South Sulawesi Campaign

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South Sulawesi Campaign
Part of the Indonesian National Revolution
Date10 December 1946 – 21 February 1947
(2 months, 1 week and 4 days)
Result Dutch victory
 Indonesia  Netherlands
Commanders and leaders
Lieutenant Latief Captain Westerling
Colonel De Vries
Units involved
Tentara Republik Indonesia (TRI)
Kebaktian Rakyat Indonesia Sulawesi (KRIS)
Various local irregular fighting forces
Depot Special Forces (DST)
Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (KNIL)
Police units
Village guards
123 DST troops
Casualties and losses
≈5,000 killed, among them an unknown number of non-combatants 3 DST troops killed
Unknown number of KNIL soldiers and members of village guards and police units killed

The South Sulawesi Campaign (10 December 1946 – 21 February 1947) was a campaign of the Indonesian National Revolution. It pitted local Indonesian Republicans on the island of Sulawesi against the returning Dutch who sought to re-assert their authority. The Dutch counter-insurgency offensive was masterminded by the controversial Raymond Westerling, a Captain in the KNIL (Royal Netherlands East Indies Army). Westerling's operation, which started in December 1946 and ended in February 1947, succeeded in eliminating the insurgency and undermining local support for the Republicans by instituting summary executions of suspected enemy fighters.

Background of the insurgency[edit]

Between 1816 and 1905, the Dutch consolidated their control over the Bugis states of South Sulawesi. By 1911, the Dutch had integrated the entire region into the Dutch East Indies.[1] Dutch rule was interrupted by the Japanese invasion of the East Indies during World War Two. During the Japanese occupation of Indonesia, Sulawesi along with much of eastern Indonesia was administrated by the Imperial Japanese Navy which sought to suppress local Republican and nationalist movements in contrast to the Army-dominated occupations of Java and Sumatra.[2] Following the Japanese surrender in August 1945, the nationalist movement in Sulawesi established contact with Sukarno's Republican administration in Java.[2]

However, due to the weak state of the nationalist forces in Sulawesi, they were unable to resist Australian and Dutch occupation forces which quickly occupied much of East Indonesia with little resistance. By 5 April 1946, most of the local Republican administration including Governor Sam Ratulangi were imprisoned by the returning Dutch authorities. The Dutch also interned the pro-Republican aristocracy and their supporters. Despite this, resistance continued in the form of pro-Republican intellectuals and guerrillas, surviving nobility and Java-based militants.[2] The Dutch downplayed the local resistance as manifestations of international Communism and Javanese domination,[3] portraying the native populations as contented and resistant to revolutionary change.[4]

Despite the Malino Conference in July 1946 which established local federal states in Dutch-controlled parts of Indonesia, the Sulawesi government's effectiveness was weakened by the poor economic situation, agricultural famines and a non-existent civil administration.[5] The Indonesian Republic in Java provided training for Sulawesi guerrillas and even dispatched Javanese forces, using the ports of Polongbangkeng and Barru for landing troops and supplies.[3] By December 1946, Dutch authority in the island was limited to the confines of Makassar and on the verge of an absolute breakdown. Hundreds of government officials and members of the pro-Dutch Eurasian and Indo Chinese community, were attacked and killed. The KNIL garrisons, stationed on the island, were not able to provide protection.[6]

The "Westerling Method"[edit]

The failure of conventional tactics prompted the Netherlands East Indies government to dispatch the maverick counter-insurgency expert Raymond Westerling who initiated a three-month pacification campaign from December 1946 to February 1947. Earlier Dutch tactics had focused on temporarily detaining and releasing suspected guerrillas.[7] In November 1946, British-trained commando Westerling had developed a contingent of commandos within the KNIL known as the Depot Special Forces (DST), which specialised in counter-insurgency warfare and interrogation.[8]

According to Westerling, pacifying Sulawesi, without losing thousands of innocent lives could only be accomplished by instituting summary justice on the spot of suspected enemy fighters, who were generally executed. This became known as the "Westerling Method". Westerling ordered the registration of all Javanese arriving in Makassar due to the large numbers of Javanese participating in the Sulawesi resistance. He also used scouts to infiltrate local villages and to identify members of the resistance.[9]

