In the Battle of Java Sea the Japanese successfully prevented our striking force from reaching their convoys. They paid a price for their


success. Two or three cruisers, two of them probably heavy, and at least two or three destroyers were severely hit and set on fire. Some of these ships probably sank. On the other hand we lost the cruisers De Ruyter and Java and the destroyers Kortenaer, Electra, and Jupiter- losses which we could ill afford.

The battle also resulted in the splitting of what remained of our striking force. At Soerabaja were five American destroyers, plus the Exeter, Encounter, and Witte de With. At Tandjong Priok were the Houston, Perth, and the Dutch destroyer Evertsen, which had just arrived from convoy duty. There were strong enemy forces between the two ports and there seemed no possibility of uniting our forces. Further, our remaining ships were in no condition for another battle. They had expended most of their ammunition. (Houston had had to use hers sparingly in the later stages of the battle.) The Exeter was limited to 16 knots. The Houston had received two 8-inch hits. These had caused no casualties and little damage, but it will be remembered that only two of her turrets were working. Of our five destroyers only Pope had torpedoes. The Dutch Witte de With had damaged her propellers, so that it was unlikely that she would be able to leave port soon.

But Admiral Helfrich would not concede defeat. The indomitable Dutchman planned to reassemble his forces at Tjilatjap, the only Java port that could possibly be used, and continue the fight. First, however, the problem of withdrawing our ships from the Java Sea had to be faced. The Japanese now controlled the exits. To the east they had reinforced Bali, while to the west they had captured positions on the shore of Soenda Strait. There was evidence that naval forces were on patrol at both places, while their planes ranged over the entire area.

On the morning of the 28th Comdr. Binford telephoned Admiral Glassford to advise him of "the vital necessity of leaving Soerabaja that day and no day later." Since the American destroyers were of no use without torpedoes Admiral Helfrich authorized Destroyer Division 58 to proceed to Australia for rearming. In the afternoon Comdr. Binford received orders to leave Soerabaja by the eastern entrance and to direct Pope to report to the Exeter for duty.

In accordance with Admiral Helfrich's plan to reassemble his striking force at Tjilatjap, Rear Admiral Palliser ordered the Exeter to sail for that port. She was to be accompanied by Encounter and Pope. She had had some minor repairs but was able to do only 16 knots when she sailed


on the evening of the 28th. The problem of her route was carefully considered. Her draft was too great to permit her to use the eastern exit from Soerabaja. If she went north around Madoera she would be found within close range of the Bali airfield by daylight. Rear Admiral Palliser therefore decided to send her west. She was to go north, east of Bawean, skirt the south coast of Borneo by daylight and run for Soenda Strait the following night.

Soon after leaving Soerabaja the cruiser and two destroyers were discovered by an enemy reconnaissance plane, and about 1200 on March 1st they reported that three enemy cruisers were approaching. This was the last that was heard of the three ships.

The story of the three ships at Priok is all too similar. On the afternoon of the 28th Admiral Glassford ordered Captain Rooks of the Houston to leave for Tjilatjap via Soenda Strait that night in company of Perth and Evertsen. Perth was undamaged but had fired all her torpedoes. The three ships took on most of the fuel oil remaining at Priok and the two cruisers sailed about 2120 that night. For some unknown reason Evertsen did not sail until an hour or two later. About midnight the Dutch destroyer reported a sea battle in progress off St. Nicolas Point. Admiral Helfrich then sent orders to Houston, Perth, and Evertsen: "If any of addressees are engaged with enemy, others render assistance as possible." Some time later Evertsen reported that she had been intercepted by two cruisers and had beached herself in a sinking condition on Seboekoe Island. Nothing further has been heard of the three ships.

