Contents - Hirohito's War
10 Dutch East Indies and Japan’s Quest for Oil
[December 1941–June 1942]
[Maps: 10.1, 10.3, 10.4] [Diagram: 10.2]
Rajah Brooke’s Defense of Sarawak (p 293) General Kawaguchi (p 294) Borneo Invaded (p 295) The Dutch East Indies Attacked (p 295) American, British, Dutch, and Australian (ABDA) Command (p 296) Japan’s ‘Central Thrust’ and the Battle of Balikpapan (p 298) Ambon (the Moluccas) and the ‘Eastern Thrust’ (p 299) Palembang (Sumatra) and the ‘Western Thrust’ (p 301) Bali Invaded and the Raid on Darwin (p 303) The Battle of the Java Sea (p 304) The Collapse of Dutch Resistance on Java (p 308) The Brutal Rule of the Conquerors (p 310) Japan’s Bitter Fruits of Victory in the Dutch East Indies (p 315)
Rajah Brooke’s Defense of Sarawak: Rajah Charles Vyner Brooke, the third and last ‘White Rajah’ of Sarawak in North Borneo, was 67 years old when the Japanese invasion force arrived off the town of Miri in Sarawak on 16 December 1941; fortunately for him he was on vacation in Australia when his kingdom was invaded.
Brooke’s great-uncle, the famous Rajah James Brooke, had been a young army officer in Bengal when he inherited £30,000 and invested it in the purchase of a schooner, The Royalist. Setting off for North Borneo in 1838, he had helped put down a local rebellion, won the confidence of the Sultan of Brunei and had been rewarded with the Governorship of Sarawak in 1841. In the following year the Sultan transferred sovereignty to Brooke and he took the title of Rajah. In effect he and his heirs became the only ‘white’ kings of Asia in a country about the same size as Denmark. Britain, given the island of Labuan off the coast of Brunei in 1846, only became formally responsible for Sarawak’s international protection in 1888 when it sought to deny the area to any other interested foreign power. In the same year the neighboring Sultanate of Brunei also became a British protectorate.
Although Brooke had overseen the building of airfields at three of the major settlements of Sarawak including Miri, the major oil producing area of the region, Air Chief Marshall Sir Brooke-Popham had pre-determined that the Kingdom could not be defended in the event of a Japanese attack. As soon as the Japanese invasions of 8 December 1941 were underway, British-trained teams began the work of demolishing the oil fields of Miri and Seria (in Brunei) and their joint refinery at Lutong. It was well understood by all, that the end goal of any Japanese ‘strike south’ policy would be a grab for the oil fields of North Borneo and the Dutch East Indies. The region was the fourth largest exporter of oil after the US, Iran and Romania. With a gross output of 65 million barrels of oil per annum, the Dutch East Indies could theoretically more than make up any shortfall from imports denied to them by President Roosevelt.
Brooke’s Sarawak Force comprised a mixed group of local tribal volunteers, Sarawak Rangers, coast guards and police under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel C. M. Lane. As General Percival, commander of the British forces in Singapore and Malaysia had concluded with a vast reserve of understatement, “Nobody could pretend that this was a satisfactory situation, but at least it would make the enemy deploy a larger force to capture Sarawak than would have been necessary if it had not been defended