Operation 2nd Battle of the Java Sea

The '2nd Battle of the Java Sea' between Japanese and Allied forces was the final naval action of the campaign in which the Japanese took the Netherlands East Indies (1 March 1942).

Taking place just two days after the '1st Battle of the Java Sea', the battle saw the end of the last Allied warships operating in the waters around Java, allowing Japanese forces to complete their conquest of the Netherlands East Indies unhindered.

The American-British-Dutch-Australian Command (ABDACOM) fleet had been defeated in the '1st Battle of the Java Sea' on 27 February, when its ships had been sunk or otherwise dispersed by the Japanese.

After suffering severe damage, the Australian light cruiser Perth and the US heavy cruiser Houston had retreated to Tanjung Priok, the port of the capital, Batavia, toward the western end of the island of Java. They planned to withdraw via the Sunda Strait to Tjilatjap on the southern side of the island and departed on the evening of 28 February but, encountering the Japanese Western Invasion Force later in that same night in Bantam Bay, were both sunk in the 'Battle of Sunda Strait'. In a related but separate action, the Dutch destroyer Evertsen was also destroyed.

In the '1st Battle of the Java Sea,', the British heavy cruiser Exeter, under the command of Captain Oliver Gordon, had sustained severe damage and had then been ordered to withdraw to Soerabaja toward the eastern end of Java’s northern coast under escort of the Dutch destroyer Witte de With. At Soerabaja, Exeter was joined by the British destroyer Encounter, which arrived with the survivors of the Dutch destroyer Kortenaer. Also at Soerabaja were the four US destroyers of Destroyer Division 58, which had also withdrawn there from the battle, and the US destroyer Pope, which had been undergoing repairs.

After the fall of night on 28 February, Destroyer Division 58 (John D. Edwards, John D. Ford, Alden and Paul Jones) departed for Australia through Soerabaja harbour’s shallow eastern channel, and then exited the Java area by passing southward through the Bali Strait and, following a brief encounter with Japanese destroyers, reached safely at Fremantle n 4 March.

After emergency repairs, Exeter also left for additional repairs in Ceylon, departing at dusk on 28 February under escort of Encounter and Pope. Witte de With, which should have left with these ships, was unable to depart as a result of mechanical problems, and was later bombed and sunk at Soerabaja on 2 March.

As Exeter drew too much to leave Soerabaja’s main anchorage through its southern (thence eastern) channel, she was forced to depart though the main north entrance with the object of leaving the Java Sea through the Sunda Strait to the west, which was thought still to be open. The morning of 1 March found the three Allied warships to the west-north-west of Bawean island, and steaming to the west. The ships were making 23 kt, which was the most that Exeter could manage.

At 04.00 on 1 March, the Allied ships ships sighted Japanese ships to the west and, as she was in no condition for battle, Exeter and her two consorts changed course to the north-west in an attempt to avoid contact. More ships were sighted at 07.50 to the south-west, and again the ABDACOM ships had to alter course to avoid them.

At 09.35, two Japanese heavy cruisers were sighted approaching from the south: these were Nachi and Haguro of the Eastern Invasion Force, together the destroyers Yamakaze and Kawakaze under the command of vice Admiral Takeo Takagi, whom they had met two days previously in the '1st Battle of the Java Sea'. Exeter and the two destroyers turned to the north-east and increased speed, but soon sighted more ships approaching from the north-west: this was Vice Admiral Ibo Takahashi with the heavy cruisers Ashigara and Myoko with the destroyers Inazuma and Akebono.

Closing on each side of the fleeing Allied ships, the cruisers opened fire at 10.20 as they came in range. Encounter and Pope responded by making smoke, and later attempted a torpedo attack, while Exeter returned fire, but at 11.20 Exeter sustained a major hit in her boiler room, resulting in a loss of power and slowing her to just 4 kt. As the four Japanese cruisers closed on Exeter, Encounter and Pope were ordered to break contact and make for a nearby rain squall in an attempt to shake off pursuit. Struck by many shells, Exeter was brought to a halt and the destroyer Inazuma closed for a torpedo attack, hitting Exeter with two such weapons on her starboard side. Exeter sank at 11.40, about 90 miles (140 km) to the north-west of Bawean island.

The Japanese cruisers had by then already switched their attention to the fleeing destroyers. Encounter had gallantly disobeyed her orders to escape, however, and had turned back to lay a smoke screen to protect the immobilised Exeter and rescue survivors, but had soon been immobilised herself by shell hits and set on fire. Lieutenant Commander Eric Morgan, the destroyer’s captain, ordered his ship to be scuttled to prevent her capture by the Japanese, and she capsized and sank at about 12.10. Pope continued to evade and was able to reach the rain squall and was lost to sight. The respite was short-lived, however, for shortly after 12.00 she was spotted by aircraft from the light carrier Ryujo, which was covering the Western Invasion Force: Pope was dive-bombed and sunk at about 13.50.

There were slightly more than 800 Allied survivors: these were rescued and imprisoned by the Japanese, and 190 of them subsequently died in captivity.