Makassar on the southern tip of Celebes, was the next Japanese objective. ABDA Command knew that a Japanese invasion force was gathering, but could not pinpoint where the force would strike, the guess was, however , that the target would be Bandjermasin, inland on the southeast end of Borneo. Wherever the target, Admiral Doorman was determined to try to stop the Japanese force moving south. Doorman’s Combined Fleet sailed from Bunda Roads (between Madura Island and Surabaja) at 0000 hrs. on 4 February, 1942.
ABDA intelligence had reported that the Japanese convoy was supported by three cruisers and several destroyers, so that the ABDA force was roughly equal to the Japanese force in surface strength. However, the Japanese controlled the air; Admiral Doorman could not get Air ABDA support, even though Air ABDA included the Dutch navy’s planes. Nevertheless, Doorman resolved to deny freedom of the Makassar Straits to the convoy. In the morning of 4 February, as the Combined Fleet approached the strait, the inevitable Japanese air attacks began, with the planes having excellent visibility. The Marblehead came under continues attack by two-twin-engine bombers from Kendari; one plane was shot down by antiaircraft fire, while the other managed six or seven hits or near misses. Consequently, she suffered severe damage and lost steering control. The Houston was also attacked and met with considerable damage, losing her after gun turret, with forty-eight men killed and more than fifty wounded. The De Ruyter was also attacked, but Doorman’s flagship maneuvered well and escaped with only minor damage. The Marblehead dropped out of line and slowly headed for the Bali Strait, with Doorman’s force forming a protective ring around her. The task force retired through Lombok Strait to Tjilatjap, arriving about midnight.
Thus the first genuine attempt to resist the Japanese Navy in the Netherlands East Indies resulted in the loss of more ABDA naval power. The Japanese Makassar Occupation Force ( without the destroyer Suzukaze, which was torpedoed by submarine, with nine men killed, sailing from Starling Bay, easily took Makassar on 8 February, with only five men killed and five wounded. Dutch defenses had been softened by constant air attacks, staged from Kendari. However, at 2112 on 8 February a torpedo from the U.S. submarine S-37 penetrated the forward engine room of the destroyer Natsusshio. Her crew was rescued by the destroyer Kuroshio at 0245, but a strong wind arose, and , despite efforts of the Kuroshio to tow her, the Natsushio sank at 0743 on 9 February , twenty miles from Makassar. She had suffered eight men killed and two wounded.
Port Darwin Raid
The hit-and-run raid on Port Darwin by Nagumo’s carrier fleet on 19 February 1942 was an important element in Japanese naval strategy regarding Java. Along with the invasion of Bali and Timor, it provided away to interdict plane reinforcements to Java.
Admiral Nagumo’s First Carrier Fleet was often stationed south of Java, to keep ABDA guessing at to where the next unexpected blow would fall. Port Darwin had become an important (albeit inadequate) ABDA staging area for the sircraft and troops sent to the Netherlands East Indies, and it was the closet port to imperiled Java. The Japanese felt that a destructive air raid on Port Darwin would not only disrupt aid being sent north, but also would have a demoralizing effect on Australia–a partner in ABDA, and fast becoming a rallying point for Japan’s adversaries.
Consequently, Port Darwin Task Force was assembled, its composition slightly different from that of Nagumo’s Pearl Harbor Strike Force. It still had four heavy carriers, the Kaga, Akagi, Hiryu, and Soryu, but it had no battleships. Its heavy cruisers were still the Tone and the Chikuma, and the screen was still the light cruiser Abukuma with the destroyers Urakaze, Isokaze, Tanikaze, Hamakaze, Kasumi, Shiranuhi, and Ariake.
Admiral Nagumo’s fleet left Davao on 15 February, refueled at Starling Bay, and passed through the Flores Sea into the Timor Sea, making directly for Port Darwin. The four carriers, northwest by north their target, began their launch at 0615 on the 19th. Each sent off nine Zero fighters. The Akagi, Hiryu, and Soryu each launched eighteen attack planes, and the Kaga launched twenty-seven; the Kaga, Akagi and Soryu launched eighteen bombers and the Hiryu seventeen bombers, for a total of 188 Japanese planes. Coordinated with the carrier-plane strike were land-based bombers flying from Kendari and Ambon.
At 1010 hrs. waves of Japanese planes descended without warning on the ships in the harbor, and on airfields, military installations, and the town itself. Port Darwin’s harbor was filled with shipping, two transports returned by the Houston were crowded together with three other transports, the destroyer Peary, the seaplane tanker William B. Preston, tankers, freighters, and an Australian hospital ship. The raid caused heavy damage; in all, eight ships were sunk, including the Peary; two transports, and two freighters, and nine ships were seriously damaged, including the William B. Preston. Eighteen planes were destroyed, thus eliminating air opposition. The town, which was made up of wooden buildings, was strafed and set on fire. Civilians, fearing an invasion, evacuated the town for some days. The airfield had been made inoperable and stockpiles of military equipment had been destroyed. Darwin was thus put out of business as a port of supply for Java. The Japanese carriers recovered their planes at 1200hrs., the Kaga and Hiryu losing one plane each, and the task force returned to Starling Bay on 21 February.
In the meanwhile, Japanese transports were loading and task forces were assembling for the next thrust toward Java. Bali was the target, along with its larger sister island, Lombok, from which it was separated only by the a narrow Lombok Strait. Bali, only a few miles across Bali Strait from Java, is part of the Lesser Sunda Islands, the last land barrier to the northeast part of the Indian Ocean. To the north is the Flores Sea, which separates the Lesser Sundas from the Celebes. Aside from its strategic location in relation to both Java and Australia, Bali had little to offer the Japanese, for it is volcanic and mountainous, and has none of the resources vital to Japan’s economy. The occupation of Bali, however, would place the naval base at Surabaja within a hundred miles of Bali’s airfields. The Japanese were finding that the airfields in Borneo and Celebes, although often useful, were slso often shut down by bad weather. Since Bali’s climate was drier, weather would be less of a hindrance there.
SOURCE: Battle History of the Imperial Japanese Navy 1941-45; BY: Paul S. Dull