Bersiap: The Bloody Independence War After WWII – Part 6

An eye-witness account by Gerrit Vermeulen, a young Dutch soldier from Renswoude
In his own words:

Monday, April 22, Continued

Now and then shots ring out by enemy snipers, countered right away by our brens. That enemy fire is most likely not aimed at us because we don’t hear bullets hit or whistling by. No one in our group of eight has a radio so we can’t communicate with the others. Calling is out of the question of course because we can’t betray our location to the enemy who may be close. One of us returns, creeping through the vegetation to try and find the group. When he comes back he indicates he has found them and we have to turn around. With one of my comrades I have been hiding behind a tall rock outcrop. Carefully, on hands and knees, we turn back. A marine crawling right in front of me suddenly disappears: he tumbles several yards down into an invisible ditch. Pretty soon he appears again in between the bushes and on we go. To back us up our artillery detonates several grenades and when they hit, some 50 yards behind us, we feel the blast and shrapnel flies over our heads.

We have traveled for several hours already, it is warm and we are exhausted. Other than walking with full combat gear, the constantly being on the alert is tiring as well. We arrive at a road we continue to follow away from our camp. We inspect an abandoned kampong. We kick or hit with bayonets or rifle butts any doors that are closed and jump inside, bayonet aimed straight ahead. Across a bridge we move into another kampong. One of the marines says, “Last week Friday we got this far and one of our comrades was killed.”

Homes are being searched. The Sergeant Major and one of the marines walk in front. About 60 yards ahead of us the road curves. The Major searches the bend in the road with his field glasses and whispers to the marine: “Do you see a machine gun post?” Next to us the soldiers walk in between and into the homes and six of us cautiously proceed along the road. The marine raises his field glasses and suddenly right in front of us enemy machine guns rattle, immediately thereafter followed by fierce enemy gunfire and automatic weapon sounds, left and right, from behind homes and bushes and trees. It takes only a second to drop down and seek cover. Immediately our two foremost brens are set up. One of them empties two magazines on the enemy’s position and silences their machine gun.

I am lying behind the second bren marksman as his helper, behind our foremost men. Several of our soldiers are firing at random in the direction from where they perceive enemy fire is coming. Bullets are flying around us from all directions. Leaves and branches rain down on us. Roof tiles are shot to pieces and tumble down in the narrow street. The Major calls for the mortar to come to the front. The enemy uses the house in front of us for cover and shoots from behind it. Our men throw two grenades over the house, which stops the firing. Several mortar grenades are fired. But although shots continue to be fired close by, I can’t detect an enemy from the ditch in which I am hiding.

In the mean time our artillery starts up again and soon the first grenades hit right in front of us but still at a safe distance. The command “Pull back” is given. We are caught in an enemy ambush and it does not look good. We have to try and get out, and after the artillery starts firing enemy fire slows down. We retreat, crawling, hunched, looking around with intense concentration, especially behind us. Our grenades fly over our heads and explode behind us and when a heavy grenade hits one of the wooden hovels it splatters into pieces like a soap bubble.

From all sides several enemy shots are still fired. But to follow us is almost impossible because of our backup grenades. With extreme precautions we cover the three kilometers back to our base. It is a miracle that none of us got hit, despite the hundreds of shots fired mutually. We can’t determine whether our opponents suffered any losses. I did not fire a single shot. I was planning to shoot if I saw the enemy or could determine his location by the shots fired. But that did not happen. We are very happy to come home alive. The cannons have saved us. In the afternoon we suddenly have to go back 3 kilometers to stand guard at our cannons; 2 x 2 hours at night, our head and hands rubbed with mosquito oil, and 1 x 2 hours during the day. But that is an easier job than our previous ones.
Stay tuned!

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