Battle of Sunda Strait
28th Feb - 1st Mar 1942

         


PERTH opens fire on HARUKAZE
My artwork

Charles Delbridge
Aged 32
Gunner S2 4"
(My uncle)

SURVIVOR



Fred Delbridge
Aged 34
Stoker

KILLED IN ACTION

 


Last photo of HMAS PERTH
Taken from HMAS Hobart on 27th FEB 1942

 

PERTH and HOUSTON returned to Tanjong Priok at 2.30pm on Saturday 28th February, 1942. 

There they received orders to escape through Sunda Strait , which runs between Java and Sumatra, and make for Tjilitap on the south coast of Java. ( PERTH'S sister ship HOBART had already entered the Strait at 6.10am that morning and by 9am was out into the Indian Ocean.)   Both ships were short of fuel and ammunition and only a small amount of fuel was available in the port.   Plans to leave at 6pm were thwarted by an air attack and it was 9pm before both ships cleared the protective mine-field off Tanjong Priok.  The sea was calm and there was a clear sky and full moon as both ships raced for the entrance to Sunda Strait.

   Allied intelligence had reported the Strait clear of enemy vessels and the nearest Japanese were reported to be 50 miles northwest and moving away.    Unfortunately this report was at least 24hrs old. Another airforce reconnaisssance report, about
Japanese positions at noon on the 28th, was not received by PERTH or HOUSTON **. Our ships sped on, not knowing that the Japanese invasion fleet was already at Java and lay directly across their escape route. A number of Japanese transports were already waiting in the western side of Banten Bay to disembark part of the invasion force.


The 12th DIV. Destroyers
MURAKUMO and SHIRAKUMO were stationed in Sunda Strait covering the western part of the invasion force near Merak.

The 5th DIV.Destroyer
ASAKAZE was north of St Nicholas Point and the HARUKAZE and HATAKAZE were in Banten Bay with the eastern force transports.

Two of the 11th DIV Destroyers,
HATSUYUKI and SHIRAYUKI were north of Sunda Strait with the Light Cruiser NATORI. SHIKINAMI was well to the north with the Heavy Cruisers MIKUMA and MOGAMI, and FUBUKI was on her own just west of Babi Island. She would be the first to sight the allied cruisers.
At 10.30pm FUBUKI sighted PERTH and HOUSTON. She circled around the north side of Babi Island and quietly shadowed them for the next half hour.  At 11.06 PERTH lookouts sighted HARUKAZE  about 5 miles ahead.  When challenged she made an unrecognizable reply with a green light and then sped off northward, making smoke to cover the Jap transports.  PERTH immediately turned to starboard and opened fire.  A few minutes later PERTH sighted FUBUKI and, illuminating her, opened fire.  FUBUKI fired her torpedoes at PERTH and HOUSTON but both ships turned to starboard in a tight circle and avoided being hit. They then resumed their course for the light marking St Nicholas Point. 

At 11.30pm the NATORI, HATSUYUKI,and SHIRAYUKI arrived and were joined by ASAKAZE, HARUKAZE, and HATAKAZE. They commenced torpedo and gunfire attacks on the allied cruisers and they sent an urgent call to the 8" cruisers MOGAMI and MIKUMA to assist.  PERTH exchanged fire with HATAKAZE and scored hits on HARUKAZE and SHIRAYUKI. The fire from the allied cruisers was so intense that the Japanese were forced to break off under a smokescreen.

 At 11.50pm MOGAMI and MIKUMA both launched 6 torpedoes each at our ships.  Another attempt was made by the Jap destroyers to mount a torpedo attack but they were driven off by the sheer ferocity of the gunfire from PERTH and HOUSTON   At 11.50pm PERTH was hit by a shell from HARUKAZE which did little damage.   Our cruisers were still exchanging fire with the enemy cruisers and at 11.55pm HOUSTON scored hits on MIKUMA causing her to lose electrical power.  This was soon restored.

top
Japanese painting of torpedo attack on HOUSTON
(Courtesy of Kevin Denlay)

PERTH had only suffered some minor hits but both she and HOUSTON were running very low on ammunition. PERTH was low on 6" and the 4"AA were firing star shells and practice rounds to make it look like they had plenty of ammunition left.  On HOUSTON, the forward turrets were getting low and 8" shells were being passed by hand from the disabled rear turret to the forward turrets. There were so many targets that our ships were unable to fire on them all and some Jap destroyers were able to get in close and rake our cruisers' decks with machine gun fire while others lit up the allied cruisers with searchlights. 

At 11.55pm PERTH started to turn to make a run for Sunda Strait.   At the same time SHIRAYUKI, MURAKUMO, HARUKAZE and HATAKAZE all fired torpedoes toward her.  PERTH was hit by four torpedoes over the next 15 minutes, 3 on the port side and one on the starboard. She also received numerous shell hits. At 0025 on 1st March 1942, she finally sank a few miles ENE of St Nicholas Point not far from the entrance to Sunda Strait.   HOUSTON now received all the attention and sank at 0045, not far from PERTH.   In all, the Japanese had fired over 90 torpedoes at our ships.  

USS HOUSTON
Darwin, Australia
Feb. 1942


Japanese losses were four transports, SAKURA MARU, HORAI MARU, RYUJO MARU, TATSUNO MARU and the minesweeper W2 . All these ships were believed to have been sunk by the torpedoes fired by MIKUMA that missed the two allied cruisers.
Both Capt.H.M.L.Waller of HMAS PERTH and Capt.A.H.Rooks of USS HOUSTON were killed in action.  PERTH lies in about 30 metres of water at position  05.51.42S  106.07.52E about 3 miles ENE of St.Nicholas Point on the NW tip of Java.  Of her crew of 682 men, only 229 returned to Australia at the end of the war.

HOUSTON lies about a mile NW of Padjang Island at position 05.54.S 106.08.5E


Sunda Strait area
Map

MAP OF THE BATTLE OF SUNDA STRAIT

NOTE: The map showing the tracks of ships is based on Allied and Japanese sources. The battle was very frantic and times and tracks vary on some maps. While the information on my map is as accurate as possible, the map should not be taken as the "final word" . The sinking positions are accurate. The times are Allied times.

For photos of Japanese Warships go to
IJN Page
BANTEN BAY



** Taken from a supplement in the London Gazette of 20th February 1947 detailing air operations in the Java area on 27/28 Feb. 1942.

"530. On the 27th February, a small convoy
with escort was located about 50 miles south
of the southern tip of Banka Island steaming
slowly on a north-easterly course. This might
or anight not be part of an invading convoy
" marking time " before turning south towards
Western Java.

531. On the 28th February about noon, the
situation became clearer. A convoy was
sighted at that hour approximately 100 miles
north-east of Batavia steaming on an easterly
course at high speed. It consisted of n(?) transports.
One cruiser and three destroyers were disposed
some 30 miles to the south and on a
parallel course. Another and larger convoy
was located to the north-west: strength, course
and speed were not clear. Both were at a
distance which would make landings possible at
two- points in western Java about midnight."

(Website note:- These may have been sightings made by RAF Blenheims of 84 Squadron based at Kalijati in Western Java)

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Positions of sinkings Map of Battle of Sunda Strait