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Celebes Print

During the entire Japanese occupation the military administration of Celebes was in the hands of the Japanese navy. The prisoners of war on Celebes were concentrated in Makassar. A considerable number of them had already been taken to Japan in October 1942. The civilian internees were eventually assembled in four camps in North and South Celebes: in the north in men’s camp Teling and women’s camp Airmadidi, in the south in men’s camp Bolong and women’s camp Kampili. With the exception of Teling these civilian camps were hidden in the interior.

Battle for Celebes

In the early morning of 11 January 1942 approximately 2,500 Japanese marines landed on two locations on the coast of Minahasa, the north-eastern part of Celebes. In addition, about 500 Japanese parachutists came down at the airfield of Langoan. Within two days the Japanese were in control of the entire area.

The remaining KNIL troops were split into groups for the purpose of guerrilla warfare. However, the results of this move were limited: most groups surrendered immediately or were unable to fight for any length of time. On January 20 the remaining men fled to Central Celebes. After the general capitulation of the KNIL on 9 March 1942, they were taken prisoner also.

The strategically important Kendari airfield, located in the south-eastern part of Celebes, fell into enemy hands almost completely intact on 24 January 1942. Japanese troops from Menado landed just north of the town of Kendari totally unexpectedly, and the KNIL troops that were there were defeated without any serious fighting.

The Japanese operations in Southwest Celebes started in the early morning of 9 February 1942, when approximately 2,000 Japanese marines landed about 25 kilometres south of Makassar. The KNIL troops evacuated the city and retreated behind the Tjamba position, some 60 kilometres northeast of Makassar. When Japanese troops arrived there, the KNIL moved further north, in the direction of Enrekang. About halfway there, near Rala, part of the group was overtaken by the Japanese and taken prisoner on March 6. The remainder of the troops, about 300 men, surrendered in Enrekang on March 27.

A small group of KNIL soldiers in Central Celebes, under the command of lieutenants W.H.J.E. van Dalen and J.A. de Jong, managed to evade capture by the Japanese until early August 1942. Van Dalen and De Jong were executed, together with approximately 20 NCOs; those of lower rank were taken into captivity.

Prisoners of war

The 1,100 or so KNIL POWs who fell into Japanese hands on Celebes, were concentrated in the infantry barracks in Makassar in February, March, and April 1942. Also interned here were about 1,700 Dutch, British and American navy staff, among whom survivors of the Battle of the Java Sea. In April 1942 there were about 2,870 POWs in this camp. In June and July 1942 small groups of POWs from the Lesser Sunda islands arrived in Makassar. Mid-October 1942 some 1,000 POWs were put on transport to Japan. Small groups of officers were taken to Japan and Surabaya in April 1942 and October 1943 respectively.

The POWs in the infantry barracks were put to work, among other places in the harbour of Makassar, in a lime factory on Matuangin road, on Mandai airfield about 15 kilometres to the northeast of the city, and from January to September 1943 in the nickel mines of Pomelaä in Southeast Celebes. Executions were carried out several times in the camp. On 6 April 1944, for example, lieutenant-colonel A.L.A Gortmans and six other POWs were executed after being convicted of resistance, conspiracy and espionage.

In June and July 1944 the approximately 1,700 remaining POWs were taken to a new barracks camp, located in a boggy coconut plantation just south of Makassar. From March this Mariso camp, also known as Bamboo camp, had been built by the prisoners themselves. Due to the harsh regime, malnutrition, heavy forced labour and the unhealthy environment at least 330 POWs died here before the liberation.

In Raha on the island of Muna in Southeast Celebes between October 1944 and August 1945 there was an improvised barracks camp for about 440 POWs who had been put to work in the Moluccan islands. This group had actually been on its way to Java, but had stranded on Celebes. During an allied air raid dozens of prisoners in Raha died. The survivors were put to work in a sawmill under terrible conditions. In April, July, and August 1945 the inhabitants of the camp left in groups in fishing praus for Makassar, where the last group did not arrive until after the Japanese capitulation. As many as 174 POWs died in Raha and during the transports to Makassar.

Civilian camps in North Celebes

The European male civilians from the Minahasa – about 180 persons – were first assembled in the Sint Jozef school in Menado, and from March on in the military camp of Teling, a short distance to the southeast of the city. These men and boys had an exceptionally hard time. They were fed very poorly and were made to work in the city and the harbour. Camp Teling and the prison in Menado, where they were locked up for a while in 1944, were hit by allied bombs on more than one occasion, causing casualties every time. More than 40% of this group did not survive the occupation.

Even before the Japanese invasion most of the European women and children, and a number of civilian men, had been evacuated from Menado as a precaution and taken to the town of Tomohon, about 25 kilometres to the south. On 12 January 1942 the Japanese arrived there. Subsequently about 400 women and children ended up in the Saint Walterus convent in Tomohon. During the first months of the internment about 80 native women and children were released. The other internees were transferred to the Lauwier school in kampong Kaäten, east of Tomohon, in March 1942. In March 1944 they were taken to a barracks camp east of Airmadidi near Lembean.

Evacuation camps in South Celebes

When news of the Japanese landings on North Celebes reached Makassar, many women and children left this city to go to Java or Australia. By the end of January 1942, when evacuation was no longer possible due to a lack of room on ships, many moved to the evacuation centres the DEI authorities had established in the interior. One of these evacuation camps was in the mountain town of Malino, about 70 kilometres east of Makassar, where the Japanese found about 800 European women and children in February 1942. The Malino camp was continued under Japanese command from February 23, initially without permanent guards.

Another evacuation camp that was established by the DEI authorities especially for families of native KNIL soldiers was at Pekato. This camp was located to the southeast of Makassar, halfway between Makassar and Malino. During the Japanese occupation this location continued to be used as a camp for Ambonese families. Initially Pekato was a kind of reception camp, but from 1943 in particular it became more and more like a regular internment camp.

