Steaming in column at 28 knots, the Americans slipped into narrow Bali Strait at 0200 on March 1. Binford kept his ships close along the Java shore so they wouldn’t be silhouetted in the bright moonlight, but only five minutes into their dangerous passage, American lookouts sighted a ship patrolling in the channel. The stranger assumed a parallel course and several more ships joined her. After about fifteen minutes they flashed recognition signals. The challenging vessels were the destroyers Hatsuharu, Nenohi, Wakaba and Hatsushimo. When Binford’s destroyers failed to reply, the Japanese opened fire from about 6,000 yards. This signal the Americans promptly answered. A brief, but heavy, gunfire exchange ensued, observed by the Dutch garrison at Banjoewangi to the north. The Japanese salvos fell uncomfortably close causing the commander of the John D. Ford to report they must have been using radar. The Americans fled south, maneuvering to avoid breakers along the coast as well the Japanese salvos. The strait was widening and the veteran destroyers managed to open the range whereupon they ceased fire and made smoke. In just seven minutes Edwards shot off 240 rounds. The Japanese stopped shooting about two minutes later at 0235. However, they gave chase for another fifteen minutes. At 0250 they commenced firing blindly, apparently hoping to provoke the Americans into responding and revealing their position. Shortly thereafter, the Japanese gave up their chase and returned to their patrol stations. DESRON 58 continued into the open waters south of Java and successfully made Fremantle, Australia on March 4th.
The Japanese deployed strong forces south of Java in the first week of March to intercept Allied ships fleeing from the island. On February 25 the 1st Carrier Air Fleet (Nagumo) and the Main Force (Kongo) sailed from Kendari, steamed through Lombok Strait and entered the Indian Ocean. Nagumo’s force included the carriers Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu and Soryu, the battleships Hiei and Kirishima, the heavy cruisers Tone and Chikuma, the light cruiser Abukuma and the destroyers Tanikaze, Isokaze, Hamakaze, Urakaze, Shiranuhi, Kasumi, Arikake, and Yugure. Kongo’s main force consisted of battleships Haruna and Kongo, heavy cruisers Atago, Maya and Takao and the destroyers Arashi, Hayashio, and Nowake. There was also an independent force consisting of the heavy cruisers Ashigara and Myoko and the destroyers Akebono and Inazuma operating north of Java. The carriers were not as effective in interdicting shipping as might have been expected, but the surface forces operating south of Java encountered and sank Allied warships on five occasions. The Allied sources for these engagements are all based upon postwar interviews of Japanese participants; with the exception of 13 members of Yarra’s crew, and about fifty from Stronghold, no Allied participants survived the war. From the Allied point of view, their stricken vessels sailed into oblivion and their fates are still unclear 57 years later.
2. Edsall verses Battleships
– 1 March 42 1750 hours.
The Edsall helped rescue Langley’s survivors on February 27. She and Whipple successfully transferred these survivors to AO Pecos during the morning of March 1 south of Christmas Island despite one interruption from a Japanese air attack. However, Edsall retained some of the P-40 pilots and command ordered her to deliver them to Tjilatjap. She dutifully sailed northeast to discharge this mission and was never heard from again. The 3rd Battleship Division and the 8th Cruiser Division, including battleships Hiei and Kirishima, and cruisers Chikuma, and Tone encountered Edsall at 1750 hours on March 1. Edsall proved to be a difficult target: the battleships fired 297 14” and 132 6” while the cruisers expended 844 8” and 62 5” rounds before they finally sank her at 1900.at 13?45’S 106? 47’E. The Japanese rescued eight crewmembers, all of whom subsequently died in POW camps.
3. Stronghold verses
Cruisers – 2 March 42 1743 hours
Operating south of Tjilatjap from March 1st Kondo’s force sank a Dutch motorship Toradja (981 tons), an auxiliary minesweeper, HMS Scott Harley (620 tons) and captured a Dutch steamship Bintoehan (1,020 tons). Then, on March 2 aerial scouts reported bigger game 300nm south of Bali. Maya, Arashi and Nowaki set off in pursuit and overhauled the British destroyer Stronghold at 1743 hours. She had departed Tjilatjap on the evening of the 1st and, low on fuel was sailing at an economic speed of 12 to 15 knots. Maya opened fire from 16,600 yards. The destroyers joined in at 1821 when their range was 11,300 yards. The Japanese continued to close until the cruiser was 3,000 yards off the Stronghold’s starboard bow and the destroyers 2,000 yards off her port beam. After expending 635 rounds of 8” and 290 (Arashi) and 345 (Nowaki) rounds of 5” the Allied destroyer was immobilized and in flames. Abandon ship was ordered and Stronghold blew up and sank shortly after at 1858 at 12? 20’ S, 112? E. About fifty survivors were picked up on the morning of the 3rd by a small Dutch steamer that had been captured by the Japanese the day before. While this rescue was in process, the Japanese heavy cruiser Maya came up and forced the steamer to suspend rescue operations. The survivors were transferred to Maya where they were given medical treatment and permitted on deck, exceptional good treatment by Japanese standards.
