Colin F. Jones

THE BATTLE OF SUNDA STRAIT: MARCH 1942
(The Sinking of HMAS Perth)

HMAS Perth fights to the last
An oil painting, HMAS Perth fights to the last, 28th February, 1942, by official war artist Murray Griffin. It was painted circa 1942-43 at Changi Prison, Singapore, where Perth survivors and Griffin were held as POWs.
Off the St Nicolas Point of Java,
in the shadows of that land,
The Perth and Houston sailed together,
cruisers fine and grand,

A ship was sighted, “challenge” called,
but the reply received was strange,
As the Perth’s aldis winked once more,
the Jap ship was in close range.

“Jap destroyer! Sound the rattles.
Forward turrets open fire!!”
Then the Captain called, “tis one unknown,”
As he donned his battle attire,

The Perth’s bow swung broad side to bear,
six inch guns belched smoke and flame
as silhouettes of ships around them rose,
With Japanese flags so plain.

“They are all around us!” came the cry.
The Japanese ships were everywhere,
Shells were constant whistling bye,
Water spouts funnelling in the air

The Captain was ordering divided guns,
Then independent control soon followed,
The decks were awash with salty runs,
The bow dipped as though being swallowed

The forward funnel took a hit,
Which burst with hissing steam,
And the flag deck by the look of it,
Was hit with a shell unseen

A shell hit on the waterline,
And echoed through the ship,
But the Perth held steady; she was fine,
Giving a Jap destroyer the slip

The zigzagging Houston off the bow,
Fought also with a will,
And managed, with the Perth somehow,
To survive another shell.

But the enemy ships were many more,
And their shells were raining in,
Though few could claim a better score,
Than the Perth enjoyed right then.

The Perth “jumped from the sea,”
Heaved forward then sank back,
As a torpedo struck her lee,
With a resounding crack!

“Torpedoes running” Golden luck!,
as Smith let the Perth’s quad go,
three cruisers bearing down being struck
but Perth’s decks were now aflow

Walls became floors, ladders were stairs,
hatches were giant leaks,
“Abandon Ship” sea everywhere,
the Perth she groans and squeaks

A torpedo hit; the stern rose up,
So high against the moon,
That from her deck a dismal look
Saw Houston’s fiery plume.

The Perth went down her prop exposed,
Her belie ripped apart,
A chapter of naval history closed,
But not in Australian hearts.

Epilogue: THE HOUSTON

The captain of the Houston,
Watched the valiant Perth go down,
And turned his ship towards the foe,
Enemy ships were all around.

At close range the US ship,
Pounded the transports one by one,
While fighting off destroyers,
With every blazing gun.

Salvos from the Japanese,
Smashed into her decks,
Torpedoes hit from end to end,
The Houston was a wreck.

Abandon ship! Abandon ship!!
The dreaded words rang out!
And as the crew leapt to the sea,
The Houston’s light went out.

Lit by the searchlights of her foes,
To the starboard side she rolled,
To slip beneath the surging sea,
Like the folding of a Rose

Author’s Note: Commander Walter J Winslow, United States Navy wrote an article called “Galloping Ghost” on U.S.S. Houston’s part in the battles of the Java Sea and Sunda Strait. The article appeared in the February 1949 issue of the United States Naval Institute Proceedings, Annapolis, Maryland.

“… … by the glare of Japanese search lights I saw the Houston, roll slowly over to starboard, and then with her yardarms almost dipping into the sea, she paused momentarily.

Perhaps I only imagined it but it seemed as though a sudden breeze picked up The Stars and Stripes still firmly blocked on the main mast, and waved them in one defiant gesture.

Then with a tired shudder she vanished beneath The Java Sea.”

Excerpt from the book, “Proud Echo” by Ronald McKie: Published 1953