K.N.I.L. History

The KNIL was the Dutch colonial army from 1814 untill 1950. In contrast to the Royal Netherlands Army the KNIL consisted exclusively out of professional soldiers and detached Dutch conscripts.

For those who are interested in the whereabouts and experiences of knillers it is very usefull to have easy accessible sources. Let's say you've found general information about a soldiers regiment or (even better) battalion, military operations and medals, than you can use other historical sources to get more details of the story. Mostly the easy accessible (online) information will be general, but through literature and Dutch Indies newspapers you are able to find specific details.  

The resources below go back from 1950 until 1814 (work in progress). We chose this approach because most people are interested in the last decades of the KNIL We recommend researchers to have al look into the older records as wel in order to gain a full understanding of the KNIL history and culture in the Dutch East Indies. 

For now we only refer you to external sources. Wikipedia has an easy accessible selection of KNIL articles. We are aware that these sites don't meet the standards for professional researchers, but it includes links to other usefull resources. We encourage you to do more research yourself with the help of this information.

The KNILLER website is always under construction, adding more and better information. If you have any information to add to KNILLER please contact us. Terima kasih!
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Before you scroll down to read about the history of the KNIL know that we also share many hours of KNIL documentaries.


The last decades of the KNIL are characterized by the reconstruction of the KNIL, World War II, Revolution and Repatriation.

Repatriation of Indo-Europeans

In the period 1945-1968 a large-scale repatriation of Indo-Europeans took place; more than 300,000 Indo-Europeans came to the Netherlands from the former Dutch East Indies. This migration is known as "repatriation", which means "returning to the fatherland", and must be understood symbolically, since a large proportion of the repatriates themselves had never been in the Netherlands.


Indonesian War of Independence and the Politionele Acties ("Police Actions")

The Indonesian War of Independence (Indonesian: Revolusi Nasional Indonesia = 'Indonesian National Revolution') began shortly after Japan's capitulation on August 15, 1945, followed by the proclamation of the Republic of Indonesia on August 17, 1945, and ended with the transfer of sovereignty over the colony of the Netherlands East Indies (excluding Western New Guinea) by the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Indonesia in December 1949.



Bersiap is the name given by the Dutch to an extremely violent and chaotic phase in Dutch and Indonesian history, more specific of the Indonesian National Revolution, following the end of World War II and was most violent between about October 1945 and early 1946.[1] 'Bersiap' and 'siap' are Malay for 'get ready' or 'be prepared'. These were the battle cries of Indonesian (para)military organizations and gangs, which almost immediately after the end of the Japanese occupation sowed death and destruction, especially among non-Indonesians, but also among natives suspected of "collaboration" with the Dutch authorities.


Japanese Internment Camps in the Dutch East Indies

“Jappenkamp” is how the Dutch call the Japanese internment camps, i.e. places where civilians or military personnel who had been captured by the Japanese during the occupation of the Dutch East Indies (1942-1945) were forced to stay by order of and under the supervision of the Japanese authorities.


Japanese Occupation of the Dutch East Indies

The Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies was the period in World War II when troops of the Japanese Imperial Army occupied the colony of the Dutch East Indies, after the capitulation of the KNIL was signed in Kalijati near Bandung on March 9, 1942.


Conquest of the Dutch East Indies by Japan

The Dutch East Indies campaign of 1941–1942 was the conquest of the Dutch East Indies (present-day Indonesia) by forces from the Empire of Japan in the early days of the Pacific campaign of World War II. The East Indies were targeted by the Japanese for their rich oil resources which would become a vital asset during the war.


VIDEO: The Japanese Conquest of the Dutch East Indies

The Dutch East Indies Army 1930-1940

According to the Defence Fundamentals 1927 the purpose of the armed forces in the Dutch East Indies was (a) to maintain the Dutch authority in the Archipelago against unrest or resistance within its borders, to ensure peace and order and (b) to fulfill the military duty as a member of the community of nations towards other nations. Since the onset of the depression in the 1920's there had been cutbacks in the Dutch East Indies Army. Because of all the geopolitical developments in the 1930s, the ranks of the KNIL were replenished with both men and more modern equipment.



