KNIL (NEI) collar badges

KNIL section on exercise

KNIL section on exercise

Native KNIL soldiers

Dutch officers with natives

The Koninklijk Nederlands Indisch Leger or KNIL is more often referred to in English as the Netherlands East Indies or NEI. This was the colonial Dutch armed establishment in the Dutch East Indies, modern day Indonesia. After active campaigns subjugating the island chain of the archipelago, when resistance was finally crushed, the role of NEI forces was primarily administrative and policing work. Dutch presence commenced with the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in 1602. Its influence was huge, far outclassing its British, French, Spanish and Portuguese rivals in the region. Dissolved in 1800, the area became the Netherlands East Indies.

The KNIL was formed in 1830 with European officers and native levies and territorial expansion continued. Establishment of the KNIL coincided with expansion of colonial rule to include virtually all the islands of today's Indonesia. Conscription was instituted in 1917 and with the Dutch having been in the East Indies for hundreds of years, most of mixed-blood inhabitants worked for the public service, police or military. The main centre of government was Batavia, modern day Jakarta, on the island of Java.

From 1940 when Germany overran Europe, the Netherlands East Indies could no longer rely on supply from the homeland. The Dutch looked towards Australia for supply of munitions and military hardware. The Dutch looked towards Australia and potential allies to bolster its military forces but needed to maintain control over its territories. Long term friction with Portugal, which held the east end of the island and an enclave in the north, did not help the situation either.

By the time that Japan entered the war, Timor had about 600 officers and soldiers on duty.
     Overall NEI HQ command - Lt.-Col. Nico van Straaten
     Local KNIL command - Lt.-Col. W.E.C. Detiger
          3rd Company / VIII KNIL Infantry Battalion
          RK Infantry Company
          Machine Gun Platoon / XIII Infantry Battalion
          Artillery Battery with four 75mm guns
          An Engineers platoon
          Timor & Dependencies KNIL Garrison Battalion with armoured cars (Overvalwagen Type B or 'Braat')
          Mobile Auxiliary First Air Platoon

 There was a sizeable Dutch naval presence although most of the ships were old. These included the Surabaya, an old coastal training cruiser that was a renamed Royal Netherlands Navy armoured warship, the De Zeven Provincien between 1910 and 1942. At 6,530 tons, it was armed with two 11-inch, four 6-inch, ten 3-inch and four 37mm guns. This conveyed the 2nd Ind. Coy. and Dutch forces to Dili in December 1941. There was no Dutch air force presence on Timor.


When the Japanese Imperial forces landed on 20th February 1941, KNIL units defended the left flank from the deepwater port Tenau to the 2/40th B Company lines at Klapalima where the coastal guns were installed. By landing behind the prepared defences, months of preparation were for naught and the positions were abandonned. The Dutch-led troops capitulated long before any shots were fired and did not take any further part in the action. They came into the prisoner of war camp at Usapa Besar a few weeks later.

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Ian D. Skennerton

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