Battle of Koepang AAR
It’s the middle of February 1942 and the battle for the Dutch East Indies has taken an ominous turn for the ABDA. Singapore and Batavia have both just fallen. A damaged Prince of Wales and Repulse have withdrawn to the Indian Ocean. And the Western Attack Force is ready to transfer its entire force to assist the Eastern Attack Force (EAF).
But the EAF is not doing so well. It has had two convoys aborted and two more aborted convoys will put paid to its chances at victory. Then it seems as a Kami has intervened on its behalf as Admiral Yamamoto gives it increased logistical support (in the form of 2 more CDs).
Vice Admirals Takahashi and Kondo decide to make an all-out push in the Eastern Axis. They take Maya as a reinforcement. They then sortie a patrol, a carrier group (CG) and three convoys in the Eastern Axis using all the extra help received from Admiral Yamamoto.
Then things start to go wrong again. The CG finds but fails to inflict any damage on ABDA sweeps out of Darwin and then Surabaya. EAF LBA strikes the Darwin Sweep and inflicts major hull damage against the USS Phoenix slowing her to 21 knots. But RAdm Crace (RAN) presses on. The LBA misses the Dutch/American sweep out of Surabaya.
The VAdm Kondo’s patrol also whiffs in finding either sweep (that is four such whiffs in a row and Kondo’s nickname is now “No Kondo”). Wiley old RAdm Tanaka manages to avoid contact (again) with both sweeps and Makassar falls. VAdm Takahashi is not so fortunate. The ANZAC Squadron out of Darwin intercepts Takahashi’s Koepang convoy before it reaches its objective.
The time 0400 hours. The wind is a Force 4 from the north at 15 knots. The sky is overcast and the moon state is new. Maximum visibility is 20,000 yards and while there are no squalls; sea haze to the north reduces visibility in that direction by 3,000 yards.
The ANZAC Squadron is steaming NE on a heading of 45 degrees at 21 knots (all that Phoenix can now do). The ABDA force under RAdm Crace (RAN) is comprised of a heavy cruiser division (HMAS Australia FF and USS Phoenix), a light cruiser division (Commodore Collins (RAN) with HMAS Perth DF, HMAS Hobart, HMNZS Leander and HMNZS Achilles) as well as the Aussie DesDiv (HMAS Napier, HMAS Nestor and HMAS Nizam) and DesDiv 58 (USS Stewart, USS Parrott, USS Barker and USS Bulmer). The ABDA force was deployed in three columns spaced about 3,000 yards apart. The center column was comprised of the Heavy, then Light cruiser divisions. The Aussie DesDiv and DesDiv 58 were to port and starboard respectively and echeloned back about 1,000 yards.
At 0430 hours Australia’s radar (=SW) picked up a contact some 12,000 yards ahead and slightly to starboard. RAdm Crace ordered an increase in speed. Crace ordered the Aussie DesDiv to increase speed again causing it to over take the cruiser column and the ABDA formation was now in an echelon left. Crace began turning the cruiser squadron to port and Australia had just completed the turn when a cruiser appeared at 6,000 yards. Australia and Phoenix’s fore turrets opened on the cruiser and there were numerous hits including one on the bridge.
Napier and Nestor fired their torpedoes (2 quintuplet mounts) at the cruiser (which was still going straight ahead without any change in speed) and 1 torpedo hit. Australia continued to turn with Phoenix following her. The cruiser (later determined to be the Nagara) returned fire and hit Phoenix in the hull and set a float plane on fire. Phoenix’s guns without flashness powder had already illuminated her and the burning FP did not help. Enemy fire quickly reduced her to 14 knots. But a deluge of fire from Australia, Phoenix, Napier and Nestor hit the Nagara some 15 times, sinking her and RAdm Hara. Hara’s loss did not faze VAdm Takahashi at all (He made his morale with a 1).
Collin’s light cruisers followed Phoenix around and opened on the next Japanese ship in line (a destroyer later determined to be Murasame). Murasame fired back hitting HMAS Perth (Collins FS) in her engines and slowing her to 21 knots. But the four ANZAC six-inch cruisers crushed Murasame with some 18 hits over the next few minutes setting her on fire and putting her in sinking condition before she blew up. Again, VAdm Takahashi decided to continue on. The ABDA decided to do something about this morale making admiral and to do it now.
There was incidental fire between the Aussie destroyers and Ashigara but was of limited effect. No so the ANZAC light cruisers who turned on Ashigara with a vengeance inflicting 27 hits in the next 3 minutes for a hull hit on Hobart in exchange. The Ashigara had all her main turrets knocked out; her secondary and torpedo tubes halved; she suffered 2 engine room hits leaving her DIW; damage to a bulkhead as well as other fire, death and destruction before she slipped beneath the waves taking VAdm Takahashi with her.
The commander of DesDiv 21 in Wakaba saw what had happened to his two predecessors in command and decided not to go that route (he failed morale and who wouldn’t?) and the convoy to Koepang was aborted.
Crace detached Perth, Hobart and Phoenix with DesDiv 58 as escort and continued on with the Dutch/American sweep right behind him. They both found and aborted the convoy to Kendari (escorted by 2 DDs) and defeated the Japanese effort to close in on Surabaya.
Thus ended our eighth playing of the Defending the Malaya Barrier. The record is now 5-3 for the ABDA. May the Sons of Nippon return for another replay and the hope for better luck.