third grade then. Our family intended to be reunited at the beginning of the new school year. Alas, after the sad separation from my parents, it turned out to be THE Plan that NEVER materialized for me. We said the last farewell in Soekaboemi, in West Java, where my Dad at the time was resident Physician at the known Police Academy where police officers were recruited to serve in the whole Dutch East Indies. About one month before our separation and farewell I found it hard to fall asleep at night and when the day came my heart was racing with no end. We went to the railway station together. And when the departure whistle blew, my Dad stood at the steps of the caboose and he was waving us goodbye, while I did the same, teary eyed, until the train disappeared on the horizon as a black dot, a sight, which is forever engraved in my mind and soul. I cried for 24 hours after the farewell and then every night, for a month. Dad and I were very close. My older brother was always getting in trouble and into mischievous situation and my younger brother would not understand what was going on. At night when he had to visit some patients in the hospital, he would call me : “ Come Adik (Adik was my nickname, meaning younger brother in Indonesian, the name that our servants had given me), join me to the hospital and see my patients.” At the hospital we then went from ward to ward where he had his patients while Dad held me by the hand.
This separation from my Dad has had a deep and profound impact on my life and character and in some situations, even at my advanced age, subconsciously I get into a pensive mood and ask myself what Dad would have done…..
My Dad also took with him a whole Javanese family of servants with 13 children, a gardener and a driver. The name of the head of this servant’s family was Bison and his wife’s was Ripah. She was the constant babysitter of sister Gertrude, we called her Gerry, and she usually carried her around in a sling, made of a sarong, and the two were inseparable.
In this small town of Tandjung Redeb the Royal Dutch Army maintained a small garrison
where the National Guard was responsible for the protection of the rich coal mines of the Berau River Valley, an area approximately 14 KM (8 miles) to the North and near other small towns of Telukbayur and Rantaupanjang, North of the Suwaran Mountain.
My Dad was not the only military person who was deployed to this area. From many places in the Dutch Indies, military specialists were posted and assigned to this area in Northeast Borneo. The reason for this was that The Netherlands were suspecting that in case the Dutch East Indies were going to be attacked the Japanese would in the first instance attempt to gain Energy Security and try to invade the Mining areas of the Berau Valley and the Djuata oil fields and refinery of Dutch Shell Oil on the Island of Tarakan, which also had an air strip with an Air Base. Thus these two area were reinforced and primarily the island of Tarakan, where in the center of the island the Military Head-quarters with all the communication systems were located, near the Air base, surrounded by heavy anti aircraft Artillery posts. Also reinforced were three anti aircraft artillery units in the South of the island near the delta of the big Pamusian river in the small towns of Peningki, Karungan and Tandjung Pasir and one unit on the East coast of Tarakan near the small town of Amal. In the interim, all military units of the area were given the strict orders, that in case of a real attack by the Japanese, all the mining installations of the Berau Valley mines and all the oil installations on the island of Tarakan were to be sabotaged and destroyed. This order, it turned out, was not given too soon.
On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor, on the Hawaiian islands, were attacked by the Japanese and the American Pacific Fleet practically paralyzed (Japanese Code word: “Tora!Tora!Tora!”). After December 8, 1941, Tarakan repeatedly sustained unexpected air attacks. These attacks were apparently surveillance attacks to test the strength and the capabilities of the Dutch defense system.
On January 10, 1942, a surveillance sea plane of the Dutch Air Force, a Dornier Do-24K, spotted a gigantic Japanese invasion Armada heading for Tarakan Island and Northeast Borneo. After transmitting this finding to the Upper Command of the Royal Dutch Army, the Upper Command realized that the Dutch Armed Forces would not have the chance nor the capabilities to win it from the superior Japanese military powers and the command was issued to immediately start the total sabotage and destruction of the oil fields on Tarakan and the coal mines in the Berau Valley.
The hunch of the Dutch military command that these two areas in Borneo would be the first target of the Japanese, turned out to be accurate, since it was indeed the energy security which the Japanese needed to execute their plan for the invasion and occupation of all of the Dutch Indies colonies and the rest of Asia.
