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The American-British-Dutch-Australian (ABDA) Command, or ABDACOM, was a short-lived, supreme command for all Allied forces in South East Asia, in early 1942, during the Pacific War in World War II. The main objective of the command, led by General Sir Archibald Wavell,[1] was to maintain control of the "Malay Barrier" (or "East Indies Barrier"), a notional line running down the Malayan Peninsula, through Singapore and the southernmost islands of Dutch East Indies. ABDACOM was also known in British military circles as the "South West Pacific Command", although it should not be confused with the later South West Pacific Area command (see below).

Although ABDACOM was only in existence for a few weeks, and it presided over one defeat after another, it did provide some useful lessons for combined Allied commands later in the war.


Efforts to organise the ABDA Command began soon after war between the Allies and Japan commenced, on 7 December 1941. It was finalized at the Arcadia Conference in Washington. On December 29, Winston Churchill said that it had been agreed Wavell would be supreme commander.[2] Wavell then held the position of British Commander-in-Chief, India. Churchill added:

It is intended that General Wavell should have a staff in the south Pacific accessible as Foch's High Control Staff was to the Great Staffs of the British and French armies in France [during World War I]. He would receive his orders from an appropriate joint body who will be responsible to me as the Minister of Defence and to the President of the United States who is also Commander-in-Chief of all United States forces.

Following the declaration by the four nations on 1 January 1942, the Allied governments formally appointed Wavell. The formation of ABDACOM meant that Wavell had control of a huge, but thinly-spread force, covering an area from Burma in the west, to Dutch New Guinea and the Philippines in the east. Other areas, including India and Hawaii remained officially under separate commands, and in practice General Douglas MacArthur was in complete control of Allied forces in The Philippines. At Wavell's insistence, the western half of northern Australia (see map) was added to the ABDA area. The rest of Australia was under Australian control, as were its territories of Papua and New Guinea. ABDA was charged with holding the Malay Barrier for as long as possible in order to retain Allied control of the Indian Ocean and the western sea approaches to Australia. This was a nearly hopeless task, given the Japanese supremacy in naval forces in the western Pacific. The task was further complicated by the addition of Burma to the command; the difficulties of coordinating action between forces of four nationalities that used different equipment and had not trained together; and the different priorities of the national governments. British leaders were primarily interested in retaining control of Singapore; the military capacity of the Dutch East Indies had suffered as a result of the defeat of the Netherlands in 1940, and the Dutch administration was focused on defending the island of Java; the Australian government was heavily committed to the war in North Africa and Europe, and had few readily accessible military resources, and; the U.S. was preoccupied with the Philippines, which at the time was a U.S. Commonwealth territory.

Wavell arrived in Singapore, where the British Far East Command was based, on 7 January 1942. ABDACOM absorbed this British command in its entirety. On 18 January, Wavell moved his headquarters to Lembang near Bandoeng on Java. On 1 February the airforce portion of ABDA moved its headquarters from Lembang to Bandoeng when it became clear that the former place lacked sufficient accommodation. This made cooperation between navy and airforce difficult.[3]

The first notable success for forces under ABDACOM was the U.S. Navy's attack at Balikpapan,[4] Borneo on January 24, which cost the Japanese six transport ships, but had little effect on them capturing the prized oil wells of Borneo.

The governments of Australia, the Netherlands and New Zealand lobbied Winston Churchill for an Allied inter-governmental war council, with overall responsibility for the Allied war effort in Asia and the Pacific, based in Washington D.C. A Far Eastern Council (later known as the Pacific War Council) was established in London on February 9, with a corresponding staff council in Washington. However, the smaller powers continued to push for a body based in the US.

In the meantime, the rapid collapse of Allied resistance to Japanese attacks in Malaya, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies,[5] the Philippines and other countries had soon overwhelmed the Malay Barrier. The fall of Singapore on 15 February dislocated the ABDA command, which was dissolved a week later.

Japanese attacks along the Malay Barrier December 23, 1941 – February 21, 1942.

Wavell resigned as supreme commander on 25 February 1942 handing control of the ABDA Area to local commanders. He also recommended the establishment of two Allied commands to replace ABDACOM: a south west Pacific command, and one based in India. In anticipation of this, Wavell had handed control of Burma to the British Indian Army and reassumed his previous position, as Commander-in-Chief India.

Following the destruction of the main ABDA naval force under Rear-Admiral Karel Doorman,[6] at the Battle of the Java Sea,[7] in February–March 1942, ABDA effectively ceased to exist.

As the Japanese closed in on the remaining Allied forces in the Philippines, MacArthur was ordered to re-locate to Australia. On 17 March, the US Government appointed him as Supreme Allied Commander South West Pacific Area, a command which included Australia and New Guinea in addition to Japanese-held areas. The rest of the geographic area of the Pacific Theater of Operations remained under the Pacific Ocean Areas command, led by Commander-in-Chief Admiral Chester Nimitz of the US Navy. The inter-governmental Pacific War Council was established in Washington on 1 April, but remained largely ineffectual due to the overwhelming predominance of US forces in the Pacific theater throughout the war.