Only the four American destroyers made good their escape. Soerabaja was subjected to almost continuous air raids on the 28th, and at 1510 two waves of bombers attacked the harbor airfield unopposed. None of the American ships was hit, however, and Comdr. Binford, Comdr. Eccles and Lt. Comdr. Parker made careful plans for their excursion. Edwards and Alden got under way about 1700 and Ford and Paul Jones half an hour later. In order to deceive enemy reconnaissance Ford stood up the western approach for a few miles before reversing course to proceed out the eastern gate. Our ships met near the lightship and formed into column, Edwards, Alden, Ford, and Paul Jones. They then proceeded at 2 knots along the north coast of Java out Madoera Strait, south of the mine field.72


Witte de With was not in condition to accompany the American destroyers. She remained in port for further repairs and was lost in dock when bombed the next day.73

It was a clear night with brilliant moonlight when our ships left Soerabaja. A light breeze from the southeast left the sea smooth. On the way out they passed a Dutch vessel patrolling the minefield, but there was no challenge. About 2030 our destroyers went to general quarters and preparations were made for battle. "Particular attention was given to covering all reflecting surfaces." Shortly after midnight they passed out of the southern mine channel and entered the narrows of Bali Strait.74 Several small sailboats were sighted, but that was all.

Our ships hugged the shore of Java as closely as they dared. The excellent navigation of Lieut. William J. Giles, Jr., on the Edwards brought them safely through these difficult waters. The moon was on the port beam about 45° above the horizon. From time to time a passing cloud obscured it. About 0115 our ships passed the narrows and increased speed to 25 knots. As they were emerging from the strait about 0210 an enemy destroyer was seen some 8,000 yards on the port bow, "obviously patrolling the southern entrance to Bali Strait." Shortly afterwards dim flashing lights were seen to the south and two more destroyers appeared in that direction. The ships were clearly visible in the moonlight, but apparently did not see our own ships against the dark shoreline.

However, about 0230 our destroyers had to turn east to avoid the reef off the eastern tip of Blambangan Peninsula. The enemy at last saw us and opened fire on relative bearing 225°. The first salvo fired at the Ford straddled her, and subsequent ones were very close, but the shells did not come very near our other ships.75

Our own ships increased speed to 27 knots and returned the fire at once. Initial range was 5,000-6,000 yards with a continuous 50-yard rocking ladder which crossed the target several times. But we scored no hits. Some of our destroyers did not use their forward guns, because


the flashes would interfere with the difficult navigation. "An attempt was made to keep up a rapid volume of fire rather than an effective fire. . . . Our aim was to keep the enemy outside effective torpedo range. Torpedo fire was simulated by means of primers and dummy charges."76 Comdr. Binford says, "My idea was to fight off the enemy and to retire to the south as quickly as possible, because I expected other enemy forces in the immediate vicinity. Information from Dutch Staff Headquarters was that a Dutch ammunition ship was sunk in Bali Strait on February 27th, and on the day of my sailing an enemy cruiser and destroyer sank a Dutch merchant ship in Bali Strait." After a few minutes of lively fire the increasing range put an end to the action and the enemy dropped astern.

Some of our ships made smoke. Comdr. Eccles remarks that under the circumstances this was unwise, "because it made a target of the division for any heavier ships which might be taking up the pursuit from the eastern part of Bali." We had, however, definitely shaken off the enemy destroyers. At 0321 they could be seen firing astern. Our officers suspected that they hoped to locate our ships by our gun flashes if we answered.

Next morning our destroyers expected an air attack, but it did not materialize. Probably the Japanese were entirely occupied with their landing on Java. The voyage was without further incident except for some engineering difficulties. Destroyer Division 58 set course for Exmouth Gulf and later, upon a change of orders, for Fremantle, where they arrived at 1645 on March 4th.


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72 The Madoera Strait area is shown in the chart facing p.25.

73 On the same day the Dutch destroyer Banckert, which had been damaged by a near hit on the 24th, had to be destroyed by her own crew.

74 See chart opposite >p.57.

75 Lt. Comdr. Cooper of the Ford: "The Japanese were undoubtedly using radar, as the opening and subsequent salvos were very close." Lt. Comdr. Parker: "The first Japanese salvo fired at the Ford straddled her, but no further shots near the ship were observed." Lt. Comdr. Coley of the Alden says that splashes, seemingly of 5-inch shells, were about 1,000 yards short. Comdr. Binford: "Enemy fire was well over and splashes nowhere near the formation."

76 From report of Lt. Comdr. Cooper of the Ford.

Last updated: June 14, 2002

Transcribed and formatted by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation