Allied Warships

USS Houston (i) (CA 30)

Heavy cruiser of the Northampton class

NavyThe US Navy
TypeHeavy cruiser
ClassNorthampton 
PennantCA 30 
Built byNewport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co. (Newport News, Virginia, U.S.A.) 
Ordered 
Laid down1 May 1928 
Launched7 Sep 1929 
Commissioned17 Jun 1930 
Lost1 Mar 1942 
Loss position5° 50'S, 105° 55'E

The American heavy cruiser USS Houston (i) (CA 30) lost on 1 Mar 1942 in position 5° 50'S, 105° 55'E.

History

USS Houston (Capt. Albert Harold Rooks) was sunk by torpedoes and gunfire from Japanese heavy crusiers Mogami and Mikuma, light cruiser Natori and 10 destroyers in the Soenda Strait in position 05º50'S, 105º55'E.

The USS Houston sank in only 20 minutes, sending 643 men to their deaths with only 368 survivors, of which were captured by the Japanese, and 77 of which died in captivity.

 

Commands listed for USS Houston (i) (CA 30)

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CommanderFromTo
1Francis Cogswell, USN24 May 1939late 1939
2Capt. Jesse Barrett Oldendorf, USNlate 193930 Aug 1941
3Capt. Albert Harold Rooks, USN30 Aug 19411 Mar 1942 (+)

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Notable events involving Houston (i) include:


4 Feb 1942
At 0130 hours, the Dutch light cruisers HrMs De Ruyter (Cdr. E.E.B. Lacomblé, RNN and flagship of Rear-Admiral K.W.F.M. Doorman, RNN), HrMs Tromp (Cdr. J.B. de Meester, RNN) and the Dutch destroyers HrMs Piet Hein (Lt.Cdr. J.M.L.I. Chompff, RNN), HrMs Banckert (Lt.Cdr. L.J. Goslings, RNN) and HrMs Van Ghent (Lt.Cdr. P. Schotel, RNN) departed their anchorage to the north of of Gili Raja Island (Pulau Gili Raja) for the Java Sea.

At 0500 hours they made rendes-vous with the US heavy cruiser USS Houston (Capt. A.H. Rooks, USN), the US light cruiser USS Marblehead (Capt. A.G. Robinson, USN) and their escorting destroyers USS Stewart (Lt.Cdr. H.P. Smith, USN), USS John D. Edwards (Lt.Cdr. H.E. Eccles, USN), USS Barker (Lt.Cdr. A.J. Miller, USN) and USS Bulmer (Lt.Cdr. D.A. Harris, USN). These American ships had also been anchored the north of of Gili Raja Island (Pulau Gili Raja) but had left a little earlier then the Dutch ships. The mission of the joint Dutch-US task force was a 'hit and run' raid into Strait Makassar.

Around 0955 hours the task force came under air attack in the by the Japanese in the Bali Sea in approximate position 07°28'S, 115°37'E and USS Houston and USS Marblehead were damaged. Houston was hit on the roof of her rear 8" gun turret heavily damaging it and it could not be repaired. (When USS Houston sank about four weeks later she still had only two operational 8" gun turrets). USS Marblehead was hit twice and also straddled and received serious damage resulting in that she had to be sent to the USA for repairs. The raid into Makassar Stait was now cancelled.

USS Houston had been sent towards Tjilatjap (Cilacap) on the south coast of Java for repairs. USS Tromp was later ordered to give her protection during her passage there and proceeded after her. She caught up with her to the south of Atlas Stait and both ships then proceeded in company until 0000/5 when Tromp left USS Houston again and proceeded to re-join the task force as ordered which she did at 1325/5 when she made rendes-vous with HrMs De Ruyter and the three Dutch destroyers. (1)

27 Feb 1942

Battle of the Java Sea.

Prelude to the battle.

Japan had opened the war in the Far East on 7 December 1941 with their surprise attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbour. At the same time they launched attacks on the Philippines and Malaya. These attacks were followed by attacks on the Dutch East Indies.

By the end of December 1941 the Americans decided to abandon the Philippines as a naval base and on 30 January 1942, Singapore Dockyard was closed down by the British. This was followed by the British Army retiring from the Malayan penisula towards that base.

On 3 February 1942, Surabaya and Malang on the main Dutch Island of Java were bombed for the first time. By mid-February the Japanese had conquered British and Dutch Borneo and the Dutch islands of Celebes, Ceram and Ambon. These conquests gave them sea and air control over the Makassar Strait and the Molucca Passage.

The Allies soon realised that the forces at their disposal were not able to stop the Japanese advance. The only thing they could do was to delay the Japanese advance as long as possible.

Singapore and it’s naval base fell to the Japanese on 15 February 1942. That very day the Japanese landed on Sumatra and they soon also controlled the Karimata Channel and Gaspar Strait. Later they also had more or less the control over the important Sunda Strait, the main entry channel to the Java Sea.

