Fire in the Night: The loss of Bali and Timor
Bali and the Battle of Badung Strait
As ABDA unraveled, Doorman and Helfrich again met on the 17th. Doorman told his superior of the CSF's inability to operate in the Western Java Sea without aircover. Doorman als informed Helfrich that until ABDA could provide adequate air cover for future fleet operations, it was his intention to concentrate the CSF in the Eastern Java Sea. Knowing the true state of Allied air power on Java, Helfrich could do little but concur with Doorman's decision. Meanwhile, the Japanese were moving to consolidate their position in the eastern half of the East Indies as well. On the 14th, MLD planes reported seven transports, escorted by seven destroyers and three cruisers off Kendari. Three days later, Dutch planes sighted two cruisers and two destroyers escorting three transports 50 miles southwest of Ambon. This force was the of Rear-Admiral Kyuji Kubo, bound for Bali. Invading Bali was originally not a Japanese concern as they already held the airfield at Kendari. But despite its well-lit, all-weather runways, the Japanese quickly discovered that the fickle weather patterns over Kendari often kept flying time to a minimum. It was this inability to bomb Soerabaja on a regular basis that prompted them to move on Bali.
Since ABDA's inability to hold Java hinged on air reinforcements from Australia, capture of Bali would cut off the flow of fighters to the island. Capture of Den Passar Airfield on the islands's southern end would also give them a forward air base just two miles off the eastern shore of Java. It would also allow the Japanese to strike Soerabaja and eastern Java's multiple airfields at will. They were confident they could then deal ABDA air power a sledgehammer blow. At the same time, they could interdict any ABDA sea force sent out to contest the planned invasion of Java.
With it's close proximaty to Java, the Japanese considered the Bali operation extremely vulnerable to both air and sea attack. Kubo himself, simply wanted to land the ground elements and clear his ships of the area as soon as possible before ABDA could retalliate. But despite Kubo's concerns and the obvious risks involved, the Japanese chose to proceed and the invasion force left Makassar in the night of February 17/18.
The convoy consisted of the transports Sasego Maru and Sagami Maru with the destroyers Asashio, Oshio, Arashio and Michisio in close escort. The light cruiser Nagara and the destroyers Hatsushimo, Nenohi and Wakaba followed behind and provided a distant covering force from a position in the Banda Sea. From Kubo's course, no one could positively identify his destination, although most thought it to be Timor.
The landing force consisted of the 3rd Batallion ( minus one company), one mountain gun platoon, radio and field units, an engineer platoon and part of the Anchorage headquarters of the 1st Formosa Infantry Regiment of the 48th Infantry division. All had been withdrawn from combat duty in the Philippines when other units on Borneo could not find adequate sea transport in time to meet the scheduled departure date.
Following the operation in the Banka Strait, Doorman's striking force was widely scattered. De Ruyter and Java were with Piet Hein, Kortenaer, Pope and John D. Ford. Barker and Bulmer also lay in Tjilatjap, but due to the damage suffered in the Bangka Strait, neither was capable of offensive action and the decision had been made to send them to Australia for repairs and refit.
Tromp was at Soerabaja, while Stewart, John D. Edwards, Parrott and Pillsbury refueled at Ratai Bay on southern Sumatra before the facilities there were demolished to prevent their capture once the Allied evacuation was complete. At the ME, Witte de With and Banckert were also detailed to take part in the action, but were unable to do so. Witte de With lay in overhaul and could not be readied in time. Banckert was operational, but was badly damaged in an air raid on the morning of the 18th and was also forced into drydock. Evertsen was also available, but on convoy duty between the Indian Ocean and Singapore.
With the CSF so badly scattered, Admiral Doorman could do little when he received word that Kubo was on the move. However, once ABDA air reconnaissance confirmed the Japanese convoy's destination, Doorman ordered his ships to raise steam and make for Bali while he formulated a battle plan. The plan he came up with was extremely undesirable and was forced upon him out of necessity. Because time was critical, Doorman's force had no chance to concentrate. As a result, his attack would consist of three waves which started from three different points around Java and southern Sumatra.
