Dutch Navy and Army Intelligence Service – 1941

The Netherlands Forces Intelligence Service (NEFIS) was a Dutch military intelligence service during and after World War II. The purpose of the NEFIS was initially to collect intelligence for the Allied forces with regard to the Netherlands East Indies (NEI) that was occupied by Japan.

The service originated in 1941 when the Dutch naval commander Vice-Admiral C.E.L. Helfrich sent a liaison officer to the Australian Commonwealth Naval Board in Melbourne. This officer, captain-lieutenant-at-sea Salm, was also engaged in intelligence work. He then gathered around him a number of persons who specialised in intelligence work. His organisation was given the name Navy and Army Intelligence Service. When Japan invaded the NEI in February 1942, a number of prominent and high-ranking authorities of the NEI Government were already ordered to move to Australia. This included a number of staff officers of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (K.N.I.L.), including Major Jhr.  J.M.R. Sandberg, captains Dirk Cornelis Buurman van Vreeden, G.L. Reinderhoff, S.H. Spoor and H.J. de Vries. Later, lieutenant colonel N.L.W. van Straten, from Timor, and captain of the military police F. van der Veen would also be added.

Australian period: 1942-1945

Major Sim

In April 1942, the Naval and Army Intelligence Service was further expanded to include Major Spoor (now promoted). Captain Reinderhoff became his first employee. Lieutenant-at-sea of the first class J.A.F.H. Douw van der Krap also joined. In total, about 50 men and women worked in this service. The name ‘NEFIS’ then arose because the contacts with the other Allied staffs all had English as their working language and the Dutch name was not considered practical. They also needed a clearly legible letterhead. In contacts with the Allied allies, this organisation was henceforth further referred to as the Netherlands Forces Intelligence Service.

The start-up phase of NEFIS was problematic. The Dutch authorities wished to cooperate as much as possible with the Allies and in particular its Commander-in-Chief General Douglas MacArthur. However, the Dutch branch within the collected intelligence services (which had to cooperate under the established the Allied Intelligence Bureau) A.I.B), was barely able to provide important information and/or contributions in the short term, since one had to start with virtually nothing.

Here the years of neglect regarding the establishment of a professional intelligence service before the outbreak of the war retaliated. In the period April 1942 – April 1943, the NEFIS suffered enormous pressure to come up with results. The American general staff was especially in urgent need of geographical and topographical information about the NEI, in particular New Guinea.

In April 1943 the NEFIS was reorganised. This was the official (re)start of the NEFIS. Now that the various Allied intelligence services were bundled and directly under the command of the head of the intelligence section ‘G2’ of the general staff of General Douglas MacArthur, major general Charles Willoughby, the NEFIS was also increasingly able to connect with the growing demand of the Allied high command, although still had to work with structurally insufficient resources and people.

Tasks and organisation

The NEFIS was now given the following clearly defined tasks, divided into three sections:

  • (Section I) Collecting, processing and distributing all intelligence concerning the NEI that may be important for warfare (Operational Intelligence, Interrogation, Geographical Intelligence, Intelligence Summaries, Topographical Registry and Information, Photo Interpretation, Press review, Research)
  • (Section II) The concern for security of the Dutch armed forces in Australia (Security)
  • (Section III) Obtaining intelligence in a special manner and carrying out “Special Operations” (Command missions in enemy territory).

Section I was now led by Major Spoor (assistant director), Section II by Ltz Douw van der Krap (assistant director) and III by Ltz J. Quéré (assistant director). The latter would be succeeded in August by Ltz L Brouwer.

(Ltz = Luitenant ter Zee = Lieutenant Commander)

At the beginning of the war, the NEFIS was exclusively concerned with obtaining information from the Netherlands East Indies (NEI) occupied by the Japanese (Section I). Later, espionage and sabotage actions were also added, which were carried out by agents also called ‘parties’, which were dropped into occupied territory with the help of aircraft and submarines (section III). These commando units have had an extremely difficult time, and many did not return from their missions in the first period.

