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February 27 - Focus: Battle of Java sea and Java-class cruisers

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Well, today it's time for part two of the rumble around the Dutch East Indies, for today we have the Battle of Java Sea and a short post on the Dutch light cruisers of the Java-class.

But first...STATS!


Ships/events of interest

1911 - HMS Ajax - King George V - Laid Down
1942 - Java Sea - Battle
1942 - HNLMS Java - Java-class - Sunk


General stats

Allies: 31 ships laid down, 28 launched, 32 commissioned, 10 sunk

Great Britian (pre-WW2): 1 laid down

Austria-Hungary, Germany, Italy, Japan: nothing...



In february of 1942, the balance of power was shifting radically in Asia. With Japanese forces conquering nations left and right, they had set their sights on the resource rich Dutch East Indies. With the invasion of Borneo already underway, the Japanese fleet had also secured the island of Bali with their victory in the battle of Badung Strait, on which I wrote last week.


Today, however, would be the day that sealed the fate of the region. For in the late afternoon of february 27th 1942, the remaining allied ABDACOM (American-British-Dutch-Australian COMmand) ships engaged a Japanese invasion force in what would become known as the Battle of Java sea.


Just before the battle of Badung Strait, the commander of the Combined Striking Force (as the ABDACOM fleet was known), Schout-bij-Nacht (Rear-Admiral) Karel Doorman, had ordered his available ships to join up at the main island of the Dutch East Indies: Java. But the result of Badung Strait and other Japanese advances led to the resignation of the supreme commander of ABDACOM, the British General Sir Archibald Wavell. In turn, all members of ABDACOM EXCEPT the Netherlands deemed the Dutch East Indies as lost and dissolved ABDACOM. One might ask "why did the Dutch not accept such an obviously hopeless situation?", well, the answer is simple: the Dutch East Indies was all that was left unconquered of the Dutch Empire (with the exception of a few possessions in the Carribean and Suriname which had no military presence of note nor were of as much economic importance). They would not let it go without a fight, no matter how hopeless the situation.



Schout-bij-Nacht Karel Doorman


Luckily for the Dutch, the ships of the Combined Striking Force were not recalled by their respective nations and now fell under the command of the Royal Netherlands Navy under the command of Luitenant-Admiraal (Admiral) Conrad Helfrich. (fun fact: Helfrich, while he was teaching in the Dutch naval acadamy in Den Helder in the 1920's, he actually predicted the Japanese strike on Pearl Harbour to take place "within his lifetime" while in a discussion with his students) In contrast to his predecessor, the USN Admiral Thomas C. Hart, Helfrich was far less conservative when it came to committing units to battle and his agressive use of Dutch submarines against Japanese forces earned him the nickname "Ship-a-day Helfrich".


Because of this, Helfrich was in favor of using the Combined Striking Force what it was there for: meeting the Japanese head on in order to stop, or at least pospone, the invasion of Java.



HNLMS De Ruyter in warpaint


While the Allied fleet Doorman had gathered had practically lost thee ships after the Battle of Badung Strait (the DD HNLMS Piet Hein was sunk, DD USS Steward was badly damaged and in drydock at Surabaya naval base and the CL HNLMS Tromp was so badly damaged that she was sent to Australia for extensive repairs), the allies did manage to form an impressive fleet:



CA HMS Exeter
CA USS Houston
CL HNLMS De Ruyter (Karel Doorman's flagship)
DD HNLMS Kortenaer
DD HNLMS Witte de With
DD HNLMS Banckert
DD USS Paul Jones
DD USS Alden
DD USS John D. Edwards
DD USS John D. Ford
DD HMS Jupiter
DD HMS Encounter
DD HMS Electra


It must be noted that, while an impressive list, the fleet was actually in a bad shape. The Houston was already damaged and one of her turrets was out of action. Banckert was damaged by an air raid a few days before the battle, and was out of action, the USN DD's were of the elderly Clemson-class and were no match for their modern Japanese counterparts and of all ships in the fleet, only the Exeter was equipped with a radar set, but only had six guns and the Dutch light cruisers were far from being the most modern or powerful ones afloat due to the very large budget cuts the navy had to cope with in the crisis of the 30s.



