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The Battle of the Java Sea was a major naval battle of the Pacific campaign of World War II. Allied navies suffered a disastrous defeat at the hand of the Imperial Japanese Navy, on February 27, 1942, and in secondary actions over successive days. The American-British-Dutch-Australian Command (ABDA) commander, Admiral Karel Doorman was killed. The aftermath of the battle included several smaller actions around Java, including the smaller but also significant Battle of Sunda Strait. It was the largest surface engagement since the Battle of Jutlandmarker in World War I.


The Japanese invasion of the Dutch East Indiesmarker progressed at a rapid pace as they advanced from their Palau Islandsmarker colony and captured bases in Sarawakmarker and the southern Philippinesmarker. They seized bases in eastern Borneomarker and in northern Celebesmarker while troop convoys, screened by destroyers and cruisers with air support provided by swarms of fighters operating from captured bases, steamed southward through the Makassar Straitmarker and into the Molucca Seamarker. To oppose these invading forces was a small force, consisting mostly of American and Dutchmarker warships, many of them of World War I vintage, under the command of Admiral Thomas C. Hart.

On January 23, 1942, a force of four American destroyers attacked a Japanese invasion convoy in Makassar Strait as it approached Balikpapanmarker in Borneo. On February 13, the Allies fought unsuccessfully, in the Battle of Palembang, to prevent the Japanese from capturing the major oil port in eastern Sumatramarker.On the night of February 19-February 20, an Allied force attacked the Eastern Invasion Force off Balimarker in the Battle of Badung Strait.Also on February 19, the Japanese First Air Fleet, under Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, attacked and wrecked the port at Darwinmarker in northern Australia which rendered it useless as a supply and naval base to support operations in the East Indies.

Shortly before the battle commenced, the odds were not good for the Allied forces. They were disunited (ships came from four separate navies) and demoralized by constant air attacks, and a general sentiment that the Japanese were unbeatable. In addition, the coordination between Allied navies and air forces was poor.


Japanese bombers taking anti-aircraft fire, seen from the Australian cruiser .

The Japanese amphibious forces gathered to strike at Java, and on February 27, 1942, the main American-British-Dutch-Australian Command (ABDACOM) naval force, under Doorman, sailed northeast from Surabayamarker to intercept a convoy of the Eastern Invasion Force approaching from the Makassar Strait. The ABDA force consisted of two heavy cruisers ( and ), three light cruisers (HNLMS De Ruyter (Doorman's flagship), HNLMS Java, ), and nine destroyers ( , , , HNLMS Kortenaer, HNLMS Witte de With, , , , and ).

The Japanese convoy was escorted by two heavy ( and ) and two light cruisers ( and ) and 14 destroyers ( , , , , , , , , , , , , , and ) under the command of Rear Admiral Shoji Nishimura. The Japanese heavy cruisers were much more powerful, armed with ten guns each and superb torpedoes. By comparison, Exeter was armed only with six guns. While Houston carried nine guns, only six remained operable after her aft turret had been knocked out in an earlier air attack.

The ABDA force engaged the Japanese in the Java Sea, and the battle raged intermittently from mid-afternoon to midnight as the Allies tried to reach and attack the troop transports of the Java invasion fleet, but they were repulsed by superior firepower. The Allies had local air superiority during the daylight hours, because Japanese air power could not reach the fleet in the bad weather. The weather also hindered communications, making cooperation between the many Allied parties involved — in reconnaissance, air cover and fleet headquarters — even worse than it already was. The Japanese also jammed the radio frequencies. Exeter was the only ship in the battle equipped with radar, an emerging technology at the time.

The battle consisted of a series of attempts over a seven hour period by Doorman's Combined Striking Force to reach and attack the invasion convoy; each was rebuffed by the escort force with heavy losses being inflicted on the Allies.
and HMAS Hobart under air attack on 15 February 1942.

