Monday, January 23, 2012

Allied forces suffer defeat in the Battle of the Java Sea

     After the war in the Pacific began, the allied powers (United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and the Netherlands) began to combine their meager forces and set up rudimentary joint commands within the Philippines, Netherlands East Indies, British Malaya, and Singapore areas of operation.  The Japanese made steady progress in their movements to these areas, encountering resistance but being able to move forward and overwhelm the defenders in every instance.  The joint ABDA (American-British-Dutch-Australian) command was put into place.  This included naval forces of these four nations, which were first placed under command of United States Admiral Thomas C. Hart, then later under command of Dutch Rear Admiral Karel Doorman.

Dutch Rear Admiral Karel Doorman,
commanding the ABDA combined striking force.

Japanese Vice Admiral Takeo Takagi,
commanding the Japanese escort force.

     The ABDA naval surface forces began to engage Japanese forces on January 23, 1942 at the Battle of Balikpanpan, following Japan's invasion of the Netherlands East Indies.  This initial confrontation was a tactical victory for the ABDA forces.  This was followed by the Battle of Palembang on February 13th, and the Battle of Badung Strait during the night of February 19th/20th, both Japanese victories.  ABDA naval forces also endured several air attacks from Japanese aircraft, which caused damage to U. S. heavy cruiser Houston, U. S. light cruiser Marblehead, and Netherlands light cruiser De Ruyter.  The Marblehead was so heavily damaged that she had to completely withdraw from the area.

Dutch light cruiser Java under Japanese air attack.  Allied warships came under
numerous air attacks as the Japanese advanced into the
Netherlands East Indies. 

     On February 27, 1942, the Japanese amphibious forces gathered to attack Java.  The available ABDA naval forces sortied from Surabaya under command of Rear Admiral Karel Doorman to intercept a Japanese invasion convoy approaching Java from the Makassar Strait.  The ABDA forces consisted of the United States heavy cruiser Houston, British heavy cruiser Exeter, Australian light cruiser Perth, Dutch light cruisers De Ruyter (flagship) and Java, and nine destroyers (British Electra, Encounter, Jupiter, Dutch Kortanaear, Witte de With, and United States Alden, John D. Edwards, John D. Ford, and Paul Jones).   Heavy cruiser Houston was already damaged and had one third of her main armament, located in her aft turret, out of action due to damage from an earlier air attack in the Battle of the Flores Sea.  Admiral Doorman still included Houston in his striking force because even with the damage, her remaining six 8-inch gun main battery equalled that of undamaged British heavy cruiser Exeter

Dutch light cruiser De Ruyter, flagship of
Rear Admiral Karel Doorman.

Dutch light cruiser Java, sunk in the
Battle of the Java Sea.  Sister ship
Sumatra did not participate in the battle.

United States heavy cruiser Houston, seen here
in February, 1942, prior to her participation
in the Battle of the Java Sea.  She was lost
shorterly thereafter in the Battle of the Sunda Strait.

British heavy cruiser Exeter.


Australian light cruiser Perth.

United States World War I era
destroyer Alden.  She participated in the battle
along with three of her sister ships.

Dutch destroyer Witte de With.

British destroyer Encounter.

     The Japanese provided a strong naval escort for its amphibious landing force.  This escort, under command of Rear Admiral Takeo Takagi, consisted of heavy cruisers Nachi and Haguro, light cruisers Naka and Jintsu, and destroyers Yudachi, Samidare, Murasame, Harusame, Minegumo, Asagumo, Yukikaze, Tokitsukaze, Amatsukaze, Hatsukaze, Yamakaze, Kawakaze, Sazanami, and Ushio.  Each of the Japanese Heavy Cruisers were more powerful than either of their counterparts. Each mounted ten 8-inch weapons for the main battery as opposed to only six 8-inch on the Exeter and nine 8-inch (but only six operational) on the Houston.  The Nachi and Haguro were also faster, more heavily armored, and they carried the extremely potent 24 inch long lance torpedoes, as did all the other Japanese warships.  The Japanese destroyers were also larger, more numerous, and more powerful than their ABDA counterparts, particularly the four elderly United States destroyers, which were of World War I vintage. 

Japanese heavy cruiser Nachi.

Japanese heavy cruiser Haguro.

Japanese light cruiser Naka.

Japanese light cruiser Jintsu.

Japanese destroyer Asagumo.

Japanese destroyer Sazanami.

