Indian Divisions

On 15 August 1945, the day that Japan announced its surrender, the eastern border of SEAC (South East Asia Command) was adjusted to include Indochina and the whole of the Dutch East Indies in addition to Burma, Siam, Malacca and Sumatra.
The unexpected end to the war presented the SEAC Supreme Commander, Vice Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, with a dilemma. At that time, SEAC was poorly equipped to carry out its new responsibilities. In an area larger than Europe, an estimated 120,000 Allied prisoners of war and internees were desperate for help, and approximately 730,000 Japanese soldiers and civilians were waiting to be disarmed and repatriated. To carry out this mission, Mountbatten had just 350,000 men, 120 transport ships and 50 RAF squadrons at his disposal. SEAC faced more delay when on 19 August MacArthur ordered that no Allied forces would execute new landings or accept Japanese surrenders until the official surrender ceremony on 2 September 1945. In his defence, Mountbatten wrote:

‘I therefore had no alternative but to instruct the Japanese through their Supreme Commander, to maintain order in the areas for which they had been responsible up to the termination of hostilities. (...) Even if the political and military situation had been appreciated at the beginning, it would not have been physically possible (with our limited shipping lift and the delay imposed by General MacArthur's order) to bring in troops earlier than we have done, or in larger numbers.'

Only on 28 September did the first British units land in Batavia. Mountbatten ordered three Indian divisions to the Dutch East Indies: the 23rd Indian Division and 5th Indian Division were sent to Java and the 26th Indian Division was assigned to Sumatra. Due to the explosive political situation, Mountbatten decided to forego the planned re-occupation of the islands, deciding instead to implement a ‘key area' strategy, occupying only the bridgeheads of Batavia and Surabaya in Java and Padang, Medan and Palembang in Sumatra. British forces later moved on to Bandung, Buitenzorg and Semarang as well. The Indian soldiers had two missions: provide assistance to internees and evacuate the Japanese. Under no circumstances were they to come into conflict with the forces of the new Republic of Indonesia. In order to prevent escalation, on 19 November Mountbatten even refused permission for Dutch troops to land in Java and Sumatra.


Richard McMillan, The British occupation of Indonesia 1945-1946: Britain, the Netherlands and the Indonesian revolution (Londen, 2005).
W.G.J. Remmelink, ‘The emergence of the new situation: the Japanese army on Java after the surrender', in: Militaire Spectator 147/2 (februari 1978), p. 49-66.

Information a.o. in:

Access Number 2.22.21, 161 to 183 (National Archives, Kew)
Access Number 2.22.21, 1015 to 1025 (Research Collection M.C. van Delden).
Access Number 2.13.132, 1038 to 1053 (Documents concerning Indian Divisions).

See also:

- Bersiap Period
- Diplomatic and Military Relations with Great Britain

- Movement of Allied Forces in 1945-1946