Curtiss CW22 “Falcon” – the KNIL’s mystery plane…

Remarkably little is known about the Curtiss CW 22 “Falcon” in Dutch service. The type was developed as a descendant from the CW-19 design (as was the CW 21 “Interceptor” fighter). Powered by a 420 Hp Wright R-975 – 28 Whirlwind radial, it made its first flight in 1940. The two-seater could be used for training, reconnaissance or communications purposes. It also had a (limited) ground attack capability, being armed with one fixed and one movable machine gun.


A couple of early delivery KNILCW 22 “Falcons” in flight during 1941 (source unknown)

Seen as a suitable replacement for the rather antiquated Fokker C-X and Koolhoven FK-51 bi-planes in use with the ML-KNIL as reconnaissance and courier planes, the Netherlands Purchasing Commission placed an initial order of 36 CW 22’s with the Curtiss-Wright St. Louis division. 35 were delivered during 1941 and the planes were serialled CF-464 to 499. An order for 25 additional CW 22’s was placed by the end of 1941. Twenty one were en-route for Java (14 aboard MS “Tjibesar” and 7 aboard MS “Sloterdijk”). They were unloaded in Australia and confiscated by the USAAF. The five remaining airframes never left the US but were transferred to the US Navy as SNC-1’s.

From then on the trail of the “Falcons” gets obscure…

The ML-KNIL Order of Battle of December 7, 1941 shows the allocation of 23 “Falcons”, 12 attached to VKA-1 (Reconnaissance Squadron 1) at Tjikembar (West Java) and attached to KNIL HQ. Another 11 CW22’s were allocated to VKA-2 (Reconnaissance Squadron 2) at Yogyakarta (East Java). This leaves 11 CW 22’s unaccounted for.


A captured KNIL CW 22, seen here with a CW 21 and a Boeing B-17 at the Tachikawa Technical Centre in Japan, sometime during 1942

One possible explanation is that some machines were kept in reserve while others were hastily sent to various “outstations” such as the Pameungpeuk airstrip at Java’s south coast.

Recent research has, however, supplied a more sinister reason for a number of CW 22’s dropping out of sight. It has been established that a number of CW 22’s have been involved in the KNIL’s chemical warfare program.

Alarmed by the Japanese use in China of various gas weapons (mustard gas, lewisite) the KNIL decided to prepare itself for (defence against) chemical warfare. A complete chemical plant was ordered from the Dutch State Armament Factory near Amsterdam. It was shipped out (including the base-chemicals) and re-built on a military site at Batujajar (near Bandung, West Java) in 1939. Its five underground storage tanks could hold 65 tonnes of mustard gas. Thus, the Netherlands East Indies possessed a (modest) volume of battle-ready chemical agents of the lethal kind.

Delivery was a headache. Although proof of the exact devices used (or foreseen to be used) is not available, circumstantial evidence points towards plans to equip a squadron of Glenn Martins with 300 Kg ‘chemical bombs’. It is certain though that Curtiss Wright CW-22 Falcons were prepared for spraying operations. These planes have been seen with aluminium spray-installations at Andir (Bandung, Java). There is also evidence of mechanics have been trained in the handling of mustard gas and the use of full protective clothing.

During the three months war with Japan (8 December 1941 – 8 March 1942) both sides refrained from using chemical weapons. But one peculiar (and disturbing) detail has come to light.

On the 1st of March 1942, with Japanese forces streaming ashore at the Java coast near Eretan Wetan, a number of CW-22’s were suddenly fitted with spraying gear while orders were submitted to fill the tanks with mustard gas. It is uncertain whether intentions were to apply the gas on the Japanese invasion force ‘as a last desperate act’ or whether the intentions were to spray the gas across the ocean to prevent it from falling into Japanese hands.

It can nevertheless not be ruled out that some impulsive action had been on the verge of happening. Fortunately for all concerned, somewhere up the line a wise man decided to call the thing off. The Japanese would have been overjoyed to announce to the world what ordeal had come upon them, particularly in the light of the Chinese accusations at the League of Nations in 1937…


Japanese Special Naval Landing Forces with gas masks and rubber gloves during a chemical attack, Battle of Shanghai, 1937


About Kingsleyr

Thank you for visiting my blog! The posts you find here are a direct result of my research into aviation and military history. I use the information I gather as a foundation and background for my books. You may call the genre historical fiction, a story woven into a background of solid and verifiable historical facts. However, the period and region I have chosen to write about (late 1930's - 1950's in South-East Asia) are jam-packed with interesting information and anecdotes. If I'd used them all I would swamp the stories. So this blog is the next best thing. It is an "overflow area" in which I can publish whatever I think will interest you. And from the reactions I get, I deduce I am on the right track. A lot will be about aviation in the former Dutch East Indies. This, because my series of books ("The Java Gold") follows a young Dutch pilot in his struggle to survive the Pacific War and its aftermath. But there's more in the world and you'll find descriptions of cities, naval operations and what not published on this blog. Something about myself; I am a Dutch-Canadian author, living in, and working out of the magical city of Amsterdam. My lifelong interest in history and aviation, especially WW2, has led me to write articles and books on these subjects. I hope you'll enjoy them!
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2 Responses to Curtiss CW22 “Falcon” – the KNIL’s mystery plane…

  1. GP Cox says:

    I was having trouble finding information for this area of the war. Wish I had your site to go to then.


  2. John Deknatel says:

    Hello, Stumbled onto your blog – most enjoyable. Thought you would be interested to know that a number of Curtis CW-22 Falcon aircraft were stationed at the Dutch flight school in Kalidjati in 1941. Source: O.G. Ward De Militaire Luchtvaart van het KNIL in de jaren 1942-1945. As an aside my father got his flight training there in 1941. He later captained B-25 bombers with the 18 Squadron NEI out of Batchelor


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