Operation 1st Battle of Balikpapan

The '1st Battle of Balikpapan' was fought between Japanese and Dutch forces for the oil-rich island of Balikpapan off the south-eastern coast of the Dutch portion of Borneo in the Dutch East Indies (23/25 January 1942).

After capturing the mostly destroyed oilfields on Tarakan island farther to the north in the '1st Battle of Tarakan', the Japanese forces send an ultimatum to the Dutch that they would be executed if they destroyed Balikpapan’s oilfields, but the Dutch ignored this threat. After destroying the oilfields, the Dutch forces retreated inland, taking up positions in and around the Samarinda II airfield, while the Japanese landed and seized the island’s refineries, which had also been destroyed by the Dutch. Shortly after this, a US naval task force arrived and ambushed the invasion convoy, sinking several transport ships but ultimately failing to prevent a rapid Japanese occupation of Balikpapan.

Before World War II, Balikpapan was a crucial centre of the Dutch economy in Borneo. Within the town of Balikpapan, there were two crude oil processing facilities, one paraffin processing plant, one lubricating oil plant, one cracking plant, one sulphuric acid plant, one petroleum refining plant, one tin and drum factory, and several workshops. Most importantly, Balikpapan housed an oil refinery with a complex of petroleum tanks that could hold eight times as much those at Tarakan, employing up to 7,000 local workers and 100 European managers and technicians, who produced an annual total of as much as one millions tons of oil.

As the Dutch began to contemplate the possibility of a Japanese military aggression against their East Indies territories, they began to bolster the defences to protect the island’s facilities. In 1924, a detachment of six infantry 'brigades' was stationed there to defend the oilfields, as well as those of Semboja and Sanga Sanga, supported by three more 'brigades' from Samarinda. As with the detachment at Tarakan, it was planned that troops from Java would reinforce the Balikpapan detachment if there emerged a real threat to the area. In 1933, a battalion staff and two companies were despatched to strengthen Balikpapan’s defence as tensions in the Pacific started to increase. After four months, however, the reinforcement returned to Java, and after this the strength of the detachment at Balikpapan was reduced to a single infantry battalion.

In their plan to conquer the Dutch East Indies, Balikpapan occupied both a strategic and tactical significance as a target. Strategically, its oil refinery was deemed vital for Japan’s own petroleum requirements, and in occupying Balikpapan Japan could have a direct access to the large oilfields in Borneo’s interior. Tactically, Balikpapan also possessed both a harbour and Manggar airfield that were critical for Japan’s occupation of southern Borneo and the capture of Java itself.

The seizure of Balikpapan was a task allocated to Major General Shizuo Sakaguchi’s 'Sakaguchi' Detachment'. This was divided into three units: Colonel Kenichi Kanauji’s Raid Unit of one battalion less one company, one regimental gun battery, three radio sections, one engineer platoon and one medical unit; Lieutenant Colonel Motozō Kume’s Airfield Seizure Unit of one battalion less two companies, one radio section, one armoured car platoon and one field artillery battery; and Colonel Kyohei Yamamoto’s Assault Unit of the 146th Regiment less its 2nd Battalion and one company, the 2nd Kure Special Landing Force, one armoured car unit less one platoon, the 1st Field Artillery Battalion less one battery, one engineer platoon, and after the completion of their primary tasks single platoons each of the Airfield Seizure Unit and Samboja Seizure Unit. This last comprised the 2nd Company (supplemented after the seizure of the airfield by one armoured car platoon and one artillery battery) and the Battlefield Resources Salvage Unit

The Japanese naval forces committed to the seizure of Balikpapan were Rear Admiral Shoji Nishimura’s Western Attack Unit centred on the light cruiser Naka. This attack unit comprised Nishimura’s own 4th Destroyer Flotilla (the 2nd Destroyer Division with Harusame, Samidare and Yudachi, the 9th Destroyer Division with Asagumo, Minegumo and Natsugumo and the 24th Destroyer Division woth Umikaze, Kawakaze, Yamakaze and Suzukaze), the Transport unit in two parts as the 1st Echelon comprising the Tsuruga Maru, Liverpool Maru, Hiteru Maru, Kumagawa Maru, Ehime Maru, Asahisan Maru, Nittei Maru and Sumanoura Maru, and the 2nd Echelon comprising the Havana Maru, Hankow Maru, Teiryu Maru, Kuretake Maru, Kanayama Maru, Toei Maru and Nana Maru.

