Allies in adversity, Australia and the Dutch in the Pacific War


The destruction of Dutch air power in the Pacific

The Dutch air arms in the NEI comprised a collection of units operating a variety of generally obsolescent or obsolete types of aircraft. The exceptions were the units of the Naval Air Service (Marine Luchtvaar Dienst or MLD) whose Consolidated Catalina and Dornier Do 24 flying boats were modern long-range aircraft offering excellent performance. The army’s air service, the Militaire Luchtvaart Koninklijk Nederlands Indisch Leger or ML-KNIL, however, was in a parlous state. Its bomber squadrons, in particular, were equipped with the American-built Martin B-10 (or M-139, as it was known in its export version). This aircraft, although considered a groundbreaking design for its day, had been withdrawn from US service during the 1930s. Its top speed of about 325 kilometres per hour could not compare to the Japanese fighters capable of 500 kilometres per hour that it would encounter, and it had little armour or defensive weaponry.

The fighter aircraft of the ML-KNIL were a mixed bag of mostly American types, none of which were able to provide adequate competition for the Japanese Zero. The Curtis Hawk 75, The Brewster B-339 Buffalo and the ungainly Curtis-Wright CW-21 Demon were all received in limited numbers, but shortages of spare parts and trained pilots, as well as technical inferiority, limited their impact. Most were either destroyed during the early weeks of the conflict over Malaya or the NEI, or captured by the Japanese on the docks before they could even be assembled.

Mechanic with screwdriver

An Indonesian mechanic closes one of the gun-bay panels on a Dutch Brewster Buffalo. 011475

Rusted airplane wing

This shattered wingtip is one of the few tangible remnants of the ML-KNIL. It was part of a Brewster Buffalo fighter built in America to fulfil an order from the Netherlands Purchasing Commission. In early 1942, the aircraft was being shipped to the NEI, but was diverted to Australia following advice that Java had fallen to the Japanese. When it entered Australian service, this aircraft, which had originally had the Dutch code “B3-185” was given the new serial number “A51-5”, and was converted to carry cameras in its photo-reconnaissance role. Operating from Hughes strip in the Northern Territory, A51-5 crashed near Derby on 25 September 1942, and was completely destroyed. Its pilot, Sergeant James Austin, from Armidale, NSW, died of the injuries he received. REL34222


Film f01884-4

This pre-war footage shows the outdated Brewster Buffalo fighters and Martin M-139 bombers with which the ML-KNIL was equipped. Despite the hopeful tone of the commentary, these proved no match for Japanese air power. F01884