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"A Turn Too Far: Reconstructing the End of the Battle of the" Topic

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Tango0116 Mar 2021 4:07 p.m. PST

… Java Sea

"While in modern military history there is little that can compare to the stand of the "300" Spartans (if you ignore their 1300 or so troops from other Greek allies) against the invading Xerxes and his 100,000 Achaemenid Persian troops at Thermopylae, a very good case can be made that the Java Sea Campaign in the early days of World War II in the Pacific does just that. This three-month campaign to defend Malaya (now Malaysia) and the Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia) from the Japanese with a combined force of American, British, Dutch and Australian (ABDA) forces culminated in the disastrous Battle of the Java Sea, in which organized naval resistance to the Japanese advance was swept away. While there were no dramatic speeches, no tossing of insults, no troops fighting in their underwear, no trolls, no orcs dressed as Immortals not that there were actually trolls or orcs at the original Thermopylae no convenient betrayal by a treacherous goat farmer, and ultimately there was not nearly the same effectiveness as Leonidas and his Lakedaemonians, there was every bit the courage in the face of hopeless odds and the determination in the face of death to do everything they could to stop or at least delay the enemy until reinforcements this time in the form of ships and planes produced by American industrial might could take the offensive.

The Java Sea campaign has gotten little in the way of analysis in the English-speaking press, and what coverage it has gotten has largely focused on the role of the crews of individual ships such as the US cruiser Houston, the Australian cruiser Perth and the British cruiser Exeter, particularly in their futile efforts to escape the Java Sea, James Hornfischer's excellent book Ship of Ghosts being a case in point. This relative silence is understandable for several reasons. First of all, we lost. Unless the defeat can be used to bash the United States like Vietnam is, defeats tend to get less play in the media. Furthermore, the territory being defended was a Dutch colony, which, since the Dutch mainland was under Nazi occupation, was effectively serving as their homeland, and thus meant much more to the Dutch than the Anglos, who found the campaign small in comparison to their overall war effort in the Pacific.

But a major reason why it has not gotten much examination is simply because of a lack of information, which is exemplified no better than in the ending of the Battle of the Java Sea. This decisive action that took over seven hours ended in what amounted to a midnight fog. The last ditch effort of the ABDA Combined Striking Force under Dutch schout-bij-nacht (rear admiral) Karel W.F.M. Doorman, now down to only four ships, was literally torpedoed by a Japanese force under Rear Admiral Takagi Takeo just before midnight on February 27, 1942. Most histories simply state that Takagi's cruisers Nachi and Haguro torpedoed and sank the Dutch light cruisers De Ruyter and Java, while Perth and Houston sped off "into the night." They usually say "into the night," too.[1] That is usually where the narrative of the battle ends…"
Full article here


Personal logo Grelber Supporting Member of TMP16 Mar 2021 8:07 p.m. PST

Interesting account of the Battle of the Java Sea. I've read about it before, but as the author notes, accounts have been lacking in detail.

That is, by the way, a common ploy among historians: if you don't know what happened due to lack of sources, skip over the blank spots, and don't point out you have no clue what happened in the unreported time period.


Only Warlock17 Mar 2021 11:16 a.m. PST

There was so much disarray in ABDA combined with the failure of the Admiral Doorman to even request Air Cover (Not that that would have stopped the Japanese Aircraft, those pilots were razor sharp) ensured the rapid destruction of his task force. ABDAFLOAT rapidly went to ABDASUNK.

Personal logo The Virtual Armchair General Sponsoring Member of TMP17 Mar 2021 11:29 a.m. PST

Still, it's one of the great "What if's" of the war.

The ABDA fleet came within a hair of meeting the Japanese invasion transports, unknowingly, of course. If they'd met them, it could have been the biggest Imperial defeat of the war until Midway.

If Midway would have been fought at all…

I fear the coming war with China will look sickeningly like those opening moves of the Japanese offensive, complete with remnant Allied forces desperately fighting to the last.


Tango0117 Mar 2021 12:51 p.m. PST

Glad you enjoyed it my friend!.


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