Captain Takamasa Fujisawa’s Air Group comprised the seaplane tenders Sanyo Maru and Sanuki Maru.

Rear Admiral Sueto Hirose’s Base Force comprised the 2nd Base Force with the patrol vessels P-36, P-37 and P-38, the 11th Minesweeper Division with W-15 and W-16, the 30th Minesweeper Division with W-17 and W-18, the 21st Submarine-Chaser Division with CH-4 and CH-16, and the 31st Submarine-Chaser Division with CH-10, CH-11 and CH-12.

The Dutch defence of Balikpapan was centred on Luitenant-kolonel Cornelis van den Hoogenband’s 6th Battalion), and comprised an infantry component of two infantry companies and one machine gun company with eight mortars, two anti-tank guns and three overvalwagen armoured cars' an artillery component two 120-mm (4.72-in) and six 75-mm (2.95-in) coast-defence guns, six 75-mm (2.95-in) towed guns, and two 40-mm and nine 12.7-mm (0.5-in) anti-aircraft guns; and miscellaneous other units including a 20-man demolition detachment supported by about 130 conscripted Bataafse Petroleum Maatschappij (Batavian Petroleum Company) employees, and a five-man medical team supported by 40 stretcher bearers.

Balikpapan’s Dutch garrison had been instructed to defend the town, and especially its oil refineries, against a coup-de-main attempt, and to engage in a delaying action to make time to carry out the destruction of the local facilities. Once it seemed clear that the town must fall into Japanese hands, the Dutch troops were to wage a guerrilla campaign in the hinterland. For the destruction of the oil facilities, time of three and eight hours were allotted for Balikpapan and Sambodja respectively. A demolition exercise showed, however, that it would take much more time if the demolitions were to be carried out effectively.

van den Hoogenband established a primary defensive position at Klandasan to block the road from Manggar airfield to the town, a secondary defensive line round the radio station and a third line (the Rapak position) covering the line retreat into the hinterland.

In an effort to prevent Japanese landings, the Dutch naval minelayers Gouden Leeuw, Eland Dubois and Soemenep laid a barrier of 290 mines around the approaches to the Balikpapan Bay between September 1939 and December 1941.

Finally, to prepare for the guerrilla campaign, van den Hoogenband established evacuation camps for the accommodation of about 30,000 people around 3.7 to 5.6 miles (6 to 9 km) from Balikpapan and, shortly after the fall of Tarakan, ordered the evacuation of Balikpapan civilian population to these camps. In addition, food depots are also constructed on the river banks every 6.2 miles (10 km) from the town and near the oil-pumping stations on the Wain river and at Mentawir to sustain the troops during the guerrilla campaign.

As the Japanese capture of Tarakan proceeded more quickly than had been predicted, the 'Sakaguchi' Detachment and Western Attack Unit advanced the date for their occupation of Balikpapan. The Japanese plan was firstly to establish contact and destroy the Dutch forces while every effort was exerted to prevent the destruction of the oil refinery installations, to seize the airfield and ready it for involvement in the 'J' (ii) invasion of the eastern part of Java; secondly, to capture the airfield with the main force immediately upon landing in the vicinity, at the same time to move part of the main force surreptitiously up the river below the port and make a surprise attack on the Dutch rear in order to break organised resistance, and prevent the destruction of the oil installations; thirdly, after the capture of the Balikpapan oilfield, secure the Sanga Sanga oilfield region; and fourthly, make preparations to develop Balikpapan as the centre of the Japanese military administration of southern Borneo.

Despite the timing, already ahead of the original schedule, the debarkation and construction activity to ensure the readiness of Tarakan airfield made only slow progress. Delays in the development of the airfield’s capacity to serve as a staging position for the attack on Balikpapan, Nishimura and Sakaguchi agreed to postpone the landing at Balikpapan from 21 to 24 January. Even so, as the postponement did not provide sufficient time to ready Tarakan airfield for the use of transport aircraft, the plan to commit paratroopers in the attack of Balikpapan was abandoned.

