RAPWI, Recovery of Allied Prisoners of War and Internees

In February 1945 the office for the Recovery of Allied Prisoners of War and Internees (RAPWI) was established at the headquarters of Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten. The organisation's mission was to free the internees and prisoners of war in the South East Asia Command (SEAC) zone. In July 1945 Mountbatten was told that as of 15 August 1945 his command zone would be expanded to include all of Thailand, southern Indochina and the Netherlands East Indies except for Sumatra. The sudden Japanese surrender on 15 August meant that the plan for having RAPWI teams follow the advancing Allied forces had to be scrapped. Instead, all internees in the entire zone required relief simultaneously. In response, Mountbatten set up a RAPWI Co-ordination Committee to lead the relief efforts. A RAPWI control staff was attached to each of the six regional military staffs in his zone of command to co-ordinate the relief efforts. Java was only one of the operational areas, in addition to Malacca, Singapore, French Indochina, Thailand and Hong Kong, and it was not one of Mountbatten's priorities. He also lacked the resources needed: on 17 August there were only 40 RAPWI teams available for all 150 internment camps.
Once the Allies were assured that local Japanese commanders would obey the order to surrender, RAPWI relief efforts began to take off on 28 August. In Operation Birdcage aircraft dropped pamphlets above the camps with instructions for the internees and the Japanese guards. This was then followed by Operation Mastiff, in which contact teams parachuted over the internment camps. The first contact team, under the command of A.G. Greenhalgh, landed at Batavia on 8 September. Magelang, Surabaya, Bandung and Semarang soon followed. In Sumatra 12 teams from the Korps Insulinde had been active since August. By the middle of September RAPWI teams had arrived and begun to evacuate prisoners from the camps to Medan, Padang and Palembang. All of the camps had been evacuated by the end of November. In Java, however, relief efforts were hindered by a lack of transportation and the quickly deteriorating political situation. By the end of September it was becoming clear that the Japanese were no longer able to maintain order on the island, so on 28 September Mountbatten decided only to occupy bridgeheads in Java. All internees were to be brought to these key areas. Tensions grew until mid-October, when Indonesian forces came into conflict with the Japanese and British troops on the island and Dutch and Indo-European internees were subjected to widespread violence. Under these conditions RAPWI found it difficult to carry out the evacuations, but the organisation nevertheless managed to evacuate and care for 223,250 former internees and refugees in Java and Sumatra. RAPWI was officially disbanded on 26 January 1946, and all of its relief services were taken over by the Dutch administrative organisation AMACAB.

Literature

Thijs Brocades Zaalberg en Wim Willems, 'Onmacht, ontkenning en onderschatting. De evacuatie van Nederlanders uit Zuidoost-Azië', Conny Kristel (red.) Binnenkamers (Amsterdam, 2002).
Elly Touwen-Bouwsma en Petra Groen, Tussen Banzai en Bersiap. De afwikkeling van de Tweede Wereldoorlog in Nederlands-Indië (Den Haag, 1996).
Wim Willems, De uittocht uit Indië 1945-1995 (Amsterdam, 2001).


Information a.o. in:

Access Number 2.22.21, inv.no: 166, 169, 170, 171 and 1016
Access Number 2.12.26, inv.no. 53
Access Number 2.13.72, inv.no. 18 and 399


See also:

- Bersiap Period
- Indian Divisions
- Diplomatic and Military Relations with Great Britain