Introduction During the 30s, Vickers-Carden-Loyd (VCL) was the major British tank manufacturer for both the home and foreign markets. The various light tanks were built in several variations and exported to many countries. The largest order for Light Tanks came from an now almost totally forgotten organisation: the Royal Netherlands Indies Army. Before gaining their independence in December 1949 and becoming Indonesia, the Netherlands East Indies (NEI) were the principal Dutch colony. The Royal Dutch Indies Army, Koninklijk Nederlands Indisch Leger in Dutch (KNIL), was formed in 1830 from units of the metropolitan Dutch Army in the NEI. It obtained the Royal prefix in 1933. Like most colonial armies, its main task was to maintain order and suppress revolts. During the late 20s, the mission of the KNIL was enlarged and it was since then given the responsibility of the defence of the NEI against a foreign aggressor. This task was given even more importance during the 30s in view of the worsening of the political situation in Asia, especially because of the expansionist Japanese policy. Unfortunately, the economic situation of the Netherlands and of the NEI prevented the KNIL from completing its modernisation and reorganisation in time. The emphasis was put on the Militaire Luchtvaart, the Military Aviation Service, and on the Koninklijk Marine in the NEI. The units of the KNIL on Java however began to receive new equipment and the motorization was promoted. Large orders for weapons were placed in Europe. Large part of them never reached the NEI after the outbreak of WW2 in Europe while orders from the U.S.A. were diverted to other countries. This can be explained by the fact that between 1939 and December 1941 there was still peace in South East Asia. So the NEI, like the British, French and American possessions in this area, figured very low on the priority list for the supplies of military equipment. The dramatic consequences were severely felt in the first months of the war in Asia. The KNIL had a first experience with AFVs in 1934. Three armoured cars were ordered in 1933 from the Dok- en Werf-Maatschappij Wilton-Fijenord, a Dutch dockyard. One was shipped to the NEI for trials, but was found unsatisfactory and was shipped back to the Netherlands.
First Contracts Dutch archives for the whole period are unfortunately incomplete for several reasons: invasion and occupation of the Netherlands and the NEI, voluntary destruction before surrender, destruction during the war and the post WW2 struggle against Indonesian nationalists. VCL records indicate that two orders were placed in 1936:
Order No TD 3507 for two VCL Light Tanks.
Ordered 21 December 1936 delivered 9 November 1937
Serials: VAE 1139 & 1140.
Order No TD 3508 for two VCL Amphibious Tanks.
Date of order: given as 21 February 1936 (21/2/1936), but probably 21 December 1936 (21/12/1936)
Delivered: 9 November 1937
Serials: VAE 1973 & 1974.
It is interesting to note that the Amphibious Tanks had two different turrets, one for an armament of one 6.5mm machine gun, the other for two 7.7mm machine guns. The 6.5mm machine gun was most certainly the Vickers M.23 used by the KNIL since 1923. The VCL records give the 7.7mm machine gun as Colt Browning (Colt .30 according to Dutch sources). Both Light Tanks were delivered with turrets for two Colt Browning 7.7mm machine guns. They were known as Model 1936 and later as Dutchman (in British service). The contracts were placed with VCL by the NETHMY, the Nederlandsch-Engelsche Technische Handel Maatschappij (Dutch-British Society for Technical Trade). The NETHMY itself had a contract with the Departement van Kolonien (Colonial Office) which was responsible for the KNIL. The four vehicles were probably sent to Rotterdam and then shipped to the NEI, as were the later contracts. On 15 December 1937, the Proefafdeling Vechtwagens (Experimental Detachment Combat Cars) was formed in Bandoeng on Central Java. Unlike the armoured cars used by the Cavalry, it originated from the Infantry and its personnel came mainly from that arm and from technical services. During 1938, the four vehicles were used in several trials on Java and a good number of pictures seems to have been made. It must be noted that apart from a few oil plants in Borneo and Sumatra, almost all KNIL units with a modern equipment were on Java, including the whole cavalry and the armoured detachment. The terrain on the island was not considered favourable to AFVs by the Dutch military authorities, like their British counterpart in Malaya. However the Light Tanks performed well in the rice paddies and jungle thanks to their light weight. The KNIL also appreciated their speed and their steel tracks. It is therefore not surprising that a second order for Light Tanks followed. On the other side, the Amphibious Tanks were not so successful. They had great difficulties climbing the banks of the numerous rivers, and one sank while crossing a river. From the studying of photographs, it seems that the Amphibious Tanks sported the Dutch registrations D7189 and D7211. The Light Tanks were D7145 and D7152 (see appendix on registrations). A later photograph taken during a parade on the airfield of Bandoeng in mid 1939 shows the 2 Amphibious Tanks with registrations D9802 and D9803, and the 2 Light Tanks with D9800 and D9801.
