Royal Netherlands East Indies Army 1936-42

Published: November 3rd, 2018     
Product Image
Author: Marc Lohnstein; Illustrator: Adam Hook
Reviewed by: Bill Kluge - IPMS# 45849
ISBN #: 978147282833754
E-Book ISBN #: 9781472833761
Other Publication Information: Softbound
Price: $18.00
Product / Stock #: Men-at-Arms 521
Product provided by: Osprey Publishing

The long held Dutch colony of the Netherlands East Indies (NEI) encompassed a huge swath of maritime territory across the southwest Pacific ocean, from the eastern end of the island of Sumatra to the western half of New Guinea, including the major islands of Java, Timor, most of southern Borneo, the octopus-like Celebes, and hundreds of smaller islands in between. For most of its history, the Netherlands East Indies Army (KNIL) was tasked with internal security, assisting the colonial police services in maintaining order when and wherever necessary. Defense from external threats was the primary responsibility of the Dutch Navy, supporting the far-flung KNIL battalions assigned to strategic areas throughout the colony. By 1936, in the face of growing Japanese expansion in the western Pacific, the KNIL began a five year modernization program that was just beginning to take shape by the time of the Japanese invasion in early 1942.

This volume describes in detail the composition, organization, and weapons of the various land units of the KNIL, as well as a limited description of of the separate Army Military Aviation units assigned to the NEI. Of primary importance to the KNIL was the integration of indigenous people with the Dutch soldiers in forming the professional colonial army (one of the many tables gives a breakdown, in 1929, of the ten different ethnic groups that joined with the Europeans to make up the over 38,000 strong KNIL forces). The numerous other tables highlight weapons and AFVs, and air strength, as well as uniform rank and insignia. The photographs, mostly showing peacetime operations and pre-war maneuvers, illustrate uniforms, weapons and equipment (I was surprised at the various types of light tanks and armored cars that the KNIL had begun to integrate within its formations. Unfortunately for them it was too little, too late).

The volume also gives a brief outline of combat operations of the KNIL, but as anyone familiar with the early phases of the Pacific War knows, the resistance of colonial forces in the NEI was short lived. Interestingly, observations made by Australian officers regarding the quality of KNIL forces and leadership just prior to, and immediately after the commencement of hostilities in the region, was predictive.

The highlight of this book are the eight pages of all new color uniform illustrations of the KNIL forces, as well as the eight additional pages of text describing these illustrations in great detail. The amount of detailed information presented here is quite impressive.

Very little information about the KNIL just prior to, and during WWII has found its way into English language publications. However, this volume by Dutch author and historian Marc Lohnstein has tapped numerous Dutch language sources, including the vast resources of the Museum Bronbeek, to present the first concise record in English of the KNIL as it fought against the initial Japanese onslaught in the Far East. It provides a much needed resource to describe one of the often neglected Allied combatants of the opening phase of the Pacific War. Thanks to IPMS and Osprey Publishing for the opportunity to review this important work.

  • Cover
  • Contents
  • Table
  • Photos
  • Plate A
    Plate A
  • Plate G
    Plate G

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