Shoe-string budget defence strategy and secret airfields…
excerpt from ‘The Java Gold’ Chapter 6…
…they were greeted by the restless rush of the nearby surf when they opened the door and lowered the airstair. The metallic tinkling of their cooling engines formed an odd counterpoint to the pounding sound of the waves and the swishing of palm leaves in the wind.
Standing on the concrete they had a good look at this secret place. It was devoid of any building normally found at any military installation, not even a mast for a windsock. There was not the slightest movement and a brooding silence lay over the trees and bushes surrounding the airstrip. Alien eyes seemed to be watching every move they made.
The place was deserted.
‘Nice welcome here’ said Frank
‘I wonder if they’re still asleep.’ Peter replied.
Zuidema came through the low doorway, clutching his rifle and squinting against the bright light.
‘Be careful with that artillery piece of yours.’ Peter joked. ’You might hurt someone.’ Zuidema scowled and disappeared behind the airplane..
‘Better have a look around’ said Peter and when they sauntered off towards the tree line, Lensink joined them.
‘Queer place’ he said ‘but there are more duplicate airfields like this one. At Samarinda II or Singkawang II you did not see a bloody thing until you came right up to the huts. Everything has been built away from the strip to avoid detection…’
This fragment touches on the existence of ‘secret airfields’ in the NEI – were they really there?
How to defend an immense dominion like the Dutch East Indies against a foreign invasion? The question had plagued the Dutch government for many, many years and during the early 1930’s the need for drastic measures became obvious. A succession of penny-pinching short-sighted, complacent governments had left the colony with thread-bare and outdated means of defence. But what was the best way to ensure safety?
The two services tasked with the defence of the islands – the Navy and the Army – had radically different views. Now how do you reconcile those? And still try to stick to your shoe-string budget?
The government decided to buy aircraft. Glenn Martin bombers for the Army and Dornier flying boats for the Navy. With those (and some friends in the neighbourhood, like the USA, Britain and Australia) any foe could be frightened off…
Or could they?
Anyway, as a result of this decision, a whole string of ‘secret’ airfields was constructed to house those bombers. You can find the story about the ‘secret airfields’ as a separate page under ‘Military Background’ .
The Army considered fighters and dive-bombers of little or no value and systematically ignored them until 1940. Rudely awakened by the hard hitting tactics of the German Luftwaffe, the Army top-brass suddenly saw the light…
But that will be another post…