Battle of Balikpapan (1942)
This article concerns the naval and land battles of Balikpapan in 1942. For information on the 1945 landings by Australian forces in the same area, see Second Battle of Balikpapan.
|First Battle of Balikpapan|
|Part of World War II, Pacific War|
|Commanders and leaders|
Cornelis van den Hoogenband|
William A. Glassford
Paul H. Talbot
1,100 naval infantry
3 patrol boats
12 transport ships
|Casualties and losses|
1 destroyer lightly damaged
1 submarine heavily damaged
50+ naval casualties
1 patrol boat sunk
6 transports sunk
The First Battle of Balikpapan took place on 23–24 January 1942, off the major oil producing town and port of Balikpapan, on Borneo, in the Netherlands East Indies. After capturing the destroyed oilfield at Tarakan from the Allies in the Battle of Tarakan, the Japanese force—the Sakaguchi Detachment (named for its commander, Major General Shizuo Sakaguchi)-moved on to Balikpapan with the hope that the oilfields there had not been destroyed.
In the ensuing conflict, the Japanese successfully landed and seized the oil facilities. A short time later an American destroyer task force ambushed the Japanese invasion convoy and sank multiple transports.
The Dutch army in Balikpapan numbered approximately 1,100 troops, under the command of KNIL Lieutenant Colonel Cornelis van den Hoogenband. The city itself was protected by coast, anti-aircraft, and field batteries. The entrance of the harbor was protected by a minefield laid by the minelayer Soemenep under the command of Lt. T. Jellema.
On 18 January, the Dutch commander ordered the destruction of oil installations in Balikpapan and started to evacuate his staff to Samarinda. However, the destruction was not complete; the only serious damage was to tanks, pipes and special quays in the harbor area.
On 22 January, the Japanese fleet was sighted moving south by an American PBY flying boat, and on 23 January formations of Dutch bombers attacked the convoy. Despite this, the Japanese unit successfully landed approximately 5 km (3.1 mi) southeast of Balikpapan airfield on the evening of 24 January. The assault unit landed without meeting enemy resistance and, by dawn, had occupied the airfield. The southward advance moved slowly as the bridges had been destroyed, and the unit reached the northern outskirts of Balikpapan City on the night of 25 January. The Dutch garrison troops had been withdrawn and the Japanese entered the city without a fight.
A portion of the Sakaguchi Detachment called the Surprise Attack Unit proceeded up the river in camouflaged landing craft, evaded detection, and landed just south of the reservoir at 04:30 on the 25th. It proceeded to the village of Banoeabaroe, arriving there at 14:40, thus cutting off the Dutch line of retreat. While the unit was advancing along the road to Balikpapan City, it ran into a Dutch military column, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel C. van den Hoogenband, attempting to escape from Balikpapan. After defeating this Dutch column, the Surprise Attack Unit proceeded to Balikpapan City.
After Balikpapan was occupied, a new detachment was formed led by Lt. Col. Kume. He was ordered to secure and protect the oil fields. The main force moved forward along the Balikpapan City-Samboaja-Sangasanga-Samarinda-Road, mopping up the remaining Dutch troops in the vicinity of Samarinda.
In the afternoon of 23 January, nine Dutch Martin B-10 bombers, escorted by 20 Brewster Buffaloes from 2-VLG-V and 3-VLG-V, attacked the Japanese convoy. The transport ship Tatsugami Maru was damaged and Nana Maru sunk. Near Balikpapan, the Dutch submarine HNLMS K XVIII, under Lieutenant Commander van Well Groeneveld, attacked and sank the transport Tsuruga Maru and reportedly damaged the patrol boat P-37 by midnight, but was later heavily damaged itself by depth charges and forced to withdraw to Surabaya.
While the Japanese invasion force was landing at Balikpapan, on the early morning of 24 January, at around 02:45, the 59th U.S. Navy Destroyer Division under Rear Admiral William A. Glassford and Commander Paul H. Talbot, acting on orders from Admiral Hart, attacked the Japanese navy escort led by Rear Admiral Shoji Nishimura for about four hours. The U.S. Destroyer Division composed of USS Paul Jones, Parrott, Pope and John D. Ford attacked the twelve transport ships and the three patrol boats (World War I-era destroyers) escorting them. The Japanese destroyer escorts were undertaking a search for the Dutch submarine which had been sighted earlier. At least four transport ships—Kuretake Maru, Nana Maru, Sumanoura Maru and Tatsukami Maru—and patrol boat P-37 were sunk in torpedo attacks. Two other transports were damaged by gunfire or torpedoes. Gunfire from one of the armed transports damaged the John D. Ford. The Ford returned fire, inflicting 50 casualties on the transport. At 04:00 the Ford withdrew.
The attack on Banjarmasin was done by concentrating the land force under Colonel Kyohei Yamamoto with a sea borne force under Captain Yoshibumi Okamoto from the 146th Infantry Regiment. The land force started to move on 30 January while the sea force had sailed on 27 January. Although the land force had to cross the dense jungle and faced tropical heat and rain, they quickly occupied the small towns of Moera Oeja, Bongkang, Tandjoeng, Amoentai, Barabai, Kandangan and Rantau. The sea force moved only at night and launched a surprise attack at Kotabaru on Laut island. After occupying Martapura airfield, on 10 February, Banjarmasin was captured without a fight. The Dutch unit under the command of Lt. Col. Henry Halkema had retreated to defend Kotawaringin airfield in central Borneo.
The battle was the first surface engagement in Southeast Asia that the U.S. Navy had participated in since the Battle of Manila Bay in 1898. The American destroyers expended all of their torpedoes with only a few hits, mostly because of the as yet unrealized problems with the Mark 15 torpedo running too deep. Because the landing had taken place around 21:30, the raid was too late to stop the capture of Balikpapan.
While the various attacks on the Japanese transports did little to prevent the fall of Balikpapan, it proved that Admiral Hart's conservative strategy could be effectively used against Japanese forces until Allied forces in the Southeast Asia area could be bolstered. It was under his orders that the destroyers conducted the raid and sank the four transports. Crucial to the success of the destroyer raid was also the fact that it had been conducted by an all American force, operating under the same doctrine and protocol, whereas other ABDACOM engagements of combined forces (the Battle of the Java Sea, notably) suffered from much confusion. Hart was later relieved of command and replaced with the much bolder Conrad Helfrich.
Balikpapan remained under Japanese control until July 1945, when the Japanese force was defeated by an Australian-led force in the 1945 Battle of Balikpapan.
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