Vickers-Carden-Loyd Light Tanks in the Netherlands East Indies
from TRACKLINK, 31 May 1994
Introduction During the 30s, Vickers-Carden-Loyd (VCL) was the
major British tank manufacturer for both the home and foreign markets.
The various light tanks were built in several variations and exported
to many countries. The largest order for Light Tanks came from a now
almost totally forgotten organisation: the Royal Netherlands Indies
Before gaining their independence in December 1949 and becoming
Indonesia, the Netherlands East Indies (NEI) were the principal Dutch
colony. The Royal Dutch Indies Army, Koninklijk Nederlands Indisch Leger
in Dutch (KNIL), was formed in 1830 from units of the metropolitan
Dutch Army in the NEI. It obtained the Royal prefix in 1933. Like most
colonial armies, its main task was to maintain order and suppress
revolts. During the late 20s, the mission of the KNIL was enlarged and
it was then given the responsibility of the defence of the NEI
against a foreign aggressor. This task was given even more importance
during the 30s in view of the worsening of the political situation in
Asia, especially because of the expansionist Japanese policy.
Unfortunately, the economic situation of the Netherlands and of the NEI
prevented the KNIL from completing its modernisation and reorganisation
in time. The emphasis was put on the Militaire Luchtvaart, the
Military Aviation Service, and on the Koninklijk Marine
in the NEI. The units of the KNIL on Java however began to receive new
equipment and motorization was promoted. Large orders for weapons
were placed in Europe. A large part of them never reached the NEI after
the outbreak of WW2 in Europe while orders from the U.S.A. were
diverted to other countries. This can be explained by the fact that
between 1939 and December 1941 there was still peace in South East Asia.
So the NEI, like the British, French and American possessions in
this area, figured very low on the priority list for supplies of
military equipment. The dramatic consequences were severely felt in the
first months of the war in Asia.
The KNIL had its first experience with AFVs in 1934. Three armoured cars
were ordered in 1933 from the Dok- en Werf-Maatschappij
Wilton-Fijenord, a Dutch dockyard. One was shipped to the NEI for
trials, but was found unsatisfactory and was shipped back to the Netherlands.
First Contracts: Dutch archives for the whole period are
unfortunately incomplete for several reasons: invasion and occupation
of the Netherlands and the NEI, voluntary destruction before surrender,
destruction during the war and the post WW2 struggle against Indonesian nationalists.
VCL records indicate that two orders were placed in 1936:
Order No TD 3507 for two VCL Light Tanks.
Ordered 21 December 1936 delivered 9 November 1937
Serials: VAE 1139 & 1140.
Order No TD 3508 for two VCL Amphibious Tanks.
Date of order: given as 21 February 1936 (21/2/1936), but probably 21 December 1936 (21/12/1936)
Delivered: 9 November 1937
Serials: VAE 1973 & 1974.
It is interesting to note that the Amphibious Tanks had two different turrets, one for an armament of one 6.5mm machine gun, the other for
two 7.7mm machine guns. The 6.5mm machine gun was most certainly the Vickers M.23 used by the KNIL since 1923.
The VCL records give the 7.7mm machine gun as Colt Browning (Colt .30 according to Dutch sources).
Both Light Tanks were delivered with turrets for two Colt Browning 7.7mm machine guns.
They were known as Model 1936 and later as Dutchman (in British service).
The contracts were placed with VCL by the NETHMY, the Nederlandsch-Engelsche
Technische Handel Maatschappij (Dutch-British Society for Technical Trade).
The NETHMY itself had a contract with the Departement van Kolonien
(Colonial Office) which was responsible for the KNIL.
The four vehicles were probably sent to Rotterdam and then shipped to the NEI, as were the later contracts.
On 15 December 1937, the Proefafdeling Vechtwagens (Experimental Detachment Combat Cars) was formed in Bandoeng on Central Java.
Unlike the armoured cars used by the Cavalry, it originated from the Infantry and its personnel came mainly from that arm and from
technical services. During 1938, the four vehicles were used in several trials on Java and a good number of pictures seem to have been made.
It must be noted that apart from a few oil plants in Borneo and Sumatra, almost all KNIL units with modern equipment were on Java,
including the whole cavalry and the armoured detachment.
The terrain on the island was not considered favourable to AFVs by the Dutch military authorities, like their British counterpart in Malaya.
However the Light Tanks performed well in the rice paddies and jungle thanks to their light weight.
The KNIL also appreciated their speed and their steel tracks.
It is therefore not surprising that a second order for Light Tanks followed.
On the other side, the Amphibious Tanks were not so successful.