The NEFIS had greatly misjudged the newly created situation in the occupied territories. In the meantime, the Japanese had set up a large espionage network and made extensive use of the resurgent nationalist sentiment among the Indonesian population, which cooperated with the Japanese. Once a commando had landed on occupied territory, the chance of betrayal was very high, which was therefore common. For the sent commandos who were captured, it actually meant (after torture) a certain death penalty.

Within the NEFIS as well as among the political leadership of the NEI committee, there was great turmoil about the actions to be carried out. ‘Parties’ were also dropped on New Guinea in which Captain F. van der Veen was involved.

Korps Insulinde

Members of Korps Insulinde
NEFIS was eventually given its own clandestine operations unit, dubbed the Korps Insulinde. Drawn initially from 150 men of the 1st Battalion, Koninklijke Brigade “Prinses Irene,” which had trained in England in 1940-41 then had been shipped to the Pacific, arriving at Ceylon just after the fall of Java. They were stranded in Ceylon and grew increasingly frustrated of doing nothing. Finally on 1 August 1942 a special commando unit was established named Korps Insulinde, who underwent guerrilla training. From June 1943, 38 men of the Insulinde Corps concluded the training and were ready for commando actions in the NEI.

They were added to NEFIS Section III. Also in 1944, Section I sent Major GL Reinderhoff to the staff of U.S. General Walter Krueger of the 6th U.S. Army, who had also landed on New Guinea in the meantime, to assist the Americans on the spot in planning future landings.

These Free Dutch went commando quite literally, and served alongside the SOE’s Force 136 Intelligence in the region. Ultimately, No. 2 (Dutch) Troop of the No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando (also came out of the Koninklijke Brigade “Prinses Irene”) would contribute volunteers to the enterprise as well. In all, the Korps Insulinde would muster no less than 36 teams made up of 250 agents. They made 17 landings in Sumatra alone in 1943-44, in addition to operations in Borneo, the Celebes, New Guinea, and Java.  

NEFIS Van den Brandeler Patrol

Charles Gesner van der Voort and Dorone van den Brandeler shared a ‘mess’ in Shanghai, while working there for Dutch companies Holland-China Trading Company and Java-China-Japan Line. Dorone arrived in 1935, Charles in 1939. After the outbreak of WWII in The Netherlands, many young men abroad were called to arms. Charles had a brother serving in the army and was exempted, Dorone van den Brandeler went to England to join Princess Irene Brigade. In January 1942, he was sent to the Netherlands East Indies, with Insulinde Corps, together with his childhood friend Lou Bierens de Haan. Upon arrival in February 1942, the Netherlands East Indies were captured by the Japanese and the troops remained in Ceylon, current Sri Lanka. After training in Ceylon and British India, they were sent to Australia, where they served with NEFIS III, Netherlands East Indies Forces Intelligence Service. Under command of Dorone van den Brandeler, one of the missions was to the Digul river area in Dutch New Guinea, to investigate Japanese presence in the area. They were helped by local Dutch representatives and Papua population. (Source: Charles in Shanghai)

Move to Camp Columbia, Brisbane

Following the establishment of the Netherlands East Indies Government-in-Exile in Camp Columbia, Wacol, Brisbane in June-August 1944, the NEFIS was further expanded and three sections were added:

  • (Section IV) Military Intelligence: (M.I.)
  • (Section V) Civil affairs Intelligence
  • (Section VI) Technical Photo Service (T.P.S.)
NEFIS Staff List Camp Columbia
NEFIS Library, Camp Columbia
Major Spoor in front of NEFIS II Office Camp Columbia

In the meantime, the NEFIS strength had grown to more than 300 men and women, not including navy and civilian personnel. Lieutenant-Colonel S.H. Spoor was now appointed as the new director of NEFIS. Section I was commanded by Major G.L. Reinderhoff, Section II under Lieutenant-at-Sea J.C. Smit, Section III under Lieutenant-at-Sea A.A. Fresco, Section IV under Lieutenant-Pilot-at-Sea J.H. Perié, Section V under Dr.  G.W. Locher. Section VI was not yet operational. The organisation of the NEFIS was now prepared for the expected invasion of Java and the other territories of the NEI.

