Operation H (i)

'H' (i) was the Japanese seizure of Celebes island and islands to its south-east in the Netherlands East Indies (11/24 January 1942).

Celebes is a large and very irregularly shaped mountainous island located just to the east of Borneo. It is characterised by its four large peninsulas, of which the largest is the Minahassa peninsula extending in a long curve to the north and then to the east at about 500 miles (805 km) in length and 40 miles (65 km) in width. The other three peninsulas, which are shorter and generally wider, extend as one to the east and two to the south. The island has an area of some 67,400 sq miles (174600 km²) and a coast some 3,405 miles (5480 km) long. The highest peaks reach more than 8,000 ft (2440 m) on each of the four peninsulas, and the highest point is Mt Rantekombola at 11,411 ft (3478 m) at the base of the south-western peninsula. The island is covered with jungle, and timber was an important export. Significant mineral despots were nickel, manganese, copper, precious metals and coal. The area of arable land was small, but there was some rice and coconut production.

The population in 1941 was about 3.1 million, mostly from seven indigenous ethnic groups, but also some Europeans and Chinese. The latter were extremely hostile to the Japanese. The chief cities were Manado at the tip of Minahassa peninsula, Kendari on the east coast of the south-eastern peninsula, and Makassar (the island capital) on the west coast of the south-western peninsula. The Manado and Makassar areas had reasonably well-developed road nets, but these did not interconnect, and there were also a few roads in the Kendari region. The chief nickel mines were at Soroaka, in the central part of the island, and Pomalaa on the west coast of the south-eastern peninsula.

The island was conquered early in the Pacific War by Japanese troops who landed at Manado on 11 January, Kendari on 24 January and Makassar on 9 February. Only at Manado was there significant resistance. Once in Japanese hands, the island became Japan’s chief source of nickel for armour plate, and remained in Japanese hands throughout the war.

The battle for Manado, at the very northern tip of the island, was fought on 11/13 January as the first stage of the Japanese campaign to secure the Molucca Passage and Banda Sea for a possible assault on northern Australia from bases in the south of the Philippine islands group.

Under the overall command of Colonel M. Vooren, the Dutch garrison of Celebes totalled some 3,100 men: 1,500 were located in the area of Manado under the command of Major B. F. A. Schilmöller, 1,200 at Makassar, and 400 at Kendari. The main elements of Schilmöller’s force were the Compagnie Menado (a unit of 188 local men under the command of Captain W. F. J. Kroon and reinforced by two or three machine gun sections); Mobiele Colonne (a mobile unit of about 45 men under the command of Sergeant Major A. J. ter Voert and intended for use against Japanese paratroopers); Reserve Korps Oud Militairen (five companies of retired Netherlands East Indies army personnel with an average age of over 50 and under the command of Captain W. C. van den Berg); Kort Verband Compagnie (nine sections under the command of Captain J. D. W. T. Abbink); Europese Militie en Landstorm Compagnie (about 200 poorly trained men under the command of 1st Lieutenant F. Masselink); Menadonese Militie Compagnie (about 400 native troops under the command of Captain J. H. A. L.C. de Swert); Stadswacht (about 100 men armed with hunting rifles and commanded by 1st Lieutenant M. A. Nolthenius de Man); two obsolete 75-mm (2.95-in) guns; and three still older 37-mm naval guns mounted on lorries for the defence of Lake Tondano.

Schilmöller’s primary task was the retention of the airfields at Langoan ('Manado II') and Mapanget ('Manado I'), the naval base at Tasoeka, and Manado itself.

The main Japanese strength responsible for the assault on the eastern part of the Netherlands East Indies was Vice Admiral Ibo Takahashi’s Eastern Force. This was based on the 3rd Fleet (5th and 7th Cruiser Squadrons, and 2nd and 4th Destroyer Flotillas) as part of Vice Admiral Nobutake Kondo’s Taiwan-based Southern Force. The Eastern Force was tasked with the assault landings at Manado, Kendari and Makassar on Celebes as well as the descents on Amboina, Timor and Bali islands.

The Japanese navy had decided on the use of two main landing forces for the Manado part of the whole operation, and these were Mori’s 1st Sasebo Combined Special Naval Landing Force and Commander Toyoaki Horiuchi’s 1st Yokosuka Special Landing Force. The former had a strength of some 2,500 men, and comprised two reinforced battalions and support units, the 1st Battalion and 2nd Battalion being commanded by Majors Masanari Shiga and Uroku Hashimoto respectively. Attached to the 1st Sasebo Combined Special Naval Landing Force was an armoured company equipped with Type 95 light tanks.

The Japanese force left Davao in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao on 9 January 1942 in eight transport vessels, and during the early morning of 11 January landed at Kema and Manado at 03.00 and 04.00 respectively. Horiuchi’s 1st Yokosuka Special Landing Force used 519 paratroopers to attack Langoan airfield. The 26 transport aircraft from Davao dropped the first 334 paratroopers on 11 January, and on the following day another 185 paratroopers were dropped. The paratroopers quickly took their objective, but lost 130 of their own number: in reprisal, the Japanese killed nearly all of the captured defenders of Manado airfield.

The troop transport convoy was protected by the Escort Force, commanded by Rear Admiral Raizo Tanaka in the light cruiser Jintsu, and otherwise including the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla with its 8th Destroyer Division (1st Group) comprising Oshio and Asashio, the 15th Destroyer Division comprising Natsushio, Kuroshio, Oyashio and Hayashio, and the 16th Destroyer Division comprising Yukikaze, Tokitsukaze, Hatsukaze and Amatsukaze. The Japanese navy air force units allocated to the operation comprised the landplanes of the 21st Air Flotilla operating from southern Mindanao and the seaplanes of Rear Admiral Ruitaro Fujita’s 11th Seaplane Division (seaplane tenders Chitose and Mizuho as well as the patrol boat PB-39).

Commanded by Rear Admiral Kyuji Kubo, the Base Force included the 1st Base Force with the light cruiser Nagara (flagship) and the patrol boats PB-1, PB-2 and PB-34, the 21st Minesweeper Division with the minesweepers W-7, W-8, W-9, W-11 and W-12, and the 1st Submarine-chaser Division with the submarine chasers Ch-1, Ch-2 and Ch-3.

The Covering Force, led by Rear Admiral Takeo Takagi, comprised the 5th Cruiser Squadron with the heavy cruisers Nachi (flagship), Haguro and Myoko, and the 6th Destroyer Division (2nd Group) with Ikazuchi and Inazuma.

