Java Sea AAR Part 2
In the dark of night
RAdm Nishimura on the bridge of his flagship Naka checked the time. It was 2100 hours and he was steaming due south at 20 knots with his DesFlot (4) strung out behind him in a column (DesDiv 2: 4 Shiratsuyu class DDs & DesDiv 9: 4 Asashio class DDs). His flotilla and the rest of the Surabaya invasion convoy distant cover force had been fending off persistent attempts by a Dutch fleet to get past them and attack the convoy. All those attempts had been foiled by VAdm Mikawa’s use of smoke backed up by Battle Squadron 3 (BS3), Cruiser Squadron 5 (CS5) and Destroyer Flotillas 2 and 4 (DesFlot 2 & 4). The Dutch had not been willing to penetrate the Japanese smoke and pay the price. On the other hand, VAdm Mikawa had also been averse to a straight up daylight engagement with the Dutch battle cruisers even though his Kongo class outnumbered the Dutch Mackensen class four to three.
But now it was full dark with a full moon and still no squalls or sea haze discernable. BS3 was 3,000 yards to his port and echeloned back about 3,000 yards. RAdm Takagi’s CS5 followed BS3 just as RAdm Tanaka’s DesFlot 2 (DesDivs 15 & 16: 8 Kagero class DDs) followed his flotilla.
Surely the Dutch would make some real attempt to thwart the Japanese invasion convoy. Let it be soon; this eternal waiting was hard on the nerves. The lookouts in Naka, Murasame and Harusame reported an unidentified ship to starboard bearing 280 degrees and heading approximately SSE. This had to be the Dutch and now they could get on with sinking them.
RAdm Nishimura reported the ship and that it was not showing any reaction to Nishimura’s ships. Nishimura speculated that just maybe the Japanese emphasis on night vision, optics and all that training was allowing them to see farther than the Dutch could. Nishimura requested permission to torpedo but was denied. VAdm Mikawa wanted more in sight then just one ship. If it turned out to be a column and not just a scout then they would go for a browning shot attack and hope for good hunting.
2106 hours, by this point Nishimura’s cruiser and his first five destroyers could see a column of ships (3 so far) with what might be a small cruiser or a large destroyer leading. Nishimura told Mikawa that he expected more ships to appear any minute. Mikawa ordered Nishimura to launch torpedoes in a browning attack. But Nishimura was to use only one mount per firing ship. Mikawa also ordered Nishimura to increase speed to 30 knots to cross the enemy Tee at an angle.
2109 hours, Nishimura executed Mikawa’s torpedo attack order. The Japanese cruiser Naka (Sendai class) and all DesFlot 4’s destroyers, Marusamr, Harusame, Samidare & Yudachi (all Shiratsuyu class) as well as Asagumo, Minegumo, Natsugumo and Yamagumo (all Asashio class) fired one quad mount of Type 93 torpedoes (36 torps in all). Naka, Murasame, Harusame, Samidare and Yudachi used G4 (gyro angle) with a normal depth setting. Asagumo, Minegumo, Natsugumo and Yamagumo used G2, also with a normal depth setting.
By this point DesFlot 4 could see at least 5 ships all in a column on the same heading. VAdm Mikawa had ordered BS3 to 30 knots but it would a few minutes more to obtain that speed. Mikawa held CS5 and DesFlot 2 to 20 knots so as not to open his back door to the Dutch.
2112 hours, the torps were on their way. Now if the Dutch would just continue on course? Naka’s lookout could just make out a large ship to starboard of the Dutch ship leading the long column and echeloned back on her starboard side. By now another Dutch DesDiv had appeared behind the first and Nishimura was sure the leading Dutch ship was a small cruiser. Tromp class perhaps? Nishimura ordered the reloading of the expended mounts.
2115 hours, the Dutch picked up speed and turned away together, placing their sterns towards the Japanese while making smoke. Nishimura said something unprintable and then more appropriately said that they should have fired torpedoes sooner.
