DESIGNATION: 18th Netherlands East Indies Squadron
ACTIVATION: April 4, 1942
CAMPAIGNS: New Guinea, New Britain, Dutch East Indies
Most members of the 18th Netherlands East Indies Squadron were airmen who had escaped from Dutch possessions when the Japanese invaded Southeast Asia in late 1941 and early 1942. Making their way to Australia, the experienced pilots were welcomed with open arms by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). Several squadrons were organized, the first of which was No. 18.
The first commanding officer of the unit was Lt. Col. B.J. Fiedeldij. While the Australians provided the facilities, the new unit’s equipment came from the United States. The Netherlands became the first government in exile to receive North American B-25s through Lend-Lease. The original plan had been to deliver 18 medium bombers to the new squadron, but the pace of events meant that all but five were diverted at the last minute to American units operating over New Guinea. Eventually, Holland’s new squadron would receive five B-25Cs and 10 Douglas A-20A and DB-7N Bostons.
Familiarizing themselves with their new aircraft, No. 18’s pilots and crews flew antisubmarine patrols out of Canberra, Moryua and Jervis Bay. On June 5, 1942, the squadron attacked a Japanese submarine lurking off Sydney. Although the sub escaped, the performance of the men in their first real combat operation led to some significant changes.
First, on July 6, the unit was disbanded as an RAAF squadron and reorganized as part of the Netherlands East Indies Air Force. Now officially 18 NEI Squadron, it finally received the planes it had originally been promised. On December 5, the squadron moved up to an airstrip in MacDonald, Northern Territory.
The new year saw the squadron assume responsibility for reconnaissance flights over the Dutch East Indies and for attacking Japanese airfields, installations and shipping in the area whenever possible. It also supported the operations of Allied guerrillas on Timor by dropping badly needed supplies.
On January 19, 1943, the squadron had its first encounter with Japanese aircraft when it fended off the attacks of enemy fighters while conducting a reconnaissance over the Kai Islands. The next day it scored its first victories, knocking down two Mitsubishi A6M2 “Zekes” over Fuiloro and a Nakajima E8N1 “Dave” floatplane at Dobo on Timor. The squadron suffered its first loss on February 5 when a B-25 crashed on returning from a mission.
A raid to Dili on February 18 ended in one more victory but the loss of another Mitchell. Later raids that month accounted for one more Zeke destroyed, with one probable and three damaged.
The tempo of operations increased dramatically in April when the squadron joined No. 31 RAAF Squadron and the U.S. Army Air Forces’ 319th Bombardment squadron in daily strikes on enemy-held territory. On the 18th, Dutch B-25s and Australian Lockheed Hudsons carried out a night raid on Penfui.
Following behind the advancing Allied front, on May 8 the squadron moved to Batchelor, Northern Territory, conducting reconnaissance flights over Somniloquy-Tanimbar Island and Laha-Ambon. Bombing raids were subsequently flown against Penfui, Koepang Harbor and Dili.
On June 11, 1943, Fiedeldij turned command over to Lt. Col. J.J. Zomer. In September, replacements arrived. Unlike the first crews—many of whom had flown in the Netherlands’ colonial possessions prior to the war—the new men had mostly come from Holland and had followed a varied path from their homeland to a Dutch-run flying school in Jackson, Miss. Just as appreciated as the replacements were the aircraft they brought with them—the latest version of the B-25D equipped with heavier nose armament.
Armed with planes capable of conducting low-level strafing attacks on enemy shipping, the squadron struck at Japanese reinforcements bound for New Guinea, and at enemy naval facilities on Timor, Ambon and Kai and Aroe islands. Number 18’s greatest success came on December 15, 1943, when its planes sank the 5,123-ton cargo ship Wakatsu Maru. The Dutch pilots would sink 25,545 tons of additional enemy shipping between November 17, 1943, and January 4, 1944. In April 1944, Lt. Col. E.J.G. teRoller took command and led the squadron on daily raids to Koepang, Dili, Penfui and Lauliem. The largest raid, on April 19, 1944, on Su Barracks, was conducted by 12 bombers. May was spent striking targets on Timor, where two aircraft were lost to enemy fire.
Worse was to come. During a June 23 raid on Japanese shipping near Tioor Island, teRoller’s bomber was destroyed. On July 1, Lt. Col. D.L. Asje assumed command and the squadron flew 107 sorties that month. In October, Asje was replaced by Lt. Col. M. Van Haselan.
Working with No. 2 RAAF Squadron, the combined Allied bomber force accounted for 54 enemy vessels sunk. One of the most notable victories came on November 6, when Dutch-flown bombers sank “Special Submarine Chaser” 118.
February 1945 brought another change of station, this time on the island of New Britain. On the 25th, No. 18 received orders to set up operations at Jacquinot Bay. When they received the news, many in the squadron protested, wanting instead to go to the East Indies, which many considered home. General Douglas MacArthur heard their pleas and the orders were changed to Morotai in the Halmaheras. While making final preparations for the long-awaited move, the squadron caught a Japanese troop convoy sailing in the Flores Sea on April 6. Attacking the convoy relentlessly, 11 B-25Js damaged the convoy escort, the light cruiser Isuzu, which American submarines Char and Gailan were able to finish off the following day.
On July 15, the Dutch squadron was ordered to Balikpapan rather than Morotai. It was while flying a mission to drop supplies to Allied prisoners that word arrived that Japan had surrendered.
Now faced with trying to hold on to the Netherlands’ recently liberated colonial possessions, No. 18 was then sent to Tjililitan on Java to support operations of the Dutch marines in their effort to squash the uprising of Indonesian nationalists who had decided that they were unwilling to trade one master for another.
Originally published in the August 2006 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here.