They had great difficulties climbing the banks of the numerous rivers, and one sank while crossing a river.
From the study of photographs, it seems that the Amphibious Tanks sported the Dutch registrations D7189 and D7211.
The Light Tanks were D7145 and D7152 (see appendix on registrations).
A later photograph taken during a parade on the airfield of Bandoeng in mid 1939 shows the 2 Amphibious Tanks with registrations
D9802 and D9803, and the 2 Light Tanks with D9800 and D9801.
KNIL Bandoeng 1941 Lichte tanks op veld.
Vickers-Carden-Loyd Light Amphibious Tank Model A4E12
Later Orders As mentioned above, more VCL Light Tanks were
requested after the successful trials of 1938 and in view of the
expanding of the armoured component of the KNIL. The Departement van Kolonien placed the following contracts with the NETHMY:
Order 51344 for 73 VCL Light Tanks
Date of order: 8 March 1939
Delivery schedule: four vehicles to be ready for trials on 15 July 1939, and four on the 15th of each month thereafter
Price: 1,913,330.00 Dutch Guilders.
Order 51651 for 45 VCL Command Tanks
Date of order: 26 June 1939
Delivery schedule: first vehicle to be ready for trials ten months after the date of order (April 1940), 2 each week thereafter
Price 1,819,597.50 Dutch Guilders.
Other orders were also placed in 1939 and 1940 for spare parts,
additional equipment to be mounted on the vehicles, pumps, two
instructional layouts and one Vickers 7.7mm machine gun for each of
the Light Tanks. All vehicles from this order were only armed with one
Vickers machine gun. Neither the dual mounting for two Colt Brownings,
nor the Vickers M.23 6.5mm machine gun mounted on the first four tanks
were used. The Light Tanks were to be delivered f.o.b. London or
Southampton on ships bound to the NEI, along with equipment. The
Command Tanks had first to be tested on the VCL facilities after
delivery and then to be delivered f.o.b. Antwerp in Belgium.
It is however now certain that these delivery schedules were not
respected because of the outbreak of WW2 in Europe. Furthermore, it
seems that the vehicles were not shipped directly from England to the
NEI, but first to the Netherlands and then to the NEI. According to a
record from the NETHMY, the situation was as follows on 15 May 1940
(the Netherlands were invaded by Germany on 10 May and surrendered six
VCL Light Tanks 24 delivered (initially planned: 44). 20 shipped to the NEI, four still in the Netherlands.
Machine guns: 24 delivered.
VCL Command Tanks: none delivered.
The four vehicles still in the Netherlands were either captured by the
German or destroyed in their crates during the fighting. They had been
shipped from London to Rotterdam on April 22 and were probably on a
ship in this harbour at the time of the German attack. No information
has been found on this subject. A part of the orders for spare parts,
machine guns and other equipment was possibly also lost in the same
way. It is unlikely that any Command Tank had been accepted and tested
in England at this date.
In June 1940, the British War Office informed the Dutch exile
government in England that the balance of the order of Light Tanks
would be taken over by the British Government. At that time 16 vehicles
were ready for delivery at Newcastle at the Vickers Armstrong factory.
In the following months, the Dutch Foreign Office and the Colonial
Office tried to recover all 49 vehicles, but the dramatic shortage of
armoured fighting vehicles in England and the difficulties of shipping
prevented them from succeeding. It was even proposed that the vehicles
should be built in the U.S.A. under licence by Marmon-Herrington. It is
however improbable that these talks were carried through.
The Marmon-Herrington Company was itself busy building vehicles of its
own design. The Model 1936 Light Tank was also beginning to be out of
date in 1940, even in the U.S.A.. In the first months of 1941, the War
Office proposed to deliver 49 Marmon-Herrington armoured cars from
South Africa to replace the Light Tanks. These were eventually shipped
from Durban in January 1942 and reached the NEI in time for the final
allied stand on Java.
Besides the vehicles themselves, the Dutch government also tried to
obtain the various equipment and spare parts from their order. Again,
it seems that almost nothing reached the NEI. The remaining items were
taken over by the British War Office after the surrender of the NEI in
The 49 remaining light tanks taken over by the British War Office were
used by the British Army as training vehicles. In June 1940, the Dutch
Colonial Office reported that seven were used in Newcastle in patrols
against possible German paratroops. A record from Bovington says that
these vehicles were bought under contract T79 and allotted registration
numbers T16658 to T16706. They were designated Light Tank Mark IIIB.
One of these vehicles survives today in the Bovington Tank Museum in an
excellent state. The prototype of the Command Tank was built at the end
of 1938, but it seems that the production did not start before the
outbreak of war in Europe. No more information has been found in Dutch
archives, except that no vehicles were delivered.