The air attacks, started in December 1941, were repeated more frequently until January 9, 1942, whereby the complex of the Upper Command of the Royal Dutch Army was completely destroyed, including the Communications center.
The Japanese invasion forces, consisting of the Right Wing unit of the Sakaguchi Detachment under the command of Major General Shizuo Sakaguchi, landed on the East coast of Tarakan at Amal on the 11th of January 1942. This Detachment was followed by the 2nd Kure Special Naval Landing Force. In the night of January 11, 1942, prior to the full blockade of the Island of Tarakan, a Dutch Submarine, the K-X, a Patrol Boat, the P-1 and a civilian motor launch boat, the Aida, managed to escape.
The minesweeper, the Prince of Orange, was not that fortunate and was spotted and sunk by a Japanese Destroyer, The Yamakaze and Japanese Patrol boat, the P-38.
The Royal Dutch East Indies Army had courageously fought off the Japanese in a brave and professional military manner, but finally had to surrender because it was outnumbered and the Japanese had tremendous weapon superiority. The Japanese had a total troop strength of 6,600 men against a Dutch troop force of 1,200 men.. And in the morning of January 12, 1942, the Dutch Forces were forced to raise the white flag at the High Command Post of the City of Tarakan, under the Command of Lieutenant Colonel S. De Waal, but not before all means of military communications of the Royal Dutch East Indies Army had been completely destroyed and paralyzed, with the consequence that the military personnel at the heavy Naval Artillery posts in the South of Tarakan Island, at the towns of Peningki, Karoengan and Tandjoeng Pasir had no clue whether or not the Royal Dutch Army Command in Tarakan City had already surrendered and the fighting unconditionally and officially stopped.
Suddenly, on the same morning of January 12, 1942 at 8.00 a.m., the personnel at the Naval Artillery posts in the South sighted two Japanese Destroyers sailing north and carrying the white flags, obviously fully equipped and heavily armed.
The Artillery personnel didn’t exactly know what to think about this situation. They could not contact Head Command, but finally came to the conclusion that it could be a Japanese trick, not unlike the attack on Pearl Harbor and they did not trust the white flags. The Dutch Army therefore let the two Destroyers approach quietly till they were at striking distance, about 400 meters, near the first light buoy, and then fired all four heavy canons repeatedly till they were completely exhausted. The first Destroyer was hit at amid ship, followed by a tremendous explosion, causing it to sink at starboard and forcing the Japanese to abandon ship. The second destroyer sustained a direct hit on the rear near the propeller, which was also followed by a heavy explosion. In a short time both Destroyers sank to the bottom of the sea at the estuary of Tarakan. There was not one survivor of the Japanese. This all happened at 8:30 a.m. and was over at 9:00.
At 10:00 a.m,. several Japanese armored cars were approaching the Naval Artillery Posts of the 7th Batalion of the Dutch Royal Army carrying white flags. Several Japanese officers came out of the Japanese armored cars, while Lieutenant Colonel S. De Waal came out of the Dutch vehicle as the representative of the Dutch Army. All the Dutch military personnel were ordered for a roll call at the drill grounds of the 7th Batalion where the Japanese officers and Lieutenant Colonel S. De Waal issued a joint statement that the Dutch Royal Army had officially and unconditionally surrendered and a cease fire declared. All Dutch arms and military equipment had to be destroyed and all personnel of the three Artillery posts of the South were ordered to assemble at the barracks of Kampong Baru, at the roll call grounds.
In the interim, more heavy armor and military personnel came out of the other ships of the invasion armada, such as light tanks and armored vehicles, to be deployed to completely occupy the City of Tarakan, which was patrolled and secured from the harbor to the refinery and oil storage facilities to the air strip and ancillary structures.
Not long hereafter a Japanese interpreter and lieutenant Colonel S. de Waal announced to the troops assembled at the Kampong Baru barracks, that the Japanese Army needed aproximately 150 men of the POW’s to be transported to the Island of Java where they would be deployed in navigation operations and assisting in the transport of military arms and equipment. Every single POW assembled at the barrack had clearly heard this announcement. Alas, the truth turned out differently which came to light two days later.
