Onime No Kyo
The fateful events of the day began to take shape during the routine events of the previous one.
First, a high altitude photo reconnaissance flight over Singapore witnessed a large group of ships, most clearly damaged, leaving the anchorage. The anchorage itself now hosted only a few heavily damaged vessels, some patrol craft and a few submarines. Conspicuously absent were a number of cruisers.
That mystery was solved towards dusk, when a Hudson flying the last patrol of the day over the strait discovered a Japanese force steaming in three columns southwest of Georgetown. This was obviously a crucial report. The Japanese were most likely attempting to bombard the Sabang airfield to stop the nighttime attacks.
Several events kicked into gear as soon as the news reached Sabang. Firstly, the vulnerable and valuable bombers immediately left the field lest they be caught in the bombardment. Secondly, naval attack planes were immediately ordered to consolidate at Sabang. Luckily, these could take off from supporting airfields completely unloaded, with just enough fuel for the trip, as Sabang had enough to arm them in place. As it was, most of the planes had to land after dark, guided by field lights. Finally, the naval forces moved out to meet the enemy.
Just after midnight, the naval squadron defending Sabang detected the Japanese force on radar. Unfortunately for the Japanese, this was no hodge-podge of WWI –era light cruisers or even Jutland survivor battleships. This was most of a fully modernized American BatDiv which had arrived a few days ago, led by 3 battleships and supported by 6 “machine gun” light cruisers.
The first encounter must have been a shock to the Japanese force, who, likely expecting to encounter lightly armed British ships, instead began receiving rapid-fire salvoes from the Americans as soon as the range closed to 11,000 yards. Several lead ships of all three Japanese columns, one of which was led by 3 CAs, the rest consisting of CLs, suffered hits almost immediately. In fine Japanese fashion, Japanese destroyers and the southernmost column of CLs fired off their torpedoes and swung north. The Americans were expecting just this maneuver, and turning all ships head-on to the torpedo threat continued the pursuit. As it happened, all torpedoes of the massive salvo missed.
At this point the Japanese attempted to turn east, but were headed off by the Americans. They swung north again, attempting to beat the slower US battleships, but discovered that the American CLs were just as fast as they were, carried batteries that were much more deadly.
Finally, in a desperate bid, the Japanese force made a full turn to the southeast and attempted to bull through the US battle line, but the supporting CLs and destroyers won that game of “chicken”. The closest of the Japanese got to within 5,000 yards, but when the lead CL received 5 hits from a battleship secondary battery in quick succession, the raiders finally gave up and retired at full speed to the west.
Several hours later they tried again. The American task force was still patrolling north of Sabang Island when it detected the Japanese, now apparently short a couple of the most desperately damaged cruisers, approaching from the west at high speed. This time the Japanese did not bother with the frills of gunnery or maneuver and bore straight in. This put the Americans at a distinct disadvantage, because the slower speed of the battleships prevented them from putting themselves squarely between the enemy and his route of retreat. They did well enough, however, forcing the Japanese to go in with all guns blazing, seemingly oblivious to return fire.
At some point as the two forces angled for the most advantageous vectors, the Japanese even crossed the T of the main American column after firing off their remaining torpedoes. One of torpedoes hit the Arizona, resulting in minor to moderate flooding, but knocking out one of her engine rooms and causing her to fall out of line at a mere 9 knots. Another stuck the unfortunate Sims, instantly breaking her back and sinking her within minutes. Another two destroyers, the Russell and the Hughes, were heavily damaged by gunfire. But the division of American CLs, all guns firing as it moved in at full speed to once again head off the Japanese and cross their T, forced the Japanese commander to once again break off the engagement.
Although the Americans suffered two torpedo hits, the Japanese certainly came out the worst. Two light cruisers had sunk outright, one as a result of a spectacular magazine explosion which blew the ship apart and lit the night for miles around. Another four cruisers, including the sole remaining heavy, were fighting fires of varying size as they withdrew, as were several destroyers.
The final naval encounter of the night happened just after 0600, when a clearly reduced Japanese force attempted to sneak past well north of Sabang. Although the Americans tried their best, they were not able to completely interpose themselves between the Japanese and their escape, settling for sinking one more CL, and causing additional damage to several other ships. Japanese return fire was virtually nonexistent. It was clear that many of their gun mounts had been either damaged or destroyed or had run out of ammunition. Instead, the Japanese focused exclusively on escape, using their speed to gain salvation. Several other ships must have also snuck past in ones and twos in the night.
Unfortunately for the Japanese, their ordeal was far from over. With the morning sun, came the attack planes.
First, a flight of Albacores found a group of two light cruisers and two destroyers and sank both CLs and heavily damaged a DD.
Another group from the same flight came upon an already damaged heavy cruiser, escorted by 3 destroyers, and put another torpedo into her, to be followed by a flight of twin-engine Australian Beauforts, who finished her off with three more.
In the afternoon, after rearming, Albacores from Sabang located a group of four heavily damaged cruisers, two light and two heavy, sneaking along the Sumatran coast. One group did a CL in with 4 torpedoes, while another put 3 more fish into the two CAs. The Beauforts following on their heels finally sank the other CL and one of the heavies.
The final attack of the day happened a bit further north, in the direction of Georgetown, where Swordfish from the Hermes had engaged the final CA. Having exhausted their carrier’s torpedo arsenal in the morning, they attacked the cruiser with bombs, leaving her burning and listing presumably to sink shortly after.
In all, Allied intelligence estimated that the Japanese had lost 8 light cruisers, three heavy cruisers and several destroyers as a result of the gunnery battles and subsequent air attacks. The remaining cruisers were assumed to all be heavily damaged. In return, the US navy lost one destroyer sunk and several ships lightly to moderately damaged.
"Mighty is the Thread! Great are its works and insane are its inhabitants!" -Brother Mynok