VCL Tanks in the NEI before World War II in South East Asia.
In 1939 the Proefafdeling Vechtwagens was transformed into a Bataljon Vechwagens
as the tanks of the latter orders were awaited. The unit however still
acted as a training establishment. Driver training was conducted first
on wheeled vehicles, then on VCL Utility Tractors (built in Belgium)
and finally on the Light Tanks. The strain put on the 24 available
tanks was fairly heavy as they were the only tracked armoured fighting
vehicles on hand (until 1942) and as spare parts from England were
almost unobtainable. It is therefore not surprising that only 20
vehicles were in service at the beginning of World War II in South East
Asia and that these 20 were already well used.
As the end of 1941 was nearing, the Bataljon Vechtwagens
received additional personnel and now had 35 officers and about 500
NCOs and ORs. Among the latter, the proportion was one European to two
non-European (Indonesian from the various islands of the NEI). At that
time the personnel of the Bataljon was still located in Bandoeng in the
barracks of the XV. Infanterie Bataljon while the vehicles, were in the
barracks of the Motordienst van de Genie (motor service of the
engineers). Plans were also made for the creation of a fairly large
mechanised force of five, and latter six brigades. They were to receive
90 tanks each, all from the Marmon-Herrington Company. Orders for 600
light and medium tanks were placed, but only about 20 to 30 light tanks
eventually reached Java. The training ground was at Bandoeng and new
ones were opened in 1941 at Magelang (Central Java) and Malang (East
Shortly before the beginning of World War Two in South East Asia, the
KNIL was mobilised as hostilities with Japan appeared unavoidable. The
training courses of the Bataljon Vechtwagens were closed and the unit was reorganised under the name Mobiele Eenheid
(Mobile Unit) and placed at the disposition of the Legercommandant
(Army Commander Luitenant-General H ter Porten). The organisation at
the end of February 1942 was:
HQ and Liaison Group (one White Scout Car, wheeled vehicles and
Tank Company Command Group (three VCL), 1st Platoon (seven Marmon-Herrington tanks), 2nd Platoon (seven VCL), 3rd Platoon (seven VCL)
Armoured Infantry Company: three platoons with 16 Overvalwagens (locally built wheeled armoured personnel carriers).
Service and Transport Group with various wheeled vehicles and motorcycles.
The unit was under the command of Kapitein Wulfhorst, while Kapiteins
Backhuijs and Brendgen respectively commanded the Tank and Armoured Infantry companies.
Vickers-Carden-Loyd Light Tank Model 1936
The War against Japan: December 1941- March 1942.
(This section is based on the articles and books by CA Heshusius, JJ Nortier, JA Palit and GHO de Wit and the Dutch official history)
Before coming to the fighting on Java with the Mobiele Eenheid,
it is interesting to note that a few VCL tanks were used on Borneo.
According to the strategy of the KNIL HQ, the great island of Borneo
was not defended as a whole. Only the oil fields and several important
airfields were to be defended, and destroyed should their capture become
inevitable. Among the latter was Singkawang II in the western part of
Borneo, not far from the border with British Borneo. The airfield was
important as it would allow its user to control the southern approach
to Singapore and a great part of the Java Sea.
At the beginning of the war on December 8th 1941, a squadron of Dutch
Martin 139 bombers and a third of a squadron of Brewster 339 fighters
were based there. The bombers made several raids on British Borneo
after the Japanese landings at Miri on December 16th and Kuching on the
24th. Meanwhile on December 10th, 6 men from the Mobiele Eenheid
embarked with three VCL tanks in Tandjong Prick, the harbour of
Batavia. These tanks were still used for training until then and were
not included in the Mobiele Eenheid. They arrived three days
later at Pontianak on the west coast of Borneo. According to one of the
tankmen, one of the tanks was amphibious and one of the others was
armed with two machine guns. It is probable that the latter was one of
the two original tanks delivered late in 1937 (the third tank may also
have been one of those). The Amphibious Tank was not used in the
fighting because it became unserviceable shortly after the arrival due
to its age. The two remaining tanks were under the command of Brigadier
Timmer (a brigade was a 15 man group in the KNIL).
After their landing at Kuching, two battalions of the Japanese 124th
Infantry Regiment advanced toward the border with Dutch Borneo and
crossed it on January 24th 1942. Their aim was to take over the
airfield of Singkawang II, which had already been abandoned as an air
base by the Dutch. The opposing Allied forces comprised the remains of
the 2/15 Punjabis from Kuching plus several brigades of the KNIL. Apart
from the two tanks, there were also two Overvalwagens at the airfield.
