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Alvis-Straussler Armoured Cars in the Netherlands East Indies
by
Jacques Jost


The Royal Dutch Indies Army, Koninklijk Nederlands-Indisch Leger in Dutch (KNIL), had a first experience with armoured cars in 1934. 3 armoured cars were ordered in 1933 from the Dok- en Werf-Maatschappij Wilton-Fijenord, a Dutch dockyard in Schiedam near Rotterdam. One car was shipped to the NEI for trials in 1934, but was found unsatisfactory and was shipped back to the Netherlands (for more detail, see the article in Tankette Vol.16 N.1 and the book Nederlandse Pantservoertuigen).

Alvis Straussler Armoured Car
Alvis Straussler Armoured Car

The history and development of the Alvis-Straussler armoured cars have been covered in detail in several publications (AFV/Weapon Profile 30, Wheels & Tracks 36 to 39, ...). While the A.C.1 and A.C.2 were both prototypes, the model A.C.3 became the first operational vehicle in 1937. The prototypes were built by Straussler Mechanisation Ltd and the production A.C.3s by a new company, Alvis-Straussler Ltd. It seems that 27 vehicles were built :

· 12 for the Royal Air Force,
· 3 for the Portuguese Army,
· 12 for the KNIL.



There were some differences between the R.A.F. cars and the Dutch ones : sloping hull sides and a hull machine gun position on the front left beside the driver on Dutch cars.

According to a file from the Dutch National Archives, the first contact between the Ministerie van Kolonien - Commissariat van Indische Zaken (Dutch Colonial Office - Indies Affairs Board) took place in February 1936 through the intermediary of the Dutch trade company Merrem & La Porte of Amsterdam. It is probable that this company was acting as a representative for Straussler Mechanisation in the Netherlands. The Dutch authorities asked for specifications of Straussler armoured cars. Trials with the vehicles took place at different dates in England, one of them on May 25th 1936 on a place near London. It is however possible that a demonstration had already been made in December 1935. On May 26th, Dutch officials made a visit to the Alvis Car and Engineering Co Ltd. in Coventry. This company was to become the partner of Straussler in 1937.

The Eindrapport Commissie voor de aanschaffing van Pantserwagens ten behoeve van de KNIL (final rapport of the Commission for the Procurement of Armoured Cars for the KNIL) dated 14th July 1936, mentions 3 vehicles which had been examinated :

Alvis-Straussler Mechanisation armoured car,
Austro-Daimler ADKZ,
Deutsche Werke te Kiel G31P.

The vehicle chosen was the Straussler one. At that time, Alvis and Straussler were still 2 different companies and the name given in the rapport was probably false as the 2 companies linked only in 1937 and took the name of Alvis-Straussler Ltd. It is not know if the Austrian ADKZ armoured car was tested as its first trials in Austria took place at the end of June 1936 (as quoted in Kraftfahrzeuge und Panzer des österreischischen Heeres 1896 bis heute by W. Spielberger). The production of the 11 vehicles ordered in 1935 by the Austrian Ministry for Home Defence from Steyr-Daimler-Puch did not began before the "Anschluß" in 1938 and was then stopped by the Germans. The German proposal from the Deutsche Werke of Kiel originated from Büssing-NAG and became later better know as the Kfz.67 and saw service in the early WW2 campaigns of the Wehrmacht.

The correspondence conserved in the Dutch archives also proves that several other vehicles had been at least taken in consideration :

Berliet VUM and VURB4 cars, *
Vickers Lanchester 6-wheel car,
Vickers Crossley 6-wheel light and medium cars,
C.K.D. Rospe 2 car, **
Marmon-Herrington TH310-ALF2, ***
Various Landsverk designs,
Wilton-Fijenoord project on a Ford chassis.

The name and types are those quoted in the Dutch report. Notes :
*  possibly the Berliet VUDB4
**  I have not found any information about C.K.D. armoured cars
***  other designation given in several sources TK-5

Demonstration of some of these vehicles may have taken place while evaluation of others was probably done on the basis on documentation sent by the manufacturers. Part of this documentation can still be found in the Dutch Archives.

