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Royal Netherlands East Indies Army 1936-42

Royal Netherlands East Indies Army 1936-42 Book Review

By David L. Veres

Date of Review May 2019 Title Royal Netherlands East Indies Army 1936-42
Author Marc Lohnstein Publisher Osprey Publishing
Published 2019 ISBN 9781472833754
Format 48 pages, softbound MSRP (USD) $18.00


Before WWII in the Pacific, Japanese propagandists decried a sinister cabal of “ABCD” powers existentially menacing Imperial interests.

A, B, and C separately signaled America, Britain, and China. And D denoted a resource-rich Dutch possession – the Netherlands East Indies, a significant source of Japanese oil.

Now Marc Lohnstein surveys the colony’s defenses in Royal Netherlands East Indies Army 1936-42 – 521st installment in Osprey’s vast “Men-At-Arms” range.

After introductory notes, the book broadly divides into two parts. The first summarizes land and air forces, their structure and equipment:

  • KNIL Composition
  • KNIL Organization
  • Weapons
  • Aviation: ML-KNIL

And the second recaps “The KNIL In Combat” – including enemy plans.

“The KNIL and its allies were defeated by a well-coordinated Japanese joint operation carried out with aggressive efficiency,” Lohnstein concludes. “The KNIL lacked, at every level, combat experience and training in modern warfare, and suffered from weak command and control. This combination led to decreasing morale and effectiveness.”

Period photos, explanatory captions, tables, abbreviations list, chronology, and selected bibliography supplement Osprey’s succinct, 48-page study. Unfortunately, the book’s unit organization charts remain useless without symbol keys or explanations.

Twenty-four excellent uniform plates – each with separate commentary and inset details – further augment the account. Descriptive text also includes additional notes on KNIL’s 1937 service uniform & insignia, field uniforms, and equipment.

What an illuminating effort. Let’s hope Osprey offers a companion piece on early war Dutch naval forces – notably Feb 1942’s Battle of the Java Sea. Then we’ll have the whole story.


My sincere thanks to Osprey Publishing for this review sample!