Before the land attack, the tanks had been used in an antiaircraft role
during the several Japanese raids.
The only recorded tank action took place on January 27th with one of
the "old" tanks on the road between Ledo and Sanggau together with one
Overvalwagen. It gave support to several Dutch and Punjab troops but
was forced to stay on the road because of the difficult terrain on both
sides. After several hours of fighting during which the tank received
replenishment and a new driver, it finally ended in a ditch. The crew
was unhurt and abandoned the vehicle to meet the retreating Allied
troops. It is not know if and how the second tank was used. It is
possible that it was destroyed during an earlier air strike on the
airfield. Even if it was not know at that time, the defence of Borneo
was doomed from the start as the allied troops had no air support and
had to face a numerically stronger enemy.
The fighting of the Mobiele Eenheid
on Java has been described in detail in various books and magazine
accounts and it will be only summarised here.
The Japanese made several landings on Java on March 1st, 1942. The
Japanese 230th Infantry Regiment landed at Eretan Wetan, about 80 miles
east of Batavia. The Dutch troops in East Java were concentrated around
Batavia and Bandoeng and the Japanese meet almost no resistance daring
their landing and their subsequent advance. On the same day, they took
by surprise the strategically important airfield of Kalidjati despite
the resistance of the British defence party made mostly of RAF ground
On the afternoon of March 1st, the Mobiele Eenheid
was alerted in Bandoeng and went in the direction of Kalidjati (25
miles to the north). The unit was reinforced by three Marmon-Herrington
armoured cars, three 3.7cm anti-tank guns and a battery of mountain
artillery with four 7.5cm guns. On March 2nd, the unit prepared to
attack in the direction of Soebang, a little town east of Kalidjati.
The Japanese had at that time only about 100 men in the town, including
Colonel T. Shoji, the commander of the force landed at Eretan Wetan,
together with a anti-tank and a mountain gun. It seems that they were
quite surprised by the Dutch attack.
Preceded by two armoured cars, the 1st Platoon (Marmon-Herrington
tanks) with a platoon of infantry in Overvalwagens made the first
attack at 0810. The open topped Overvalwagens were soon in difficulty
and the tank platoon was unable to take over the town alone. It
retreated after losing one tank. The two other infantry platoons had
dismounted and were trying to enter the town by advancing on both sides
of the road. They encountered strong Japanese resistance and were not
able to progress. The 2nd Tank Platoon followed the first tanks and
entered the town. The Japanese defenders were now fully alerted and
they repulsed the platoon which lost three or four vehicles.
The third attack on Soebang took place at 0915. The 3rd Tank Platoon
with the Command Group and the remaining vehicles of the 1st and 2nd
Platoons tried to drive out the Japanese (there were 17 tanks
involved). Without infantry support, the tanks came under fire from
both sides of the road toward Soebang and were repulsed with losses (at
least four vehicles). Meanwhile, Japanese reinforcements had reached
the town and were threatening the flanks of the Dutch infantry. On
1015, a last tank attack was started to extricate the infantry. It is
not know how many vehicles participated in the attack. After a bitter
fighting, the Mobiele Eenheid
finally broke contact with the Japanese at 1220. It assembled at
Tambakan, a few miles south of Soebang, and went to Bandoeng on March
4th. On the 9th, the NEI capitulated. Between the 4th and the 9th, the Mobiele Eenheid
did not take part in any action. It was placed in reserve against
possible paratroops landings which did not take place.
The only use of tanks in Java must be considered a failure. The
objective was not reached and the unit suffered such losses that it did
not seen action again. The courage and skill of the tank crews were
unquestionable. After the war, eight men were decorated with the
Bronzen Kruis (Bronze Cross) and one with Bronzen Leeuw (Bronze Lion).
In addition four men were promoted to Corporal. However, the whole
attack suffered from a lack of planing. The foremost mistake was the
insufficient infantry support. The 150 men strong armoured infantry
company was unable to support the tanks on their way and in the town,
as was the artillery. This is even more unforgivable as a whole
infantry battalion was scheduled to attack Soebang a day latter. The
result was another failure. Incredibly, neither commander knew of the
other's missions. A co-ordinated attack by both forces, even on March
3rd, could have obtained better results. It is also obvious that the
Dutch Command had no real idea of how to use its armoured unit.
Unfortunately, the first lesson was to prove to be the last.