The 388 men of the Compagnie Menado (188 men) and Landstorm Compagnie (200 men) could not check the numerically superior Japanese who poured ashore in the amphibious assault on the northern side of the peninsula from 04.00 on 11 January, and the two units were ordered to fall back to the Tinoör stronghold some 5 miles (8 km) inland. After sporadic fighting, and as a result of poor communications, instead of defending the Tinoör line, the Compagnie Menado moved to Koha, leaving the defence of the Tinoör line to Lieutenant van de Laar of the Reserve Korps Oud Militairen reinforced by the Europese Militie Landstorm Compagnie. The fighting at Tinoör lasted until 15.00, when the Dutch had exhausted their ammunition and had to retreat to Kakaskasen. The part of the Reserve Korps Oud Militairen commanded by Lieutenant Radema was responsible for the defence of Kema, on the southern side of the peninsula opposite Manado. Radema had two of his platoons placed along the coast and one at his command post, located at Ajermadidih. The rest of the company had to defend Mapanget airfield, Likoepang and Bitoeng.

The Japanese landings at Kema started at 03.00 on 11 January, and as soon as the assault forces had landed, the transport vessels left the area. When Radema heard of the landings he ordered his troops to regroup at Ajermadidih. When the first Japanese troops, including three tanks, reached Ajermadidih at 09.00, Radema tried to stop the Japanese advance with the few men available to him, but was forced to withdraw as a first step toward implementing a pre-planned guerrilla warfare campaign. But as a result of the desertion of many of his local troops, Radema had to abandon this plan.

The defence of Lake Tondano and the airfield at Longoan was the responsibility of the 'Tactical Command Kakas' led by Captain W. C. van den Berg. Kakas is a small town near Lake Tondano, and the airfield itself was defended by 41 sections under the tactical command of 1st Lieutenant J. G. Wielinga and reinforced with one armoured car. Wielinga had his command post in Langoan, where he held 11 sections back in reserve. The rest of his troops and the armoured car were located at the airfield under the immediate command of Sergeant Major H. J. Robbemond. Soon after 09.00 on 12 January some 334 Japanese paratroopers were dropped on and around the airfield. van den Berg ordered the two remaining armoured cars to attack the Japanese troops on the airfield, but although they suffered heavy casualties the paratroopers captured the airfield.

Appreciating that the battle was lost, van den Berg ordered his remaining troops to retreat inland and start a guerrilla resistance. In several area the remaining Dutch forces attempted to launch a guerrilla campaign against the Japanese invaders. Kroon assembled what was left of the Compagnie Menado, totalling some 50 men, and retreated toward Kembes in the hope of starting an active guerrilla effort from this place. But most of his local troops deserted and Kroon reached Kembes with only nine men. Here the group was taken prisoner by the Japanese. All the European soldiers except Kroon were executed at Langoan on 26 January. Sergeant Maliëzer of E Company started a guerrilla campaign with 15 of his men, and on 8 February attacked a Japanese unit at Kanejan. The fighting lasted the whole day and the Japanese counterattack failed. In retaliation the Japanese burned a nearby kampong and executed five civilians including two women. On 12 February the Japanese returned in greater strength and this time captured the Maliëzer group: Maliëzer and 12 of his men were executed. van den Berg and his group were captured on 20 February after his men, mostly pensioners, had attacked the Japanese units on several occasions and inflicted heavy casualties. Out of respect for the high average age and fighting spirit, the Japanese commander spared their lives.

A small town on the south-eastern peninsula, facing the Banda Sea, Kendari was important to the Japanese as they wished it to become an air base from which their bombers could attack Koepang in West Timor and Soerabaja, the main Dutch naval base in Netherlands East Indies.

After securing Manado, on the night of 23/24 January Mori’s 1st Sasebo Combined Special Naval Landing Force moved to the south along the east coast of Celebes and landed to the north of Kendari, whose airfield was quickly secured against minimal resistance. By the evening of 24 January Kendari had been fully occupied, and most of the 400-strong Dutch garrison, under the command of Captain F. B. van Straalen, had been taken prisoner. Kendari airfield became the base for the 21st Air Flotilla and, slightly to the south of Kendari, a naval base was constructed at Staring Bay as an important refuelling point. On 19 February, the bombers involved in the Japanese air attack on Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia flew from Kendari.

Before the end of their operations on Celebes, the Japanese seized Amboina off the south-western end of Ceram in the Molucca islands some 400 miles (645 km) to the east of Celebes. Amboina is only about 30 miles (48 km) long and 2/3 miles (3.2/4.8 km) wide, and located in the Laitimor peninsula on the south central portion of the island is Ambon, its major town and port, with the second largest naval base in the Netherlands East Indies. Amboina was held by 2,800 Indonesian troops under Lieutenant Colonel J. R. L. Kopitz, whose main unit was the Molukken Brigade backed by artillery, four armoured cars, four 40-mm anti-aircraft guns and some of anti-aircraft machine guns. The garrison, which included 300 partially trained reservists, was poorly equipped and trained: it lacked radio equipment and was therefore reliant on landlines and written communications.

Also present were the 1,170 men of the Australian 2/21st Battalion of the Australian 8th Division, together with artillery and support units, as the 'Gull' Force under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Leonard Roach. Kapitz was appointed Allied commander on Amboina and Roach, who had visited the island before 'Gull' Force’s deployment, had asked for more artillery and machine gun units be sent from Australia. Roach complained about the lack of response, and was replaced by Lieutenant Colonel John Scott on 14 January.

The Allies had only few aircraft. The Dutch air service sent No. 2 Flight, Group IV from Java to Laha. Of an original four Brewster Buffalo fighters, two crashed en route to Amboina. The Royal Australian Air Force sent two flights, comprising 12 Lockheed Hudson Mk II light bombers, from Nos 13 and 2 Squadrons under the command of Wing Commander Ernest Scott: one of the flights was based at Laha, and the other was located at Namlea on the neighbouring Buru island.

The US Navy’s Patrol Wing 10, with Consolidated PBY Catalina flying boats, was based at the Halong seaplane station from 23 December. The wing’s headquarters was shifted to Java on 9 January, but Catalina aircraft mounted patrols from Halong until 15 January when an air raid destroyed three patrol aircraft and damaged several others. The Allies then abandoned the base' The wing’s seaplane tenders supported patrols, but departed on 8 January. Tender-based patrols from William B. Preston and Heron at anchorages farther to the south continued until 5 February.

The Dutch naval air service flew patrols from Ambon/Halong, the GVT 17 unit with Catalina flying boats continuing from the start of the Pacific War war to 14 January 1942, when it was ordered to Java.

US Navy and RAAF aircraft made several very dangerous evacuation flights into Ambon/Laha in the last days of January.

Gouden Leeuw, a Dutch minelayer, departed Amboina early in January, after mining the approaches to the island. By the middle of January, the US minesweeper Heron was the only Allied combat ship left in Amboinese waters.