In the first quarter of the 20th century, the remaining armed resistance in Aceh was eliminated. The KNIL conducted another expedition to southern Bali in 1906-1908.

Expedition to Bali 1906-1908

The Expedition to Bali 1906 - 1908 was a punitive expedition of the KNIL in southern Bali. Causes were: escalations concerning a stranded ship, protests against the monopolizing of the opium trade by the Dutch East Indies and the desire of the government to further restrict or end the independence of some principalities in Bali.


Aceh War under Van Daalen -1914

Aceh War under Van Daalen was the period in which lieutenant colonel Van Dalen ruled Aceh. In these years the remaining armed resistance was eliminated by 1914. This seemed to break the resistance and that year was therefore considered the actual end of the Aceh War.


Aceh War; Period of Civil Administration 1881-1883

Two years in which the military administration was replaced by a civil administration, which introduced the concentrated line. The colonial army was encamped in sixteen fortresses (bentengs) connected by a steam tramway called Aceh Tram. This system was used until 1893. The tramway was a popular target for Aceh fighters.




From 1873 on, the Kingdom of the Netherlands waged war against Aceh. It wasn't until 1903 before Aceh surrendered to Major-General and Military-Governer J.B. van Heutsz (1851-1924). Meanwhile, the Lombok Expedition was also conducted in 1894.

Aceh War 1873-1904

The Aceh War, also known as the Dutch War, or the Infidel War (1873–1904), was an armed military conflict between the Sultanate of Aceh and the Kingdom of the Netherlands which was triggered by discussions between representatives of Aceh and the United States in Singapore during early 1873


Lombok War 1894

The Lombok War of 1894 was a military conflict between Bali and Lombok in which both powers submitted a military petition to the government of the Dutch East Indies and where the colonial administration sided with Bali. The war is known in the Netherlands as the Lombok Expedition and is divided into the First and Second Lombok Expeditions. The battle ended in a Dutch victory.




Aceh War; Continuation of the Wait-and-See Policy 1883-1891

In the period 1883 and 1891, things continued to deteriorate from the Dutch perspective. The just appointed civil governor resigned to make way for a military governor.



Aceh War 1877-1881

Period of offensive action in Aceh, under Colonel (later General) Van der Heijden. The wait-and-see system of the previous period had not produced the desired results and robberies and insecurity were assuming ever greater proportions. Van der Heijden followed the offensive strategy and made campaigns to all corners of Aceh. In 1881, the country was finally subdued



Aceh War 1874-1877

In the first years the Second Aceh Expedition alternated between waiting and fighting in Aceh under General Pel. Between the death of Pel and the arrival of Colonel Van der Heijden, generals Wiggers van Kerchem and Diemont adopted a wait-and-see attitude and strictly followed the system of General van Swieten.



Second Aceh Expedition 1873-1874

The Dutch dispatched a second expedition in Aceh in late 1873 during the Aceh War following the failed First Aceh Expedition of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army to Aceh.

Foreign powers refrained from interference, however, Acehnese resistance remained. Sultan Mahmud Syah and his followers withdrew to the hills and jungles territory of Aceh, where they continued their struggle in the hills and jungles territory as guerrillas.


First Aceh Expedition 1873

The First Aceh Expedition in April 1873 was the first phase of a colonial war that would last until 1903 (or 1914). Pro forma, it was a punitive expedition of the KNIL against Aceh with the aim of enforcing a new treaty in order to counteract maritime piracy. The campaign, led by Major General Köhler, was a complete failure.

Early in 1873, the American Consul in Singapore had discussions with an Achenese emissary about a possible Acehnese-American treaty, which the Dutch saw as justification for intervention. In March 1873, the Dutch bombed the Acehnese capital Banda Aceh (Kutaraja) and in April they landed 3,000 troops led by Johan Harmen Rudolf Köhler. Having misjudged their Acehnese opposition, the Dutch were forced to withdraw, losing Köhler and eighty men. They then established a blockade and Acehnese troops (estimates of whom range from 10,000 to 100,000) prepared for battle.



