Ambush at Bojong Kokosan Indonesian Freedom Fighter Memorial Museum in Sukabumi

heroic sculpture
A heroic sculpture of the poorly-armed Indonesian Freedom Fighters is the centerpiece of the park-like Museum. Photo: BYRON ALLEN BLACK

IO – While 1945 was a desperate year for many peoples of the Earth, it was a new dawn for a new nation in Southeast Asia. World War II, the greatest calamity of modern times, had drawn to a close, first with the collapse of Hitler’s “Thousand-Year Reich” and the Occupation of Germany by its enemies, and then with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, terminal acts of war which shocked Emperor Hirohito into admitting the military situation was hopeless, and going onto the radio for the first time ever to tell the Japanese people, and the Army, that the game was over. They had to “bear the unbearable” and surrender to the enemy, something never before contemplated by the proud Japanese. 

The two glorious empires of the Axis were finished, bombed and occupied. Between 50 and 80 million humans were dead, either in combat, victims of the bombing of cities or disease & famine, the usual killers. 80% of young Russian men born in 1920 had lost their lives defending the motherland from the Nazi invasion. 

A world at war yielded one corollary advantage, however, which those suffering under the yoke of colonial rule in Africa and Asia perceived and were determined to turn to their benefit. The British Empire, “… on which the sun never sets…” had been shown to be weak and helpless, with the loss of Singapore, Malaya and Hong Kong; even India was threatened. Thus nationalists in East Asian countries, many young and energetic firebrands, saw an opportunity to rid themselves of foreign occupiers and build independent nations. 

An exploitative, corrupt Dutch colonial administration had ruled the East Indies for some 350 years, with little regard for the welfare of the average Ambonese, Javanese or Sumatran. The Dutch conspired with the local aristocracy to exploit the people and extinguish any notions of becoming a free nation. Thus, the arrival in 1942of the Imperial Japanese Army, and their humiliation, imprisonment and execution of Dutch defenders, was an eye-opener for the Indonesians. No longer was the white man seen as invincible. 

Bojong Kokosan
A Battle in the 1945 Struggle – Bojong Kokosan. Photo: BYRON ALLEN BLACK

The evens of 1945 were perceived as a golden opportunity for the nationalists, led by Ir. Soekarno, to seize control of the Indonesian archipelago from foreign domination and found a new Republic. Alas, the Dutch were having none of it. They accused Soekarno of being a collaborator with the cruel Imperial Japanese military occupiers, which he had in fact been: he saw the Japanese invasion as the best way to flush the Dutch from his country, and agreed to the terrible sacrifice of several hundred thousand young Indonesian men, “Romusha”, sent to work in Japanese-occupied Malaya and Burma. Few made it back home to the Indies; most died of malaria, overwork, starvation or brutal mistreatment by the Japanese. 

August 6, 1945: one lonely B-29 burned the city of Hiroshima from the face of the Earth; the Japanese military urged the Emperor, by now alarmed at the prospect of Japan being wiped from the map, to continue the war. They told him the Americans only had the one super-weapon. Then came Nagasaki, on August 9. How many more Japanese cities would be incinerated? Hirohito, never a strong leader, finally understood that he had to act, and on August 15 announced the Unconditional Surrender of Japan. 

By this time the Imperial Japanese military forces in Southeast Asia were in disarray, starving and disease-ridden: more Japanese were killed by malaria than by the enemy. The Imperial Army was being harassed by guerrillas, attacked from the air and on the seas by steadily-reinforced American, British and Australian military forces. 

When news of the capitulation arrived from Tokyo, the Imperial Army surrendered – but in the subsequent confusion and power vacuum the Allies entering Southeast Asia decided to leave armed Japanese soldiers to maintain peace and order, as bandit gangs were roaming the islands and terrorizing locals. 

The Netherlands wanted to hang onto their colonies but had no way to do so. They had been humiliated in 1940, as the Wehrmacht swept through the Low Countries with little opposition, on their way to victory in France. The five years of German occupation of the Netherlands was a terrible experience for most Dutch citizens (although the Royal Family had beaten a hasty retreat to Canada), with forced labor, reprisals and starvation for many. 