HNLMS De Ruyter, Doorman's flagship


Meanwhile, a Japanese invasion fleet was on it's way towards Java, under the command of Read-Admiral Takeo Takagi. While the allies had gathered an impressive fleet, the one the Japanese fielded was even more impressive:


CA Nachi
CA Haguro
CL Naka
CL Jintsu
DD Yudachi
DD Samidare
DD Murasame
DD Harusame
DD Minegumo
DD Asagumo
DD Yukikaze
DD Tokitsukaze
DD Amatsukaze
DD Hatsukaze
DD Yamakaze
DD Kawakaze
DD Sazanami
DD Ushio



IJN Haguro


So where the Allies could field ten destroyers, three light cruisers and two heavy cruisers, the Japanese could field no less than fourteen destroyers, two light cruisers and two modern heavy cruisers. Did the Japanese advantage end there? Nope! Did I mention the numerous Type 93 Long-Lance torpedoes both the Japanese destroyers and cruisers could launch with a range of 40 kilometer? Or that the Japanese fielded twenty 7.9" guns against the twelve of the allies?


Looks good for the Allies, doesn't it?


Just before Doorman left with his fleet to intercept the Japanese, he asked Admiral Helfrich (translated from Dutch): "Do we still have a chance? Because I honestly don't think so. So isn't it best to leave early and help our allies away from Java?"


Helfrich, on the other hand, responded that it was actually predicted that the Allies were to fight in the Java sea, that a withdrawal was unacceptable and that Washington (where the Far Eastern Council was located, later known as the Pacific War Council) had demanded that all forces would stand firm against the enemy and that this included all naval assets.



USS Houston


So, at February 26th, the allied fleet left Surabaya to search for the Japanese invasion force, but after a night long search, they returned without encountering the Japanese ships. The allied air forces had more luck, however, as around 19:00 a flight of B-17 bombers found the Japanese fleet while flying at an altitude of 4 kilometers. To the suprise of the Japanese, the bombers attacked the fast and nimble warships while they left the troop transports alone. Tameichi Hara, the commander of the destroyer Amatsukaze stated in his book "Japanese Destroyer Captain" that this disturbed him deeply. While ineffective, the fact that the bombers were attacking the warships gave him the impression that the allied warships were then out for the transports.



The Combined Strike Force, just before the battle


Early the next morning the B-17's were at it again, flying just below the clouds two aircraft managed to suprise the Japanese ships and dropped 500lbs bombs at the warships, all of them missed.


At 12:05, one of the Nakajima E8N1 scout aircraft reported spotting a fleet of five cruisers and ten destroyers heading roughly in the direction of the Japanese ships, which reported at 15:10 that the Allied ships had turned around. At this point, the Allies still had no idea where the Japanese ships were as the Japanese were jamming Allied radio frequencies, making communication even worse than it already was (due to the Allied navies not being used to work together, they used different codes and there was a lot of confusion while communicating)


At 16:30 the Japanese scoutplanes once again reported in, this time the Allied fleet had once again turned around and was heading straight for the Japanese who immediately ordered the transport ships to move away from the incoming Allies. At 17:30, the de Ruyter was spotted by the Japanese marking the start of the battle.



HNLMS De Ruyter and two (Dutch?) destroyers


A quarter of an hour later the first shots were fired between the cruisers of both sides at a range of 22.000 meters, but no hits were scored. At 18:05, the cruiser Naka and the six destroyers in her group launched the first torpedo salvo of 43 torps. While the Allies were still roughly 15 kilometers out, roughly a dozen of the long lance torpedoes detonated after only traveling a few kilometers. It is unknown why this happened, maybe they came in contact with eachother? But in confused the hell out of the Japanese. Those that didn't explode missed their targets though, but this was just the first wave aimed at the Allies!


