Operaties in de Oost

Title Operaties in de Oost – De Koninklijke Marine in de Indische Archipel 1945 – 1951.
Rating Excellent
Author R.E. van Holst Pellekaan/I.C. de Regt
Publisher Published by De Bataafsche Leeuw, Amsterdam
Year first published 2003
Series Volume 13 in the series “Bijdragen tot de Nederlandse Marinegeschiedenis”.
Binding Hardcover with dustjacket
Content 351 pages, 24 maps and many black & white photos, 4 appendices, list of Malay words, bibliography, seperate index of names and ships.

Quite a few books have been written about the exploits of the Royal Netherlands Navy during World War II, but little do people know that after a few signatures officially ended that war, another war had already started in the Netherlands East Indies. The Japanese presence in the Netherlands East Indies had awakened the desire for independence in the former Dutch colony.

Even before the official Japanese surrender, Indonesian nationalists had declared the archipelago’s independence. What followed were four long years of war between Dutch troops and the Indonesian independence movement. Although most of the fighting was done on land, primarily on Java and Sumatra, the navy also played a vital part in the Dutch military strategy, by blockading enemy-controled ports and hunting down smugglers, thus depriving the nationalists of funds to purchase arms for their cause. In addition, a number of amphibious landings of considerable scale were carried out with success.

The navy’s exploits during these years have remained unknown to the general public throughout the years, but former navy officers R.E. van Holst Pellekaan and I.C. de Regt sought to bring the history of the men and ships to light. What they wrote is a complete and readable account of the operations and politics surrounding the navy’s presence in the Indies. The book, titled “Operaties in de Oost: de Koninklijke Marine in de Indische Archipel (1945-1951)” was published by The Bataafsche Leeuw in 2003, as #13 in a series of volumes about the history of the Navy from its earliest origins.

Both officers know their business. They already earned their stripes as authors by writing “Patrouilleren voor de Papoea’s” in 1989, describing the operations of the R.N.N. off New Guinea. This manuscript was published in two parts of the same series as #5a and b respectively. As officers, both served in the Indies and New Guinea during the 1940s and 1950s. Holst Pellekaan himself was shipped out after he had just graduated from the naval academy, and commanded a small Harbour Defence Motor Launch which was engaged in controling commercial shipping.

Apart from the operational use of ships, naval air service (Marineluchtvaart Dienst, or MLD) and the thousands of marines on Java, the authors also sought to provide the reader with a context in which these operations took place. Although not covered in great detail, enough information on the political developments is provided to understand the evolution of the Navy’s operations. The particularly difficult situation the Commander-in-Chief, Naval Forces Netherlands East Indies, Vice-Admiral A.S. Pinke was in becomes clear from the text. Navy brass in the Netherlands were mostly preoccupied with building a navy fit for service with the western allies. As a result, funds and personnel were constantly being diverted away from what Pinke considered their real task: protecting own trade, supporting the army on land and denying the opponent the use of sealanes.

The book itself has a straightforward, chronological setup. Chapters 1 and 2 deal with the period starting in 1945, the return to the Netherlands East Indies in 1945, and the frustrations of having to obey the orders given by the British as the situation on Java and Sumatra slipped into chaos, this in contrast with the cooperation with the Australians in the eastern part of the East Indies. Chapter 3 covers the period leading up to the first police action in 1947. Chapter 4 deals with the aftermath of this action, and the circumstances leading up to the second police action in late 1948. The final two chapters deal with the transfer of sovereignty and warships to the newly-formed Indonesian government and the scaling-down of the navy’s presence in that part of the world. A few appendices give an overview of the navy’s strength and names of many ships that were part of the fleet at one time or another. Pictures and maps enrich the informative text.

It is difficult to name drawbacks of the book. One can comment on the lack of precise sourcing in comparison to the books by Bosscher, but the book does not aim to be as exhaustive. In all, the objective of a readable account of the Navy's exploits in the East Indies during 1945-1951 has been met with flying colours.

Review by the webmaster, December 2004.

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