The Battles to the Sunda Strait
After the battle of the Java Sea finished the night before, the remaining Allied ships hastily refueled, and set sail to make their way to safety. The four destroyers of DESRON 58 went east, and out of ammunition, barely avoided a patrolling Japanese destroyer in the Bali strait. The ships that sailed west were not so lucky.
The USS Houston, HMAS Perth, and a Dutch destroyer sailed west for the Sunda Strait, hoping to make it through before the sun came up. As they were passing Bantam Bay on the northwest corner of Java they stumbled upon the transports of the Japanese invasion fleet landing troops. Capt Rooks of the Houston ordered the ships to attack the vulnerable transports. While doing so they were spotted by the escort of Japanese destroyers. For thirty furious minutes the ships were locked in a confused melee amongst the transports. In the end, all three of the Allied ships were sunk, but so were five transports and a Japanese minelayer, all but one transport to Japanese torpedoes. The surviving crew members would spend the next three years in Hell.
Later that night, the Exeter, now able to make 23 knots due to superhuman efforts by her crew to repair the damaged boiler, with her own escort of two destroyers, (one American and one British), also made her way towards the Sunda Strait. Though her captain wanted to head east, she had been ordered to make for Ceylon (Any ships that went west would inevitably come under American control for the rest of the war, and the Exeter was desperately needed in the Mediterranean). Out of contact and trying to avoid the battle in Bantam Bay, the Exeter steamed a more northerly course towards the Sunda Strait. They ran smack into Takagi’s cruisers. 18 months before, the Exeter took the best that the German pocket battleship Graf Spee could send, but outside the Sunda Strait on the morning 1 March 1942, she was hammered by Takagi and sank. The American destroyer managed to enter a rain squall, but her respite was short lived, and she was sunk by Japanese aircraft later in the day.
The Japanese conquest of the “Southern Resource Zone” was all but complete. The Java Sea was a Japanese lake. The surviving allied crew members would spend the next three years in labor camps in which 60% would die in captivity. All of the escaping Allied ships were either gone or sunk.
Well, except one…