The losses of the Mobiele Eenheid were severe: fifteen or
sixteen killed in action, twelve or thirteen wounded, thirty six
missing (most of them taken prisoner). Thirteen tanks (VCL and
Marmon-Herrington), three Overvalwagens, one Marmon Herrington armoured
car and one anti-tank gun were lost. According to another source, eight
tanks were destroyed during the attack and three were later lost to air
Only seven to nine of the remaining tanks could still be used. The lack
of spare parts was now acute. The two types of tanks used must be
considered obsolete at that time. Even against an enemy equipped with
relatively few anti-tank weapons, the VCL Light Tanks were deficient in
armour and firepower. Furthermore, they had been used for training and
were lacking spare parts and were therefore not in best state. The
Marmon-Herrington tanks were no better and the crews were not familiar
with them as they had only reached Java a few weeks earlier.
VCL Light Tanks in the NEI after the Allied surrender It is unlikely that the remaining tanks of the Mobiele Eenheid
were destroyed by their crews before the surrender. The history of the
KNIL Cavalry states that the Japanese recovered 15 serviceable light
tanks, including some from a British unit. They were probably kept on
Java and used for training and police duties. In the last weeks of
World War II, the Japanese Command on Java began to arm various
Indonesian groups and promised them the independence of their country.
When the allied forces (mainly Indian and British units) arrived at the
end of September 1945, they found the Indonesian nationalists in
control of the island. There is photographic proof that at least one
VCL Light Tank was used by them, along with several other ex-Allied and
Japanese vehicles. It is also possible that this vehicle was involved
in the fighting between the British occupation force and the
Indonesian. The Dutch forces, made up mostly of ex-POWs, came back only
in February-March 1946 and there is no record of the use of light tanks
Appendix Registrations of the VCL Light Tanks The original four
tanks had the registrations D7189 and D7211 for the Amphibious Tanks
and D7145 and D7152 for the Light Tanks, later changed respectively to
D9802, D9803, D9800 and D9801. Like all vehicles of the KNIL, the tanks
had a civil registration. The letter D stands for the Preanger
Residentie, the province comprising Bandoeng. From pictures, it is
apparent that almost all AFVs of the KNIL were registered in this
province, possibly because the Dutch HQ were at Bandoeng. The four
digits seems to have been attributed in a loose chronological order.
The Light Tanks from the later order were all registered in the D9800
series. Photographic evidence shows the followings: D9804, D9809,
D9811, D9813, D9814, D9815, D9816, D9817, D9819, D9820, D9823, D9824.
Bibliography D: Dutch ; E: English/Australian ; F: French/Belgian
De Japanse aanval op Nederlands-Indie - deel 2 Borneo, JJ Nortier (D)
Het KNIL van tempoe doeloe, CA Heshusius (D)
Het Koniniklijk Nederlands-Indische Leger 1830-1950, CA Heshusius & HL Zwitzei, (D)
KNIL Cavalerie 1816-1950, CA Heshusius (D)
Nederlands-Inidie contra Japan Deel VII, C van den Hoogenband & others, official history (D)
Soldaten van het Kompenie KNIL 1830-1950, CA Heshusius (D)
Tanda Mata KNIL, P van Meel (D)
Tankalbum 2, F Vos (D)
Armour of the Pacific War, S Zaloga (E)
Australian Military Forces Japanese AFVs 1943 (E)
Mechanised Force, D Fletcher (E)
The Galloping Third - the Story of the 3rd the King's Own Hussars, H Bolitho (E)
GHO de Wit in Mars & Historia Vol.26 No.4 (D)
M Ledet in 39-45 Magazine No 44 (F)
JJ Nortier in Stabelan Vol.14 No.4 (D)
JA Palit in Stabelan Vol.10 No.4 (D)
R Surlemont in Tank Museum News No 30 (F)
F Vos in Militaire Spectator December 1972 (D)
3rd the King's Own Hussars Journal 1946 & 1947 (E)
Acknowledgements I am very grateful to the following people and
organisations for providing and allowing access to information,
pictures, books and magazines: J. Bauman (MAFVA), P. Brown, D. Fletcher
(Bovington Tank Museum), Maj. (Rtd) J.S. Knight (Home HQ The Queen's
Own Hussars), Public Record Office in England. K. Blijleven (TWENOT),
R. Evers (TWENOT), Col. Cav. Ret. C.A. Heshusius, Algemeen
Rijksarchief, Sectie Militaire Geschiedenis Koninklijke Landmaclit in
the Netherlands. Any comments, corrections and additions to this
article are very welcome. Several questions remains unanswered and I
hope that some readers may help solving them.
Armoured Vehicles in the Pacific War . Bibliography . Article List . Geographic Names
Copyright © Jacques Jost 1994
Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942