World Battlefronts: BATTLE OF JAVA: Voice of Doom

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The voice was like a voice of doom. It was the voice of Dr. Hubertus Johannes van Mook, Lieutenant Governor General of The Netherlands East Indies:

It is not that dozens of battleships, scores of cruisers and thousands of planes are needed. . . . It is only a question of hundreds more of planes and a few tens of thousands of men. . . . The reinforcements need not be tremendous, but must come continuously and there must be an end of wavering uncertainty which wastes time and weakens morale.

When Dr. van Mook spoke last week in Batavia, it was late in the game for Java, the Indies and the Far Pacific. It was terribly late for the Indies' "Strong Man" to have to speak of wavering uncertainty among his allies. Within a week the Japanese broke through Java's naval line (see p. 18) and set their scores of thousands of invaders upon Java's shores before the few hundred planes, the needed thousands of troops had arrived. The battle for the Indies had come to Java, and it would be won or lost with what Java had in the air and on the ground when Hubertus van Mook cried to Washington.

The Prong. The Japanese chose their first landings well (see map): near Serang in the west, a hop & skip across the Sunda Strait from invaded Sumatra; on the broad, open coasts of Indramayu Bay, 160 miles eastward from Serang; at Rembang, another 225 miles to the east. Thus the Jap with three strokes sliced up the northern Javanese coast, flanked the capital of Batavia, the Army's mountain fortress at Bandung and Java's chief naval base at Surabaya.

That was the Japanese plan. Its execution would not be so simple. The Dutch had a mobile Army of perhaps 50,000 well-armed white and brown troops, 50,-ooo not so well armed. "Some thousands" of Australian, British and U.S. soldiers were on the island, and probably were held for last-ditch shock attack. Short of artillery, short even of ammunition for the various calibers of Dutch, U.S., British, Swedish, German and Italian rifles, pistols and machine guns, the Dutch ordnance men had made much out of little. They juggled rifle parts to fit their ammunition supply. For armored cars, they walled trucks with double sheets of boiler plate. The first layer took the zing out of armor-piercing bullets, the second stopped them. The improvised cars with their mounted machine guns roared over the narrow, metalized Java highways, barking at advance parties of Jap bicyclists and rushing defenders to threatened points.

In the mountainous interior, the Dutch had planted explosives in the sides of every pass, every cut through which key highways and railways threaded. Successively, as the invader advanced, Java's arteries could thus be blocked to anything on wheels. Mined passes commanded every approach to the Bandung fortress, and at the worst Java's Army was prepared to withstand a siege there comparable to Douglas MacArthur's on Bataan. —Dutch, British and U.S. aircraft rose incessantly from interior airdromes, met the invader in the air and strafed him on the ground, returned, reloaded and refueled, took off again. Pilots who had planes shot from under them parachuted down. Then they chafed and groaned because there were no more planes for them to take up.

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