- Makin, Hon. Norman J O
- WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Perth I
- June 1974 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Darkness had fallen when HMS Jupiter was torpedoed on the starboard side. She was immobilised by the attack, and sank about four hours later.
Throughout the night, enemy aircraft shadowed the Allied force. But shortly before midnight Perth had another success when she scored hits with at least two salvoes on an enemy cruiser.
At this stage double disaster met the Allies when HNMS De Ruyter (flagship) and Java were lost – apparently as a result of torpedo attacks.
With the Allied cruiser strength reduced to his own ship and the damaged Houston, and knowing that the enemy still had at least four cruisers and 12 destroyers (besides the force, other than the initial one, which had entered the area) and a strong air reconnaissance, the Commanding Officer of Perth (Captain H. M. L. Waller, DSO, RAN) had no alternative but to order what remained of the striking force to withdraw.
HMS Encounter and the damaged Exeter succeeded in reaching Sourabaya, as had the four American destroyers and the Dutch destroyer Witte de With. Exeter and Encounter sailed from there on the night of 28th February, en route for Colombo, but the last message from them came next morning, when Exeter reported that she had sighted a force of enemy ships.
Witte de With was bombed and sunk in Sourabaya harbour.
Meanwhile Perth and Houston threw off the enemy by a feint, and reached Tandjong Priok (Batavia) on the morning of 28th February.
After embarking fuel and additional firefighting equipment and rafts, as well as 4- inch ammunition, the two ships sailed together that night, to endeavour to pass through the confined waters of Sunda Strait during darkness, en route for Tjilatjap.
About 11.30 p.m. – some three and a half hours after leaving Tandjong Priok – HMAS Perth signalled that she had sighted a destroyer near Sunda Strait. Later she amplified that signal to one cruiser.
That was the last message received from Perth or Houston. From that stage, the story is taken up by the four Perth personnel who have been interrogated.
The action was fought at night, and, naturally, the four survivors’ story is concerned primarily with what happened on board their own ship. It bears out the conclusion which had been drawn by the Naval authorities: that the two ships were sunk in a surface action against numerically superior enemy forces. It also substantiates the assumption originally arrived at by all who know the Navy’s ways: that Perth and Houston sold themselves dearly, and went down fighting to the last.
It was after 11 p.m. when one of Perth’s lookouts reported a dark object on the starboard hand, and a few minutes later the Australian cruiser’s for’ard turrets opened fire.
The action lasted about one and a half hours. The numerical strength of the enemy is indicated by the fact that enemy gunfire came from several bearings, and that at some stages Japanese destroyers passed so close to the cruiser that they could be engaged with machine-guns.
Apart from making the maximum use of her gunfire, Perth was able to fire eight torpedoes during the action; four to port and four to starboard. The exact effect of these could not be gauged, but next morning three enemy transports and one converted aircraft carrier were seen down by the stern and practically beached.
Despite the overwhelming strength of the enemy, Perth was not hit until about 20 minutes after she opened fire. The first shell to strike her passed through her forward funnel and exploded, carrying away a seaboat and doing considerable damage to the port pom-pom and flag deck.
Thereafter she suffered numerous hits, losing her aircraft and its catapult and crane, as well as the starboard pom-pom on the flag deck.
About that time, and with only 10 minutes between them, two torpedoes struck the ship on the starboard side, the second in the forward engine-room.
Some time later, a third torpedo hit was received – this time on the port side, aft.
From the time of the first torpedoing, Perth was hit repeatedly by gunfire from several bearings, and she finally sank at 35 minutes after midnight on the morning of the first of March.