Kapitz’s headquarters was located at Halong, between Paso and the town of Ambon. In the belief that the terrain on the south coast of Laitimor was too inhospitable for landings and that any attack was likely to be in the east, around the Bay of Baguala, the Dutch forces were concentrated at Paso, near the isthmus, under the local command of Major H. H. L. Tieland. There were small Dutch army detachments at likely landing places in the north of Hitu.

Two companies of the Australian 2/21st Battalion and 300 Dutch troops were at stationed at Laha Airfield, under the command of Major Mark Newbury. They were supported by Dutch artillery ion the form of four 75-mm (2.95-in) field guns, four 37-mm anti-tank guns, four 75-mm (2.95-in) anti-aircraft guns, four 40-mm anti-aircraft guns, an anti-aircraft machine gun platoon and an anti-aircraft machine gun battery.

However, Scott, the 'Gull' Force headquarters and the remainder of the Australian troops were concentrated in the western part of Laitimor peninsula, in case of an attack from the Bay of Ambon. 'A' Company of the 2/21st Battalion and one Dutch company were stationed at Eri, on the south-west side of the bay. The 2/21st Battalion’s pioneer platoon was on the plateau around Mt Nona, which is the highest point on the Laitimor peninsula, together with a Dutch anti-aircraft machine gun detachment. Smaller Australian detachments were located at Latuhalat near the south-western tip of the Laitimor peninsula and at Cape Batuanjut just to the north of Eri. 'Gull' Force headquarters and a strategic reserve, 'D' Company, were located on a line from the Nona plateau to Amahusu beach, between Eri and the town of Ambon.

Allied air and naval elements, which had already withdrawn before the arrival of the Japanese force, included a US seaplane tender and its patrol wing of 10 flying boats.

During 1941, as the Allies began gradually to appreciate the possibility of war with Japan, the island of Amboina came to be seen as a location of strategic significance for its potential as a major air base. The Australian government and military commanders saw that in Japanese hands it could be used to launch raids on northern Australia and decided to reinforce the Dutch forces on the island. On 14 December 1941, a convoy composed of escorts Adelaide and Ballarat together with the Dutch ships Both, Valentijn and Patras carrying 1,090 men of the 'Gull' Force departed Darwin and reached Amboina on 17 December. The Dutch Bantam, escorted by the Australian Swan, arrived with reinforcements on 12 January 1942, remaining through raids on 15/16 December until 18 December.

The Imperial Japanese naval task force for the invasion of Amboina was commanded by Rear Admiral Ibo Takahashi and comprised the heavy cruisers Haguro and Nachi, the light cruiser Jintsu, the destroyers Amatsukaze, Arashio, Asashio, Hatsukaze, Hayashio, Ikazuchi, Kuroshio, Michishio, Natsushio, Oshio, Oyashio, Sazanami, Tokitsukaze, Ushio and Yukikaze, the seaplane tenders Chitose and Mizuho, the minesweepers W-7, W-8, W-9, W-11 and W-12, the submarine chasers CH-1, CH-2 and CH-3, the patrol boats P-34 and P-39, the aircraft transport Katsuragi Maru, the transports Africa Maru, Hino Maru No. 5, Kirishima Maru, Lyons Maru, Miike Maru, Ryoyo Maru, Yamafuku Maru, Yamagiri Maru, Yamaura Maru and Zenyo Maru, and the oiler Shinkoku Maru that provided fuel and then left the area.

The operation was supported by the 2nd Carrier Division with the fleet carriers Hiryu and Soryu. These attacked Amboina on 24 January 1942, launching 54 aircraft (18 Nakajima B5N2 'Kate' torpedo/level bombers, 18 Aichi D3A1 'Val' dive bombers and 18 Mitsubishi A6M2 Reisen 'Zero' fighters. These bombed port facilities and buildings on Amboina, and suffered no losses.

The Japanese assault force for Amboina was Major General Takeo Ito’s 5,300-man 'Ito' Detachment (38th Infantry Group with the 228th Regiment of Lieutenant General Tadayoshi Sano’s 38th Division) as well as elements the 1st Kure Special Naval Landing Force and Sasebo Special Naval Landing Force.

From 6 January 1942 Amboina was attacked on several occasions by Japanese aircraft, and while Allied aircraft made a few sorties against the approaching Japanese fleet they gained no real success. On 13 January, the Allies' two Buffalo fighters attacked a flight of 10 A6M fighters. One of the Buffalo fighters was hit and caught fire, but its pilot continued to attack until his aeroplane became uncontrollable, at which point he bailed out and landed in the sea. The other Buffalo was also shot down but its pilot also managed to use his parachute, landing in trees on Amboina.

The naval aviation base at Halong was soon rendered unusable by Japanese air raids, and was abandoned by the Dutch and US navies in the middle of January.

On 30 January, about 1,000 Japanese army and navy troops landed at Hitu-lama on the island’s north coast. Other elements of the 228th Regiment came ashore on the south coast of the Laitimor peninsula. Although the Japanese assault forces were in numerical terms only slightly greater than the Allied ground force, the Japanese had overwhelming superiority in air support, naval and field artillery, and armour. The surviving Allied aircraft were withdrawn on that day, although Australian ground crew remained. Within a day of the landing, the Japanese had overrun the Dutch detachments in their vicinity, the Dutch-le4 survivors retreating toward Paso. The destruction of bridges on Hitu was not carried out as ordered, and this significantly hastened the Japanese advance.

There was a second wave of landings, at Hutumori on the south-eastern side of the Laitimor peninsula and at Batugong near Paso. An Australian infantry platoon was detached to reinforce the pioneers on Nona plateau. The defences at Paso had been designed to repel attacks from the north and west, but now faced assault from the south. A Dutch platoon was detached from Paso to resist the attack on Batugong, but this left a gap in the Dutch line which the Japanese exploited and then benefited by the Dutch failure to cut a telephone line.

The Japanese took Batugong in the early hours of 31 January, enabling the Japanese to encircle the eastern flank of the Paso positions. Meanwhile, Kapitz ordered the Amboinese infantry company at Eri to take up a position at Kudamati, which seemed vulnerable to attack.

At 12.00 on 31 January, Kapitz moved his headquarters from Halong to Lateri, which is closer to Paso. Telephone communications between Kapitz and his subordinates, including Scott, ceased when the Japanese cut the lines. The Japanese force which had landed at Hitu-Lama then attacked the defences of Paso from the north-east. Then, in the words of the Australian official historian, [a]t 6 p.m. a motor-cycle with sidecar was seen on the road to the west of the Paso position showing white flags and travelling towards the Japanese. Firing on the Paso perimeter was suspended on the orders of the Dutch company commanders, and the troops were allowed to rest and eat.'

It is not clear who authorised the ceasefire, to which the Japanese initially made no immediate response, and in a meeting with company commanders Kapitz and Tieland ordered the Dutch troops to recommence fighting. However, when Tieland and the company commanders returned to their positions, they found that their troops had been taken prisoner, and they were forced to surrender.