The first wave, consisting of De Ruyter and Java with their destroyers, left Tjilatjap on the evening of February 18. Bad luck struck immediately when Kortenaer temporarily lost rudder control and ran aground while threading her way out of Tjilatjap's treacherous narrow harbor channel. The destroyer could not be pulled off until the morning tide came in and was then forced into Soerabaja for repairs. Unable to wait, Doorman continued on with only Piet Hein, Pope and John D. Ford to screen his cruisers.
The second wave consisted of the American 58th Destroyer Division under Commander T.H. Binford. Stewart, Parrott, John D. Edwards and Pillsbury had orders to leave Ratai Bay at full speed and join Tromp at Soerabaja. They joined the Dutch light cruiser on the 18th and the force sortied that afternoon.
The third wave consisted of seven Dutch motor torpedo boats. Eight were originally detailed to participate in the attack, but while leaving Soerabaja, TM-6 hit a buoy, forcing her into drydock. This left TM-4, TM-5, TM-7, TM-9, TM-10, TM-11 and TM-12 to carry on. They departed Soerabaja on the morning of the 19th, headed for Pangpang Bay on Java's east coast. There, after a substantial delay, they refueled from the Dutch minelayer Krakatau and convered the short distance from Java to Bali.
Doorman's plan called for each of his three waves to attack independently. The first was to approach through the southern entrance of the Badoeng Strait from the Indian Ocean after midnight on the 19th. Badoeng Strait is a 15 mile-wide channel which seperates Bali from Noesa Besar, a small island in the Flores Archipelago. The nearest passable channel to eastern Java, it represented a major throughfare for merchant shipping in the eastern East Indies doing trade with Australia.
By the time Doorman's first wave appeared, Admiral Kubo had already landed his troops on a small beach near Den Passar and was ready to depart. He had chosen not to risk his entire force in the restricted strait. Nagara and her destroyer screen remained in the Banda Sea, leaving Asashio, Oshio, Arashio and Michisio to cover the two transports.
The only ABDA sea forces in the vicinity were the American submarine Seawolf and Truant, a British boat. Theirs was the only naval resistance offered to the Japanese during the landings. Seawolf had been positioned in the Badoeng Strait in anticipation of an invasion and was the first to make an attack. Under the command of Lieutenant-Commander Fred. B. Warder, she made contact at 0200 in the morning of the 18th.
Warder took his boat through the destroyer screen on the surface before being forced to submerge. With poor charts and tricky currents, Seawolf had great difficulty navigating the strait. By morning, Warder was so lost that he was unable to fix his position through the periscope. However, he could see the masts of several ships in the distance. As Seawolf moved in, she ran aground on a sand bar. Warder was able to back off with little problem and proceeded in until his boat suddenly ran aground again.
This time, the situation was more serious. The submarine was unable to back off while submerged, creating a highly dangerous situation for Seawolf as the Japanese escorts were on alert for ABDA submarines. Finally, after several failed attempts while submerged, Warder gave orders to blow the main ballast tanks despite being within visual range of the convoy.
The submarine got lucky. As Seawolf surfaced, a squall blew over her and Warder was able to move closer on the surface for another 30 minutes until it blew over and he was again forced to dive. Running silent, Warder crept into torpedo range, swung around and fired his two stern tubes as he withdrew. Seawolf then began a desperate fight for survival. Two explosions were heard in the distance just before the destroyers found the submarine.
Seawolf received a terrible battering as she fought a deadly battle to outwit the Japanese destroyers. But despite the closeness of the depth charges in the shallow strait, Warder managed to take his boat out of the strait without serious damage. As for the explosions, no Japanese ships were hit - the torpedoes either detonated prematurely or hit the Bali shore.
About the same time Seawolf was in the strait, Truant arrived in the area. She had been ordered into action from Soerabaja without any kind of briefing, including the presence of Seawolf. Warder was also unaware of Truant's presence. Truant encountered Kubo's covering force in the Banda Sea and had little trouble penetrating the his destroyer screen to set up an attack on Nagara. She fired six torpedoes and went deep. None hit and the destroyers then drove off Truant and did not let her approach again; She then withdrew to Soerabaja.