Perhaps the most notable success for ABDA forces was the guerilla campaign in Timor, waged by Australian and Dutch infantry for almost 12 months after Japanese landings there on February 19.[8]

Official command structure

General Sir Archibald Wavell, British Army (BA) — Supreme Commander

Land forces (ABDARM)

(MacArthur was technically subordinate to Wavell, but in reality many of the chains of command shown here operated independently of ABDACOM and/or existed only on paper.)

Air forces (ABDAIR)

  • Air Marshal Sir Richard Peirse, Royal Air Force (RAF), commander of air forces (ABDA Air)[14]
    • Maj. Gen. Lewis H. Brereton (USAAF), deputy commander air forces[15]
      • Air Vice-Marshal Sir Paul Copeland Maltby RAF, Air Officer Commanding RAF in Java[16]
      • Air Vice-Marshal D. F. Stevenson RAF, NORGROUP (RAF: Burma)
      • Air V. Marshal C. W. Pulford RAF, WESGROUP (RAF: Malaya and North Sumatra)[17]
      • ? CENGROUP (KNIL: South Sumatra and West Java; merged with EASGROUP on February 22)
      • ? EASGROUP (USAAF: East Java; merged with CENGROUP on February 22)
      • Maj. Gen. Ludolph van Oyen[18] (sometimes van Oijen) (KNIL), Allied Air Forces Java after February 22.[[19]])
      • RECGROUP / Allied Air Reconnaissance Group, Kapitein ter Zee G. G. Bozuwa, RNethN, with deputy Captain F. D. Wagner, USN (flying boat reconnaissance by Marineluchtvaartdienst/Royal Netherlands Naval Air Service; Patrol Wing TEN, U. S. Navy; and No. 205 Squadron, Royal Air Force.)[20]
      • Air Commodore Douglas Wilson, Royal Australian Air Force, AUSGROUP (RAAF: Northern Australia and Moluccas)

Naval forces (ABDAFLOAT)

See also


  1. Klemen, L (1999-2000). "General Sir Archibald Percival Wavell". Dutch East Indies Campaign website. 
  2. 240 Mr Winston Churchill, U.K. Prime Minister (in the United States), to Mr John Curtin, Australian Prime Minister
  3. L, Klemen (1999-2000). "The conquest of Java Island, March 1942". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942. 
  4. L, Klemen (1999-2000). ""The Night Hawks of Balikpapan" The Balikpapan Raid, January 1942". Dutch East Indies Campaign website. 
  5. Klemen, L (1999-2000). "The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942". Dutch East Indies Campaign website. 
  6. L, Klemen (1999-2000). "Rear-Admiral Karel W.F.M. Doorman". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942. 
  7. L, Klemen (1999-2000). "The Java Sea Battle". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942. 
  8. L, Klemen (1999-2000). "The fighting on Portuguese East Timor, 1942". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942. 
  9. L, Klemen (1999-2000). "Air Force Lieutenant-General George H. Brett". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942. 
  10. L, Klemen (1999-2000). "Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Royds Pownall". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942. 
  11. L, Klemen (1999-2000). "Lieutenant-General Hein Ter Poorten". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942. 
  12. L, Klemen (1999-2000). "Major-General Ian Stanley Ord Playfair". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942. 
  13. L, Klemen (1999-2000). "Lieutenant-General Arthur Ernest Percival". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942. 
  14. L, Klemen (1999-2000). "Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Edmund Charles Peirse". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942. 
  15. L, Klemen (1999-2000). "Air Force Major-General Lewis Hyde Brereton". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942. 
  16. L, Klemen (1999-2000). "Air Vice-Marshal Sir Paul (Copeland) Maltby". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942. 
  17. L, Klemen (1999-2000). "The Japanese Invasion of Sumatra Island". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942. 
  18. Klemen, L (1999-2000). "Air Force Lieutenant-General Ludolph H. van Oyen". Dutch East Indies Campaign website. 
  20. CDR L. B. Dorny, USN (ret.) Bosscher, Koninklike Marine; War Diary, Commander Aircraft Asiatic Fleet/Patrol Wing TEN
  21. L, Klemen (1999-2000). "Admiral Thomas Charles Hart". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942. 
  22. L, Klemen (1999-2000). "Vice-Admiral Conrad Emil Lambert Helfrich". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942. 
  23. L, Klemen (1999-2000). "Rear-Admiral Sir Arthur Francis Eric Palliser". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942. 
  24. L, Klemen (1999-2000). "Rear-Admiral William A. Glassford, Jr.". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942. 
  25. L, Klemen (1999-2000). "Rear-Admiral Johan Jasper Abraham van Staveren". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942. 
  26. L, Klemen (1999-2000). "Commodore John Augustine Collins". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942. 


  • Morison, S.E. History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. Volume III. The Rising Sun in the Pacific. Little, Brown, and Company, 1948.
  • Willmot, H.P. Empires in the Balance: Japanese and Allied Pacific Strategies to April 1942. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1982.

External links

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