Invaders for Indonesia

Last revised September 12, 2000


During the Second World War, the former Dutch colony of the Netherlands East Indies was occupied by Japanese forces. Following the Japanese defeat, the Dutch attempted to regain control of their former colony. However, after much fighting the independence of the East Indies was formally recognized on December 27, 1949, the country being renamed the Republic of the United States of Indonesia. The RUSI was made up of 16 entities: the Republic of Indonesia (Java and Sumatra) plus 15 states established by the Dutch. By May of 1950, all of the federal states had been absorbed into a single Republic of Indonesia, with Jakarta as the capital.

Achmad Sukarno (1901-1970) became the first president. He had been a leader of a radical nationalist movement founded in 1927 and had been jailed and exiled several times by the Dutch during the 1930s. During the war, Sukarno collaborated with the Japanese occupiers, while at the same time continuing to press for Indonesian independence.

Following Indonesian independence, the Military Aviation of the Royal Netherlands Indies Army (MK-KNIL) was disbanded and most of its installations and aircraft were handed over to the newly-formed Angkatan Udara Republik Indonesia (Air Force of the Republic of Indonesia, or AURI). The aircraft involved in the transfer included a batch of B-25C, D, and J Mitchells and F-51D and K Mustangs.

Relations between Indonesia and the United States were initially fairly good, and in 1951, the AURI expressed an interest in acquiring B-26 Invaders. This request was initially turned down since the Korean War was at that time in full swing and the USAF had no B-26s to spare. Nevertheless, some USAF instructors were allocated to help train AURI C-47 and B-25 crews.

Unfortunately, relations between the USA and Indonesian President Sukarno began to deteriorate soon thereafter, and most US Military Assistance and Advisory Groups had been expelled by 1954. By this time the surviving AURI Mitchells were suffering from corrosion and were often grounded for lack of spare parts.

Indonesia is an archipelago of many thousands of islands. There was little in the diverse cultures of Indonesia or their historical experience to prepare Indonesians for democracy, and the Dutch had done practically nothing to prepare the colony for self government. During the the Second World War, the Japanese occupation had imposed an authoritarian state based on collectivist and ethnic nationalist ideas. Outside of a small number of urban areas, most people still lived in a cultural milieu that stressed status hierarchies, family connections, and obedience to authority. Powerful Islamic and leftist currents were also far from democratic. Conditions were exacerbated by economic disruption, the wartime and postwar devastation of vital industries, unabated population growth, and resultant food shortages. By the mid-1950s, the country's prospects for democratization were indeed grim.

Almost immediately after independence was established, the new government in Jakarta adopted a policy of putting the interests of Java ahead of those of other islands, and as a reaction various factions in some of the more remote areas began fighting against the central Indonesian government on Java. Another problem was within the Indonesian military itself. By 1952, Indonesia was in deep financial difficulty and had been forced to cut way back on armed forces spending. The lack of money often led to troops in the field being unpaid for long periods of time. In addition, many in the military felt that the central government was too soft on Communism and that it was not taking strong enough action against the rebel factions in remote areas.

Dissatisfaction within the ranks of the military reached a boiling point during the mid-1950s, and led to a series of coup attempts and revolts which rapidly spread out of control. In the eastern archipelago and Sumatra, military officers established their own satrapies, often reaping large profits from smuggling and other illegal operations. In an attempt to curtail these activities, Jakarta issued an order in 1955 transferring these officers out of their localities. The result was an attempted coup d'état launched during October-November 1956. Although the coup failed, the instigators went underground, and military officers in some parts of Sumatra seized control of civilian governments in defiance of Jakarta. By 1956, the situation was so bad that some military commanders in some of the most remote areas on Sumatra and in the Celebes were completely free of central government control and had the status of virtual warlords.

