U.S.S. JOHN D. EDWARDS (216)
March 4, 1942
From: The Commanding Officer. To: The Commander U.S. NAVAL FORCES, SOUTHWEST PACIFIC Via: The Commander Destroyer Division FIFTY-EIGHT Subject: Battle of Bawean Islands - Report of action; events prior and subsequent thereto, Enclosure: (A) Track chart of John D. Edwards and nine (9) diagrammatic sketches of various phases of battle. (B) Transcript of log of John D. Edwards for period of engagement. (C) Copy of Commanding Officer, U.S.S. John D. Edwards Report DD216/A16-3/(CF-0018) of March 4, 1942.
- On the night of 25 February, the Combined Striking Force, consisting of cruisers De Ruyter, Java, Houston, the Dutch destroyers Kortenaer, Witte de With, and the American destroyers John D. Edwards, Alden, John D. Ford (CDD-59), Pope and Paul Jones sortied from Soerabaja and made a fruitless sweep of the eastern end of Madura Island hoping to intercept an enemy force of cruisers and transports which had been reported that day off the Bawean Islands. We returned to port early in the morning of February the 26th and under the usual difficulties of air attack and of locating a fuel supply (Holland Pier fuel lines having been broken by bombs) finally fueled from a Dutch tanker and anchored. Several destroyers were unable to take on a full load because the tanker had to fuel cruisers and other destroyers.
- This same day the Force was augmented by H.M.S. Exeter, H.M.A.S. Perth, H.M.S. Jupiter, Electra, and Encounter. In the early evening of February 26, the entire force less Pope again sortied, being delayed by the De Ruyter colliding with and sinking a tug and water barge as she stood out the channel. The Pope, at about 1845, had been ordered to the Navy Yard to repair a bad leak in the hotwell. After clearing the minefield, the Striking Force made another sweep past Madura and in the early morning of the 27th continued on past Soerabaja and swept to the westward. During the morning several bombs were dropped on the Jupiter from single high fast planes but no hits were scored and no major air attack was made.
- During this period communication with Commander Combined Striking Force was by flashing light, using plain English, high frequency voice radio (Dutch type) to Houston with relay to U.S. destroyers by T.B.S. Ship-shore frequency of 4235 kcs series and emergency tactical contact frequency on 5634 kcs between all ships using Anglo-French codes. There were no common flag signals nor signal books available nor were there any tactical plans save of a most rudimentary nature.
- At this point it is well to note that Lieutenant Otto Kolb, Communication Officer for Commander Destroyer Squadron TWENTY-NINE was aboard the De Ruyter and it was due to his untiring and intelligent efforts that we had any communication at all. Previous to this communication with Commander Combined Striking Force had been farsical.
- The general directive had ordered that retirement would be to Tandjong Priok (Batavia). Admiral Doorman had given previous verbal orders that when the American destroyers had expended their torpedoes they should retire south of the Barrier to Tjilatjap for reload. At that time the John D. Edwards had only six torpedoes aboard. The track charts submitted by the John D. Edwards can be considered as accurate but the relative positions and maneuvers of other units allied and enemy are merely approximate. The composition and disposition of enemy forces is only approximate, for during the early stages of the engagement while visibility was good, this range was too great to see clearly. Later on the picture was so complicated by rapid maneuvers, gun fire, smoke screens, and later by twilight and darkness that accuracy became impossible. The sketches submitted, therefore, merely represent the consensus of opinion as to the various situations as seen from the foretop, control platform and bridge of the John D. Edwards.
- At 1311 the Striking Force counter-marched and headed for Soerabaja with the intention of remaining behind the minefield until the situation developed. At 1445 Commander Combined Striking Force counter-marched in the minefield channel and signalled "Am proceeding to intercept enemy unit, follow me, details later". Speed was increased and the approach formation was taken up as soon as possible. At 1611 the enemy was sighted and at 1614 opened fire. From then on the action was rapid and confused; contact reports indicated a force of cruisers and destroyers and one battleship reported by a plane.
