Operation Trikora was an Indonesian military operation which aimed to seize and annex the Dutch overseas territory of Netherlands New Guinea in 1961 and 1962. After negotiations, the Netherlands signed the New York Agreement with Indonesia on 15 August 1962, relinquishing control of Western New Guinea to the United Nations.
When the rest of the Dutch East Indies became fully independent as Indonesia in December 1949, the Dutch retained sovereignty over the western part of the island of New Guinea and took steps to prepare it for independence as a separate country. The Dutch and some West Papuan leaders argued that the territory did not belong to Indonesia because the West Papuans were ethnically and geographically separated from Indonesians, had always been administrated separately, and that the West Papuans did not want to be under Indonesian control. From its independence in 1949 until 1961, Indonesia attempted to gain control of Western New Guinea through the United Nations without success. Since the Indonesian National Revolution, Indonesian nationalists had regarded Western New Guinea as an intrinsic part of the Indonesian state. They also contended that Western New Guinea (Irian Barat) belonged to Indonesia and was being illegally occupied by the Dutch.
Since 1954, Indonesia had sporadically launched military raids into Western New Guinea. Following the failure of negotiations at the United Nations, the president of Indonesia, Sukarno, escalated pressure on the Netherlands by nationalising Dutch-owned businesses and estates and repatriating Dutch nationals. These actions increased tensions between Indonesia and the Netherlands led to a sharp reduction in trade between the two countries. Following a sustained period of harassment of Dutch diplomats in Indonesia, Indonesia formally severed ties with the Netherlands in August 1960. Indonesia also increased its military pressure on Dutch New Guinea by purchasing weapons from the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc. Over the following years, the Sukarno government would become dependent on Soviet military support.
On 19 December 1961, Sukarno decreed the establishment of the People's Triple Command or Tri Komando Rakyat (Trikora) in order to annex what Indonesia called West Irian by 1 January 1963. Trikora's operational command was to be called the Mandala Command for the Liberation of West Irian (Komando Mandala Pembebasan Irian Barat) with Major-General Suharto (the future President of Indonesia) serving as its commander. In preparation for the planned invasion, the Mandala command began making land, air, and sea incursions into West Irian. As a result, Indonesia began a policy of confronting the Dutch over control of Western New Guinea. Sukarno also embarked on a policy of "progressive mobilization" to prepare the nation to carry out his commands.
While the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia sided with the Netherlands' claims to Western New Guinea and were opposed to Indonesian expansionism, they were unwilling to commit military support to the Dutch. The Netherlands was unable to find sufficient international support for its New Guinea policy. By contrast, Sukarno was able to muster the support of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies, and the Non-Aligned Movement. In response to Indonesian claims, the Netherlands sped up the process of implementing West Papuan self-rule from 1959 onward. These measures included the establishment of a legislative New Guinea Council in 1960, establishing hospitals, completion of a shipyard in Manokwari, development of agricultural research sites and plantations; and the creation of the Papuan Volunteer Corps to defend the territory.
Indonesia began seeking weapons from abroad in response to the conflict with the Netherlands. Having failed to secure anything from the United States (Dutch membership in NATO was the possible reason), General Nasution went to Moscow in December 1960 to negotiate what eventually turned out to be a US$2.5 Billion arms package with the Soviet government. The subsequent deliveries that arose from this deal led the Indonesian National Armed Forces (TNI) to boast that Indonesia had the strongest air force in the southern hemisphere.
The United States did not support the surrender of West Irian to Indonesia, since the Bureau of European Affairs considered it an act of trading one occupying power for another. However, in April 1961, Robert Komer and McGeorge Bundy began to prepare plans for the United Nations to give the impression that surrender to Indonesia was legal. Although reluctantly, President John F. Kennedy finally supported these plans, fearing that, without U.S support, the Indonesians would become further entrenched into the Soviet-bloc.