On February 10, 1958, while Sukarno was out of the country on a tour of Asian nations, a group of Sumatran military officers, politicians, and others sent an ultimatum to Jakarta demanding Sukarno be downgraded to a figurehead role as president and the formation of an entirely new government. Five days later, the group proclaimed the Revolutionary Government of the Indonesian Republic (PRRI). On February 17, Permesta rebels in Sulawesi made common cause with them. At this time, some of the military rebels secretly contacted US officials with a request for assistance. By this time, the Sukarno regime was perceived by Washington as being essentially pro-Communist, and its overthrow was eagerly sought.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) began a clandestine operation to aid the rebel forces, and a dozen or so B-26s were acquired for the effort. These aircraft were part of a batch of Invaders that had been struck off charge at Clark AFB in 1955 as being obsolete. Some of them had been returned by the French after they left Indochina. Air crews were recruited from the ranks of pilots who had formerly flown with the Civil Air Transport on Taiwan and from the ranks of Eastern European exiles. Training took place in secret at bases in the Philippines. The operation was supposedly given the code name Haik. Care was taken so that the fingerprints of the CIA would never be found on the operation.

The first three B-26s left Clark AB for Sulawesi on April 12, with several B-26s being held in reserve at Clark. Beginning in April of 1958, several attacks were carried out by rebel B-26s against government airfields and installations. None of these attacks were sufficiently effective to do any lasting damage to government forces, but they did help to raise rebel morale.

The operation's cover was blown on May 18, 1958, when Allen Pope, a CIA contractor, was shot down in his B-26 during an attack on shipping near Ambon in the southern Moluccas and captured by Indonesian forces. This caused considerable embarrassment to the US government, which had heretofore denied all involvement in the Indonesian military rebellion. Thus exposed, the Americans hurriedly dismantled the CIA operation and withdrew their personnel from Indonesia. The debacle prompted Sukarno to develop even closer relations with the Soviet Union and, especially, the People's Republic of China.

What exactly happened to the surviving Invaders is still uncertain even to this day. At least one of the Invaders was damaged on the ground and was left there to be captured by Indonesian ground forces. Some may have been returned to the Philippines, but others may have been destroyed on the ground by the CIA personnel before they evacuated.

By August of 1958, the United States had lifted the embargo on arms deliveries to the Indonesian government and resumed regular deliveries of weapons to the Indonesian government. The CIA's use of Invaders in the Indonesian uprisings had the somewhat unexpected side effect of inspiring the AURI to acquire some Invaders for itself, and by 1959 relations with Washington had improved to the extent that Indonesia was allowed to purchase six B-26s from USAF surplus stocks. These were refurbished by a civilian firm in the USA and were delivered to the AURI by mid-1960.

The AURI Invaders were all solid-nosed B-26Bs, and bore serial numbers M-262 and M264/268. They operated alongside the B-25Js already serving with No 1 Squadron. They were used for tactical air support, interdiction, and long-range reconnaissance. AURI B-26s were used operationally in the final stage of the war against the military rebels. By the autumn of 1961, most of the rebels had surrendered, but some fighting continued until 1964 in some areas. This marked an example of the use of B-26s by both sides in a conflict, although they were not used simultaneously.

In the meantime, Sukarno had dissolved the constituent assembly and had assumed full dictatorial powers in July of 1959. Once the rebellions on Sumatra had been suppressed, President Sukarno turned his attention to Netherlands New Guinea. Netherlands New Guinea (or Irian Jaya as the Indonesians called it) had remained a Dutch colony following Indonesian independence, but the Indonesians always claimed that it should have been turned over to them along with the rest of the Dutch East Indies. In 1960, Indonesia threatened military action to seize Netherlands New Guinea, which forced the Dutch to reinforce their forces in the area. Continued Dutch occupation of West New Guinea led to a break in diplomatic relations between Jakarta and The Hague in 1960. Undeterred, on January 15, 1962, Indonesian forces launched an amphibious landing and paratroop drop which were covered by B-25s and B-26s of Skadron 1 and the F-51s of Skadron 2. Negotiations were quickly entered into by the Dutch and it was agreed that West New Guinea would be first turned over to the UN and then be turned over to Indonesian administration. Dutch military units began evacuating in the autumn of 1962, and Indonesian authority was established in May of 1963.

That very same year, Sukarno proclaimed himself "president for life", and began to increase his ties with the People's Republic of China and began to admit increasing numbers of Communists and pro-Communists into his government. Relations with the USA steadily got worse and worse. In 1963, after shouting repeatedly "To hell with your aid" (1950-65 total: U.S. $1,000,000,000), Sukarno all but broke with the United States. President Lyndon Johnson took Sukarno at his word, and formally ended US aid in December of that year.