Later Orders As mentioned above, more VCL Light Tanks were requested after the successful trials of 1938 and in view of the expanding of the armoured component of the KNIL. The Departement van Kolonien placed the following contracts with the NETHMY:
Order 51344 for 73 VCL Light Tanks
Date of order: 8 March 1939
Delivery schedule: four vehicles to be ready for trials on 15 July 1939, and four on the 15th of each month thereafter
Price: 1,913,330.00 Dutch Guilders.
Order 51651 for 45 VCL Command Tanks
Date of order: 26 June 1939
Delivery schedule: first vehicle to be ready for trials ten months after the date of order (April 1940), 2 each week thereafter
Price 1,819,597.50 Dutch Guilders.
Other orders were also placed in 1939 and 1940 for spare parts, additional equipment to be mounted on the vehicles, pumps, two instructional layouts and one Vickers 7.7mm machine guns for each of the Light Tanks. All vehicles from this order were only armed with one Vickers machine gun. Neither the dual mounting for two Colt Brownings, nor the Vickers M.23 6.5mm machine gun mounted on the first four tanks were used. The Light Tanks were to be delivered f.o.b. London or Southampton on ships bound to the NEI, along with equipment. The Command Tanks had first to be tested on the VCL facilities after delivery and then to be delivered f.o.b. Antwerp in Belgium. It is however now certain that these delivery schedules were not respected because of the outbreak of WW2 in Europe. Furthermore, it seems that the vehicles were not shipped directly from England to the NEI, but first to the Netherlands and then to the NEI. According to a record from the NETHMY, the situation was as follows on 15 May 1940 (the Netherlands were invaded by Germany on 10 May and surrendered six days later):
VCL Light Tanks 24 delivered (initially planned: 44). 20 shipped to the NEI, four still in the Netherlands.
Machine guns: 24 delivered.
VCL Command Tanks: none delivered.
The four vehicles still in the Netherlands were either captured by the German or destroyed in their crates during the fighting. They had been shipped from London to Rotterdam on April 22 and were probably on a ship in this harbour at the time of the German attack. No information has been found on this subject. A part of the orders for spare parts, machine guns and other equipment was possibly also lost in the same way. It is unlikely that any Command Tank had been accepted and tested in England at this date. In June 1940, the British War Office informed the Dutch exile government in England that the balance of the order of Light Tanks would be taken over by the British Government. At that time 16 vehicles were ready for delivery at Newcastle at the Vickers Armstrong factory. In the following months, the Dutch Foreign Office and the Colonial Office tried to recover all 49 vehicles, but the dramatic shortage of armoured fighting vehicles in England and the difficulties of shipping prevented them from succeeding. It was even proposed that the vehicles should be built in the U.S.A. under licence by Marmon-Herrington. it is however improbable that these talks were carried through. The Marmon-Herrington Company was itself busy building vehicles of its own design. The Model 1936 Light Tank was also beginning to be out of date in 1940, even in the U.S.A.. In the first months of 1941, the War Office proposed to deliver 49 Marmon-Herrington armoured cars from South Africa to replace the Light Tanks. These were eventually shipped from Durban in January 1942 and reached the NEI in time for the final allied stand on Java. Besides the vehicles themselves, the Dutch government also tried to obtain the various equipment and spare parts from their order. Again, it seems that almost nothing reached the NEI. The remaining items were taken over by the British War Office after the surrender of the NEI in March 1942.