American planes from Java arrived over the strait at dawn. First word of the landings had reached Java at 0200 and the USAAF was ordered to prepare its 13 heavy bombers and seven A-24 dive bombers for action at dawn. The first planes arrived over Bali at 0700 and their attacks numbered 18 by dusk. As Palembang, Japanese air cover was initially strong, but gradually died away. This was fortunate, as strong air attacks on eastern Java tied up most of ABDA's fighters, leaving very few to escort the bombers. Unfortunately, their claims of four direct hits and 12 near misses were overstated. No ships were lost to air attack off Bali on February 19 and only the Sagami Maru received heavy damage from a bomb hit in her engine room.
Ashore, the poorly motivated garrison of 600 native militia deserted almost immediately. Their Dutch commander was further disgusted to learn that through a misunderstanding of his orders, Den Passar airfield had not been blown up. His order not to delay the demolition was misread by the engineers who thought he wanted the operation delayed. This confusion allowed the Japanese to take the airfield completely intact.
Admiral Kubo now turned his covering force away from Bali and set course for Makassar. With his mission completed, Kubo wanted to leavy Bali's exposed shores as soon as possible and get his ships home in one piece. By 2300, he was well north of the Badoeng Strait, effectively taking him out of the coming fight.
He left Arashio, Michisio, Asashio and Oshio to escort the two transports to Makassar. Arashio and Michisio were detailed to look after the crippled Sagami Maru, which had finally managed to get under way at 2200 after making emergency repairs to her engine room. When the first ABDA ships arrived, the three ships were near the north entrance of the Badung Strait.
This left only Asashio and Oshio to escort the crippled Sagami Maru out of the strait. They were just weighing anchor when approaching ships were sighted at 2300. The first wave had arrived off the south tip of Bali at 2130 on February 19 in column formation. De Ruyter and Java led with the destroyers 5500 yards behind. Piet Hein led the two American destroyers, who trailed her by the same distance. It was a dark night with little wind and a calm sea. Battle speed was 27 knots.
At 2230, a lookout on De Ruyter sighted a ship to starboard, but it disappeared behind Noesa Besar. No Japanese ships were in that part of the strait, so it was either a phantom or a native prauw. 30 minutes later, Java sighted three silhouettes to port against the dark Bali shore. These were Asashio, Oshio and Sagami Maru, although the lookout reported them as a destroyer, a transport and a landing craft. Java immediately opened searchlights and fired starshells. Her first salvo followed seconds later at a range of 2200 yards.
Java's target was Asashio, while the "landing craft" was Oshio, which De Ruyter engaged. The Japanese destroyers immediately left Sagami Maru and charged the Dutch cruisers on a eastern course. This let them cap Doorman's "T" almost immediately and there was heavy firing on both sides.
Java fired nine salvoes and De Ruyter about the same number as they continued up the strait. Java claimed multiple hits on Asashio, as did De Ruyter on Oshio. In reality, there was no damage to either Japanese destroyer, who continued their course across the cruiser's "T". In return, Asashio put a 5 inch round into Java's port midsection. However, thanks to effecient damage control, there was no fire or loss of speed.
The cruisers then lost contact and were unable to regain it. Believing they had inflicted major damage, De Ruyter and Java retired northeast and then north at full speed through the Lombok Strait to Soerabaja. Their part in the battle lasted less than 10 minutes and caused no damage. But, their screening destroyers were still some three miles behind and now encountered Asashio and Oshio.
Asashio continued east for several minutes after the withdrawal of De Ruyter and Java before turning southeast. Oshio followed a parallel course, but went further east before turning. This course change brought Asashio into a head on controntation with Piet Hein, which alone, was one a course due north.
At 2305, Pope and John D. Ford saw Piet Hein zigzag left to right and make a hard turn to starboard behind a smokescreen. The smoke hid the Japanese from view, who concentrated their fire in Piet Hein. They proceeded to batter her as the American destroyers struggled to enter the fight and provide support.
