USAAF B-17’S in Java – Part 14: February 3, Java attacked.


The Japanese forces had nearly completed the encirclement of Java. And as it was now operating from Kendari and Balikpapan, the Imperial Japanese Navy’s 21st Air Flotilla was ready to carry out the first real attacks against targets in Java.
On Tuesday, February 3, 1942, the first savage strike came against the naval base at Surabaya, against Malang airfield, and the recently opened field at Madiun.

Their first victim was a B-17C [1], flown by 1st Lt. Ray Cox on a local test flight. The plane was shot down at 09.30, in the mountains some 10 miles south of Malang, killing the entire crew of 7.
At 1040, Malang was hit without warning by a wave of dive bombers. followed a little later by 27 Mitsubishi G3M ‘Nell’ medium bombers that paraded over the field at 15.000 feet and dropped their load. They were followed by 7 Mitsubishi A6M Zeroes of the Tainan Kokutai that strafed the field until 11.30.
After shooting up whatever they saw, they left, leaving some damage to buildings behind (the post-exchange was razed to the ground and the runway was cratered). But incredibly, the Japanese attacks had caused no casualties amongst the Americans; just some injured after diving into slit trenches or machine gun pits to escape the attack.


However, the Japanese strafers had hit four B-17’s, all fully fueled and bombed up and ready for take-off. Three of them blew up immediately; one of them was badly damaged and burned out later, after catching fire again [2].
The damage at Madiun was not serious, and Yogyakarta had not been touched. But, with Kendari and Balikpapan in Japanese hands, similar and continuing attacks could be expected and the outlook for the defense of Java was grim.

Surabaya, the main Dutch Naval Base in Java, had been the main target and was hit extremely hard. The small fighter force of Dutch Brewster Buffaloes and Curtiss CW-21 ‘Interceptors’ was literally swept from the skies by an overwhelming number of Mitsubishi Zeroes. And after 27 G3M ‘Nell’ bombers had hammered the Dutch naval installations, strafing Zeroes destroyed three Catalinas on the water.

The Zeroes also shot down one old B-18.

Tragically, it was  36-338, piloted by Major Straubel who was returning from his conference with Brereton in Bandung. He was making a detour via Surabaya to drop off some radar specialists [3]. The unarmed old bomber ran into a swarm of Zeroes that shot it down approx. 30 miles west of Surabaya.
Straubel and his co-pilot Smith were miraculously thrown clear from the wreck, but they both sadly died the next day of the extensive burns they had suffered when they had tried to rescue their passengers from the flaming wreckage.

Major Kenneth B. Hobson took command, but the loss of a second Commanding Officer within just over a week was another setback for the already battered morale of the 7th BG.

– To be continued –

[1] B-17C No 40-2032
[2] B-17D No 40-3074, B-17D No 40-3078, and B-17E No 41-2470. B-17E No 41-2427
[3] Aboard were  Lt. Col Murphy, a communications expert sent out by Brereton to supervise the set up of a radar network, and two members of the radar staff, 1st Lt. Glen H. Boes and 2nd Lt. Irvin A. Kriel

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 Aircraft, Boeing B-17 in Java, Boeing B-17 Pacific War, Dutch East Indies, Java Campaign 1942, Pacific War, US Army in Java 1941, USAAF Java, USAAF Pacific, WW2 Pacific and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to USAAF B-17’S in Java – Part 14: February 3, Java attacked.

  1. Pierre Lagacé says:

    Thanks again for preserving the past.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Pingback: Part 14 – Lest We Forget II

  3. GP Cox says:

    I didn’t really cover this part of the war much. I enjoy learning from you!!


  4. Rusty Wright says:

    I really appreciate your work and all the information shared here. My grandfather, Ralph Wright Jr, was apart of the 7th BG ground echelon that had to evacuate Java and retreat to Australia. He was then reassigned to the 19th where he stayed until they were sent back to US in winter of 42 due to combat fatigue. Would love to learn more of his escape from Java, stories were there was hand to hand combat and eventually having to put on a life vest and swimming out to be eventually picked up by a ship.


    • Kingsleyr says:

      Hello Rusty,
      Sorry for the long delay in answering you. You probably can guess what has held things up.
      This research project will be concluded with the publication of a book, titled ‘One Way Ticket to Java’. And there will be a whole chapter dedicated to escape and survival stories.
      Thanks for reading my blog
      Robert Kingsley


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