World War Two: Japanese Imperial Navy; Battle of Java Sea

The diminution of the ABDA naval forces was caused by more than battle damage; ironically, there was then a fuel shortage in Java’s ports. Java had large oil deposits, but not in the quantity that Borneo and Sumatra did. It did have large storage facilities, but these were inland, and the Japanese who operated the oil facilities at the ports refused to work after the Japanese air raids began. Oil, then, was not readily available to warships needing to refuel. Likewise, munitions were running low; the destroyer tender Black Hawk issued her last torpedoes on 21 February, which meant that the destroyers Pillsbury and Parrott were eliminated from the ABDA naval force, since they had no torpedoes in their magazines.

The repair facilities in Java, which had always been inadequate for large naval forces, also had suffered from the bombing. Since such facilities could not accomplish necessary repair and overhaul, the number of warships available and ready for action was further diminished. The Stewart, which was damaged in the Battle of Badung Strait, was placed in dry-dock at Surabaja, only to have the dry-dock to collapse. The light cruiser Tromp, having been hit eleven times on her bridge and control tower in the Battle of Badung Strait, had to be sent to Australia for repairs, because there were no facilities in Java which were not already in use. The destroyer Banckert was knocked out of the war, severely damaged by a bombing raid on Surbaja on 24 February. The destroyer Whipple had collided with the De Ruyter and was inoperative; she was temporarily given a “soft’ bow but was still unfit for inclusion in the Combined Fleet. The destroyer Edsall had been damaged when depth charges were incorrectly set and exploded too near her stern. She too, could perform only limited escort duty. The Marblehead could not be repaired in Java and was sent to Ceylon. The Black Hawk was sent to Australia, escorted by the destroyers Bulmer and Barker, which were in a sorry state of disrepair, with their torpedo supplies almost exhausted.

Even among those left in the ABDA force, the heavy cruiser Houston’s after turret were still inoperable, although her forward guns were still working. Indeed all the ships left to Admiral Doorman were in need of overhaul; the fore that was to face Japan in a last effort to stop the invasion of east Java was simply inadequate. So desperate was the situation that General Wavell, after consultation with Washington, dissolved ABDA Command on 25 February 1942 and placed the defense of Java under the operational command of Admiral Helfrich. All Army, naval and air forces were now commanded by Dutch officers.

In contrast, the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters, with the riches prize now locked in, prepared a massive assault with both army and navy units. Their plan called for three landings on the western end of Java, in Sunda Strait–at Bantam Bay, Merak, and Eretenwetan–for the capture of the capital of Batavia. An eastern wing was to land at Kragan, 100 miles west of Surabaja. Preliminary to the landing, Bawean Island, 80 miles north of Surabaja, was to be invaded to set up a radio station.

Two covering forces hovered south of Java. These were Admiral Nobutake Kondo’s Southern Force, Main Body, and Admiral Nagumo’s First Mobile Fleet, Carrier Strike Force, the latter still constituted as it had been for the Pearl harbor raid. They were so placed as to cut off Australia from Java and India. Nagumo’s planes thus interdicted and sank the seaplane tender Langley, with thirty-two desperately needed P-40’s near Tjilatjap.

Java was important to the Japanese, for it had considerable oil deposits and it also had a number of important refineries. The island, the most densely populated region in the world (50 million inhabitants) was the administrative, industrial, and vital working center for the 3,000-mile-long chain of the Netherlands East Indies. It was the heart of the Dutch possessions in the South Seas.

The responsibility for the capture of Surabaja was given to the Imperial Japanese Army’s 48th Division, which had been fighting in the Philippines. It was brought to Jolo and embarked on transports, sailing on 19 February as the First Escort Force. The convoy put in at Balikpapan to take on the 56th Regiment (without the detachment at Bandjarmasiin), and sailed again on 23 February. On 25 February, it was joined by the Second Escort Force, led by the Jintsu (light cruiser) and her nine destroyers.