Pope and John. D. Ford increased speed to 29 knots and turned east in an attempt to close on Piet Hein. At 2310, Piet Hein again turned - this time south - and fired five torpedoes as she opened gunplay. Asashio returned fire and quickly scored direct hits, destroying the Dutch destroyers searchlight platform and cutting the main steam line in her aft engine room.
Piet Hein went dead in the water as she burned brightly in the night. Oshio then came up and joined Asashio in the uneven fight. Together, they launched nine torpedoes at the drifting destroyer, which sank instantly with heavy loss of life at 2316.
Piet Hein's captain ( Lieutenant Commander J.M.L.I. Chömpff ), her mount 2 commander and an officer from engineering all received medals for gallantry in action and subsequent bravery when abandoning ship. Only the mount 2 commander of the three eventually survived the sinking. Three more officers and several crewmen were lost when the Japanese ships sprayed the Dutch destroyer with machine gun fire as they passed.
After the loss of Piet Hein only the two American destroyers were left. Pope and John D. Ford were immediately put on the defensive as Asashio and Oshio aggresively defended the transport. The Americans had orders to contintinue north up the Badoeng Strait, engaging whatever targets presented themselves. But when the Dutch destroyer went down, they veered away from the battle as John D. Ford engaged Asashio. Oshio was still hidden to the American destroyers by Piet Hein's smoke.
Swayed by Asashio's gunfire at 2324, Pope and John D. Ford continued circling south as they tried to get back on a northern course in accordance with Admiral Doorman's orders. Both laid smoke and traded gunfire with Asashio as Oshio came up and joined the battle.
Pressure from the Japanese ships was so strong that the American destroyers never completed their loop to the north. The four ships paralleled each other, trading torpedoes and gunfire as Pope and John D. Ford continued their effort to the north. When the Japanese thwarted this latest maneuver, the American destroyers attempted to mask themselves against the shores of Noesa Besar Island.
This involved a turn to port, taking Pope and John D. Ford across the bow of Asashio and Oshio, leading to another heated action. But by now, the Americans had enough. Pope launched five torpedoes to starboard as John D. Ford laid smoke to cover her stern. This held off the Japanese destroyers long enough for the Americans to break off and retire south at full speed. They never realized their orders to proceed north through the strait.
As Oshio swept north, she sighted a darkened ship, which she assumed to be hostile, and opened fire. But the "enemy" ship was Asashio, who returned fire on her also misidentified colleague. The exchange lasted several minutes to the amazement of the Americans as they retired to Tjilatjap. Despite the heavy firing, neither Asashio nor Oshio was damaged before realizing their error. They then fell into line an returned to the Sagami Maru. It is interesting to note that the log books of both ships are careful to omit the error.
At first report of ABDA ships in the strait, Admiral Kubo ordered Arashio and Michisio to leave Sasego Maru and return down the strait. They had just cleared the northern mouth of the Badoeng Strait and the distance required that they miss the entire first phase of the battle and most of the second. At the same time, Kubo turned his covering force back toward Bali at full speed.
The second wave of ABDA ships rounded the southern tip of Bali at 0109 on the 29th after a trip through the Bali Strait. Observing flares and explosions, Commander Binford tried to make radio contact with Pope and John D. Ford during his approach, but without luck. After midnight, Tromp dropped back; Her role was to follow behind and use her 5.9 inch guns to finish off any cripples from the destroyer's torpedoes. In reality, she ended up playing rearguard against a pair of very aggressive Japanese destroyers.
As the ABDA ships plowed up the strait at 20 knots, they were challenged by a flurry of unreadable green lights. Commander J.B. de Meester aboard Tromp was in command, but did not know if they were allied or Japanese. This was one of the hazards facing a multinational striking force that had little prior operation experience, so he hesitated. Commander de Meester was unwilling to initiatie a naval brawl without knowing friend from foe.
But Binford knew surprise was crucial and ordered his destroyers to launch torpedoes at targets to port. Stewart and Parrott each fired six torpedoes and Pillsbury three more, at Asashio and Oshio, who circled their transport in Sanoer Roads. Spotting the torpedo's luminous wakes in the calm water, the Japanese easily evaded them.
