The Battle of Surabaya

The Battle of Surabaya

Image from Wikinut

The Battle of Surabaya ushered in the seriousness of the Indonesian goal of independence from the Dutch. It was this decisive battle from which the allies knew the Republicans were more than a loose group of rebel soldiers fighting for an idea. The Indonesian people showed the world the Dutch could no longer oppress and colonize them. Ultimately, the Republicans lost the battle, but the lasting effect solidified a rebellion held in the hearts and minds of the Indonesian people. November 10th celebrates Heroes’ Day or Hari Pahlawan each year in recognition of this historic battle. The nation recognizes this day.

The defeat of the Japanese in 1945, required them to leave all occupied territories, including Indonesia. This left Indonesia with a power vacuum. The Dutch had been forced out of Indonesia by the Japanese, and now the Japanese were leaving. The time was perfect for the belief of Indonesian independence to blossom. On August 17, 1945, Sukarno declared independence for Indonesia from the porch of his Jakarta home. Seven hundred eighty kilometers away, a true test of independence began near the end of October.

Image from Sea Museum

Before leaving, the Japanese armed the Indonesians in a show of support for the Indonesian cause. The role of the defeated Japanese was to keep the peace on the islands, and they felt that arming the indigenous people was the best way to do that. This act gave backing to the growing movement of independence, which gave the Indonesians an opportunity to revolt.


The British and the East Java leadership reached an agreement concerning the arming of the Indonesians. The two major participants were British Brigade Commander A.W.S. Mallaby and Mr. Suryo, the governor of East Java. The decision was the Indonesians would be able to keep their weapons. However, a misunderstanding between the leadership in Jakarta and Surabaya led to escalating tensions in East Java. The leadership in Jakarta wanted the Indonesians to disarm. Planes dropped leaflets calling for the Indonesians to give up their newly acquired weapons. The Indonesians viewed the leaflet as a violation of the agreement made between Mallaby and Suryo and refused.

Although there seems to be a mystery of who actually killed Mallaby, the truth remains that he died at the scene.  It was the death of Mallaby which escalated the conflict.  The British vowed retaliation on the Indonesian Republicans and beefed up the troops to do so.  What started with 6,000 lightly armed British/Indian troops quickly turned into 24,000 fully armed soldiers, 24 tanks, 24 battle-ready aircraft, 2 Navy cruisers, and 3 Destroyer ships.

The Indonesians had 20,000 soldiers and 100,000-120,000 irregular military and militia fighters. The Indonesians had more troops, but many were untrained. Most were under-armed, with some having only swords and bamboo spears. They were not much of a match for the trained soldiers with heavy artillery, land and air support. The battle languished for nearly a month. The death toll for the Republicans was severe, estimated between 6,300 and 15,000. The British Indian soldier losses were 295.


The Republicans suffered a great loss in manpower and weaponry, but the battle was significant. It was a victory for the heart of the independence movement. This battle signaled to the world the Republican power was more than a disorganized movement. The British feared another war and eventually stood against the Dutch for the independence of Indonesia. The Dutch had a challenging road ahead of them and eventually failed to reclaim what was once theirs.

Image by National Kompas

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