Based on their information and that of the Dutch military intelligence service, the DST surrounded one of more suspected villages during night, after which they drove the population to a central location. At daybreak, the operation began, often led by Westerling. Men would be separated from women and children. From the gathered information Westerling exposed certain people as terrorists and murderers. They were shot without any further investigation. Afterwards Westerling forced local communities to refrain from supporting guerillas by swearing on the Quran[8] and established local self-defence units with some members recruited from former guerrillas deemed as "redeemable".[10]

Westerling directed eleven operations throughout the campaign. He succeeded in eliminating the insurgency and undermining local support for the Republicans. His actions restored Dutch rule in southern Sulawesi. However, the Netherlands East Indies government and the Dutch army command soon realised that Westerling's notoriety led to growing public criticism. In April 1947 the Dutch government instituted an official inquiry of his controversial methods. Raymond Westerling was put on the sidelines. He was relieved of his duties in November 1948.[11]

Controversy over death toll[edit]

The Republican government claimed that Westerling was responsible for tens of thousands of deaths. Initially they had estimated the number of victims at 15,000, but later stated it was 40,000. A monument with the name Monumen Korban 40.000 Jiwa was erected in the city of Makassar to commemorate the victims of the campaign. Dutch historian Jaap de Moor blames the inflation of the death toll on the fact that Republican government used it as propaganda to draw attention from the world to their diplomatic and armed struggle against the Dutch. Mohammed Natzir of the Indonesian Historical Commission of the Armed Forces also calls the figure of 40,000 deaths fiction and a propaganda measure of the Republican government against the Dutch occupation of that time.

In his book De Zuid-Celebes Affaire: Kapitein Westerling en de standrechtelijke executies Dutch historian Willem IJzereef estimates that the actions of the DST cost about 1,500 Indonesian lives. About 400 of them were executed during actions led by Westerling himself, while the remaining 1,100 were killed during actions of his second in command. Another 1,500 deaths could be added by actions of other KNIL units. Approximately 900 Indonesians were killed by pro-Dutch police units and members of the village guards. IJzereef believes that Indonesian resistance caused around 1,500 victims.[12]

Accusations of war crimes[edit]

Westerling has always defended his actions and denied accusations of war crimes. His memoirs, which he publiced in 1952, devote a chapter to his self-defense. "They painted me as a bloodthirsty monster, who attacked the people of Celebes by fire and sword and exposed all those, who in the interest of Indonesia's national independence resisted Dutch rule, to a merciless campaign of repression". Westerling stated he had based his tactics on the premise that he performed the role of policeman, combating terror: "I arrested terrorists, not because they acted as instigators of the Republican government... but because they made themselves guilty of open and unmistaken crimes...I never had them [his troops] bombard a village, nor did I take the hut of innocent under fire. I had executed some criminals, but nobody had died needlessly or wrongly by my doing.[13]

In 1949, the Dutch–Indonesian agreement on transfer of power stipulated neither country would call the other on its wartime offences, thus ruling out any attempt by Indonesia to press for Westerling's extradition.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tol (2001), p. 136
  2. ^ a b c Kahin (1952), p. 355
  3. ^ a b Westerling (1952), p. 92
  4. ^ Westerling (1952), p. 89
  5. ^ Westerling (1952), p. 90
  6. ^ Westerling (1952), p. 93
  7. ^ Westerling (1952), p. 95
  8. ^ a b "Westerling's War". Jakarta Post. 19 May 2010. Archived from the original on 13 October 2010. Retrieved 25 November 2010.
  9. ^ Westerling (1952), p. 96
  10. ^ Westerling (1952), pp. 101–105
  11. ^ Westerling (1952), pp. 98–99
  12. ^ IJzereef (1984), p. 172
  13. ^ Westerling (1952), p. 150


Further reading[edit]

  • Said, Mohammed Natzir (1985). Korban 40.000 jiwa di Sulawesi Selatan. SOB 11 Desember 1946 penyebab banjir darah dan lautan api. Bandung: Alumni.
  • Reid, Anthony (1974). The Indonesian National Revolution 1945–1950. Melbourne: Longman Pty Ltd. ISBN 0-582-71046-4.