The Dutch East Indies campaign saw Japan try to capture the Dutch East Indies oilfields intact, i.e. before the local troops destroyed them:
After these main objectives in Borneo were completed, the Japanese forces planned a three-pronged assault southward using three forces named Eastern Force, Center Force and Western Force. The aim of this assault was to capture the oil resources in the East Indies. The Eastern Force was to advance from Jolo and Davao and move on to capture Celebes, Amboina and Timor, while protecting the Center Force's flank. The Center Force was to capture oil fields and airfields in Tarakan Island and Balikpapan. Both these forces would support the Western Force, which was to attack and capture the oil refineries and airfields in Palembang. ...
... However, the Dutch garrisons had destroyed the oil fields before they were captured by the Japanese in both cases.
In short, the Japanese failed. I understand how the oil itself was critical for the war effort as already outlined in this reply by Schwern to a related question. However, what the narrative doesn't explain is why Japan wanted to capture them intact. As I see it, there are three options:
- Japan did not have the know-how (at hand, if not in general);
- It would take a lot of time and hinder advancing;
- Both of the above.
Which of these above guesses is correct, if any? If it is the time-delay, then how long did it actually take for the Japanese to restart the oil fields? If it was the know-how was missing, then who did they have to bring in?
Another source, relating to Burma, writes:
The possibility of having to resort to a "scorched earth" policy had been envisaged when Japan first entered the war and Leslie Forster, a former engineer of Shell-Mex and an expert in demolitions, had been flown out to draw up the necessary plans. He was described by Dorman-Smith as “the greatest saboteur in history”, having previously destroyed the oil fields in the Dutch East Indies. ...
General Alexander reluctantly gave the signal “Red Elephant” at midnight on 7 March, which meant demolition would start at 2 pm. Dead on time a series of violent explosions rocked Rangoon like an earthquake. One of the first targets was the total destruction of the Burmah Oil Company's vast installation at Syriam.
Some time before, Forster and Scott had laid tons of explosives throughout the refinery and drained 150 million gallons of oil, petrol, kerosene and high octane aircraft fuel from the gigantic storage tanks to create a secondary blast. At 2 pm the electric circuit was fired. Tanks disintegrated and machinery and metal sheets were hurled high into the air. Within a short time a great pall of dense black smoke soared thousands of feet into the air. ...
—Draper, 'Dawns Like Thunder: The Retreat From Burma'
This indicates the destruction of the refinery (and not the 'oil fields'). This sounds like a more complex problem than the destruction of the oil mines themselves (I read the 'destruction of the oil field' as the 'destruction of the oil mine' as I don't think they had the skills or capacity to actually destroy the resource)—and would probably incur significant time delays if the Japanese had to rebuild a refinery (but, perhaps not, if the Japanese engines needed a different mixture of fuels or something else that the Dutch industrial process was not perhaps equipped to handle). In this case, the destruction of the refinery could actually have helped the Japanese.
In other words, does anyone have any more information on what the destruction of the oil fields meant in the Dutch East Indies and what the primary reason for Japan wanting to prevent this was?