A Turn Too Far: Reconstructing the End of the Battle of the Java Sea

A Reconstruction of the Last Hours of the Battle of the Java Sea
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  A TURN TOO FAR Reconstructing the End of the Battle of the Java Sea © 2011 by Jeff CoxWhile in modern military history there is little that can compare to the stand of the ³300´ Spartans(if you ignore their 1300 or so troops from other Greek allies) against the invading Xerxes and his100,000 Achaemenid Persian troops at Thermopylae, a very good case can be made that the JavaSea Campaign in the early days of World War II in the Pacific does just that. This three-monthcampaign to defend Malaya (now Malaysia) the Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia) from theJapanese with a combined force of American, British, Dutch and Australian (ABDA) forcesculminated in the disastrous Battle of the Java Sea, in which organized naval resistance to theJapanese advance was swept away. While there were no dramatic speeches, no tossing of insults,no troops fighting in their underwear, no trolls, no orcs dressed as Immortals ± not that therewere actually trolls or orcs at the srcinal Thermopylae ± no convenient betrayal by a treacherousgoat farmer, and ultimately there was not nearly the same effectiveness as Leonidas and hisLakedaemonians, there was every bit the courage in the face of hopeless odds and thedetermination in the face of death to do everything they could to stop or at least delay the enemyuntil reinforcements ± this time in the form of ships and planes produced by American industrialmight ± could take the offensive.The Java Sea campaign has gotten little in the way of analysis in the English-speaking press, andwhat coverage it has gotten has largely focused on the role of the crews of individual ships suchas the US cruiser  Houston , the Australian cruiser  Perth and the British cruiser  Exeter  , particularlyin their futile efforts to escape the Java Sea, James Hornfischer  = s excellent book  S  hip of Ghosts  being a case in point. This relative silence is understandable for several reasons. First of all, welost. Unless the defeat can be used to bash the United States like Vietnam is, defeats tend to getless play in the media. Furthermore, the territory being defended was a Dutch colony, which,since the Dutch mainland was under Nazi-occupation, was effectively serving as their homeland,and thus meant much more to the Dutch than the Anglos, who found the campaign small incomparison to their overall war effort in the Pacific.But a major reason why it has not gotten much examination is simply because of a lack of information, which is exemplified no better than in the ending of the Battle of the Java Sea. Thisdecisive action that took over seven hours ended in what amounted to a midnight fog. The lastditch effort of the ABDA Combined Striking Force under Dutch schout-bij-nacht  (rear admiral)Karel W.F.M. Doorman, now down to only four ships, was literally torpedoed by a Japaneseforce under Rear Admiral Takagi Takeo just before midnight on February 27, 1942. Mosthistories simply state that Takagi = s cruisers N  achi and Haguro torpedoed and sank the Dutchlight cruisers De Ruyter  and Java , while the Perth and the Houston sped off ³into the night.´They usually say ³into the night,´ too. 1 That is usually where the narrative of the battle ends.Takagi did not survive the war, losing his life on Saipan in 1944, possibly a suicide. For the Alliedships present for that late-night action, neither Karel Doorman, nor the captains of the remaining  ships ± Eugene E.B. Lacomblé of the De Ruyter  , Hector Waller of the Perth , Albert Rooks of the Houston and Ph.B.M. van Straelen of the Java ± nor their respective staffs would survive thefollowing 26 hours.The only reasonably contemporaneous after-action report and the best source for these last hoursof the battle was filed by Captain Waller. But it was filed on February 28, 1942, as the Perth wasmoored up with the Houston in Tanjoeng Priok (now Tanjung Priok), the port of Batavia(Jakarta). Because Waller, who due to the death of Doorman had become senior officer of theCombined Striking Force and was thus commanding both the Perth and the Houston , had muchmore pressing responsibilities such as trying to get provisions, ammunition and fuel; and planningtheir escape through the Soenda (Sunda) Strait. With all this going on, it is quite understandablethat Waller  = s report on the battle was necessarily rushed and incomplete. 2 Consequently, thoughit is the best source for the end of the battle, the report is in many instances missing information,vague and subject to varying interpretations.The US Navy = s Office of Naval Intelligence (³ONI´) produced a narrative of the Java SeaCampaign in 1943 (³ONI Narrative´), but it was also missing crucial information. For instance ± counterintuitively ± the ONI report had better information on the conduct of the Dutch in this lastphase of the battle than it did on the US forces, as US Navy personnel on the De Ruyter  , assignedto Dutch flagship as communications liaisons, were recovered by the US submarine S-37 the dayafter the battle and were subsequently debriefed, while Captain Rooks and the Americancrewmembers of the Houston had not been fully debriefed before their ill-fated sortie into theSoenda Strait.With so little to go on, the result has been a fuzzy narrative. When histories attempt to get intomore detail about the last hours of the battle, questions, some perhaps unanswerable, emerge:    Most of the survivors have the Allied ships operating in a column going, from front toback, De Ruyter  , Perth , Houston and Java . However, the survivors of the Houston ,debriefed after the war, are consistent in insisting that the Houston was immediatelybehind the De Ruyter  , with the Perth somewhere behind the Houston . 3      Both the Allied and Japanese columns were headed north. The Japanese cruisers bothused the same firing solution for their torpedoes. But the lead Japanese cruiser, N  achi ,torpedoed the last Allied cruiser, Java , while the trailing Japanese cruiser, Haguro ,torpedoed the lead Allied cruiser  De Ruyter  .    Some histories have the Java being torpedoed before the De Ruyter  ; others have thatorder reversed.    