The 49 remaining light tanks taken over by the British War Office were used by the British Army as training vehicles. In June 1940, the Dutch Colonial Office reported that seven were used in Newcastle in patrols against possible German paratroops. A record from Bovington says that these vehicles were bought under contract T79 and allotted registration numbers T16658 to T16706. They were designated Light Tank Mark IIIB. One of these vehicles survives today in the Bovington Tank Museum in an excellent state. The prototype of the Command Tank was built at the end of 1938, but it seems that the production did not start before the outbreak of war in Europe. No more information has been found in Dutch archives, except that no vehicles were delivered. VCL Tanks in the NEI before World War II in South East Asia. In 1939 the Proefafdeling Vechtwagens was transformed into a Bataljon Vechwagens as the tanks of the latter orders were awaited. The unit however still acted as a training establishment. Driver training was conducted first on wheeled vehicles, then on VCL Utility Tractors (built in Belgium) and finally on the Light Tanks. The strain put on the 24 available tanks was fairly heavy as they were the only tracked armoured fighting vehicles on hand (until 1942) and as spare parts from England were almost unobtainable. It is therefore not surprising that only 20 vehicles were in service at the beginning of World War II in South East Asia and that these 20 were already well used. As the end of 1941 was nearing, the Bataljon Vechtwagens received additional personnel and now had 35 officers and about 500 NCOs and ORs. Among the latter, the proportion was one European to two non-European (Indonesian from the various islands of the NEI). At that time the personnel of the Bataljon was still located in Bandoeng in the barracks of the XV. Infanterie Bataljon while the vehicles, were in the barracks of the Motordienst van de Genie (motor service of the engineers) . Plans were also made for the creation of a fairly large mechanised force of five, and latter six brigades. They were to receive 90 tanks each, all from the Marmon-Herrington Company. Orders for 600 light and medium tanks were placed, but only about 20 to 30 light tanks eventually reached Java. The training ground was at Bandoeng and new ones were opened in 1941 at Magelang (Central Java) and Malang (East Java). Shortly before the beginning of World War Two in South East Asia, the KNIL was mobilised as hostilities with Japan appeared unavoidable. The training courses of the Bataljon Vechtwagens were closed and the unit was reorganised under the name Mobiele Eenheid (Mobile Unit) and placed at the disposition of the Legercommandant (Army Commander Luitenant-General H ter Porten) . The organisation at the end of February 1942 was: HQ and Liaison Group (one White Scout Car, wheeled vehicles and motorcycles).
Tank Company Command Group (three VCL), 1st Platoon (seven Marmon-Herrington tanks), 2nd Platoon (seven VCL), 3rd Platoon (seven VCL)
Armoured Infantry Company: three platoons with 16 Overvalwagens (locally built wheeled armoured personnel carriers).
Service and Transport Group with various wheeled vehicles and motorcycles.
The unit was under the command of Kapitein Wulfhorst, while Kapiteins Backhuijs and Brendgen respectively commanded the Tank and Armoured Infantry companies. The War against Japan: December 1941- March 1942. (This section is based on the articles and books by CA Heshusius, JJ Nortier, JA Palit and GHO de Wit and the Dutch official history)
Before coming to the fighting on Java with the Mobiele Eenheid, it is interesting to note that a few VCL tanks were used on Borneo. According to the strategy of the KNIL HQ, the great island of Borneo was not defended as a whole. Only the oil fields and several important airfields were to be defended and destroyed should their capture become inevitable. Among the latter was Singkawang II in the western part of Borneo, not far from the border with British Borneo. The airfield was important as it would allow its user to control the southern approach to Singapore and a great part of the Java Sea. At the beginning of the war on December 8th 1941, a squadron of Dutch Martin 139 bomber and a third of a squadron of Brewster 339 fighters were based there. The bombers made several raids on British Borneo after the Japanese landings at Miri on December 16th and Koching on the 24th. Meanwhile on December 10th, 6 men from the Mobiele Eenheid embarked with three VCL tanks in Tandjong Prick, the harbour of Batavia. These tanks were still used for training until then and were not included in the Mobiele Eenheid. They arrived three days later at Pontianak on the west coast of Borneo. According to one of the tankmen, one of the tanks was amphibious and one of the others was armed with two machine guns. It is probable that the latter was one of the two original tanks delivered late in 1937 (the third tank may also have been one of those). The Amphibious Tank was not used in the fighting because it became unserviceable shortly after the arrival due to its age. The two remaining tanks were under the command of Brigadier Timmer (a brigade was a 15 man group in the KNIL). After their landing at Kuching, two battalions of the Japanese 124th Infantry Regiment advanced toward the border with Dutch Borneo and crossed it on January 24th 1942. Their aim was to take over the airfield of Singkawang II, which had already been abandoned as an air base by the Dutch. The opposing Allied forces comprised the remains of the 2/15 Punjabis from Kuching plus several brigades of the KNIL. Apart from the two tanks, there were also two Overvalwagens at the airfield. Before the land attack, the tanks had been used in an antiaircraft role during the several Japanese raids.
