Imperial Japanese Army paratropers landing at Palembang
I have hinted in some previous posts (for example here) that Palembang, in Indonesian Sumatra, is one of my favourite cites.
Perhaps the city is best known as home to one of the greatest maritime empires in history, although how Srivijaya should be classified as a polity is still debated. Of a galaxy of possible sources, see here and here for a representative sample on these two points.
What is even less well known, partly through political convenience, was Palembang’s centrality in efforts to stop the Japanese advance during World War II.
Two of the main airfields defending Sumatrata, and thus the rest of the Indonesian archipelago to the east, were around Palembang, although other smaller airfields operated around Sumatra too, including at Medan. All of these bases featured primitive conditions.
With their inferior technology the Western forces initially suffered heavy losses, but they stubbornly fought on. The first of the two airfields eventually fell to Japanese paratroopers in mid-February 1942, a loss that saw the Allied forces rapidly withdraw from Palembang before the second airfield had even been discovered by the Japanese.
With the airfield’s loss there was little stopping the Japanese from capturing Java, which also fell just weeks later. Three and a half years later again the Japanese were gone completely, Indonesia was a sovereign state and memories began to fade of the many Allied service personnel that lie buried in and around Palembang.
Note: Sources available on request.