Houston and Perth were sunk while attempting to disrupt the Japanese invasion force, which is the reason they had been sent into the Java Sea in the first place, and they went down while valiantly attempting to accomplish their mission until the very end. Their decision is all the more remarkable given what was going on around them; the collapse of the entire Allied defensive effort in the Far East in the face of a seemingly unstoppable Japanese advance.
The British bastion of Singapore had fallen.
Most of the Philippines had fallen and the rest would fall soon. The Allies had encountered loss after loss. Defeatism and surrender surrounded them.
Both ships were low on fuel, acutely low on ammunition, and had been damaged in previous battles, the Houston severely. Their chance of escape was slim, yet both captains chose duty over survival. The captain makes the decision, and the crew is expected to do their duty. Eighty-four days into the war, most of it in combat conditions, the crews had more than taken their measure of their captains, and their decision to fight would have come as a surprise to no one.
Nor would the crews of those two ships have chosen differently had they been able to do so. And the crews of those ships performed their duty far beyond that which any nation has a right to expect. There is no safe place on a warship in battle; the enemy shell can hit anywhere.
Whether a sailor lives or dies in combat at sea is about as random an act as can be. To have any chance of success, every sailor must do his duty with maximum efficiency and effectiveness, undeterred by the possibility that at any instant an enemy torpedo or shell will blow him to eternity. The Japanese fired almost 90 torpedoes at the Houston and Perth , any one of which could cripple a cruiser.
Perth went down first, firing until she was out of ammunition, succumbing to numerous torpedo and shell hits, Captain Waller killed on the bridge after giving the order to abandon ship. Houston fought on alone for almost another hour, damaging multiple Japanese ships while being hit repeatedly, until she too was out of ammunition. Captain Rooks was killed by a Japanese shell as he exited the bridge, after giving the order to abandon ship. To this day, we do not know how many American Sailors went down with the Houston , but of her crew of about 1, only survived to be captured by the Japanese.
As many as are known to have made it into the water alive, only to perish from wounds, drowning, exposure, washed by the current into the vast Indian Ocean, and some were machine-gunned by the Japanese in the water. The whole story is that every sailor that Chaplain Rentz tried to give his jacket to refused to take it. Every time he tried to push away from the sinking makeshift raft and give himself up to the sea, other sailors dragged him back.
The wounded sailor who ended up with the jacket refused to put it on until well after it was clear that Chaplain Rentz had disappeared in the darkness. Such was the courage of the men of the Houston.
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The warship 's commanding officer, Captain Harold Farncomb , next approached the sailors and informed them that if they did not follow orders to disperse, he would treat their actions as a mutiny. The standoff could be seen from the wharfside, and a heavily armed force from the New York City Police Department was dispatched, but did not intervene. Farncomb successfully defused the situation by making the offer that any sailor wanting to wear blue uniform all day ashore could do so after asking permission; an offer taken up by almost every sailor taking shore leave.
The ship was assigned to convoy escort duty and patrols along the Australian coasts in May. During Operation Excess in early January , the ship escorted a convoy from Malta to Alexandria along with other elements of the Mediterranean Fleet.
Cruiser by Mike Carlton | Boffins Books
The cruiser departed Malta that evening and reached Alexandria on the 18th where she entered the dockyard for temporary repairs. The ship entered the floating drydock on 9 February and remained there for 10 days. During this time, her catapult was removed and replaced by a pair of captured Italian millimetre 0. In addition a non-rotating Type search radar was installed. Arriving there that night, the British ships found that the Italians had reinforced their garrison; after landing the reinforcements, the army commanders decided to evacuate the island as they were outnumbered by the garrison.
Beginning on 7 March, Perth supported the Allied reinforcement of Greece by transporting soldiers from Alexandria to Piraeus along with patrolling the waters between Greece and Crete. On 17—24 March she escorted another convoy to Malta. The troops and refugees were loaded at night to minimise the ability of the Axis forces to interfere with them and the ships had strict orders to depart in time to be well away from the coast by dawn, even if troops remained ashore.
He sent a destroyer forward to reconnoitre the situation in the port while his other ships remained offshore. When the destroyer reported fighting in the harbour, he decided that it was not worth risking his ships being silhouetted again the fires and explosions in the port and ordered a return to Crete.
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By the time that the destroyer was able to report that the harbour had been secured, Bowyer-Smyth felt it was too late to return. When the Germans invaded Crete on 20 May, Perth was part of Force C that consisted of two cruisers and four destroyers, patrolling in the vicinity of the Kasos Strait , northeast of Crete. The following day they were repeatedly attacked by German and Italian aircraft that sank one of the destroyers.
Now assigned to Force D, Perth and her consorts intercepted a German invasion convoy of small ships on the morning of the 22nd, escorted by the Italian torpedo boat Sagittario. Perth sank a straggler from another convoy before the main convoy was spotted at The torpedo boat had been trying to collect stragglers and her commander ordered his convoy to disperse while he laid a smokescreen and then engaged the Allied ships with little effect.
