Allies in adversity, Australia and the Dutch in the Pacific War: The army in the NEI


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.


An example of the Model 1895 Carbine, manufactured by the Koninklijk Geweerfabrik (Royal Rifle Factory) at Hembrug in the Netherlands during 1919. RELAWM28284

Dutch helmet

This Model 1934 steel helmet has had its leather neck flap removed. REL28103

Field service book

Soldiers of the KNILM were issued with a “Veldzakboekje” or “field service book” in which their details were recorded. Renè Benedictus Baert was born in the Netherlands, and after initial military service at Bandoeng, Java, appears to have entered the Pilots’ and Observers’ School at Kalidjati. Unfortunately, no details of his subsequent career are known. REL34264


The Klewang is a type of cutlass which originally derived from the weapons traditionally carried by Indonesian natives, and was later adopted by soldiers of the Dutch East India Company (the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC). By the 1930s, it was carried as a sidearm by native police in the NEI. Some were used in combat against the Japanese, but they were more commonly employed as machetes against jungle foliage. The Klewang remained on issue to Dutch forces after the war, and was used during actions against Indonesian rebels as late as 1947–48. RELAWM24941

Dutch soldier standing next to ship

This soldier of the KNIL is wearing the grey–green Dutch uniform and steel helmet with neck flap. 011779/23


Film f01884-3

This film was intended to reassure Australian viewers that the NEI was well defended and prepared for war. In truth, all too little modern equipment was available. F01884