On 25 February 1942 the Japanese captured Bali Island, to the east of Java and this gave them also control over the eastern exits of the Java Sea to the Indian Ocean. On this day also reports were received of massive Japanese shipping movements in the Celebes Sea with the apparent objective to invade Java. Also on the 25th the Japanese landed on Bawean Island, just 85 miles north of Surabaya.

Formation of the Combined Striking Force.

Given the reports of the Japanese shipping movements and their expected arrival off Java on 27 February, the Dutch Vice-Admiral Helfrich ordered that the Eastern Striking Force at Surabaya was to be reinforced by all available cruisers and destroyers that were then at Tandjong Priok (Batavia).

At that moment the Eastern Striking Force was made up of the Dutch light cruisers HrMs De Ruyter (Cdr. E.E.B. Lacomblé, RNN and flagship of Rear-Admiral K.W.F.M. Doorman, RNN) and HrMs Java (Capt. P.B.M van Straelen, RNN), the Dutch destroyers HrMs Witte de With (Lt.Cdr. P. Schotel, RNN), HrMs Kortenaer (Lt.Cdr. A. Kroese, RNN) and the US destroyers USS John D. Edwards (Lt.Cdr. H.E. Eccles, USN), USS Parrott (Lt.Cdr. J.N. Hughes, USN) and USS Pillsbury (Lt.Cdr. H.C. Pound, USN). The force had been reinforced on the 24th by the US heavy cruiser USS Houston (Capt. A.H. Rooks, USN) and the US destroyers USS Paul Jones (Lt.Cdr. J.J. Hourihan, USN), USS Alden (Lt.Cdr. L.E. Coley, USN), USS John D. Ford (Lt.Cdr. J.E. Cooper, USN) and USS Pope (Lt.Cdr. W.C. Blinn, USN) which came from Tjilatjap on Java’s south coast.

The following ships arrived at Surabaya from Tandjong Priok (Batavia) on the 26th. The British heavy cruiser HMS Exeter (Capt. O.L. Gordon, MVO, RN), the Australian light cruiser HMAS Perth (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, DSO and Bar, RAN) and the British destroyers HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN), HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN) and HMS Jupiter (Lt.Cdr. N.V.J.P. Thew, RN). From this date the Eastern Striking Force was now called the Combined Striking Force.

Formation of the Western Striking Force.

Some ships remained in Batavia and these were formed into the Western Striking Force which comprised the Australian light cruiser HMAS Hobart (Capt. H.L. Howden, CBE, RAN), the British light cruisers HMS Dragon (Capt. R.J. Shaw, MBE, RN) and HMS Danae (Capt. F.J. Butler, MBE, RN) as well as the British destroyers HMS Scout (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) H. Lambton, RN) and HMS Tenedos (Lt. R. Dyer, RN).

HMAS Hobart had been originally intended to join the Combined Striking Force but her fuelling was delayed owning to the tanker being damaged in an air attack and she was unable to sail with HMS Exeter and the destroyers in time and was left behind.

Orders for the Combined Stiking Force

Late in the afternoon of the 26th, Rear-Admiral Doorman, was in the operations room of the naval base at Surabaya when a signal was received from Vice-Admiral Helfrich which reported 30 enemy transports in position 04°50’S, 114°20’E, this was about 18 miles north-east of Surabaya. Enemy course was 245°, speed 10 knots. Two cruisers and four destroyers were reported to be escorting these transports. The Combined Striking Force was ordered to proceed to sea to attack the enemy after dark.

Rear-Admiral Doorman then considered to possible routes to make contact with the enemy convoy;
1) By a sweep east, along the north coast of Madura, followed by a sweep west, as far as Toeban.
2) By a sweep north, to the west of Bawean, continuing north-east wards towards the Arends Islands.

Later in the afternoon of February 26th, Rear-Admiral Doorman, called a conference of all his commanding officers, where the following decisions were taken;
1) The Combined Striking Force was to prevent, at all costs, a Japanese landing on Java or Madura.
2) The Japanese transports were to be attacked, preferably by night.
3) After the attack the Combined Trask Force was to proceed to Tandjong Priok (Batavia).
4) A formation for the night was ordered as follows; A screen of British and Dutch destroyers ahead, the five cruisers in line and four US destroyers in rear.

Also a plan for a night attack was made;
1) The British and Dutch destroyers were to carry out a torpedo attack as soon as the enemy was sighted and were to follow up their torpedo attack by an attempt to run straight into the enemy convoy and to cause as much damage as possible. The cruisers were to remain out of the convoy and were to fire on it. Finally the US destroyers were then to also make a torpedo attack.
2) If contact was made near the coast, special precautions were to be taken because Dutch mines had been laid off the north coast of Madura and also in the Toeban bight. After an attack in coastal waters the Allied ships therefore had to turn north.
3) After a possible night action the formation would be broken up and it was not considered possible to make definite plans for any subsequent action.

Departure from Surabaya.

