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Battle of Surabaya

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Battle of Surabaya

Battle of Surabaya
Part of Indonesian National Revolution

A British Indian soldier uses a knocked out Indonesian nationalist tank as cover in a main street in Surabaya, November 1945.
Date 27 October – 20 November 1945
Location Surabaya, Indonesia
  • Tactical and military British victory
  • political Indonesian victory
  • Britain later supports Indonesian cause for their independence
British forces occupy Surabaya, and evacuate it later in November 1946.
Commanders and leaders
  • 20,000 infantry
  • 100,000 irregulars[1]
  • 30,000 (peak)[1]
    with tanks, aircraft and warships
Casualties and losses
6,000[2] – 16,000[1] killed 600Woodburn Kirby, p. . – 2,000[1] killed

The Battle of Surabaya was fought between pro-independence Indonesian soldiers and militia against British and British Indian Troops as a part of the Indonesian National Revolution. The peak of the battle was in November 1945. The battle was the heaviest single battle of the revolution and became a national symbol of Indonesian resistance.[2] Considered a heroic effort by Indonesians, the battle helped galvanise Indonesian and international support for Indonesian independence. 10 November is celebrated annually as Heroes' Day (Hari Pahlawan).

By the time the Allied forces arrived at the end of October 1945, the pemuda ("youth") foothold in Surabaya City was described as "a strong unified fortress".[3] Ferocious fighting erupted on 30 October when 6,000 Indian troops perished alongside British commander, Brigadier A. W. S. Mallaby.[3] The British retaliated with a punitive sweep that began on 10 November, under the cover of air attacks. Although the European forces largely captured the city in three days, the poorly armed Republicans fought for three weeks, and thousands died as the population fled to the countryside.

Despite the military defeat suffered by the Republicans and a loss of manpower and weaponry that would severely hamper Republican forces for the rest of the revolution, the battle and defence mounted by the Indonesians galvanised the nation in support of independence and helped garner international attention. For the Dutch, it removed any doubt that the Republic was not simply a gang of collaborators without popular support. It also had the effect of convincing Britain that wisdom lay on the side of neutrality in the revolution; within a few years, in fact, Britain would support the Republican cause in the United Nations.[2]


On 17 August 1945, Soekarno and Hatta declared the independence of Indonesia in Jakarta, two days after the Japanese emperor's surrender in the Pacific. As the news about the independence declaration spread throughout the archipelago, ordinary Indonesians felt a sense of freedom that led most to regard themselves as pro-Republican.[4] In the following weeks, power vacuums existed, both from outside and within Indonesia, creating an atmosphere of uncertainty, but also one of opportunity.[5] On 19 September 1945, a group of Dutch internees supported by the Japanese raised the Dutch flag outside the Hotel Yamato (formerly Hotel Oranje, now Hotel Majapahit) in Surabaya, East Java. This provoked nationalist Indonesian militia, who overran the Dutch and Japanese, and tore off the blue part of the Dutch flag, changing it into the Indonesian flag.[6] The leader of the Dutch group, Mr Ploegman, was killed because of mass anger.[6]

A defiant Bung Tomo in Surabaya, one of the most revered revolutionary leaders, wearing Imperial Japanese Army uniform. This photo became an iconic image of the revolution.[7]

The senior Japanese commander in Surabaya, Vice Admiral Shibata Yaichiro, supported the Republicans and gave Indonesians ready access to arms.[2] On 3 October, he surrendered to a Dutch Navy captain, the first Allied representative to arrive. Yaichiro ordered his forces to hand over their remaining weapons to the Indonesians. The Indonesians were to hand them to the allies, but neglected to do so.[2]

British forces brought in a small Dutch military contingent which it termed the Netherlands Indies Civil Administration (NICA). The British became worried about the increasing boldness and apparent strength of the nationalists, who attacked demoralised Japanese garrisons across the archipelago with rudimentary weapons such as bamboo spears in order to seize their arms. The main goals of British troops in Surabaya were the seizing of weapons from Japanese troops and Indonesian militia, taking care of former prisoners-of-war (POW), and sending the remaining Japanese troops back to Japan.