After the Dutch officer and the interpreter had finished their announcement, about 150 men of the POW’s ( which officially was determined as 168 men later) were horded into Japanese Army trucks, without any registration or identification, and taken to the harbor area. Here they were ordered onto a Japanese naval vessel. This vessel was then directed to the first light buoy, where on the same morning the two Japanese Destroyers were sunk by the Dutch artillery.
The Japanese then stopped the engine and ordered the POW’s to line up at the railing of the vessel. They were then all blindfolded and had both hands tied behind their backs. Subsequently every POW was killed by bayonet and thrust into the sea…..
At roll call, in the morning of January 15, 1942, at the Kampong Baru barracks, the Japanese announced that 50 men of the POW’s were going to be marched to a bridge near the harbor area. At the harbor, near the landing pier, the 50 men were handed a big shovel or a hoe and ordered to march in the direction of the beach.
On arrival at the beach the POW’s saw to their astonishment and despair the dead corpses of their old buddies, in various degrees of decomposition, which had been washed ashore.
Most of the 50 men got sickened by the stench and realized what had happened when they discovered dead corpses with the blindfolds and the tied hands.
A Japanese sergeant then shouted the order through the interpreter that a big hole was to be dug right at the beach where all the corpses were to be buried into a mass grave. However, due to a strong wind and the high tide that morning, it was very difficult to dig just one big hole, so it was decided to dig one long and deep channel parallel to the beach line in which the corpses were rolled and buried. Most of the corpses still had on their green uniform of the Royal Dutch Indies Army although many did not have their name tags on so that they were unidentifiable by their old buddies. But many of the POW’s could make out the buddies of the Artillery units at Peningki, Karoengan and Tandjoeng Pasir and it became clear that they had been killed by the Japanese as a vendetta for the sinking of the two Destroyers.
As I have mentioned above, my father was a member of the Mobile emergency medical service platoon in Northeast Borneo. There were two doctors assigned to this platoon who were making their rounds in both the Tarakan and Berau Valley area. And to me, as I have mentioned below, it’s highly plausible that my father was present in Tarakan during the invasion.
In 1950, I received a statement from the Dutch Governments investigation Department that my Dad most “probably” had fallen in battle on the island of Tarakan and my mother and younger sister had perished in North Borneo. But the statement was neither confirmative nor exact. From an indigenous Dutch Army sergeant in Tarakan, I came to know that during the beginning of the invasion one detachment of the Japanese invasion armada was heading for the Berau Valley area and when it discovered that all the coal mines had been sabotaged and all installations destroyed, ALL Dutch citizens, men, women and children alike without exception, had been rounded up, pushed into the mine shafts, after which these were inundated, drowning all Dutch citizens. Today, Indonesian miners working in the same mines of the Berau Valley, can tell you that they have an eerie feeling when working in the mines, as if they are sometimes surrounded by ghosts.
The Japanese were infuriated. The magnificent PLAN of the Representatives of the Land of the Rising Sun, in this first two-prong attack, in the interest of the complete rooting out of Colonialism in Asia, backed up by the Energy Security of the Dutch East Indies, had been defeated and their dreams totally shattered.
The old military camp of the 7th Batalion at Kampong Baru was officially transformed into a POW camp and surrounded by fencing. Here the POW’s were systematically starved and worn out causing many to go under and succumb.
Originally, there were about 700 POW’s. To better control the POW’s, the Japanese divided the POW’s in three groups of 150 full blooded Dutchmen, 200 Dutch-Indonesians and 350 Indigenous Indonesians (ex-army technicians) they were all housed in separate barracks. However, I also believe that it’s plausible that my father had been in this POW camp till 1945, because there was a doctor’s quarter in this camp.