Thus it came to pass that with the announcement of surrender in the Far East, the Dutch military was in no position to field a strong force and reassert its dominance in the Indies. They were quite aware of the peril posed by Soekarno and the nascent nationalists, as there had been a suppressed struggle going on since the 1930s. Since they could not retake Indonesia on their own, they sweet-talked the British army, in considerably better condition – since Great Britain had not been occupied – into holding down the Indies until they were able to regroup and re-establish their colonial rule. 

The English had their own concerns, with a rising movement for independence in British India – a nation they had exploited for several hundred years. Still, they saw a common interest in supporting their fellow oppressors, the Dutch, so they sent military units into Java to “restore order”. What was most urgent was to free the sick and starving prisoners of war (POWs), including thousands of European women and children, from the camps; they soon found that the Indonesians did not welcome their assumption of administrative power, on behalf of the wicked Dutch. The famed Battle of Surabaya, during which thousands of poorly-armed Indonesian freedom fighters fought off British and British Indian soldiers with heavy armor, had taken place in November 1945, around a month after the arrival of the European and Asian military occupiers; it demonstrated the bravery and commitment of the Indonesians and aroused the support of much of the world for the cause of independence. 

In West Java, the People’s Independent Army (Tentara Komando Rakyat – “TKR”) under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Eddie Sukardi, aimed to harass, pick off and demoralize the occupiers, most of whom had never seen combat before. The TKR forces were only armed with a pitiful collection of weapons seized from surrendering Japanese forces (or in some cases won from them in firefights), standing against armored British convoys and machine guns. 

One vital communications and supply route for the British occupiers was the Jakarta-Bogor-Sukabumi-Bandung road. This route, passing through major Javanese cities, was strategic for both Republican and Allied troops. 

What became known as the “Bojong Kokosan Incident” was an ambush by TKR forces, in the First Convoy Battle of 9-12 December 1945. This skirmish, and the many that followed, led to the “Bandung Lautan Api” (“Bandung Sea of Flames”) Battle on 24 March 1946, when Republican forcers destroyed much of that city. 

The first ambush along the West Java highway was followed up by an 81-kilometer-long firefight, with skirmishes running all the way from Cigombong, south of Bogor, to Ciranjang, Cianjur. The British were to discover that occupying the Indies on behalf of its fine Dutch overlords carried a price: this encounter saw fifty foreign troops killed, 100 serious injuries, and 30 soldiers surrendering from the Allied side. London was beginning to harbor doubts about its support for the Dutch. 

On the Republican side, the TKR lost 73 freedom fighters to gunfire. A “Second Convoy Battle” (10-14 March 1946) struggled to keep the Bogor-Sukabumi-Cianjur land route open for the British Army, while freeing POWs and sending disarmed Japanese soldiers northward. Allied forces were subject to steady attacks from local young Bandung fighters, as a spirit of revolution spread like lightning, invigorating the poorly-armed guerrillas and generating worldwide sympathy for the Revolution. 

These heroic events, and the noble supreme sacrifice made by the Indonesian freedom fighters, are memorialized in a stately Palagan (“battlefield”) museum, along the main road from Ciawi to Sukabumi, at Bojong Kokosan Village. It is a national historic site and a grand place to visit, with towering trees and graphic displays of the battles. In the display halls are lovely miniaturized dioramas, displaying seven momentous events around the conflict: 

1) Galvanizing support and mobilizing troops 

2) A meeting to plan the attack 

3) The Cirohani Plantation attack 

4) Battle of Bojong Kokosan 

5) Bombing of the city of Cibadak by the British Air Force 

6) Honoring the dead and wounded 

7) Funeral of Fallen Heroes 

The Museum is sited in a grove of gigantic hardwood trees, along Jalan Raya Ciawi-Sukabumi, about halfway between the towns of Cicurug and Parungkuda. It is well worth a visit, and pleasant outing in a great West Java natural setting. Living history presented, ensuring that we shall never forget the sacrifices of the Indonesian people and the Republican fighters in the struggle for Indonesian Independence. (Byron)