Bandung Sea of Fire

Bandung Sea of Fire
Part of the Indonesian National Revolution
LocationBandung, West Java, Indonesia
Date24 March 1946
Attack type
Scorched earth
Perpetrators Indonesian Army
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The Bandung Sea of Fire (Indonesian: Bandung Lautan Api) was the deliberate burning of much of the southern side of the city of Bandung by retreating Indonesian Republican troops during the Indonesian National Revolution.

Following the Indonesian declaration of independence, tensions and fighting in the city of Bandung began to emerge between the newly formed Indonesian armed forces (People's Security Agency and its successors) and Indonesian nationalist youths on one side, with Japanese and British forces on the other. After initial success in Japanese attempts to gain control of the city in October, the arrival of British forces resulted in continued fighting, which initially resulted in a stalemate where Bandung was segregated into the British-controlled north and Indonesian-controlled south. Following an ultimatum to militarily evacuate South Bandung in March 1946, Indonesian forces conducted a general evacuation of the area involving hundreds of thousands of civilians, burning down various buildings and looting warehouses to deny British, and later Dutch, forces the use of the buildings and supplies.

Prelude

Independence of Indonesia

When on 17 August 1945 proclamation reached Bandung first via radio on the same day, around noon, with the news spreading throughout virtually the entire city by 19 August. Details about the event remained scarce for the first few days, until more information arrived.[1][2] The sudden pronouncement left the existing social order largely intact for the first month or so, with the nationalist government establishing a local government unit (Komite Nasional Indonesia, KNI) in Bandung (i.e. the Priangan Regency) by 24 August.[3] These committees were initially focused with spreading information about the independence and maintaining public order.[4]

Japanese occupation forces in the area had begun to disarm and disband the Japanese-trained, Pembela Tanah Air (PETA) Indonesian units as soon as 18 August. The discharged officers and personnel were then recruited into the Badan Keamanan Rakyat (People's Security Agency, BKR), the new armed forces of the nationalist government.[5] Around late August and early September, some of the nationalist youths (pemuda) began to seize arms from Japanese forces – in some cases involving murders, but largely through simple disarmament and in some cases voluntarily. Looting against Chinese and Eurasians of the city also began to occur.[6]

Revolution in Bandung and the 10 October affair

The first British forces began arriving in Indonesia by around late September 1945, and by 25 September the nationalist government declared that all Indonesian civil servants were working for them. This resulted in an outburst of seizures of Japanese-controlled buildings and property.[7] Takeovers were initially relatively peaceful, but soon more looting began to occur, primarily of military assets, with pemuda independently planning and launching attacks on Japanese posts or vehicles to capture weapons. By early October, disarmament of Japanese forces began to take a larger scale across the wider region. In some cases, disarmament was negotiated to be held in a mock mass assault against Japanese forces who would "surrender" and disarm in order to absolve Japanese forces of their responsibility to maintain order.[8]

In early October, the Japanese military commander in Bandung, Major General Mabuchi Itsuo, was negotiating a peaceful disarmament of his men.[8] Throughout the first few days of the month, several arms factories and warehouses were seized by nationalists and on 8 October a large group of pemuda took over a Japanese airbase, taking control and disarming its guards with almost no resistance.[9][10] On 10 October, a large assault by pemuda was launched against the local Kenpeitai headquarters – seemingly spontaneously – and the Japanese responded by calling in commanders of the local BKR for negotiations, before coercing them with bayonets to surrender and disperse the crowds. Throughout the day, the leaders were made to disperse attacks on Japanese posts while the Japanese setup barricades and posts, sweeping throughout Bandung within the following days and effectively retaking control of the city.[11] A week later, the Japanese handed over control of the city to arriving British units of the 37th Indian Infantry Brigade. Following negotiations, British authorities agreed to rearm the Indonesian police.[12][13]

Reescalation of tensions

Following the 10 October incident, revolutionary fervor in the city died down for around a month.[14] During this time, the BKR reorganized into the TKR (People's Security Army/Tentara Keamanan Rakyat), with the 3rd division of its 1st army covering the Bandung region under the command of Arudji Kartawinata (former BKR commander of Priangan). The division itself was subdivided into five regiments, two of which were headquartered in Bandung proper (one later moved to the outskirts). Each of these regiments consisted of four battalions, typically comprising 500 to 1,000 men.[15] Aside from these, there were also irregular units of pemuda organizations, ethnic militias, and Hizbullah units under Masyumi.[16] By November, the European population of the city had also began to return, reaching 60,000 by late November or double the pre-WW2 figure (compared to some 436,000 Indonesians, Chinese and Eurasians) with 2,000 British and 1,500 Japanese troops.[17]

On the night of 24 November, the 3rd Division under Kartawinata was pressured by pemuda following the outbreak of the Battle of Surabaya to launch a general attack against British and Japanese troops – which ended up being a relatively limited operation, with only scattered fighting in parts of the city.[17] The following day, an incident occurred when a flash flood killed more than 200 people, with Indonesian forces engaging in rescue operations and British troops firing on them during the confusion that occurred. Within the following weeks, fighting intensified across the city with the British calling in an additional battalion of troops in early December, when most of the northern parts of Bandung were under British control.[18] During this time, British supply trains and trucks travelling from Jakarta were subjected to raids – in one occasion, a supply train arrived in Bandung on 21 November looted and without its Gurkha guards.[19]

The British commander issued an ultimatum to the local Indonesian governor demanding Indonesians (numbering some 100,000) to evacuate North Bandung on 27 November – which the governor rejected. Later, the nationalist government compromised, agreeing to move "elements which disturbed peace". In effect, significant civilian movements occurred, due to pressure from European inhabitants backed by British forces. Some form of a boundary eventually formed between Indonesian and British/Indian forces, though there were significant desertions of the Indian troops and the Gurkha units would trade weapons for food items. As the British asserted control over North Bandung, around 100,000 Indonesians evacuated the area between November 1945 and March 1946.[20] During the remaining days of 1945 and in early 1946, a relatively calm period ensued from the stalemate, with pemuda organizations continued to consolidate to form larger entities, and the 3rd Division saw a replacement of Kartawinata with Abdul Haris Nasution as commander.[21]