Concerned that the Dutch defenders intended to destroy rather than surrender the oilfields at Balikpapan, the Japanese planned to release several Dutch prisoners of war to deliver a message warning that swift reprisals would fall on the defenders and civilians alike should they destroy the refineries. To carry the ultimatum to the defenders, Sakaguchi used Kapitein Gerard Reinderhoff, the former chief-of-staff of the Tarakan garrison’s commander, and Kapitein Anton Colijn, manager of the BPM oil company on Tarakan, an army reservist and son of a former Dutch prime minister. On the morning of 16 January, the two men were sent to Balikpapan on the captured BPM motor schooner Parsifal with an Indonesian captain and three Japanese interpreters, though some sources say two Japanese naval lieutenants and two sailors, while others claim three Japanese interpreters and two Indonesian police officers. The sources suggest that Colijn and Reinderhoff either overpowered or deceived their captors, who were possibly drunk, and managed to lock them inside a cabin. Colijn then tore down the Japanese ensign, while Reinderhoff waved a Dutch flag. As the seas were too rough for a landing, the Dornier Do 24K flying boat sent to collect the two men flew back to base but returned on the following day to alight and collect Colijn and Reinderhoff for delivery to Balikpapan, where they delivered the ultimatum directly to van den Hoogenband.

van den Hoogenband immediately gave the order for the demolition team to began destroying all the wells, refineries and port facilities in Balikpapan. The destruction had actually already begun on 18 January. In the Louise oilfields, located to the north of Balikpapan, Dutch demolition teams dismantled the well piping and dropped it down the holes together with pump plungers and accessory rods. To complete the work, materials such as bolts, nuts and heavy drilling bits was thrown after them. Finally, a tin containing four pieces of explosive was used to destroy the casings. Within a few days all motors, pumps, dynamos and turbines had been demolished.

At Balikpapan proper, stills and steam boilers were first wrecked, which took 36 hours. The destruction of the installations then continued throughout the region and at the port itself. First, the teams set fire to the wharves by encircling them with burning oil from ignited gasoline drums. They then blew up the factories: the paraffin wax factory, the packed lubricating oil drum store, and the salt-water pumping station were all dynamited. A newly constructed tin plant in the Pandansari factory was also burned down. The destruction efforts ended with the obliteration of laboratories, tank farms and the power station with explosives whose detonations shattered windows throughout the town. By the fall of night on 20 January, the blaze from the destructions could be seen from a distance of some 60 miles (100 km).

From a date in the middle of January 1942, BPM personnel and civilians still in the area were airlifted out of Balikpapan. After the fall of Tarakan, three Lockheed Lodestar and one Douglas DC-2 twin-engined transport aircraft operated from Soerabaja to carry out resupply and evacuation flights. Hundreds of evacuees were flown from Manggar airfield to Soerabaja and also to Oelin airfield near Banjarmasin on Borneo’s southern coast. From 20 January, however, evacuations from Balikpapan were possible only by flying boat. To avoid reprisals, the engineers who had carried out the demolitions, as well as Colijn and Reinderhoff, were also evacuated: it was on the night of 20 January that the two officers, along with 25 other evacuees, departed for Java. At the same time, BPM sent out a Grumman Goose twin-engined amphibian flying boat to evacuate their company officials and employees. The last such evacuation flight was made on 23 January.

On that same night, the Dutch naval air service also began evacuation runs, starting with the two Do 24K 'boats of the GVT.4 squadron: these made back and forth trips between Balikpapan and Soerabaja, evacuating the naval commander and his personnel of the Balikpapan naval establishment, as well as demolition teams who had destroyed the Samboja drilling site. On the next run on 22 January, two additional Dornier 'boats joined the effort, but only two made the landing on the Wain river and evacuated 58 BPM members of the demolition team and the remaining naval air service ground personnel. Of the two other Dornier 'boats, one had to turned back in the face of bad weather, while the other crashed and exploded while trying to land on Sungai Wain, killing four of the flight crew’s five men. Throughout the evacuation, blazing fires from the town helped to guide the aircraft as they were visible a full hour’s flight time away.

