Battle of Borneo (1941–42)

Battle of Borneo (1941–42)

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Borneo

caption=A map of the ABDACOM area, with Borneo just left of centre.
partof=World War II, Pacific War
result=Japanese victory
commander1=Major-General Kiyotake Kawaguchi
commander2=Air Chief Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham (UK) Lieutenant Colonel C.M. Lane (UK) Lieutenant Colonel D.P.F. Mars (KNIL)
strength1=4,500 infantry
strength2=1,000 Sarawak Force 1,000 British Punjab Regiment 1,000 KNIL

"For campaigns on eastern Borneo, see Battle of Tarakan (1942) and Battle of Balikpapan (1942)."

The Battle of Borneo was a successful campaign by Japanese Imperial forces for control of Borneo island and concentrated mainly with the subjugation of Kingdom of Sarawak, North Borneo and western part of Kalimantan occupied by Dutch East Indies. The Japanese main unit for this mission was the 35th Infantry Brigade led by Major-General Kiyotake Kawaguchi.

Historical context

In 1941, Borneo was divided between the Dutch East Indies and British crown colonies.

The so-called "White Rajahs", the Brooke family, had ruled Sarawak, on the northwest of Borneo, for over a century, first as Rajahs under the Sultanate of Brunei (a tiny but once powerful state entirely enclosed within the borders of Sarawak), and from 1888 as a protectorate of the British Empire. The Northeast of the island comprised North Borneo, since 1882 another British protectorate under the British North Borneo Company. Offshore lay the small British crown colony of Labuan.

The rest of the island, collectively known as Kalimantan, was under Dutch control. The Netherlands was invaded by Nazi Germany in 1940. However, Free Dutch forces, mainly the Royal Netherlands Navy and the 85,000-strongFact|date=February 2007 Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (KNIL, including a small air service) fought on, spread throughout the Dutch East Indies, and by December 1941 under an embryonic and somewhat chaotic joint allied command which became the shortlived American-British-Dutch-Australian Command (ABDACOM).

Background to the conflict

The Tripartite Pact, between the three Axis Powers of Germany, Japan and Italy, guaranteed mutual support, and this paid off for Japan in July, 1941 when the Nazi puppet regime in Vichy France ceded French Indo-China (now modern Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia) to Japan. This gave Japan land access to the Chinese mainland where it had long been engaged in military intervention and, since 1937, had been fighting a full-on war of invasion against the temporarily allied forces of the Kuomintang and the Communist Party of China. It also gave Imperial Japan a seaboard facing Sarawak and North Borneo across the China Sea. Japan turned its eyes from the war in China and towards strategic targets in the Pacific and the Dutch East Indies. In December that year, Japan struck out against United States possessions in Hawaii and the Philippines, declaring war on the United States and, according to the Pact, finally precipitating Germany's official declaration of war on America.

With its rich petroleum exploitation capacity, for instance at Tarakan, Balikpapan and Banjarmasin, Borneo was a prime target for Japan, and a very poorly guarded one. Chronically short of natural resources, Japan needed an assured supply of fuel in order to flex its muscles and achieve its long term goal of becoming the major power in the Pacific region. Borneo also stood on the main sea routes between Java, Sumatra, Malaya and Celebes. Control of these routes were vital to securing the territory.

Defence in Sarawak and North Borneo

The main objectives were the oilfields at Miri in Sarawak region and Seria in the Brunei Sultanate. The oil was refined at Tutong near Miri. Despite rich oil supply, Sarawak region had no air or sea force to defend. Only in late 1940, Air Chief Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham ordered the 2nd Battalion, 15th Punjab Regiment, a heavy 6-inch gun battery from the Hong Kong-Singapore Royal Artillery, and a detachment of 35th Fortress Company (Royal Engineers) to be positioned at Kuching. They numbered about 1,050 men. In addition, the Brooke White Rajah government also organized the Sarawak Rangers. This force consisted of 1,515 men who were primarily Iban and Dyak tribesmen. Altogether these forces were commanded by British Lieutenant Colonel C.M. Lane and was known as "SARFOR" (Sarawak Force).

After having heard the attack on Pearl Harbor, on December 8, 1941, the Brooke government instructed the oilfields at Miri and Seria and refinery at Tutong to be quickly demolished.

Defence in Singkawang and Pontianak (Dutch East Indies)

The Dutch forces had an important airfield at Singkawang called “Singkawang II”, which was defended by about 750 Dutch troops.