At 18:30 Dutch divebombers arrived at the scene, trying to engage the Japanese ships. But, as the situation of Allied air power was pretty desparate (their supply line of new aircraft from Australia had been cut off), they arrived without escorts. While they were still around twenty miles out, a group of scrambled Zero's arrived which quickly took care of the Dutch aircraft.
It was at this same time that the Japanese commander gave the order to close the distance with the Allied fleet and shortly after HMS Exeter was hit by an 8" shell in her boiler room and started to burn fiercly and quickly lost speed. This created confusion within the Allied battle line, as the Houston behind her had to turn hard to evade a collission. With all ships behind Houston followed her, this left the De Ruyter alone, as she was at the head of the column.



HMS Exeter under attack during the Battle of Java sea


While there was still chaos in the Allied line, the Japanese ships managed to close in to around 7.000 meters when the Allies finally replied accurately, scoring hits on the destroyers Tokitsukaze and Asagumo. After launching another wave of 72 torpedoes at a range of 6.000 meters, only one found its mark: the HNLMS Kortenaer was hit amidships, broke in half and quickly sank with the loss of 59 lives. A few minutes later, another wave of 64 torpedoes was launched, but due to evasive maneuvres all missed and the Allied ships dissapeared in a smokescreen. From a distance of 16 kilometers the heavy cruisers Nachi and Haguro launched a fourth wave of 16 torpedoes, but all missed.


In the mean time, Doorman was forced to send the badly damaged Exeter back to Surabaya for repairs, escorted by the destroyer Witte de With. While this was a severe loss of firepower, the British cruiser would be no more than a slowly moving gun platform if it stayed behind. The American destroyers, their torpedoes expended (unlike Japanese destroyers, those of the Allies did not reload their tubes at sea), left for home...and to make matters worse, HMS Jupiter struck a mine while covering HMS Encounter, which was picking up survivors of the sunken Kortenaer. Down to only four cruisers and in a totally hopeless situation, Doorman planned to wait until the evening set in order to try and slip past the Japanese escorts and do some damage to the transport vessels. 



De Ruyter opening fire


It was around 22:50 when Doorman tried again. While the Japanese ships were recovering their scoutplanes, Japanese lookouts reported the arrival of the Japanese battleships Haruna and Kirishima. While initially jubilant, the mood quicly switched to panic when the information officer onboard the Nachi confirmed that these big ships were still two days away from the Java sea: it was Doorman's fleet!
With the Japanese ships dead in the water, the Allied ships started firing starshells and opened fire. It would take three whole minutes before the Japanese fleet finally got underway, some still with floatplanes in tow. Luckily for the Japanese, no ship was hit! The artillery duel between the Japanese heavy cruisers and the Allied cruisers lasted ten minutes before the Japanese made their escape, which was helped by the fact that they didn't use their searchlights, so they didn't actively give their positions away.



HNLMS Java and HNLMS De Ruyter (?) firing on a target


Regrouping their ships, the Japanese prepared for nightfighting with the heavy cruisers Nachi and Haguro keeping watch to the north of the fleet when they spotted the Allied cruisers around 00:30. It is unclear who opened fire first, but wat is known is that both ships launched a total of 14 torpedoes at the Allied ships at 00:53. This smallest of all torpedo waves would prove to be the most deadly. At 01:06 HNLMS Java was hit amidships near an ammunition rack, which exploded, the two explosions caused major flooding in the engine room causing the ship to lose power. She sank within fifteen minutes with the loss of 512 men, including her captain.



Two of the 15cm turrets on HNLMS Java


At 01:10 HNLMS De Ruyter was hit by one or two torpedoes, which caused a fierce fire to break out on the AA deck, which caused an explosion in the storage for the 40mm Bofors AA guns which in turn knocked out the generators in the dynamoroom leaving her, like Java without power. Another effect of the torpedo hit(s) was a massive oil leak, which combined to the explosion onboard the De Ruyter turned the sea into an inferno.


