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The Battle of Makassar Strait on February 4, 1942 was a battle between American, British, Dutch, Australian (ABDA) warships are bombed by Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) land based bombers. Also known as the Battle of the Flores Sea or the Action off Madura Strait. The battle occurred in the Netherlands East Indies (NEI), today Indonesia. Although this battle actually occurred in the Flores Sea near the Kangean Islands, it remains known as the Battle of Makassar Strait and was unrelated to the earlier Battle off Balikpapan on January 24, 1942.
On February 1, 1942 an Allied reconnaissance plane reported a Japanese force preparing to depart Balikpapan. On February 2, 1942 the American, British, Dutch, Australian Flotilla (ABDAFLOAT) under the command of Dutch Admiral Karel Doorman was formed in Gili Islands in the Bali Sea off Lombok Island. The ABDA fleet included flagship Hr Ms De Ruyter, Hr Ms Tromp and USS Houston CA-30, and USS Marblehead (CL-12) plus seven destroyers Hr Ms Banckert, Hr Ms Piet Hein, Hr Ms Van Ghent, USS Barker (DD-213), USS Bulmer (DD-222), USS John D. Edwards (DD-216) and USS Stewart (DD-224).
On February 3, 1942 the ABDA fleet was spotted by Japanese bombers that reported their presence and circled but did not attack and the warships continued to efforts to resupply and around midnight departed bound for Meinderts Reef (Karang Mas) off northeast Java then onward to Makassar Strait.
Battle of Makassar Strait
On February 4, 1942 at 9:40am the ABDA fleet was south of the Kangean Islands in the Flores Sea was spotted by a G4M1 Betty from Takao Kokutai from Kendari Airfield. The Allied force was attacked by 36 G4M1 Betty (27 from Kanoya Kokutai and 9 from Takao Kokutai) plus 24 G3M2 Nells from the 1st Kokutai. The bomber formation approached at medium altitude in chutai in "V" formation the targeted the cruisers.
During their initial run, bombs fell ahead of USS Marblehead (CL-12) and during the second run she sustained two direct hits from 250kg bombs and a near miss the damage resulted in the cruiser only being able to steam in circles and aboard 15 crew were killed. During the attacks, USS Houston CA-30 managed to evade most bombs but was hit near the aft gun turret by a bomb dropped by a G3M2 Nell damaged the guns and killing 48 crew. Meanwhile, Hr Ms De Ruyter evade four attacks but sustained minor damage from several near misses from bombs dropped by G3M2 Nells that damaged the 40mm AA gun fire control.
At 1:00pm, Admiral Karel Doorman order the ABDA fleet to withdraw to the west unable to reach the Makassar Strait due to enemy aircraft. Withdrawing, Houston and Tromp had already gone south through Alas Strait and USS Marblehead and the U.S. destroyers withdrew to the south via the Lombok Strait. Afterwards, both U. S. cruisers headed for Tjilatjap for repairs and to transfer off wounded.
The battle was a Japanese victory because the ABDA fleet was unable enter the Makassar Strait or interfere with the Japanese invasion force bound for Makassar that successfully landed on February 9, 1942. The Japanese bomber crews erroneously reported sinking three cruisers when in fact they only damaged two but did inflict enough damage to USS Marblehead to force the cruiser to withdraw from the Pacific area.
Osprey Combat Aircraft 22 - Mitsubishi Type 1 Rikko 'Betty' Units of WWII (2001) page 33
Thanks to Kevin Denlay for additional information
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