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.
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.
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…