The rest of the demolition team, 87 Europeans and 10 Indonesians from BPM and other companies, aided by 140 Indonesian porters, marched toward Banjarmasin. When Japanese troops cut that route, the porters ran off and the team decided to split into smaller groups to attempt to reach Samarinda II airfield as best they could. The largest of the groups eventually reached the airfield at the end of February and was evacuated to Java, and another group reached the airfield on 8 March, when the Netherlands capitulated. From the rest of the small groups, several reached Banjarmasin using local vessels, two groups reached Java after the Dutch capitulation and one reached Lombok. Others were captured and killed by Japanese troops. In all, out of the 87 Europeans, 41 survived, none of whom reached Banjarmasin.

At 17.00 on 21 January, the Japanese invasion fleet of one light cruiser, nine destroyers, four minesweepers, three submarine chasers, three patrol boats and 16 transport ships departed Tarakan for Balikpapan. A Dutch naval air service Dornier 'boat spotted the fleet on that same day, but heavy clouds with strong winds and prolonged rain prevented the 'boat from shadowing the fleet. On the next day, the US submarines S-40, Pickerel Porpoise, Saury, Spearfish and Sturgeon were ordered to intercept the fleet. Later, they were joined by Dutch submarines K-XIV and K-XVIII. Sturgeon fired several torpedoes at the convoy and reported sinking three ships, but post-war records failed to confirm any damage to the fleet.

On 23 January, a US Consolidated PBY twin-engined flying boat of Patrol Wing 10 spotted the fleet at 12.20 and shadowed it for an hour. From 16.25, as many as three waves of Dutch Martin B-10 twin-engined bombers (19 in total) escorted by up to 12 Brewster Buffalo single-engined fighters attacked the fleet. The first and second waves scored no hits, and many of the Dutch aircraft were forced to turn back as a result of bad weather. The third wave was slightly more successful narrowly missing the Kawakaze, slightly damaging the transport Tatsugami Maru and sinking the transport Nana Maru at the cost of one Martin bomber shot down.

Despite these attacks, at 22.30 the Japanese began their landing on Balikpapan as the Raid Unit disembarked and made its way through the bay to land behind van den Hoogenband’s defence lines. At 01.40 on 24 January, the Airfield Seizure Unit and Assault Unit transferred to their landing craft and also began to make their way to the beaches.

At about 00.00, reports reached van den Hoogenband of craft moving in Balikpapan Bay and heading toward the Klandasan position. Dense smoke from the burning facilities made it difficult for Dutch searchlights to observe the water in front of them, enabling the Raid Unit to proceed unhindered into the Wain river behind the Dutch lines. A Dutch patrol soon reported this movement to van den Hoogenband, who ordered the 2nd Company to secure the 120-mm (4.72-in) coast-defence guns and sent overvalwagen armored cars to patrol and report any Japanese activities on the inland retreat route. At 03.30 on 24 January, the Raid Unit entered the mouth of the Wain river, where it were greeted by two Indonesian police officers and guided up the river.

At the break of day, the 2nd Company reported that it managed to prevent the Raid Unit from reaching Balikpapan and threatening the Dutch line of retreat. However, at 06.30, van den Hoogenband received reports of Japanese troops advancing to the east in the direction of the defensive lines, and by 07.00 Japanese troops were nearing the Klandasan position. With little in the way of reserves at his disposal, van den Hoogenband had to decide whether to reinforce the Klandasan position or to attempt a break-out through the Raid Unit and retreat inland. As there was little merit in any continued defence of a ruined town, van den Hoogenband opted for the latter, informed the Dutch general headquarters at Bandoeng in western Java of his decision, and ordered his troops to destroy their guns, searchlights and radio station, and to bolster the rear defences for the break-out.

The 2nd Company was now ordered to take and hold the Wain river pumping station to enable the rest of the Dutch forces to retreat. Later, even though there were no reports from it, van den Hoogenband believed that 2nd Company had managed to hold the pumping station and that the overvalwagen patrols had kept the retreat routes safe from Japanese troops. At 09.00, the Dutch commander assembled his troops and their families, 700 persons in all, in about 100 trucks and other vehicles. Led by an overvalwagen, this convoy began the break-out push inland and retreated to Batoehampar.

Kanauji’s forces eventually landed at 17.30 on that day. On 25 January, the Raid Unit divided, one element advancing to seize the pumping station, another advancing toward Balikpapan, and the rest of the main force moving along the road between Batu Ampar and Balikpapan. At 14.40, when the main force advanced into Batu Ampar, it defeated a Dutch force (either the 2nd Company or parts of van den Hoogenband’s column) and took it prisoner, effectively cutting off any line of retreat inland.