2145 hours, the Dutch reappeared. This time they coming in line abreast and opposite RAdm Tanaka’s DesFlot 2. Mikawa believed the Dutch had reversed course and were trying his back door. He reversed course with BS3 and ordered RAdm Nishimura to turn to starboard and try feel his way round the Dutch right flank. Mikawa was hoping to form an L and catch the Dutch in the apex. If that happened then the Dutch would be in a cross fire from both guns and torpedoes. Mikawa ordered Tanaka and Takagi to engage and try to pin the Dutch lights. He figured that would force the Dutch to commit their BCs and he could finally get a clearer picture of what was what.
Tanaka fired one quad mount each from his 9 ships; the cruiser Jintsu (Sendai class) and the Kagero class destroyers, Natsushio, Hayashio, Kuroshio and Oyashio (DesDiv 15), Yukikaze, Tokitsukaze, Amatsukaze and Hatsukaze (DesDiv 16). Tanaka increased speed to 30 knots and turned his flotilla away together to avoid being acquired by the Dutch. Let them run into his torpedo spread, fat, dumb and happy. Takagi also ordered CS5 to 30 knots.
2154 hours, two explosions were heard coupled with a pair of flashes from where Tanaka expected the Dutch to be. It would later turn out that RAdm Doorman had gone down with HrMs Jacob van Heemskerck and HrMs Tjerk Hiddes had also been sunk. Tanaka continued east in line abreast while his ships reloaded their torpedo mounts. CS5 also turned into line abreast and passed through DesFlot 2.
2157 hours, RAdm Takagi had turned back into line ahead and was heading north to stay in front of where he believed the Dutch were. When Dutch destroyers appeared to his port side. Takagi fired the port side mounts of all 4 of his cruisers, Haguro (flag), Ashigara, Myoko and Nachi (all Myoko class). Takagi also turned away together to starboard and increased speed to 33 knots to avoid being seen by the Dutch while he reloaded his now empty mounts.
2206 hours, two more explosions and flashes were heard and seen where the Dutch destroyers were expected to be. It would later turn out that HrMs Callenburgh and HrMs Almonde had both been sunk.
2400 hours, Nishimura’s DesFlot spotted ships to their starboard and fired the here to unused quad mounts at them. Nishimura then turned away together to avoid being seen and to reload.
2409 hours, five explosions and flashes were heard and seen from where the Dutch were expected to be. It later turned out that all four destroyers of the Dutch DesDiv 2, Banckert, Kortenaer, Piet Hein and Witte de With had been hit (Banckert twice) and sunk.
2415 hours, by this point VAdm Mikawa was fairly certain that he had what ever Dutch were left in the apex of an L formed by his two DesFlots and CS5. He figured that BS3 was near the apex of the L and connected his two wings. Mikawa ordered both DesFlots and CS5 to close in for the kill as soon as they had reloaded their expended torpedo mounts.
2445 hours, Nishimura made contact with Dutch destroyers while Tanaka and Takagi made contact with Dutch cruisers. Again, they fired half their torpedoes and turned away to avoid being seen.
2454 hours, Nishimura’s ships saw and heard six flashes and explosions where they expected the Dutch destroyers to be. It later turned out that HrMs Evertsen had been hit and knocked DIW. HrMs van Ghent had been hit once and sunk. HrMs van Nes and HrMs van Ghalen had been each hit twice and sunk. Tanaka and Takagi’s ships heard twelve explosions and saw twelve flashes where the Dutch cruisers were expected to be. It later turned out that HrMs De Ruyter had been hit twice and knocked DIW. HrMs Java had been hit thrice and sunk. HrMs Sumatra had been hit thrice and sunk. HrMs Tromp had been hit four times and sunk.
And all through the night (performed by Cyndi Lauper) the Japanese searched for the Dutch Battle Squadron without finding hide nor hair of them. It later turned out that VAdm Helfrich had a serious morale failure (he took four morale checks at the same time and failed all four). VAdm Helfrich had himself landed at Batavia where he caught a plane to Ceylon, not to be seen by Japanese eyes again until he signed the surrender document on the USS Missouri in 1945. The Dutch Battle Squadron would serve out the war in the Royal Navy’s Far Eastern Fleet under British command for the rest of the war.