- At the start of the engagement the course was changed to 290°T -- the enemy bore about 315°T, (Cape Mandalika bore 273°, true distant about 90 miles). Commander Combined Striking Force from time to time turned away thus forcing the destroyers into a series of possible pickets along the North coast of Java. We had to reconcile two contradictory orders -- one, the general directive to take station on the disengaged bow of the cruisers -- the other, to remain astern of the Dutch destroyers, which were limited to a speed of 14 knots by the engine trouble. It was known that Admiral Doorman's intention was to retire to Priok. It was difficult to estimate the progress of the battle or to guess what the Admiral would do next. At that time the T.B.S. on the Houston went out and we lost our best means of communication. From then on all communication was by flashing lights obscured by gun smoke, smoke screens, and hampered by rapid maneuver.
- In order to avoid being pocketed, we made every effort to stay as close to the main body as possible, keeping the splashes of the overs being fired on the Houston and Java about 700 to 1000 yards on our starboard bow with the rest of the division in column on line of bearing astern - adjusting position by turn movements. From time to time ricochets passed close, though the ship was not struck. Several large splashes formed on our port bow, apparently from single gun salvos of a battleship. A torpedo apparently hit a submarine about 1500 yards broad on our port bow for a column of water and debris went up about 100 feet -- the Kortenaer about 700 yards bearing 80° relative was struck on the starboard quarter by a torpedo, blew up, turned over, and sank at once leaving only a jackknifed bow and stern a few feet above the surface. In quick succession a submarine periscope, two torpedoes and what appeared to be an impulse bubble or tank vent bubble were sighted in various positions from 500 yards on the beam to 1500 yards on the bow. We continued at 27 knots trying to follow the movements of the Main Body. The Houston had been hit and temporarily slowed -- the Exeter hit and permanently slowed. The Main Body was turning away, towards us.
- The crystal ball was our only method of anticipating the intention of Commander Combined Striking Force. Then came the orders "Counter-attack", "Cancel Counter-attack", "Make smoke", "Cover my retirement". It appeared that the Striking Force had suffered heavy damage and that the enemy was pushing home an attack to drive us East. We headed in to make smoke and then saw the enemy advancing at a range of about 15,000 yards - torpedoes were fired at long range to force him to turn away and we withdrew following Commander Combined Strike Force signal "Follow me". Darkness set in and we followed the Main Body endeavoring to regain station, and having not the slightest idea as to his plans and still only a vague idea as to what the enemy was doing, we reported the expenditure of torpedoes. Airplane flares indicated the enemy was following our movements closely. We returned to the vicinity of Toeban. During this whole movement we received no instructions nor signals. Commander Combined Striking Force turned West. On orders from Commander Destroyer Division FIFTY-EIGHT, in accordance with the previous instruction to attempt to get more torpedoes, we retired to Soerabaja reaching there at 0300 28 February. As we came through the minefield we noticed motor-torpedo boats going out, probably to attack. We were alongside Holland Pier in order to fuel before the morning bombing and cleared the decks at 0930 just as the second air alarm sounded. During this time only the John D. Edwards had been able to fill up with fuel. The Exeter preceded and Encounter followed us into port - the Pope was still in port having had insufficient information to join up with us the night before as she was ready so to do.
- Very little information was available in Soerabaja but we learned that at 0100 the De Ruyter and Java had suffered explosions and were seriously damaged in the vicinity of Bawean Islands, and that the Jupiter had been sunk and 214 survivors were on the beach at Toeban, the Encounter had rescued 113 survivors of the Kortenaer - the Electra had been lost in the night engagement off Bawean - the Exeter had been hit in one boiler room and lost 14 dead and her speed was reduced to 15 knots. So much hot water was in her boiler room that it was impossible to estimate time for repair. The Witte de With was not accounted for. The Houston and Perth had retired toward Batavia. The manner in which U.S.S. Houston and H.M.S. Exeter and H.M.A.S. Perth were handled and fought was credit to the best traditions of the Naval Services of the United States and Great Britain. They maintained a high and accurate rate of fire against the enemy at long range which alone made this Encounter a battle. The Houston hitting an enemy cruiser heavily at a critical time. The conduct of the Exeter after receiving severe damage, in holding her course at best speed across the track of enemy torpedoes so as to lay a smoke screen to cover the other cruisers was gallant. Equally gallant and conspicuous was the manner in which H.M.A.S. Perth, as soon as possible reversed her course and covered the crippled Exeter, by covering her by smoke from a distance of about 800 yards on the engaged side, exposing herself to concentrated enemy fire, then enabling Exeter to withdraw. The British destroyers were handled with decision, excellent judgment and courage. It was obvious that they were commanded by cool, competant and aggressive officers.
