World War Two: Japanese Imperial Navy: Battle of Badung Strait 19-20 February 1942

On 19 February 1942 ABDA Command knew that a Japanese occupation force was at sea, because an invasion armada had left Ambon on 18 February, backed by seaplane tender Mizuho, sailing from Kendari to provide air cover over the Banda Sea. ABDA Command felt (wrongly) that Timor would be the objective of the next invasion, and had tried desperately to reinforce the island’s defenses with a convoy of troops, escorted by the heavy cruiser Houston, which had sailed from Port Darwin on the 15 February. This convoy had come under bomber attack, however, as it neared Timor the following day, and consequently was recalled.

Admiral Doorman could have taken on the Bali Occupation Force successfully, if his forces had been concentrated. His one task force, however, was just disengaging itself at the eastern end of Java, while four American destroyers were refueling at Ratai Bay, in south Sumatra. British ships were escorting a convoy of troopships through the Sunda Strait, and the heavy cruiser Houston was returning to Java from Port Darwin. Still, while he could not gather all his naval forces, Admiral Doorman used whatever he could to fight it out with the Bali Occupation Force. Later on 18 February, coming from Tjilatjap, he took to Sanur Roads his two light cruisers, the De Ruyter and Java, the destroyer Piet Hein (destroyer Kortenaer was unavailable, after running a ground in the treacherous entrance at Tjilatjap harbor during the sotie) and the American destroyers Pope and John D. Ford. A second group, formed at Surabaja, contained the Dutch light cruiser Tromp and the American destroyers Stewart, Parrott, John D. Edwards, and Pillsbury. This group was due to arrive at Badung Strait shortly after Admiral Doorman’s force had made an first attack and retired to the north. A third group of eight Dutch Motor Torpedo Boats (MTB) would attack last.

Doorman’s battle plan was for his group to attack Japanese escort warships and transports which were involved in a reported landing at Sanur Roads, on the southeast coast of Bali. A little before midnight 19 February. The group would make its approach through Badung Strait, a narrow channel only fifteen miles wide, separating Bali and the island of Nusa Besar. After a strink and the partial destruction of the Japanese force, the second wave would arrive several hours later. Finally the MTB’s would arrive in the confusion of the battle to create further havoc.

Admiral K. Kudo in the light cruiser Nagara had reason , then, to move his occupation force swiftly as he reached the perimeter of ABDA’s remaining strength. The convoy made the voyage in one day, 18 February, arriving at Sanur Roads shortly after midnight. There was no effective opposition to the landing, and the transports were unloaded quickly. Admiral Kudo want to leave this advanced and exposed position as soon as possible. On the next day, his force was harassed by sporadic B-17 raids; one transport, the Sagami Maru, received a serious hit but was able to get under way homeward that afternoon, protected by the destroyers Arashio and Michishio. The other transport Sasago Maru, was leaving for Makassar, escorted by the Asashio and Oshio, when Doorman’s first wave arrived. The Battle of Bali was about to begin.

The Bali Invasion force was now scattered. The Arashio and Michishio were escorting the damaged Sagami Maru to a safe port, and the Nagara and her destroyers were bound for Makassar. At 23000, just as the Asahio and Oshio were weighing anchor, the enemy ships were spotted to the south, headed on a northerly course. The light cruisers De Ruyter and Java, in column, led their three destroyers, with the Piet Hein 5,000 yards astern, and the Pope and John D. Ford the same distance behind Piet Hein.

At once the Asashio and then the Oshio left their transport, turned on their searchlights and illuminated the are with star shells, and headed east. This course closed the range and put them in the position of crossing the British light cruisers’ “T”. The Java immediately fired on the Asashio, and the De Ruyter on the Oshio, at a range of 2,200 yards. The fire was returned by the Japanese ships; however, neither side scored any hits. After the initial salvos, the two light cruisers turned northeast and retired from the battle, finally heading north. The Asashio steamed east for several minutes and then turned south-southeast. The Oshio followed a parallel course but went farther east before taking a southeasterly course, which put her on the Asashio’s port beam.

At 2305, the Piet Hein, still coming north, made smoke which obscured the Pope and Ford, but which also hid the two Japanese destroyers from the two American destroyers. It was a dark, cloudy night, and as so often happens in night battles, it became difficult to tell foe from friend. Finally the Piet Hein, turning south, fired torpedoes at the Asashio and opened gunfire at 2310. Within a minute the Asashio returned fire, as the two antagonists closed range. At 2316, the Piet Hein was torpedoed, and sank at once.

The Pope and John D. Ford had also turned south, away from the battle, and were also paralleling the Asashio. ( the Oshio was screened by the Piet Hein’s smoke, and had not yet entered the fight) At 2324 the Asashio opened fire on the two U.S. destroyers, which then made smoke and continued south. The Asashio followed them, exchanging torpedoes with the Pope and Ford, and firing at the Ford. To avoid the Asashio’s fire, the two American destroyers began to circle, first theading south then, in accordance with Admiral Doorman’s pre-battle orders, trying to exit to the north. There ensued another brief but brisk engagement, as the two Japanese and two American destroyers followed parallel courses. The Asashio and Oshio continued firing, while dodging five torpedoes launched by the Pope. The American destroyers, temporarily screened from the Asashio and Oshio by smoke made by the Ford, then retired to the southeast.

As the Oshio reversed from the retiring American destroyers, sighted still another ship, thought to be an American destroyer, and opened fire. Fire was returned, but after a few minutes it died down, and the Oshio joined the Asashio. Each ship claimed she had fired on and sunk an American destroyer. It was later determined, however, that only two American destroyers had been involved in this phase of the battle, and neither was sunk, which suggest that the Oshio and Asashio had probably been firing on each other. The Pope and John D. Ford heard the gunfire to the north as they retired, and were puzzled by it. The intrepid Asashio and Oshio then returned to their damaged transport.