The Dutch Naval Aviation Group GVT-1 with 3 Dornier Do 24K flying boats was located in Pontianak along with a KNIL garrison, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel D.P.F. Mars, numbering approximately 500 men.

Dutch forces in West Borneo consisted of following units:
* West Borneo KNIL Garrison Battalion
* "Stadswacht" Infantry Company (about 125 men) in Pontianak
* Anti-Aircraft Battery (2 x 40mm guns) plus some AA machine-guns
* Mobile Auxiliary First Aid Platoon
* "Stadswacht" Detachment (about 50 men) in Singkawang
* "Stadswacht" Detachment (unknown strength) in Sintang

The town of Pontianak was finally occupied by the Imperial Japanese forces on January 29, 1942.

Japanese landing and the battle

The main Japanese force, led by Major General Kiyotake Kawaguchi, consisted of units from Canton, South of China:
* 35th Infantry Brigade Headquarters
* 124th Infantry Regiment from Japanese 18th Division
* 2nd Yokosuka Naval Landing Force
* 4th Naval Construction Unit
* 1 platoon of the 12th Engineer Regiment
* 1 unit from the 18th Division Signal Unit
* 1 unit from the 18th Division Medical Unit
* 4th Field Hospital, 18th Division
* 1 unit from the 11th Water Supply and Purification Unit

On 13 December 1941, the Japanese invasion convoy left Cam Ranh Bay in French Indochina, with an escort of the cruiser “Yura” (Rear-Admiral Shintaro Hashimoto) with the destroyers of the 12th Destroyer Division, "Murakumo", "Shinonome", "Shirakumo" and "Usugumo", submarine-chaser Ch 7 and the aircraft depot ship "Kamikawa Maru". Ten transport ships carried the Japanese 35th Infantry Brigade HQ under the command of Major-General Kiyotake Kawaguchi.The Support Force consisted of Rear-Admiral Takeo Kurita with the cruisers "Kumano" and "Suzuya" and the destroyers "Fubuki" and "Sagiri".

The Japanese forces intended to capture Miri and Seria, while the rest would capture Kuching and nearby airfields. The convoy proceeded without being detected and at dawn on December 15, 1941, two landing units secured Miri and Seria with only very little resistance from British force. A few hours later, Lutong was captured as well.

Meanwhile, on 31 December 1941, the force under Lieutenant Colonel Watanabe moved northward to occupy Brunei, Labuan Island, and Jesselton (now called Kota Kinabalu). On January 18, 1942, using small fishing boats, the Japanese landed at Sandakan, the seat of government of British North Borneo. The North Borneo Armed Constabulary, with only 650 men, hardly provided any resistance to slow down the Japanese invasion. On the morning of the 19 January, the Governor Charles Robert Smith surrendered the British North Borneo and was interned with other staff.

After securing the oilfields, on December 22, the main Japanese forces moved westwards to Kuching. The Japanese airforce bombed Singkawang airfield to prevent a Dutch attack. After a battle between the Japanese fleet and a Dutch submarine, the fleet approached the mouth of the Santubong river on December 23. The convoy arrived off Cape Sipang and the troops in twenty transport ships, commanded by Colonel Akinosuke Oka, landed at 04:00, December 24. Although 2nd Battalion, 15th Punjab Regiment resisted the attack, they soon became out-numbered and retreated up the river. By the afternoon, Kuching was in the hands of Japanese force.

At about 16:40 on December 25, the Japanese troops successfully captured Kuching airfield. The Punjab regiment retreated through the jungle to Singkawang area. After Singkawang was secured as well on December 29, the rest of British and Dutch troop retreated further in the jungle southward trying to reach Sampit and Pangkalanbun, where a Dutch airfield at Kotawaringin was located. South and central Kalimantan was taken by the Japanese Navy following attacks from east and west. After ten weeks in the jungle-covered mountains, the Allied troops surrendered on April 1, 1942.


* Runciman, S., "The White Rajahs: A History of Sarawak from 1841 to 1946", particularly 252–5. Cambridge University Press, 1960.
*Percival, Arthur Ernest "The War in Malaya", (especially Chapter XII: Operations in Borneo.) London, Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1949.
* L., Klemen, 1999–2000, "The Netherlands East Indies 1941–42", " [ The Invasion of British Borneo in 1942] ".
* L., Klemen, 1999–2000, "The Netherlands East Indies 1941–42", " [ The Japanese occupation of Sandakan, January 1942] ".
* [ Governors of North Borneo] , [ World Statesmen] .

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