By the end of World War Two in 1945, the shackles of 3 years of Imperial Japanese Occupation of Indonesia (the Dutch East Indies) had been broken. A revolution towards independence was underway and despite Dutch efforts to retain their colonial holdings (supported by their British ally and even Japanese troops months after their official August 1945 surrender!), Indonesia had other plans…
The easiest way to start an air force to help gain that independence, was to make use of the many Imperial Japanese Army and Navy aircraft that were left scattered across the many archipelagos of this vast country, following their surrender to Allied forces. Many such aircraft were operated by the Indonesians from 1945 to 1948 (they simply painted half of the red Japanese “Meatball” white to create an Indonesian roundel), before being replaced by surplus aircraft such as North American B-25 Mitchell medium bombers and P-51D/K Mustang fighters which were supplied by the Dutch, the United States and others following the 1949 ratified Indonesian independence.
Luckily for us, a number of these Japanese aircraft can be found today, preserved in Indonesian military museums. I was lucky enough to see them on my travels in Java in April and May 2018. They truly are rare survivors of aviation’s past!
Indonesian Armed Forces Museum (Satriamandala Museum) – Jakarta
Located in southern Jakarta (a sprawling concrete jungle of a city with atrocious traffic!), the Indonesian Armed Forces Museum (Satriamandala Museum) has a varied aviation collection which includes aircraft from World War Two through to the Cold War era. Admission and a camera fee are charged but the cost is minimal at approximately 24,000 Rupiah (about $2.40 AUD – payment is by cash only – note they are unlikely to have change).
Some of the aircraft on display are a little worse for wear with fabric damage, opened cockpit canopies and bird droppings but most are under a roof and ultimately have at least been saved from the scrap yard (photos I have seen from just a few years back show many of the aircraft were in the open with only a few covered)! These include two very rare former Imperial Japanese training aircraft that were commandeered and operated by the Indonesians from 1945 to 1948.
The first aircraft is a former Imperial Japanese Navy Nippon Hikoki K.K. (Japan Airplane Co Ltd) K5Y1 Cureng biplane trainer (Cureng was the name used by the Indonesians), which was a licence-built Yokosuka K5Y1 “Willow”. To my knowledge this is the only original surviving aircraft of this type – a replica can be found in Japan. The K5Y1 Cureng was used in light bombing raids by the Indonesians against Dutch targets alongside other commandeered Japanese aircraft. Two were used to bomb Dutch positions at Salitiga and Ambarawa on July 29th, 1947.
The other aircraft is an Imperial Japanese Army Nakajima Mansyū Ki-79 two seat trainer. This is one of only two surviving Nakajima Ki-27 “Nate” variants left. The other, a single seat fighter, can be found on display in Japan. The trainer variant on display at the Indonesian Air Force Museum in Yogyakarta is a replica (see my photos in the air force museum section below).
In the few hours I spent at the Armed Forces Museum, I did not see another foreigner but don’t let that make you think you will have the place all to yourself. The reality is far from it!
This museum can be pretty tough for dedicated aviation enthusiasts as it’s a popular place for school and youth groups (even on a Saturday and during the holidays!), and seemingly for large groups of locals to hang out under and around the aircraft, and have their lunch and so forth. There are no barriers here and museum staff are thin on the ground (they are all dressed fairly casually anyway and I am pretty sure they made up a significant number of the people sitting around the key World War Two aircraft!), so the end result is rubbish everywhere, kids running like maniacs around the aircraft, hitting them, spinning undercarriage wheels and of course, endless selfie taking by kids and adults alike!
Sometimes they will want you to take their picture with your camera, or get a photo or selfie with you… The latter I don’t mind as they are just being friendly and curious about westerners, plus it puts a smile on theirs and my face, so it’s all good and is common where ever you go in Java! With patience though you can get a photo of the aircraft clear or at least semi-clear of people but lighting under the covered areas can be a bit tricky!