Indonesia bought various kinds of military equipment, including 41 Mi-4 and nine Mi-6 helicopters, 30 MiG-15, 49 MiG-17, ten MiG-19 and 20 MiG-21 fighter jets, 12 Whiskey-class submarines, 12 Komar-class missile boats, and one ex-Soviet Navy Sverdlov-class cruiser which was renamed the KRI Irian). Of the types of bombers, there were 22 Ilyushin Il-28 light bombers, 14 Tu-16 long-range medium bombers, and 12 maritime versions of Tu-16 aircraft equipped to launch the AS-1 Kennel anti-ship missiles. Of the types of transport aircraft, there were 26 IL-14 and AQvia-14 light transport aircraft, six Antonov An-12 heavy transports, and ten C-130 Hercules tactical transport aircraft.
To achieve air superiority, the first preparations undertaken by the Indonesian Air Force (AURI) were to repair war-damaged airbases, which would be used for infiltration operations and normal operations on the West Irian mainland. Air bases and landing strips which were common along the borders of Maluku and West Irian, were relics of imperial Japanese presence. Such airbases and landing strips were last used in 1945, and had since fallen into disrepair.
Soviet support of Indonesia played a crucial role in ending the conflict over New Guinea. Due to the support of Soviet submarines and bombers, Indonesian military forces could confidently launch an attack on Dutch troops. In response to Soviet presence, the United States put pressure on the Netherlands to relinquish control of West Papua. At the height of the Cold War, it was strategically critical that Indonesia remain outside the Soviet sphere of influence, which made the U.S willing to take action to ensure a neutral or friendly relationship with Indonesia. By enforcing the transfer of New Guinea, the U.S. could keep the regime of Sukarno friendly, despite not supporting the Netherlands which eventually gave way to American pressure and the threat of an attack on New Guinea. The Soviet support was secret - the "volunteers" wearing Indonesian uniforms - however, the Indonesian Foreign Minister Soebandrio let the Soviet willingness to actively provide military support leak to Howard P. Jones, the U.S. ambassador in Jakarta, according to Khrushchev’s memoirs. Admiral Sudomo revealed in a newspaper article in 2005 that six Soviet submarines supported the amphibious operations while stationed Bitang, East Sulawesi with tasking to attack the Dutch fleet in Manokwari. Submarine commandor Rudolf Ryzhikov recalled in an Russian article he received orders on 29 July from Admiral Sergey Gorshkov to patrol a combat zone west of New Guinea and sink any shipping after midnight on 5 August. Naval officer and Historian Matthijs Ooms has shown in his masterpaper that the Dutch naval intelligence service, MARID (Marine Inlichtingendienst), received information in the summer of 1962 that Soviet crews were manning Indonesian submarines and Tupolev bombers. In his memoirs, Nikita Khrushchev freely admitted that during the West New Guinea crisis Soviet personnel had been commanding Indonesian submarines and piloting Tu-16s.
Indonesia approached countries like India, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, United Kingdom, West-Germany, and France to ensure that those countries would not support the Netherlands in a potential Dutch-Indonesian conflict. In the United Nations General Assembly in 1961, the UN Secretary General U Thant asked Ellsworth Bunker, an American diplomat, to submit proposals on solving the problem of the status of West Irian. Bunker proposed that the Netherlands submit West Irian to Indonesia through the United Nations within a period of 2 years.
On December 27, 1958, President Sukarno issued Law No. 86 of 1958 concerning the nationalization of all Dutch companies in Indonesia.
Nationalized companies included:
- Plantation companies
- Nederlandsche Handel-Maatschappij
- Electricity companies
- Petroleum companies
- Hospital (CBZ) becomes RSCM
While other policies were implemented, including:
- Moving the Indonesian tobacco auction market to Bremen, West Germany
- Dutch workers strike in Indonesia
- Prohibiting KLM (a Dutch airline) from entering Indonesian airspace
- Prohibiting the screening of Dutch films
In accordance with the development of the Trikora situation, instructions were given by the Commander in Chief of the Highest Commodity of Liberation of West Irian No. 1 to Major General Suharto, Commanding General of the Mandala Command, which were the following:
- Plan, prepare and conduct military operations with the aim of unification of West Papua as part of the territory of Indonesia.