After the Straussler vehicle was chosen, several more visits to Alvis-Straussler were made in England in August and September 1936. The contract was signed between the Minister of State - Minister of the Colonies and Alvis-Straussler Ltd. A copy of this contract remains in the Dutch archives file. It had 16 articles. The price for a completely equipped vehicle amounted to 4,570.00 Pounds, or 54,840.00 Pounds for 12. The vehicle was designated Armoured Car, Type Straussler A.C.III. The armament was :

- a 12.7 mm Colt-Browning MG in the turret
- a 6.5 mm watercooled Vickers on the left of the driver
- another 6.5 mm Vickers carried loose (the book Nederlandse Vuurwapens KNIL en Militaire Luchtvaart 1897-1942 states that a simple mount for this MG was provided on the side of the car for AA defence).

The MGs were not part of the contract. They had the following designations in the KNIL : Inf.M.30 Paw for the Colt and Inf.M.23 (Class D) for the Vickers. Ammunition was 500 rounds 12.7 mm and 6 drums with each 225 rounds 6.5 mm. The vehicles were to be painted green outside and bright stone on the inside. Delivery had to be made from London or Southampton to Tandjonk Priok, the port of Batavia in the NEI. According to the contract, 6 vehicles were to be delivered before March 1st, 1937 and the remaining 6 before June 1st, 1937.

The new vehicle was presented in the Indisch Militair Tijdschrift, the professional military periodical of the KNIL in the second half of 1937. Another Dutch Indies military periodical, the yearly Wetenschappelijk Jaarbericht der Indisch Krijgskundige Vereenigung for 1937 states that a first series of Alvis-Straussler armoured cars arrived in the NEI on December 30th, 1937 on the ship M.S. Baloeran, while the second series arrived in January 1938.

Pending the arrival of the vehicles, an unit has been formed by the Cavalry arm of the KNIL : the eskadron paun - (paun. : pantserauto or armoured car). Its organisation was :

4 pelotons (platoon) with each
3 paun.,
1 command car,
1 radio car,
1 supply car,
2 motorcycles

The eskadron also had 8 more motorcycles and 4 trucks. Each armoured car had a crew of 1 European wachtmeester (sergeant) and 3 European cavalry soldiers. The platoon was commanded by a ritmeester or captain.

In the first half of 1941, the 12 AC3D were distributed among several motorised cavalry squadrons and the eskadron paun. came to an end. At that time, the KNIL 1° Cavalerie Regiment had 7 cavalry squadrons and a depot cavalry unit as follows :

Cav 1, motorised, based in West Java
Cav 2, motorised, based in West Java
Cav 3, motorised, based in East Java
Cav 4, motorised, based in East Java
Cav 5, horsed, based in West Java
Cav 6, motorised (with home built Overvalwagen), based at various airfields in East Java
Cav Lijfwacht (LW, Body Guards), motorised, based in Central Java
Depot Cavalerie at Bandoeng and Tjilatjap.

Each motorised squadron (except Cav 6) was to have :
1 platoon with 3 AC3D and 6 M3A1 White Scout Cars
2 platoons each with 11 jeeps

However, there were only 12 AC3D and 40 Scout Cars available (15 AC3D and 30 Scout Cars were needed) so that the planned allocation of the AC3D was not possible. A detailed breakdown of the number of AC3D assigned to each unit is not available, but it seems probable that the first 4 squadrons had their complement of AC3D. Research has been made more difficult by the fact that the surviving war diaries and reports often made no distinction between AC3Ds and Scout Cars.