Indonesian Air Force Museum (Museum Dirgantara Mandala) – Yogyakarta
A treasure trove of preserved aircraft spanning the history of the Indonesian Air Force including a number of former Imperial Japanese aircraft can be found at the Indonesian Air Force Museum (Museum Dirgantara Mandala) in Yogyakarta in Central Java. The museum is on an active air base, so your government issued identification is required at the security gate to gain access (the military police will hold on to it until your return). You can get to the museum by public transport (with a bit of a walk) or enter by car, motorbike, taxi etc.
Most of the information you read about this place online is out of date. The guards at the gate will greet you in a friendly manner and not demand an “entry fee” and you are not required to provide them with a photocopy of your passport.
You can wander the outdoor areas which have plenty of aircraft free of charge but to get into the main museum displays and hangar you are required to pay a fee of just 10,000 Rupiah ($1 AUD) inside the building entrance, where you also register your name – there is no photography fee. The main hangar is where the Japanese and other World War Two aircraft, alongside numerous western and Eastern Bloc Cold War era aircraft can be found.
Unfortunately the most famous Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft on display was also the most obscured from view during my visit. The Mitsubishi A6M Zero “Zeke” was tucked away in a corner behind other aircraft, including a much larger North American P-51D Mustang but with the advantage of height I was able to get a reasonable look at it! The barrier fences in this section of the hangar seem to be new, as I had not seen them in online photos taken there in past years and they were not around all the aircraft during my visit. The Zero is displayed in Japanese markings.
Information at the museum indicates the Zero was deployed from 1942 to 1945 in Irian Barat, Dutch East Indies (now Papua, Indonesia). It was added to the museum collection in 1984. The sign says it is an A6M5 variant but the dates dont match that variant. Probably an A6M2.
The former Imperial Japanese Army aircraft on display include a 1940 era Nakajima Ki-43-II Hayabusa (Peregrine Falcon) “Oscar” fighter-bomber that was added to the collection in 1987. Maneuverable but lightly armed with just two 12.7mm machine guns mounted in the nose above the engine cowling, the Ki-43-II could also carry a pair of 250 kg bombs. Fuel drop tanks are fitted on the museum example.
On July 21st, 1947 the Dutch destroyed several Indonesian Ki-43-II aircraft whilst they sat on the ground. On July 29th, 1947 this aircraft was planned to be used in an attack on Dutch forces near Semarang in Java but an engine failure meant it was withdrawn from the attack. Although there are several surviving Ki-43 “Oscar” fighters around the world, it sounds like we are lucky to still have one surviving in Indonesia!
The other Imperial Japanese Army aircraft in the air force museum, a Mitsubishi Type 99 Assault Plane Ki-51 Guntei “Sonia” dive bomber is also the rarest. Armed with 3 x .303 machine guns and a 500 kg bomb payload, this 1938 era aircraft was used to bomb Dutch positions near Semarang, Java on July 29th, 1947. It is the only surviving example in the world!
The Imperial Japanese Army Mansyū Ki-79 two seat trainer variant of the Nakajima Ki-27 “Nate” fighter on display at the air force museum is a replica. The original is on display at the Armed Forces Museum in Jakarta (see that museum section above).
Now a word of warning, the air force museum was also swarming with school kids (despite it being the holidays), youth groups, families etc. on the weekday that I visited. It is also very hot in most areas inside and outside (mercifully some display rooms have air conditioning to help cool you off), and can get very crowded inside the museum hangars which adds to the heat!
Again expect to be asked to be in photos and selfie’s by locals (they are just curious and very friendly, so just go with it!), and be prepared to have plenty of people in, under and around aircraft you want to take a photo of. As you can see it is possible to get photos without people in the way, as they tend to come in waves of large groups but lots of patience (this can be tough in the heat), a friendly smile and allowing yourself plenty of time is essential to enjoy this great collection of aircraft!