Earlier, at 02.40 on 24 January, the Airfield Seizure Unit and Assault Unit had landed without meeting any resistance, and by daybreak these had seized the airfield and the bridges. Even though van den Hoogenband’s troops had destroyed the bridges on the coastal road, Yamamoto’s troops managed to reach the northern end of Balikpapan by night. By 04.00 on 25 January, the Assault Unit had entered Balikpapan unopposed. After the fall of night, the Raid Unit linked with the Assault Unit when it entered the town, and with this Balikpapan was in Japanese hands.

As the Japanese forces transferred from the transports to their landing craft and made their way to Balikpapan, the Dutch submarine K-XVIII, under the command of Luitenant ter zee der 1ste klasse Carel A.J. van Well Groeneveld, made contact with the Balikpapan invasion convoy. At 00.35, van Well Groenveld fired three torpedoes on what he reported to be a '1,400-ton destroyer', which was actually the light cruiser Naka. All the torpedoes missed Naka, and the submarine fired another torpedo that hit and sank the transport ship Tsuruga Maru between 00.40 and 00.45, taking down with her one man of her crew and 39 men of the 'Sakaguchi' Detachment.

As Naka and the 4th Destroyer Flotilla left the convoy to hunt for K-XVIII, they opened the path for the US 59th Destroyer Division to attack the now unguarded transport convoy. Admiral Thomas Hart, commander of the US Navy’s Asiatic Fleet, had assembled a strike force (Task Force 5) which departed Koepang on Timor during 20 January. Commanded by Rear Admiral William A. Glassford, TF 5 comprised the light cruisers Boise and Marblehead and the destroyers John D. Ford, Pope, Parrott, Paul Jones, Pillsbury and Bulmer. While Glassford was the overall commander, Commander Paul H. Talbot led destroyers.

At that time, Marblehead had only one working steam turbine, which limited her speed to 15 kt. On 21 January, Boise struck an uncharted reef off Kelapa island in the Sape Strait, and this ripped a gash 120 ft (36.6 m) long in the ship’s port keel. Thus the two cruisers were forced to retire to Waworada Bay under escort of Bulmer and Pillsbury. From there, Boise and Pillsbury headed back to Tjilatjap, while Marblehead and Bulmer steamed toward Soerabaja. Under Talbot, the remaining four destroyers continued toward Balikpapan.

In order to maintain the element of surprise for as long as possible, Talbot ordered his destroyers to use torpedoes as their primary attack weapon for that night and only to fire their guns once the torpedoes had been expended. Guided by the burning wreck of Nana Maru and Balikpapan’s blazing fires, TF 5 entered the Makassar Strait just after midnight on 24 January. At 02.35 the task force ran straight into the path of the cruiser Naka and four destroyers. One of the destroyers signalled a challenge, to which Talbot’s ships made no reply and, on the assumption that what they had seen wee friendly ships, the Japanese destroyers passed TF 5 without raising any alarm.

Some 10 minutes later, Talbot spotted the Japanese transport fleet, silhouetted against the fires of the burning oilfields and shielded by three patrol vessels, four minesweepers and four submarine chasers. At 02.57, W-15 spotted one of the US destroyers, but assumed that this was Naka. Parrott, followed by John D. Ford and Paul Jones, fired a total of seven torpedoes at the minesweeper, but all missed. As the US destroyers reached the northern end of the transport fleet, Parrott fired three torpedoes at 03.00, hitting Sumanoura Maru and causing a huge explosion which sank the ship, which had been carrying depth charges and mines.

Soon after this, W-15 alerted Nishimura that the transport fleet was under attack. Despite the alarm, Nishimura refused to believe that any Allied surface ships could penetrate the anchorage and therefore assumed that the attack must be coming from K-XVIII. In the midst of the newly created confusion, Pope, Parrott and Paul Jones fired 10 torpedoes at 03.06, and one of these struck Tatsugami Maru. Compounded by the damage suffered in the Dutch air raid of the previous day, the munition-loaded ship exploded and sank 30 minutes later. Talbot then turned TF 5 to the south at 03.14, aiming to attack the southern end of the fleet.