     Contact was made between the opposing forces in the mid afternoon, around 16:00 hours.  Admiral Doorman made attempts to bypass the Japanese naval escort and get at the troop transports.  His efforts were repulsed by Admiral Takagi's escorting warships.  The battle raged at long range intermittently from mid-afternoon until midnight.  Both sides expended large quantities of ammunition without achieving significant results.  The ABDA forces had never trained or worked together either, and Admiral Doorman had difficulty communicating his orders to the ships of the other navies. 

     Heavy Cruiser Exeter sustained an 8 inch shell hit that damaged a boiler room and substantially reduced her speed.  She was unable to keep formation, and she veered off, out of the fight.  Admiral Doorman ordered her to return to Surabaya, escorted by destroyer Witte de With.  The Japanese began launching their deadly long lance torpedoes.  92 torpedoes were fired at this time, but only the destroyer Kortenaear was struck.  She exploded, split in half, and sank quickly.  The destroyer Electra exchanged gunfire with cruiser Jintsu and destroyer Asagumo, but in turn she was seriously damaged and was abandoned.  The Asagumo was also damaged and forced to retire from the battle. 

Dutch destroyer Kortenaer, sunk in the
Battle of the Java Sea after being struck by
a Japanese long lance torpedo.

     Admiral Doorman broke off action at around 18:00 hours.  He ordered the United States destroyers to lay down a smoke screen to cover his withdrawal and also ordered them to launch a torpedo attack.  Torpedoes were launched, but the range was too great to permit a hit to be scored.  The United States destroyers, now without torpedoes, retired to Surabaya.  As night fell, Admiral Doorman made additional attempts to do an end run around the Japanese naval escorts to reach their troop transports.  Each attempt was repulsed.  At approximately 21:25 hours, destroyer Jupiter sank after she struck a mine.  Destroyer Encounter was detached to pick up survivors.  Doorman's striking force was now reduced to only four cruisers.  Long range gunfire was exchanged in the dark, but without results.  At approximately 23:00 hours, both the flagship cruiser De Ruyter and cruiser Java were struck by Japanese long lance torpedoes at long range and quickly sank.  Admiral Doorman went down with his flagship.  There were only 111 survivors from both ships.  Cruisers Houston and Perth then broke off action and set course for Tanjung Prior, arriving on February 28th.  Both of these ships were sunk on March 1st when attempting to make their final escape to Australia during the Battle of Sunda Strait.


A memorial plaque remembering the loss
of cruisers Houston and Perth in the
Battle of the Sunda Strait.


      Damaged cruiser Exeter was intercepted also on March 1st as she attempted to make a run to Ceylon, escorted by destroyers H.M.S. Encounter and the U.S.S. Pope.  All three were intercepted by powerful Japanese surface forces and sunk.

British heavy cruiser Exeter sinking after
being overwhelmed by Japanese warships while trying
to escape from the Netherlands East Indies after the
previous day's Battle of the Java Sea.

United States destroyer Pope under heavy gunfire from
Japanese warships.  The Pope was assigned to escort the
damaged cruiser Exeter from the area after the previous
day's Battle of the Java Sea.


     The primary ABDA naval force had been almost completely destroyed.  The Japanese invasion of Java had been delayed by only one day.  All remaining ABDA naval and air forces were withdrawn to Australia.  All ABDA ground forces remaining in the Netherlands East Indies surrendered on March 9th.  After consolidating their gains, the Japanese turned their attention to the Indian Ocean and the British colony of Ceylon, including its naval bases of Colombo and Trincomalee, which were attacked in early April.  The "Divine Wind" was still blowing strongly in Southeast Asia.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Japanese Indian Ocean Raid on Ceylon in April, 1942

Throughout the winter and early Spring of 1941/42, Japanese naval forces seemed unstoppable, roaming freely throughout the Central and Western Pacific Ocean, occupying territory and attacking allied military forces and facilities.  Following the loss of the H.M.S. Prince of Wales and H.M.S. Repulse within days of war being declared between the Japanese Empire and Great Britain, British and allied forces had been continuously pushed back and were retreating.  The Phillippines were lost, the great British fortress of Singapore was overrun, and much of the Dutch East Indies were brought under Japanese control.  Australia was being threatened, as were convoy routes in the Indian Ocean. 


Allied naval forces, those that had not been destroyed anyway, were withdrawn.  The British Eastern Fleet had withdrawn to the British colony of Ceylon, a large island off the coast of India.  The fleet was weak, but was being reinforced by warships transferred from other areas.  Admiral Sir James Somerville was appointed to command this fleet. 