After the begining of the Second World War in Asia on December 8th 1941, the cavalry units of the KNIL had a relatively peaceful time until the end of February 1942. At this date, their location was :

Cav 1 : West Group, West Java (Batavia)
Cav 2 : Bandoeng Group, West Java (Kadipaten)
Cav 3 : 3rd Division, East Java (Toeban)
Cav 4 : 2nd Division, Central Java (Rembang)
Cav LW : 2nd Division, Central Java (Magelang)

In order to follow briefly the operations of each squadron, it is necessary to separate the fighting on Java in 3 sections : East, Central and West. The largest part of the KNIL was stationed in West Java around Batavia and Bandoeng, while a still important part stayed in East Java to protect the naval base of Soerabaja, the most important port for allied navies in the Far East after Singapore. Central Java was almost devoid of any troops, except home guard units unsuited for mobile warfare.


The fighting in East Java

The Japanese landed in the early hours of March 1st 1942 at Kragan in East Java and their forces split, one part going West and the other East in order to take Soerabaja. Cav 3 (with 3 AC3D) commanded by Ritmeester C.W. de Iongh was the first unit to meet the Japanese near the landing place. In the next days, the squadron was involved in a number of delaying actions, mostly destroying bridges. However, neither it nor the few other KNIL units were able to stop the Japanese in their advance on Soerabaja. Cav 3 was split in 2 parts during this period and it concentrated again probably near Malang. A Dutch counter attack in which the squadron took no part failed on March 5th. After having destroyed the installations of the Navy in Soerabaja, the KNIL troops retreated southward and surrendered on March 9th. Cav 3 losses were 6 killed and several missing. Among the material losses were 6 jeeps and 2 scout cars.


The fighting in Central Java

Cav LW appears to have not been provided with AC3D. It was commanded by Ritmeester Lips. After advancing to Blora not far from the Japanese landing point at Kragan on 1st March, the unit then undertook a long retreat (about 400 km) together with Cav 4.

Cav 4 soon meet the Japanese at Kragan after their landing on March 1st. Its commander was Ritmeester S. de Boers who died in 1945 as POW in Thailand. It was first planed that Cav 4 should link with Cav 3, which was also in the vicinity of Kragan. However, this could not be implemented and the squadron then began a retreat from the north coast through Soerakarta and then westward to Tjilatjap, the last open port on the south coast of Java. Cav 4 and Cav LW conducted almost alone and unsupported a series of delaying actions against the Japanese forces. At the surrender, the 2 squadrons, whose losses are unknown, were in the vicinity of Bandjar and ready to join the main Dutch forces in Bandoeng for a final stand. This last move did not take place, as did the plans to pursue the struggle as guerillas. The KNIL HQ had made provision to go over to a guerilla warfare in the whole of the Netherlands East Indies but the hostile or indifferent attitude of the native population made this impossible.


The fighting in West Java

West Java had the highest concentration of Dutch and allied troops. Among them were the 2 tanks units : the Mobiele Eenheid of the KNIL and B Squadron, 3rd the King's Own Hussars.

After being informed of the Japanese landings at Eretan Wetan, Cav 1 under Majoor Wessel departed eastward from Batavia on 1st March. Before this date, Cav 1 was part of the Detachement Wessel which included the staff of the KNIL 1° Cavalerie Regiment, Cav 1, the Hussars squadron and the 10th Company of the 1st Infantry Regiment (motorised) of the KNIL. This force was probably the best balanced mobile unit on Java and its breaking up on 1st March was an error. Cav 1 made contact with enemy on March 3rd : the squadron was part of a larger force including the 2nd KNIL Infantry Regiment (with 3 battalions) and motorised artillery units. Cav 1 was to act as the spearhead of the force. The objective was to recover the important airfield of Kalidjati which had been conquered by surprise by the Japanese on March 1st. The 1st Platoon with armoured cars (it is not clear if it had AC3D or scout cars or both) made good progress and reached the airfield. However, it lost all its vehicles due to a very strong Japanese defence and because the other units failed to follow. The infantry and artillery units, together with the rest of Cav 1 were subjected to incessant aerial attacks. Part of the infantry panicked and several vehicles were destroyed or damaged, so that the attack was stopped and a hasty retreat was made toward Sadang on the West. On 4th March, Cav 1 went along with the remaining units to Bandoeng. Until the surrender, it acted as reserve against possible landings of paratroops. The personnel losses seem to habe been light, but almost all the vehicles were destroyed or abandoned.