The first land attack on Laha took place during the afternoon of 31 January. An Australian platoon located to the north-east of the airfield was attacked by a stronger Japanese force, but checked it.

Japanese forces were also approaching the town of Ambon from the south-west and at about 16.00 on 31 January captured the town, including an Australian casualty clearing unit.

Several Japanese attacks were launched simultaneously on 1 February: firstly, Kapitz and his headquarters staff were captured in the early hours, and Kapitz then surrendered the remaining forces in the Paso area and sent a note, which did not arrive until two later, to Scott urging him to do the same; secondly, an Australian transport unit and Dutch positions at Kudamati were attacked by infantry; thirdly, Japanese mountain guns on high ground shelled the costal area of Benteng, where a Dutch artillery battery was forced to withdraw, putting further pressure on Kudamati;fourthly, Japanese infantry attacked the eastern flank of Australian positions at Amahusu; fifthly, on Nona plateau, the Japanese gained a foothold despite fierce Australian opposition; and sixthly, Japanese aircraft and naval artillery attacked the positions at Eri.

The Australian positions were also receiving large numbers of Dutch personnel fleeing from Paso. At 22.30, Scott ordered a withdrawal of the Allied forces at Amahusu and the south-west to Eri. The position at Kudamati was effectively enveloped.

On 2 February (though some sources say 1 February), the Japanese minesweeper W-9 struck a mine laid by the Dutch minelayer Gouden Leeuw in the Ambon Bay and sank. Two other Japanese minesweepers were also damaged by mines.

After dawn on 2 February, the main Australian force on Nona plateau, commanded by Lieutenant Bill Jinkins, found itself faced with encirclement. Jinkins ordered a withdrawal to Amahusu, where he became aware that the Dutch had surrendered. Unable to ascertain the disposition of Scott’s force, Jinkins decided to meet senior Japanese officers under truce at the town of Ambon.These officers allowed Jinkins to speak to Kapitz, who wrote another note advising the Australian commander to surrender, and Jinkins set off to find Scott.

Meanwhile, the Japanese attacking Laha were reinforced and there began a concentrated assault, the Japanese using naval artillery, dive-bombers, fighters and infantry probing attacks. A Japanese night attack in high grass near the beach, between two Allied positions, was beaten back by an Australian platoon. But a large Japanese attack began at dawn on 2 February, and by 10.00 only about 150 Australians and several Dutch personnel were still able to fight at Laha, so Newbury ordered them to surrender.

By the morning of 3 February, the Australians around Eri were struggling to cope with increasing air and naval attacks, the number of wounded Australians in their position, the influx of Dutch personnel, a steady diminution of their supplies and the arrival of widespread fatigue. A Japanese flag had been seen flying on the other side of the bay, at Laha. By the time Jinkins reached him, Scott had himself met the Japanese and decided to surrender. The Allied position at Kudamati was surrendered separately at 12.00.

Allied casualties in the battle for Amboina had been relatively light. However, at intervals for a fortnight after the surrender, Japanese naval troops picked out more than 300 Australian and Dutch prisoners of war at random and summarily executed them, at or near Laha airfield. Those killed included Wing Commander Scott and Major Newbury.

About 30 Australian soldiers, including Jinkins, escaped from Ambon, during a period of several weeks after the surrender, often by paddling prahus (canoes) to Seram.

Another result of the capture of Ambon was the realisation of the Australian fears of air attacks on their homeland, for on 19 February Japanese aircraft based on Amboina took part in major air raids on Darwin.

By this time the Dutch garrison at Makassar on Celebes had already come to the inescapable conclusion an effective conventional defence was impossible, and had started to prepare for a guerrilla campaign. They established a base at Enrekang, 110 miles (175 km) to the north of Makassar, and recruited 400 more local troops.

In the same basic area there also took place, on 4 February, the naval Battle of the Makassar Strait. Also known as the Action of Madura Strait, the Action North of Lombok Strait and the Battle of the Flores Sea, This was a battle in which an ABDACOM force, under the command of Doorman and currently steaming to a planned interception of a Japanese invasion convoy reported as bound for Soerabaja in Java though its real destination was actually Makassar, and 36 Mitsubishi G4M1 'Betty' and 24 Mitsubishi G3M2 'Nell' medium bombers, which forced the ABDACOM force to retreat.

The battle took place in the Java Sea, closer to the Kangean islands group than to the Makassar Strait. At the end of January, Japanese forces had taken the northern and western coasts of Borneo and large parts of Maluku (Molucca islands group). On Borneo’s eastern coast, Japanese forces had occupied the oil facilities and ports of Balikpapan and Tarakan, and on Celebes island the cities of Menado and Kendari had also fallen to the Japanese. To gain full control of the Makassar Strait, the Japanese needed to capture the cities of Makassar and Banjarmasin.

On 1 February, Allied commanders received word from a reconnaissance aeroplane that at Balikpapan a Japanese invasion force of 20 troop transport ships, three cruisers and 10 destroyers, was being readied for departure. On 2 February, US Admiral Thomas C. Hart, Dutch Vice-Admiral Conrad Helfrich, US Rear Admiral William A. Glassford and Australian Commodore John Collins met at Palembang, where approval was given to Helfrich’s suggestion that a multi-national strike force be formed, and this came into being on the following day under Doorman’s command, and began taking on supplies in the Gili islands group to the south of Madura.

The ABDACOM comprised cruisers (the Dutch De Ruyter, which was the flagship, Dutch Tromp and the US Houston and Marblehead) escorted by seven destroyers (the Dutch Banckert, Piet Hein and Van Ghent, the US Barker, Bulmer and John D. Edwards, and the Australian Stewart).

On the morning of 3 February, the ABDACOM force was sighted by a squadron of about 30 Japanese bombers and reported as heading toward Soerabaja. Seven of the bombers began to circle above the ships, which at first dispersed into deeper water. After the Japanese aircraft had not attacked and started to depart, the ABDACOM force resumed the embarkation of supplies.

At about 00.00, the ships sailed for the Meinderts Reef, off the north-eastern tip of Java. The last ship arrived around 05.00 on 4 February. At 09.30, the ABDACOM force received word that air patrols from Makassar had spotted the Japanese apparently heading for Soerabaja. On the morning of 4 February, the ABDACOM force headed for the Makassar Strait to look for the Japanese invasion force, which was reported to be passing through the strait and was now said to include three cruisers and 18 destroyers, escorting transports and other ships, under the command of Rear Admiral Takeo Takagi.

At 09.49, while Doorman’s force was to the south of the Kangean islands group, Japanese bombers were sighted to the east by sailors on the ABDACOM ships. The Japanese aircraft where flying in four 'V' formations at an altitude of about 16,405 ft (5000 m).

