Battle of the Java Sea
The following Despatch was submitted to the Commander-in-Chief, Eastern Fleet on the 17th March, 1942, by Commodore J. A. COLLINS, C.B., R.A.N., Commodore Commanding China Force.
REPORT BY COMMODORE COMMANDING CHINA FORCE.
17th March, 1942.
1. Attached brief account of the naval action off Sourabaya on 27th February is based on: —
- A written report of the action by the Captain of PERTH compiled from his own report notes on the forenoon of 28th February and handed to Commodore Commanding China Force at Batavia on PERTH'S arrival at that port. This was only a rough initial report.
- Report from senior surviving officer of JUPITER.
- Report from senior surviving officer of ELECTRA.
- Informal conversation with Captain of PERTH and HOUSTON during the afternoon of 28th February at Batavia. No track charts or plots are available and this report is necessarily incomplete.
2. The Eastern Striking Force was formed at Sourabaya 1, on 26th February under the command of Admiral Doorman in DE RUYTER. It consisted of: —
DE RUYTER (Flagship) and JAVA (Dutch), EXETER (British), HOUSTON (U.S.), PERTH (Australian).
ELECTRA, ENCOUNTER and JUPITER (British), KORTENAER and WITTE DE WITT (Dutch), EDWARDS, ALDEN, FORD and PAUL JONES (U.S.).
3. This force proceeded to sea 1830/26th 2 and steered to the Eastward along the North coast of Madura Island until oioo/27th, then to the Westward until 0930/27th. Nothing was sighted during the night. The force was shadowed by enemy aircraft from 0855/27th until it entered the Sourabaya swept channel at 1330/27th, but was only attacked twice by single aircraft.
4. At 1427 an enemy report was received of a convoy in the vicinity of Bawean Island. The striking force reversed its course and proceeded to intercept.
5. At 1614 enemy forces were sighted consisting of two 8 in. cruisers, Nachi class, preceded by two 6 in. cruisers of Sendai class and 13 destroyers in two groups. The order of battle of the Allied cruisers was DE RUYTER, EXETER, HOUSTON, PERTH and JAVA, speed 26 knots. They were preceded by a screen of the 3 British destroyers and followed by the Dutch and U.S. destroyers.
At 1616 enemy 8' in. cruisers opened fire at a range of 30,000 yards on EXETER and HOUSTON. DE RUYTER led round and action was engaged on parallel courses at a range of 26 to 28,000 yards, at which ranges only our 8 in. cruisers could reply. The enemy's gunfire was extremely accurate; the average spread was estimated at 150 yards for elevation, firing 10-gun salvos."
6. The rear enemy destroyer flotilla moved in to attack soon after action was joined. One destroyer was hit by .gunfire from PERTH and the flotilla retired behind smoke.
7. At 1707, enemy destroyers, probably of the leading flotilla, delivered a long range torpedo attack. At 1714 EXETER received a hit from an 8 in. shell in one boiler room and turned away, reducing to slow speed which later was increased to 15 knots. DE RUYTER held her course for a short time, but the remaining cruisers (turned away after EXETER. DE RUYTER then conformed and American destroyers assisted to screen EXETER with, smoke and the Allied line was thrown into ; considerable confusion. About 1715 Japanese torpedoes readied; the Allied line; KORTENAER was struck by a torpedo in the engine room and sank.
8. By 1725 the Allied cruiser line (except EXETER) had been straightened again on a N.E. course but was partially screened from the enemy by smoke. EXETER was retiring to Sourabaya on course 150° at 15 knots. At this moment Admiral Doorman ordered the British destroyers to counter-attack.
9. ELECTRA, ENCOUNTER and JUPITER were widely separated and proceeded to attack independently. ELECTRA led through the smoke in the direction of the enemy and on clearing it sighted an enemy unit of 3 heavy destroyers on opposite courses going into the smoke, range about 6,000 yards. ELECTRA engaged and claims four hits on the leading ship, but as the unit disappeared into the smoke a shell struck ELECTRA in No. 2 boiler room and shattered the boiler. Steam was lost and ELECTRA stopped. Shortly after, a single enemy heavy destroyer emerged from the smoke and the engagement continued, ELECTRA firing in local control with all bridge communication dead.
ELECTRA was repeatedly hit and her guns silenced one by one. When only Y gun remained in action the order to " abandon ship " was given. ELECTRA sank about 1800.
10. JUPITER on emerging through the smoke sighted two enemy destroyers which were engaged for a short period before they disappeared.
No further target being in sight JUPITER returned to the Allied cruisers where she was joined by ENCOUNTER. ENCOUNTER attacked through a clearing in the smoke, but no, details or results of the attack are known.
11. From 1725 to 1745 the cruiser forces were screened from each other by smoke. Japanese gunfire through the smoke, presumably controlled by radar, is reported as accurate. Japanese aircraft were employed on spotting throughout the action.
12. At 1745 Allied cruisers emerged from smoke on opposite course to the enemy 8 in. cruisers at ranges down to 21,000 yards. The action continued spasmodically until 1812, several hits being claimed on the enemy cruisers.