Between 1850 and 1875 the political and economic influence of the Netherlands in the archipelago continued to increase. The KNIL carried out military actions in Borneo, Celebes (Sulawesi) and Bali, among other places.

Fourth and fifth Expeditions to Bali 1858-1868

The Fourth and Fifth expeditions to Bali took place in the Banjar district of Buleleng in 1858 and 1868 respectively. The second half of the 19th century was a troubled period politically for the southern half of Bali. The former principalities of Buleleng and Jembrana had been under direct Dutch East Indies administration since 1849. Nevertheless, the Dutch East Indies Army intervened twice. Politically and economically the Dutch influence in all of Bali slowly increased.



Boni Expeditions 1859-1860

The Boni (or Bone) expeditions were two military campaigns against the Kingdom of Boni, located on the east coast of Southwest Celebes (now Sulawesi), in 1859 and 1860. In 1824 and 1825, the KNIL had already undertaken two punitive expeditions to Boni to bring the monarch in line. In the decades that followed however, the Boniers showed independence and sometimes behaved downright defiantly. On several occasions, the general-government considered launching a new expedition to definitively subjugate the empire, but always postponed the decision, which was seen as a sign of weakness in Boni. Finally, the death of Sultan Ahmad Saleh in 1858 and his controversial succession was used to intervene.


Montrado Expedition 1854 (West Borneo)

Attacks by Chinese gangs on the isolated Dutch garrisons increased again in 1853; no rapprochement seemed possible between the kongsi and the governorate. In May 1854 a (second) expedition took place, also called the Montrado expedition.




Between 1825 and 1830, Central Java was the scene of an extensive war between the colonial authority and local aristocracy. Fifteen years later, the KNIL conducted three expeditions to bring Bali under the influence of Dutch rule.

Third Expedition to Bali 1849

The Third Expedition to Bali in 1849 was an expedition to three principalities on the island of Bali. The action focused on Buleleng and Karangasem in the north and Klungkung in the south. It was a continuation of the Second Expedition to Bali, which had failed for the Netherlands, and resulted in peace.


Secons Expedition to Bali 1849

The Second Expedition to Bali was an expedition from it to the principalities of Buleleng and Karangasem on the island of Bali in 1848. After the First expedition to Bali in 1846, it appeared that there was no victory; the conflictual situation slumbered on. During 1847 it became apparent that the princes of Buleleng and Karangasem were refusing to honor the war damage payments they were obligated to make by treaty of July 1846. Nor did they begin dismantling their defenses in Jagaraga and sending home their thousands of troops there.


First Expedition to Bali 1846

The Dutch intervention in Northern Bali in 1846 was the first in a long series of Dutch military interventions on Bali island, until total control was achieved with the Dutch intervention in Bali in 1908.

In 1846 an expedition was sent out with the aim of calling the principalities of Buleleng and Karangasem to order. The former did not want to sign a contract with the Netherlands, the latter did not want to sign either and also refused to give compensation for an emptied ship that ran aground. On June 20, 1846, the expedition appeared at the roadstead of Besuki (Java) and a week later at the roadstead of Buleleng harbor on the north coast of Bali.


Java War 1825-1830

The Java War (1825-1830) was a conflict in Central Java between the colonial Dutch Empire and native Javanese from the princely states of Yogyakarta and Surakarta who rebelled under the leadership of their prince Diponegoro. Under the governorship general of Daendels (1808-1811) and Raffles (1811-1816), more and more territories had been taken from the princes of Yogyakarta and Surakarta, at the expense of the Javanese aristocracy.


History of the K.N.I.L. 1814-1950

The Dutch presence in the Dutch East Indies archipelago began around 1600 and continued until after 1950. This overview article on the KNIL also briefly discusses the past history of the Dutch in the Dutch East Indies.