Digital relief map of Celebes

Celebes (Sulawesi) is a large, irregular, mountainous island located just east of Borneo in the Netherlands East Indies. It is characterized by its four peninsulas, of which the largest is Minahassa Peninsula to the north at about 500 miles (800 km) long and 40 miles (60 km) wide. The island has an area of 38,786 square miles (100,455 km2) and a coastline of about 3404 miles (5478 km). The highest peaks reach over 8000' (2400 meters) on all four peninsulas, with the highest point being Mount Rantekombola (11,335' or 3455 meters) at the base of the southwest peninsula. The island is covered with jungle and timber was an important export.

The island was formed by the collision of the Asian Plate with the Australian and Pacific Plates, producing ophiolites that were a rich source of nickel. There were also significant deposits of manganese, precious metals, copper, and coal. Arable land was extremely limited, but some rice and coconut was grown.

The population in 1941 was about 3,100,000, mostly from seven indigenous ethnic groups, but also some Europeans and Chinese. The latter were extremely hostile to the Japanese. The chief cities were Menado at the tip of Minahassa Peninsula; Kendari on the east coast of the southeast peninsula; and Makassar (the island capital) on the west coast of the southwest peninsula. Manado and Makassar had reasonably well-developed road nets, but these did not interconnect. There were also a few roads in the Kendari region. The chief nickel mines were at Soroaka, in the central part of the island, and Pomalaa on the west coast of the southeast peninsula.

The island was weakly defended in 1941, with just 3100 troops to cover the long coastline. These perforce were concentrated in the major cities. The island was conquered by Japan early in the Pacific War, who landed at Menado on 11 January 1942, Kendari on 24 January 1942, and Makassar on 9 February 1942. Only at Menado was there significant resistance. The island became Japan's chief source of nickel for armor plate, and remained in Japanese hands throughout the war.


Rottman (2002)

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