Action off Koepang
0400 hours Rear Admiral Doorman (RNN) was on the bridge of his flagship HrMs Haarlem. She and her sister panzerschiffs, Delft and Maastricht were Holland’s newest and most powerful cruisers. They were looking for a fight, their first. Doorman was tired, he had been on his bridge all night while his striking force searched for a Japanese invasion convoy apparently targeted at Koepang. But he was also happy. He had been trying to put together a striking force for two weeks now, but convoy escort requirements for Singapore had taken most of his and his allies’ ships.
Now he led the three Dutch cruisers followed by the USN’s Task Force 5 and its three cruisers as well as seven of his destroyers and one American. There were to have been four, but two had been unable to sortie because of mechanical faults. The third had suffered hull damage from a near miss from an LBA attack yesterday and had to return to Surabaya. Surabaya, where Doorman had transferred his ships to get away from Batavia and the constant requirements for convoy escort.
Doorman’s plan was simple. He would lead his cruiser column past the Japanese convoy shooting up what ever he could. Then his destroyers would finish whatever was left with torpedoes. He had not idea what he was facing. The reports had been all over the place, claiming battleships of all things. He would find out when he found the convoy and deal with whatever there was.
Rear Admiral Glassford was on the bridge of USS Houston leading Task Force 5; or at least its cruisers (Boise and Marblehead). The Alden was his only destroyer. He had brought four, but Edsall and Whipple had broken down and the John D. Edwards had taken hull damage from a near by a bomb and returned to Surabaya. He could not see much. The moon state was a quarter and it was dark out there. Glassford had his doubts about Admiral Doorman’s plan or at least as much as he had been able to understand from the explanation the Dutch liaison officer had given in halting English. His ability to communicate with the Flag was impaired by their lack of common signals and the fact that everything had to translated from Dutch into a doubtful English. Glassford sighed, may God have pity on a poor sailorman on nights like this one.
The Striking Forces’ heading was 315 degrees at 25 knots. They had a date with destiny and were impatient to meet it. The seas were rough with a Force 7 southerly blowing 30 knots and 25 knots was all the destroyers could make. They had just cleared a squall and the sky was now clear above them and Koepang was ahead.
Rear Admiral Tanaka surveyed the scene around him. The convoy was at anchor off Koepang and troops were landing. He led the battlecruisers Kongo and Haruna in his flagship Jintsu as well as his DesDiv 15 (4 Kagero class) in a race track pattern some 9,000 yards out to sea to cover the landing at 15 knots. His other DesDiv (16 with 4 Kagero class) was 7,000 yards closer and doing the same at 10 knots. Tanaka knew there were Allied warships at sea and that they were probably searching for his convoy. The Airedales had reported two different groups of cruisers and destroyers, one out of Surabaya and one out of Darwin.
The visibility was 17,000 yards but neither side could see that far. At 0448 hours Haarlem’s masthead reported a ship ahead bearing 4 points to port and heading 90 degrees. Doorman signaled a 4 point turn to starboard in succession. The masthead reported no change in the ship’s heading or speed and there was another very large ship behind the first. Doorman was nonplussed by the report of a very large ship. Could the report of battleships be true? He would like to torpedo an enemy sailing in a straight line and blind, but the sea state made that an unlikely result at this range and he thought he was a bit too far out in any case. The masthead report of a second very large ship behind the first two confirmed in Doorman’s mind that the Japanese had brought battleships with them. He wanted to torpedo them but realistically he needed to get inside 5,500 yards to have any chance of a hit at all in this sea state. Doorman could not make up his mind and all the while the range was closing, they were in 10,000 yards then within 9,000.
Doorman could not wait anymore. He ordered his destroyers to fire star shell to illuminate the enemy line that now comprised a cruiser leading 2 battleships and followed by 4 destroyers. At 0512 hours the 7 Dutch destroyers and after a small delay the Alden fired star shell. Wonder of wonders the American star shells (they must be from the last war) went off as five of his destroyer’s star shell; the rest were duds. The star shells illuminated a light cruiser, two Kongo class battleships, the lead destroyer and the trailing destroyer. Doorman ordered his cruisers to fire at their opposite numbers upon their target being illuminated. Correspondingly, Haarlem fired at the cruiser while Delft and Maastricht each targeted a Kongo. Houston fired at the lead destroyer, Boise the second, but Marblehead missed out the non-illuminated destroyers and fired at the trailing destroyer. The Japanese opened at the same time on the Allied destroyers now seeing them because of them firing the star shell. The result was that Allied cruisers were not engaged during their first salvos.
Haarlem scored 4 hits on the light cruiser (later determined to be Jintsu. Two of the hits were amidships, there was an explosion and two fires started. The third hit was fore and the third also amidship. The cruiser staggered. Delft hit the lead battleship (Kongo) once in the area of her secondary. Maastricht hit the second battleship (Haruna) four times. Three of them were amidship and started 2 fires; the other was in the hull. Houston hit the lead destroyer (later determined to be Natsushio) twice; once forward and the in the hull. Boise firing rapidly with her radar scored 15 hits on the second destroyer. Boise blanketed the destroyer amidships, but did not neglect either end of the ship either. The ship (later determined to be Hayashio) staggered out of line, all fire ceased and she went DIW and appeared to settle a bit. Marblehead hit the trailing destroyer (later determined to Oyashio) once forward. Japanese return fire was ineffective.
