World Battlefronts: Dutchman's Chance

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Last week a Dutchman took command of the Dutch and U.S. Naval forces defending The Netherlands East Indies. Into the joint command vacated by the U.S. Navy's warworn, 64-year-old Admiral Thomas Charles Hart stepped 55-year-old Vice Admiral Conrad Emil Lambert Helfrich.

Home to Sharon. The Navy Department said that "Tommy" Hart gave up his command with honor, and by his own request. He had extricated his Asiatic Fleet of cruisers, destroyers, submarines and an aircraft carrier from Manila and placed them in Java, where they could stab at the Jap's invading convoys. He had directed the aggressive naval action in Macassar Strait. But his years and burdens told; Washington heard some weeks ago that he was ill. President Roosevelt announced that Admiral Hart—now eight months past the usual retirement age—would come home for a while. He probably will take leave with his family on his farm in Sharon, Conn., then return to some active (probably advisory) duty in the Navy.

Home to Java. The Royal Netherlands Navy in the Indies had its differences with the U.S. Naval Command early in the war, but the quarrel was not with Admiral Hart, nor between Admirals Hart and Helfrich. It was between Batavia and Washington. After Admiral Helfrich took command, the U.P. correspondent in Batavia significantly cabled: "Admiral Helfrich is convinced that . . . the enemy not only can be stopped but driven back. He strongly opposes the idea of basing the United Nations' naval forces in Australia, contending that . . . the most suitable Australian base, at Port Darwin, is not suited to operational plans. . . ."

The Helfrich plan is simple and direct, based upon a minute knowledge of Indies waters: to strike & strike again & again at the Japanese supply lines. For most of his naval life, Java-born Admiral Helfrich has done nothing but study war with the Japanese. His Navy* was designed for shifty, aggressive action within the narrow East Indian waters. In the first 54 days of war his ships and cooperating Dutch planes sank 54 Japanese vessels. "Ship-a-day Helfrich," the Dutch soon called him. His ideas dominated the enlarging and equipping of Java's main naval base at Surabaya, where heavy cruisers (but not battleships) can be fueled and repaired. For the Helfrich plan to succeed, Surabaya must be held.

The Tide. Last week plump Admiral Helfrich was not at sea, but in the United Nations' well-guarded, teeming headquarters in interior Java. Under him, in the top sea command, was a U.S. naval officer whom Admiral Helfrich and all the Dutch had learned to admire: 55-year-old Vice Admiral William A. Glassford Jr. Admiral Glassford needed more cruisers, more destroyers, more submarines for the sea defense of Java. Admiral Helfrich needed men & munitions, but especially aircraft and airmen. Designed originally for defense from sea assault, Surabaya had already felt bombs from the air, expected land assaults from the rear before long. But there was still hope in Batavia. Colonial Dutchmen quoted their Admiral: "Who knows better than the people of our islands the profound truth of the time-hallowed saying: 'The tide will turn'?"

* Five cruisers, eight destroyers, some 20 submarines, a swarm of small torpedo boats.