For the invasion of Batavia in the west, the Japanese Army combined the headquarters of the 16th Army, 2nd Division , and the 230th Regiment of the 38th Division. The convoy of fifty-six transports left Camranh Bay on 18 February. On the first leg of it’s journey, this Third Escort Force was screened by the Natori (light cruiser) and her eight destroyers. As it neared it’s three beachheads, it was further backed up by the West Support Force of four cruisers and three destroyers, the Yura and her eight destroyers, and by the light carrier Ryujio and seaplane tenders Chitose and Mizuho.

ABDA Command knew of the concentration of ships at Jolo and received correct information on 24 February that several invasion armadas were headed south. It had guessed correctly that the invasion would be a two-pronged one. There was little that could be done about it, beside awaiting the appearance of Japanese ships and attacking them as the situation developed. AbDA naval forces had been under constant attack by land-based planes, from the east, north, and west, it’s retaliatory force was thus being reduced daily. Nevertheless, ABDA Command planned to use it’s remaining bombers on the first warships that appeared, and then to throw its’ combined Strike Fleet at the convoy.

It was the Eastern Force that appeared first, when destroyers from the First Escort Force backed the occupation of Bwean Island on 25 February. At once Admiral Helfrich commander-in-chief of all naval forces in Java, ordered Admiral Doorman to concentrate his naval forces at Surabaja, thus bring in the heavy cruiser Exeter, the light cruiser Perth, and the destroyers Jupiter, Electra and Encounter from Batavia. (the light cruiser Hobart was also in Batavia, but was low on fuel, because the tanker that could have refueled her was put out of action by an air raid on the morning of 25 February.) Admiral Doorman did not await the arrival of the ships from Batavia, however. On 25 February, he used this ships at Surabaja in a dusk-to-dawn sweep along the coast westward toward Madura, hoping to intercept transports. He was joined by the Batavian contingent upon his return to Surabaja. By then reports of large convoys, headed for both east and west Java, were coming in. Doorman ordered the remaining ships at Batavia–the Australian light cruiser Hobart, two old Royal Navy light cruisers, the Dragon and the Scout, and the Dutch destroyer Evertsen–all now Mobil, to intercept a Japanese convoy, reported to be nearing Muntok. They sortied at 2200, back were back in port by 0100hrs on 26 February.

On 27 February, the same force was ordered to make another sweep to the north from Batavia; if no enemy was sighted by 0430 on 28 February, the force was to escape through the Sunda Strait to the British naval base at Trincomalee, Ceylon. All but the Dutch destroyer Evertsen went to Ceylon. The Evertsen, however lost contact with her siter ships, because of a squall. She then tried to join the Houston and Perth, which were in action at Bantam Bay. Engaged in a fire fight with the destroyers Murakumo and Shirakumo, she received hits, caught fire and was beached.

The Second Escort Fleet, leaving the armada bound for Kragan, was disorganized as it neared Java. Lieutenant Commander Tameichi Hara (later to be captain), skipper of the destroyer Amastukaze, felt that Admiral Yamamoto, who was convinced that air power in Java had been eliminated, was unwise in sending the Carrier Strike Force to make a raid in to the Indian Ocean , while cancelling air cover from land-based planes. “This audacity resulted in jeopardizing the operation of at least the convoy I escorted.”

The convoy of forty-0ne transports was disposed in two columns, sailing slowly at 10 knots and zigzagging in what Hara thought was a disgraceful manner. Many of the transports were requisitioned merchant ships, whose captains were inexperienced in this kind of operation. The convoy straggled over a length of 20 miles. At its head were four minesweeper, in line abreast at 3,300 yards, followed by three destroyers with a similar spacing. Behind this double advance line came the light cruiser Naka with a small patrol ship on either side. The middle section of he transports had one destroyer on each side. Much father away to port came the light cruiser Jintsu with the four destroyers of Destroyer Division 16 ( of which the Amatsukaze was a part). The eastern Region Support Force of the heavy cruisers Nachie and Haguro was 200 miles astern.

