Saturday, September 21, 2019

February 18, 1942: Battle of Badung Strait

Wednesday 18 February 1942

USS Pollux breaking up, 18 February 1942
Royal navy stores ship USS Pollux breaking up upon the rocks of Lawn Point, Newfoundland, 18 February 1942 (Photo by Ena Farrell Edwards via Maine Independent Journal).
Battle of the Pacific: The Battle of Bilin River in Burma ends on 18 February 1942 when the Indian 17th Infantry Division pulls out and begins heading back toward the Sittang River (Sittaung River). Brigadier Sir John Smyth's troops have put up a gallant fight, but the Bilin River is dry, offering no protection, and Japanese troops have moved through the jungle around them to cut off their lines of communication. The 17th is a new division fighting its first battle and has held out since 14 February under heavy pressure in close-quarters jungle fighting. Burma Army commander Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Jacomb Hutton makes the somewhat perilous journey to the front to give General Smyth the order directly. There is some feeling that the order has come too late and that the 17th Division cannot make it back to the Sittang River in good order, which is the last good defensible position before Rangoon and the 17th the only troops before the capital as well. This is blamed on Hutton, who has never before commanded a major formation in the field and has been a high staff officer, most recently as Chief of the General Staff in India. This will be his first and last field command. The war in Burma now comes down to a race to a critical bridge across the Sittang River between the 17th Division and the Japanese, and the Japanese actually now are closer. The British accept reality and begin evacuating Rangoon.

USS Pollux breaking up, 18 February 1942
Rear Admiral Karel Doorman, ABDA Commander during the Battle of Badung Strait.
The Allied command (ABDA) sends naval units into the Badung Strait under the command of Dutch Admiral Karel Doorman in order to interdicts a Japanese invasion fleet sailing for Bali. This leads to the Battle of Badung Strait. Bali is critical because of its proximity to the ABDA naval base at Surabaya. US Navy submarines USS Seawolf and Truant make the first attack but score no hits. Later, the US Army Air Force sends 20 planes to bomb the invasion convoy but score only one hit on transport freighter Sagami Maru. These attacks cause the Japanese ships (after landing their troops) to retreat north with ABDA surface warships in hot pursuit. At about 22:00, cruisers HNLMS De Ruyter and Java and the destroyers USS John D. Ford, Pope, and HNLMS Piet Hein sight the fleeing Japanese ships and open fire. As the ABDA ships pass through the Strait, Japanese ships counterattack and a torpedo from destroyer Asashio hits Piet Hein, sinking it. The two forces later exchange gunfire which damages Japanese destroyer Michishio and ABDA cruiser Tromp and destroyer Stewart (Tromp heads to Sydney for repairs and thus misses the Battle of the Java Sea). The Battle of Badung Strait is considered a victory for the Japanese because they are able to drive off a larger ABDA force and inflict more damage than they sustain. The invasion of Bali proceeds without further interruption and the airfield there quickly falls to a reinforced battalion of Japanese troops.

USS Pollux breaking up, 18 February 1942
Light cruiser Tromp, damaged during the Battle of Badung Strait on 18 February 1942 (Naval History and Heritage Command NH 80909).
The Japanese obviously have their sights on Surabaya, and a bombing raid there today sinks Dutch submarine K VII despite its being submerged in the harbor at the time. Fortunately, the submarine is operating with a skeleton crew and only the 13 men aboard - not the normal complement of 31 - perish.

The British in Java know that their fate rests in their own hands and that little help is likely before the Japanese arrive. A volunteer group departs from Batavia, Java, to Oosthaven, Sumatra, in order to salvage whatever they can find despite the island's recent occupation by the Japanese. They pull off this clandestine mission brilliantly right under the noses of the Japanese as destroyer HMS Jupiter and minesweeper Burnie evacuate the rear guard from the port. The volunteers rescue many spare parts and stores. Light cruiser Danae and destroyer Encounter evacuate 877 people from Padang. Meanwhile, overhead, P-40s of the Fifth Air Force shoot down six of nine Japanese bombers attacking Soerabaja, Java at a cost of one P-40. There are vicious dogfights over Soerbaja which result in three additional Japanese fighter losses.

