“To help an Ally in distress…”

USAAF bombers in action on Java


USAAF B17 at Ngoro (Blimbing), early 1942

Prior to the Japanese attacks on December 7/8 1941, there were few, if any, plans for allied defense cooperation in the Western Pacific and South-East Asia. The Dutch relied on some sort of unwritten agreement under which the US and Britain would ferry sufficient forces and equipment to the threatened area.
It proved to be a singularly optimistic and simplistic view as it took the allies weeks to transport the (scarcely available) troops and their equipment to the far East. Only a few units, already afloat, belatedly did reach the war zone and joined the uneven fight.
Thus, the British, Dutch and Australians had to fight with what they had. And that was far from enough.
The real problem was the sudden demand for a large number of aircraft. As it would take too long to send them by  ship, it was decided to ferry them. It meant  a flight halfway around the world, something that had never been done before on this scale. To complicate matters, there was no single organization charged with the ferry flights. There were no surveyed routes or navigational aids, no maintenance crews, no stockpiled fuel or lubricants …


lb-30 at Malang - Robert F Graf

Condsolidated LB-30 “AL515” at Malang, Java, January 1942 (Robert F. Graf Collection)

Painfully aware of the lack of airpower in Malaya and the Dutch East Indies, the US decided by the end of 1941 to help their ally in distress by sending three USAAF bomb groups (7th, 19th and 27th) to Java. One of them came from the Philippines with only 10 bombers, the other arrived without aircraft and had to wait until mid January until their first bombers were delivered. Over the next month and a half, the heavy bombers attacked targets on the Malay Peninsula, the Philippines, and the NEI.
It was the monsoon season so they were often sent off in bad weather, usually  in small numbers and without fighter escort,  against an overwhelming Japanese air superiority. Aircraft and crews were lost, missions frequently aborted, and increasingly frequent Japanese air raids made life miserable on the ground. No wonder morale steadily sank.
On February 17, 1942, Major General Lewis H Brereton, commanding the 5th Air Force, visited what remained of the USAAF bomber units in Java. He later wrote:
…Combat replacement crews did not exist…. Fatigue and combat weariness had worn men to their last ounce of resistance. Pilots returned from attacks crying with rage and frustration when a crew member was killed or when weather or mechanical failure prevent successful completion of the mission. A flight commander, a fine leader, committed suicide. Boys were on the verge of mental and physical collapse…

But still they flew their missions, reinforced piecemeal by a trickle of replacement aircraft coming in from the west until late February 1942, when the Japanese had completed their encirclement of Java. All supply lines had been cut off, apart from a precarious route to and from India. Seeing the writing on the wall, Brereton halted any further delivery of bombers to the NEI. And on February 23, 1942, just before his departure to India, he ordered all remaining USAAF units to evacuate to Australia while there was still time.
The survivors reached Australia during the first week of March 1942…


The remains of a bombed USAAF B17 at Andir, (Bandung) February 1942

Was the American sacrifice worth it? Looking at the meagre results of the bombing raids, one is tempted to say “no”. But during those horrifying weeks, the USAAF had been taught many valuable lessons on the strong and weak points of their adversary.
And the survivors of the battle were tough, “bloodied” veterans that would form the nucleus of new, better organized and equipped squadrons and bomb-groups. And finally, the gesture of helping a friend in need, in this case the Dutch, will never be forgotten.


Look at the page “Military Background – Allied Air Forces  – USAAF Bomber operations from Java” for more detailed information.


About Kingsleyr

Thank you for visiting my blog! The posts you find here are a direct result of my research into aviation and military history. I use the information I gather as a foundation and background for my books. You may call the genre historical fiction, a story woven into a background of solid and verifiable historical facts. However, the period and region I have chosen to write about (late 1930's - 1950's in South-East Asia) are jam-packed with interesting information and anecdotes. If I'd used them all I would swamp the stories. So this blog is the next best thing. It is an "overflow area" in which I can publish whatever I think will interest you. And from the reactions I get, I deduce I am on the right track. A lot will be about aviation in the former Dutch East Indies. This, because my series of books ("The Java Gold") follows a young Dutch pilot in his struggle to survive the Pacific War and its aftermath. But there's more in the world and you'll find descriptions of cities, naval operations and what not published on this blog. Something about myself; I am a Dutch-Canadian author, living in, and working out of the magical city of Amsterdam. My lifelong interest in history and aviation, especially WW2, has led me to write articles and books on these subjects. I hope you'll enjoy them!
This entry was posted in Dutch East Indies, Pacific War and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to “To help an Ally in distress…”

  1. GP Cox says:

    I wish I had had my hands on your research when I was writing about ’41, it sure would have made things easier! Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s