In September and October 1945 a series of incidents took place involving pro-Dutch Eurasians, and atrocities were committed by Indonesian mobs against European internees.[8] In late October and early November, the leadership of the mass Nahdlatul Ulama and Masyumi, declared that war in defence of the Indonesian fatherland was Holy War, and thus an obligation for all Muslims. Kyai and their students, began to stream into Surabaya from Islamic boarding schools throughout East Java. The charismatic Bung Tomo made use of local radio to encourage an atmosphere of fanatical revolutionary fervour across the city.[2] Six thousand British Indian troops were sent into the city on 25 October to evacuate European internees and within three days fighting began.[2] After heavy fighting between the British Indian forces and around 20,000 Indonesian armed regulars of the newly formed People's Security Army (TKR) and mobs of 70,000–140,000 people, the British flew in the influential President Sukarno, Vice President Hatta and his ministers Amir Sjarifuddin, and a ceasefire was achieved on 30 October.[2]


On 26 October 1945, Brigadier A. W. S. Mallaby reached an agreement with Mr Suryo, the Republic of Indonesia's governor of East Java, that the British would not ask Indonesian troops/militia to hand over their weapons. An apparent misunderstanding about the agreement between British troops in Jakarta (led by Lieutenant General Sir Philip Christison) and Mallaby's troops in Surabaya was to have serious ramifications.

Initially British troops were 6,000-strong lightly armed Indian soldiers from 49th Infantry Brigade of the 23rd Indian Division. When the battle reached its peak, the British sent additional troops which consisted of 24,000 fully armed soldiers from the 5th Indian Division, 24 Sherman tanks, 24 armed aircraft, 2 cruisers and 3 destroyers.[1]

Indonesian forces consisted of 20,000 soldiers from the newly formed Tentara Keamanan Rakyat (TKR; People's Security Troops) and an estimated 100,000–120,000 irregulars. TKR was formed by the former members of [3]



On 27 October 1945, a British plane from Jakarta dropped leaflets over Surabaya urging all Indonesian troops and militia to surrender their weapons. The leaders of the Indonesian troops and militia were angered, seeing it as a breaking of the agreement reached with Mallaby earlier. On 28 October 1945, they attacked the British troops in Surabaya, killing two hundred soldiers. On 30 October the British flew Sukarno (president of RI), Mohammad Hatta (the vice president of RI), and Amir Syarifuddin Harahap (the minister of information of Indonesia) into Surabaya to possibly negotiate a cease fire. A ceasefire was negotiated with Major General Hawthorn (the commander of 23rd British Indian Division) and Brigadier Mallaby and immediately adhered to. Fighting, however, soon recommenced due to confused communications and mistrust between the two sides, leading to the famed Battle of Surabaya.[9]

Death of Brigadier Mallaby

The burnt-out car of Brigadier Mallaby where he was killed on 31 October 1945.

On 30 October 1945, Brigadier A. W. S. Mallaby, the British brigade commander in Surabaya, was travelling about Surabaya to spread the news about the new agreement to his troops. When his car approached the British troops' post in the International building near the Jembatan Merah ("Red Bridge"), his car was surrounded by Indonesian Republican militia. Shortly after, Mallaby was shot and killed by the militia under confused circumstances.[3]

Captain R. C. Smith, who was in the stationary car, reported that a young Republican shot and killed Mallaby after a short conversation. Smith then reported throwing a grenade from the car in the direction of where he thought the shooter had hidden. Although he was not sure whether or not it hit its target, the explosion caused the back seat of the car to ignite.[3] Other accounts, according to the same source,[3] stated that it was the explosion and not a shooter that killed Mallaby. Regardless of its exact details, Mallaby's death was a significant turning point for the hostilities in Surabaya, and a catalyst for the battle to come. The British ordered an Indonesian surrender, and on 10 November they rolled out a large retaliatory attack.[2]

The main battle

Bren gunners of 3/9th Jat Regiment cover the advance of their regiment against Indonesian nationalists, circa 15–16 November 1945.