USS Pollux breaking up, 18 February 1942
A German dispatch rider on the Eastern Front on 18 February 1942. He has adapted a gas mask as face protector against temperatures as low as -40°. He is wearing sheepskins. 
Eastern Front: The German situation at Demyansk deteriorates on 18 February 1942 when the 290th Infantry Division is forced to withdraw from a salient that it has been holding in the northwest section of the pocket. This "northern corner post" has been the source of much hope for the Germans within the pocket as an area close to the main German lines where a relief attempt could aim over the shortest distance. The Red Army, meanwhile, is busy trying to hem the Germans in at Demyansk and push them back into a small area where they are unable to receive air supplies and can be starved into submission. They are tightening the ring by bringing in more troops and trying to drive as much room between the pocket and the main German lines as they can. The Luftwaffe airlift continues, but it is bringing in less than half of the supplies that the trapped forces claim that they need to hold out. Time is the Germans' ally, however, as the spring thaw (Rasputitsa) is only a month away.

European Air Operations: The Luftwaffe is active in the North Sea, sinking 348-ton minesweeping trawler HMS Botanic and 214-ton anti-submarine trawler Warland.

RAF Bomber Command continues its leafletting missions tonight, with six or seven bombers dropping them over Paris and Lille. Another 25 Hampdens drop mines around the West Frisian Islands and off Wilhelmshaven and Heligoland. The British lose one Hampden on this mission.

USS Pollux breaking up, 18 February 1942
French submarine Surcouf, lost on or about 18 February 1942 under mysterious circumstances.
Battle of the Atlantic: Free French submarine Surcouf disappears and is believed lost on or about 18 February 1942. The Surcouf is the largest French cruiser submarine and is headed for the Panama Canal to transit to the Pacific Theater of Operations. She left Bermuda on 12 February and loses contact late today. The Surcouf did not stop in Martinique because that island's government remains loyal to the Vichy regime. The US Navy investigates and concludes that the Surcouf sinks after a collision with US freighter Thompson Lykes about 80 miles (70 nautical miles, 130 km) north of Cristóbal, Colón, Panama. A post-war explanation based on service records is that the 6th Heavy Bomber Group operating out of Panama was the culprit. Conspiracy theories within the French Navy later claim that "friendly fire" caused the sinking, but exactly who is supposed to have fired on the submarine is left unsaid. Another possibility is that the submarine did collide with the freighter and the bombers mistakenly finished it off. The Surcouf's wreck is never located and 130 men perish, with no survivors. There is a memorial to Surcouf and its crew in Cherbourg, France.

USS Pollux breaking up, 18 February 1942
Four-stack destroyer USS Truxtun, which is lost on 18 February 1942 with 46 survivors and 119 fatalities (Maritime History Archive, Memorial University, PF-306.984. John Cardoulis Photograph Collection.).
The weather is rough in the North Atlantic, and this causes tragic losses. US Navy destroyer USS Truxton and 7,350-ton stores ship USS Pollux both run aground in heavy gales off Newfoundland, Truxton at Chambers Cove and Pollux at Lawn Point. The ships are lost and the foul weather hampers search and rescue operations, with 110 men perishing on the Truxton and 93 on Pollux. Another ship, the Wilkes, also runs aground but is saved. Credit goes to the local inhabitants of Newfoundland for making heroic efforts to save 186 crewmen total in brutal conditions. As one man puts it, "Hardly a dozen men from both ships would have been saved had it not been for the superb work of the local residents." Memorial services have been held for this disaster on 18 February 1992 and 2012.

U-432 (Kptlt. Heinz-Otto Schultze), on its fourth patrol out of La Pallice, sinks 4053-ton Brazilian freighter Olinda about 78 miles (126 km) northeast of Norfolk, Virginia. Schultze stops the neutral freighter off Cape Hatteras with a shot across the bow and allows the crew to disembark before sinking it with gunfire and one torpedo at 21:00. All 46 men on the freighter survive, picked up on the 19th by destroyer USS Dallas (DD 199).

U-108 (KrvKpt. Klaus Scholtz), on its sixth patrol out of Lorient, gets the final (fifth) victory of the patrol southeast of Sable Island when it torpedoes and sinks 5265-ton British freighter Somme. Captain Scholtz questions the crew in their lifeboats, but they disappear. There are no survivors from the 58-man crew.

U-96 (Kptlt. Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock), on its third patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 5589-ton British freighter Black Osprey about 130 miles south of Iceland. There are 26 dead and 11 survivors from Black Osprey, which is a straggler from Convoy HX-107.