De Ruyter finally sank at 02:30, taking 345 crewmembers down with her. Among the dead were Schout-bij-Nacht Karel Doorman, Chief of staff De Gelder and the captain of De Ruyter Kapitein-Luitenant ter zee (Commander) Eugène Lacomblé. All were still alive then the ship started sinking, but chose to follow the old naval tradition of going down with the ship.


While De Ruyter and Java went down, and the commanding officer with them, Houston and Perth could do nothing but followd Doorman's last order: withdraw.


In all, the Battle of Java sea went as bad as Doorman had expected: of the initial fleet, two cruisers and three destroyers were immediately sunk, with Exeter following a few days later. The back of the Allied naval might in Asia was (for the time being) broken and all they had achieved was that the invasion of Java was posponed...by one whole day.


Schout-bij-Nacht Karel Doorman was posthumously awarded the Military William Order, the oldest and highest honour in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. And given the completely hopeless situation he was in, I think he earned it.


As I work in the Dutch city of Rotterdam, I paid a visit to the monument in his honor, located on the Karel Doormanstraat (Karel Doormanstreet). It was the least I could do.



Karel Doorman's memorial, the way I found it today. (sorry about the bad lighting, only had my smartphone with me)





Imexbo.nl (for some of the photos)



Edited by JeeWeeJ
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As the post on the battle of Java sea took more of my time than I planned, here a quick reheat of my earlier post on the Java-class.


The Java class light cruisers were intended to become the backbone of the Royal Netherlands Navy and were ordered to counter the Japanese Chikuma class reconnaissance cruisers of 1912. Yes, even at that time the Dutch saw the Japanese empire as it's greatest threat even while relations were quite friendly at that time. The ships looked a lot like the German armored cruisers of the time, which is not suprising as the Java class was designed in 1912-13 by the German firm Germaniawerf in Kiel (also known as Krupp Germaniawerf, the shipyard that built quite a lot of German capital ships and u-boot's during the various wars). They were designed around a main armament of 10 10.5cm Bofors guns in single mounts, covered only by blast shields and spread evenly around the hull.

Posted Image


Thee ships were initially ordered:
Laid down: May 31st, 1916
Launched: August 6th, 1921
Commissioned: May 1st, 1925

HNLMS Sumatra
Laid down: July 15th, 1916
Launched: December 29th, 1920
Commissioned: May 26th, 1926

HNLMS Celebes
Construction approved at June 14th, 1917 with 30 tonnes of material prepared, but was cencelled in 1919. No keel was ever laid down.

Note that there was quite some time between the keel being laid and when they were commissioned. No specific reason has been given for this, but it's easy to assume that WW1 had a major influence and the following pacifism movement didn't help a whole lot either. However, this did result in the class being severely outdated before they were even launched but no attempt at a redesign was made.

Posted Image

HNLMS Java at speed

But ships were given a major refit during the thirties: the 4 75mm secondary guns were removed and a AA suite consisting of 4x2 40mm Bofors on Hazemeyer mounts and 8 Browning .50cal machineguns were added in their place. Also the firecontrol suite was replaced by a new Hazemeyer model. However,the ships still had serious flaws: they were lightly armored (even for a light cruiser), the layout of the main battery was outdated, with only 7 guns available per broadside (out of 10) and the AA guns were all located near the stern of the ship, creating a big blind spot as the foreward superstructure was in the way.

However, the Dutch Navy had to make due with them.


Posted Image

A Fokker C IX - W floatplane as used by the Royal Netherlands Navy


HNLMS Java was located at the Dutch Indies when war broke out with Japan. After a number of patrols and escort missions she became part of the ABDA (American, British, Dutch, Australian) fleet and took part in the battle of the Java sea. There she was hit in the aft magazine by a long lance torpedo launched by the Japanese heavy cruiser Nachi, causing the magazine to explode and the stern to break off the ship. With electricity failing no lifeboats could be lowered leaving the crew with just their lifejackets and all possible floating objects they could find. Java sunk within 15 minutes taking 512 crewmembers (including her captain: Captain van Straelen) out of 526 down with her. Her wreck was discovered at December 1st 2002 at a depth of 69 meters and has been marked as a wargrave.

