05 June 2021

First version written on 2020-06-13

This document is an extension of the article 'portraits of crew of 122(NEI)Squadron and 17 VARWA'. Among the 40 portraits found by S. Gerardu of 122 Squadron, 3 of them turned out to be 17 VARWA crew. Most likely based at 11VB Polonia in Medan. An extra reason to dive into the squadrons history, stationed on the same airfield as 122(NEI)Squadron.

Almost all names came from the living memory of the 122sqn mechanic S. Gerardu.



private 1st class

20200611233401 7945626e me
J.J.G van Galen

Died januari 21 1949 during reconnaisance M. Sumatra . During this flight, a hand grenade exploded and the plane crashed at Boengamas, near Lahat. Passenger soldier Hendrik Kruitbosch (4-4-RI) also died.

20200612000958 9353c02a me
H. Kruitenbosch (4-4-RI)

It was quite busy on 11VB Polonia. Not only 150 - 200 men of 122 Squadron were stationed there, also around 100 crew of 17 VARWA. Next staff and crew of 11VB, security forces, and KL LuCoSu / Z-Brigade command and troops. So, it’s interesting that men of different units run into each other and hang out.

On the other hand: they are of similar age and may have shared certain experiences: born in (Dutch) Indonesia, survived the war in or out of Japanese camps, bersiap[1].

"Medan in early 1947 was a small fortress with the airport at the far edge and on the other side, like a long intestine, the road to Belawan on to the coast".
"The alang was high, the houses brown and green with dirt, crumbled walls, broken roofs and windows, snipers everywhere, hardly a safe place for our appliances, 100 by 50 meters. A great goal for our brown brothers."
"The airfield was 3/4 enclosed and had to endure shelling with guns, machine guns, mortars. This was crazy. Thus: first of all rocket shooting and bomb throwing exercises on the forest edge of the runway and the famous "red house". [MLMedan]
"The Piper cubs flew daily along the demarcation line to see if everything went according to plan. Occasionally a rifle would crackle from the ground and sometimes holes would appear in the linen of the then unspoiled Pipertjes."
"Then the road to Belawan where the convoys are constantly ambushed. Armed with hand grenades and stenguns the "tjapoengs" [2] circled above the columns and stared every piece of scrub or pondock around the men’s to keep ambushes away."
"One thing that has not yet been mentioned as a condition for the good cooperation and it felt that 17 VARWA in Medan had this. It was the “atmosphere”. Mutual friendship and mutual trust, the most precious jewel of C Patrol 17 VARWA"[Gedenkboek].

Piper L4J Cubs

17VARWA was founded in 1946 on july the 15th and manned with ex-prisoners of war from the pre-war ML-KNIL, supplemented by public transport officers from LSK [3].

Their tasks consisted of reconnaissance for the infantry and sighting / fire control for the artillery. 17VARWA was also used for transport, connections, surveillance and postal transport [4].

The squadron was equipped with the Piper L4J Cubs and consisted of a staff and the A, B, C, D and E patrols. They would be stationed at
- 1VB Tjililitan near Batavia (A),
- 2VB Andir in Bandoeng (B),
- Tandjoeng Perak in Surabaya ('C),
- 6VB Kalibenteng in Semarang (D) and
- 4VB Sepinggan on Balikpapan (E)

For the moment 17VARWA was kept at Tjililitan [Ward]. At the end of 1946 A, B and C patrol were redirected to Sumatra.

Piper L-4 Cub scheme 5
"This scheme differs from others because of the white wing tips. These were mounted on aircraft of 17 VARWA, so that they could be easily recognized by the pilots of the Dutch P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft".

On August 25 1946 24 Piper Cups with serials PC4-004/028 arrived in Surabaya by ship. They were bought in the Philippines [5] in june [Ward]. Five aircraft stayed with C-patrol in Surabaya. The remaining aircraft were transferred to Tjililitan.

First the A and E patrols were brought up to strength. Then B and D patrol. In addition, two Piper Cups were added to the C-patrol as these two aircraft had been given up to the Bali-Lombok Brigade aka 'Gadja Merak Brigade' [Ward]p189[3].

17 VARWA was to be stationed on Sumatra, but the planes of the new 6 ARVA, which was to take over the task on Java, were not yet there. In order to meet the demand for air reconnaissance on Sumatra, the A, B and C patrols were moved. D and E patrols remained in Java and were disbanded in 1947, after the arrival of 6 ARVA in february [Ward].


17 VARWA moved to Sumatra at the end of 1946 and was stationed at
- 12VB Talangbetoetoe in Palembang (A-patrol),
- 13VB Tabing, Padang (B-patrol) and
- 11VB Polonia, Medan (C-patrol + staff).

In july 1947 they had 3 Piper Cubs in Palembang, 4 at Padang and 7 at Medan. Each patrol had a reserve plane at Tjililitan [Ward]p190.

Airbase 11VB Polonia - Medan

In September 1946 a detachment from ML arrived in Medan to make preperations for transfer and arrival of squadrons and crew.

The detachment was expanded in October with a few assistants, 2 air traffic controllers and a chief radio station.

4 Piper Cubs arrived in Medan on November 14 1946 for the 17 Squadron VARWA (C-Patrol) [6], next 12 P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft for 122 Squadron and a B-25 with a team from the technical service.