Five minutes later, Pope and Parrott fired five torpedoes at what they assumed was a destroyer, but was actually the patrol vessel P-37. Built as a destroyer in World War I, P-37 sustained three torpedo hits that badly damaged the vessel and killed 35 of her crew. John D. Ford and Paul Jones followed with an attack on Kuretake Maru, which managed to evade the first two torpedoes before a second torpedo from Paul Jones then hit amidships and the transport ship soon sank. Pope, Parrott and Paul Jones now signalled Talbot that they had expended all their torpedoes, and Talbot authorised them to use their 4-in (102-mm) guns on the transports.

At this time, however, TF 5’s formation began to break up. John D. Ford steamed on a north-westerly course at 03.35, followed shortly by Pope. John D. Ford then fired her last two torpedoes on the wreck of Tsuruga Maru before attacking Kumagawa Maru and Asahisan Maru at the same time. Shells from the destroyer’s 4-in )102-mm) guns and 0/5=in (12.7-mm) machine guns riddled both ships, killing six of Kumagawa Maru's crew and 50 of Asahisan Maru's crew. As she did so, however, a shell hit John D. Ford's after section at 03.47, wounding four crew members. Avoiding running aground in shoal waters, the commander of the destroyer, Lieutenant Commander Jacob D. Cooper, made a port turn and doubled back to catch up with the rest of TF 5, which was already steaming away from Balikpapan Bay. John D. Ford managed to rejoin the rest of TF 5 at 06.42.

By this time, Nishimura and the 4th Destroyer Flotilla were still on a wild-goose chase to find and sink K-XVIII, and were thus 3.7 to 4.3 miles (6 to 7 km) away. It was not until 05.20 before Nishimura finally ordered the 9th Destroyer Division to cut off TF 5’s escape route. As none of these destroyers knew the location of the US ships, Nishimura eventually ordered the 9th Destroyer Flotilla to resume their previous task. As his flagship Naka sailed into the anchorage to ascertain the condition of the transports, she was separated from the 9th Destroyer Division and rejoined the transport echelons on her own.

Back on land, on reaching Batu Ampar, van den Hoogenband realised that Japanese troops had occupied defensive points leading to the pumping station. His forces now had to retreat through the evacuation camps, upon which several hundred women and children, mostly families of the Indonesian soldiers, joined his column. On 25 January, they received report that the Wain river pumping station was already under Japanese control. Considering that his troops were now highly fatigued, van den Hoogenband ordered no attack on the pumping station and persuaded the women and children to return to Balikpapan as they stood a better chance of obtaining food there. Some of the Women went back to the evacuation camp, while others remained in the villages around Wain river. The remaining 500 soldiers continued the retreat to the north.

Throughout the retreat, Dutch troops encountered difficulties in replacing lost equipment and obtaining food, as most of the food depots had been seized by the Japanese. It was not until the Dutch troops reached the road between Mentawir and Semoi that they managed to find a rice store in a labour camp. On 3 February, the column reached the the village of Boeat, where they obtained more food and also additional intelligence. Local officials informed van den Hoogenband that Japanese troops had occupied the town of Samarinda that same day, but that the Samarinda II airfield was still under Dutch control.

Advised by the officials, the Dutch column now retreated into Kota Bangoen, where there were transport ships able to carry them along the Mahakam river into the Samarinda II airfield. The column’s sick were carried in small local craft directly from Buat downstream to the Mahakam river. After three days of marching, van den Hoogenband and 200 soldiers reached Kota Bangun on 5 February and arrived at the Samarinda II airfield on the following day. From here, on 7/8 February they were flown to Java, although some of the men were left to reinforce the airfield’s garrison.

During and after the Japanese occupation of Balikpapan, the ABDACOM air force, primarily in the form of Dutch aircraft, launched daily air raids from Samarinda II airfield to help destabilise if not dislodge the Japanese forces. On 24 January, the first attack struck the Japanese at 07.15: the force involved was 10 Martin B-10 twin-engined bombers of the 1-VLG-I squadron escorted by 14 Brewster Buffalo fighters of the 1-VLG-V and 2-VLG-V squadrons. Despite heavy Japanese anti-aircraft fire, no Dutch aircraft were shot down, and Dutch pilots claimed that they had sunk one transport ship, damaged another and struck the destroyer Kawakaze again. Japanese reports showed that the attack failed to damage or sank a single ship.

At about 08.00, three Mitsubishi A6M Reisen 'Zero' single-engined fighters of the Imperial Japanese navy operating from Tarakan conducted a strafing run over the Samarinda II airfield. A Douglas DC-3 twin-engined transport with three BPM evacuees onboard was hit but managed to crash land in the jungle. A group of Dayak people and a missionary later saved the the downed aeroplane’s people, although one of the BPM evacuee had earlier died of his injuries. Dutch anti-aircraft fire from the airfield shot down one A6M which crashed intact, thus enabling Dutch forces to obtain intelligence on the fighter’s strengths and weaknesses.

Between 09.00 and 09.50, eight Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress four-engined heavy bombers of the US 7th and 19th Bombardment Groups, which had departed from Malang, attacked the ships at anchor. The bombers shot down two A6M fighters which intercepted the formation, for a cost of three bombers slightly damaged and no hits scored. Later in the afternoon of the same day, 14 Buffalo fighters of the 1-VLG-V squadron, followed by 10 B-10 bombers, flew out of Samarinda II to scout and bomb Japanese troop positions. Thick cloud and Japanese anti-aircraft fire scattered the formations and the attack scored no hits, but the Dutch aircraft shot down two Mitsubishi F1M 'Pete' single-engined scout floatplanes. As the aircraft of this attack wave landed at 15.30, six A6M fighters and one Mitsubishi C5M 'Babs' single-engined reconnaissance and light bomber aeroplane caught them in a second raid. Three of the A6M fighters strafed the airfield and destroyed three B-10 bombers. Three Buffalo fighters of 1-VLG-V attempted to engage the fighters, but two of them were shot down by A5M machines. One A6M was eventually badly damaged by anti-aircraft fire and ditched in the sea.

On the next day, the Dutch attack started with the deployment of nine B-10 bombers of the 1-VLG-I squadron. Once again, bad weather scattered the formation, as as the bombers reached Balikpapan at 08.00 they were immediately engaged by four A6M fighters. In a 25-minute battle, the Japanese fighters shot down one B-10 and damaged three others while losing one of their own number to the bombers' defensive fire. The remaining Dutch bombers then were moved to Oelin airfield outside Banjarmasin.

The Dutch also send six Buffalo fighters of 2-VLG-V squadron on an armed reconnaissance around Balikpapan. The flight yielded no results as thick smoke and dense rain obscured the area. As soon as the Buffalo fighters had returned at about 09.30, 27 Mitsubishi G4M 'Betty' twin-engined medium bombers attacked the Samarinda II airfield from an altitude of 21,325 ft ((6500 m), which made them impervious to the Dutch anti-aircraft defences. Three Buffalo fighters took off in an attempt to intercept the bombers, but succeeded in shooting down or damaging none of the Japanese raiders. The raid left the Samarinda II airfield’s runways only partially usable and damaged two Buffalo fighters. Later. at 15.30, four A6M fighters and one Ki-5 light bomber strafed the airfield and destroyed one B-10 and one Buffalo.

The Americans responded to this attack by sending eight B-17 bombers of the 7th and 19th Bombardment Groups at 11.00. Bad weather forced four of the US bombers to turn back to Malang, with three of the four eventually making emergency landings on the beach of Madura island for lack of fuel. Meeting the same pattern as the Dutch before the, the remaining B-17 bombers were promptly intercepted by A6M fighters: the B-17 bombers' guns shot down two A6M fighters, but one of the four B-17 machine was so badly damaged that it had to made an emergency landing at Oelin. By the end of the day, the two attacks had failed to inflict any damages or loss on the Japanese fleet.

The next raid took place two days later, on 27 January, as heavy cloud cover had prevented both the Japanese and the Allies from launching any attacks on the previous day. The Dutch had by now withdrawn a majority of their B-10 bombers and Buffalo fighters from Borneo between 25 and 27 January as the Japanese discovery of the Samarinda II airfield has rendered it useless as an effective airfield. The B-1- aircraft were withdrawn to Makassar, on the south-western tip of Celebes island, on 25 January, and from there they flew to Bandoeng on the next day. The Buffalo fighters, on the other hand, retreated to Banjarmasin before flying to Soerabaja. On 26 January, the ABDACOM ordered the Dutch and the US V Bomber Command to continue their bombing of Balikpapan. On 27 January, the 7th and 19th Bombardment Groups despatched six B-17 bombers from Malang. Even though one of them had to turn back as a result of bad weather, at 13.00 the other five scored hits on the seaplane tender Sanuki Maru, forcing the ship to withdraw into the Makassar Strait.

At much the same time, about 12.00, six A6M and one C5M machines from Tarakan raided Oelin to attack the B-10 force,which was still assigned to continue the attacks on Balikpapan. Dutch attempts to shoot down the raiders with light and medium machine guns failed, and all six B-10 bombers of the 3-VLG-III squadron were destroyed. In addition, three B-10 machines of the 1-VLG-I squadron were heavily damaged. Because of this loss, the ABDACOM air command had to depend henceforward solely on the US heavy bombers to continue the mission.

Two days later, on 29 January, five B-17 bombers made another attack on the Japanese fleet. One of the bombers turned out the outward flight, and the four other bombers were attacked by 13 A6M fighters over a period of about 30 minutes over Balikpapan, and one of the bombers crashed on the return flight as a result of it battle damage. The Americans believed that they managed to shoot down six A6M fighters, but Japanese records indicated that only one was shot down and another damaged on landing at Manggar airfield.

On the day after this, 30 January, the 19th Bombardment Group conducted two separate raids, both of which failed to inflict any damage. The first raid during the day by three B-17 bombers did not succeed as all three aircraft had to turn back en route as as result of adverse weather and engine failure. Later that night, two Consolidated LB-30 (early-model B-24) four-engined heavy bombers attacked the fleet individually, about an hour apart, also also enjoyed no success. This night attack was the last Allied attempt to stem the Japanese fleet advance within the context of the '1st Battle of Balikpapan'.

After completing it occupation of Balikpapan’s urban area the previous day, the 'Sakaguchi' Detachment began mopping up the remnants of Dutch resistance and restoring Manggar airfield on 26 January. Even though the Dutch had thoroughly destroyed the refineries and other supporting facilities, Japanese teams managed to repair the oilfields and kept them running from June 1942 until August 1943, when the first Allied air raids began to bomb them once again. With a high octane rating, the Balikpapan refinery was a a major asset in the support of Japanese military operations in the south-western Pacific theatre. Manggar airfield had been repaired by 27 January and on the next day there arrived the first nine A6M fighters of the 23rd Air Flotilla, which had established its headquarters on the airfield by 30 January. The 'Sakaguchi' Detachment established a military administration in the town of Balikpapan.

In all, the losses suffered by the 'Sakaguchi' Detachment were eight men killed on land and 39 at sea, while the Imperial Japanese navy lost at least 121 men. The losses of the maritime forces were five ships sunk (Nana Maru, Tsuruga Maru, Sumanoura Maru, Tatsugami Maru and Kuretake Maru), two shops severely damaged (P-37 and Asahisan Maru) and two ships slightly damaged (Kumagawa Maru and Sanuki Maru.

Out of 1,100 Dutch defenders, only 200 managed to reached the Samarinda II airfield on 6 February, and from there most of them were evacuated to Java.

The '1st Battle of Balikpapan' was the first surface engagement in South-East Asia in which the US Navy had participated in since the Battle of Manila Bay in 1898. The US destroyers expended all of their torpedoes with only a few hits, mostly because of the as yet unrealised problems with the Mk 15 torpedo’s tendency to run too deep.

While the various attacks on the Japanese transports did little to prevent the fall of Balikpapan, it did prove that Hart’s conservative strategy could be effectively used against Japanese forces until Allied forces in the South-East Asia area could be bolstered. It was under Hart’s orders that the destroyers conducted the raid and sank four transports. Crucial to the success of the destroyer raid was also the fact that it had been conducted by an all-US force, operating under the same doctrine and protocol, whereas other ABDACOM naval engagements using multi-national forces (most notably the 'Battle of the Java Sea') suffered from much confusion. Hart was later relieved of command in the Dutch East Indies and replaced by a somewhat bolder Dutch commander, Vice-Admiraal Conrad Helfrich.

Balikpapan remained under Japanese occupation until July 1945, when it was retaken by Australian forces in 'Oboe II', otherwise the '2nd Battle of Balikpapan'.