Battle of Sunda Strait ( Feb. 28, 1942)
Until I can figure out how to work the Mattie Grumman & history stuff into this new website I’m going to post the stuff that usually goes into Mattie’s blog here.
Today is the 72nd anniversary of the Battle of Sunda Strait and the loss of USS Houston (CA 30) and HMAS Perth.
After Japan began its military sweep across the Far East and Pacific in December 1941 the weak Allied navies joined together under the banner of ABDACOM to stave off the Japanese invasion of the Dutch East Indies (Japan’s true goal in starting the Pacific War). ABDACOM was a mess of an organization composed of what was left of the British, American and Dutch Asiatic ships and the Royal Australian Navy. They had never trained together before fighting started and speaking different languages only complicated matters. From it’s creation in January until the last major battle it fought, Sunda Strait, ABDACOM lost all but one battle it fought in and slowed the Japanese down by giving them ships to sink. The former U.S. Asiatic Fleet, which Houston had been flagship of, lost over half its ships before ABDACOM dissolved and its survivors ordered to Australia. These ships would eventually become the foundation of the new U.S. Seventh Fleet in 1943.
Commissioned in 1930, Houston was once President Roosevelt’s favorite ship and occasionally acted as his presidential yacht. Y’know, because a light cruiser is a lot cooler than a sailboat. In 1940 she was sent to the Philippines and became the flagship of the Asiatic Fleet. (The Fleet was successor to Commodore Dewey’s Asiatic Squadron that defeated the Spanish in the 1898 Battle of Manila Bay.) This made Houston the only modern surface ship in what was otherwise a fleet composed of older ships and cast offs of other fleets fit only for the scrapyard or Asiatic service.
HMAS Perth was a light cruiser commissioned in 1936 by Britain’s Royal Navy and was transferred to the Royal Australian Navy in 1939. Before her sinking she had spent the past two years fighting Germany in the Atlantic and Mediterranean.
They were lost the night of Feb. 28 while attempting to transit Sunda Strait towards Tjilatjap. The strait was believed to be safe but the two ships came into a Japanese landing force. Both sides were caught by surprise and in the ensuing fight the two cruisers were taken out by Japanese destroyers and cruisers. Houston and Perth didn’t sink any Japanese ships, but Japanese friendly fire took out a few.
After it’s sinking the survivors of Houston and Perth were part of the slave labor force used to build the Siam-Burma Railway. Houston’s Commanding Officer CAPT Rooks was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. The people of Houston, Texas raised money to build a new cruiser Houston and enough volunteers to man her. (Though none of the volunteers were sent to the new Houston.) Houston’s fund raiser gave the Navy money to build two new ships- USS Houston (CL 81) and USS San Jacinto (CVL 30). Future President George H.W. Bush served aboard the latter.