Having successfully swallowed up West Irian, President Sukarno then turned his attention to the proposed union of Malaya, Singapore, Brunei, and the British colonies of Sabah and Sarawak (the latter three all located on northern Borneo) that was to be known as the Federation of Malaysia. Indonesia opposed the creation of Malaysia, because it had ambitions of incorporating the same territories into an Indonesian-led federation. This led to a series of actions that came to be known as the Malaysian Confrontation.

In order to disrupt the proposed Malaysian union, in December of 1962, Indonesia began to provide covert aid and support to a liberation movement which attempted to overthrow the Sultanate of Brunei. This revolt was quickly quelled by British troops called in by the Sultan. Undeterred, Indonesia began to sponsor sporadic attacks against targets in Sarawak by Indonesian "volunteers" posing as homegrown rebel groups. Nevertheless, the formation of the Federation of Malaysia went forward and was formally proclaimed on September 16, 1963, Brunei having earlier withdrawn from the scheme.

Very rapidly, the Malaysian Confrontation involved Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union, and the People's Republic of China. In desperation, Indonesia abandoned any pretext that local rebel units were responsible for the attacks in northern Borneo, and in early March of 1964, regular Indonesian forces entered the fighting. Although large military forces from both sides were committed to battle, most of the fighting was on a relatively small scale. Indonesian forces had little or no air support, and AURI B-25s and B-26s were generally restricted to attacking only isolated villages of relatively little military importance. None of the AURI bombers were intercepted by RAF jet fighters.

In December of 1964, Malaysia was formally admitted as a member of the Security Council of the UN in December 1964, forcing Sukarno to take Indonesia out of the UN.

All throughout this turbulent era, the Indonesian Communist party, known as the PKI, had been steadily growing in power as more and more of their members had been admitted to important government posts. The military was strongly split among factions supporting Sukarno and the PKI and those violently opposed. On September 30, 1965, a group of pro-Communist military officers attempted to seize power in Indonesia. Six top Army generals were murdered. General Mohamed Suharto was commander of the Jakarta garrison at the time, and he played a significant role in reversing the coup. Suharto was a veteran of the war for independence against the Dutch, and the next couple of years played out a contest for power between Suharto and Sukarno. A complex series of bloody battles began between pro- and anti-Communist elements. During the ensuing civil war, several hundred thousand people were killed. As a result of the war, the PKI was totally eliminated and the armed forces were completely purged of pro-Sukarno elements. Another effect of the bloody civil war was that Indonesia was forced to abandon its war against Malaysia, and on August 11, 1966, a peace treaty was signed, formally ending the Malaysian Confrontation. In September, Indonesia rejoined the United Nations.

On March 11, 1966, Sukarno was forced to delegate wide powers to Suharto. On March 12, 1967, Sukarno was stripped of all power and General Suharto was installed as acting president. He assumed key civilian cabinet offices in 1966, became acting president in 1967, and was elected president in 1968. Sukarno remained under house arrest until his death in 1970.

The Indonesian armed forces then turned to the suppression of the Communist rebels that had tried to overthrow the Sukarno government in 1965. AURI B-26s were active in the mopping up of pro-communist groups, first against guerrilla movements in western Borneo, and then again against insurgents in southern Blitar. The fighting continued until 1969 until the rebels were finally suppressed.

On October 5, 1971, the AURI was renamed Tentera Nasional Indonesia - Angkatan Udara, or Indonesian National Armed Forces - Air Force. The last operational use of the Invader by the TNI-AU was in late 1975 and early 1976 during the Indonesian invasion of the former Portuguese colony of East Timor. The B-26s were finally retired in 1977, and Skadron 1 was deactivated. One TNI-AU B-26 (serial number M-265) is now on display at the TNI-AU Museum at Yogyakarta.

Sources:


  1. United States Military Aircraft Since 1909, Gordon Swanborough and Peter M. Bowers, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989.

  2. McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Since 1920: Volume I, Rene J. Francillon, Naval Institute Press, 1988.

  3. American Combat Planes, Third Enlarged Edition, Ray Wagner, Doubleday, 1982.

  4. Foreign Invaders--The Douglas Invader in Foreign Military and US Clandestine Service, Dan Hagendorn and Leif Hellstrom, Midland Publishing, 1994.

  5. US Library of Congress Country Study--Indonesia