The only recorded tank action took place on January 27th with one of the "old" tanks on the road between Ledo and Sanggau together with one Overvalwagen. It gave support to several Dutch and Punjab troops but was forced to stay on the road because of the difficult terrain on both sides. After several hours of fighting during which the tank received replenishment and a new driver, it finally ended in a ditch. The crew was unhurt and abandoned the vehicle to meet the retreating Allied troops. It is not know if and how the second tank was used. It is possible that it was destroyed during an earlier air strike on the airfield. Even if it was not know at that time, the defence of Borneo was doomed from the start as the allied troops had no air support and had to face a numerically stronger enemy.
The fighting of the Mobiele Eenheid on Java has been described in detail in various books and magazine accounts and it will be only summarised here. The Japanese made several landings on Java on March 1st, 1942. The Japanese 230th Infantry Regiment landed at Eretan Wetan, about 80 miles east of Batavia. The Dutch troops in East Java were concentrated around Batavia and Bandoeng and the Japanese meet almost no resistance daring their landing and their subsequent advance. On the same day, they took by surprise the strategically important airfield of Kalidjati despite the resistance of the British defence party made mostly of RAF ground crews.
On the afternoon of March 1st, the Mobiele Eenheid was alerted in Bandoeng and went in the direction of Kalidjati (25 miles to the north). The unit was reinforced by three Marmon-Herrington armoured cars, three 3.7cm anti-tank guns and a battery of mountain artillery with four 7.5cm guns. On March 2nd, the unit prepared to attack in the direction of Soebang, a little town east of Kalidjati. The Japanese had at that time only about 100 men in the town, including Colonel T. Shoji, the commander of the force landed at Eretan Wetan, together with a anti-tank and a mountain gun. It seems that they were quite surprised by the Dutch attack. Preceded by two armoured cars, the 1st Platoon (Marmon-Herrington tanks) with a platoon of infantry in Overvalwagens made the first attack at 0810. The open topped Overvalwagens were soon in difficulty and the tank platoon was unable to take over the town alone. It retreated after losing one tank. The two other infantry platoons had dismounted and were trying to enter the town by advancing on both sides of the road. They encountered strong Japanese resistance and were not able to progress. The 2nd Tank Platoon followed the first tanks and entered the town. The Japanese defenders were now fully alerted and they repulsed the platoon which lost three or four vehicles. The third attack on Soebang took place at 0915. The 3rd Tank Platoon with the Command Group and the remaining vehicles of the 1st and 2nd Platoons tried to drive out the Japanese (there were 17 tanks involved). Without infantry support, the tanks came under fire from both sides of the road toward Soebang and were repulsed with losses (at least four vehicles). Meanwhile, Japanese reinforcements had reached the town and were threatening the flanks of the Dutch infantry. On 1015, a last tank attack was started to extricate the infantry. It is not know how many vehicles participated in the attack. After a bitter fighting, the Mobiele Eenheid finally broke contact with the Japanese at 1220. It assembled at Tambakan, a few miles south of Soebang, and went to Bandoeng on March 4th. On the 9th, the NEI capitulated. Between the 4th and the 9th, the Mobiele Eenheid did not take part in any action. It was placed in reserve against possible paratroops landings which did not take place. The only use of tanks in Java must be considered a failure. The objective was not reached and the unit suffered such losses that it did not seen action again. The courage and skill of the tank crews were unquestionable. After the war, eight men were decorated with the Bronzen Kruis (Bronze Cross) and one with Bronzen Leeuw (Bronze Lion). In addition four men were promoted to Corporal. However, the whole attack suffered from a lack of planing. The foremost mistake was the insufficient infantry support. The 150 men strong armoured infantry company was unable to support the tanks on their way and in the town, as was the artillery. This is even more unforgivable as a whole infantry battalion was scheduled to attack Soebang a day latter. The result was another failure. Incredibly, neither commander knew of the other's missions. A co-ordinated attack by both forces, even on March 3rd, could have obtained better results. It is also obvious that the Dutch Command had no real idea of how to use its armoured unit. Unfortunately, the first lesson was to prove to be the last. The losses of the Mobiele Eenheid were severe: fifteen or sixteen killed in action, twelve or thirteen wounded, thirty six missing (most of them taken prisoner). Thirteen tanks (VCL and Marmon-Herrington), three Overvalwagens, one Marmon Herrington armoured car and one anti-tank gun were lost. According to another source, eight tanks were destroyed during the attack and three were later lost to air strikes.