The Combined Striking Force put to sea from Surabaya at 1830 hours. It had been decided to make a sweep to the east along the coast of Madura as far as the Sapoedi Strait and if the enemy were not sighted to sweep west and search the bight of Toeban. The Force sailed throught the western channel towards the Java Sea. The ships of the force were disposed in line ahead as follows;
1) Two Dutch destroyers, HrMs Witte de With and HrMs Kortenaer. This last ship had a speed limitation of 25 knots, due to one boiler being out of service.
2) Three British destroyers HMS Electra, HMS Encounter and HMS Jupiter.
3) The five Allied cruisers, HrMS de Ruyter, HMS Exeter, USS Houston, HMAS Perth and HrMs Java.
4) Four US destroyers, USS John D. Edwards, USS Alden, USS John D. Ford and USS Paul Jones.

Around the time the Combined Task Force sailed from Surabaya, US Army bombers found and attacked the enemy convoy in position 05°30’S, 113°00’E, which is about 25 miles north-east of Bawean Island. No report was however made to Rear-Admiral Doorman until nearly four hours later. And four hours after that another report was sent regarding this convoy. It is not known if Rear-Admiral Doorman actually received these reports.

At about 2200/26 the whole Combined Strike Force was clear of the Dutch minefields in the approaches to Surabaya and after proceeding 8 nautical miles to the north course was changed to the east, They were now in night formation and proceeding at 20 knots. They continued eastward as planned towards Sapoedi Strait as planned which they reached shortly after 0100/27. Rear-Admiral Doorman then altered course to 284° and maintained a westerly course throughout the remainder of the night.

Japanese air attack on the Combined Task Force.

At dawn on 27 February 1942, the Combined Task Force, was approximately 10 nautical miles north-west of Surabaya. They had not sighted the enemy during the night so day formation was assumed.

At 0700 hours, HMS Exeter, reported RDF contact on a group of aircraft in a south-westerly direction. Rear-Admiral Doorman hoped they were Allied aircraft but around 0800 hours he had to report to the ships in his force that the promised fighter cover would not be forthcoming. At 0855/27 aircraft were heard overhead and shortly afterwards three 100-lb bombs fell close to HMS Jupiter. Five minutes later a stick of four bombs fell about three cables on her starboard quarter. All these bombs were tumbling and at least three failed to explode. USS Houston opened fire on these aircraft which retreated behind clouds. From this time on, enemy aircraft continued to shadow the Allied force but they remained out of range.

Rear-Admiral Doorman reported this incident to Vice-Admiral Helfrich, and at 0930 hours he altered course from 270° to 115°. At 1000 hours, Vice-Admiral Helfrich signaled that Rear-Admiral Doorman had to proceed eastwards to search for and attack the enemy to which Rear-Admiral Doorman replied at 1200 hours with ‘proceeding eastwards after search from Sapoedi to Rembang. Success of action depends absolutely on receiving good reconnaissance information in time which last night failed me. Destroyers will have to refuel tomorrow.’

A Japanese force located.

At 1400/27 the Allied force was proceeding towards the Westervaarwater (northern entrance to Surabaya). The force passed through the swept channel in the minefields in the following order; the Dutch destroyers, the British destroyers, the US destroyers and then the cruisers. At 1427 hours the force was entering the harbour when Rear-Admiral Doorman received the following important information from Vice-Admiral Helfrich.
1) At 1340/27 (GH), Twenty ships with an unkown number of destroyers were in position 04.45’S, 112.15’E (approx. 65 miles north-west of Bawean), course 180°.
2) At 1345/27 (GH), one cruiser was reported in position 04°40’S, 111°07’E (approx.. 135 miles north-west of Bawean), course 220°.
3) At 1350/27 (GH), two cruisers, six destroyers and twenty-five transports were reported 20 miles west of Bawean, course south. Of this force one cruiser and four destroyers proceeded south at full speed The transports, one cruiser and two destroyers stayed behind.

The combined striking force proceeded to intercept.

Rear-Admiral Doorman immediately proceeded back to sea again with the intention to intercept the enemy force that was reported 20 miles west of Bawean. After leaving the minefield the British destroyers were ordered to proceed at full speed. The Dutch destroyers were on the port quarter of the cruiser line. The US destroyers were astern. Course was set to 315°, speed 20 knots but this was later increased to 25 knots, the maximum speed of HrMs Kortenaer.

At 1529 hours enemy aircraft appeared, they dropped a few bombs at random. USS Houston fired on the planes. Meanwhile the Allied force scrattered. By 1550 hours the force had reformed and was again on course 315°, speed was now 24 knots.

At 1600 hours, Rear-Admiral Doorman asked for fighter protection but the commander Air Defence Surabaya did not comply because he needed his eight remaining Brewster Buffalo fighters to protect the four dive-bombers in a projected dive-bombing attack on the Japanese transports.

Contact with the enemy.