His diversion and the lack of visibility caused by his smokescreen, coupled with repeated aerial attacks that peppered the ships with shrapnel, allowed the convoy to escape with only the loss of two ships. Upon her return to Alexandria, Perth spent a few days under repair.
The Sydney Morning Herald
On the evening of 28 May, the ship was assigned to Force D, three cruisers, three destroyers and a troopship , which was sent to evacuate soldiers from Sphakia , a small port on the southern coast of Crete, after their defeat by German paratroopers. Perth carried two small landing craft to ferry troops aboard. The Allied ships were not attacked during the following day as they embarked the soldiers and they departed before dawn on the 30th. Beginning at Force D was repeatedly attacked by German aircraft, with Perth suffering several near-misses before being struck by a bomb which exploded in the forward boiler room shortly before with 4 of her sailors and 9 of the 1, embarked soldiers killed.
The explosion temporarily knocked out her power and the cruiser came to a halt before it could be restored a half-hour later. It also bent the starboard inner propeller shaft and badly damaged the galley , the high-angle fire-control computer , the Admiralty Fire Control Table for the six-inch guns and started many leaks in the hull plating. The cruiser was able to reach Alexandria the next day and was under repair until 22 June. Perth sailed for Haifa , British Palestine , three days later to participate in the invasion of Vichy Syria and Lebanon.
On the 27th she helped to lay a minefield off Damour and then provided gunfire support to Allied forces and bombarding Vichy facilities through to the end of the campaign before returning to Alexandria on 15 July. While she was waiting to be relived by her sister Hobart , the quadruple "pom-pom" and the two Breda guns were removed and her catapult was reinstalled.
Perth returned to Australia for permanent repairs, arriving in Sydney on 12 August. The release of her crew for shore leave was delayed by a speech from Menzies that same day that was not well-received. In addition to the required repairs, the Type radar was removed and two quadruple 0.
She also probably received four millimetre Oerlikon AA guns in single mounts installed on the superfiring turrets' roofs and in the superstructure near the bridge. Completion of the refit at Cockatoo Island was delayed by a month after a fire melted the electrical cables leading to the director-control tower on the roof of the bridge; on 24 November the ship conducted her full-power sea trials.
She arrived at Tanjong Priok , Java, on 24 February and was not damaged by a Japanese air raid later in the day. On the evening of the 26th, they sortied in an unsuccessful search for the Japanese ships. The Japanese received reports that the Allied ships were near their planned route at on the 27th. Their cruisers launched floatplanes to confirm these reports and they spotted Doorman's ships heading east at Five minutes later Doorman turned south to refuel in Surabaya.
The Japanese observed this turn and they decided to continue with the landing at He reversed course almost immediately intending to attack the convoy. The Japanese floatplanes observed his movements, despite attacks by Allied fighters at and , and their report caught the invasion force widely separated as it prepared to conduct the landing that evening.
The Allied heavy cruisers returned Nachi ' s fire three minutes later. At Doorman turned slightly southwards to prevent the Japanese from crossing his 'T' and Rear-Admiral Takeo Takagi , commander of the invasion escort force, turned slightly away to open up the range as the shooting on both sides had been accurate, although no hits were made. Doorman turned west southwest at to better prevent his 'T' from being crossed, a manoeuvre that kept the range too far for the Allied light cruisers to contribute their gunfire.
Both Japanese destroyer squadrons were manoeuvring during this time to make torpedo attacks using their powerful Type 93 "Long Lance" torpedoes. Nachi ' s sister Haguro contributed eight torpedoes at at long range, which also missed. About the same time, Doorman turned slightly northwards, closing the range. At , one of Nachi ' s millimetre shells struck Exeter , detonating inside one of her boiler rooms. The shell set the ship on fire and knocked six of her eight boilers offline.
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The British cruiser fell out of formation and rapidly began to lose speed. The following cruisers assumed that this turn was deliberate and followed Exeter ; once Waller realised that she had been crippled, he ordered Perth to circle her, laying a smokescreen to conceal her. Doorman needed some time to reorganise his forces and ordered Exeter to head back to Surabaya, escorted by the British destroyers and the surviving Dutch destroyer.
The remaining ships laid copious amounts of smoke and circled around as the Japanese attempted to sink the crippled ship with torpedoes. Perth received her first hit at , her second at and a third at Shortly afterwards Lieutenant Peter Hancox, RAN reported that ammunition was reduced to a few 6-inch practice shells and some star shells.
At that juncture Captain Waller decided to attempt to force a passage through Sunda Strait. He ordered full speed and altered course for Toppers Island.
World War II Database
Perth had barely steadied on course when she was struck on the starboard side by a torpedo at A few minutes later Perth received a second torpedo hit on the starboard side and Captain Waller gave the order to abandon ship. Perth sank at approximately having received two further torpedo hits, one on her starboard side, the other on the port. During the action a large number of enemy destroyers attacked from all directions, and, due to the large number of enemy ships attacking, it was impossible to engage all targets at once and some were eventually able to close to a very short range.
The Japanese warships were protecting an invasion convoy of approximately 50 ships which effected a landing in Banten Bay, Java. According to Japanese reports 85 torpedoes were expended by Japanese ships during the action.