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.

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