Sumatra, Dec. 1945: The Japanese Army Retaliates

From A Japanese Memoir of Sumatra, 1945-46: Love and Hatred in the Liberation War, by Takao Fusayama (Equinox, 2010), pp. 121-123:

Maj. Gen. Sawamura, the regiment commander, who had been so patient thus far, had at last run out of patience. The compassion and compunction he felt for his soldiers, who had been cruelly killed [by Indonesian nationalist youths] while restraining their fire in accordance with his orders, rested heavily on his heart. He reported the situation and his resolution to the divisional headquarters by wireless and asked the divisional commander for permission to attack the Indonesians. The surprised divisional commander sent a telegram to warn against such a rash act and sent his senior staff officer, Lt. Col. Muromoto, to Tebing in a hurry.

The Communist party in North Sumatra had not joined in the attack on the Japanese. Instead, it maintained connections with the divisional headquarters, expressing its willingness to cooperate. Since the road to Tebing under the control of the Indonesian youths seemed to be too dangerous for a Japanese car, Lt. Col. Muromoto used a Communist party jeep, for the journey.

In general, the behavior of the Indonesian Communist party in Sumatra toward the Japanese was completely different from that of the party in Java. The Communists generally did not like the fact that Indonesian independence was supported by the Asian nationalism of the Japanese, and in Java they sought to cause hatred and trouble between the Japanese and the local people. The Communist party in East Sumatra, however, had never caused any trouble for the Japanese. Instead, it had been cooperative. The head of the party was Abdul Xarim, a famous independence leader who had often been imprisoned by the Dutch. He was released by the Japanese army and became an active cooperator as the head of the Fatherland Defense Association to inspire Indonesians in Sumatra to patriotism and Asian nationalism, mobilizing young people for the defense services. When he became head of the Communist party after the war’s end, all the Japanese were very surprised. But his party did not cause any trouble, unlike the Communists in Java. He was in reality a nationalist, and resisted Dutch colonialism as well as the control of the international Communists. He was, therefore, expelled by Communist headquarters in Java some years later.

Staff Officer Muromoto, arriving in Tebing, found the situation was much more serious than his division headquarters had guessed. It seemed difficult to sway the resolve of Maj. Gen. Sawamura, whose many beloved subordinates had been killed. In addition, it was believed that the Japanese would continue to be killed if no response was made to the massacres. Consequently, Lt. Col. Muromoto finally agreed that Tebing should be attacked. He reported his opinion to the division commander who responded by granting his permission. Maj. Gen. Sawamura immediately announced the order to attack. The soldiers of the 5th Regiment, who were watching this process with bated breath, simultaneously stood up in high spirits.

His Excellency Sawamura has ordered an attack. The regiment commander, who thus far prohibited any attack, has finally given his permission. Comrades, be pleased. We will retaliate for you. His Excellency Sawamura has ordered retaliation at last.

At 3 o’clock on December 13, a battalion commanded by Maj. Takayasu Seno that was well known for its smart operations, left Bahilang. Before departing. Commander Seno warned all his troops: “This is a war against the youth party. Attack them resolutely. The enemy, however, is only the radical youth party. Never injure any other inhabitants. Anyone damaging the name of our glorious Imperial Guard Regiment will be strictly punished.”

After closing off the four exits to the city with small groups of troops, the main force rushed into the town from the south with two tanks at its head. Field cannons were not used in this attack because the soldiers did not want to injure the general public. The youths of Pesindo resisted at the entrance with fierce firing, but the tanks opened the way, crushing the barricades, and soldiers followed behind on foot. The youths were surprised as the Japanese soldiers’ bullets, which had never before been directed against Indonesians, began to hit them. They retreated, gathering in their headquarters in the central square. They shot from all windows with rifles and machine guns, but ran out when the tank guns hit the house. The battalion thus occupied the house in a short period of time. The street fighting continued until late in the day and several Japanese soldiers were killed or wounded. Since the troops closing the road to Medan at the Padang Bridge initially concealed themselves behind the west bank, a large group of the radicals who tried to run out across the bridge became victims of the machine guns from a Japanese ambush.

The next day, with the cooperation of Indonesian policemen and moderate inhabitants, the occupying force searched the entire city and arrested the hidden radical youths and agitators. Those arrested were examined again and anyone proved to be a friend of the Japanese was released. Parapat, the Tebing Branch leader of the Fifth Corps, was one of those released. Some fifty remaining radicals were later killed and buried in a corner of the central square. All the Indonesians in the city were astonished by the unexpectedly severe attitude of the Japanese army who had looked so faint-hearted after losing the war.

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