The Japanese bombers now started their attack on the Allied cruisers. The first to be targeted was Marblehead, and bombs landed about 85 yards (80 m) ahead of the ship. During a second attack, Marblehead took two direct hits and a damaging near miss. The two direct hits penetrated the deck, killed 15 crew directly and destroyed the ship’s ability to manoeuvre; Marblehead was now able only to steam in circles. The near miss also blew a hole measuring 9.8 ft (3 m) by 3.3 ft (1 m) near the ship’s bottom. Later attacks on Marblehead were less intense.

Houston initially managed to evade the Japanese bombs, but then suffered a severe hit during a final attack: one bomb hit the deck near the after gun turret, killing 48 men, and the after guns were rendered useless.

After their hits on Marblehead and Houston, the Japanese bombers concentrated their efforts on De Ruyter, which evaded four attacks and sustained only minor damage to the fire-control system for its 40-mm anti-aircraft guns.

At about 13.00, Doorman ordered his ships to turn back to the west, and signalled Hart that in the absence of any fighter cover would be impossible to advance to the Makassar Strait. Houston and Tromp had already gone to the south through the Alas Strait, and were to the south of the strait. Marblehead and the four US destroyers steamed to the south through the Lombok Strait. De Ruyter and the three Dutch destroyers also stayed with Marblehead until the Lombok Strait. Both US cruisers headed for Tjilatjap for repair and medical attention for their wounded.

Japanese aircrews reported three cruisers sunk during the attack: one 'Augusta' class, one 'Tromp' class and one 'Java' class cruiser. No ships of the last class were present during the attack, and only Marblehead and Houston were damaged.

At Tjilatjap, Houston and Marblehead transferred their wounded to a hospital and buried their dead. Marblehead would not fit in the dry dock, but the hole in her hull was temporarily repaired, and the ship sailed for the east coast of the USA via Ceylon and South Africa for repairs. Houston was able to continue service with the ABDACOM force.

The Allied naval retreat allowed the Japanese to take control of the Makassar Strait and thereby tighten their grip on the western part of the Dutch East Indies.

On 9 February almost 8,000 Japanese army troops landed just to the south of Makassar on Celebes island and met no resistance. The Japanese then moved north to the town against only light resistance and quickly secured their primary objective. However, as they started to move north from Makassar, the Japanese started to meet heavier resistance as the Dutch forces withdrew toward Enrekang. By the end of the month the local troops had deserted, however, and the surviving Dutch troops, now numbering some 300 men, surrendered.

Timor is the southernmost major island of the East Indies, and lies some 400 miles (645 km) to the north-west of Darwin on the north coast of Australia and 670 miles (1080 km) to the east of Java. Administered from Koepang on the island’s south-western tip, the south-western half of Timor was part of the Netherlands East Indies, while the northern-eastern half was a Portuguese possession with its capital at Dili on the northern coast; there was also a Portuguese enclave at Ocussi within the Dutch possession.

The Battle of Timor took place in Portuguese Timor and Dutch Timor, and began when Japanese forces invaded the island on 20 February 1942. The resistance was the responsibility of the small and woefully ill-equipped 'Sparrow' Force comprising Dutch, Australian and British elements. After a brief but nicely fought resistance, the Japanese succeeded in forcing the surrender of the bulk of the Allied force after three days of fighting, although several hundred Australian commandos continued to wage an unconventional raiding campaign with the aid of supplies delivered by aircraft and vessels, based mostly in Darwin. During this later fighting, the Japanese suffered heavy casualties, but they were eventually able to contain the Australians.

The campaign lasted to 10 February 1943, when the last surviving Australians were evacuated, making them the final Allied land forces to leave the South-East Asia theatre following the Japanese offensives of 1941/42. As a result, an entire Japanese division was committed on Timor for more than six months, preventing its deployment elsewhere. Although Portugal was not a combatant, many East Timorese civilians and Portuguese colonists fought with the Allies or provided them with food, shelter and other assistance. Despite heavy losses. some Timorese continued a resistance campaign following the Australian withdrawal. Some tens of thousands of Timorese civilians died as a result of the Japanese occupation, which lasted until the end of the war in 1945.

On Dutch Timor the Australian battalion defended the Baai van Koepang beaches to the north-east of the town of Koepang and also the airfield, while the Dutch covered the beaches to the west of the town. Penfui airfield, some 6 miles (10 km) inland, was a staging base for aircraft flying from Australia to Java. A minor Japanese air attack was flown against the airfield on 26 January, and four days later a heavy air raid was delivered to cover the Japanese landing on Amboina island. On 15 February the Australians attempted to reinforce the garrison with another infantry battalion and also a US battalion of 75-mm (2.95-in) artillery which had been intended for the defence of the Philippine islands group before the convoy in which it was being transported was turned back by Japanese air attacks. The squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force based at Penfui was withdrawn on 19 February, the day on which the Japanese launched a major carrierborne air attack on Darwin, sinking 10 US, Australian and British ships.

The Dutch defence included a force of 500 troops based in Koepang, while the Portuguese force at Dili numbered just 150 men. In February, the Australian and Dutch governments had agreed that in the event of a Japan entry into the war on the side of the Axis, Australia would provide warplanes and troops to reinforce Dutch Timor. Under Japanese pressure, Portugal maintained its neutrality. As a consequence of the Dutch and Australian agreement, therefore, the Japanese 'Ai' attack on Pearl Harbor triggered the delivery of the small Australian 'Sparrow' Force to Koepang on 12 December 1941 at the same time that a pair of similar forces, known as 'Gull Force' and 'Lark' Force, were sent by the Australians to reinforce Amboina island and Rabaul on New Britain island.

'Sparrow' Force of about 1,400 men was initially led by Lieutenant Colonel William Leggatt, and included the 2/40th Battalion, the 2nd Independent Company of commandos under Major Alexander Spence, and one battery of coastal artillery. Th Australians reinforced troops of the Netherlands East Indies army under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Nico van Straten: these included the Timor and Dependencies Garrison Battalion, one company of the 8th Infantry Battalion, one reserve infantry company, one machine gun platoon of the 13th Infantry Battalion and one battery of artillery battery. Air support consisted of 12 Lockheed Hudson light bombers of the RAAF’s No. 2 Squadron. 'Sparrow' Force was initially deployed around Koepang and the strategic airfield of Penfui in the south-western corner of the island, although other units were based at Klapalima, Usapa Besar and Babau, while a supply base was also established farther to the east at Champlong.

