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
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.
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
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
When challenged she made an unrecognizable reply with a green light
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
For photos of Japanese Warships
** 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
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)