The Dutch Air Forces in the Pacific War

by John Douglas

Click For EnlargementThe Dutch Air Forces were one of the minor players on the Allied side in the Pacific War. Their involvement came from the current country of Indonesia, which at the time of World War II, was administered by the Netherlands, and known as the Netherlands East Indies (NEI). The administration of N.E.I had two colonial air forces, the Royal Netherlands Naval Air Service (MLD) or more often the RNN; and the air service of the Royal Netherlands Indies Army (The MLKNIL). The Royal Netherlands Indies Airline (KNILM) had a Fleet of transports as well.

Netherlands Aircraft
As of December 7, 1941:

Royal Netherlands Naval Air Service (MLD)
33 Dornier flying boats
35 Catalina flying boats
6 Fokker T-IV float planes

Royal Netherlands Indies Army (KNIL)
83 Glen Martin B10 bombers
71 Brewster Buffalo F2A Fighters
17 Curtis Wright W21 Fighters
13 Curtis 75A Fighters
40 Various recon and trainers

The Royal Netherlands Indies Airline (KNILM)
4 Douglas DC-2 Transports
18 Lockheed Lodestar Transports
Other planes were on order but not delivered at this date.

Note: - the number of planes varies, according to the reference.

These planes were disposed throughout a number of locations in the N.E.I.. The first loss to Japanese aggression occurred at Pearl Harbour, when a RNN Catalina was destroyed. 3 Glen Martin Bomber Squadrons and a Buffalo Squadron were posted to the defense of Singapore. Additional Glen Martin Bombers and the Dornlers were deployed to the defense of British Borneo. After a series of battles the survivors of the Dutch Air Forces escaped to Australia. The battle for the defense of the NEI saw Dutch Air Forces lose nearly 300 planes.

Netherlands Aircraft To Australia
That fled to Australia at the fall of the Netherlands East Indies were:

Royal Netherlands Naval Air Service (MLD)
6 Dornier Flying boats
9 Catalina Flying boats

The RAAF acquired 5 of the Dornier flying boats (the other was retained by the MLD/RNN for their use within Australia). 1 Catalina was purchased by the RAAF, as were 28 Ryan STM Trainers and 18 Vought Kingfisher reconnaissance seaplanes. The Dormer (X-24) was used not only for activities within Australia, but also for occasional supply runs up into Dutch New Guinea (Tanoh Merah and Wissel Lakes) as were the two Catalinas, Y-86 and Y-87.

Royal Netherlands Indies Army (KNIL)
1 Glen Martin B10

The sole Glen Martin Bomber was also sold to the US Air Force, and was used operationally by them until August 1944, when it was scrapped.

The Royal Netherlands Indies Airline (KNILM)
3 Douglas DC2
11 Lockheed Lodestar

The 11 Lockheed Lodestars were sold to the US Government, for use as local transport.

Netherlands Regroups & Rearms
31 Bostons and 17 Buffalos, all of which had been ordered by the Dutch government for the defense of NEI, and which were diverted to Australia on the fall of the N.E.I.

These were 5 Mitchell B-25s also intended for the ML-KNIL that were shipped to Australia at this time. Including other B-25s there were a total of 54 Mitchells ordered by the NEI Government. The USAAF took over 49 of these planes, leaving only 5 for the NEI - MLKNIL. These remaining 5 B25s were ultimately transferred to the USAAF as well. The aircrew that arrived in Australia on the fall of the NEI were allocated to 3 different locations and activities.

The RNN/MLD Air Force Crews were sent to Colombo where they formed the Dutch No. 321 Squadron. One RNN air crew was retained in Australia to fly the sole Dornier and later on, two Catalinas that were taken into the fleet of transports use by the N.E.I. Government-in-exile.

The ML-KNIL air crew were sent initially to Amberley, and then on to Canberra, when they helped form a B25 Squadron, 18 (NEI) Squadron, flying under RAAF Operational Control. Ultimately the Dutch were not able to provide enough ground crew or extra gunners to fully staff this Squadron, so the RAAF made up the numbers needed.