USS Pollux breaking up, 18 February 1942
" Entering Drydock # Two, at Pearl Harbor Navy Yard, 18 February 1942. Sunk as a result of damage received in the 7 December 1941 Japanese air raid, she was refloated on 12 February 1942. Note oil staining along her hull, marking her waterline while she was sunk. Collection of Vice Admiral Homer N. Wallin, USN (Retired). U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph."Catalog #: NH 83056.
Battle of the Mediterranean: At Malta, fuel is running low because of difficulties running tankers to the island from Alexandria due to Luftwaffe air patrols. Governor Lt. General Dobbie warns the War Office that fuel stocks will only last until the end of June, with coal and kerosene running out a little before then. Gasoline for trucks and other vehicles will run out around the first of May, while submarine diesel and furnace oil for ships is down to a two-month supply. Dobbie sums up:
Until situation in Cyrenaica radically changes difficulties of getting convoys from east will not diminish. Consider it essential to explore seriously and very urgently possibility using all other available means of getting supplies not only from east but from west also. This is all the more important if situation French North Africa is likely to deteriorate. I am sure these things are being closely considered by you but I feel it important to point out very clearly that the problem is an urgent one.
Getting convoys to Malta from the west has become vastly more difficult since Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps retook Benghazi in January.

USS Pollux breaking up, 18 February 1942
Propaganda posters entitled "Ein Hetzer plaudert aus der Schule!" (roughly translated, "A hound howls from the school!") issued by the "Parole der Woche," a wall newspaper (Wandzeitung) published by the National Socialist Party propaganda office in Munich on 18 February 1942. Essentially, the poster portrays the man pictured as being a Communist. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum).
War Crimes: In Singapore, the occupying Japanese begin on 18 February a purge of Chinese residents who are perceived as hostile to their rule. This "cleansing operation" (Sook Ching) lasts until 4 March 1942. This is a meticulously planned and intentional operation by the occupying government, not an ad hoc massacre like many other atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers. The targeted include, inter alia, members in the China Relief, wealthy donors to the China Relief, men with tattoos (who are assumed to be triad members), anyone found with a weapon, and members of the previous British bureaucracy. However, the purge is not limited to any particular groups in some legalistic fashion, it encompasses anyone that local Japanese authorities feel is a threat to their rule. Executions take place at several locations, including Punggol Point, Changi Beach, Katong, and on ships off the coast. British POWs are ordered to bury about 300 bullet-ridden corpses that drift ashore at Belakang Beach. Estimates of victims reach as high as 100,000. The Sook Ching war crimes trial in 1947 convicts some perpetrators, but many, including leader Masanobu Tsuji, escape justice. The Sook Ching incident causes bitter animosity within the Singapore Chinese community toward both the Japanese and the British, who locals feel acted inadequately both to protect them from the Japanese and to punish the perpetrators after the war.

Propaganda: Japanese occupation troops in Singapore have Allied POWs sweep the streets for the newsreel cameras. The Japanese also begin dismantling vestiges of British rule such as statues, memorials, and signs.

USS Pollux breaking up, 18 February 1942
Salem (Ohio) News, 18 February 1942. The headline correctly notes that "Zero Hour Nearing on East Indies Front."
Chinese/Indian Relations: Chiang Kai-shek continues his two-week visit to British India by meeting today with Mahatma Gandhi in Calcutta. Yesterday, Chiang met with Jiddah, another revolutionary. These meetings are a slap at the British, who Chiang holds in low esteem since the Tulsa incident at the end of 1941 during which the local British commanders in Burma attempted to hijack American lend-lease supplies intended for China.

British/Australian Relations: General Archibald Wavell, Commander in Chief ABDA Command, defies the wishes of Lieutenant General John Lavarack, General Officer Commanding I Australian Corps, and orders Australian troops aboard requisitioned passenger liner SS Orcades to land at Batavia, Java. Wavell tells the Australian Prime Minister that they are needed for the defense of the airfield. This runs counter to negotiations between the highest levels of the British and Australian governments that all available Australian troops will be returned to Australia for the defense of the homeland.

USS Pollux breaking up, 18 February 1942
USS Pollux, one of the ships sunk off the Newfoundland coast on 18 February 1942.
US Military: U.S. Major General George H. Brett, deputy commander of the ABDA Command and the de facto commander in Australia, sends Major General Lewis H. Brereton, Commanding General 5th Air Force, to India to begin building up forces there. Brett also informs the War Department that Java is lost in the absence of an immediate major counteroffensive in Burma and China. Since there are no plans or resources for such attacks, that effectively means that Brett is wiping his hands of responsibility for Java and, by inference, all of the Netherlands East Indies.