Lieutenant General Sir Philip Christison was angered when he heard that Brigadier Mallaby had been killed in Surabaya. During a lull in the fighting, the British brought in reinforcements and evacuated the internees.[2] An additional two brigades (9th and 123rd British Indian) of the 5th British Indian Division led by Major General Robert Mansergh were deployed with Sherman and Stuart tanks, 2 cruisers and 3 destroyers (including HMS Cavalier) in support.[1][1]

At dawn on 10 November, a day now commemorated in Indonesia as Heroes' Day, British troops began a methodical advance through the city under the cover of naval and air bombardment. Fighting was heavy, with British troops clearing buildings room by room and consolidating their gains. Despite the fanatical resistance of the Indonesians, half of the city was conquered in three days and the fighting over in three weeks (29 November).[10] Estimates of Indonesian deaths range between 6,300 and 15,000, and perhaps 200,000 fled the devastated city.[2][11] British Indian casualties totalled approximately 600.Woodburn Kirby, p. .


The Republicans lost much of their manpower, but it was the loss of weaponry that would severely hamper Republican military efforts for the remainder of the independence struggle.[2] The battle for Surabaya was the bloodiest single engagement of the war, and demonstrated the determination of the rag-tag nationalist forces; their sacrificial resistance became a symbol and rallying cry for the revolution. It also made the British reluctant to be sucked into a war, considering how stretched their resources in southeast Asia were during the period after the Japanese surrender; within a few years, in fact, Britain openly supported the Republican cause in the United Nations. It was also a watershed for the Dutch as it removed any doubt that the Republic was a well-organized resistance with popular support.[2] In November 1946, the last British troops left Indonesia. The "Heroes of the 10 November" statue in Surabaya commemorates this battle. 10 November is now commemorated in Indonesia as "Heroes' Day", in memory of the battle.

The Scottish-American Indonesian sympathizer K'tut Tantri also witnessed the Battle of Surabaya, which she later recorded in her memoirs Revolt in Paradise. Prior to the fighting, she and a group of Indonesian rebels associated with Bung Tomo had established a secret radio station in the city which broadcast pro-Indonesian Republic messages that were directed at the British soldiers in the city. She noted that several British soldiers were unhappy with the Dutch for misleading them about the Indonesian Republicans being Japanese puppets and extremists. Following the British bombardment of the city, Tantri contacted several foreign diplomats and commercial attaches from Denmark, Switzerland, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and Sweden. These countries had representatives in Surabaya. They agreed to inform their respective governments about the fighting in Surabaya and to take part in a joint broadcast protesting the British military operations.[12]


The battle was shown briefly in the 2013 film of Sang Kiai which depicted the death of Brigadier Mallaby in the hand of a militia from Laskar Hizbullah and the first day of the battle itself.

In 2013, the Battle of Surabaya was commemorated in a 2D animated film called the Battle of Surabaya, which is scheduled to be released in April 2014. The film is produced by Mohammad Suryanto and focuses on a teenage courier named Musa.[13][14]

See also


  1. ^ Cavalier is now preserved as a museum ship at Chatham Historic Dockyard.
  1. ^ a b c d e f Indonesian Heritage.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Ricklefs, p. 217.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Parrott.
  4. ^ Ricklefs, pp. 214–215.
  5. ^ Friend, p. 32.
  6. ^ a b Orange / Yamato / Mandarin Majapahit Hotel, Petra Christian University Surabaya.
  7. ^ Frederick 1982, pp. 127–128.
  8. ^ Frederick 1989, pp. 237–243.
  9. ^ Reid, p. 52.
  10. ^ Jessup, John E. (1989). A Chronology of Conflict and Resolution, 1945–1985. New York: Greenwood Press.  
  11. ^ Vickers, p. 98.
  12. ^ Tantri, p. 182-89.
  13. ^ Lim, Slyvia (10 November 2013). Battle of Surabaya' the movie"'".  
  14. ^ "Battle of Surabaya". International Movie Trailer Festival. 18 October 2013. Retrieved 7 March 2014. 


Other sources

  • "The Battle for Surabaya". Indonesian Heritage. Editions Didier Millet. Retrieved 3 August 2012. 

Further reading

  • Bayly and Harper (2007) Forgotten Wars: The End of Britain's Asian Empire (London:Penguin).
  • McMillan, Richard (2005) The British Occupation of Indonesia 1945–1946: Britain, the Netherlands and the Indonesian revolution (London:Routledge).
  • Parrott, J. G. A., Role of the 49 Indian Infantry Brigade in Surabaya, Oct.-Nov. 1945, Australian thesis
  • Tantri, K'tut (1960). Revolt in Paradise. London: William Heinemann. 

External links

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