1940-1949 | Battlefield butchery | Indonesia | Massacres

British troops kill 10,000 Indonesians in battle to reassert Dutch colonial rule

During a pause in the fighting civilians flee to British held areas to escape the shelling. © IWM (SE 5643)

10 November 1945

On 10 November 1945, 24,000 British troops began a large scale assault on the Indonesian city of Surabaya, where nationalist forces, equipped with weapons they had seized from Japanese troops, were determined to defend their newly acquired independence.  Several days earlier, a British brigadier, Aubortin Mallaby, had been killed in the city, though it wasn’t clear whether he had been the victim of an Indonesian nationalist or a grenade thrown by a British captain at the alleged assailant.

The incident provided a convenient justification for the British to crush the nascent pro-independence forces with overwhelming force. Nationalist positions came under fire from British warships off the coast, Sherman tanks and 25 pounder artillery in the city’s streets, and from RAF Thunderbolts and Mosquitos dropping massive 500 lb bombs from the air.1 The Daily Herald reported that by the 12 November the ‘centre of Surabaya is ablaze,’ adding that ‘the fires were caused by British shelling.’2

Fierce fighting between British soldiers and Indonesian nationalists continued for the remainder of the month. The British lost 600 men while estimates for the number of Indonesians killed ranges from ten to fifteen thousand – a ratio of more than 20 to 1. 200,000 inhabitants were forced to abandon their homes.  As British troops then handed over control of the city to returning Dutch soldiers, some were so appalled by the atrocities they witnessed committed against Indonesians, that they mutinied and threatened to turn their guns instead on the Dutch.3

A soldier reading a notice posted by nationalists addressed to British led Indian troops – © IWM.(SE 5979)

FOOTNOTES

  1. Abdul Wahid, ‘The Untold Story of the Surabaya Battle of 1925,’ The Jakarta Post, 13 November 2013, accessed online at url https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2013/11/12/the-untold-story-surabaya-battle-1945.html and ‘500 lb bombs on Surabaya,’ The Gloucestershire Echo, 14 November 1945, p. 1.
  2. ‘Guns set fire to Surabaya,’ The Daily Herald, 13 November 1945, p. 1.
  3. Ian Cobain, The History Thieves: Secrets, Lies and the Shaping of a Modern Nation, Portobello Books, London, 2017, pp. 69-70.

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