Binford then lost contact with the blacked-out Japanese ships against the dark Bali shore. A deadly waiting game followed as both sides stalked the other in the warm night. Stewart then sighted Asashio and Oshio of her port beam. John D. Edwards attempted a four torpedo spread at the same time, but only two fired, while the others hung in their tubes.
The torpedoes were again evaded and the Japanese quickly gave the new arrivals a dose of what the first wave had received. Their initial salvo straddled Stewart, and at 0146, a ricocheting shell killed one seaman and wounded her executive officer. A direct hit then flooded the steering engine room, effectively putting Stewart of control.
The result was pandemonium. Parrott nearly plowed into her controlless leader, while John D. Edwards avoided Parrott only by exercising a hard turn to starboard. Pillsbury veered off to starboard, causing her to lose formation for the remainder of the battle. By switching to auxiliary control, Stewart regained the lead with John D. Edwards following; Parrott took up a course on their port side. Pillsbury ended up on the other side of the strait and eventually teamed up with Tromp.
Again, Asashio and Oshio had thwarted the main ABDA strategy - that the destroyers charge into the transport anchorage, sinking as many ships as possible. Instead, they were forced away and headed for the north entrance of the Strait. The Japanese held a southeastern course, letting them cross behind Stewart, John. D. Edwards and Parrott to isolate Pillsbury. This brought Asashio and Oshio into direct contact with Tromp, who still trailed the 58th Destroyer Division. The cruiser now made a fatal error by snapping on a large blue searchlight, which made her an excellent target for the two Japanese destroyer's fire.
The three ships paralleled eachother from 0207-0216. Tromp experienced an illuminating display of Japanese gunnery, beginning at 0207 with a rain of shells from Asashio. The first struck her navigation bridge near the torpedo tubes, damaging their fire controls. The second shell smashed the bridge and destroyed the main fire control director. This forced the cruiser's 5.9-inch and 40 mm AA-guns to go on local control for the rest of the battle.
Nine more shells fell mostly about the bridge area, causing serious damage. Tromp also took a critical hit below the waterline. Simultaneously, Commander de Meester avoided a torpedo spread from Oshio. The barrage killed 2 officers and eight ratings. About 30 others were wounded.
With the loss of her director, Tromp had difficulty ranging and did not return fire until 0210. From 0210 - 0216 her gunners fired 71 5.9-inch shells and several hundred rounds of 40 mm ammunition. Amid this flurry of fire, Oshio took just one hit forward of her bridge around 0210-0211, killing seven men. Asashio also received a hit that destroyed a searchlight and killed four seamen. All three ships then lost contact and ceased fire. Asashio and Oshio circled back around to Sasego Maru, which remained untouched, while Tromp continued north and joined Pillsbury.
The Allies continued north with the intention of withdrawing from the strait. Commander de Meester figured his role in the battle was over and wanted to get his heavily damaged ship home as soon as possible. But they now contacted Arashio and Michisio who had left Sasego Maru an hour earlier. Their arrival was a complete surprise to the ABDA ships who were still badly scattered. However, this confusion actually helped the Allies.
In the ensuing maneuvers, Parrott ran aground off Bali, but was able to back off with minor damage. She continued north and did not return to the battle. At 0241, John D. Edwards and Stewart maintained column formation as they steamed northeast. Tromp maintained an eastern course 8000 yards off their starboard quarter. Pillsbury followed a northeastern course 3000 yards off the cruiser's starboard beam as she attempted to join Tromp.
Heading west-southwest, Arashio and Michisio plowed into the middle of this haphazard formation and immediately found themselves in a tight spot. John D. Edwards and Stewart were to starboard with Tromp and Pillsbury to port. At 0247, Stewart opened her searchlights and launched torpedoes, followed by gunfire.
Michisio was hit hard immediately. Taking fire at close range from both port and starboard, she veered hard to starboard to escape Stewart's searchlight. Attempting to turn north, Michisio ran into a rain of shells from John D. Edwards, which crippled her. With her engine room wrecked, Michisio went dead in the water with 13 dead and 83 wounded. She was then badly hammered again as the remaining ABDA-ships passed. She would have to be towed to Makassar by Asashio.