- Developing the situation in West Papua in accordance with the struggle in the field of diplomacy and in the shortest possible time in this region creating de facto regions of Indonesian control.
Strategies developed by the CGMC to carry out these instructions included the following:
- Infiltration (until the end 1962), namely by deploying infantry units around certain targets to create a strong de facto free area that is resistant to destruction by the enemy and to develop territorial control by unifying the local populace.
- Exploitation (early 1963), namely carrying out an open attack on enemy forces and occupying all important enemy defense posts.
- Consolidation (early 1964), namely by demonstrating the power and absolute sovereignty of the Republic of Indonesia throughout West Papua.
Indonesian military operations
The disputed territory of West New Guinea
In 1962, Indonesian incursions into the territory in the form of paratroop drops and the naval landings of guerrillas were used to step up Indonesian Foreign Minister Subandrio's diplomatic confrontation with the Dutch. Operation Trikora was to unfold in three phases: infiltration, exploitation and consolidation, all under cover of the Indonesian Air Force. The plan called first for the insertion of small bands of Indonesian troops by sea and by airdrop, who would then draw Dutch forces away from areas where the exploitation phase would stage full-scale amphibious landings and paratroop operations to seize key locations. The consolidation phase would then expand Indonesian control over the whole of Western New Guinea.
On 15 January 1962, the infiltration phase of Operation Trikora began when four Indonesian Navy motor torpedo boats attempted to land a unit of 150 marines on the south coast of New Guinea near Vlakke Hoek. The force was detected by a Dutch Lockheed P2V-7B Neptune aircraft and the Indonesian boats were intercepted by three Dutch destroyers. During the subsequent Battle of Arafura Sea, one Indonesian boat was sunk and two others were badly damaged and forced to retreat. Thus, this planned Indonesian amphibious landing ended disastrously with many crew members and marines being killed, among them Commodore Yos Sudarso, the Deputy Chief of the Indonesian Navy Staff. Some 55 survivors were captured. Over the next eight months, the Indonesian forces managed to insert 562 troops by sea and 1,154 by air drops. The inserted Indonesian troops conducted guerrilla operations throughout Western New Guinea from April 1962 onwards, but they were largely militarily ineffective. At least 94 Indonesian soldiers were killed and 73 were wounded during the hostilities. By contrast, the Dutch suffered only minimal casualties.
Indonesian military activity continued to increase in the area through mid-1962 in preparation for the second phase of the operation. The Indonesian Air Force began to fly missions in the area from bases on surrounding islands, with Soviet-supplied Tupolev Tu-16 bombers armed with KS-1 Komet anti-ship missiles deployed in anticipation of an attack against the HNLMS Karel Doorman.
By the summer of 1962, the Indonesian military had begun planning a large-scale amphibious and air assault against Biak, the Netherlands' main power base in West Irian. This operation would have been known as Operation Jayawijaya ("Victory over Imperialism") and would have included a substantial task force of 60 ships including several which had been supplied by Sukarno's Soviet and Eastern Bloc allies. On 13 and 14 August 1962, air drops of Indonesian troops were staged from Sorong in the northwest to Merauke in the southeast as a diversion for an amphibious assault against the Dutch military base at Biak by a force of 7,000 Army (RPKAD) and Air Force (PASGAT) paratroopers, 4,500 marines and 13,000 army servicemen, from various military districts (KODAMs). However, the Dutch Navy's Marid 6 Netherlands New Guinea (Marid 6 NNG) signals intelligence section and Neptune aircraft detected the invasion force and alerted their command.
