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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
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Saturday 16 March 2019

Royal Netherlands East Indies Army 1936-42

I am a sucker for an obscure army, and Osprey certainly knows how to feed my addiction!

When the Men At Arms series reaches No.521, it is perhaps understandable that we reach more obscure subjects. However, Marc Lohnstein has actually highlighted an army that was a substantial, if fragile, force at the outbreak of WW2 in the Far East.

In this period, today's Indonesia was a Dutch colony known as the Netherland's East Indies (NEI). It covered a vast area with 60 million inhabitants, of whom only 240,000 were European. The main island and seat of government was Java, but the defence forces had to cover less populated islands including, Sumatra, Borneo, Timor and Ambon.

The NEI was a major exporter of strategic materials including rubber, tin, quinine and oil. These were the very resources Japan needed access to and therefore was the main threat to the colony. After the Netherlands was occupied by Germany in 1940, the colony reported to the government in exile based in London.

There was a standing professional army built around a European core, with every field battalion having a Dutch company and most of the officers were also Dutch. The 38,000 strong army was supplemented after 1940 by a volunteer corps that grew to 122,600 men. There was limited motorisation (75 trucks per regiment), with 20 Vickers light tanks,  and some lightly armoured Chevrolet trucks.  Cavalry units were being re-equipped with Alvis-Straussler armoured cars and White Scout Cars. Artillery was limited to only 89 guns, 30 ATGs, as well as coastal guns and some limited AA defences.

The air force had 95 obsolete Glenn Martin bombers and 63 Brewster Buffalos, which would be outclassed by the Japanese Zero.

The uniform was primarily olive green and included the distinctive Dutch helmet as well as slouch hats. As usual with this series, there are many photographs and colour plates by Adam Hook.

An Australian officer in November 1941was unimpressed by the army's readiness for war. While it was reasonably well equipped, it lacked training and officers with practical experience. The equivalent of Home Guards rather than an army capable of undertaking field operations.

The well-coordinated and aggressive Japanese invasion captured the whole territory in just over two months, taking over 66,000 prisoners. This is unlikely to endear this army as a project for many wargamers. However, there were British and Australian troops in the NEI, which means a unit or two of Dutch troops could be added to an existing collection for this campaign. Gothic Line Miniatures do 28mm Dutch infantry in a 10 pack unit with optional heads. Just in case anyone is tempted. Not me of course.........


  1. There was also an American artillery contingent on Java!

    Have a look here: http://testofbattle.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=1598&sid=0848d4afc950bdabdebb3eaec5ccca25

    As an aside, actual KNIL figures and vehicles are available in both 15mm and 20mm.

    1. Thanks. I did notice some Americans under prisoners. 15mm is a good idea.