'Police actions'

This war was the largest ever fought by the Netherlands. [Merdeka]
— Jaap A. de Moor
Met Klewang en Karabijn – militaire geschiedenis van Nederlands­ indie 1815-1949

On July 21, 1947, the Netherlands launched a military assault under the code name Operation Product. This designation indicated the assault’s main objective of securing the commercial plantations and stocks (rubber, coffee, tea, etc.) on the two most important islands (Java and Sumatra) in the archipelago in terms of political, military and economic power [7].
Due to international political considerations, the military assault was labeled a 'police action', a misleading term suggesting restricted violence and a limited scope of operation. In reality, the Dutch mobilized over one hundred thousand men, organized into three divisions, several brigades, marine units and a small air force [8] [Merdeka].

During the first 'police action', the squadron was deployed for reconnaissance over republican territory and artillery sighting. 561 sorties were flown at low altitudes. After the first police action, the occupied area was enlarged and longer distances had to be covered. That is why Genie made landing strips in the newly occupied area where the Piper Cubs could easily land and take off.

By the end of this first 'police action' on August 5 1947, seventy percent of total rubber plantation acreage in Java and around sixty percent in Sumatra were under Dutch military control [Merdeka].

On December 19, 1948, Operation Crow started. Operation Crow aimed at full control of Java and the elimination of the political and military leadership of the Republic of Indonesia. On South Sumatra, operations started according to plan on December 29, 1948, with an airborne operation in order to capture the oil fields in Jambi.TNI managed to set the oil installations on fire and slowed the Dutch advance with all sorts of roadblocks and resistance.[Merdeka]

During the second 'police action' 17 VARWA flew 359 ([Ward]: 328) sorties. After Operation Crow, a limitation of the number of flight hours was established, due to a shortage of equipment and personnel.

On January 5, 1949, Operation Crow ended at Sumatra. Airplanes dropped leaflets announcing, “The Republic of Indonesia does not exist anymore” [9]. On the international level, support for the Dutch cause was crippled by Operation Crow. [Merdeka].

On march 1 1950 B- and C-patrol were disbanded. On April 25 1950 A-patrol and staff.


It’s estimated that Medan staff and C-patrol had between 50 and 70 crew [10].
In januari 1948 17VARWA had 36 military crew and 36 civilians [Ward]p191.

As of date, the database contains 91 names. 18 (20%) of them are KNIL, most likely pre-war and ex POW’s. 61 KL or ML (67%), 5 civilians (5%) and 7 are not known. One Kl-er is marked as an ovw-er.

Accidents and crashes

  • November 30, 1946, PC4-003, Crashed at Medan during climb. Fatalities: 0 / Occupants: 2. Written off (damaged beyond repair) [11].

  • February 28, 1947 crash near Belawan. (restored)

  • September 23, 1947 starting accident in Tandjoeng Balei. (written off)

  • May 3, 1948, R-356, Fatalities: 2 / Occupants: 2 (kaptain pilot H.M.A. Leyden and corporal assistant-mechanic of A-patrol Li Soen Fo), Lahat. Written off after accident (damaged beyond repair). Flew into a cable across the Lematang river Southern Sumatra [Ward] [12]

  • mar 1948, R-348, Crash near Medan. Written off (damaged beyond repair). Written off after accident [13].

  • January 4 1949, R-322, crashed near Bondjol during reconnaisance, reserve pilot the 1st luitenant R.J. Jans and wachtman Hoeks died. Hoeks was murdered bij Indonesians, Jans is missing) [14] [15].

  • Januari 21 1949, R-339, crashed into a swamp piloted vaandrig van Galen during reconnaisance M. Sumatra at Boengamas, near Lahat. He died including his passenger private Hendrik Kruitbosch (StafCie 4-4-RI) [16] [Ward]p192.

  • Oktober 22 1949, R-353, Emergency landing and crashed Pajakoemboh,Sumatra during reconnaisance in Piper Cub. Pilot Pikkert + passenger were captured by TNI and released 14 days later.

  • oktober 28 1949, R-360, Crashed near Lahat in landingfase. Written off (damaged beyond repair) [17]


piper cub
Piper Cup
piper medan 47
Piper Cub medan 1947
Piper Cub R-399 with van Galen
Piper Cub R-399 with van Galen
17 VARWA C-patrol crash
17 VARWA C-patrol crash
17 VARWA C-patrol crash
17 VARWA C-patrol crash
Opladen resten van L4J Pipercub
Piper L-4
Piper L-4]
2 girls in a pipercub
17varwa last days
17varwa support crew
a ship sails
graves 3died crew

Appendix A: Abbreviations


Militaire Luchtvaart afdeling van het Koninklijk Nederlands Indisch Leger
(Military Aviation department of the Royal Dutch East Indies Army)


Verkennings en Artillerie Waarnemings Afdeling
(Reconnaissance and Artillery Observations Division)


Royal Air Force


Koninklijke Landmacht
(Royal Netherlands Army)


Koninklijk Nederlands-Indisch Leger
(Royal Dutch East Indies Army)


(Air forces)


Luchtvaart Commando Sumatra
(Aviation Command Sumatra)


South East Asia Command


Tentara Nasional Indonesia (Indonesian National Army)


Tentara Republic Indonesia


Netherlands East Indies


Oorlogs Vrijwilliger
(War Volunteer)


  • [Ward] Ward, O.G., De militaire luchtvaart van het KNIL in de na-oorlogse jaren 1945-1950. Houten, 1988.
    (The military aviation of the KNIL in the post-war years 1945-1950)

  • [Gedenkboek] Gedenkboek Luchtvaart Medan, maart 1950
    (Medan Aviation Memorial Book)

  • [MLMedan] Militaire Luchtvaart Medan, november 1946 / 1947

  • [Merdeka] Merdeka: Dutch Military Operations in Indonesia (1945 ­ 1950), 2016