Black Sun, Red Moon (BSRM) and Merdeka Rising (MR) recount the dramatic and tragic events that occurred on the island of Java in the former Netherlands East Indies (NEI) at the close of the second world war and the start of the Indonesian revolution. In the words of war correspondent Martha Gellhorn, who visited Java, it was the first of the ‘dirty little wars’. Based on academic histories; British, Dutch, Japanese and American memoirs; newspaper reports; interviews and once-secret British Government and British Army documents, BSRM/MR is a gripping account of deprivation, cruelty, sexual slavery, political intrigue, revolutionary fervour, massacre, courage and unexpected sacrifice.

When the Imperial Japanese army conquered the NEI in March 1942 they found themselves masters of one of Asia’s richest areas as well as approximately 90,000 stranded European nationals, the vast majority of whom were colonial Dutch women and children. Within months of the invasion, most of them were interned in isolated prison camps far from the capital Batavia (now Jakarta). Conditions in the camps were appalling: in three-and-a-half years’ confinement, several thousand internees died of disease, malnutrition or as a result of torture and beatings by their captors. A number of the women were also pressured to work as prostitutes or ianfu ('comfort women') as the Japanese euphemistically described sex slaves for their military.© Rory Marron

As the war progressed and Allied forces slowly advanced through Southeast Asia and the Pacific, the internees waited for liberation. Meanwhile the Japanese military in the NEI prepared for a last, glorious stand. It was not to be. On 15 August 1945, following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Emperor Hirohito of Japan ordered his armies to surrender. The sudden cessation of hostilities caught the Allies unprepared for the political realities of a post-war Southeast Asia. American military forces were ©immediatelyredirectedOfor RtheYoccupation ofMJapan. AAtRtheRsameOtime,N General Douglas MacArthur passed control of the South-West Pacific Theatre of Operations to South-East Asia Command (SEAC). With almost no warning the British, already laden with massive imperial obligations in Malaya, Burma and India, found themselves responsible for the entire NEI, an area of several hundred thousand square miles and a population of nearly 100 million people. (Java alone was home to 49 million.) The Japanese in the NEI had also helped prepare a ‘welcome present’ for the Allies. On 19 August, 'encouraged' by senior Japanese naval officers, Indonesian nationalist leaders declared independence from the Netherlands and the creation of the Republic of Indonesia. The Dutch denounced the new president, Sukarno, as a Japanese puppet and quisling, and threatened him and his cabinet ministers with death. In response, the Indonesians vowed to resist the return of their former masters. News of riots in Java reached the Allies, quickly followed by reports of murders of Dutch civilians trying to reclaim their homes and possessions.Text by Rory Marron.Text by Rory MarronText by Rory MarronText by Rory MarronText by Rory Marron

With few troops (or transport ships) available for operations, Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, commander of SEAC, had no option but to order the Japanese military to maintain law and order. To the immense relief of the British most of the Japanese complied. As a result the Japanese became targets for Indonesian militia units and mobs demanding their arms and ammunition. When they refused they were often attacked and killed. Later the mobs turned their frustration on the Japanese civilian population. In one incident, over 200 were butchered in the central Java port city of Semarang. Revenge by the Japanese army was swift. Over 2,000 Indonesians were estimated killed in the battle for the city that followed.©Rory Marron

Despite the deteriorating situation on Java, it took the British six weeks to move troops to the NEI. The Dutch, who had no trained units available either, were furious. They accused the British of plotting against their return to the NEI and of seeking their colony’s huge riches for themselves. The inter-Allied goodwill that had characterised the fight against Germany and Japan soon disappeared in acrimonious charges of plot and counter-plot. While the British struggled to get men to Java, the Indonesians organised politically and militarily to oppose the return of their colonial masters. Militias drilled, defences were prepared and international recognition was sought by the Indonesian Government from the members of the newly established United Nations. © Rory MarronText by Rory 

At home the British Government faced many problems. Domestic political concerns demanded the early return of British conscripts from Asia (as well as continental Europe). There was little interest in the NEI in Britain or, indeed, among the conscripted soldiers who merely wanted to return home as soon as possible. The Government was also alarmed at the prospect of Britain being dragged into a Dutch colonial war just weeks after the end of a debilitating world war. © Rory Marron

The only troops available to Mountbatten for operations in Java were those of 23 Indian Division (which included one British unit, a battalion of Seaforth Highlanders). This was problematic in itself. Indian independence from Britain loomed and the use of Indian troops (many of them Muslims) to deny a fellow Asian nation its independence from a white colonial master became a political nightmare for both the British Government and the Indian Congress Party.©RoryMarron

The first British regular troops (just 150 Seaforths) finally arrived in Batavia in late September 1945 to supplement the crew of HMS Cumberland, who had been the only significant Britsh military presence on Java (there were also small POW removal teams in the NEI). The Seaforths' commanding officer carried secret instructions to use armed Japanese troops ‘as necessary’. There was an icy but not violent reception for the soldiers but the greatest shock to them was the huge number of internees stranded inland on the island. The British had virtually no military intelligence on the NEI and found that information from the Dutch was either outdated or inaccurate. ‘Operation Round-Up’, an attempt to supply the many camps in the interior with food and medicines, became a race against time. It soon became clear, however, that the Indonesian nationalists considered the internees hostages against the return of the Dutch…©Rory Marron

© Rory Marron 2015

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