THE HMAS PERTH,
USS Houston's ally in death in Sunda Strait.
"The Ghost that Died in Sunda Strait"
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HOUSTON (CA-30) dp. 9,050; l. 600' 3"; b.66' 1"; dr.
16' 4"; s. 33k.;
cpl. 621; a. 9 8", 6 21" tt.; cl. NORTHAMPTON
The second HOUSTON
(CA-30) was launched by Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock
Co., Newport News, Va., 7 September 1929; sponsored by Miss Elizabeth
Holcombe, daughter of the mayor of Houston, Tex.; and commissioned
as CL-30 17 June 1930, Captain J. B. Gay commanding. Her designation
was changed to CA-30, 1 July 1931.
shakedown cruise in the Atlantic HOUSTON returned to the United
States in October 1930. She then visited Houston, Tex., and joined
the fleet at Hampton Roads. Steaming to New York, the cruiser departed
10 January 1931 for the Pacific, and after stopping at the Canal
Zone and the Hawaiian Islands arrived Manila 22 February 1931. HOUSTON
became flagship of the Asiatic Station upon arrival, and for the
next year participated in training operations in the troubled Far
With the outbreak
of war between China and Japan in 1932, HOUSTON got underway 31
January for Shanghai to protect American lives and property. She
landed Marine and Navy gun platoons to help stabilize the situation
and remained in the area, with the exception of a good will cruise
to the Philippines in March and one to Japan in May 1933, until
relieved by AUGUSTA 17 November 1933. The cruiser sailed to San
Francisco to join the Scouting Force, and for the years preceding
War II participated in Fleet Problems and maneuvers in the Pacific.
During this period HOUSTON made several special cruises. President
Roosevelt came on board 1 July 1934 at Annapolis, Md., for a cruise
almost 12,000 miles through the Caribbean and to Portland, Oreg.,
by way of Hawaii. HOUSTON also carried Assistant Secretary of the
Navy Henry L Roosevelt on a tour of the Hawaiian Islands, returning
to San Diego 15 May 1935. After a short cruise in Alaskan waters,
the cruiser returned to Seattle and embarked the President again
3 October 1935 for a vacation cruise to the Cerros Islands, Magdalena
Bay, Cocos Islands, and Charleston, S.C. HOUSTON also celebrated
the opening of the Golden Gate bridge at San Francisco 28 May 1937,
and carried President Roosevelt for a Fleet Review at the same city
14 July 1938.
flagship of the U.S. Fleet 19 September 1938, when Rear Admiral
Bloch broke his flag on board her, and maintained that status
until 28 December, when she returned to the Scouting Force. Continuing
the now-familiar routine of training exercises, she got underway
for Fleet Problem 20, 4 January 1939 from San Francisco, sailed
to Norfolk and Key West, and there embarked the President and the
Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Leahy, for the duration of the
problem. She arrived Houston, Tex., 7 April for a brief visit before
returning to Seattle, where she arrived 30 May.
flagship Hawaiian Detachment, the cruiser arrived Pearl
Harbor after her post-overhaul shakedown 7 December 1939, and continued
in that capacity until returning to Mare Island 17 February 1940.
Sailing to Hawaii, she departed 3 November for the Philippine Islands
as the world situation grew darker. Arriving Manila 19 November
1940 she became flagship of Admiral Hart, Commander Asiatic Fleet.
As the war crisis
deepened, Admiral Hart deposed his fleet in readiness.
On the night of the Pearl Harbor attack, HOUSTON got underway from
Panay Island with fleet units bound for Darwin, Australia, where
she arrived 28 December 1941 by way of Balikpapan and Surabaya.
After patrol duty she joined the ABDA (American-British-Dutch-Australian
) naval force at Surabaya. Air raids were frequent in the area,
and HOUSTON's gunners splashed four planes 4 February as Admiral
Doorman, RNN, took his force to engage Japanese reported to be at
Balikpapan. HOUSTON took one hit, disabling her No. 3 turret, and
cruiser MARBLEHEAD was so damaged that she had to be sent out of
the battle area. Doorman was forced to abandon his advance.