18 (NEI) Squadron in effect was a mixture of Australian and Dutch personnel, with a Dutch Commander and an Australian liaison officer commanding the Australian Squadron members. As much as possible Dutch identity was retained (the NEI. Members used Dutch salutes etc).

The initial B-25s were all reallocated to the USAAF and 18 Bostons were supplied in their place. A month later these Bostons were replaced with 18 Mitchells, which took the Squadron some re-equipping to bring them up to a satisfactory standard. 18 (NEI) Squadron transferred to the Northern Territory Australia, in December 1942, operating out of Bachelor A/S for most of the war.

They were in action by February 1943 making raids on Japanese installations in the occupied. Netherlands East Indies and in Timor.

The KLM air crews was send to the US for further training in military aircraft.

In September 1943 new more heavily armed and better equipped B-25s were allocated to 18 (N.E.I) Squadron, replacing their warn out aircraft.

Another group of new B-25s were issued in March 1944 to 18 (NEI) Squadron to replace the B25s then in use.

In February 1945 18 (N.E.I.) Squadron was reassigned to Jaquinot Bay Airfield, immediately to the south of Rabaul in New Britain; which had just been captured by Australian ground forces. The Squadron ground parties had just arrived at Jaquinot Bay, when the squadron was reassigned to Balikipapan. They arrived there in July 1945.

A further B-25 Squadron (119 (NEI) Squadron) was formed in September 1943 but quickly dissolved when manpower shortages become apparent in December the same year. These planes were transferred to the RAAF.

A third NEI Squadron (No. 120) was formed in Canberra in December 1943, flying P40s. It also had the same mixture of Australian and Dutch aircrew and ground staff as 18 (NEI) Squadron. In May 1944 this Squadron began operations in Merauke, Dutch New Guinea. Some of these P40s were posted to the North Coast of DNG, operating out of Noemfoer.

In March and April 1945 18 (NEI) Squadron begin its transfer to Jaquinot Bay, New Britain. In May the transfer was cancelled and the Squadron posted back to the Northern Territory of Australia. 18 (NEI) Squadron finally reached Balikipapan on 14th August 1945.

One 120 (NEI) Squadron Wirraway was lost near Kikori in PNG and several P-40s were lost over the North Coast of DNG. 120 (NEI) Squadron arrived at Jaquinot Bay in May 1945; and was promptly transferred to back in DNG. The RNN Dornier was transferred to the RAAF in October 1944.

Immediately prior to the end of the war, a 4th (19 NEI) Squadron was formed in Canberra. This was a transport squadron, using Lodestars, Dakotas and surplus B-25s plus the two RNN Catalinas. These aircraft had all been on strength for some time and the Squadron establishment was a formality.

In June 1945 120 (NEI) Squadron commenced operations out of Biak. 6 of their P40s were lost over Manokwari in a one week period in early August 1945. By the end of the war 120 (NEI) Squadron had lost 14 pilots and 11 aircraft. 18 (NEI) Squadron lost 112 aircrew and 21 B-25s. Several support aircraft were lost as well, including a Dakota which was found 44 years later near Mossman in New South Wales.

What remains of the Dutch Air Force in the Pacific today?
The Buffalos have all vanished, except as future rebuilt projects, including one rebuild currently underway at the Military Aviation Museum RNIAF, at Soesterberg in the Netherlands. The Dorniers are all gone, but a few B25s remain. Some of the earlier B-25s when decommissioned by the 18 NEI Squadron, had a further life with American and Australia air forces, and may still remain in other markings as wrecks.

Click For EnlargementOf the pre war fleet, a number of the Ryan trainers have survived and can be seen at air shows in Australia. Several are flying today, and others are under restoration. There is a OS2U Kingfisher being rebuilt at Wangeratta that was probably one of these purchase by the RAAF for the NEI order. Charles Darby noted one KNIL A-20C at Vivigani in the early 1970s, later served with the RAAF and recovered and restored by them.

Click For EnlargementThe Indonesian Armed Forces Museum in Jakarta has a B-25 on display from this era, whilst in Holland, a group of enthusiasts (Duke of Brabant Air Force) flies a B-25 marked in the colours of 18 NEI Squadron.

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