Shortly after 1600/27, three float planes were sighted to the northward. Some minutes later smoke was sighted, bearing 358°. At 1612 hours, in approximate position 06°28’S, 112°26’E. The Combined Striking Force was still on course 315°. The first report, which came from HMS Electra was ‘one cruiser, unknown number of large destroyers, bearing 330°, speed 18 knots, enemy course 220°. At 1614 hours the Allied fleet, then about 30 miles north-west of Surabaya, increased speed to 26 knots and HMAS Perth reported seeing a cruiser on the starboard bow. At 1616 hours, HMS Exeter reported a cruiser and four destroyers bearing 330°, range 14 nautical miles.

At 1616 hours, the Japanese heavy cruisers Nachi and Haguro opened fire from 30000 yards. Their main targets were HMS Exeter and USS Houston. Around the same time the Japanese light cruiser Naka opened fire on the British destroyer HMS Electra which was immediately straddled. Later salvoes fell astern, short and over. She was not hit. HMS Electra and HMS Jupiter fired ranging salvoes at the western (leading) enemy force at a maximum range of 15700 yards but all fell short.

The Allied force was still on course 315° and closing the enemy when HrMs De Ruyter altered course 20° to port (to 295°) to bring the starboard broadsides to bear. This brought the Allied fleet on an almost parallel course with the enemy heavy cruisers. The Allied cruisers were still in line ahead with HMS Electra and HMS Jupiter bearing 280°, four nautical miles from HrMs De Ruyter. The US destroyers were astern of the cruiser line and the two Dutch destroyers were about two nautical miles to port of the cruiser line. The position of HMS Encounter at that moment is not mentioned in any of the reports but she appeared to have been ahead of the Dutch destoyers and abeam of HMAS Perth.

HMS Exeter opened fire at 1617 hours followed by USS Houston one minute later. Range was 26000 to 28000 yards. This range was maintained for some time so the enemy was only under fire from the two heavy cruisers in the Allied cruiser line. Shortly after the action commenced the US destroyers took station about 3000 yards on the disengaged side of HrMs Java and maintained this relative position throughout most of the action. Enemy salvoes almost continuously straddled HrMs De Ruyter and HMS Exeter. All the time three float planes were spotting for the enemy.

First Japanese torpedo attack, 1633 to 1652 hours.

At about 1625 hours, the rear enemy destroyer flotilla appeared from the Allied line to prepare to attack. HMAS Perth opened fire on the right-hand destroyer (this was the Asagumo. She was hit by the second salvo just before she launched torpedoes. Her steering was affected and she was able to fire only three torpedoes.

The first enemy torpedo attack was a coordinated attack made by the two heavy cruisers, two flotilla leaders (light cruiser) and the six destroyers from the 4th destroyer flotilla. As the attack was developing, the Allied fleet, at 1629 hours, altered course from 295° to 248°, speed 25 knots and at 1631 hours, HrMs De Ruyter was hit in the auxiliary motor room on the starboard side by an 8” shell. A petrol fire was started but it was quickly extinguished. One of the crew was killed and six were wounded.

The enemy account of the torpedo attack is as follows; About 18 minutes after starting the gun engagement, the Naka followed by the Jintsu fired torpedoes. The 9th and 2nd destroyer flotilla’s then fired in succession. About 40 minutes after the start of the engagement the Haguro fired torpedoes. The Nachi also intended to fire torpedoes but due to a failure in drill did not do so. In 19 minutes, 43 torpedoes were fired at the Allied ships but none hit.

The Japanese 4th destroyer flotilla made smoke immediately following after the torpedo attack, and after the Perth’s second salvo hit, retired behind the smoke, which also concealed the enemy heavy cruisers from view. The Perth fired several follow up salvoes into the smoke screen which became so dense that the Japanese temporarily lost sight of the Allied fleet. The Electra and Jupiter had by this time closed the US destroyers and took op a position abeam the cruiser line on the disengaged side.

At 1635 hours, HrMs De Ruyter led in again towards the enemy on course 267°. Also about this time the rear enemy heavy cruiser, the Haguro was hit, apparently in the boiler room, as she emitted billowing clouds of black smoke, though continuing to fire her guns.

As the enemy smoke screen cleared, a Japanese destroyer was seen to be on fire. This may have been the Minegumo. By then the Nachi was firing at HMS Exeter and the Haguro at the and HMAS Perth.

Allied air attack

Around 1645 hours, splashes of heavy bombs were seen near the enemy ships, though no hits were observed. The Nachi and Haguro were still in line ahead about half a mile apart at a range of over 26000 yards. At this range they could only be engaged by the two Allied heavy cruisers. At this time the Haguro was seen to be on fire.

Second Japanese torpedo attack, 1700 to 1714 hours.

Shortly after 1700 hours, the Japanese delivered a second torpedo attack. It was made by the two heavy cruisers, the flotilla leader (light cruiser) Jintsu and six of the eight destroyers from the 2nd destroyer flotilla.

Between 1700 and 1706 hours, the enemy heavy cruisers commenced, unobserved by the Allied ships, a second torpedo attack. At 1707 hours, the foremost enemy destroyer flotilla, the 2nd, led by the Jintsu was seen to launch a long range torpedo attack and the Allied cruisers turned away to avoid the torpedoes and no torpedoes hit.