Hara’s fears might well have been realized it the Dutch had had more planes, or if Admiral Doorman had attacked the convoy when its exact position had been given to him, at 1357 on 27 February. A PBY had attacked the Amatsukaze at 0600 on the 26th February, its bomb dropping, however 300 yards ahead of the destroyer. A few fighter planes flying from Balikpapan were giving afternoon cover for the Japanese ships that day. At 1748, two American B-17’s flying from Malang broke through a low ceiling, this time dropping six 500-lb bombs. The bombs were poorly aimed, however; four hit about 1,000 yards from the Amatsukaze and two about 500 yards from the Hatsukaze.

Admiral Doorman’s strike force did not make an immediate assault on the reported invasion fleet-probably out of weariness and fear of the enemy planes, rather than a command indecision. His fleet had spent the night of 26 February o a searching sweep that took him to Bawean Island shortly before the Japanese occupied it. Luck was against Doorman, for the Bawean Island occupation force had only a light naval escort. He turned back toward Surabaja at 0900 on 27 February. Although Admiral Helfrich had asked him to immediately attack convoys now being constantly reported by air reconnaissance, Doorman nevertheless returned to Surabaja at about 1400. But again Helfrich ordered him to turn and fight, so he once more reversed course to seek the enemy.

A scout plane from Balikpapan had reported the morning movement of Doorman’s force. Its proximity to the advance echelons of the eastern convoy now began to alarm the Japanese naval command. The Nachi catapulted a plane which was to keep Doorman’s force in sight, and both heavy cruisers, the Nachi and Haguro, with the destroyers Ikazuchi and Abebono, went to top speed in order to be in a position when Admiral Doorman finally made his sortie from outer Surabaja harbor toward the convoy. The Battle of the Java Sea was about to begin.

FIRST PHASE: 1525-1650—-27 February

The Japanese were not caught by surprise, for the Nachi’s scout plane had been radioing accurate ships’ positions. Doorman’s strike force had its cruiser in column led by the light cruiser De Ruyter (flagships), followed by the heavy cruisers Exeter and Houston( the latter could fire only her forward turrets), and the light cruiser Perth and Java. On the columns port beam were the two Dutch destroyers Witte de With and Kortenauer.

On the port quarter of the cruiser column came the U.S. destroyers John D. Edwards, Alden, John D. Ford, and Paul Jones. (the Pope was in Surabaja harbor but could not catch up with Doorman’s force) Three miles from the main columns starboard bow were the English destroyers Electra, Jupiter and Encounter. The group set a course northwest by west almost crossing, at first, the Japanese convoys column’s escorts heading south.

The Japanese had, in column, the light cruiser Jintsu (flagship Destroyer Squadron 2) with four destroyers: the Yukikaze (with Rear Admiral Tanaka on board) and the Tokitsukaze, Amastsukaze, and Hatsukaze. These ships had been sailing northwest, but on sighting Doorman’s force they turned toward it, and headed due south, still in single column. The time was 1521. The Jintsu’s group maintained this course for nine minutes, until, again in column, it turned due west for nine more minutes, paralleling Doorman at distance of 30,500yards.

Coming up fast, on a southerly course, were the heavy cruisers Nachi and Haguro, screened on their port side by the destroyers Ushio, Sazanami, Yamakaze and Kawakaze. At 1525 they were still some 13, 000 yards north of the Jintsu’s destroyers. As they gained ground, they, too swung westward but were 10,000 yards north of Destroyer Squadron 2, which was making a deep south-to-west loop. Japanese heavy cruisers fired their first salvos at Houston and the Exeter at 1547, and kept up their fire until 1650.

Another 13,000 yards to the west, and nearly parallel to the heavy cruisers, a third column was sailing south preparing for battle : Destroyer Squadron 4, with the light cruiser Naka and the destoryers Asagumo, Minegumo, Murasame, Samidare, Harukaze and Yurdachi. They went the farthest south of the three groups, not turning south-west till 1557. Thus the three separate groups of ships were roughly parallel to Doorman’s column.