Australia, HOUSTON departed 15 February with a small convoy to reinforce
the garrison on Timor. Before the day was out, the group was forced
to beat off numerous air attacks, and next morning the
Japanese attacked in full force. During this defensive action, HOUSTON
distinguished herself by driving off nearly the entire raid without
damage to her transports.
word that the major Japanese invasion force was approaching
Java protected by a formidable surface unit, Admiral Doorman resolutely
determined to meet and seek to destroy the main convoy. Sailing
February with HOUSTON, HMAS PERTH, HNMS DE RUYTER, HMS EXETER, HNMS
JAVA and 10 destroyers, he met the Japanese support force under
Admiral Takagi consisting of 4 cruisers and 13 destroyers. In the
Battle of the Java Sea which followed, Doorman's forces fought valiantly,
but were doomed by lack of air cover and communication difficulties.
The ships met for the first time in the late afternoon, and as Japanese
destroyers laid smoke the cruisers of both fleets opened fire. After
one ineffective torpedo attack the Japanese light cruisers and destroyers
launched a second at 1700, this attack sinking KORTENAER. EXETER
and destroyer ELECTRA were hit by gunfire, ELECTRA fatally, and
at 1730 Admiral Doorman turned south toward the Java coast, not
wishing to be diverted from his main purpose, the destruction of
the convoy itself. With dogged fighting spirit he dodged another
torpedo attack and followed the coastline, during which time JUPITER
was sunk, either by mine or internal explosion. Then ENCOUNTER was
detached to pick up survivors from KORTENAER, and the American destroyers,
their torpedoes expended, were ordered back to Surabaya. Now with
no destroyer protection, Doorman's four remaining ships turned north
again in a last gallant attempt to stop the invasion of Java.
2300 the same night, the cruisers again encountered the Japanese
surface group. On parallel courses the opposing units opened fire,
the Japanese launched a devastating torpedo attack 30 minutes later.
RUYTER and JAVA, caught in a spread of 12 torpedoes, exploded and
sank, carrying their captains and Admiral Doorman down with them.
losing contact with PERTH and HOUSTON, Doorman had ordered them
to retire. This was accomplished, but the next day the two ships
steamed boldly into Banten Bay, hoping to damage the Japanese invasion
forces there. The cruisers were almost torpedoed as they approached
the bay, but evaded the nine torpedoes launched by destroyed FUBUKI.
The cruisers then sank one transport and forced three others to
beach. A destroyer squadron blocked Sunda Strait, their means of
retreat, and on the other hand large cruisers MOGAMI and MIKUMA
stood dangerously near. The result was foreordained, but HOUSTON
and PERTH fought valiantly. PERTH came under fire at 2336 and in
an hour had been sunk from gunfire and torpedo hits. HOUSTON then
fought alone, her guns blazing at the enemy all around her, a champion
at bay. Soon after midnight she took a torpedo and began to lose
headway. During this time HOUSTON's gunners scored hits on three
different destroyers and sank a minesweeper, but suffered three
more torpedo explosions in quick succession. Captain Rooks was killed
by a bursting shell at 0030 and as the ship came to a stop. Japanese
destroyers swarmed over her machine gunning the decks. A few
minutes later the gallant HOUSTON, her name written imperishably
records of heroism, rolled over and sank, her ensign still flying.
fate was not known by the world for almost 9 months, and the full
story of her courageous fight was not fully told until after the
war was over and her survivors were liberated from prison camps.
Rooks received posthumously the Medal of Honor for this extraordinary
heroism.In addition to two battle stars, HOUSTON was awarded the
Presidential Unit Citation.
Ghost That Died at Sunda Strait" and/ or see the documentary
film "Death Becomes The Ghost".