Allies in adversity, Australia and the Dutch in the Pacific War
The army in the NEI
The Koninklijk Nederlands Indisch Leger (KNIL) was a relatively small force, ill-suited to the demands of defending the many islands of the NEI against invasion by the modern, mobile and well equipped Imperial Japanese Army. Although the KNIL was bolstered by militia and home guard conscripts, these largely untrained and poorly equipped troops were able to provide little assistance to the regulars. Exposed to the weight of Japanese air superiority, and with little in the way of essential infantry support weapons such as artillery, mortars, grenades and machine guns, the outcome of the campaign was inevitable.
KNIL troops wore the standard Dutch grey–green tunic and breeches in a lightweight cotton fabric. Officers sometimes wore knee boots, but the other ranks had to struggle with the cumbersome and unsuitable puttees – a leftover from the First World War – over ankle-high boots. Strangely, their Japanese opponents were probably the only other army in the world that still used the puttee, a woollen bandage which wound around the lower leg from the ankle to the knee.
The characteristic Model 1934 steel helmet of the Netherlands forces was worn in the Dutch homeland as well as its many colonies. The helmet was carefully designed to offer optimum ballistic protection as well as a recognisable silhouette, and had a leather flap to protect the back of the neck. It was, however, extremely uncomfortable to wear in the hot climate of the East Indies.
Soldiers were armed with the Model 1895 Rifle or Carbine, designs acquired by the Dutch under licence from the Austrian arms manufacturer Mannlicher. Both the carbine and the slightly longer rifle were of 6.5-millimetre calibre, with bolt-actions, and holding five-round clips of ammunition. The designs dated from the First World War period and were considered obsolete by 1939, but remained the most widely used infantry weapons in the NEI at the time of the Japanese invasion.