At this point the Japanese began using their favorite weapons-the “ long lance“, their 24-inch torpedoes, which because they were oxygen propelled, made almost no wake. Naka and he destroyers made torpedo launches at 1603, 1610 and 1615, at distances of between 13,000 and 15, 000 yards. They also involved in afire fight witht eh outranged British destroyers Electra , Jupiter and Encounter, and with Doorman’s cruisers, no real damaged was suffered on either side.

The Haguro launched either torpedoes at 1622 at 12-1/2 miles. Meanwhile the Jintsu with her destroyers made a sagging loop, from south to west, and then fired at the De Ruyter at 1545. He column received return fire from the British destroyers Electra, Jupiter, and Encounter., but missed the mark. The Jintsu’s ships made smoke at 1600 and continued west.

At 1623 the De Ruyter took a hit in an auxiliary engine room, but the 8-inch shell failed to explode. The first real damage occurred at 1638, when the Nachi scored a direct hit on the Exeter, setting her afire. The rest of the column simultaneously turned ninety degrees, so that all ships ended up in a line of abreast. A Japanese torpedo struck the destroyer Kortanaer, which blew up and sank immediately at 1640. (time span between 1622 launch and the distance to be covered suggests that the torpedo came from the Haguro)

The strike force was now in disarray, with the Exeter on fire and destroyer gone, so the force turned south, away from the Japanese transports. The three Japanese groups, having blocked the course to the west, then turned south toward Java at 1640, with the cruisers continuing their fire. The strike force was being turned back toward Surabaja.

During this phase the Japanese heavy cruisers fired 1,271 rounds of 8-inch shells, the Jintsu and Naka fired 171 rounds of 5-1/2-inch shells and 39 torpedoes were launched by the Japanese ships. The American destroyers, on the disengagement side of the battle line, had not entered the fray. Because the distances were so great, neither side distinguished itself in marksmanship. The Japanese, however, prevented Doorman from attacking the transports.

SECOND PHASE: 1650-1720 HOURS

At 1650, Doorman’s strike force was in a state of considerable confusion, which was compounded by the poor communication between ships. When ABDA was in existence, a French/English code book had been published, but for some reason, it was never issued to the ships of Navy ABDA. On board the De Ruyter and English officer could relay Doorman’s Dutch orders to the English Exeter, which could then relay them to the officers of the other English speaking ships. But when the Exeter was hit, and her communications room was destroyed, orders could not be flashed to the other English-speaking ships by blinker lights or semaphones, because those ships did not have the code book.

The Exeter, still in flames, headed on a nearly straight course steaming southeast by south before 1700 she had become the outermost ship on the port side of the force. As she slowly pursued this course, the four American destroyers cut her wake and formed a screen for the main column of cruisers. Farther south, the Perth and Java turned ninety degrees to the west, and then, having arranged themselves in column, reversed their course. The Houston and De Ruyter, after making a complete circle, joined the Perth and Java thus forming a four-ship column, which sailed southeast by south. Gradually some order had been restored, two separate groups had emerged. The port group consisted of the limping Exeter, and the Witte With, Jupiter, Encounter, and Electra, acting as a screen on the Exeter’s starboard side. Ten thousand yards ahead and some 6,000 yards to the starboard side of the Exeter group’s course were the De Ruyter, Perth, Houston and Java, in column, screened to port by the four American destroyers, Both columns continued sailing southeast by south , until 1713.

The three group’s of Japanese ships were in pursuit, sweeping in along paralleling arc from south to southeast, with the tow heavy cruisers, the Nachi and Haguro, making the most extensive swing to the east. All three groups had set their courses so that they would intersect the Allied columns. This was a phase of maneuver, and there was no firing of torpedo launching by either side until 1715.

When the battle began again, the Haguro and the Nachi were farthest to the north, crossing Doorman’s “T” from the rear. Five to six thousand yards to the southeast were the Jintsu‘s eight destroyers, in two columns of four, about 2,000 yards apart. The Jintsu herself was on the starboard side of the two columns, equally distant from the Naka and her six destroyers.

