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February 27, 2012 12:34 PM   Subscribe

The Battle of the Java Sea happened exactly seventy years ago today. Austrialian, British, Dutch and American ships set sail to stop the Japanese invasion fleet steaming towards Java. It didn't end well.

Two heavy cruisers (HMS Exeter and USS Houston), three light cruisers (HNLMS De Ruyter, HNLMS Java, HMAS Perth), and nine destroyers (HMS Electra, HMS Encounter, HMS Jupiter, HNLMS Kortenaer, HNLMS Witte de With, USS Alden, USS John D. Edwards, USS John D. Ford, and USS Paul Jones) took on two heavy (Nachi and Haguro) and two light cruisers (Naka and Jintsu) and 14 destroyers in the largest sea battle since the Battle of Jutland in WWI. At first sight this looked like an relatively even battle, but while most of the ships on the Allied side were of WWI vintage, the Japanese ships were more modern, better armed and had better air support.

These differences were telling as the Japanese managed to sink two cruisers (the HNLMS de Ruyter and Java) and three destroyers for no loss of their own, sinking several more in follow-up battles in the days after, including the HMS Exeter and the USS Houston. Ten ships in total were sunk, with the loss of more than 2,000 sailors, including the commander of the allied force, admiral Karel Doorman, who was killed when his flagship HNLMS de Ruyter was sunk.

In all the battle only delayed the Japanese for a day.

Karel Doorman, despite his failure to stop the Japanese after the war was honoured as the Netherlands' last great naval hero, with three succesive ships named after him.

More information:

The animated history of the Fall of the Dutch East Indies, including the battle.
A personal history of the battle, by the son of one of the survivors.
posted by MartinWisse (19 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
WWII Database entry on the entire Dutch East Indies / Java Campaign, which includes the Battle of the Java Sea.
Be sure to peruse the associated entries in the right column.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:40 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

As a kid, I used to play "bomb the Yamato" with my good friend Donald F. on summer mornings, down at Arbutus Cove, using pieces of driftwood and smooth stones. Don had these really cool miniature models of Japanese cruisers and flattops, with little Zeroes and Kates. WWII was a bigger part of pop culture back then.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:53 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

If only someone had stopped Sun.
posted by o0o0o at 2:26 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

What do you mean it "didn't end well", round-eye?
posted by Mike D at 2:29 PM on February 27, 2012 [5 favorites]

This has got to be the last major fleet engagement of the Pacific War where "United Nations" (aka American-led) forces lacked air cover.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:06 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

This was part of the high tide of Japanese aggression in the Pacific, eventually her navy would be virtually annihilated, soldiers bloodily wiped out on one strategic island after another, and left in such a position that one of the largest battleships ever built, the aforementioned Yamato, was sent into combat purely on a suicide mission that ultimately failed. However, it's easy to forget that at the point of this battle, the outcome and control of the Pacific was still in some doubt.
posted by Atreides at 4:45 PM on February 27, 2012

What do you mean it "didn't end well", round-eye?

Ending well would be everybody gearing up only to have their leaders decide that this was a really silly way to settle an argument and went home and wrote really convincing essays to settles to everyone's contentment that there are a variety of valid opinions on the subject and that they would strive to achieve all of them. After all, largely most of us don't want to die on the deck of some tangled bit of steel in the middle of a vast body of water but would rather go home and see the life partner and children or children-surrogates.

Putting holes in people is really not ending well by most definitions other than those clarifying whose holes were the most effective.

The dead will remain unconvinced in their enemies arguments forever.

I mean, I'm a WWII geek for reals but nobody's day ended well until they came home.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 5:14 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

What do you mean it "didn't end well", round-eye?

Oh, good christ, if there's one nation that could make the USA look like shining beacons of Paladinic Goodness in the Pacific, it was Russia. And if you could get everyone to agree the Russians weren't so bad, you were Japan.

How bad was it under the Japanese? The fucking Philippines looked at MacArthur as a savior and liberator. That's a bad place to be.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:26 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yes! Sumatra was much better off under the Dutch! And look how well Papua New Guinea has done postwar thanks to Australian oversight.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:57 PM on February 27, 2012

Yes! Sumatra was much better off under the Dutch! And look how well Papua New Guinea has done postwar thanks to Australian oversight.