HMS Exeter hit by enemy gunfire

The Allied cruisers had ceased firing at 1707 hours, when they had turned away to avoid the torpedoes. The enemy was still firing but his shots fell short but at 1708 hours HMS Exeter was hit by an 8” shell from the Nachi and her speed rapidly decreased. She turned away to port, hauling out of the line and the cruisers astern of her turned with her. HrMs De Ruyter continued on her course for a short time but then turned to port as well. The Dutch and US destroyers also turned to port thus taking up a position ahead of the cruisers. The new mean course of the fleet then was about 180°.

As a result of this manoeuvre the Allied fleet was in disorder. At 1714 hours, HMS Exeter came to a stop and signaled that she had been hit in the boiler rooms.

HrMs Kortenaer torpedoed.

By this time the torpedoes that had been fired during the second Japanese torpedo attack reached the area the Allied ships were in and at 1715 hours, the Dutch destroyer HrMs Kortenaer was hit and blew up in approximate position 06°25’S, 112°08’E. She was hit amidships on the starboard side and broke in two. The forepart remained afloat for about five minutes but the stern part sank immediately. Five hours later HMS Encounter came across survivors and picked up 113 of them from the water and took them to Surabaya following the battle.

Also at 1715 hours, a torpedo track passed closely by HMS Jupiter and a moment later one was seen to pass astern of HMS Exeter. The US destroyers John D. Ford and John D. Edwards both had to use helm to avoid torpedoes.

HMS Exeter ordered to Surabaya.

Shortly after having come to a halt, HMS Exeter was underway again but her speed was limited to 15 knots. Rear-Admiral Doorman ordered her to proceed to Surabaya at 1740 hours and ordered the sole remaining Dutch destroyer HrMs Witte de With to escort her to there. HMAS Perth had also closed the Exeter and covered her with smoke from her funnel and smoke floats. She soon however rejoined the cruiser line when Rear-Admiral Doorman signaled ‘All ships follow me’.

The Allied fleet reforms.

At 1720 hours, in accordance with the above mentioned signal, and under cover of smoke which the US destroyers had started to lay, the De Ruyter proceeded on a course to the south-east. Altering almost immediately to north-east, at 1725 hours, the De Ruyter led the Allied cruisers between the enemy and the Exeter presumably to cover the latter and draw the enemy’s fire, for that in effect was the result of the manoeuvre. About this time an air attack developed and bombs fell 1000 yards to port of the US destroyers and two more sticks of bombs were dropped near them a few minutes later. No damage was caused by these air attacks. The Allied cruisers then proceeded on a course to the east.

British destroyers attack the enemy, 1725 hours and subsequent sinking of HMS Electra.

It was just about 1725 hours when Rear-Admiral Doorman signaled ‘British destroyers counter-attack’, whereupon Cdr. May, RN in the Electra ordered the Jupiter and the Encounter to follow. Circumstances were not favourable, for the smoke was very thick, and visibility over the battle area was not more then half a mile. Moreover, as the British destroyers were too far apart to make a divisional attack they attacked independently. The Encounter attacked through a clearing in the smoke. It is not known if she fired torpedoes or not. The Jupiter found no suitable target for torpedoes and therefore remained in the vicinity of HMS Exeter. She was able to drive off two enemy destroyers with gunfire near her which had come out of the smoke screen with the intention of making a torpedo attack on the Exeter. When the Encounter retired from her attack she was ordered to take up a position astern of HMS Jupiter and both destroyers remained near the Exeter as a covering force. The Dutch destroyer HrMs Witte de With was also near the damaged Exeter, she exchanged gunfire with an enemy destroyer around 1745 hours at a range of 9300 yards. The enemy replied and both ships fired around eight or nine rounds. The enemy was thought to have been hit twice. The Witte de With was hit once but the only damage sustained was that it destroyed her aerial. HMS Exeter and HrMs Witte de With arrived off the Surabaya defensive minefields at 2000/27.

Meanwhile HMS Electra had attacked through the smoke astern of the Exeter. As she cleared the smoke a formation of three enemy destroyers from the 4th Destroyer Flotilla was sighted on an opposite course entering the smoke at a range of 6000 yards. HMS Electra immediately engaged them and claimed hits with four salvoes on the leading ship. She did not fire torpedoes. As the three enemy destroyers disappeared into the smoke a shell hit the Electra Two of these enemy destroyers went on through the smoke to attack the Exeter with torpedoes and must have been the ships driven off later by HMS Jupiter. The third destroyer returned to engage the Electra which had been hit on the port side in No.2 boiler room. This hit brought the Electra to a stop. When the enemy destroyer came put of the smoke she was immediately engaged b all 4.7” guns in local control as communication with the bridge was dead. The enemy hit the Electra with it’s second salvo silencing the Electra’s guns one by one and causing a fire forward and a list to port. With only ‘Y’ gun still firing the order was given to abandon ship. The enemy continued to fire and closed so that he could use his machine guns. The Electra listed heavily to port and started to settle by the bows. She then turned over and started to sink slowly until about only 6 feet of her quarter deck was out of the water. She finally sank completely around 1800 hours. At 0315/28, 54 survivors were picked up out of the water by the US submarine S 38. One of these survivors subsequently died aboard the submarine.

