Japan’s Blitzkrieg by Bernard Edwards

Japan’s Blitzkrieg by Bernard Edwards

Author:Bernard Edwards
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Pen & Sword
Published: 2006-01-14T16:00:00+00:00

Chapter Nine

Java Abandoned

Long before Japanese carrier-borne aircraft delivered their devastating blow against the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, the Dutch authorities in Java were busy laying plans to meet an invasion from the north which they knew was inevitable. The island possessed only three deep-water ports, Tandjong Priok, the port for the capital Batavia, Sourabaya on the northern coast, and Tjilatjap in the south. The northern ports would almost certainly be the first to be closed in the event of an invasion, leaving only Tjilatjap through which to bring in supplies and reinforcements, and, if their worst fears were realized, as an evacuation port.

Tjilatjap, situated on the Indian Ocean coast of Java, 150 miles south-east of Batavia, had steadily declined in importance after the collapse of the sugar market in 1929 until it was little more than a backwater playing host to the occasional coastal vessel. When war broke out in Europe ten years later, and the threat from Japan already loomed on the horizon, matters had not improved. The buoyed approach channel was not lit, so ships were able to enter and leave only in daylight, and there were only five somewhat ramshackle wharves, one of which was for tankers, no cranes, no tugs, no lighters and no bunkering facilities. Fresh water was available, but this had to be sterilized before use. However, being at the mouth of the River Donan, Tjilatjap possessed a large natural harbour capable of sheltering a great number of ships, although the holding ground for anchors was poor. The demands of war gave the port a new lease of life. The entrance channel was dredged, and thirteen sets of mooring buoys were laid in the harbour providing safe berths for ocean-going ships. Bunkering pipes were laid, fresh water facilities were improved, an 8000-ton floating dry dock was brought in, and extra housing built for the large number of officials and labourers drafted in to run the harbour. From a run-down, hardly used outport, Tjilatjap became a bustling centre for the import of essential war supplies into Java. Following the fall of Singapore, the flow of incoming traffic into the port was dramatically swelled by ships carrying refugees, with the roads packed with anchored ships awaiting berths. When the Japanese landed on the north coast of the island, Tjilatjap assumed even greater importance. All berths were full, and ships were triple-banked on the buoys, discharging troops and war supplies. It seemed that nobody in the world outside had yet realized that Java’s days were numbered. Captain W.A. Peters, of the Royal Dutch Mail Line’s 8187-ton Tawali, recorded the situation in the port in his diary: ‘We were anchored in the port of Tjilatjap as of February 7th 1942, together with another 65 ships, all of us waiting for our turn to discharge our cargoes. In spite of the extensive efforts in order to increase port facilities, it appeared not easy to get a berth. There was a shortage of lighters, insufficient storage facilities and poor railway transportation.


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