The Japanese planned to conquer the outlying islands of the Netherlands East Indies as a prelude to their final assault on Java. They had selected invasion targets which were rich in raw materials, and could provide airfields to cover future advances. They needed powerful fleets to escort them to the beachheads, giving covering fire as needed, protecting them against aggressive moves by ABDA’s combined fleet.
The operation to be employed incapturing Java wasa double envelopment. On the eastern flank, two invasion forces were created, commanded by Vive Admiral Ibo Yakahashi in the heavy cruiser Ashigara at Davao. The invasion forces were called the Eastern Invasion Force and Central Invasion Force, and were deployed to give each other mutual support and aid if needed. Untill the fall of Bandjarmasin on 16 February 1942, their invasions went on simultaneously. The Eastern Force was to lock in Java on the east, taking: Bangka Roads (in Celebes; not to be confused with Bangka Island , near Sumatra), Kema, Menado, and Kendari, Ambon Island, Makassar, Bali-Lombok, and Dutch and Portuguese Timor. To aid the Eastern Invasion Force, Admiral Nagumo used his carrier fleet, usually stationed south of Java, to knock out Port Darwin, Australia as a military staging base, and to present a constant threat to ABDA forces. The Central Invasion Force was to take Tarakan, Balikpapan, and Bandjarmasin (all in Dutch Borneo) and after the fall of Singapore, it was to launch an attack on west Java.
On the western flank, staging from Camranh Bay in French Indo-China, would be Admiral Nobutake Kondo’s Distant Cover Force and Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa’s South Expeditionary Fleet, which would capture Anambas Island and aid the Army’s conquest of Malaya and Singapore. After Singapore fell, this fleet would then assist in the capture of Bangka Island and Palembang, and the rest of southeast Sumatra. It would then undertake the invasion of Java from the west. In the east, Vice Admiral Ibo Takahashi had a support force under Rear Admiral Takeo Takagi, which provided close cover.
As the various Japanese invasion forces were gathering in French Indo-China and the Philippine Islands, the Japanese Navy suffered its first serious loss. At Malalag Bay Davao, the Major Elements of the eastern invasion forces were crowded together at anchor. Suddenly at 1100 on 4 January 1942, ten B-17’s of the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF), flying at an altitude of 30,000 feet made an attack on the crowded immobilized fleet. No advance air[raid warning had been signaled. The heavy cruiser Myoko was hit with a 250 pound bomb on her No. 2 turret, thirty-five men were killed, and twenty-nine wounded. Splinters hit various ships, and damaged four planes on the deck of the seaplane tender Chitose, 545 yards away. The heavy cruiser Nachi was also sprayed with bomb fragments. The Myoko had to go to Sasebo for repairs and did not return to action till 26 February. No Japanese planes intercepted the raiders, and antiaircraft fire was weak, so that the B-17’s returned to base undamaged. Negligence, perhaps bred by the easy successes already attained, had made the Japanese unprepared. The damage to the Myoko did not weaken the Cover Force, nor did it teach the Japanese a lesson; there would be many more incidents where the destructive power of the U.S. planes against anchored Japanese ships would be demonstrated.
The next target fir the Japanese was Celebes, a large island (70,000 square miles) lying east of Borneo and forming the western boundary to the Molucca Sea. It consists mainly of four long, twisting peninsulas separated by three deep gulfs. Because its elevation is much higher than Borneo, its vegetation is not as lush. It contains no rich oil fields, but instead is noted for its spices, coffee and a fair amount of gold, copper, ten and diamonds. It became a target for occupation, not so much for any material it could provide, but rather to clear the way for the Japanese expansion into the Molucca Sea area, and to provide air an naval bases to aid further occupation of the Netherlands East Indies.
Menado, Kema, Bangka Roads
Admiral Takahashi’s First Eastern Invasion Force left Davao in the southern Philipinne’s on 9 January 1942 for Mendo, Kema, Bangka Roads, at the northern tip of the Celebes. Opposing a powerful landing force of evelen transports, Menado had a garrison of only 1,500 men, fewer than 400 of them regular army troops. A few ABDA planes tried unsuccessfully to bomb the Japanese ships as they came to anchor. The landings were started at 0300 on 11 January and the Dutch were overwhelmed. There had been no need for the 334 Japanese naval paratroopers (in twenty-seven planes) flown from Davao, who confused the operation more than they helped it. (it was the first time the Japanese had used paratroopers, the winds were strong, and the drops were made from much too high an altitude. Equipment and men were scattered all over the end of the peninsula) The regular landings however, were made swiftly and the transports quickly left the area. The Menado airfield was in operation for the 21st Sir Flotilla by 24 January.
The Eastern Invasion Force soon was on the move again, staging at Menado on 21 January and appearing off Kendari in the southeast Celebes on 24 January. An American seaplane tender, the Childs, upon leaving Kendari harbor, spotted the Japanese. A rain squall obscured the Childs for a while, allowing her to avoid two Japanese destroyers. She then suffered a bombing attack by six Japanese planes at 0800, but was unhit, and escaped to the south.
Kandari could not be given enough military support to stop the invasion, and little resistance was offered. There were only two men wounded in the landing force, and Kendari was fully occupied by the evening of the 24 January. It was indeed a prize for the Japanese; its air base was considered the best in the Dutch Indies, and was immediately put into operation by the 21st Air Flotilla. The new base put Japanese bombers within range of Surabaja, Java, with its naval base, and enabled to disrupt air reinforcements being sent to the Dutch Indies from Australia. Furthermore, the sea road had been opened to Ambon Island to the east and Makassar to the west. A primary naval base was established at Staring Bay, just to the south of Kendari.
Although ABDA command’s intelligence had no way of knowing so, the Japanese wanted an early occupation of Ambon Island. Because its regular garrison of 2,600 Australian, British, Dutch, and American troops had been reinforced in December 1941 by an Australian battalion and Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) squadron of 13 Hudsons, Ambon Island posed an air threat to Kendari and blocked a Japanese advance to the Timors. The Japanese Imperial General Headquarters regarded an early Ambon Island invasion as dangerous but urgent. More than fifty planes from carriers Hiryu and Soryu began air raids on 24 January , the day Kendari fell, and were soon joined by other carrier-and-land-based aircraft.
In the fact of the superiority of Japanese air power, the RAAF squadron had been withdrawn from Ambon, leaving it without air defense. The Japanese force eleven transports anchored of the island on the night of 30 January. Predawn landings were made 31 January, covered by planes from the Chitose and the Mizuho, at Bangka Roads, Celebes. The garrison put up stiff resistance, in hopeless fight, the last ABDA troops surrendered on 3 February, and the complete occupation of the island was accomplished by the next day. The Japanese moved closer to establishing the eastern jaw of the pincers on Java.
SOURCE: Battle History of the Imperial Japanese Navy 1941-45; BY: Paul S. Dull