Duel off Guiana AAR
Rear Admiral Palliser (RN) had over slept. He as Deputy Commander ABDA Flot had come to Tjilatjap to plead with the Commander ABDA Flot, Vice Admiral Helfrich (RNN) to release the Dutch East Indies Fleet for use in the defense of the DEI. He spoken with Helfrich upon arrival the day before and it had been in vain. He had finally gone to bed tired and frustrated over the Dutchman’s stubborn refusal to listen to reason. The Dutch had been withholding their fleet because they felt the Americans and the British had no real intention of trying to hold the DEI and were just using the Dutch to gain time. To put it mildly, the Allies were very unhappy with the Dutch. This coupled with the Dutch woes around the world had left her isolated diplomatically.
Palliser stepped out onto the balcony of his upper story room and gazed at the harbor. But there was no Dutch fleet lying at anchor as there had been the day before. Palliser summoned his Flag Lieutenant. Where are they, Flags? Palliser queried. They are gone, Sir replied Flags. I can see that. Gone where? I don’t really know Sir, but when they sailed a few hours ago their crews were on deck singing; “It’s a long way to Paramaribo, it’s a long way to go.” Paramaribo? Where the devil is Paramaribo? I think it a port in Dutch Guiana, Sir?
The Argentine Government was on the outs with her unwanted big brother the Norte Americanos and while they did not necessarily want to be on the outs, they also didn’t particularly care. Why should they break ties with Germany just because America wanted them to? Meanwhile things were jumping around the world and Argentina had been watching the Allies growing problems with the Axis with interest. The Dutch in particular had been on decided down turn for almost two years now. The Germans had invaded and occupied Holland and they did not seem have any intention of handing it back. Now the Japanese were taking the Dutch Empire in the DEI away despite the Americans and British. Everyone seemed to be kicking the Dutch. Then the Argentines remembered Dutch Guiana. With everyone distracted across the Atlantic and in the Pacific maybe now was a good time to be aggressive. To make a long story short, the Argentines sent a troop convoy escorted by the newer bulk of their fleet and took Paramaribo. They were now in the process of establishing control inland while their fleet remained in Paramaribo harbor.
Now the Dutch were coming to take back their own from an opponent they could face up to on their own. Its long way to Paramaribo, it’s a long way to go; 12,929 nm to be exact.
Time: 0800 hours Wind: Force 5 Northwesterly Wind Speed: 20 knots
Smoke: 1 GT Squalls: None Sea Haze: None Sky: Overcast
Royal Netherlands Navy Far East Squadron
Cruiser Division: VAdm Helfrich Destroyer Flotilla: RAdm Doorman
CL HrMs De Ruyter FF CL HrMs Jacob van Heemskerck FL
CL HrMs Java DesGroup 1 DesGroup 2
CL HrMs Sumatra DD HrMs Banckert DL DD HrMs Evertsen DL
CL HrMs Tromp DD HrMs Van Ghent DD HrMs Kortenaer
DD HrMs Van Nes DD HrMs Piet Hein
DD HrMs Witte de With DD HrMs Van Ghalen
Heading: N Speed: 14 knots
Cruiser Division: VAdm Juan Valdes DesRon 1 DesRon 2
CA ARA Admirante Brown FF DD ARA Cervantes DD ARA Buenos Aries
CA ARA Veintcinco de Mayo DesDiv 1 DesDiv 3
CL ARA La Argentina DD ARA Juan de Garay DD ARA Entre Rios
DD ARA Mendoza DD ARA Corrientes
DesDiv 2 DD ARA Missones
DD ARA La Rioja DesDiv 4
DD ARA Tucuman DD ARA San Luis
DD ARA San Juan
DD ARA Santa Cruz
Heading: S Speed: 14 knots
The day was overcast and the low cloud cover seemed to be affecting visibility. VAdm Juan Valdes (ARA) was on the bridge of his flagship, the Admirante Brown leading the center column, comprised of the cruisers. DesRon 1 and DesRon 2 were also in columns about 5,000 yards to port and starboard respectively. The destroyer columns were echeloned back about 3,000 yards.
VAdm Helfrich (RNN) was also on the bridge of his flagship, the De Ruyter leading the cruiser division in a column. RAdm Doorman (RNN) was in the cruiser, Heemskerck about 5,000 yards to starboard and echeloned back about 3,000 yards. RAdm Doorman lead the destroyer flotilla (also in a column).
At 0842 hours the mastheads of Admirante Brown and De Ruyter reported “Enemy in sight dead ahead”. Both admirals ordered full speed and their spotter a/c launched.
Valdes ordered a 6 point turn to starboard and Helfrich ordered the same to port. The range was just over 15,000 yards when they opened on each other.
Admirante Brown missed as did De Ruyter. The cruisers had accelerated to 19 knots by this point as each division followed its leader in succession. The Argentine destroyers took station ahead (DesRon 2) and astern (DesRon 1). RAdm Doorman took station astern the cruiser division.
