South African Military History Society

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Curtain Raiser: Interned in a Japanese Prison Camp: 1942-1945, Mother, Sister, Aunt and myself.

The Curtain Raiser lecture was given by Dirk van Doornum, who, together with his Mother, Sister and Aunt were interned in several Japanese prison camps in Indonesia during the second half of WWII.

The van Doornums lived on the island of Java near Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, in times of old, known as Batavia, and Dirk was born in Sidawangi, Java, Indonesia, on the 1st of September 1942. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on the 7th of December 1941, the Japanese forces went into an all-out offensive attack mode of wanting to conquer and overthrow the entire Indian and Pacific Ocean region, concentrating their objectives from between India and Australia. Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines too soon fell.

To begin with, the Europeans were restricted to the town or village in which they resided. After a few months, the men were the first to be interned, followed six months later by the women and children, with the men being put into concentration camps, together with mixed European and Indonesian Races as their sympathies lay with the Europeans.

Food and medicine rations were soon withheld and forced labour was begun. As the war progressed and the Japanese forces were being pushed back further, torture of prisoners increased and food supplies were reduced even further, which resulted in death rates ranging between 12-14%. Prisoners, for example, were beaten if they did not bow at the correct angle each morning. A forced march of women and children prisoners of over 350km was undertaken on foot when the interned had to be relocated to another camp.

Dirk's father was luckily spared from internment as he had been transferred out of Indonesia in time by the Royal Navy to Simons Town where he served for the rest of the war, fabricating and shipping out medical supplies. American and British forces eventually liberated Indonesia around August 1945, and after capitulation, the captured Japanese camp soldiers assisted in clearing out the remaining European and Indonesian prisoners.

Indonesia, having been ruled, at first by the Dutch, and then the Japanese had no one in control and rebel nationalists were now demanding for independence. Riots soon broke out, and the Europeans living in Indonesia again came under a threat of death, but from a different source. It was time for the Europeans to leave. All the Europeans were repatriated by Allied forces, which took 18 months to complete.

The van Doornums all survived the three-year prison ordeal and were re-united after the war. Aged 4½, Dirk and his older sister, together with his mother and father arrived in South Africa in February 1947 where they could build up a new and peaceful family existence. The van Doornums settled in Pretoria where Dirk attended Sunnyside Primary School, and then Pretoria Boys High School, matriculating in 1960. He went on to study at UNISA, attaining a BSc degree in Chemistry and Astronomy at UNISA. He worked at the CSIR, followed by a 10-year term at Colgate Palmolive, ending with 30 years' service at Pretoria Portland Cement. Dirk retired in 2005.

Main Lecture: Pearl Harbour has now been avenged - US carriers turn the tide in the Pacific, Midway, June 1942.

Kevin Garcia's interesting main lecture focused on the US Navy that turned the tide against Japan at the Battle of Midway to avenge the attack on Pearl Harbour. Japan gained military experience during the 1930's pre-war years in their Northern Strategy when they fought against the Soviet Union, and anticommunist China and Manchuria. When Japan entered the war against the Britain and the US, they were already a battle-hardened nation.

In early 1942, Japan launched their Southern Strategy in which they wanted to eliminate their competitors for total dominance in South-East Asia and the Pacific. Japan's Army Preference was to consolidate all her conquests within the first six months of the war. Her Navy Preference consisted of extending her defence perimeter to draw out the US fleet for a "Decisive Battle", hoping to accomplish a total defeat before 1943. After the mammoth attack on Pearl Harbour by the Japanese Navy on the 7th of December 1941, the US Navy retaliated in a surprise attack, known as the Doolittle Raid on the 18th of April 1942 which settled the argument in favour of Admiral Yamamoto's strategy.

During May and June, Japan launched the first of two related offensives. Operation Mo consisted of a three-pronged assault into the Coral Sea and Solomon Islands to seize Port Moresby in New Guinea and Tulagi Island off the south-eastern side of the Solomon Islands. Much of the offensive was turned back by the US Task Force under Admiral Fletcher during the battle of the Coral Sea between the 3rd - 8th of May. Operation Go consisted of an offensive in the northern Pacific, where the Japanese forces planned to seize the US base at Dutch Harbour and the Western Aleutians, with the main aim being lure the main US fleet away from the primary target, which was Midway. Midway Island is situated at the extreme eastern end of the Hawaiian chain of islands and the Japanese wanted to gain control of Midway to extend their defence perimeter and create a "Ribbon Defence" from the Western Aleutians to Midway and from Wake Island to the Gilbert Islands, eventually including New Caledonia to Fiji, which would leave Australia isolated. The Japanese forces wanted to use Midway as a base from which they could threaten Pearl Harbour by air and then push back the US defence perimeter to the USA's western coast. At Midway, the Japanese Navy, which was divided into five components, had planned to draw the US fleet out and to totally destroy it in a "Decisive Battle":

The six key battles that took place at Midway before the US took victory:

The Americans won at the Battle of Midway, which was also the turning point of the war in the Pacific for the following reasons: