The Brawl at Balikpapan
Rear Admiral Glassford led a combined USN and RN force towards Balikpapan with a high heart after his success at Dili. The wind was Force 2 (4 knots) from the NE. There were no squalls or sea haze. Visibility was 29,000 yards, but as the sun set visibility was reduced to 26,000 yards.
The ABDA Force was in line astern with USS Houston (Glassford’s flag) leading Phoenix. The US cruisers were followed by HMS Exeter (Rear Admiral Palliser’s flag), Mauritius, Dragon and Danae. The came three divisions of destroyers; HMS Jupiter, Electra, Encounter and Express; then HMS Scout, Stronghold, Tenedos and Thanet. Finally, DesDiv 59 USS John D. Edwards,
Alden, Edsall and Pope completed the column. The column was steaming at 25 knots on a heading of 315 degrees.
The masthead sighted the enemy dead ahead at 24,000 yards. Houston and Kumano opened on one another with their fore turrets and missed. Glassford ordered a two point turn to starboard to open his broadsides and increased speed to 30 knots. Palliser followed and increased his squadron’s speed to 29 knots. By this point the Allies had identified the four cruisers they could see as all being Mogami class heavy cruisers. Intel disclosed that they were probably up against Cruiser Squadron 7 under Rear Admiral Kurita.
Houston hit Suzuya at 21,000 yards while Kumano and Phoenix missed one another. The next six minutes as the range closed saw Mauritius take three hits which knocked out a turret and caused a fire. Exeter took two hits while Kumano and Suzuya took one and two hits respectively. Suzuya lost a turret.
The RN cruisers Mauritus, Dragon and Danae concentrated their fire on Kumano hitting her once and knocking out a turret. Exeter hit Suzuya twice and Suzuya blew up. Houston, Phoenix, Mogami and Mikuma managed to splash water on their targets without actually hitting them. Mauritius put her fire out.
Houston now lost both her fore turrets to Mikuma while two 6” hits bounced off Japanese belt armor. Electra took an engineering hit that slowed her to 26 knots.
Electra’s black gang failed to fix her engine hit and managed to break it permanently instead. Kurita had also ordered his trailing destroyer division to head the ABDA column and Glassford responded by reversing course with the US cruisers turning in succession and the Brits turning away together. Exeter lost a fore turret and had her rudder jammed amidships. Luckily, Exeter was on a course for Surabaya when her rudder jammed.
Glassford had ordered the old Brit destroyers and DesDiv 59 to turn to port and head the Japanese column. Scout took two hits as the cost of leading the maneuver. Inazuma lost all her armament but made morale. Kumano lost another turret to the Brit light cruisers.
Kurita also reversed course with his cruisers. Exeter’s jammed rudder was impossible to fix. Jupiter now took ten hits knocking out her armament and leaving her DIW. Express also took a hit. Jupiter failed morale, then her division failed morale and finally RAdm Palliser failed morale and the Brits withdrew under smoke leaving the Americans to carry on.
Jupiter’s first attempt to fix one of her two engine hits resulted in a permanent break. Jupiter’s second attempt fixed her remaining engine and she got back under way. Jupiter then took two more hits from Mogami.
By this point night had fallen and everyone had lost sight of one another except for poor old Jupiter which continued to be fired on by every Japanese ship that could see her. Some eighteen minutes would go by with a lot of shooting for no hits. The US cruisers finally got themselves sorted and responding to Jupiter’s cry for aid spotted Arashi at 16,000 yards. Phoenix missed, but Houston hit her twice.
Jupiter now took two more hits that knocked her DIW again and then six more hits that sank her. Glassford realized that the jig was up and withdrew. Glassford would report that he had been up against four Kagero class destroyers, four Asashio class destroyers and two Akatsuki destroyers. The ABDA withdrawal allowed the Japanese landings at Balikpapan to succeed.