At 1715, the Haguro and Nachi began firing again at the De Ruyter’s column, and at 1718 the Nachi launched torpedoes at the Exeter’s column. The Allies did not return fire, but the De Ruyter’s column at once turned hard to port toward the transports, to avoid the torpedoes. Then the Naka’s Destroyer Squadron 4 launched twenty-four torpedoes at a range of 21,000 yards; all missed. The Naka’s destroyers had another engagement with the Exeter and her screen, at 18,000 yards. The Houston, now in a position to use her undamaged forward turrets, returned the Naka’s fire. The Combined Strike Force, however, was headed for new trouble, for its two groups were on a collision course when the De Ruyter’s column turned northeast to ward the Exeter’s column, which was still southbound. A second melee, with ships falling out of formation, was in the making. Furthermore, the force was being squeezed together form the north and the west, as the Japanese began to sense Doorman’s predicament. Read Admiral Takeo Takagi, commander-in-chief of the Eastern Support Force, ordered the transports to reverse course and head again for their beachheads.

THIRD PHASE: 1720-1750

A new Japanese attack was forming up. The heavy cruisers Nachi and Haguro continued east at a distance of about 19,000 years from Doorman’s force, which after its unavoidable confusion, had gathered itself and started south again. The two heavy cruisers kept up a long-distance barrage from their twenty 8-inch guns, and at 1724, the launched more torpedoes. Finally at 1726 they reversed course and head southwest by west, ceasing fire. About 12,000 yards northwest of the reconstructed Exeter column, the Jintsu and her eight destroyers, steaming southeast by east, were readying a torpedo attack against the Exeter group. South and slightly west of the Jintsu, the Naka was forming up her destroyers into two columns (of four and two) on her starboard quarter, also to attack the crippled Exeter.

On the Allied side, the Exeter was screened to starboard by destroyers Jupiter, Witte de With, Encounter, and Electra. The group moved slowly, since the Exeter could only make five knots. The De Ruyter column, now ahead of the Exeter and screened on its port side by the four American destroyers, had set a northeasterly course, at right angles to the Exeter.

By 1720, visibility at the battle scene was becoming rather poor. During the previous half hour, the Allied columns and been making smoke, which was added to by the Exeter’s fires. This was to the Allied ship’s advantage, for they could not see the Nachi and Haguro as well, and at times the other two Japanese groups would also be obscured. Meanwhile, the Japanese fleet had planes from the Nachi, Jintsu and the Naka marking Doorman’s position and spotting the salvos of their own ships.

The Jintsu’s advancing destroyers released their torpedoes at 15,000, from 1726 , then reserved course, streaming to the northwest . The Jintsu fired a torpedo salvo at 1728 and also reserved course. The Naka fired torpedoes at 1720 at 18,500 yards made smoke, and reversed course to almost due west. . Her column of four destroyers closed under 10,000 yards, launched their torpedoes, and reserved course, to ward Naka. For some reason, the other two ships in the Naka’s group, the Asagumo an d Minegumo, kept closing and did not launch until they were only 6,5000 yards from their targets. No Japanese explanation for these two-destroyers closer-range charge has been found; perhaps it was sort of banzai charge.

In the meantime, the British destroyers Encounter and Electra had seen the danger of a torpedo attack and, leaving the Exeter group, they headed due south to counter the torpedo attack. The two ships looped to the west, eventually heading to the northeast. The Encounter engaged the Minegumo in a fire fight, as the two ships paralleling one another, closed to 3,000 yards. This duel went on from about 1730 to 1740, strangely enough, neither ships inflicted much damage, even at close range. The Electra scored a direct hit on the Asagumo at 5,000 yards, causing her to go dead in the water for a few minutes, with four of her men killed. She made it back to Balikpapan, however the next day. At the same time, the Asagumo made two direct hits on the Electra, she limped a long, tried to continue her circle to the east, but finally went down at 1746. Nevertheless, the bravery shown by the two British destroyers in countercharging a superior force ( at the start of the charge, they faced two light cruisers and fourteen destroyers) exemplified the British style of destroyer training, in the best tradition of the Royal Navy.

