The Battle of Bangka Island-Mid February 1942
Time: 0400 Hours Wind: Force 4 from the NE Skies: Clear
Max Visibility: 28,000 yards No Squalls Bearing to Enemy: 8 pts Starboard
RN Heading: 315 degrees Speed: 25 knots
IJN Heading: 195 degrees Speed: 15 knots
Royal Navy Striking Force: Rear Admiral Palliser
Cruiser Squadron Destroyer Division B1 Destroyer Division B2
CA HMS Exeter Flag DD HMS Jupiter DD HMS Scout
CL HMS Mauritius DD HMS Electra DD HMS Stronghold
CL HMS Dragon DD HMS Encounter DD HMS Thanet
CL HMS Danae DD HMS Express
Imperial Japanese Navy Bangka Island Invasion Convoy: Rear Admiral Kurita
7th Cruiser Squadron, 1st Division
CA IJNS Kumano Flag 8th Destroyer Division 19th Destroyer Division
CA IJNS Suzuya DD IJNS Asashio DD IJNS Isonami
4th Destroyer Division DD IJNS Oyashio DD IJNS Uranami
DD IJNS Arashi DD IJNS Michishio DD IJNS Shikinami
DD IJNS Hagikaze DD IJNS Arashio DD IJNS Ayanami
DD IJNS Maikaze 8 Transports
DD IJNS Nowake
It was approaching dawn as the Admiral’s steward handed Rear Admiral Palliser a cup of tea to warm him on the bridge of HMS Exeter that mid-February morning. The day was dawning bright and it looked to be clear weather. And that was what worried Admiral Palliser. Exeter of his force of four cruisers was the only one armed with eight inch guns, the rest being six inch cruisers and good visibility was going to favor a gunfight. Palliser had wanted a night fight with torpedoes; but the God of War had not smiled and a gun fight was what he was in for.
Only four cruisers he thought ruefully. He had started with five, but Japanese LBA had knocked HMS Durben into a cocked hat with a single well placed bomb that had reduced her to thirteen knots. He had been compelled to detach her with the old destroyer HMS Tenedos and hoped they’d make Batavia. That left him with seven destroyers of which three were relics of WWI design.
He was sure that the Japanese air had reported his course and speed as well as the makeup of his force. But, he had no time to waste if he wanted to intercept the invasion convoy headed towards Bangka Island, so he continued on. Within minutes the masthead reported ships eight points to starboard at 28,000 yards, it was time to fight.
Rear Admiral Kurita scanned the horizon ahead from the bridge of IJNS Kumano for any sign of the British force the 22nd Naval Air had attacked yesterday. It would soon be time to launch float planes for reconnaissance. Kurita looked at the clear skies and good visibility with relish. He had two Mogami class heavy cruisers and twelve destroyers. He had faith in his crews and the present weather would make for good shooting.
In any case, his invasion convoy had to succeed at Bangka Island as it would clear the way to assault Batavia next, ending any more sorties from that base. Now that Singapore was ready to fall; only the Allied naval forces based at Batavia posed any threat to the final completion of the WAF’s mission. Within minutes the lookouts reported ships bearing 135 degrees at 28,000 yards. Now his cruisers would prove their worth.
Admiral Palliser in an attempt to keep his options open opted for a single line astern column with the division of older destroyers leading and the division of newer destroyers trailing his cruiser squadron.
Upon sighting the enemy at dawn, he ordered an increase in speed and his destroyers to smoke themselves; leaving his cruisers exposed, but able to return fire. The Japanese were also in line astern with two Mogami class heavy cruisers leading a column of what looked to be twelve destroyers.
At that range the two Japanese cruisers with their twenty eight inch guns had an advantage over his six eight inch and twenty four six inch; but he didn’t want to turns towards them as he hoped to slip behind them and engage the convoy. Stopping the invasion was his mission and he intended to fulfill it.
