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AS JAPANESE forces pushed
south into Indonesia, a small
fleet of Allied ships did all
they could to hold off the
invasion in the Java Sea.
Following the Battle of the Java Sea
in late-February 1942, HMAS Pe r th and
USS Houston were the only Allied ves-
sels capable of continuing the fight.
After a brief stop in Tandjeong Priok,
Indonesia, Perth and Houston made a
break for the Sunda Strait to escape the
Japanese invasion fleet that was closing
from the Java Sea.
Both ships were short of ammunition
for their main armament as well as fuel
oil, but the closing Japanese meant that
clearing into the Indian Ocean was of
greater importance than re-supply.
As the two ships approached the strait,
an unknown vessel was spotted on the
horizon and challenged. After passing an
unusual reply, the mystery ship lay down
a screen of smoke and turned away.
Identifying the ship as a Japanese
destroyer, Perth opened fire with her 6"
main armament and turned to bring all
her guns to bear.
Perth and Houston had come across
a Japanese fleet of at least two heavy
cruisers, a light cruiser and as many as 10
Reports indicated that Perth sank the
first destroyer, but there was much more
fighting to be done. Another Japanese
fleet was closing from the north compris-
ing an aircraft carrier, four heavy cruisers
and more destroyers.
Rounds were landing from all direc-
tions as the Allied ships were surround-
ed. Perth switched her four 6" guns to
independent mode in an effort to engage
as many targets as possible.
Houston had lost her aft 8" guns dur-
ing the previous battle but engaged with
her forward armament.
Perth had remained unscathed until,
in an effort to protect the Houston, she
closed her ally to cover and protect her
stern and started taking fire. She fired
her torpedoes in a spread formation and
several targets were hit.
In a last ditched attempt for survival,
Pe r t h attempted to break the Japanese
line of cruisers and destroyers blocking
the southern end of the strait.
In the hour up to this point, the enemy
had fired more than 80 torpedoes at
Perth and Houston, but it wasn't until
the attempted break-out that Perth took a
torpedo below the waterline.
Three more torpedoes were to strike
the ship and, to the end, she fought back.
As the order to abandon ship was given,
the Japanese destroyers closed to point
blank range and pounded Perth.
Her captain, CAPT Hector Waller,
continued at half speed in a bid to clear
the men who had leapt into the water.
Eventually the bow began to slide under
the water and the stern came clear of the
surface, only one shaft turning.
Survivors described the ship as "driv-
ing into the ocean" instead of sinking
and CAPT Waller was reportedly pass-
ing orders on the bridge as his ship went
At the end of the battle, the Japanese
had lost an incredible 15 ships at the
hands of Perth and Houston. Japanese
media reported that the fleet had come
upon a great battleship fleet, not two
cruisers with depleted fuel and ammuni-
tion.Overcome by sheer numbers, the
Allied vessels were lost. Perth lost 353
men killed during the battle, four died
ashore and 324 were taken into POW
camps. Of these, only 218 would return
The Battle of the Java Sea saw many Allied ships destroyed or
damaged with only two left to escape the destruction and live
to fight another day. LSIS Paul McCallum takes a look at the
days following the Battle of the Java Sea.
Desperate lunge for safety19
AERIAL STARBOARD VIEW OF THE CRUISER HMAS PERTH: With limited ammunition for her 6"
guns, HMAS Per th took on a Japanese invasion fleet and went down fighting.
Photo courtesy of the Australian War Memorial: ID 301166_1
February 4, 2010
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