That all took up some 12 minutes to accomplish while the cruisers continued to increase speed to 24 knots. The exchange at this point was lively but not accomplishing much. Then the Dutch made a two point turn to starboard and started to close the range.
Almirante Brown hit De Ruyter once the hull. de Mayo hit Java once in the hull. La Argentina hit Sumatra twice, knocking out her fore gun and damaging a bulkhead. De Ruyter fired at Admirante Brown and missed. Java and Sumatra both fired at de Mayo and missed. Tromp and Heemskerck fired at La Argentina and they hit her once apiece, knocking out her fore turret and damaging her engines, slowing her to 20 knots. The destroyers were plinking away at each other at extreme range and the Argentine destroyers were even throwing a few shots at Tromp and Heemskerck. A lot of splashes, but no hits.
Sumatra fixed her bulkhead. Valdes ordered La Argentina to withdraw under smoke and she turned away. She would break her engine during attempts at repairing it that would take a dockyard to fix. Valdes ordered DesRon 2 to close and torpedo attack the Dutch cruisers. DesRon 2 turned four points to starboard and increased to 35 knots. The ARA cruisers also increased their speed to 29 knots, but the Dutch cruisers were restricted to 26 knots by the hull damage to Java and Sumatra.
The turn by DesRon 2 meant they were closing the range rapidly. Buenos Aires, Entre Rios, Corrientes and Misiones (all firing rapidly) concentrated on De Ruyter, but only Misiones hit her once and then only a search light platform. San Luis, San Juan and Santa Cruz (all firing rapidly) concentrated on Java and hit her twice, knocking out her searchlight and damaging her hull. Admirante Brown changed to Tromp and missed her. de Mayo fired at Heemskerck also missed. DesRon 1 and the Dutch destroyers were still over 12,000 yards apart, but Cervantes hit Banckert once in the hull; but the rest of DesRon 1 missed. The Dutch cruisers switched targets to the destroyers bearing down on them. De Ruyter with her fore guns hit Buenos Aries once in her engines. Java and Sumatra missed. But Tromp hit Admirante Brown once knocking out her fore turret. Heemskerck fired at de Mayo and missed. All the Dutch destroyers missed.
Buenos Aires failed to fix her engines and turned away under smoke to repair. The remainder of DesRon 2 continued at 36 knots and threatened to cross the Dutch Tee. VAdm Helfrich tried to respond by turning two points to starboard and ordering up his destroyers at full speed. The Argentine destroyers continued to fire by division. DesDiv 3 hit De Ruyter once in a magazine but she managed to flood it losing her fore gun mount in the process. DesDiv 4 missed Java. Admirante Brown missed Sumatra, but de Mayo hit Tromp thrice, but the only hit that had effect was one to her engineering. Cervantes hit Heemskerck thrice, once in her aviation facilities causing a fire, once in the hull and a hit to her engineering. Juan de Garay hit Banckert thrice, knocking out three of her four guns. Mendoza hit Van Ghent once, but it jammed her rudder to port. La Rioja hit Van Nes once, damaging a bulkhead. Tucuman hit Witte de With once, in her DCT.
De Ruyter hit Entre Rios four times, knocking out her fore TT mount, damaging her hull and all her fore guns. Java hit Mendoza thrice, knocking out both her fore guns and damaging her hull, slowing her to 31 knots. Sumatra missed entirely. Tromp firing at Admirante Brown, hit her four times, knocking out all her MB, damaging bulkhead and further damaging her hull. Heemskerck fired at de Mayo and hit her twice, knocking out her fore turrets. The Dutch destroyers now hit the DesRon 1 seven times, but who cares. We really want to see if Juan Valdes makes morale and he did! OK, back to the ARA destroyers and their hits. Cervantes lost her fore gun; Juan de Garay lost her fore TT mount; Mendoza suffered hull damage; La Rioja lost her fore gun and suffered hull damage while lost her fore gun and TT mount.
VAdm Valdes ordered his cruisers to retire under smoke and his destroyers to execute torpedoes attacks to cover his withdrawal. The destroyers were then to withdraw under smoke also. DesDiv 3 targeted De Ruyter with its remaining five quad mounts inside 4,400 yards. De Ruyter tried to evade but failed and was hit 5 times with two spreads getting two hits each. De Ruyter took 17 damage to her 6-box hull and sank. Java also tried to evade and while doing that ran into 4 torps which gave her 12 damage to her 6-box hull and sank her. As she was going down another hit her in her bridge. DesRon 1 aimed it torpedoes at Tromp and Heemskerck and hit Heemskerck once. Heemskerck to 6 damage to her 5-box hull and sank.
The Argentine destroyers turned away under smoke without seeing what they had done. The Dutch without any admirals (both went down with their ships as all good admirals do) and decided to withdraw as best they could (they failed morale and who wouldn’t).
And as the sun set on that portion of the pond, you could faintly hear; It’s a long way to Paramaribo. It’s a long way to go. It’s a long way to Paramaribo to the worst die rolls I’ve known. Say good bye to Surabaya, farewell Batavia. It’s a long, long way to Paramaribo but that’s where I’ve gone.