It is not believed that the Japanese have used combatant parachutists in China, though a few telegraph operators and other signal personnel may have been dropped by parachute to reestablish broken communications in the rear of Japanese advance elements. The attack which occurred on February 14, 1942, on Palembang, an oil refinery center on the Island of Sumatra, Netherlands East Indies, was the first large-scale use of Japanese parachutists. It was notable because of the relative inefficiency of the Japanese in contrast with German successes in Europe.
Knowing that there were only about 1,500 defending troops in the immediate vicinity of Palembang, the Japanese used their parachutists as an advance guard for a large river-borne invasion force. The object of the parachute attack was primarily to prevent destruction by the defenders of refineries, and secondarily to seize the airdrome for use by Japanese airpower. A third object may have been to construct and man road-blocks to impede the withdrawal of the defending ground troops.
The attack occurred in the morning, well after sun-up. The Dutch anticipated an air-borne attack, and they probably had as much as an hour's warning of its immediate approach. Sixty or seventy Japanese transport planes2 dropped parachutists in an area some dozen miles square astride the Moesi River. The dispersion was sufficient for various groups to assemble quickly and begin their assigned tasks.
Parachutists seized one of the refineries before the Dutch had destroyed it. The group that attacked the airdrome failed to achieve its objective. The parachutists, who were everywhere soon forced to take up the defensive, spent the day fighting off attacks. By nightfall only a single center of resistance was left. Of the total force of 700 to 800 Japanese parachutists, practically all were shot or otherwise accounted for by the determined Dutch.
Although the parachute attack was in itself a failure, the Japanese succeeded in bringing up a ground force on the following morning. Palembang, completely outnumbered, fell easily into the hands of more than 10,000 water-borne invaders.
The aftermath of the parachute attack on Palembang was a wild crop of rumors. A few days after February 15, it was understood that the Japanese parachute general had arrived at Palembang. The Dutch in Java braced themselves for possible air-borne invasion. Into Dutch Headquarters came report after report of new Japanese parachute attacks--at Medan, Sumatra, and at Plakembaro, Java. But up to September 1942, the verified instances, other than Palembang, of the use of Japanese parachutists have been only two: (1) a minor landing at Menado on the northern tip of Celebes on January 11, 1942; and (2) the Japanese operation at Koepang on the Island of Timor on February 20, 1942.