- The manner in which the Houston, which entered the engagement with turret three completely disabled by the air attack of February 4, was fought, the aggressive way in which she at all times carried the battle to the enemy, with steady accurate fire, will long remain an inspiration to all who saw her.
- The Dutch fought with unfaltering courage and dogged determination. Admiral Doorman in the De Ruyter returning to the attack time after time in a literal obedience to the signal from ABDA Fleet on 26 February "You must contiue attacks till enemy is destroyed". However, they had little else with which to fight, Java though badly outranged and with her speed reduced by old boilers endeavored to maintain her position throughout, firing steadily whenever her guns would range. The battle itself was a tragic commentary on the futility of attempting to oppose a powerful, determined, well equipped and organized enemy by the make shift improvisations that were used. It was evident that the Dutch had little tactical experience, their knowledge of communications was rudimentary and they went on the assumption that a hastily organized, uncoordinated force of ships from three navies could be assembled and taken into a major action after a one-hour conference. It is impossible for anyone who did not go to sea in the Striking Force to comprehend the utter lack, in the Dutch, of any knowledge of tactical organization and employment of a force as a unit. They were individual ship men and went to their deaths with grim foreknowledge. The Allied Force was little more than a column of strange task groups which entered the battle with a vague general directive and no specific missions.
- At 1510, February 28, two waves of unopposed bombers dropped heavy bombs on the harbor airfield. Orders were received from Commander Southwest Pacific to retire to Exmouth Gulf and for the Pope to report to H.M.S. Exeter for duty. At 1630 we got underway proceeded out the east channel and headed for Bali Strait at 22 knots. Reconnaisance and contact reports indicated that one cruiser and from three to five destroyers were in Bali Strait. As we formed up at the lightship, report was received that a merchant ship had been sunk in Bali Strait by cruiser and destroyer gun fire that afternoon. At about 0115 we passed through the narrows and increased speed to 25 knots skirting close to the eastern shore of Java. The moon was full but clouds from time to time obscured it. At 0210 we sighted an enemy ship bearing 340° relative, distant about 8000 yards on a parallel course obviously patrolling the southern entrance to Bali Strait. She kept away from us as we increased speed to 27 knots and headed as close as possible to Tandjong Priok. At 0230 she was joined by two destroyers. At 0233 the enemy opened fire which was returned. We came to 28 knots, skirted the coast, rounding point Karanginte, passing close to the reef - came to course 240° and then back to 210° to avoid the reefs which were close aboard. The expected cruiser did not appear, the fire on both sides was ineffective and at 0237 as we were out of range the enemy ceased firing. We reduced speed to 27 knots and continued on course 210°. At this time one of our ships started to make smoke. Under the conditions 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. From then on our trip to Fremantle was uneventful.
- Lieutenant W. J. Giles, Jr., U.S. Navy, did an outstanding piece of navigation in taking the division through Bali Strait under the conditions we encountered -- it was obvious that the night of February 28 - March 1 would be our last chance to clear the Barrier. We had no torpedoes, the officers and men were worn down by the fighting, bombing, and continuous work of the past three days. Our only possible base lay far to the South. A damaged ship was a lost ship. We could not afford to close the range and allow other enemy forces to close in from the Eastward. Three previous passages of Bali Strait gave Lieutenant Giles the confidence to skirt the reefs close aboard and bring the division through safely, but close navigation under fire requires cool nerve and skill and for that reason and because of the cool expert ship handling he displayed in the Battle of Bandoeng Strait on 20 February, I recommend Lieutenant W. J. Giles, Jr., U.S. Navy for promotion to the grade of Lieutenant Commander and the award of the Navy Cross.
H. E. Eccles,
Commander, U.S. Navy,