Allied fleet reformed and a third Japanese torpedo attack.

By 1745/27 the Allied cruisers, less HMS Exeter, had reformed in single line ahead in the order HrMs De Ruyter, HMAS Perth, USS Houston and HrMs Java and had emerged from the smoke screen on an opposite course to the Nachi and Haguro which were about 19500 yards distant.

Also in sight, having emerged from the north-west out of the smoke, on approximately a parallel course, was the Naka leading five destroyers from the 4th Destroyer Flotilla. At 1750 hours the retiring HMS Exeter fired a salvo at the Naka. At 1752 hours the five enemy destroyers were seen to move in for a torpedo attack. HMAS Perth opened fire on them as they came into view in gaps -through the smoke. They returned the gunfire and then retired through the smoke. They had fired 24 torpedoes but all missed the Allied ships.

Around this time Rear-Admiral Doorman signaled to Vice-Admiral Helfrich that HrMs Kortenaer had been sunk and that HMS Exeter was damaged and ordered to return to Surabaya under escort by HrMs Witte de With. That the fight with the Japanese was ongoing and that his position was 06°15’S, 112°17’E.

US destroyers attack.

About 1758 hours, when the Allied fleet was on course 190°, Rear-Admiral Doorman ordered the four US destroyers to counter-attack but almost immediately this ordered was cancelled and ordered the US destroyers to make smoke. While the US destroyers were doing so Rear-Admiral Doorman altered course to 090° and then signaled to the US destroyers ‘cover my retirement’. When they received this order the four US destroyers were between the Allied cruiser line and the enemy. It was getting dark and visibility was now 15 nautical miles. Commander Binford, the commander of the 58th Destroyer Division decided that the most effective way to do so was a torpedo attack. Thereupon the US destroyers altered course to starboard, in order to break clear of the smoke that they had just laid. The enemy heavy cruisers were about 20000 yards away to the north-west on a westerly course. The US destroyers closed the range to about 14000 yards and then fired their starboard torpedoes at 1814 hours. The destroyers then turned around and fired their port torpedoes five minutes later. The enemy heavy cruisers were seen to turn to the north shortly afterwards.

At 1831 hours Rear-Admiral Doorman signaled to the US destroyers ‘follow me’. The US destroyers then turned under the cover of smoke, crossed under the stern of the Allied cruiser column and took up a position on its disengaged quarter on a course between east and north-east. Commander Binford then reported to Rear-Admiral Doorman that all his destroyers torpedoes had been fired.

Around 1815 hours gunfire between the Allied cruisers and the Japanese heavy cruisers was again exchanged. It was around this time that a hit was observed on the Haguro. Shortly afterwards the enemy heavy cruisers were seen to retire westwards. This information was signaled to Vice-Admiral Helfrich. Rear-Admiral Doorman also requested information about the position of the enemy convoy of transports.

The enemy was now no longer in sight and Rear-Admiral Doorman led his force to the north-east presumably to work round the enemy escort and find the enemy convoy of transports. Speed was set to 22 knots.

By 1856 hours, the Allied fleet was on course 290° altering gradually to the north. It was a bright moonlight night.

Night action, 1927 hours.

After dark, the enemy force was augumented by two other heavy cruisers, the Mogami and Mikuma. Also the light cruiser Natori leading three destroyers of the 5th Destroyer Flotilla. The Naka and the 4th Destroyer Flotilla appears the have retired from the battle area.

At 1927 hours the Allies sighted four ships on the port beam. These were the light cruiser Jintsu and three destroyers of the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla. About the same time an enemy aircraft dropped a flare on the disengaged side of the Allied ships. Both British destroyers (HMS Jupiter and HMS Encounter) were now ahead of the cruiser line.

Fourth Japanese torpedo attack, 1936 hours.

Shortly afterwards the Japanese launched yet another torpedo attack. At 1933 hours, HMAS Perth opened fire on them with her main armament. He then fired starshell but these fell short. USS Houston also opened fire. At 1936 hours a row of explosions was seen on one of the enemy’s ships which were thought to be torpedoes being launched and HMAS Perth turned away to evade and the other ships followed. Japanese records confirmed that at this time the Jintsu indeed fired torpedoes and that the turn by HMAS Perth most likely saved Allied ships from being hit.

The Allied cruiser then again formed up in line ahead and were lead on various course by HrMs De Ruyter to intercept the enemy. Around 1945 hours the course of the Allied fleet was 170°.

Night action, 2000 hours.