The Jintsu hit Evertsen once in her hull. Kongo and Haruna’s secondaries were ineffective at this point as were the Japanese destroyers. The Jintsu was now illuminated by a fire amidship and another smaller fire. Haruna was illuminated by the fires amidships and another smaller fire. Hayashio was illuminated by 5 small fires. Japanese search lights from Jintsu, Kongo and the 4 destoyers now came on and illuminated Haarlem, Delft, Houston, Bosie, Marblehead and Evertsen missing out Maastricht.
Haarlem now firing her secondaries as well completely whiffed at Jintsu. Delft hit Kongo thrice; in the hull and forward as well in her top. Maastricht hit Haruna thrice also; forward and twice in the hull. Houston missed with her MB but hit firing rapidly with her secondaries hit Natsushio thrice; forward, midships and in the hull. Boise still firing rapidly hit Natsushio thrice; sinking her. Marblehead having realized her mistake changed to the third destroyer (Kuroshio) and hit her thrice; twice amidships and in the hull. The Dutch destroyers now all engaged Oyashio as Alden continued to illuminate her. Firing rapidly, they collectively hit her five times; four times in the hull and at her stern. Oayashio staggered out of line.
Haarlem again whiffed at Jintsu. But Delft hit Kongo 6 times; Twice forward and four times amidships. Kongo’s fire was cut in half. Maastricht hit Haruna once in the secondary. Houston hit Natsushio four times; two each with her 8” and secondaries. Natsushio was only firing from her aft mount and her hull had taken serious damage. Boise still firing rapidly shifted to Kuroshio and hit her six times; Twice in the stern causing 2 fires, twice amidship causing an explosion and another fire, once forward and in her hull. Kuroshio staggered out of line still firing from her aft mount. Marblehead’s fire was ineffective. The Dutch destroyers continued to gang up on Oyashio hitting her 6 times; three were amidship causing an explosion and a fire, three were in her hull and she also staggered out of line firing only from her aft gun mount. Japanese return fire was ineffective. By now all the surviving Japanese ships had several small fire besides larger ones and were illuminated by them. The Japanese put some of the larger fires out but continued to burn. Natsushio now sank.
Doorman starting to feel that he had this in hand when 4 more Japanese destroyers appeared to port. Doorman ordered his destroyers to take them on while he finished what he had started with the first group of Japanese ships.
Haarlem hit Jintsu twice in the hull. Delft hit Kongo once and caused another fire. Maastricht hit Haruna once and reduced her to her aft turret. Houston lacking a target now fired on Haruna and hit her once causing minor hull damage. Boise firing rapidly Oyashio hit her 8 times; once amidships causing an explosion and a fire, knocking out her last gun, five in the hull. Oyashio went DIW and began to sink. Marblehead’s fire was ineffective. Evertsen fired at the leading destroyer (Yukikaze) of the new comers and hit her once knocking out her forward gun mount. Van Ghent and Van Nes fired at Tokitsukaze and missed. Banckert and Kortenaer fired at Amatsukaze and missed her. Piet Hein and Witte de With fired at Hatsukaze and missed her. The Japanese return fire was ineffective except for Jintsu who bounced off Haarlem’s armor.
Tanaka wanted to make smoke and withdraw, but with the wind that was impossible. Nor could he torpedo his way out of the spot he was in due to the sea state. The onslaught continued.
Haarlem again whiffed at Jintsu. Delft hit Kongo six times; knocking out her armament and hitting her in the hull three times. Maastricht hit Haruna four times; knocking out her armament and another hit in her top. Houston hit Haruna twice causing minor hull damage. Boise firing rapidly changed her fire to Yukikaze and hit her 8 times; Twice amidship, knocked out her armament, hit her thrice in the hull causing her to swing out out line slowed considerably and once in her stern. Marblehead’s fire was ineffective. Evertsen hit Yukikaze in the stern causing a fire. Van Ghent, Van Nes, Piet Hein and Witte de With’s fire was ineffective. But Banckert and Kortenaer hit Amatsukaze once in the hull slowing her by half.
The Japanese put some fires out but continued to burn nonetheless. Tanaka and his sailors continued to remain true to their mission (they keep making their morale).
Haarlem finally got on target and hit Jintsu six times; knocking out her armament and hitting her in the hull twice. Jintsu was now only making 4 knots. Delf finally missed Kongo. But Maastricht hit Haruna six times; Two of the in the hull and a bridge hit that killed her captain. Houston also hit Haruna twice in the hull and proved that enough minor damage will sink even a battleship. Haruna went down. Bosie firing rapidly hit Yukikaze 7 times; once in the stern causing a fire, knocking her DIW and then sinking her. Marblehead’s fire was ineffective. The Dutch destroyers then hit Amatsukaze and Tokitsukaze 11 times causing explosions, fires, loss of gun mounts, and 5 hull hits. Additional hits jammed steering and force them to flood magazines. Tanaka kept making his morale until the sea closed over him. Doorman then sank the convoy, except for the Chitose who managed to escape.
Doorman would now press on to try and clobber a invasion convoy at Dili.