Just before the atomic bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the capitulation of Japan in 1945, what was left of the emaciated 350 Dutch and Dutch-Indonesian POW’s, were ordered onto an old vessel under pretense that they were transferred to a larger, more concentrated and bigger POW camp on another island near Borneo. The vessel was towed to the very spot where three years ago the two Destroyers had been sunk by Dutch artillery fire.
At the same spot the vessel was then sunk with the same canons of the Artillery posts of
Peningki, Karoengan and Tandjoeng Pasir. Some of the POW’s were able to swim ashore but were killed by bayonet on the beach by the Japanese so that actually none of the 350 POW’s survived.
I am saddened by some requests from relatives, wives and children of these POW’s, to
furnish some information on how to plan a pilgrimage to this area or visit any graves either on Tarakan Island or the Berau Valley.
Due to the fact that there were totally no survivors in this saga it is clear that the Government of the Netherlands is unable to issue any definitive documentation on what really happened in both the Berau Valley and Tarakan Island areas.
I myself have been to Tarakan Island twice when I was working nearby in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. On the first trip I couldn’t get any information, because I did not meet the right people. On my second trip, I stayed at the only Hotel on Tarakan Island, the Orient Hotel.
People on the island are very friendly and wish to make friend with all foreigners. When they asked me what business I was doing in Tarakan, I told them my story about my father and that I was seeking some information about the war years. When I was finished with my story, a small Chinese man in the corner stood up and introduced himself as Mr. Tan Boen An. He was the owner of the Hotel and asked me in Indonesian:” Ini anaknya Dokter Si Pih ya” (so you are a son of Doctor Frits ?”). Frits was my father’s nick name.
I was totally surprised. And then he told me what I wanted to hear: that my father had been on the island just before the invasion. They were good friends before and played cards and table tennis together. And then and there I knew that my father had definitely served on the island of Tarakan. Mr. Tan Boen An then told me to wait till the next day because he wanted me to meet Pak Sakim (Mr. Sakim), who had been an indigenous sergeant in Technical Services and was a Tank Mechanic in the Dutch East Indies Armor Division. I am really thankful for this introduction through which I could come up with this story. The next morning I was picked up by Mr Tan Boen An’s son, Hengky. I spent all of this day at Pak Sakim’s house, peering over maps and gathering all the information..
Before Hengky left us alone, he told me that he wanted to take me for a boat ride to the first light buoy the next morning. In the next morning Hengky picked me up and we drove to the harbor where he rented a speed boat with a driver. When I passed a flower shop at the harbor I bought a bunch of roses. Then, when we reached the spot where it all happened, I laid the flowers on the waves, said a small prayer, in the believe that my father had fallen there, either in 1941 during the invasion, or in 1945 as a POW.
It is a small consolation and it gives me some comfort that in 1946 the Japanese upper command in the Northeast Borneo area were sentenced to death by a Joint International Military Tribunal (Dutch, British, Australian and American).
I still hope to go back to the Northeast Borneo area for a last visit, if possible, depending on my overall health, my age and finances, of course. But this time to visit the Berau Valley and Tandjoeng Redeb town.
Because, what is still intriguing to me and is forever engraved in my mind, is the fact that in the “Death Certificate” from the Dutch Government, only my father, my mother and ONE younger sister, Rosaline, have been mentioned. NOT my youngest sister, Gertrude, who was one year old then.
This youngest sister was a happy child and I used to play with her and make her laugh.
I never forget when she was bursting with laughter. As I mentioned before, she and our servant Ripah were inseparable and when Ripah carried her in a sling made of her sarong, people could easily suppose that she was Ripah’s child. It is thus possible that my mother had entrusted Gertrude to Ripah during the invasion and that she is still alive in an Indonesian Kampong (village) in Borneo.
It is very well possible that I am one of the few survivors of the roughly 350 Dutch POW’s who fell in battle in Northeast Borneo. Over the past 10 years I have repeatedly written in some Dutch magazines and asked for any information, so far without any success.
My only hope is that there are some survivors who could provide some information in the Tandjoeng Redeb area or the Berau Valley of Northeast Borneo.
Frank A. Lucardie, North Las Vegas
(with permission of Mr. Arthur Olive)