Admiral Palliser noted that the enemy cruisers had turned slightly (about two points) toward his line and they also sheltered what looked like two divisions of destroyers (4 ships each) behind smoke. A third division of destroyers (also 4 ships) was hanging back behind smoke and it appeared to be shepherding what might very well be the convoy.
Admiral Palliser had his division of newer destroyers continue to trail his cruisers in hopes the Japanese would in fact close the range and then his newer destroyers would strike. Meanwhile he ordered his leading older destroyers to increase to full speed, get behind the convoy and attack it.
The initial gunnery at this long range (over 24,000 yards) achieved nothing. Admiral Palliser noted that the Japanese cruisers continued to make slight turns in succession to close the range as it fell below 24,000 yards and then below 21,000 yards. That is when the Japanese scored the first hit, striking HMS Mauritius in her hull and causing an engine hit.
Admiral Palliser also began a series of two point turns; not so much to close the range as to lessen his angle towards the rear of the Japanese column. He knew he had nothing to fear from their destroyers until they came out from behind their smoke and they would telegraph their intentions if they did that. Meanwhile the Mauritius’ black gang quickly repaired her engine hit.
The indecisive gunnery duel continued for about thirty more minutes before the Japanese hit Mauritius a second time damaging her hull, slowing her to twenty nine knots (which was the speed the two trailing D class cruisers restricted the cruisers to in any case) and knocking out her rear turret. While the Japanese cruisers continued a series of two point turns to decrease the range and their destroyers followed behind smoke. HMS Dragon managed to hit the leading Japanese destroyer (IJNS Arashi) twice, slowing it to 32 knots and setting it afire with a hit on a torpedo mount.
At this point, Admiral Palliser tried to spring his trap. Flags gave the order of execution and the two destroyer divisions turned sharply to port. The three older destroyers headed directly at the rear of the Japanese destroyer column. The four newer destroyers lead by HMS Jupiter increased their speed to thirty five knots and reversed course to cross the Japanese cruiser’s tee while his cruisers continued their regimen of two point turns to port.
The Japanese turned their leading destroyer division slightly to starboard and went to evasive action. Jupiter opened rapid fire on the next Japanese destroyer division, hit its leading destroyer (IJNS Asashio) twice slowing her and setting her on fire from a torpedo mount hit.
Exeter finally hit the trailing Japanese cruiser (IJNS Suzuya) knocking out a rear turret. At this point HMS Jupiter, Electra, Encounter and Express had come out from behind their smoke and were threatening a torpedo attack. The Japanese cruisers turned away. Jupiter took a hull hit, she and trailing destroyers firing rapidly hit the Arashi and Asashio several times each, setting Arashi afire again (another torpedo mount hit) and reducing them respectively to twenty three and sixteen knots. Sometime during the gunnery exchange the shock of her broadsides disabled the Mauritius’ radar (she rolled a 6 on a D6 for her radar =).
HMS Jupiter’s division having caused the Japanese cruisers to turn away, now reversed course to port and covered itself with smoke to await another opportunity. The Japanese Admiral now found his cruisers and destroyers out of position and unable to stop the HMS Exeter, Mauritius, Dragon and Danae as well as the destroyers HMS Scout, Stronghold and Thanet from getting in among the eight transports he had been convoying.
Admiral Palliser was not certain, but it appeared that the Japanese Admiral now abandoned the transports and withdrew. In any case the fight ended with the eight transports sunk and the Japanese now compelled to withdraw.
Admiral Palliser restricted his ships from engaging the transports with torpedoes to save them for an attempt on a convoy striking at Palembang, but the convoy had struck and with drawn by the time he arrived. Palembang was now in enemy hands as would Singapore by the end of the week.
The loss of Singapore would remove or sorely restrict Allied air cover of the Karimarta Strait and open Batavia to invasion.
This is another action in a play test of Dave Franklin’s “Defending the Malay Barrier Campaign” and is written from the Allied point of view.