Commando News issue 15 2019


The Official Australian Commando News Magazine

Why was an Indonesian the only AIB Operative

to wear a VC?

Visit the Julius Tajhija Family Museum in Jakarta!


Jim Truscott & Rick Moor

It is a little known fact that there is a significant story

about Indonesian, Dutch and Australian military

history hidden right under the noses of the

Australian Embassy in Jakarta. The Julius Tahija Family

Museum is a memorial to the only Operative in the

Allied Intelligence Bureau (AIB) to wear a VC. To

understand the reason why, you must appreciate the

strategic significance of the Tanibar Islands in the

defence of Australian air-sea gap in WWII.

Operation PLOVER was an Australian-Dutch military

operation in July 1942 to regain control over several

small Indonesian islands in the Dutch East Indies north

of Darwin. In March 1942 the islands were not yet under

Japanese occupation but there were strong pro-

Japanese sentiments on many islands. The Nether lands

did not maintain any military garrisons on most islands

relying on local police instead. In June 1942 the local

people on Saumlaki in the Tanimbar Islands and Toeal

on Kai Island rebelled against Dutch authority but the

uprising was quelled by the police.

Realizing the strategic importance of these islands

on 27 June 1942, General MacArthur ordered HMAS

Warrnambool and HMAS Southern Cross to land 80

soldiers from the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army

(KNIL) including Sergeant Julius Tahija and 12 men on

Saumlaki to defend the islands. They did not expect any

Japanese reaction but the RAAF made several

reconnaissance flights and bombed the islands just

before the landing at Dobo on the Aru Islands on 12

July and at Saumlaki on 13 July in order to intimidate

the population.

On 28 July HMAS Southern Cross and HMAS

Chinampa were sailing to strengthen the small garrison

on Saumlaki but at 0410 on 30 July a Japanese force of

about 300 soldiers in two destroyers landed on the

island. The defenders killed about 200 Japanese but

seven KNIL soldiers were also killed. The remaining six

soldiers withdrew into the bush and six hours later the

island was in Japanese hands and the Japanese ships

moved away. At 0930 the engine on HMAS Southern

Cross failed and HMAS Chinampa anchored off shore

Saumlaki. The commander went ashore but was shelled

and returned on board awaiting the arrival of HMAS

Southern Cross. The next morning HMAS Chinampa

approached the Saumlaki jetty to destroy it but it was

fired on by Japanese, killing the Commander and one

sailor. The two ships withdrew and returned to Darwin

on 2 August.

Anticipating that his force would be wiped out by the

overwhelming odds they faced Sergeant Tahija planned

their defences and escape route in detail. After

engaging the force as it approached the beach he

Jean & Julius Tajhija

conducted a very effective fighting withdrawal,

decimating the enemy and saving his own force.

Sergeant Tahija and five other KNIL soldiers evaded for

3 to 4 days to Larat Island and with refugees they sailed

and landed on Bathurst Island on 14 August 1942. In the

family museum in Jakarta you will see the compass and

the map used by Sergeant Julius Tahija as he sailed

south to Darwin with what was left of his small force.

He was awarded the Militaire Willems Orde, the

Dutch equivalent of the VC and the full citation is on

display at the family museum. Only two such Dutch

awards were made during WWII and he was the only

Indonesian in the in the Royal Netherlands East Indies

Army to receive it and only one of four awarded to

Indonesian soldiers throughout 200 years of colonial

rule. After the award ceremony in Melbourne on 27

October 1942 he was invited to join Z Special Unit. The

Dutch, along with the UK and Australian Governments

provided the initial funding to establish the Inter-Allied

Services Department (ISD) which was the forerunner to

the Services Reconnaissance Department (SRD) and the

original cover name for Special Operations Australia

(SOA). The NEI Section was an integral part of ISD until

May 1943 when a new division, NEFIS III, was

established as part of the overall reorganisation of the

allied Special Operations Forces within the AIB. NEFIS

was split into three sections, NEFIS I General Intel -

ligence, NEFIS II Security and NEFIS III Special Intel -

ligence and Special Operations. NEFIS III had little

success as the agents lacked experience and expertise.

It was also difficult to win support from the local

population as they feared Japanese reprisals. NEFIS III

and its predecessor the NEI section of the ISD sent 36

teams into enemy territory. Over 250 agents were

involved in these operations and 39 lost their lives.

It is likely that Julius Tahija was initially posted to ISD

COMMANDO NEWS ~ Edition 15 I 2019 45

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