After this brief engagement, both sides continued on their respective courses at high speed. The allies were through and showed no inclination to finish off the crippled Michisio as they withdrew. For their part, the Japanese did not pursue and continued searching to the south for more enemy ships.
Approximately three hours later, the seven motor torpedo boats came up the strait. They split into one group of three boats which came in close to shore, and a second, which came in about four miles out. But despite seeing signs of a heated battle during their approach, the MTB's encountered no ships in the strait. One of the torpedo boats reported a ship to the south, but was unable to close as it retired at high speed. Because the low profile of the MTB's allowed a poor field of vision, they were able to see little else. They than returned to Pangpang Bay and refueled from Krakatau before heading home to Soerabaja.
By dawn on the 20th, Tromp and her destroyers were well north of the strait. However, light brought renewed Japanese attention in the form of nine bombers from Makassar. But with luck and skillful maneuvering, all their bombs missed and none of the Allied ships suffered any damage. Despite Commander de Meester's repeated calls for help, no air cover appeared, despite being well within range of fighers based on eastern Java.
Upon arrival at the ME that evening, Stewart entered drydock. However, dockworkers failed to brace her properly and the destroyer rolled over as the dok was drained. The additional damage was severe and ensured the Stewart would not see action in the near future. Tromp's repairs were too extensive to be carried out locally, so she was sent to Australia for repairs. It was planned that she returned immediately and continued the fight.
In retrospect, the Badung Strait was a disaster for ABDA. Despite heavy air attack, two submarines, three light cruisers, seven destroyers and seven MTB's, the Japanese suffered only severe damage to an empty transport and one destroyer with light damage to a second destroyer. More depressing that this mass of firepower never faced more than two destroyers at one time. Either of the first waves should have been more than enough to defeat the Japanese. Instead, ABDA lost a much needed destroyer with a second destroyer and a light cruiser damaged.
For their part, the boldness of their plan paid great dividends for the Japanese. With Den Passar in their possession, the flow of fighter reinforcements from Australia by air was now cut off. At the same time, they quickly intensified air sweeps over Java and soon eliminated most remaining ABDA air power. As a result, Admiral Doorman very quickly found himself in the same position that the CSF had encountered in the Western Java Sea - an overpowering enemy air presence and virtually no air cover.
On the other hand, Doorman's battle plan was weak and perhaps even fatally flawed. He showed poor tactical judgement by placing too much reliance on gunfire. De Ruyter and Java came through the strait firing rapidly, ruining any chance of surprise. Their high speed, inexperienced gunners and the dark night all conspired to produce poor results. Torpedoes in a more controlled environment would likely have yielded better results.
Invasion of Timor
With the loss of Bali, Java's fate was effectively sealed. Still, the Japanese sought to ensure the air route's closure and further secure their eastern flank with the invasion of Timor. The operation was planned to coincide with the invasion of Bali and the attack on Darwin, which would cover both operations.
The operation got underway on the 17th with the departure of the seaplane carrier Mizuho and the patrol boat P 39 from Kendari. Her aircraft flew reconnaissance missions over the Flores Sea to ensure that the seaplanes were clear for the Timor invasion convoy and the Darwin strike force. She then provided air cover oer the Banda Sea and provided A/S protection for the convoy from a position off the south tip of Lomblen Island.
At 0800 that same day, 9 transports carrying the 228th Infantry Regiment and 308 men of the 3rd Yokosuka Special Naval Landing Unit departed Ambon for Koepang, Dutch Timor. Althought the latter unit consisted of the same naval paratroopers who had dropped on Menado, they undertook this operation in a seaborne role. In close escort was Admiral Tanaka's 2nd Destroyer flotilla, including hit flagship Jintsu, the 15th destroyer division, the 16th destroyer division and the Umikaze of the 24th destroyer division.