The Japanese wasted no time in making plans to continue their offensive actions against the British.  They planned to deploy a large, powerful naval force into the Indian ocean to attack shipping and to attack the British base at Ceylon.  They hoped to destroy the remnants of the British Eastern Fleet as well.  On March 26, 1942, the large Japanese force, consisting of six aircraft carriers (Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, Hiryu, Shokaku, Zuikaku), four fast battleships (Kongo, Haruna, Hiei, Kirishima), three cruisers (Tone, Chikuma, Abukuma), and numerous destroyers, departed its base in the Dutch East Indies under command of Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo.

Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo,
commander of the Japanese striking force.

Japanese carrier Akagi, flagship of Vice Admiral Nagumo.

Japanese carrier Kaga.

Japanese carrier Soryu.

Japanese carrier Hiryu

Japanese carrier Shokaku.

Japanese carrier Zuikaku.

Japanese battleship Kongo.

Japanese battleship Haruna.

Japanese battleship Hiei.

Japanese battleship Kirishima.

Japanese Heavy Cruiser Tone.

Japanese heavy cruiser Chikuma.

Japanese light cruiser Abukuma.

Japanese destroyer Akigumo.

Admiral Somerville had been alerted of the Japanese deployment and general plans through signals that were intercepted and decrypted.  He estimated the Japanese fleet would attack Ceylon on April 1st or April 2nd, including the naval bases at Colombo and Trincomalee.  Unknown to the Japanese, before the war the British had been developing a secret base at Addu Atoll in the Maldive Islands.  Admiral Somerville decided to base his fleet there, rather than at Ceylon.  Admiral Somerville, flying his flag in battleship Warspite, chose to divide his fleet into two separate components.  The faster and more modern ships (carriers Formidable, Indomitable, battleship Warspite, heavy cruisers Cornwall and Dorsetshire, light cruisers Emerald and Enterprise, and several destroyers) were deemed "Force A".  The older and/or slower ships (carrier Hermes, battleships Revenge, Resolution, Ramilles, and Royal Sovereign, light cruisers Dragon, Caledon, and the Dutch Jacob Van Heemskerk, and several destroyers) were deemed "Force B".  Due to the slow speed of the Revenge class battleships, Force B could be considered more of a liability than an asset to Somerville. 

British carrier Formidable.

British carrier Indomitable.

The small British carrier Hermes.

British battleship Warspite, flagship of
Admiral Sir James Somerville,
underway in the Indian Ocean.

British battleship Revenge.

British battleship Resolution.

British battleship Ramilles.

British battleship Royal Sovereign and
sister ships underway pre-war.

British heavy cruiser Cornwall, shown
here pre-war.

British heavy cruiser Dorsetshire.

British light cruiser Emerald.

British light cruiser Enterprise.

British light cruiser Dragon.

British light cruiser Caledon.

Dutch light cruiser Jacob van Heemskerk,
attached to British Eastern Fleet.

British destroyer Hotspur.

British destroyer Paladin.

British corvette Hollyhock, a companion to
carrier Hermes when she was attacked and sunk
by Japanese naval aircraft.  The Hollyhock was also sunk.

The Japanese attack on Ceylon failed to materialize on either April 1st or April 2nd as expected, although a smaller, independent Japanese force  had attacked and sunk several merchant ships in the Bay of Bengal.  Lacking current or accurate information as to the location of the main Japanese fleet, Admiral Somerville decided to return to Addu Atoll to re-fuel and to allow the Revenge class battleships to take on more water.  He decided to send the small carrier Hermes back to Trincomalee for some needed repairs, escorted by heavy cruisers Cornwall and Dorsetshire and the Australian destroyer VampireHermes and Vampire arrived at Trincomalee while the two heavy cruisers were diverted to Colombo.

On the evening of April 4th, a catalina flying boat search plane operating from Ceylon located the Japanese fleet approximately 400 miles South of Ceylon.  Somerville ordered the Cornwall and Dorsetshire to leave Colombo and rejoin his Force A at best speed.  The next morning, April 5th, the Japanese launched a large air attack on Colombo, Ceylon consisting of 125 bombers escorted by 36 Zero fighter aircraft.  The Japanese attacked and destroyed much of the shipping remaining in the harbor, including the immobilized destroyer H.M.S. Tenedos and the armed merchant cruiser H.M.S. Hector.