The Allied cruisers continued on course 170° and at 2000 hours, Rear-Admiral Doorman, evidently unaware that HMS Electra had been sunk signalled to her, HMS Jupiter and HMS Encounter, ‘Report your position, course and speed’. At 2023 hours, what appeared to be four enemy destroyers were observed on the port bow attempting a torpedo attack and the Allied cruisers altered course to port. At 2043 hours it was again thought that destroyers had delivered another torpedo attack, this time from starboard and course was altered to 175°. Neither time torpedoes or their tracks were observed and Japanese records does not mention torpedoes being fired by destroyers around this time. Around 2100 hours the Allied ships turned west to a course of about 280°.

Shortly after 2100 hours, the US destroyer, now out of torpedoes and with fuel getting low retired towards Surabaya. They were off Surabaya when they received a signal from Admiral Doorman that they were to proceed to Batavia to fuel and receive orders where to obtain new torpedoes. Course was then set for Batavia. Off Surbaya they had ben joined by the USS Pope which had been repairing there. However it was soon decided that it would be impossible to proceed to Batavia and the five destroyers entered Sourabaya instead.

After the departure of the US destroyers the remaining ships of the Allied fleet proceeded westwards along the north coast of Java. They were in single column in the order HMS Encounter, HrMs De Ruyter, HMAS Perth, USS Houston, HrMs Java and HMS Jupiter.

HMS Jupiter sunk, 2125 hours.

At 2125 hours HMS Jupiter is reported to have been torpedoed in position 06°45.2’S, 112°05.5’E. She stopped immediately and sank in 8 fathoms of water at 0130/28 approximately in the position she was hit. The explosion killed twelve ratings and wounded seven of whom two subsequently died. Five officers and seventy-eight rating managed to land on the coast of Java. The ships Commanding Officer, one other officer and ninety-five ratings were captured by the Japanese. Four officers and sixty-six ratings were missing.

It is now known that HMS Jupiter was not hit by a torpedo but hit a mine of a Dutch minefield.

After the Jupiter had been mined the fleet proceeded more or less northwards. They were shadowed by enemy aircraft which dropped flares every time the Allied ships went on a new course.

Around this time the sole remaining destroyer, HMS Encounter lost contact with the Allied cruisers. She later, around 2330 hours, picked up 113 survivors from the water from the Dutch destroyer HrMs Kortenaer that had been torpedoed earlier in the battle. HMS Encounter then proceeded towards the west to make for Batavia but this was soon changed for Surabaya.

Fifth Japanese torpedo attack, 2245 hours.

Contact was now made again with the Japanese heavy cruisers Nachi and Haguro. These ships had not been seen after 1830 hours but the Japanese were apparently well aware of the position of the Allied ships and had been laying an ambush. Fire was now opened from both sides. Unknown to the Allies the Japanese had already launched their deadly torpedoes against the Allied cruiser line. The De Ruyter was hit by an enemy shell on the quarter deck and turned away. HMAS Perth followed as her Commanding Officer thought that the flagship was turning away to avoid torpedoes that she might have sighted. While the Allied cruiser line was halfway through the turn, at 2250 hours, the whole after part of HrMs Java, the last cruiser in the line, was seen the blew up and she stopped, heavily on fire. Shortly afterwards HrMs De Ruyter also blew up with an appalling explosion and settled aft, also heavily on fire. The two Dutch light cruisers had been torpedoed by the Japanese 5th Cruiser Division. HMAS Perth just managed to avoid the heavily damaged De Ruyter. USS Houston hauled out to starboard. The crew of the De Ruyter was seen to assemble forwards as the after part of the ship, as far as the catapult was a mass of flames. Ammunition began to explode and the ship had to be abandoned and she sank in a few minutes. The position in which the Dutch cruisers were hit was approximately 06°11’S, 112°08’E.

HMAS Perth now took the USS Houston under her orders and both cruisers now turned for Batavia, some 300 nautical miles distant, at high speed. Both cruisers were running low on ammunition. The Perth reported the sinking of both Dutch cruisers by W/T. From Surabaya the Dutch sent out the hospital ship Op ten Noord to sea to search for survivors. The Japanese however soon intercepted this ship and captured her.

After the battle.

HMAS Perth and USS Houston arrived at Batavia at 1400/28 and quickly commenced fuelling. They left at 2120 hours to try to escape through the Sunda Strait. The Dutch destroyer HrMs Evertsen was ordered to sail with them but was not ready in time and sailed about two hours later. Around midnight the Evertsen reported a sea battle going on in the Sunda Strait. Shortly afterwards she reported that she herself had been intercepted by the Japanese as well and that she had beached herself off the south coast of Sumatra.

The sea battle reported by the Evertsen was between the Perth and the Houston that had come across a Japanese landing force that were landing troops on the coast of Java in the Sunda Straits. The Allied cruisers had no chance against the Japanese forces and were soon sunk after being hit by multiple torpedoes each.