Meanwhile , Admiral Doorman was determined to have another try at the transports. Which he knew were close by. At 1720, the De Ruyter column began swinging to the northeast, and since all the Japanese ships appeared to retiring (except the Asagumo and Minegumo), it continued to circle. The four American destroyers, however, struck out own their own transport hunt, sailing almost due north. Admiral Doorman temporarily gave up on the transports shortly thereafter, and the column, completing its circle, headed toward the southeast, on the port side of the Exeter and her two escorts, The American destroyers, 10,000 yards north-northeast of the De Ruyter group, also turned. The crews of the strike force were exhausted and frustrated, and the ships were low on fuel and ammunition. For the moment it looked as if the battle was over. Doorman’s force had been weakened, with one heavy cruiser a fire and another destroyer lost.

FOURTH PHASE: 1850-1910 (27 February 1942)

After sailing east for a few minutes and seeing no Japanese ships, Admiral Doorman decided to make another try for the transports, and heading almost due north, directly for the convoys. His counterpart, Admiral Takagi in the Nachi, did not know whether the Allied force had returned to Surabaja to refuel, whether it knew of the presence of Admiral Takahashi’s Main Force led by the heavy cruiser Ashigara, east of Madura Island, or whether Admiral Doorman would still make another try for the transports. Since Admiral Takagi’s biggest responsibility was the protection of the transports, he set a course which would block Doorman’s group if it came from the south. He guessed correctly, for, at 1850, the sighted each other again.

The Allied column was still led by the De Ruyter, followed by the Perth, Houston, and Java. One British destroyer, the Jupiter, screened to the port van and the four American destroyers protected the starboard rear,

The Japanese had the Jintsu and her eight destroyers headed north on an exactly parallel course, 17,500 yards away on the port beam of Doorman’s column. The Nachi and the Haguro were also on the port side at 16,000 yards, slightly north of the Allied ships. They turned on searchlights briefly and opened fire at 1855, then turned northwest, making smoke. The Allied cruisers returned fire from 1855 t0 1910 and then, again heading away from the transports, began a slow turn to the east. The Jintsu’s group continued north until 1907, when they fired torpedoes at the turning Allied column, at a range of slightly under 21,000 yards. The Jintsu and her two destroyer column turned to the northwest. No damage was sustained by either side in the long range skirmish, but once again the transports had been protected.

FIFTH PHASE: 2230-2300 ( 27 FEBRUARY 1942)

After losing contact with the enemy, Doorman again tried a northern thrust. But by this time his force had been further diminished. Although she had been clearly informed of a minefield in the area the destroyer Jupiter suffered a hugh explosion, probably from amine, and sank. Doorman had also sent the four American destroyers (the old four-pipers simply could not make the speed necessary) back to Surabaja to refuel, and then to Tanjomg Priak, to pick up torpedoes. His column of cruisers, now stripped of destroyers, remained in the same order as before, heading north. It was spotted at 16,000 yards by a lookout on the Nachi at 2233. At that time the Nachi and Haguro were headed due south, with Doorman’s column on their port bow. The ever present Jintsu with her eight destroyers, steaming on a southwesterly course was 16,000 yards north-northwest of Doorman. She slowly turned to starbaord, until she was on a northeasterly course, protecting the transports.

The two Japanese Heavy cruisers, then, took on the four Allied ships alone. The Nachi and Haguro opened fire at 2237, continued south for five minutes, and then reserved course to the north, again blocking Doorman’s path to the transports. Beginning at 2240, Doorman’s column fired on the Japanese cruisers for four minutes, as the column turned five degrees to starboard and then held course. The Nachi and Haguro reopened fire at 2252 for four minutes; meanwhile the Nachi launched eight torpedoes, and the Harugo four., at a range of 14,000 yards. A torpedo struck the De Ruyter aft, erupting into flames, her ammunition exploding, she fell out of line to starboard and soon sank, taking Admiral Doorman and 344 of his men down with her. She had done all that could be asked of an outnumbered and outgunned ship. Four minutes later, a torpedo slammed into the Java. She burst into flames and soon followed the De Ruyter to the bottom. Only the Houston and the Perth were left afloat. Doorman’s last order to them was to go to Batavia, rather than stand by to pick up survivors.