A second convoy of five transports also left Ambon the following day for Dili, Portugese Timor. In close escort was the 1/24th destroyer division, W-7 and W-8 of the 21st Minesweeper Division and a submarine chaser. In addition, the convoy included the fast transports ( converted destroyers ) P-1, P-2 and P-34. Rear Admiral Takagi's 5th Cruiser squadron with the destroyers Akebono and Ikazuchi trailed behind as distant covering force for both convoys to prevent any interference by ABDA-FLOAT.
Both convoys arrived off Timor in the night of February 19-20. With Admiral Doorman's force in the Badoeng Strait, the only allied warships in the area were the American submarines Pickerel, Pike and Tarpon. Although all three boats made contact with the Japanese, only Pike was able to attack what her captain identified as two light cruisers off Alor island at 0243 on the 20th. However, they were not cruisers, but rather the minesweepers of the 21st Minesweeper division. But the torpedoes Pike fired missed ahead and the minesweepers moved out of range before she could set up another attack.
Pickerel maneuvered for a shot on Jintsu when the cruiser stopped to recover one of her floatplanes. However, she was too slow in setting up her shot and Jintsu moved out of range while the submarine was 5000 yards out. Pickerel was then detected and two destroyers moved in and drove her deep with a strong depth charge attack. For her part, Tarpon was never able to close on any of the ships she sighted.
The first word Koepang had of the invasion convoy's arrival came at 0000 on the 20th from a coastwatcher on Semau, a small island outside Koepang Bay. The Japanese landed before dawn and quickly put the paratroopers, 4500 troops and a light tank detachment ashore. At dawn, bombers punished the fort at Klapalima and damaged two British AA-guns and two Dutch 5.9-inch coastal batteries positioned there. These were later abandoned by their crews.
At 1045, 323 paratroopers of the IJA's Air Raiding Regiment ( the same unit dropped on Palembang a week earlier ) arrived overhead from Kendari. Although dropped from too high an altitude and badly dispersed by high winds, they landed near the airfield and attempted to encircle the garrison. Small groups closed the only highway connecting both ends of the island and cut the Allied force at Koepang off from its ammunition dumps and supply depots. Despite their success, the paratroopers were badly decimated by Australian counterattacks and lost all but 78 of their number.
The Dutch and Australians also lost a substantial number of troops in these counterattacks. Isolated and outnumbered, the remaining Allied forces attempted to break through the Japanese line all throughout the 21st and 22nd. Bye the 23rd, their position was hopeless and the KNIL forces began surrendering. They were followed soon afterwards by the Australian troops and British AA-crews, who had been fighting as infantry after destroying their weapons.
Allied resistance was less sustained on the Portugese end of the island. Approximately 400 Australian and Dutch troops had been stationed at Dili since December. It was their presence which prompted the Japanese invasion of Portugese territory. They had originally planned to respect Portugese neutrality, but the presence of Allied troops at Dili necessitated their attention and provided the Japanese with an excuse to seize the entire island.
When the Japanese invasion convoy arrived off Dili, 800 Portugese reinforcements from East Africa were expected at any time. As a result, Australian sentries temporarily thought the ships might belong to this convoy. Although the Australian officer in charge of defending Dili's airfield correctly assumed that the troops were Japanese, the Dutch commander - Lieutenant Colonel N.L.W. van Straten - believed he had mistaken approaching KNIL troops sent earlier to reinforce the airstrip's defenses.
Eight large-caliber shells then struck the HQ, conveniently missing the Japanese consulate located next door. This turn of events reinforced the Australian commander's belief that Japanese landings were underway. However, van Straten naively believed they were from a Japanese submarine in the harbor. He hypothesized that it was trying to land a raiding party to blow up the runway. As this point, the Australian officer signaled that a transport escorted by a warship was landing a large number of Japanese troops.
The small allied force was soon heavily engaged. Badly outnumbered and in danger of being flanked, the Australians fell back. Following the KNIL's lead, they withdrew south to Dutch territory and disappeared into Timor's rugged interior. Those men not lost at Dili or during the withdrawal joined the surviving troops from Koepang. This force - numbering 255 KNIL troops and 400 Australian commandos - initiated a guerilla campaign that lasted until december 1942, when the surviving troops were evacuated.
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