On this day in 1942 occurred the Battle of the Java Sea between the America, Britain, Dutch, Australia (ABDA) cruisers and destroyers and the Japanese heavy cruisers. The Japanese used spotter aircraft to improve the accuracy of their 8 inch gunfire and torpedo attacks by destroyers.
After several hours when the battle was evenly matched the cruiser HMS Exeter, of Battle of the River Plate fame, was hit by a shell which knocked out six of her eight boilers. She hauled out of the battle line to return to Surabaya . To protect this stricken cruiser Captain Hec Waller in HMAS Perth ordered maximum speed and laid a smokescreen across Exeter. An officer in USS Houston’s later wrote: Perth charged past us with her throttles open and a billowing cloud of white smoke streaming from her smoke generators. From her yard arms and the gaff three battle ensigns streamed astern. She was firing rapid fire. It was the finest sight I have ever seen.
Perth was fighting off Japanese destroyers in a confused night action when the two Dutch cruisers were sunk. Thanks to Perth’s covering smoke Exeter survived to repair herself only to be sunk on returning to sea. The battle of the Java Sea was a disaster at every level due to the there being no battle plan, inefficient communications, the efficiency and range of the Japanese ‘Long Lance’ torpedoes and the presence of seaplanes which provided the Japanese with a radio reported real time tactical picture to update their battle plan.