SIXTH PHASE: 0900-1140 (MARCH 1, 1942)

There would be no safety for the Houston and Perth even if they made it to Batavia, for another Japanese battle fleet was already close by to protect the landings in west Java. Nevertheless, the two Allied ships tried for Batavia, and arriving during the mid-watch. The damaged Exeter and Encounter, and the Pope were still back at Surabaja. The Exeter had made emergency repairs, buried her dead, and refueled. The three ships sortied on the evening of 28 February, with orders to try to reach Colombo, Ceylon, via the Sundra Strait. Their plan of escape was to sail during daylight, east of Bawean Island, toward the south coast of Borneo, and then make a night run for Sunda Strait. Their hopes, which were slim to begin with, vanished altogether on 1 March, when they were spotted by Japanese aircraft as they left Surabaja, Admiral Tagai was ready and waiting for them.

The Nachi and Haguro and their two destroyers, the Yamakaze and Kawakaze, sighted the three Allied ships to the northeast, at about 33,000 yards. For about an hour, the Japanese ships steamed northwest and then at 0950 they turned to the northeast, thus cutting the Allied ships off from a retreat to Surabaja. Admiral Takahashi had arrive from the west with the Ashigara and Myoko, which at 0940, were due west of the Exeter, at 33,750. Nearer, to the east, were the Akebono and Isazuchi. Although trapped, the three Allied ships nevertheless continued sailing on a northwesterly course, the battle began at around 0904, with the Allied ships firing at the Akedono and Ikazuchi, which returned fire, along witht eh Ashigara and Myoko. The three excaping ships immediately made smoke and turned to starboard; by 1000, they were headed due east. The Japanese heavy cruiser Ashigara and Myoko paralleled to the northeast at about 16,000 yards, firing almost continuously. The Akebono and Ikazuchi were south of the trapped ships, paralleling them atabout 12,000 yards, while the Nachi, Myoko and their two destroyers were father south, on parallel course at 27,000 yards. Gunfire and torpedo launchings were made continuously by the Japanese. The Exeter, after repeated torpedo hits from the southern ships, sank at 1130. The Encounter, on the Exeter’s port side, took fire mainly from the Ashigara and the Myoko, and sank five minutes after the Exeter. The destroyer Pope, was sunk at about 1205 (theexcat time has never been determined).

The four remaining American destroyers, the John D. Ford, Paul Jones, John D. Edwards, and the Alden, left Surabaja on 28 February, slipped into Bali Strait during the night, broke through the Bali Strike Force (the destroyers Hatsuharu, Nenohi, Nenhi, Wakaba, and Hatsushimo) and escaped to Australia.

The Battle of the Java Sea could hardly be called classic, by any criterion. Doorman’s forces, on paper, were almost equal to those of the Japanese on the afternoon of 17 February. But a variety of factors cut into the strength of Doorman’s group; fatigue from constant patrol against invasion, older ships, the lack of a common language or common code book, the lack of communication with shore commanders, and a command and force which where composed of men of different nationalities, who therefore lack training in common tactic’s. It has also been claimed that the loss of air contributed to the Allied defeat; yet this battle was fought almost exclusively by ships. (Australian Buffalo aircraft did attack Japanese ships, but without result. Still, the Japanese planes, from both the heavy and light cruisers, which acted as spotters, gave the Japanese a great advantage. In addition, Japanese aviation was wreaking havoc with Java’s naval facilities ashore, thus adding to Helfrich’s difficulties.

All this expenditure of energy and equipment, and loss of life (almost all from the Allied side) delayed the invasion of east Java by less than twenty-four hours. Whatever the size, quality, and quantity of Japanese naval strength, the Japanese warships executed their assigned tasks. They had displayed an extraordinary skill in night fighting that would work to their advantage again and again. The eastern Java invasion transports were completely untouched.

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

World War Two: Japanese Imperial Navy; Battle of Sundra Strait-February 1942

World War Two: Japanese Imperial Navy; Fall of Singapore, Bangka, Palembang, Southeast Sumatra

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