Up to this point, the government of Portugal, which had declared its neutrality, had declined to co-operate with the Allies and instead planned to send an 800-strong force from Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique) to defend its territory in the event of any Japanese invasion. However, this refusal left the Allied flank severely exposed, and a 400-man combined Dutch and Australian force subsequently occupied Portuguese Timor on 17 December. In response, the Portuguese prime minister, Dr António de Oliveira Salazar, protested to the Allied governments, while the governor of Portuguese Timor declared himself a prisoner in order to preserve the appearance of neutrality. No resistance was offered by the small Portuguese garrison, and the local authorities tacitly co-operated, while the population itself generally welcomed the Allied force. Most of the Dutch troops and the whole of the 2/2nd Independent Company were subsequently transferred to Portuguese Timor and distributed in small detachments around the territory.

Portuguese Timor had originally not been included in Japanese war objectives, but after the Allied occupation had violated the colony’s neutrality the Japanese decided to take it.

The Portuguese and the British governments reached an agreement that established the withdrawal of the Allied forces from Portuguese Timor in exchange for Portugal’s despatch of a military force to replace them. The Portuguese force sailed from Lourenço Marques in Mozambique on 28 January 1942, but the Japanese invasion occurred before it could arrive.

In January 1942, the Allied forces on Timor became a key link in the so-called 'Malay Barrier', defended by the short-lived ABDACOM (American-British-Dutch-Australian Command) headed by General Sir Archibald Wavell. Additional Australian support staff arrived at Koepang on 12 February. This staff element included Brigadier William Veale, who had been made the Allied commanding officer on Timor. By this time, many members of the 'Sparrow' Force, most of whom were unused to tropical conditions, had succumbed to malaria and other illnesses. The airfield at Penfui in Dutch Timor also became a key air link between Australia and the US forces fighting in the Philippine islands group under General Douglas MacArthur. Penfui came under attack from Japanese aircraft on 26 and 30 January 1942, but these air raids were hampered by the efforts of the British anti-aircraft gunners and, to a lesser degree, by Curtiss P-40 fighters of the USAAF’s 33rd Pursuit Squadron, of which 11 were based at Darwin. Later, another 500 Dutch troops and the British 79th Light Anti-Aircraft Battery arrived to reinforce Timor, while an additional Australian and US force was scheduled to arrive during February.

Meanwhile, Rabaul had fallen to the Japanese 'R' operation on 23 January, followed by Amboina island, off the west coast of Ceram island, on 3 February, and both 'Gull' Force and 'Lark' Force were destroyed. On 16 February, an Allied convoy carrying reinforcements and supplies to Koepang, escorted by the US heavy cruiser Houston, US destroyer Peary and Australian sloops Swan and Warrego, came under intense Japanese air attack and was forced to turn back to Darwin before it had been able to land its troops. The reinforcements had included the Australian 2/4th Pioneer Battalion and the US 49th Artillery Battalion. 'Sparrow' Force could not be reinforced further and as the Japanese moved to complete their envelopment of the Netherlands East Indies, Timor seemed to be the inevitable next objective.

On the night of 19/20 February 1,500 men of the 'Ito' Detachment , part of the 228th Regiment of Lieutenant General Tadayoshi Sano’s 38th Division in Lieutenant General Hitoshi Imamura’s 16th Army, started to began land in Dili. The Japanese ships had at first been mistaken for vessels carrying Portuguese reinforcements, and the Allies were caught by surprise. Nevertheless, they were well-prepared, and the garrison began an orderly withdrawal, covered by the 18-strong Australian commandos of No. 2 Section stationed at the airfield. According to Australian accounts, the commandos killed an estimated 200 Japanese in the first hours of the battle; the Japanese army recorded its casualties as only seven men, but local accounts of the landings support the Australian claims.

Another group of Australian commandos, No. 7 Section, was less fortunate, driving inadvertently into a Japanese roadblock. The Australians surrendered, but it seems probable that all except one were massacred by the Japanese. Outnumbered, the surviving Australians withdrew to the south and to the east, into the mountainous interior. van Straten and 200 Dutch East Indies troops headed to the south-west toward the border.

On the same night, the Allied forces in Dutch Timor also came under intense attack as part of the Japanese air assault which had already caused the withdrwal of the small RAAF force to Australia. The bombing was followed up the landing of the main body of the 228th Regiment (two battalions totalling around 4,000 men) on the Paha river on the undefended south-western side of the island. Five Type 94 tankettes were landed to support the Japanese infantry, and the force advanced to the north, cutting off the Dutch positions in the west and attacking the positions of the 2/40th Battalion at Penfui. A Japanese company thrust to the north-east in the direction of Usua, aiming to cut off the Allied retreat. In response, the headquarters of 'Sparrow' Force was immediately relocated to Champlong, a position farther to the east.

Leggatt ordered the destruction of the airfield, but by this time the Allied line of retreat toward Champlong had been cut by the dropping of about 300 Japanese paratroopers of the 3rd Yokosuka Special Naval Landing Force, near Usua, some 14 miles (22 km) to the east of Koepang. The headquarters of the 'Sparrow' Force moved farther to the east, and Leggatt’s men launched a sustained and devastating assault on the paratroopers, culminating in a bayonet charge. By the morning of 23 February, the 2/40th Battalion had killed all but 78 of the paratroopers but by then had also been engaged once again from the rear by the main Japanese force. With his men running short of ammunition, exhausted and carrying many seriously wounded men, Leggatt accepted a Japanese invitation to surrender at Usua. The 2/40th Battalion had suffered casualties of 84 men killed and 132 wounded in the fighting, while more than twice that number would die as prisoners of war before Japan’s surrender in August 1945. Veale and the headquarters of the 'Sparrow' Force, including about 290 Australian and Dutch personnel, continued to the east across the border, to link with the 2/2nd Independent Company.

By the end of February, the Japanese controlled most of Dutch Timor and the area around Dili in the north-east. However, the Australians remained in the south and east of the island. The 2/2nd Independent Company was specially trained for stay-behind operations and although it had its own engineers and signallers, it lacked heavy weapons and vehicles. The commandos were hidden throughout the mountains of Portuguese Timor, and began a series of pinprick raids against the Japanese, assisted by Timorese guides, native carriers and mountain ponies.

In relatively small operations such as these, military folboats (collapsible kayaks, or folding boats) were deployed for use by the 'Sparrow' Force and elements of the independent companies, as they could then better penetrate the dense coastal vegetation for surveillance, raids and rescue with minimal exposure to the Japanese. This was the first operational use of folboats in South-East Asia.

Although officials of Governor Manuel de Abreu Ferreira de Carvalho’s Portuguese administration remained officially neutral and in charge of civil affairs, both the Portuguese and the indigenous East Timorese were usually sympathetic to the Allies, who were able to use the local telephone system to communicate among themselves and to gather intelligence on Japanese movements. However, the Allies initially lacked functioning radio equipment and were unable to contact Australia to inform them of their continued resistance.

