On the Java Sea, 27 February 1942

I’ll say again, no one can write naval battles like James D. Hornfischer. When he died, June 2021, the world lost many stories, still begging to be told.

On 27 February 1942, the world had its first taste of the “astonishing range” of a new type of torpedo, the Japanese Type 93. An international flotilla of carriers, cruisers and destroyers (American, Australian, English and Dutch) were in defensive formation, trying to stop the advance of a massive group of Japanese battleships heading towards the strategic Australian port of Darwin.

The first to be hit was the HMS Exeter, but the Australian captain of the Perth raced towards it, “firing floating smoke pots into the sea that churned out white clouds” and bought the Exeter precious time. The next to be hit was the Dutch destroyer Kortenaer, which was screening the Allied flotilla from the west and “found herself broadside to a spread of Long Lances.” After one “tremendous explosion” produced “a tower of seawater that swallowed her nearly from forecastle to fantail,” the ship lay “broken in two, jackknifed and foundering . . . a few men desperately scrambling to cling to her barnacled bottom. A few of them” were still able to flash a thumbs-up sign to the passing Allied ships. “No ship stopped to take survivors,” there was no time.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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