Guerilla fighters of Manokwari, Dutch New Guinea. Members of the patrol displaying their captured Japanese weapons, in the middle Koos Ayal (“Ambonese girls age 16 jaar in 1942”) to the right her quarter master Beaufort. Source NOID

Dutch Commandos near Merauke, Dutch New Guinea.

Some of the NEFIS operations

Most of these operations were combined operations mainly with Australian but some also with US personnel.

These maps and other reports on operations as shown below are from the following document: The Official History of the Operations and Administration of Special Operations – Australia (SOA), also known as the Inter-Allied Services Department (ISD) and Services Reconnaissance Department (SRD) Volume 2 – Operations – copy no 1 [for Director, Military Intelligence (DMI), Headquarters (HQ), Australian Military Forces (AMF), Melbourne]. Source National Library of Australia. I had to select those relevant pages from the document that were still readable.

MAP of NEFIS Commando operations

Operation Flounder

A NEFIS-III party Flounder was landed by a submarine on the south coast of Ceram on 31 December 1942, but the eight members (including Captain Nijgh and Sergeant J. Malawau) of the group were arrested by the Japanese the next day. They were taken by boat to Ambon and imprisoned at Fort Victoria. At least two where executed.

Operation Firetree

Submarine K XV dropping of Firetree Party

First Lieutenant Julius Tahija led the NEFIS-III party Firetree in February 1945. This party consisted of ten men and was intended to obtain general and military information about Ambon and surroundings, to make observations about Japanese ship and aircraft traffic and to draw up weather reports. The group departed from Australia by the Dutch submarine K XV and set sail for Mangoli. Tahya disembarked here with five others but decided to return to Ambon due to a lack of good landing places for unloading goods. On September 12, he landed with his men on the east coast of Saparoea and then decided to return to Australia; all in all, this mission provided valuable information.

Operation Whiting

Party Whiting was an espionage operation in 1943 in which Sergeant Thijs Staverman and Sergeant Leonard Siffleet from Gunnedah were sent to New Guinea together with the Ambonese corporals M. Raharing and H. Pattiwael. The group split up into two parties codenamed “Whiting” and “Locust”. Whiting Party set out for the Hollandia area, while Locust Party continued to operate in the area south and southeast of Aitape. Those involved did not survive the operation, three were beheaded.

Lumi, Dutch New Guinea, 9 July 1943. Group portrait of members of M Special Unit, Services Reconnaissance Department, Allied Intelligence Bureau, with native guerrilla troops at Lumi, about 50 kilometres south of Aitape. Left to right (standing): Sergeant H.N. Staverman, Royal Netherlands Navy, leader of the Whiting Party, beheaded by the Japanese in an ambush, c. September 1943; Sergeant Len Siffleet, wireless operator for Whiting Party, murdered by the Japanese, on 24 October 1943; Ray Ah Soong (whose real name was Chow Chen On), a member of Locust Party; private Patiwahl, an Ambonese; Sergeant Les Baillie, wireless operator for Locust Party; Lieutenant Guy Black. The names of the native troops are not known. The man squatting at far right is Lieutenant Harry Aiken. Not included are Lieutenant H. A. J. Fryer (the photographer) and private Reharin. (Source Australian War Museum)

Operation Tiger

Operation Tiger was divided in sic teams (I-VI) they all operated on the island of Java between November 1942- July 1943. Ten 10 men landed in six different teams. It is thought all members were captured and shot as none were seen again.

Operation Mackerel

According to “The Official History of the Operations and Administration of Special Operations – Australia [(SOA), also known as the Inter-Allied Services Department (ISD) and Services Reconnaissance Department (SRD)] ; Operation Mackerel was an operation carried out in World War Two by the Australian Imperial Force. Three men went ashore on Java in September 1942 to collect information. They were accompanied by two members of the Dutch sub K12. but the mission had to be abandoned early (Volume 2 – Part 1 page 3”]. p. 26).