Doi sent the Australian honorary consul, David Ross, who was also the local agent of the QANTAS Australian airline, to find the commandos and pass on a demand to surrender, which the commandos refused. Ross gave the commandos information on the disposition of Japanese forces and also provided a note in Portuguese, stating that anyone supplying the Australians would be later reimbursed by the Australian government. Early in March, Veale and van Straten’s forces linked with the 2/2nd Independent Company. A replacement radio was cobbled together and use of this allowed contact to be made with Darwin. By May, therefore, Australian aircraft were dropping supplies to the commandos and their allies.

The Japanese high command sent a highly regarded veteran of the Malayan campaign and the Battle of Singapore, a major known as the 'Tiger of Singapore' (real name not known) to Timor. On 22 May, the 'Tiger' rode a white horse at the head of a Japanese force making for Remexio. An Australian patrol, with Portuguese and Timorese assistance, ambushed this force and killed four or five of the Japanese soldiers. In a second ambush, an Australian sniper killed the 'Tiger'. Another 24 Japanese soldiers were also killed, and the force retreated to Dili. On 24 May, Veale and van Straten were evacuated from the south-east coast by an RAAF Consolidated Catalina flying boat, and Spence was appointed commanding officer with the rank of lieutenant colonel. On 27 May, the Australian navy undertook the first successful supply and evacuation missions to and from Timor.

In June MacArthur, now heading the Allies' South-West Pacific Area Command, was advised by General Thomas Blamey, the Australian officer commanding the Allied Land Forces, South-West Pacific Area, that a full-scale Allied offensive in Timor would require a major amphibious assault, including at least one infantry division. Because of this requirement and the overall Allied strategy of recapturing areas to the east, in New Guinea and the Solomon islands group, Blamey recommended that the campaign in Timor should be sustained but not expanded for as long as possible, and this suggestion was ultimately adopted.

Relations between Ferreira de Carvalho and the Japanese deteriorated. His telegraph link with the Portuguese government in Lisbon was cut; in June 1942 a Japanese official complained that the governor had rejected Japanese demands to punish Portuguese officials and Timorese civilians who had assisted the 'invading Australians'; and on 24 June the Japanese lodged a formal complaint with Lisbon but did not take any action against Ferreira de Carvalho, complimenting 'Sparrow' Force on its campaign so far and again asking that it surrender. drawing a parallel with the efforts of Afrikaner commandos in the 2nd Boer War (1899/1902), Doi said that he appreciated the fact that it would take a force 10 times that of the Allies to win. Doi also said he was receiving reinforcements, and would eventually assemble the necessary strength. This time Ross did not return to Dili, and he was evacuated to Australia on 16 July.

In August, Lieutenant General Yuitsu Tsuchihashi’s 48th Division (1st and 2nd Formosa Regiments, 47th Regiment and 48th Mountain Artillery Regiment) started to arrive from the Philippine islands group and garrisoned Koepang and Dili on Timor and Malacca in southern Malaya, relieving the 'Ito' Detachment. Tsuchihashi then launched a major counter-offensive designed to drive the Australians into a corner on the south coast of the island. Strong Japanese columns moved to the south, two from Dili and one from Manatuto on the north-eastern coast. Another moved eastward from Dutch Timor to attack Dutch positions in the central southern part of the island. The offensive ended on 19 August when the main Japanese force was withdrawn to Rabaul, but not before it had secured the central town of Maubisse and the southern port of Beco. The Japanese were also recruiting significant numbers of Timorese civilians, who provided intelligence on Allied movements. Moreover, also late in August, a parallel conflict began when the Maubisse rebelled against the Portuguese.

During September the main body of the 48th Division began to arrive with the task of completing the campaign. The Australians also sent reinforcements, in the form of the 450-strong 2/4th Independent Company, known as 'Lancer' Force, which arrived on 23 September. The Australian destroyer Voyager ran aground at the southern port of Betano while landing the 2/4th Independent Company, and had to be abandoned after she came under air attack. The ship’s crew was evacuated by the Australian corvettes Kalgoorlie and Warrnambool on 25 September 1942 before the ship destroyed with demolition charges. On 27 September, the Japanese mounted a thrust from Dili toward the wreck of Voyager, but without any significant success.

By October, the Japanese had managed to recruit significant numbers of Timorese civilians, who suffered severe casualties when used in frontal assaults against the small Allied forces. The Portuguese were also being pressured to assist the Japanese, and at least 26 Portuguese civilians were killed in the first six months of the occupation, including local officials and a Catholic priest. On 1 November, the Allied high command approved the issue of weapons to Portuguese officials, a policy which had previously been carried out on an informal basis. At around the same time, the Japanese ordered all Portuguese civilians to move to a so-called 'neutral zone' by 15 November. Those who failed to comply were to be considered accomplices of the Allies. This succeeded only in encouraging the Portuguese to co-operate with the Allies, whom they lobbied to evacuate some 300 women and children.

Spence was evacuated to Australia on 11 November, and the commander of the 2/2nd Independent Company. Major Bernard Callinan, was appointed in this stead as the Allied commander on Timor. During the night of 30 November/1 December, the Australian navy undertook a major operation to land fresh Dutch troops at Betano, while evacuating 190 Dutch soldiers and 150 Portuguese civilians. The Australian launch Kuru was used to ferry the passengers between the shore and the Australian corvettes Armidale and Castlemaine. Carrying the Dutch reinforcements. Armidale was sunk by Japanese air attack and almost all of those on board were lost.

By the end of 1942, the chances of the Allies retaking Timor were seen to be very remote as there were now 12,000 Japanese troops on the island and the commandos were coming into increasing contact with these. The Australian chiefs-of-staff estimated that it would take at least three Allied divisions, with strong air and naval support, to recapture the island. Moreover, as the Japanese effort to wear down the Australians and to separate them from their local support became more effective, the commandos had found their operations becoming increasingly untenable. Likewise, with the Australian army fighting a number of costly battles against the Japanese beach-heads around Buna in New Guinea, there were currently inadequate resources fpr the continuation of operations on Timor, so it was decided that from a time early in December Australian operations on Timor would be steadily brought to an end.

On 11/12 December, all but a few officers of the original 'Sparrow' Force were evacuated, together with Portuguese civilians, by the Free Dutch destroyer Tjerk Hiddes. Meanwhile, in the first week of January, the decision was made to withdraw 'Lancer' Force. On the night of 9/10 January 1943, the bulk of the 2/4th Independent Company and 50 Portuguese were evacuated by the Australian destroyer Arunta. A small intelligence team, known as 'S' Force, was left behind, but its presence was soon detected by the Japanese. Aided by folboats, 'S' Force and the remnants of 'Lancer' Force made their way to the eastern tip of Timor, where the Australian and British 'Z' Special Unit was also operating. They Allied troops were evacuated by the US submarine Gudgeon on 10 February. A total of 40 Australian commandos was killed during this phase of the fighting, while 1,500 Japanese were believed to have died.