In the evening of 28 February 1942, the damaged British heavy cruiser HMS Exeter and two destroyers, the British HMS Encounter and the American USS Pope departed Surabaya to try to escape to Colombo through the Sunda Strait. After they cleared harbour they proceeded to the east along the coast of Madura for about 20 miles and then they proceeded northwards passing to the east of Bawean Island. They were then to steer north-east before making a run for the Sunda Strait. Soon after leaving Surabaya though the ships were discovered by a Japanese reconnaissance aircraft. At about 1000 hours on March 1st, HMS Exeter reported that three enemy heavy cruisers were approaching her. In fact four of them were closing her to finish her off. After about 1,5 hours the Exeter had been hit many times. She was then finished off by a torpedo from the Japanese destroyer Inazuma. HMS Encounter was also sunk by gunfire while USS Pope was brought to a stop by damage received from aircraft bomb near misses.

The only ships that had participated in the Battle of the Java Sea that managed to escape were the four US destroyer. The USS John D. Edwards, USS John D. Ford, USS Alden and USS Paul Jones left Surabaya in the late afternoon of the 28th. They went out through Madura Strait and the proceeded to the Indian Ocean though the Bali Strait. They encountered and were engaged by patrolling Japanese destroyers but managed to escape. They arrived safely at Fremantle, Australia in the afternoon of March 4th.

Two Dutch destroyers at Surabaya, HrMs Witte de With and HrMs Banckert were damaged and unable to escape. Both were scuttled by their crews.

Japanese ships involved in the battle..

In late February 1942 the Japanese set in motion movements to land troops on the island of Java, the main island of the Dutch colony of the Dutch East Indies. two landing forces went to sea, the Western invasion force and the eastern invasion force.

The western invasion force was made up of 56 transports. These ships were escorted by the 5th Japanese Destroyer Flotilla. This was made up of the light cruiser Natori (Flotilla leader) and the destroyers Asakaze, Harukaze, Hatakaze, Matsukaze (5th Destroyer Division), Satsuki, Minazuki, Fumizuki, Nagatsuki (22th Destroyer Division) and the 3th Japanese Destroyer Flotilla which was made up of the Japanese light cruiser Sendai (Flotilla leader) and the destroyers Fubuki, Hatsuyuki and Shirayuki (11th Destroyer Division), Murakumo and Shirakumo (12th Destroyer Division). Furter ships that were part of the escort force were the light cruiser Yura, the minelayer Shirataka, mineweepers W-1, W-2, W-3 and W-4 and several submarine chasers.

Cover for the western invasion force was provided by the 7th Cruiser Squadron (Rear Admiral Kurita) which was made up of the heavy cruisers Kumano, Mikuma, Mogami, Suzuya and the destroyers Isonami, Shikinami and Uranami (19th Destroyer Division). Air cover was provided by the aircraft carrier Ryujo, seaplane tender Chiyoda, auxiliary seaplane tender Kamikawa Maru and the destroyers Amagiri, Asagiri and Yugiri (20th Destroyer Division).

The eastern invasion force was made up of 41 transports. These ships were escorted by the 4th Japanese Desroyer Flotilla. This was made up of the light cruiser Naka (Flotilla leader) and the destroyers Asagumo, Minegumo, Natsugumo (9th Destroyer Division), Murasame, Harusame, Samidare, Yudachi (2nd Destroyer Division) and the Umikaze. The light cruiser Jintsu (Flotilla leader), destroyers Yukikaze, Tokitsukaze, Amatsukaze and Hatsukaze (16th Destroyer Division). Further ships that were part of the escort force were the light cruiser Kinu, minelayer Wakataka, minesweepers W 15 and W 16, submarine chasers Ch-4, Ch-5, Ch-6, Ch-16, Ch-17 and Ch-18.

Cover for the eastern invasion force was provided by the 5th Cruiser Squadron (Rear Admiral Takagi) with the heavy cruisers Nachi and Haguro and the destroyers Sazanami, Ushio, Kawakaze and Yamakaze. The 16th Cruiser Squadron with the heavy cruisers Ashigara and Myoko and the destroyers Akebono and Inazuma. Air cover was provided by land based aircraft and the seaplane tender Mizuho and the auxiliary seaplane tender Sanyo Maru.

South of Java operated the Japanese 1st Carrier fleet that had left Kendari (Celebes) and proceeded south through Stait Sape. This force consisted of the aircraft carriers Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu, Soryu, battlecruisers Kongo, Haruna, Hiei, Kirishima, heavy cruisers Chikuma, Tone, Atago, Maya, Takao, light cruiser Abukuma, destroyers Tanikaze, Isokaze, Hamakaze, Urakaze (17th Destroyer Division), Shiranuhi, Kasumi, Airake, Yugure (18th Destroyer Division), Arashi, Hayashio and Nowaki (4th Destroyer Division). (2)

Media links


Ship of Ghosts

James D. Hornfischer


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Battle to Save the Houston

Miller, John Grider


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Sources

  1. Files 2.12.03.6849 and 2.12.27.121 (Dutch Archives, The Hague, Netherlands)
  2. ADM 234/346

ADM numbers indicate documents at the British National Archives at Kew, London.


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