Air units of the 91st Bombardment Squadron (light), USAAF 5th Force, begin operating out of Malang, Java. They are equipped with A-24 Dauntlesses. Their ground support remains trapped in Bataan, the Philippines.

B-17s of the 22nd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 7th Bombardment Group (Heavy), 5th Air Force, depart from Australia bound for Nandi Airport, Fiji. They are heading ultimately for their new base at Jogjakarta (Yogyakarta) Airfield, Java.

USS Pollux breaking up, 18 February 1942
HMS Victorious at Hvalfjord, 15-18 February 1942 (© IWM (A 7678)).
Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall sends President Roosevelt a memorandum in which he emphasizes the need for "More shipping than is now in sight." He forecasts troop availability:
 By December 1942, there will be 1,800,000 troops ready for overseas service, and by the end of 1943 about three and a half million. We are now endeavoring to secure from the War Shipping Administration an additional eighteen cargo ships per month for military use, which would permit an overseas force of 750,000 by the end of 1942. This number, however, would be less than half of the troops potentially available.
Marshall warns that current shipbuilding plans will permit an overseas force only half as large as possible at the end of 1943, too. He urges "Immediate steps" to "increase the tempo of the shipbuilding program to a much higher figure."

USS Pollux breaking up, 18 February 1942
A Fairey Albacore taking off from HMS Victorious, 15 to 18 February 1942 (© IWM (A 7677)).
US Government: Intense discussions continue in Washington, D.C., about the internment of Japanese along the west coast. Western Command leader General DeWitt's memorandum arrives at 17:00 which outlines his recommendation that American-born Japanese from Category A areas (primarily urban and military centers in Oregon and Washington State) be forcibly evacuated and removals of enemy aliens from his command begin as soon as possible.

Public sentiment is strongly in favor of tough measures. In an editorial in the Craig Empire Courier of Craig, Colorado, the editor endorses Pulitzer Prize winner Westbrook Pegler’s view that “the Japanese in California should be under armed guard to the last man and woman right now and to hell with habeas corpus until the danger is over.” This view is widespread.

South Africa: Governor-General Sir Patrick Duncan has his term extended by five years.

USS Pollux breaking up, 18 February 1942
Air-raid shelter under construction between Hunter and Scott Streets, Newcastle, NSW, February 18, 1942.
British Homefront: For health and sanitary reasons, the government exempts miners from the soap ration.

American Homefront: Glenn Miller and his Orchestra record "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree," written by Sam H. Stept, Lew Brown, and Charles Tobias. This war-themed popular tune is performed with the tried and true formula of vocals by Tex Beneke, Marion Hutton, and The Modernaires. The song goes on to spend thirteen weeks on the Billboard charts and becomes the twelfth best-selling record of the year. The Andrews Sisters also perform the song to acclaim in "Private Buckaroo" with the Harry James Orchestra. Patti Andrews later says that "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" is their most requested song.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer releases "Born to Sing," starring Virginia Weidler and Ray McDonald. The film features Mickey Rooney's father, Joe Yule Sr., Margaret Dumont, and Leo Gorcey of Bowery Boys fame.

February 1942

February 1, 1942: The US Navy Strikes Back
February 2, 1942: Germans Recovering in Russia
February 3, 1942: Japanese Shell and Bomb Singapore
February 4, 1942: Battle of Makassar Strait
February 5, 1942: Empress of Asia Sunk
February 6, 1942: The Christmas Island Body
February 7, 1942: The Double-V Campaign
February 8, 1942: Japan Invades Singapore
February 9, 1942: French Liner Normandie Capsizes
February 10, 1942: US Car Production Ends
February 11, 1942: Tomforce Fails on Singapore
February 12, 1942: The Channel Dash
February 13, 1942: Japanese Paratroopers In Action
February 14, 1942: RAF Orders Terror Raids
February 15, 1942: Japan Takes Singapore
February 17, 1942: Indian Troops Defect to Japanese
February 18, 1942: Battle of Badung Strait
February 19, 1942: FDR Authorizes Internment Camps
February 20, 1942: O'Hare the Hero
February 21, 1942: Crisis in Burma
February 22, 1942: Bomber Harris Takes Over
February 23, 1942: Bombardment of Ellwood, California
February 24, 1942: US Raid on Wake Island
February 25, 1942: Battle of Los Angeles
February 26, 1942: Gneisenau Eliminated
February 27, 1942: Battle of Java Sea
February 28, 1942: Battle of Sunda Strait


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