Action off Kendari, Celebes
Mid-February 1942, the war is not going well for the beleaguered ABDA. Miri, Kuching, Jesselton, Sandakan, Banjermasin and Tarakan on Borneo have all fallen. Bangka Island and Palembang on Sumatra have fallen. Davao and Jolo on Menado have fallen. Ambon and Makassar on Celebes have fallen as has Koepang on Timor. There have been five landings on Malay Peninsula at Kota Bharu, Singora and Endau; Singapore is expected to fall by the end of the week.
Dutch sweeps have been repeatedly bombed in the Makassar Strait with the cruisers De Ruyter and Java suffering hull damage from near misses. The Royal Navy’s attempts at stopping the Western Attack Force have resulted in HMS Indomitable being torpedoed without slowing the Japanese one wit.
To date the only bright spots have been actions by the ANZAC Squadron at Dili, Timor and Task Force 5 at Bali where both invasion attempts were stopped and 2 transports were sunk.
Once again Rear Admiral Crace (RAN) sorties the ANZAC Squadron to stop the Yellow Peril from landing at Kendari. Shortly after dawn the masthead sights the enemy 4 points off the port bow at 21,000 yards. Crace’s squadron is in line astern with the Heavy Division (HMAS Australian flag & HMAS Canberra) followed by Commodore Collins’ (RAN) Light Division (HMAS Perth, HMAS Hobart, HMNZS Achilles & HMNZS Leander) with the Australian destroyer division (HMAS Napier, HMAS Nestor, HMAS Nizam & HMS Vampire) trailing. Crace wants a gun fight and he is leading with his chin looking for that fight.
The wind is Force 5 from the NE at 20 knots. The sky is overcast with no squalls or sea haze. Maximum visibility is 21,000 yards, although that is reduced to 19,000 yards at dawn. The ANZACs are steaming due north at 25 knots. RAdm Crace orders full ahead.
Vice Admiral Takahashi has had a good war so far. Other than Bali and Dili all objectives have been taken with little loss to his combat power. The masthead reports enemy contact bearing 135 degrees at 21,000 yards a few minutes after dawn. The excellent Japanese optics soon disclose that a Kent class heavy cruiser heads the enemy column. “It must be the ANZACs!” VAdm Takahashi is unsure if he should engage; but the wily Rear Admiral Tanaka suggests “Torpedo Tactic number 2”. Takahashi brightens and responds; “Yes, we will give that a try for the Emperor”.
The Admiral’s covering force is heading 90 degrees at 15 knots. VAdm Takahashi orders full ahead, but orders his AV and transports to reverse course while he sorts the ANZACs out.
The Japanese covering force was led by DesDiv 15: IJNS Hayashio, Kuroshio, Natsushio and Oyashio. The cruisers IJNS Ashigara (flag), DesFlot 2, IJNS Jintsu (leader) were sandwiched in between DesDiv 15 and DesDiv 16 : IJNS Amatsukaze, Hatsukaze, Tokitsukaze and Yuikaze. The seaplane carrier IJNS Sanuki Maru and four other Marus are 2,000 yards behind the trailing destroyer.
Australia opened on Hayashio and hit her twice, knocking out a torpedo mount and slowing her to 32 knots. Canberra fired at Kuroshio and missed her. Japanese return fire was ineffective.
Adm Crace ordered a two point turn to starboard that opened up the broadsides of Australia, Canberra and Perth. Hayashio laid smoke and covered her division, but was still exposed herself. Australia, Canberra and Perth each hit Hayashio once, but the weight of those eight and six inch shells was if she had taken six hits. One of the shells penetrated a magazine and Hayashio exploded and disappeared. Fire between Ashigara and Hobart was ineffective.
Adm Crace waited expectantly for the next Japanese destroyer to appear from behind the smoke, but that did not happen. Instead it appeared that the Japanese had turned away and reversed course.
Adm Crace also reversed course with his cruisers while his destroyer division cut the corner to take station ahead of the cruisers. That would turn out to be a mistake. Adm Crace intended to penetrate the Japanese smoke screen with his destroyers and light cruisers; something he was not going to enjoy.
But, before he could close the smoke screen, his destroyers out ran it as the Japanese turned away a bit again. All four of Crace’s destroyers could see Kuroshio, but only Napier leading the division could see Ashigara in a second paralleling column laying smoke also. Napier took on Ashigara to keep her occupied while Nestor opened on Kuroshio. Napier hit Ashigara once knocking out a port secondary gun while Ashigara hit Napier in the hull and slowed her to 28 knots. Nestor missed Kuroshio and received a hit in her engineering in exchange slowing her to 23 knots.
This was too hot for the Australian destroyers and they turned away under smoke. Adm Crace reassessed and decided that he had done enough and that it was better to retire before his few destroyers suffered enough damage to remove them from use.
A victorious and jubilant VAdm Takahashi completed the landing at Kendari while RAdm Tanaka observed that Torpedo Tactic number 2 didn’t have to be actually executed in order to work.
This AAR has been written primarily from the view point of Rear Admiral Crace (RAN) and in no way reflects the view point of his superiors or their hangers on.