The War in the Pacific: From Pearl Harbor to Tokyo Bay

By Harry A. Gailey | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
Java, Coral Sea, and Midway

THE KEY TO Field Marshal Wavell's defensice strategy was the fortress and naval base at Singapore. He had hoped that by holding that base he could build up reinforcements for an eventual counterattack against the Japanese in the East Indies. However questionable this idea was in light of the inferior land and air forces available, it was impossible after the capture of the great bastion on 15 February 1942. The loss of Singapore and the 130,000 men who surrendered there was a blow from which the Allies would not soon recover. More importantly for the defenders of northern Sumatra and Java, it meant that Japan could concentrate even more ships and men on those islands. Wavell informed Governor-General A. W. L. T. van Starkenborgh-Stachouwer on 21 February that Java could not be held. Wavell and the American air commanders, Brett and Breteton, began to plan for the evacuation of as many of their men as possible.

However obvious this decision might have been, the governor, Admiral Helfrich, and General ter Poorten believed they had no choice but to resist the Japanese for as long as possible. On paper it might appear that the defense force available on Java was formidable. The Dutch in their three regional commands -- East, Center, and West -- had more than 90,000 troops. They were reinforced by

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