The fleets sighted each other at about 16:00 on February 27 and closed to firing range, opening fire at 16:16.Both sides exhibited poor gunnery and torpedo skills during this phase of the battle. The only notable example of gunnery was Exeter being critically damaged by a hit in the boiler room from an shell. The ship then limped away to Surabaya, escorted by Witte de With.The Japanese launched two huge torpedo salvoes, 92 in all, but scored only one hit, on Kortenaer. She was struck by a Long Lance, broke in two and sank rapidly after the hit.Electra, covering Exeter, engaged in a duel with Jintsu and Asagumo, scoring several hits but suffering severe damage to her superstructure. After a serious fire started on Electra and her remaining turret ran out of ammunition, abandon ship was ordered. On the Japanese side, only Asagumo was forced to retire because of damage.

The Allied fleet broke off and turned away around 18:00, covered by a smoke screen laid by the 4 destroyers of U.S Destroyer Division 58 (DesDiv 58). They also launched a torpedo attack but at too long a range to be effective.Doorman's force turned south towards the Java coast, then west and north as night fell in an attempt to evade the Japanese escort group and fall on the convoy. It was at this point the ships of DesDiv 58, their torpedoes expended, left on their own initiative to return to Surabayamarker.

Shortly after, at 21:25, Jupiter ran onto a mine and was sunk, while about 20 minutes later, the fleet passed where Kortenaer had sunk earlier, and Encounter was detached to pick up survivors.Doorman's command, now reduced to four cruisers, again encountered the Japanese escort group at 23:00; both columns exchanged fire in the darkness at long range, until De Ruyter and Java were sunk, by one devastating long lance salvo. Doorman and most of his crew went down with De Ruyter; only 111 were saved from both ships.Only the cruisers Perth and Houston remained; low on fuel and ammunition, and following Doorman's last instructions, the two ships retired, arriving at Tanjung Priok on February 28.

Although the Allied fleet did not reach the invasion fleet, the battle did give the defenders of Java a one-day respite.


Battle of Sunda Strait

Perth and Houston were at Tanjung Priok on February 28 when they received orders to sail through Sunda Straitmarker to Tjilatjapmarker. Materiel was running short in Java, and neither was able to rearm or fully refuel.Departing at 21:00 on February 28 for the Sunda Strait, by chance they encountered the main Japanese invasion fleet for West Java in Bantam Baymarker. The Allied ships were engaged by at least three cruisers and several destroyers. In a ferocious night action that ended after midnight on March 1, Perth and Houston were sunk. A Japanese minesweeper and a troop transport were sunk by friendly fire, while three other transports were damaged and had to be beached.

Second Java Sea

After emergency repairs the badly damaged Exeter left for Ceylonmarker; she departed Surabayamarker at dusk on February 28 and limped towards Sunda Strait, escorted by Encounter and Pope. However, all three ships were intercepted and sunk by the Japanese heavy cruisers Nachi and Haguro on the morning of March 1.

Bali Strait

The four U.S destroyers of DesRon 58, Edwards, Ford, Alden and Jones, were also at Surabaya; they left at nightfall February 28 for Australia. After a brief encounter with a Japanese destroyer in the Bali Straitmarker, which they were able to evade, they reached Fremantlemarker safely on March 4.


A further two American, and one Dutch destroyer were sunk as they attempted to escape to Australia. The main ABDA naval force had been almost totally destroyed: 10 ships and approximately 2,173 sailors had been lost. The Battle of the Java Sea ended significant Allied naval operations in South-East Asia in 1942, and Japanese land forces invaded Java on February 28. The U.S. and Royal Air Force then started to retreat to Australia. Dutch troops aided by British remnants fought fiercely for a week. In the campaign the Japanese executed many allied POWs and sympathizing Indonesians. Despite their logistical problems the decisive factors in Japan's favor seem to have been air power. Eventually the Japanese won this battle of attrition and ABDA forces surrendered on March 9.



  • - Firsthand account of the battle by the captain of the Japanese destroyer Amatsukaze.
  • - Firsthand account of the battle by a survivor from USS Houston

Visual media

  • — 135 minute documentary of the battle. Won the "Golden Calf" award for "Best Long Documentary" at the 1996 Nederlands Film Festival.

External links

  • - Short synopsis of the battle but has some good pictures.

Further reading

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