On this day in 1943, local Chinese and native Suluks rise up against the Japanese occupation of North Borneo. The revolt, staged in the capital, Jesselton, resulted in the deaths of 40 Japanese soldiers.
The Japanese had begun scooping up islands in the Dutch East Indies in late 1941. Kuching, on the northern coast of Borneo, was taken in December; January of ’42 saw the fall of Brunei Bay and Jesselton, also in North Borneo. The British and Dutch forces on the islands were dealt swift and severe blows. Attempts by the Allies to hold on to other islands in the region—Malaya, Sumatra, and Java—began shortly thereafter, with British General Archibald Wavell commanding a unified force of British, Dutch, and Australian soldiers. It was a disastrous failure.
The treatment of Allied and civilian prisoners in the Japanese-controlled islands was horrendous, with hundreds dying of disease and starvation. The rebellion of Chinese settlers and native Suluks in the Borneo capital of Jesselton, although delivering a blow to the Japanese to the tune of 40 dead occupying soldiers, was dealt with quickly and brutally. The Japanese destroyed dozens of Suluk villages, rounded up and tortured thousands of civilians, and executed almost 200 without trial. In one extreme example of cruelty, several dozen Suluk women and children had their hands tied behind them and were hanged from their wrists from a pillar of a mosque. They were then shot down by machine-gun fire.
North Borneo would not be liberated until 1945, mostly the work of Australian forces. The next year, it would be made a colony of Britain. That region of Borneo controlled by the Dutch was given sovereignty in 1949 after a rebellion by Indonesian forces.