Cav 2 commanded by Ritmeester W.J. Romswinckeln was among the first units alerted of the landing at Eretan Wetan and was directed there immediately on March 1st from its location on the south-east of the coast. A short contact was made before the squadron had to broke contact as the Japanese were already too strong. On the next day, another attack was mounted with the same result because the supporting infantry batallion did not move in time to join Cav 2. The unit again retreated. On 3rd March, the infantry batallion attacked while the squadron waited to strike at the Japanese positions from behind. The attack was not pressed forward as the Japanese had a superioty in numbers and the advantage of total air supremacy. On 6th March, Cav 2 went to the last position in front of Bandoeng where all the remaining Dutch forces from west and central Java were being massed in anticipation of the final battle. The surrender on 9th March rendered this last stand unecessary. No details of losses are available, but Dutch authors believe they were probably quite light.


Comments on the fighting

The use of cavalry squadrons by the KNIL command is not free from errors. At least 2 units were used as substitute for tanks (Cav 1 & Cav 2). Both actions ended in failure. There are several causes for this misuse : the KNIL was still in the process of learning mechanised warfare in 1941, there had been very few exercises in which different kinds of units were able to cooperate so that very few senior infantry officers had any experience of amoured vehicles, the AC3D were the most heavily armed vehicles in the KNIL (with more firepower than the Vickers and Marmon-Herrington light tanks or the Marmon-Herrington armoured cars), a lack of communications often led to the piecemeal despatch of units against the Japanese. The most skillful use was made in Central Java where Cav 4 and Cav LW conducted practically alone a long withdrawal.


After the Dutch surrender

Acoording to F. Vos in his article in Legerkoerier of 1967, Japanese sources state that 9 AC3D were captured and that 6 were in working order. It is also possible that some of these cars were recovered by the Japanese after the Dutch surrender and not during the fighting. Dutch sources give no information on this point. Mr. Vos also mention that the remaining cars were taken over by the Indonesian forces after the Japanese surrender. There are several picture showing the Indonesian nationalist troops with Marmon-Herrington armoured cars and Vickers-Carden-Loyd Light Tanks owned before by the KNIL and recovered by the Japanese, but none with AC3D. According to Wheels & Tracks 39, at least one car seems to have survived into the 60s as Alvis received request for spare parts from Indonesia. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any document confirming the use of AC3D by the Japanese and the Indonesians.


Registration numbers

Like all vehicles of the KNIL, the AC3D had a civil registration. This registration was composed of a letter for the province and a 3 to 5 digit number. The letter D stands for the Preanger Residentie, the province comprising Bandoeng while B represent the residentie of Batavia, both in West Java. From pictures, it is apparent that a majority of the cars of the KNIL were registered in the former province, possibly because the Dutch HQ were at Bandoeng. The 4 digit numbers seems to have been attributed in a loose chronological order. The following were seen on pictures or in books and periodicals :

B4309 (1938), B 4340 (1938 & 39), D 7001 (1937 & 38), D 7024 (1938), D 7027 (1938), D 7030 (1938), D 7043 (1938), D 7127 (?), D 7175 (1939, 40 & 41), D 7176 (1941), D 7177 (1941), D 7193 (?), D 7195 (1940 & 41), D 7241 (1941).

