The prisoners of war in Borneo were concentrated in Kuching (British Borneo), Tarakan and Balikpapan. In 1945 the POWs in Balikpapan were moved to Bandjermasin and subsequently to the interior. The civilian internees were concentrated in Kuching and Bandjermasin. In 1945 the internees in Bandjermasin were also transported to the interior.
Battle for Borneo
Some of the main targets of the Japanese operations in the Dutch East Indies were located in Borneo: the oil installations of the island of Tarakan off the coast of Northeast Borneo and Balikpapan in Southeast Borneo.
In the night of 10 to 11 January 1942, 6,000 Japanese soldiers landed on Tarakan. The wells had already been destroyed and the oil tanks set alight. The demoralized KNIL troops on the small island, some 1,300 men, surrendered on the morning of the 12th. Word of the surrender reached the southernmost coastal battery too late, however, and they sank two Japanese minesweepers at the last moment. In January most of the soldiers in this battery were killed by the Japanese. The more than eighty bodies were thrown in the sea.
On 20 January 1942 two Dutch officers from Tarakan arrived in Balikpapan carrying a threatening message from the Japanese: all soldiers and civilians would be killed if the oil installations there did not fall into Japanese hands intact. That same day they proceeded to destroy the installations.
In the night of 23 to 24 January Japanese troops landed on both sides of Balikpapan. The few Dutch and American airplanes, destroyers and submarines in the area managed to sink several ships in the Japanese invasion fleet, but could not prevent the landing. The KNIL detachment then withdrew into the interior. In the weeks following the capture of Balikpapan, 78 Europeans who had stayed behind, civilians and military, were killed by the Japanese.
From British Borneo the Japanese advanced in the direction of Pontianak in West Borneo. On 27 January the Japanese troops landed at Pamangkat, about 150 kilometres to the north of the city. Meeting almost no resistance they occupied Pontianak on January 29. In South Borneo the Japanese reached Bandjermasin, which the army and nearly all Europeans had already left then, on February 10.
After the KNIL capitulated on March 9, the remaining KNIL troops in the interior surrendered.
Prisoners of war
The prisoners of war in the Western District of Borneo were initially assembled in Pontianak. In July 1942 all POWs and civilian internees - in total about 700 people – were taken by ship from West Borneo to British North Borneo and housed in the Batu Lintang camp, on the outskirts of Kuching. There were almost 200 European and some 200 native POWs in the Lintang camp. About half of the natives were released or taken elsewhere as heihos.
The soldiers who were taken captive on Tarakan island and elsewhere in northeast Borneo – over 1,000 men, of whom more than two thirds were natives – were initially imprisoned in the local KNIL encampments on Tarakan. In June 1942 half of these prisoners left for Balikpapan. In December 1944 another 85 European prisoners of war were taken to Balikpapan. Those who stayed behind, about 400 native POWs, were moved to a forest bivouac near Gunung Api in the interior of Takaran in April 1945. A large number of prisoners managed to escape there, and on 13 June 1945 those who stayed behind reached the Australian troops that had landed on Tarakan in early May.
The approximately 860 POWs who had been taken prisoner along the Mahakan river or at the airfield Samarinda II were assembled in Samarinda-city, located to the north of Balikpapan. From there groups of prisoners were transferred to Sangasanga, Tarakan and Balikpapan. After September 1943 an unknown number of native POWs stayed behind in Samarinda and Sangasanga.
The POWs from the south-eastern part of Borneo were initially assembled in Balikpapan and Bandjermasin. In January, February, and April 1943 the POWs, apart from a group of British-Indians, were transferred from Bandjermasin to Balikpapan. The POWs, about 400 to 500 men who were housed in various camps there, were moved to Bandjermasin in February 1945. At that time there were still several hundred native and British-Indian prisoners of war in Mentawir, to the north of Balikpapan.
Late July 1945 the POWs that had been transported from Balikpapan to Bandjermasin in February, were taken to Puruktjau, deep in the interior, on the upper reaches of the Barito river, about 300 kilometres north of Bandjermasin.
Another POW camp was established at Sandakan in British Borneo. In September 1943 there were 2,000 Australian and 500 British POWs detained here. They were then forced to march for days to Ranau, where the remainder of them finally died or were killed. Only six prisoners survived because they managed to escape.
The civilian internees of West Borneo were assembled in Pontianak and several smaller towns to the north and east of that city. As usual the men and women were housed separately. In July 1942 all of them - about 280 persons - were brought to British Borneo, where they ended up in the Batu Lintang camp in Kuching.
The enemy civilians from the north-eastern part of Borneo, for example from Teluk Bajur and the Malinau area, were assembled in Tarakan. Several of them had fled deep into the interior before that. In Tarakan they were housed in the local barracks. In November-December 1943 these civilian internees - more than one hundred people - were taken to Bandjermasin. The small number of only ten civilian internees in Samarinda were also taken to Bandjermasin in December 1943.
The civilian internees from southeast Borneo were concentrated in Bandjermasin. Several dozen male internees were removed from the camp in August-September 1943 on suspicion of anti-Japanese conspiracy. The remaining 54 men and boys were taken to Kandangan in the interior, about 100 kilometres northeast of Bandjermasin, in January 1945. In February 1945 the women’s camp (117 persons) was also moved to Kandangan. Similar to Bandjermasin three internment camps were established in Kandangan: a men’s camp, a women’s camp, and a missionary camp with people from the Basel Mission, all located on the grounds of a KNIL encampment.
Early August 1945 the men’s camp in Kandangan was moved to Puruktjau, even further inland, where the POWs from Bandjermasin had also been taken. The POW camp and the civilian men’s camp were within a few hundred metres of each other.
Before the arrival of the Japanese several British men, women and children fled from British Borneo to Longnawang in the heart of the northern part of Dutch Borneo. In April 1942 they were joined by a group of KNIL soldiers, who had fled from the east coast of Borneo into the interior. In addition, a few American missionaries came to Longnawang in August. The Japanese troops arrived there on the morning of 20 August 1942. They immediately opened fire, killing four British persons. The other people there surrendered. The native KNIL soldiers were released. On 26 August 1942 all European men were killed; followed by the women and children on September 23. A total of about 90 people died here.
In 1943 the Japanese thought they had uncovered a large-scale anti-Japanese conspiracy in Bandjermasin. In connection with this so-called Haga-case the Japanese arrested hundreds of people in and outside the camps between May and September. One of them was dr. B.J. Haga, governor of Borneo, who has been taken from the men’s camp in Bandjermasin. He died of a heart attack while imprisoned. On 20 December 1943, 25 condemned men were beheaded at the Bandjermasin airport. More than 200 people, sentenced or not, died because of the Haga case.
Liberation and evacuation
On 11 September 1945 the approximately 2,500 POWs and civilian internees from the Lintang camp in Kuching, including about 400 from the Dutch East Indies – were liberated by Australian troops. During September 1945 the majority of the former internees were taken to the island of Labuan.
On 17 September 1945 an Australian battalion arrived in Bandjermasin. On September 19 the evacuation started of the approximately 330 liberated POWs from Puruktjau to Bandjermasin or Balikpapan. On September 2 the Japanese had moved the inhabitants of the civilian men’s camp at Puruktjau to the Kandangan women’s camp. On September 23 and 25 the former internees in Kandangan were transported to Bandjermasin.
As far as we know there were no Republican camps on Borneo where Dutch nationals were imprisoned by the Indonesian nationalists; when the Bersiap broke out, all Dutch people were already under the protection of British troops.