Fires at Sea

The battle on the Java Sea, a battle between mis-matched opponents (The Allies were much less prepared than the Japanese), is muddied by a lack of direction in command. The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors is the classic David vs Goliath match-up. Ship of Ghosts, however, is more like The Charge of the Light Brigade. Or at least that’s the way James Hornfischer writes it.

Admiral Doorman (Dutch), on his flagship the De Ruyter, is leading the Allied fleet back to port on Java when he gets a command from a superior to engage AGAIN. So he orders his ships to turn around. As the Allied ships head back to the scene of battle (a battle which they very decisively lost in the afternoon), they pass survivors of the earlier sinkings — “the swells here and there were dotted with men adrift” — and once again, the Allied fleet pass them by, with the exception of the HMS Encounter, which stops and takes aboard 113.

Three of the ships that escaped being torpedoed in the afternoon, are now torpedoed. GAAAH. So stupid. Admiral Doorman’s own ship, the De Ruyter, is hit. He orders the remaining ships to head back to port instead of trying to recover survivors. “The standing order that disabled friendlys should be left to the enemy’s mercy came with no exception for” admirals. So the De Ruyter is left to struggle alone. It was “an hour and a half before she finally sank.” A sailor on the Houston described hearing “nine separate and distinct explosions before we cleared the horizon. Admiral Karel Doorman was never seen again.”

btw, one of the Allied ships was sunk as it approached harbor, by a mine. A mine set by the Dutch just that morning, in anticipation of an enemy invasion.

Self always found it difficult to understand fires at sea. Wouldn’t it be easy to put out fires, surrounded by so much water? She learned from reading The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, however, that fires are one of the most common reasons for death at sea. Moreover, for the survivors, there is nowhere to go. A ship is a floating island. In fact, again from reading TLSOTTCS, she learns that most of the crew probably could not swim. And even if you happened to be one of the lucky few who could swim — sharks! Gruesome.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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