Overall, while the campaign on Timor had possessed little strategic value, the Australian commandos had prevented an entire Japanese division from being used in the earlier phases of the New Guinea campaign, while at the same time inflicting a disproportionate level of casualties on them. In contrast to those on Java, Amboina and Rabaul, Australian operations on Timor had been far more successful, even if it was also largely a token effort in the face of overwhelming Japanese strength. The Australians had also proved that in favourable circumstances, unconventional operations could be both versatile and more economical than conventional operations of the type for which the Allied resources were not available at that time. Most civilian deaths were caused by Japanese reprisals against the civilian population, which is thought to have been in the order of between 40,000 and 70,000.

The Japanese held Timor until their surrender after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of that year, and the Soviet 'Avgust Buri' invasion of Manchukuo. On 5 September 1945, the Japanese commanding officer met Portuguese governor, effectively returning power to him and placing the Japanese forces under Portuguese authority. On 11 September, the Australian 'Timor' Force arrived in Koepang harbour and accepted the surrender of all Japanese forces on Timor from the senior Japanese officer on Timor, Colonel Kaida Tatsuichi of the 4th Tank Regiment. The commander of the 'Timor' Force, Brigadier Lewis Dyke, the senior diplomat W. D. Forsyth, and 'as many ships as possible' were despatched to Dili, arriving on 23 September. Ceremonies were then held with Australians snd the Portuguese and other local residents. Australian troops then supervised the disposal of arms by Japanese work parties before returning to West Timor for the surrender of the commander of the 48th Division, now Lieutenant General Yamada Kunitaro. On 27 September, a Portuguese naval and military force of more than 2,000 troops arrived to an impressive ceremony of welcome by the Timorese people. These troops included three engineering companies along with substantial supplies of food and construction materials for the reconstruction of Timor.

The Timor campaign had cost the Japanese as many as 4,000 men, while on the Allied side the Netherlands about 300 dead, the Australians 151 dead, the Portuguese about 75 head and the British five dead.

The last entire element of the Japanese Eastern Force's operations in the Netherlands East Indies was the capture of Bali, an island lying immediately off the eastern end of Java and originally not a target for the Japanese, who had had planned to use the airfields on the south-western part of Borneo, taken by the Central Force, for the air support of the invasion and conquest of Java in collaboration with the Western Force otherwise tasked with the capture of Sumatra.

Heavy rains prevented the implementation of this Japanese plan and suggested the seizure of Bali for its airfield at Denpassar on the south coast, which was free of rain in March. Bali’s only defence was the Prajoda Corps of 600 Dutch-led local auxiliaries. On 19 February 2,000 men of the 'Kanemura' Detachment (3/1st Formosa Regiment of the 48th Division) landed on the south-east coast at Sanur opposed only by US air attacks from Java. The Japanese advanced across the small southern peninsula and secured the airfield by a time late in the morning of the same day without encountering resistance as most of the native troops had deserted.

The Dutch had failed to demolish the airfield in the confusion and the next day Japanese aircraft arrived to support the invasion of Java. On 19/20 February a Dutch and Australian cruiser and destroyer force attempted to engage the invasion force and a series of sharp engagement followed in the Battle of the Badoeng Strait (otherwise the Battle of the Lombok Strait) between Bali island and its eastward neighbour, Lombok island.

The battle was fought between an ABDACOM naval force and elements of the Japanese navy, and in the course of this battle four Japanese destroyers defeated an Allied force that outnumbered and outgunned them, escorting two transports to safety and sinking the Dutch destroyer Piet Hein.

Rear Admiral Karel W. F. M. Doorman’s Allied naval forces were scattered around the Netherlands East Indies, but the invasion of Bali island could not be ignored as in Japanese hands Denpassar airfield would provide the Japanese with an air base within range of the ABDA naval base at Soerabaja. Doorman therefore decided on an immediate response, but this meant that a concentration of force was impossible. Thus several Allied forces were despatched in effect independently to attack the Japanese.

The first Allied vessels to engage were two submarines, the US Seawolf and British Truant. Both attacked the Japanese convoy on 18 February but did no damage and were driven off by depth charges from Japanese destroyers. Later on the same day 20 US warplanes attacked the convoy, but succeeded only in damaging the transport Sagami Maru. The Japanese were aware that their invasion convoy was likely to be attacked again, and therefore pulled back north as soon as possible. The light cruiser Nagara and destroyers Wakaba, Hatsushimo and Nenohi were well away and took no part in the action. The last ships to leave were the two transports, each escorted by two destroyers: Sasago Maru was escorted by Asashio and Oshio, and the heavily damaged Sagami Maru by Michishio and Arashio.

The first Allied group, comprising the Dutch light cruisers De Ruyter and Java, US destroyers John D. Ford and Pope, and Dutch destroyer Piet Hein, sighted the Japanese ships in the Badoeng Strait at about 22.00 on 19 February and opened fire 25 minutes later. No damage was done in this exchange of fire, and the two Dutch cruisers continued through the strait to the north-east in order to give the destroyers a clear opportunity to engage with torpedoes. Then the three Allied destroyers came into range. At 22.40 a 'Long Lance' torpedo from Asashio hit Piet Hein, which immediately sank. Asashio and Oshio exchanged gunfire with Pope and John D. Ford, forcing the two US destroyers to retire to the south-east instead of following the cruisers to the north-east. In the darkness, however, Asashio and Oshio mistook each other for Allied ships and fired on each other for several minutes, albeit without inflicting any damage.

About three hours later the second group of ABDACOM warships, in the form of the Dutch light cruiser Tromp and US destroyers John D. Edwards, Parrott, Pillsbury and Stewart, reached the Badoeng Strait. At 01.36 Stewart, Pillsbury and Parrott launched torpedoes but did no damage. Then Oshio and Asashio sortied again and there was another exchange of gunfire. Tromp was hit by 11 5-in (127-mm) shells from Asashio, sustaining severe damage that later forced the cruiser to Australia for repairs, but hit both Japanese destroyers, killing four men on Asashio, which suffered only slight damage, and seven on Oshio. Rear Admiral Kyuji Kobo, commanding the Japanese forces, had ordered Arashio and Michishio to turn back, and at about 02.20 they joined the battle. Michishio was hit by shells from Pillsbury, John D. Edwards and Tromp, losing 13 men killed and 83 wounded. The Japanese destroyer lost speed and had to be taken in tow after the battle. Both groups of ships turned away, and the engagement was over.

The third ABDACOM naval group of seven torpedo boats arrived in the Badoeng Strait at about 06.00 but did not encounter any Japanese ships.