The fates of the ships that received permission on the morning of March 1 to evacuate Tjilatjap are somewhat confused. This exodus included destroyer Pillsbury gunboats Asheville and Tulsa, armed yacht Isabel, RAN sloop Yarra, minesweeper Whipporwill and more than a dozen merchant vessels.Pillsbury, Asheville and Yarra never made it. Postwar interrogations of Japanese participants resulted in the official version that these three ships were sunk in “a night surface engagement by the “teamwork” firing of three cruisers of Cruiser Division 4 and two destroyers of Destroyer Squadron 4 in Bali Strait.” (Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships V 307). Parkin, elaborating on this report states that Pillsbury, Asheville and HMAS Yarra were all sailing together and that while Pillsbury put up a gallant fight, while “the lightly defended gunboats were blown under with very little effort.” (52). Actually, it appears these three vessels were sunk independently on three different days.
4. Pillsbury verses
Cruisers 2 March 42 2036 hours.
On March 2 Atago and Takao accounted for Pillsbury. They were acting on the same sighting report that led to the destruction of Stronghold, except this described Pillsbury as an Omaha class cruiser. While Maya and Kondo’s destroyers took care of the British destroyer, Atago and Takeo hurried south in pursuit of the reported cruiser. They overtook Pillsbury at 2036 and opened fire at 2055 from 6,000 yards. Atago and Takeo fired 54 and 112 8” rounds respectively and took seven minutes to sink the destroyer at 15? 38’ S, 113? 13’ E. There were no survivors.
5. Asheville verses
Destroyers 3 March 42 0906 hours
Friendly ships sighted Asheville on March 2. The next news of her came on the morning of March 3 when Whipporwill and Isabel picked up a distress call that she was under attack 300 miles south of Java. The agents of this attack were the Japanese destroyers Arashi, and Nowaki. They sighted her at 0906 160 nm southwest of Bali. The destroyers commenced fire from 9,200 yards and sank her in slightly more than a half hour. One crewmember was rescued, but did not survive the war.
Convoy verses Cruisers 4 March 42 0630 hours.
On the morning of March 4th between 0640 and 0800 280 miles south, southeast of Tjilatjap, Kondo’s re-united force (Atago, Takao and Maya with Arashi, and Nowaki) encountered and eliminated an entire convoy escorted by the Australian sloop Yarra. This convoy arrived at Tjilatjap on March 2nd, but acting on instructions, turned south for Fremantle without entering the harbor. Proceeding at 8.5 knots, they were sighted by Japanese aircraft on the afternoon of the second, but no surface contacts followed, presumably because Kondo’s forces were otherwise occupied. The 3rd passed without incident. However, at 0630 hours on the 4th, however, just at sunrise, the Australian sloop sighted the masts of heavy warships to the north, northeast. Her captain, Lieutenant-Commander Rankin, ordered the convoy to scatter while he stood out between them and the advancing Japanese, making smoke and opening fire with his 4” guns. These efforts were gallant but ineffective. The cruisers launched two scout planes and pounded the sloop (Atago’s gunfire was particularly effective). She was quickly set afire with a heavy list to port, but still in action. The cruisers then engaged the depot ship HMS Anking (3,470 tons) and quickly sank her. They then hit the minesweeper MMS51; her crew set scuttling charges and abandoned ship as the cruisers closed and finished her off with their antiaircraft weapons. The tanker Francol (4,900 tons) was next to go, sunk by the destroyers at 0730. Yarra lasted for almost two hours. Her end was witnessed by some of the Stronghold prisoners aboard Maya, permitted on deck to observe, apparently, a demonstration of Japanese power. “The Yarra was the only ship left afloat, and we could see flames a a great deal of smoke. The two destroyers were circling her and pouring fire into her..She was still firing back as we could see odd gun flashes.” Of Yarra’s crew, 117 were killed in the action, 21 died on rafts and 13 were rescued five days later by a Dutch submarine. British sources (Roskill and Brown) included Stronghold with this force, but this does not seem likely.