Operation Walnut

Operation Walnut took place in three phases on the Aroe Islands:

Walnut I – a party of two landed in July 1942 and returned in September.

Walnut II – party of two landed in February 1943 and captured August, presumed killed.

Walnut III – On 12 July 1943 a reconnaissance patrol consisting of ten, WALNUT III was inserted on Djieo, a small island north of Enoe Island, using Hoehn military foldboats. Their fate is unknown, presumed killed.

Operation Oaktree

Operation Oaktree took place in Dutch New Guinea. Under the command of Captain Jean Victor de Bruijn, some 40 Dutch and Australian soldiers operated in the highland region of Western New Guinea for more than two years between December 1942 and July 1944.

Captain Jean Victor de Bruijn and native Papuans, 1943

Return to the Netherlands East Indies

In 1945 the NEFIS was reorganised so that after the Japanese capitulation the service could form the new security service in the NEI In September and October 1945, the NEFIS was transferred from Camp Columbia (Brisbane) to the NEI and was established in Batavia on Java.

After a chaotic start, the service in the NEI started collecting information about the new local political groups. The intelligence service played an important role during the transition period as well as Indonesia’s later war of independence. In 1948, the NEFIS merged into the new overarching Central Military Intelligence Service. This service came directly under the command of Commander-in-Chief General Spoor. It would eventually have had a short existence in view of the soon-to-be-followed transfer of sovereignty. The director had become Lieutenant Colonel G.L. Reinderhoff, who would transfer to the Royal Netherlands Army after the transfer of the NEI to the new Republic of Indonesia. Back in the Netherlands Korps Insulinde grew into today’s modern Korps Commandotroepen. 

Book: Acties in de Archipel J.J. Nortier

De intelligence-operaties van NEFIS-III in de Pacific oorlog

Gaat over de activiteiten van de derde sectie van de Netherlands Forces Intelligence Service (NEFIS III) beschreven: de totale inzet van de ingebrachte agenten voor de zaak van de vrijheid, in acties die vaak bij voorbaat al hopeloos leken.

‘De boot nam op het strand een groen licht waar, hetgeen volgens afspraak aangaf dat alles veilig was en zich in de omgeving geen vijand bevond. De K XII reageerde met één lichtflits. Kort daarop werd met een lamp en in het Nederlands geseind: ‘gevaar–gevaar, ga terug–ga terug–heb contact (???) Bergsma, gevaar–gevaar.’ Tussen de woorden ‘contact’ en ‘Bergsma’ volgde een woord van een paar letters dat niet opgenomen kon worden. Brunsting gaf een witte lichtflits, waarop na ongeveer 15 minuten van het strand opnieuw de woorden ‘gevaar–gevaar’ kwamen, gevolgd door een vraagteken en ‘OK’. De K XII antwoordde met de letter R maar er kwamen geen seinen meer van de wal. De hele zaak bleef een raadsel.’

Het viel niet mee, na de overrompeling van Nederlands-Indië door Japan in 1942, om in korte tijd een organisatie op te zetten die in het bezette gebied spionageactiviteiten kon gaan ontwikkelen. De Nederlanders en Indonesiërs die daar eendrachtig aan begonnen stonden met volstrekt lege handen. Geen wonder dat de verwarring soms groot was en dat men keer op keer faalde. In ACTIES IN DE ARCHIPEL worden de activiteiten van de derde sectie van de Netherlands Forces Intelligence Service (NEFIS III) beschreven: de totale inzet van de ingebrachte agenten voor de zaak van de vrijheid, in acties die vaak bij voorbaat al hopeloos leken. De successen die ondanks alle tegenslag toch geboekt werden verdienen des te meer ons respect.  

Notable members

Article written by Paul Budde based on sources from Australian War Memorial, Wikipedia and the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies in the Netherlands

See also:

The Battle of Timor – 1942-1943

Sparrow Force – Allied guerrilla force in Timor WWII

The Free Dutch vs the Emperor in the East Indies

Zakheus Pakage and His Communities’ (interesting details of the Oaktree Party pages 56-82)