Under Japan, they were all less than slaves. Literally. Slavemasters want their property to return an investment. Japan wanted to work them to death to replace them with Japanese settlers.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:44 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

The animated history link was cool - thanks!

It is interesting that the japanese were seen as unbeatable at that point.
posted by ianhattwick at 8:18 PM on February 27, 2012

KokoRyu, I don't think you are going to win many to your side by claiming the Australian presence in PNG post-1945 is comparable to the impact of the Imperial Japanese Army on the Philippines, Korea, Malaya, etc. during WWII. At the very least the Australians weren't employing armed reprisals as the first response to local dissent.
posted by N-stoff at 9:28 PM on February 27, 2012

[blaneyphoto, I do not know why you so badly want to drop some variant of "good thing the Japanese got nuked" into this thread but please cut it the fuck out already.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:39 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Bah, isn't it possible to say that colonialism, period, is bad? If you were a Malayan killed by colonial powers during the "Malayan Emergency", I'm not sure how being killed by the British is any better than being killed by the Japanese.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:02 PM on February 27, 2012

Colonialism isn't mankind's greatest achievement. It also isn't a one-size-fits-all label you can comfortably throw at all the possible variations on one nation taking over its smaller neighbour out of self-interest. At some point you need to move on to a stronger label and the Japanese in WW2 were well past that point.
posted by N-stoff at 12:04 AM on February 28, 2012

To be fair, quite a few Indonesians (amongst others) did see the Japanese as liberators from the Dutch, with the main Indonesian nationalists eagerly cooperating with them, though largely disappointed with them in the end. Japan was seen as an example to emulate, the one Asian nation that had stood up to western aggressors (Russia) and won. What's more, the easy Japanese victories over the Dutch, British, American etc. also showed that the colonial rulers were not quite as invincible as they would've liked their subject populations to believe...

The Japanese leadership made use of this admiration and the nationalistic feelings of the various populations of western colonies both before and during the war, but as in Hitler's Europe, in the end there really was only room for Japan's ambitions and the nationalists would be disappointed.

In Indonesia, this "betrayal" by the Indonesians would make the Dutch suppression of the Indonesian liberation struggle that much more bitter after the war, as the Dutch came out of their concentration camps to see that their Indonesian subjects had declared themselves independent, but that's an entirely different post.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:02 AM on February 28, 2012

I can't believe someone is going to do a moral equivalency with the Japanese occupation.

Certainly bad things happened under European colonialism but go look up civilian death rates, starvation and POW death rates, throughout the Japanese-occupied Pacific. You don't have to argue FOR colonialism to agree that Japanese control was uniquely cruel and damaging, and far more deadly to the average civilian. Its childish to say "well, both were bad so what is the difference?"
posted by C.A.S. at 3:12 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

At some point you need to move on to a stronger label and the Japanese in WW2 were well past that point.

So you're saying Dutch, French, American and British colonialism was somehow benign?

You may call me childish, but name-calling never won an argument. There's something irritating about this assurance Americans and other Westerners like you have that somehow European colonialism wasn't so bad, and the Japanese were somehow worse.

You talk about death rates etc etc, but no one has responded to my earlier comment about the "Malayan Emergency" which lasted for 12 years and featured bloody reprisals. How about the French Indochina War?

It's all the same.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:23 AM on February 28, 2012

Agree to disagree, then. I don't see any use in making colonialism a black and white label when history is filled with shades of grey, you are just obscuring the issues. If you want to imply the Japanese adventures from 1937-1945 were equivalent to something as comparatively benign as New Guinea as an Australian protectorate it trivializes the tragedies of Nanking and Manila.

This isn't (as you seem to think) a pro-Western distinction; to give a eurocentric equivalent what possible benefit do we get by relabelling the Soviet/Third Reich's invasion of Poland as another colonial incident, just like the Danish settlement of Greenland?
posted by N-stoff at 10:09 AM on February 28, 2012

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