At 1812, the enemy cruisers turned away under cover of smoke, the rear ship heavily on fire aft. When the smoke cleared PERTH states " target appeared to be stopped, the bow rose in the air then seemed to settle back. We then lost sight of her, whether because she sank or whether the light failed I do not know."
By 1830 no enemy forces were in sight.
13. In gathering darkness DE RUYTER continued to lead the cruisers to the N.E. and Northward presumably in an attempt to work round the enemy forces and reach the convoy.
At 1927 four ships were sighted to the Westward and engaged for a few minute's at 9,000 yards range; simultaneously Allied force was illuminated by enemy aircraft flares. PERTH turned away to avoid suspected torpedoes; the remainder of the force conformed.
14. It seems probable that Admiral Doorman decided it was impracticable to work round the enemy to the Northward and that better results might be achieved by getting between him and the Java coast and working round to the Southward, for about 1945 he altered course to 170°. This course was continued until about 2035 when ships reached very shallow water near Kodok Point to the West of Sourabaya Strait. DE RUYTER then turned to the Westward keeping about four miles from the coast.
15. At about 2100 in position 06° 45.2' S., 112° 05.5' E. a violent explosion occurred in JUPITER who was following astern of JAVA, the rear cruiser. The explosion, attributed by JUPITER, to a torpedo, occurred on the starboard side abreast the forward bulkhead of the engine room and immobilised the ship. No signs of a submarine or of torpedo tracks were sighted from JUPITER who remained unmolested until she sank four hours later. A large number of survivors landed on the North coast of Java from ship's boats and Carley-floats. The weather at time of sinking was with East force 2, sky and visibility 6-7 miles, sea and swell 21. 3
16. From 2150 onwards the Allied cruiser force was continuously shadowed and frequently illuminated by aircraft dropping flares. All alterations of course were signalled by dropping flares, and occasionally by lines of floating calcium flares placed across the track of the ships. Under these conditions a surprise attack on the enemy convoy seemed out of the question.
17. At 2330 contact was made with two cruisers on the port beam of the Allied force which was then steering to the Northward, though its exact position is not known. Range was about 9,000 yards. Enemy opened fire followed by PERTH; the enemy fire was extremely accurate but very slow. PERTH claimed that two or three salvos hit, then star shell falling short concealed the target. One enemy shell hit DE RUYTER on the quarterdeck and DE RUYTER turned 90° away, remaining cruisers conforming.
18. When the line was half way round this turn a violent explosion occurred in the after part of JAVA and she stopped heavily on fire. She was not under gunfire at the time. At about the same moment DE RUYTER, who had completed the 90° turn, also blew up with an appalling explosion and settled aft heavily on fire. 4
PERTH avoided the blazing wreck by the use of full port rudder and one engine. HOUSTON headed out to starboard.
19. Admiral Doorman's verbal orders to his force before sailing had been that any ship disabled "must be left to the mercy of the enemy " to quote his own words. The Allied force now consisted only of PERTH and
HOUSTON, the latter with very little ammunition and her after turret out of action, from previous bombing. No destroyers remained in company. 5
No further reconnaissance reports ,of the enemy convoy had been received since nightfall. The Allied cruisers were under continual air observation and illumination by flares. To continue the action was clearly hopeless and PERTH had no hesitation in deciding to withdraw the remnants of the striking force. HOUSTON was ordered to follow and course was shaped at high speed for Tanjong Priok.
20. The withdrawal was not opposed by enemy surface forces. HOUSTON and PERTH were located by enemy reconnaissance aircraft a.m. 28th when within 60 miles of Priok. In response to a " Help " call from PERTH, fighter aircraft were sent out from Batavia and escorted the cruisers in; no air attack developed on them. They arrived at Priok at 1330.
21. It should be noted that throughout this action the Allied forces suffered from communication difficulties. The force as a whole had never acted before as a tactical unit. Visual signalling was restricted to simple signals in English by flashing lamp in Morse Code. British Liaison Officers with small signal staffs were on board DE RUYTER and JAVA, but it had not been practicable to adopt a common system of flag signalling.
(Signed) J. A. COLLINS,
Commodore Commanding China Force.
Admiralty footnote :—
1 A Western Striking Force, under the command of Commodore J. A. Collins, R.A N , and composed of "D " class cruisers and " S " class destroyers of the Royal Navy, was based at Batavia.
2 Times quoted in this report are in local, i e , Java time which is G.M.T.+ 7.5 hours.
3 Wind force 2—light air to light breeze, 1-6 m.p h ; sky b-less than 9/10 cloud; sea and swell 21 - practically calm.
4 Both Dutch cruisers were sunk by torpedo fire from the NACHI and HAGURO (Japanese 5th Cruiser Division).
5 The U.S. destroyers delivered torpedo attacks on the Japanese cruisers at 1814 and 1819 in which they fired all their torpedoes At 2100, owing to their fuel supply running low and lack of torpedoes, their Senior Officer withdrew them to Sourabaya to refuel and obtain new torpedoes, thus anticipating a signal to do so made half an hour later by Rear Admiral Doorman.