The dates in brackets are those given in the picture captions. There are 14 different numbers so we must come to the conclusion that at least 2 registrations were changed sometime between 1937 and 1941 : there were definitely only 12 AC3D in the Netherlands East Indies ! Another possibility is that a number was modified on a picture, perhaps to make foreign intelligence people believe that the KNIL had more vehicles than they really had. If the dates in brackets are exact, it seems that the vehicles already had registrations in 2 provinces when all the AC3D were used by the eskadron paun. (from 1938 to mid 1941). It is quite possible that there were registration in other provinces, but there is no definite proof. An interesting hypothesis would be that the vehicles were given new registrations when they were distributed among the cavalry squadrons, together with the letter for the province in which the squadron was normally based, unfortunately there is no evidence.


Pictures

There is a surprisingly large number of photographs of Dutch AC3D available. In fact, it may be that there is a picture of each of the 12 vehicles of the KNIL. It may be only because we have only the registration numbers to distinguish the vehicles and these may have been changed (see the above paragraph on registration numbers). The sources for pictures are:

Brussels Tank Museum: D 7176 (in the NEI)
Bovington Tank Museum: D 7001 (in the UK during trials, several different shots of excellent quality, some with UK civilan registration, very useful for modelling purposes, also without turret), D 7024 (while being unloaded in the NEI), D 7175 (in the NEI)
Sectie Militaire Geschiedenis, Den Haag: D 7175, D 7176, D 7193, D 7195 & D 7241, plus a few other where the registration is not visible. All these pictures were taken in the NEI and show the vehicles in use
Rijksinstitut voor Oorlogdocumentatie, Amsterdam: D 7175 & D 7195 (both in the NEI)

Pictures of D 7176 & D 7176 appears in almost every book about the KNIL and also in most collections. They are always the same shots ! Other pictures can be found in the books and periodicals from the bibliography. I am very grateful to Col. Heshusius for the lending of several photographs from his large collection about the KNIL.


Markings

Apart from the registration numbers, the vehicles sported no markings, except a one digit number on both sides of the turret. The following have been noted with the corresponding registration number:

B 4340 / 2, B 4309 / 3, D 7001 / 1, D 7024 / 4, D 7027 / 5, D 7030 / 6, D 7127 / 12, D 7175 / 7, D 7176 / 8, D 7177 / 9, D 7195 / 10, D 7193 / 11, D 7241 / 12.

The available pictures of D 7043 are not clear enough to see the turret number. There is a strong possibility that these numbers were given when all the AC3D were in the eskadron paun.. This is reinforced by the fact that most pictures were seemingly taken before the eskadron paun. was disbanded in mid-41. The assignment of the number 12 to two different registration numbers is curious (perhaps we have here one of the registration number that was changed ?). There is again a possibility that the turret numbers were removed or changed when the cars were distributed among the cavalry squadrons, but this must remain an hypothesis due to the lack of any information. There is a good detail view of the registration number marking of the KNIL in Armour of the Pacific War, colour plate B1, by S. Zaloga. The plate depicts a Vickers-Carden-Loyd Light Tank, but the markings were the same for all other vehicles of the KNIL. The letters D.V.O stands for Department van Oorlog (Department of War). There is no indication that the vehicles received a different paint scheme in the NEI, so they probably conserved the green paint quoted in the contract. I have not been able to find any information about the vehicles captured by the Japanese and used postwar by the Indonesians.


Acknowledgements I am very grateful to the following people and organizations for providing and allowing access to information, pictures, books and magazines:
J. Baumann, P. Brown, D. Fletcher (Bovington Tank Museum) in the United Kingdom
B. Marriott in Australia
K. Blijleven, R. Evers, H. Heesakkers, Col. Cav. Ret. C.A. Heshusius, Algemeen Rijksarchief, Sectie Militaire Geschiedenis Koninklijke Landmacht, Koninklijk Nederlands Leger- en Wapenmuseum, Rijksinstitut voor Oorlogdocumentatie in the Netherlands.

Armoured Cars -
Marmon-Herrington,
Alvis-Straussler,
Light Reconnaissance AFV
Armoured Fighting Vehicle # 30
by B. T. White


Armoured Vehicles in the Pacific War . Bibliography . Article List

Copyright © Jacques Jost 1999-2000
Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942

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