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The Circus at Dili

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#1 W. Clark

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Posted 09 September 2017 - 02:45 AM

The Circus at (Picka) Dili

Task Force 5 under Rear Admiral Glassford continued to be plagued by events not in the Admiral’s control (like Vice Admiral Helfrich RNN replacing Admiral Hart). But help was at hand from the Royal Navy. Rear Admiral Palliser added the bulk of his force to Glassford’s at Surabaya and they sortied against a renewed Japanese effort against Dili.


The weather was good with a Force 2 wind (4 knits) from the SE, clear sky, no squalls, but sea haze reducing visibility to the west. The ABDA force steamed at 25 knots on a heading of 315 degrees. Max visibility would be 21,000 yards but dawn reduced that to 18,000 yards.


Rear Admiral Glassford led in line astern with USS Houston followed by USS Phoenix. Rear Palliser followed with his cruiser squadron, flying his flag in HMS Exeter; followed by HMS Mauritius, Dragon and Danae. The combined ABDA force had three divisions of destroyers; HMS Jupiter, Electra, Express and Encounter in one; trailed by another division of old destroyers, HMS Scout, Stronghold, Tenedos and Thanet. DesDiv 59, USS John D. Ford, Alden, Edsall and Whipple completed the column.


Japanese LBA had bombed the force late the day before without any hits and none of the American flush deckers had suffered their usual mechanical problems from lack of maintence and hard work. A report from a PBY of Patrol Wing 10, shadowing a Japanese convoy headed towards Dili promised over whelming superiority for the ABDA; things were looking up.


Just after 0412 hours the masthead reported ships dead ahead at 19,000 yards. Houston opened on the leading destroyer and immediately hit her twice. Glassford ordered a two point turn to port to open his leading ships’ broadsides and called for all ahead flank.


Rear Admiral Tanaka (that wily old sailor) steamed at 135 degrees at 15 knots in his flagship IJNS Jintsu followed by Rear Admiral Hara in Nagara. The 21st and 23rd Naval Air Groups had bombed an Allied cruiser/destroyer force late yesterday without any success. But their report gave him a good idea of what he was up against.


Tanaka had ordered his cruisers to land their float planes to cut down on the risk of fire. He still had the float planes of the AV, IJNS Sanuki Maru, so he was not blind. Tanaka knew that his gunnery would suffer without his cruisers float planes, but he was not looking for a gun fight. Tanaka intended to employ Torpedo Tactic Number 2 and thus led with the four Kagero class destroyers of DesDiv 16; after all it had worked two weeks ago at Kendari. Sanuki Maru and the AP, IJNS Kagu Maru trailed his combat ships by about 5,000 yards.


Tanaka’s leading destroyer, IJNS Amatsukaze reported Allied cruisers dead ahead shortly after dawn. The opening Allied salvo from a Northampton class heavy cruiser hit Amatsukaze twice knocking out her fore gun mount, searchlight and a torpedo mount. Luckily the Type 93’s oxygen did not ignite and she suffered no fire. Never the less Tanaka considered it an ill omen and remembered he had been backed up by IJNS Ashigara at Kendari. Tanaka began have his first doubts about Torpedo Tactic Number 2. Tanaka ordered full speed ahead, a turn to port and that Sanuki Maru and Kagu Maru reverse course while he sorted out the Allied cruisers.


But all was not well. Rear Admiral Glassford had read the summery of Rear Admiral Crace’s after action report from Kendari and recognized what Tanaka was doing. Glassford had given some thought to how to handle this new tactic and now put his plan into action.


Glassford turned a bit further to port with his cruisers, but ordered Rear Admiral Palliser to turn to starboard with his cruisers and both RN destroyer divisions to Palliser’s unengaged starboard side. Glassford ordered DesDiv 59 up to support his cruisers. The Japanese hid behind smoke successfully for the next 18 minutes while they tried to set themselves up for a torpedo ambush.


Amatsukaze failed to stay behind her smoke and the Brits fired on her with HMS Exeter, Mauritius and Jupiter. All missed except for Exeter which hit Amatsukaze twice; knocking out another gun mount as well as other unknown damage.


Tanaka was receiving reports from Sanuki Maru’s floatplanes and realized that he was not going to be able to cover his force with smoke from east and west at the same time. Tanaka ordered all ships to lay smoke and he retired at a speed that the Allies could not match.


Glassford pursued, but broke it off on receiving a report of an invasion aimed at Balikpapan. Glassford would try out this new Japanese force and take comfort in having aborted a second invasion attempt against Dili.


For his part Tanaka was sorely put out and hoped the next time the Japanese returned here that they would pick another destroyer flotilla for Dili.

#2 healey36



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Posted 10 September 2017 - 09:09 AM

William A. Glassford had an interesting career with this brief arcing flash of action during the early dark months of the war. A graduate of the Naval Academy in 1906, both his father and brother chose careers with the Army (followed to considerable success). His first command was DD USS Shaw which served on convoy escort missions from the US entry in the war. On October 9, 1918, Shaw collided with her charge, British troop-ship/liner Aquitania, reportedly due to a jammed rudder on the American DD. With most of her bow sheared off and on fire Glassford managed to get Shaw stabilized and returned to port. For this action he was awarded a DSM. His next command, USS Chauncey, served with DesDiv 32 in the Pacific. Three years after Glassford relinquished command she was lost in the Honda Point disaster.


William A. Glassford - USS Chauncey
Glassford on the bridge of USS Chauncey (DD-296) in 1919.


Glassford spent much of the interwar years working tincans with a brief stretch as Commander of Destroyers, Atlantic Fleet (it’s interesting to note that Craven also served in this role from 1921-1923). In 1940 he was made a Rear Admiral and sent to command the Yangtze River Patrol, Asiatic Fleet. Two days before Pearl Harbor he took over as Commander of Cruisers, Asiatic Fleet. In January 1942 he was dispatched by Admiral Hart with two light cruisers (Boise and Marblehead) and the four destroyers of DesDiv 59 to intercept Japanese transports at Balikpapan. In his hard-luck fashion both light cruisers were disabled prior to the action (Boise ran aground on an uncharted reef and Marblehead turned back with engine trouble). Still, Glassford and DesDiv 59 commander Paul Talbot were able to beat up the Japanese in what would prove to be a US tactical success but strategic failure.


Glassford was promoted to Vice Admiral shortly after Hart’s relief in February 1942. He received a second DSM for Balikpapan and subsequent efforts. He continued in the southwest Pacific until June 1942 when, his prospects soured, he was relieved and sent to the Atlantic to serve as Commandant, 6th Naval District. From there he was shuffled off to a number of administrative posts until his retirement in 1946.

#3 W. Clark

W. Clark


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Posted 11 September 2017 - 02:42 PM

He just had no luck it seems.

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