British destroyer Tenedos, which was sunk
in the harbor at Colombo, Ceylon during the Japanese air attack.

The Japanese aircraft also spotted Cornwall and Dorsetshire approximately 200 miles Southwest of Ceylon while they were steaming to rejoin Admiral Somerville.  The Japanese carriers launched a second air attack aimed at these two heavy cruisers.  They came under heavy air attack and were overwhelmed with bombs and torpedoes.  Both cruisers sank with a combined loss of 424 men killed.

British heavy cruiser Cornwall, on fire,
listing, and sinking after being attacked by
Japanese aircraft.  Sister ship Dorsetshire was
also sunk in this same attack.

Admiral Somerville planned to launch a night torpedo attack against the Japanese forces.  Somerville had the advantage of radar aboard not only some of his ships but also aboard some of his Albacore torpedo bombers.  Somerville also sought a night surface engagement.  Utilizing his advantage of radar, he felt, would allow the slow Revenge class battleships to bring their heavy armament into action because the disadvantage of their slow speed would be somewhat negated at night.  Force B opeated as a support group to Force A, conforming with its movements and maintaining station about 20 miles to the Westward of Force A.  Albacore search planes from Somerville's carriers located the Japanese fleet but unfortunately failed to give accurate contact information before they were shot down.  At one point, the two fleets came to within 200 miles of one another without contact being made.  During the night of April 5th, the British continued trying to locate the Japanese fleet but were not successful.  Since Cornwall and Dorsetshire had failed to rendezvous with Force A as ordered, Admiral Somerville suspected they may have been destroyed.  He dispatched a cruiser and destroyers to look for them, while the remainder of his forces returned to Addu Atoll.  Survivors were located in the water the next day and rescued by light cruiser Enterprise and her escorting destroyers Paladin and Panther.  Somerville continued to operate from Addu Atoll, searching for the Japanese, but was never again able to make contact with the Japanese striking force.

Admiral Sir James Somerville,
commander of the British Eastern Fleet.

Four days later, on April 9th, the Japanese launched an attack on the naval base at Trincomalee.  As before, the British had prior warning of the attack, which allowed the carrier Hermes, destroyer Vampire, and corvette Hollyhock to flee the harbor before the attack commenced.  The Hermes had no aircraft aboard, and thus had no fighter aircraft available to engage the Japanese bombers.  Her aircraft had been operating from land based air fields on Ceylon, and most had already been destroyed.  After the attack on Trincomalee was over, the Hermes and her consorts altered course to return.  Unfortunately, they were located near the coast by Japanese aircraft and an attack was launched.  Seventy Japanese planes attacked these three ships, and the virtually defenseless Hermes sustained forty hits and quickly sank with heavy loss of life.  The Vampire and Hollyhock were also sunk.  Hospital ship Vita later picked up 590 survivors in the water from these three ships.

British carrier Hermes sinking after taking
at least 40 hits when being attacked by
Japanese naval aircraft.

Following the sinking of the Hermes, the Japanese fleet left the Indian Ocean, never to return again.  Ceylon had not been invaded, as had been feared, but the ferocity and strength of the Japanese naval air forces had overwhelmed the meager British defenses.  The Japanese admitted to losing no more than five aircraft, however the British claimed at least eighteen had been shot down.  The Japanese lost no ships, nor had any even come under attack, while the British lost the carrier Hermes, heavy cruisers Cornwall and Dorsetshire, destroyer Vampire, corvette Hollyhock, and numerous auxiliary and merchant vessels, as well as most of their aircraft.

The results clearly indicated that the Japanese had superior aircraft and used superior tactics compared to their British adversaries.  Japanese warships were also faster, and many were more modern than their British counterparts.  The British admirality deemed Ceylon to be too dangerous to continue serving as the Eastern Fleet's front line base.   On April 9th, Force A was withdrawn from Addu Atoll to Bombay, India, arriving April 13th, while Force B was withdrawn to the East coast of Africa, arriving April 15th.  For the next two and a half years, the activities of the British Eastern Fleet would be primarily reduced to escorting convoys, and the most modern ships were withdrawn from the Indian Ocean and sent to other theaters for duty there.  It would not be until 1944 that the British Eastern Fleet was again reinforced with modern warships and began planning and undertaking limited offensive operations against the Japanese, who by then had been substantially weakened from the unrelenting assault they were under from the advancing United States military forces.