Only seven to nine of the remaining tanks could still be used. The lack of spare parts was now acute. The two types of tanks used must be considered obsolete at that time. Even against an enemy equipped with relatively few anti-tank weapons, the VCL Light Tanks were deficient in armour and firepower. Furthermore, they had been used for training and were lacking spare parts and were therefore not in best state. The Marmon-Herrington tanks were no better and the crews were not familiar with them as they had only reached Java a few weeks earlier.
VCL Light Tanks in the NEI after the Allied surrender It is unlikely that the remaining tanks of the Mobiele Eenheid were destroyed by their crews before the surrender. The history of the KNIL Cavalry states that the Japanese recovered 15 serviceable light tanks, including some from a British unit. They were probably kept on Java and used for training and police duties. In the last weeks of World War II, the Japanese Command on Java began to arm various Indonesian groups and promised them the independence of their country. When the allied forces (mainly Indian and British units) arrived at the end of September 1945, they found the Indonesian nationalists in control of the island. There is photographic proof that at least one VCL Light Tank was used by them, along with several other ex-Allied and Japanese vehicles. It is also possible that this vehicle was involved in the fighting between the British occupation force and the Indonesian. The Dutch forces, made up mostly of ex-POWs, came back only in February-March 1946 and there is no record of the use of light tanks against them.
Appendix Registrations of the VCL Light Tanks The original four tanks had the registrations D7189 and D7211 for the Amphibious Tanks and D7145 and D7152 for the Light Tanks, later changed respectively to D9802, D9803, D9800 and D9801. Like all vehicles of the KNIL, the tanks had a civil registration. The letter D stands for the Preanger Residentie, the province comprising Bandoeng. From pictures, it is apparent that almost all AFVs of the KNIL were registered in this province, possibly because the Dutch HQ were at Bandoeng. The four digits seems to have been attributed in a loose chronological order. The Light Tanks from the later order were all registered in the D9800 series. Photographic evidence shows the followings: D9804, D9809, D9811, D9813, D9814, D9815, D9816, D9817, D9819, D9820, D9823, D9824.
Bibliography D: Dutch ; E: English/Australian ; F: French/Belgian
De Japanse aanval op Nederlands-Indie - deel 2 Borneo, JJ Nortier (D)
Het KNIL van tempoe doeloe, CA Heshusius (D)
Het Koniniklijk Nederlands-Indische Leger 1830-1950, CA Heshusius & HL Zwitzei, (D)
KNIL Cavalerie 1816-1950, CA Heshusius (D)
Nederlands-Inidie contra Japan Deel VII, C van den Hoogenband & others, official history (D)
Soldaten van het Kompenie KNIL 1830-1950, CA Heshusius (D)
Tanda Mata KNIL, P van Meel (D)
Tankalbum 2, F Vos (D)
Armour of the Pacific War, S Zaloga (E)
Australian Military Forces Japanese AFV's 1943 (E)
Mechanised Force, D Fletcher (E)
The Galloping Third, H Bolitho (E)
GHO de Wit in Mars & Historia Vol.26 No.4 (D)
M Ledet in 39-45 Magazine No 44 (F)
JJ Nortier in Stabelan Vol.14 No.4 (D)
JA Palit in Stabelan Vol.10 No.4 (D)
R Surlemont in Tank Museum News No 30 (F)
F Vos in Militaire Spectator December 1972 (D)
3rd the King's Own Hussars Journal 1946 & 1947 (E)
Acknowledgements I am very grateful to the following people and organisations for providing and allowing access to information, pictures, books and magazines: J. Bauman (MAFVA), P. Brown, D. Fletcher (Bovington Tank Museum), Maj. (Rtd) J.S. Knight (Home HQ The Queen's Own Hussars), Public Record Office in England. K. Blijleven (TWENOT), R. Evers (TWENOT), Col. Cav. Ret. C.A. Heshusius, Algemeen Rijksarchief, Sectie Militaire Geschiedenis Koninklijke Landmaclit in the Netherlands. Any comments, corrections and additions to this article are very welcome. Several questions remains unanswered and I hope that some readers may help solving them.