Women’s camps in South Celebes

The Japanese initially interned the European women and children who remained in Makassar and the surrounding area in the local police barracks. Also assembled here were the women and children from a large part of Celebes (with the exception of the northernmost part) and from some of the lesser Sunda Islands (Bali, Sumbawa, Sumba and Flores). In August 1942 the approximately 440 women and children were taken from the police barracks to the camp in Malino.

From the end of December 1942 to the end of March 1943 an annex of the Malino camp was located in Lombasang, a few kilometres further south. And about three kilometres west of Malino, in Benteng Tinggi, a small number of American and British missionaries were interned. In May 1943 the Malino camp was evacuated and the 1,300 women and children were taken to Kampili.

In the abandoned and dilapidated Kampili sanatorium, some 25 kilometres southeast of Makassar, the Japanese set up a new assembly camp for women and children in early 1943. In March 1943 a group of about 300 internees arrived from Ambon, in May the women and children from Malino arrived, in September about 110 persons from Timor, and late December another 13 internees who came from Bali.

On 17 and 19 July 1945 Kampili was hit by allied bombs. These killed seven women and children and destroyed a large part of the complex. Immediately after these air raids the internees moved to an emergency camp, located in the forest near Kampili. This so-called Boskamp (forest camp) had been built there earlier by order of the Japanese camp commander Jamadji Tadashi, probably with this type of calamity in mind.

Men’s camps in South Celebes

The male European civilians of Makassar were all locked up by the Japanese in that city’s police barracks. Until late August 1942 women and children were also interned, in a separate section. In September 1942 the men were transferred to the military camp in Parepare, about 130 kilometres north of Makassar. This camp acted as an assembly camp for the male internees from Celebes (with the exception of the northernmost section) and the remaining Marine area in the eastern archipelago.

On 19 and 21 October 1944 the civilian camp in Parepare was bombed by allied airplanes, killing 13 people in total. One day later, on October 22, the internees were taken to a temporary camp in an abandoned pig farm on the Bodjo river, about 8 kilometres south of Parepare. Finally, in May and early June 1945 the men and older boys were transported further north in groups, to Bolong, a remote place in the mountainous jungle. They first had to build their own accommodations and were more or less left to their own devices.

Liberation and evacuation

In North Celebes the internees were informed of the Japanese capitulation very late: in men’s camp Teling on 24 August 1945, in women’s camp Airmadidi one day later. Fairly soon the internees received more food. Letters and visits between the women’s camp and the men’s camp were possible now, but the internees had to stay in the camps for the time being and wait for the arrival of the allied forces. Nevertheless in early September the catholic missionaries returned to the Saint Walterus convent, which they found completely intact.

On 12 September 1945 there was a first allied food drop in Airmadidi. On September 13 a small Australian reconnaissance unit arrived in Menado. These soldiers inspected the area, assembled the Dutch former internees – apart from the missionaries – and took them to Morotai by ship.

In South Celebes the civilian men and boys in the remote Bolong camp were taken in groups to two school buildings in Parepare between 24 and 26 August 1945. On August 31 the first allied food drops took place here. The last remaining ex-internees in Parepare were transported to Makassar in the second half of September.

In the Mariso POW camp on the southern edge of Makassar the Japanese capitulation was announced on 16 August 1945. Late August allied airplanes flew in supplies for this camp and the prisoners took over the management of the camp. The camp residents left the unhealthy Mariso camp and moved to the Military Hospital in the centre of Makassar. Early September contact was made with the women’s camp at Kampili.

On 21 September 1945 the first Australian troops arrived at Makassar. The British and American former POWs at the Military Hospital were all quickly moved to Morotai. However, evacuation of the last Dutch POWs from Makassar did not take place until December.

In the Boskamp near Kampili people also heard about the Japanese capitulation on 16 August 1945. Over the course of September a number of women and children were collected by their husbands, who came from the Mariso and Parepare camps, and taken to Makassar. The sick were also transferred to a hospital in this city. Mid-September the former internees left the Boskamp and moved to new barracks built by Japanese soldiers in the old Kampili camp. On September 26 the last women and children at Kampili were evacuated to Makassar by the Australians.

Late September 1945 the internment camps in South Celebes were totally cleared. The former internees were received in Makassar in the so-called European quarter to the south of the old city centre. Most of the people were housed in regular houses, some in a school or hotel. The sick were admitted into the Stella Maris hospital. By the end of 1945 and in the first months of 1946 many former internees were transported to Java, Australia, or the Netherlands.


In Menado, where the first Australians left mid-September after a brief inspection tour with the former internees, a small Australian occupation force arrived on 2 October 1945. These soldiers did not encounter any major difficulties, and in November a KNIL company took over.

In Makassar the situation was more complex. Tensions between rearmed Ambonese KNIL soldiers who patrolled the streets and Indonesian nationalist youths, pemudas, built up over October 1945. Several shooting incidents took place in which people were killed. Moluccan families were threatened and had to seek refuge in the Military Hospital, later in Fort Rotterdam. The local Australian commander then ordered all Ambonese troops to stay in their barracks. Not much later these soldiers were taken by ship to Balikpapan on Borneo.

However, this did not bring peace. Pemudas armed with sticks tried to prevent food being sold to Dutch people or prevent them getting into trishaws. There was large-scale theft. In the night of 28 to 29 October hundreds of pemudas tried to gain control of several important buildings in Makassar. These assaults could be warded off, mainly because the nationalists were poorly organized and lacked weapons. The Australians strengthened their control of the city and after this turbulent start the situation calmed down somewhat. In February 1946 the 80th British-Indian Brigade took over in Makassar.