According to Wies Platje, the Royal Netherlands Navy was responsible for the defence of Western New Guinea. In 1962, the Dutch naval presence in New Guinea consisted of five anti-submarine destroyers, two frigates, three submarines, one survey vessel, one supply ship and two oil tankers. Dutch air power in Western New Guinea consisted of eleven Lockheed P2V-7B Neptune aircraft from the Royal Netherlands Navy plus 24 Hawker Hunter jet fighters from the Royal Netherlands Air Force. In addition, Dutch ground forces consisted of several anti-aircraft artillery units, five Royal Netherlands Marine Corps companies and three Royal Netherlands Army infantry battalions. As part of the planned defence, the Dutch had considered using Marid 6 NNG to disrupt the Indonesian military's communication systems.
On 15 August 1962, the Netherlands recognized Indonesia's resolve to take Western New Guinea. Since it was unwilling to be drawn into a protracted conflict on the other side of the world, the Dutch government signed the New York Agreement, which handed the colony to an interim United Nations administration. Consequently, Operation Jayawijaya was called off and Western New Guinea was officially acquired by Indonesia in 1963. The Dutch decision to hand over Western New Guinea to Indonesia had been influenced by its main ally, the United States. While the Netherlands was a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and thus an ally of the Americans, the Kennedy administration was unwilling to antagonize Indonesia since it was trying to court President Sukarno away from the Soviet orbit. The Indonesian military's incursions into West Irian, plus the substantial Soviet military assistance to the Indonesian military, had convinced the United States government to pressure the Dutch to seek a peaceful solution to the conflict.
The New York Agreement was the result of negotiations that were spearheaded by the American diplomat Ellsworth Bunker. As a face-saving measure for the Dutch, Bunker arranged for a Dutch-Indonesian ceasefire which would be followed by the handover of Western New Guinea on 1 October to a temporary United Nations Temporary Executive Authority (UNTEA). On 1 May 1963, Indonesia formally annexed Western New Guinea. As part of the New York Agreement, it was stipulated that a popular plebiscite, called the Act of Free Choice, would be held in 1969 to determine whether the West Papuans would choose to remain in Indonesia or seek self-determination. However, American efforts to win over Sukarno proved futile and Indonesia turned its attention to the former British colony of Malaysia, resulting in the Indonesian-Malaysian Confrontation. Ultimately, President Sukarno was overthrown during the Indonesian coup d'état in 1965 and was replaced by the pro-Western Suharto. The American mining company Freeport-McMoRan began exploiting Western New Guinea's copper and gold deposits.
Following the Act of Free Choice plebiscite in 1969, West Irian was formally integrated into the Republic of Indonesia. While several international observers including journalists and diplomats criticized the referendum as being rigged, the United States and Australia supported Indonesia's efforts to secure acceptance in the United Nations for the pro-integration vote. In all, 84 member states voted in favor for the United Nations to accept the result, with 30 others abstaining. Due to the Netherlands' efforts to promote a West Papuan national identity, a significant number of West Papuans refused to accept the territory's integration into Indonesia. These formed the separatist Organisasi Papua Merdeka (Free Papua Movement) and have waged an insurgency against the Indonesian authorities, which still continues to this day.
Many monuments and places are dedicated to the Trikora command, and subsequently the operation itself. Numerous monuments were built, notably the two monuments in Jakarta (West Irian Liberation Monument in Central Jakarta and Trikora Monument inside TNI headquarters in East Jakarta), Mandala Command for West Irian Liberation Monument in Makassar, South Sulawesi, Jayawijaya Monument in Banggai Regency, Central Sulawesi, and Trikora monuments in Bitung, North Sulawesi, Morotai Regency, North Maluku, and Ambon, Maluku. Paratroopers involved in Operation Trikora also commemorated into monuments, such as a statue in Teminabuan, South Sorong Regency, West Papua and a statue of L.B. Moerdani as a paratrooper in Merauke Regency, Papua.
A short main street located north of Northern Alun-alun in Yogyakarta, Special Region of Yogyakarta is previously named Jalan Trikora (Trikora Street) before renamed into Jalan Pangurakan. Other roads in several Indonesian cities, particularly in Papua and West Papua, are also named after the operation as well. Another place named after the operation is Trikora Peak in Papua highlands.
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