The Perth had to take evasive action to avoid colliding with the stricken De Ruyter  . The Houston then had to take evasive action to avoid the Perth . The histories insist that the Perth had to swerve to port to avoid the De Ruyter  , while the Houston swerved tostarboard to avoid the De Ruyter  . Yet, the Houston had to swerve to port to avoid the Perth . This set of maneuvers is contradictory and simply does not make sense.   What I have tried to do here is reconstruct these last hours of the Battle of the Java Sea,attempting to accommodate the differing and sometimes contradictory testimonials whileanswering or at least addressing these lingering questions. What follows is that version of events.I am putting this out there for comment and critique. Unlike supporters of the theory of anthropogenic global warming, I will try to identify all the source material I can to facilitatereview and see where this theory withstands scrutiny and where it may not.This reconstruction has gone through numerous rewrites, in an effort to both present a coherent,readable story and the underlying factual support within that narrative. In the end, it becameapparent that such an arrangement was too awkward and unreadable. For that reason, only thereconstruction itself is presented here in, not surprisingly, narrative form for readability purposes.The supporting evidence, or statement as to a lack thereof, is presented as endnotes. Anyonereading the narrative is encouraged to read the endnotes to determine if they agree with theconclusions.Wherever possible, the reconstruction is based srcinal source materials like:    Waller  = s report 4 ;    the ONI Narrative;    T  he Fleet the Gods Forgot  and T  he Ghost  T  hat Died at  S  unda S  trait  , both by Walter Winslow, a survivor of the Houston ;    survivors of the Houston quoted in Duane Schultz = s L ast Battle S  tation ;    survivors of the De Ruyter  and Java quoted in J. Daniel Mullin = s A nother  S  ix Hundred   and A. Kroese = s T  he Dutch N  avy at War  ;Apparent holes are filled in with strong secondary sources such as:    Samuel Eliot Morrison = s History of United  S  tates N  aval Operations in World War II,Volume 3: T  he Rising  S  un in the Pacific (based on US Navy records);    Hara Tameichi = s Japanese Destroyer Captain (commanded the Japanese destroyer Amatsukaze during the battle);    Paul Dull = s A Battle History of the Imperial Japanese N  avy (1941-1945) (rankingWestern review of srcinal Japanese navy records);    A. Kroese = s T  he Dutch N  avy at War  (commanded the Hr. Ms. Kortenaer  during thebattle, and was one of the last to see the four cruisers of the Combined Striking Force passfor the last time on their way to destiny);    F.C. van Oosten = s Battle of the Java S  ea and the Dr. Ph.M. Bosscher  = s De KoninklijkeMarine in de Tw eede Wereldoorlog  (both review srcinal Dutch sources; van Oosten alsoreviewed Japanese sources);    Tom Womack¶s T  he Dutch N  aval  A ir Force A gainst Japan: T  he Defense of the N  etherlands East Indies, 1941-1942 (reviewed srcinal Dutch naval air force and somenavy records);    John Prados¶ Combined Fleet Decoded  (reviewed Japanese communications in the contextof the Pacific War);    Playing for  T  ime: War on an A siatic Fleet Destroyer  , by Lodwick H. Alford    J. Daniel Mullin = s A nother  S  ix Hundred  ; and     A ustralia in the War of 1939-1945, S  eries Tw o: N  avy; Volume I: Royal  A ustralian N  avy1939-1942 , by G. Hermon Gill.Also of note are websites such as:    Hyperwar: World War II on the Worldwide Web (where the ONI Narrative and other documents are available): http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/    The Imperial Japanese Navy Page (tabular records of movement and design specs for IJNships): www.CombinedFleet.com    Royal Netherlands Navy Ships in World War II (histories, design specs and damage for the De Ruyter and Java): http://www.netherlandsnavy.nl/    The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-42 (currently offline);    US Asiatic Feet site (with a thorough narrative of the Java Sea campaign, ³Naval Alamo´by Anthony P. Tully): http://www.asiaticfleet.com/;    The Australian War Memorial (³AWM´): http://www.awm.gov.au/; and    The US Naval History and Heritage Command (³USNHHC;´ formerly US NavalHistorical Center): http://www.history.navy.mil/index.html.In reading this the reader will see a lot of words of ambiguity such as ³probably,´ ³likely,´³seemingly´ and ³apparently.´ This is because the answers to certain questions are unknown andperhaps unknowable, but such holes can perhaps be filled with deduction or at least informedspeculation. Others might be filled with records which I have not yet been able to access (such asmost Japanese records). Such holes can perhaps have more than one filling, and I am interested inhearing what those other possibilities might be.So, with those disclaimers aside, please sit back, relax and enjoy the following piece of detectivework about the end of the Battle of the Java Sea. Background In a supreme bit of irony, the Japanese had started World War II in the Pacific by attacking PearlHarbor thousands of miles away in order to end their war in next-door China. Their objective wasto secure the so-called ³Southern Resources Area´ ± the Netherlands East Indies; now calledIndonesia ± to obtain the natural resources they needed to not so much win the war in China butto end that war while saving ³face.´ By the end of February 1942, the Japanese were on the vergeof seizing the Netherlands East Indies, with only the island of Java, the most populous island of the Indies and its commercial and political center, remaining to be conquered ± and Java was cutoff and ready to fall.The Allies ± the United States, Britain and the Netherlands ± had always believed that defense of the Far East against the Japanese was an iffy proposition at best, but the speed of the Japaneseadvance was still surprising. An attempt was made to pool their slender resources available intoan organization called ABDACOM ± the American-British-Dutch-Australian Command. Thenaval component ± comprised of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet, elements of the British Far Eastern Fleet,the Dutch East Indies Squadron and elements of the Royal Australian Navy operating under RoyalNavy command ± was known as ABDA-Float, which by mid-February 1942 was commanded by


Nov 22, 2017
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