HNLMS Sumatra was docked in Vlissingen (Flushing) the Netherlands when war broke out with Germany. When the war was deemed lost, she managed to escape to Great Britain and was used a month later to transport the Dutch royal family to Canada. However, from the moment of her commissioning Sumatra had troubles with her machinery and was therefore deemded unfit for combat duty. In an effort to get her combar ready again she was sent to Soerabaja in the Dutch Indies for a major overhaul, even though it was dubious if she would ever be truely combat ready. However, shortly after her arrival war broke out with Japan and she was sent back to Great Britain, manned by a skeleton crew. She arrived at Portsmouth at October 31st 1942 and was laid up a few days later. Her guns only saw action indirectly, as they were removed from the Sumatra to be used as spared for the "Terrible Twins", the sloops HNLMS Flores and Soemba. The hull of Sumatra was used as a blockship during the Normandy campaign and was scrapped in 1951.

Posted ImagePosted Image

Dispacement: 6670 tons standard / 8078 tons full load
Crew: 526 (35 officers, 54 petty officers, 437 men)
Dimensions: 155.3x16x6.22 meters
Main battery: 10 x 150 mm Bofors No. 6 (10 x 1)
Secondary battery: 4 x 75 mm L/55 semi-automatic No.4 (removed during refit)
AA battery: 8 x 40 mm Bofors No. 3 (4 x 2) and 8 x .50 Browning MG
FCS: Hazemeyer
ASW: 10-12 depthcharges
Radar: none
Other: 2 Fokker C-11W aircraft with crane

Belt: 75mm
Deck: 25mm horizontal, 50mm (inclined, connecting deck with belt)
Conning tower: 125mm
Shields: 100mm

Boilers: 8 Schultz-Thornycroft
Machinery: 3 Parsons turbines (Java)/3 Zoëlly turbines (Sumatra, later replaced by Parsons)
Performance: 73.000 shp (Java)/82.000 shp (Sumatra)
Shafts: 3
Bunkerage: 1126 tons (normal)/1176 tons (max)
Range: 5000 miles @ 12 knots (design)/4340 miles @ 10/11 knots (actual)
Max speed: 31 knots 

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Privateers, Members, Alpha Tester, In AlfaTesters, Beta Testers
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great reads as always.  I wish I knew enough to contribute like this.

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great reads as always.  I wish I knew enough to contribute like this.

Thanks, and we (or, I, in this case) don't know everything. We research! Read books or various pages on the internet (not only Wikipedia), and if you put enough time and effort into them you too can make posts like this.

(The first post took a good four hours to write including checking sources etc, just to give an indication)

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Supertester, Members, Alpha Tester, In AlfaTesters, Beta Testers
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Good stuff!

Always nice to here from the smaller naval nations

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Alpha Tester
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Good stuff!

Always nice to here from the smaller naval nations

What about the other places? there and other locations... :trollface:

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Nice read JeeWeeJ. +1

First pics I have seen of the De Ruyter with camo.  Where did you find the pic(s) and does show a full side view of the camo?

Or that the Japanese fielded twenty 7.9" guns against the twelve of the allies?

 Just a small correction to your write up.  The IJN Myoko class heavy cruisers were originally armed with 7.9 inch (200mm) guns, but in the early 1930 these had all been replaced by 8 inch (203mm) to reach the treaty limit.  The 8 inch guns gave slightly more range at elevation.  7.9 inch was 26,700 m at 40 deg. elevation.  8 inch was 28,900 m at 40 deg.

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I found that picture during one of my google searches, as I'm going to cover De Ruyter in more detail today I'll see if I can dig up some more of them!


And I stand corrected on the Myoko's! (not that those 3mm more or less per gun would've made much of a difference when it came to this battle though.. ;-))

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