Monday, February 28, 2005

Anniversary of the Battle of Sunda Straight

48 hours ago you were the best warship of a multi-national Strike Force of two heavy cruisers, three light cruisers, and 10 destroyers.

You now find yourself alone with one other badly damaged cruiser, trapped in the Java Sea on the bloody loosing end of a failed attempt to stall the Japanese advance on
Dutch East Indies, no air cover, no chance to fully refuel or rearm, and only one way to escape to Australia and safety – The Sunda Strait.

Already sunk, or soon to be finished off are your former Strike Group ships HMS Exeter; HNMS De Ruyter, HNMS Java, HMS Electra, HMS Encounter, HMS Jupiter, HNMS Witte de With, and HNMS Kortenaer.

The only surviving destroyers, USS John D. Edwards, USS Paul Jones, USS John D. Ford, USS Alden, out of torpedoes and low on ammo and fuel, were detached from the Force the day before and are trying to escape on their own.


After a quick stop in Batavia to get HMAS Perth enough fuel to make it home, the exhausted cruisers make the run; the USS Houston had about 50 rounds each for her six operative 8" guns while HMAS Perth had only 20 rounds for each of her 6" guns.

The weather couldn’t be better for a
night action, if you were Japanese: Clear/night, full moon 6 or 7 miles/calm seas.

They
never even made it to the strait. The battle was fought just in sight of the Sunda Straight. The Battle of Sunda Straight started at about 2230, and though fought well and honorably on both sides, but in little more than two hours, both ships were lost.
At 11.55pm PERTH started to turn to make a run for Sunda Strait. At the same time SHIRAYUKI, MURAKUMO, HARUKAZE and HATAKAZE all fired torpedoes toward her. PERTH was hit by four torpedoes over the next 15 minutes, 3 on the port side and one on the starboard. She also received numerous shell hits. At 0025 on 1st March 1942, she finally sank a few miles ENE of St Nicholas Point not far from the entrance to Sunda Strait. HOUSTON now received all the attention and sank at 0045, not far from PERTH. In all, the Japanese had fired over 90 torpedoes at our ships.

Japanese losses were four transports, SAKURA MARU, HORAI MARU, RYUJO MARU, TATSUNO MARU and the minesweeper W2 ( Photo). All these ships were believed to have been sunk by the torpedoes fired by MIKUMA that missed the two allied cruisers.
Of the Houston’s 1,060 Sailors, 368 survived the battle and 278 the prison camps to return home.

Of the Perth’s 682
Sailors, only 331 survived the battle and 229 the prison camps to return home.


Sometimes you have to fight a battle with the Navy you have, not the Navy you wished you had.



The lessons here are legion. How not to run coalition operations, the dangers of fighting in a non-Joint environment, not having a full understanding of your weapons capabilities, wasting limited ammunition, underestimating your enemy. There is a lot to remember as well. Bravery, honor, dedication, and what happens when peace time leaders take charge of a wartime fleet.

BTW, Friday March 01, 2002 was
U.S. Navy Asiatic Fleet Memorial Day. Perhaps every March 1st should.


Update: SleeplessMind has a pic of two USS Houston survivors at the USS Houston monument back on 05 MAR.

9 comments:

samdev@hotkey.net.au said...

excellent account,very accurate ,studied, stunningly brief history of  TRUELY UNSUNG  SHIP'S OF HERO'S,.......i'm a 54 yo aussie,my grandfather was 22, and died that faithless night.He left all personal items with his wife upon returning to the Perth in late 1941, after returning from the middle east...As a stoker..i've read 7 books on the HMAS Perth & wondered if you can tell me of any on the USS Houston , perhaps by a survivor or offspring??? I'd love to continue if there are more out there, being in the USA, maybe you help me? NICE JOB ....appreciate your efforts in keeping THE STORY ALIVE ,,,i heard 3 days ago,in the news that they "aussie govt"are concidering CAPT.HARDOVER "HEC WALLER " for a VC ......our highest award for bravory..Victoria Cross..he earnt it,he should get it, ..they where all hero's......LEST WE FORGET.

SCOTTtheBADGER said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Houston_(CA-30)  This has a good bibliography at the end of the article.  Hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

I just finished reading this great book. http://www.amazon.com/Ship-Ghosts-Houston-Legendary-Survivors/dp/0553803905

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