The second wave of the ABDA attack was, however, about to strike. Four U.S destroyers, the Stewart, Parrott, John D. Edwards, and Pillsbury, followed by the Dutch light cruiser Tromp, were entering Badung Strait, following the same course taken by the first wave. Sailing up the strait , they saw a number of green signal lights, which confused them. (ABDA Command had complied French/English code books, but they had not been distributed to Doorman’s ships, so there was confusion as to whether the lights were signals of friend or foe) Commander T. H. Binford USN, commander of the American destroyers was in a blind situation on a dark night not knowing what to expect.

The first blow would be crucial, however , so at 0045 he ordered his destroyers to fire torpedoes to port. The sent fifteen torpedoes in the direction of the Asashio and Oshio, and the Sasago Maru, still bearing off Sanur Roads. The torpedoes were avoided, and once again the Asashio and Oshio went out to face an enemy of unknown strength.

The two were then spotted by the Stewart off her port beam. The Stewart illuminated the area, and began firing at 0215. The John D. Edwards also attempted a torpedo launch at the same time, but was only able to launch two. The Oshio and Asashio answered with rapid and accurate fire, and the Stewart received a direct hit, knocking out her steering engine room. The John D. Edwards had to veer hard to starboard to avoid a collision with the Parrott. The Pillsbury had left the column formation early, following a course parallel to the other ships on her starboard side. The fire of the Oshio and Asashio was so effective that the American destroyers never did charge, as was their assignment, into the transport anchorage site, and were instead forced to the northeast.

The light cruiser Tromp brought the rear. The course of the Asashio and Oshio cut the wakes of the John D. Edwards, Parrott, Stewart, placing the Japanese between the three-destroyer column and the Pillsbury. The Tromp found herself farthest to the west, acting as arear guard against the aggressive Asashio and Oshio. The tow opposing forces followed roughly parallel courses, bearing to the northeast. Little gunfire was exchanged until the ABDA force turned east, then at 0241, the Tromp was hit eleven times on her superstructure by gunfire from Asashio. At the same time, she managed to avoid torpedoes launched by Oshio. ( her damage was sufficient that she was later sent to Australia for repairs.) The Oshio was hit forward, with seven men killed. Finally, the Oshio and Asashio, like good shepherds circled to starboard and gain returned to their transport.

By this time ABDA forces were considerably scattered. The Parrott, then the ship closest to Bali, ran aground briefly but was able to get way again. She did not renter the battle, however. At 0241, the John D. Edwards and the Stewart were still in column, steaming northeast. The Tromp was on a easterly course, 8,000 yards off the starboard quarter of the two American destroyers. The Pillsbury, on a northeasterly course , was 3,000 yards away on the Tromp’s starboard beam, on an intersecting course. At that moment, destroyers Michishio and Arashio, which had left the damaged transport Sagami Maru and returned to aid the Japanese ships still at Bali, came rushing in on a southwest-by-west course; they soon found themselves at close quarters, between the John D. Edwards and the Stewart on their starboard beam and the Tromp and Pillsbury on their port beam. The Stewart turned on her searchlights, and both sides began firing and launching torpedoes at 0247. The Michishio could not withstand the concentrated attack from both flanks, so she veered to the north to avoid Stewart’s searchlights, only to be hit repeatedly by fire from the John D. Edwards. The Michishio went dead in the water, out of the fight, with thirteen men killed and eighty-three wounded. (She survived, was repaired, and eventually returned to duty) The battle was over, for the opposing columns had closed at high speed, and after passing in their firefight, neither reversed course. It is understandable that they felt confused and uncertain at this point; because this was a night engagement, neither side knew the size or position of its opposition.

The planned strike by eight Dutch MTBs went through the strait on schedule, in two waves of four. Originally nine were sent out, but on leaving Surabaja one hit a lightbouy and retired, so the formation was revised. The first wave spotted some ships at a distance, but fired no torpedoes, while the second wave saw nothing. (Because a MTB lies so low in the water, her crew has a short field of view.)

The box score of the battle was un-impressive, given the number of ships involved and the disparity in numbers. One Japanese destroyer severally damaged, two were lightly damaged, and two transports damaged; but the entire Bali Occupation Force returned safely to port. On ABDA’s side, the light cruiser Tromp was badly damaged, and the destroyer Piet Hein was sunk.

The ABDA fleet has frequently been criticized for fighting the Battle of Badung Strait ineptly. True its ship were not so concentrated as they would have been, had time allowed; and the cruisers, their crews desperately tired, met only two destroyers, when they were looking for larger ships to engage. These factors contributed to the ABDA force’s inept fighting. However, it must be noted that, while it is true the Japanese destroyers were never, stronger, and more heavily armed than the Allied destroyers, it was the two destroyers Oshio and Asashio that waged efficiently and audaciously fought battles that, in the end, negated Doorman’s battle plan.

Bali and Lombok fell to Japanese forces on 19 February, and the Bali airfield was receiving Japanese planes the next day. No place in Java was then out of reach of Japanese power, and no ABDA reinforcements, air , naval, or army, could now be provided to the forces there.

SOURCE: Battle History of the Imperial Japanese Navy 1941-45; BY: Paul S. Dull

World War Two: Japanese Imperial Navy; Isolation of Java Completed

World War Two: Japanese Imperial Navy: Makassar Straits / Darwin Raid, February 1942


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