Fall of Java
January, February and March 1942 was a disastrous period for the Allied cause in south-east Asia as the Japanese rapidly seized territory in the island archipelago to Australia's north. Tarakan in Borneo was occupied on 11 January; Rabaul, New Guinea, fell on 23 January and Balikpapan in Borneo on the 24th; on the night of 30-31 January, Japanese landings were made on Ambon and by 3 February Australian and Dutch forces there were forced to surrender; Singapore fell on 15 February; and by 23 February the island of Timor was virtually in enemy hands. At the end of February, only Java remained unoccupied.
Java was defended by an assortment of Dutch colonial, British, Australian and American forces. On 25 February 1942, two Japanese invasion convoys were spotted making for the eastern and western ends of the island. Attempts were made by Allied aircraft, including Hudson bombers of 1 Squadron RAAF, to bomb the convoys but despite some hits they failed to stop them. On the afternoon of 27 February, an Allied naval group, which included the cruiser HMAS Perth, attacked the enemy's eastern convoy. In the ensuing battle two Dutch cruisers and four destroyers were sunk. On the night of 28 February-1 March, the enemy's western convoy sailed through Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra, anchored and began landing troops. HMAS Perth and the American cruiser USS Houston came upon the convoy and a fierce engagement ensued. In this Battle of the Sunda Strait Perth and Houston were sunk; about half of Perth's crew went down with the ship and the remainder became prisoners of war. Yet another Australian ship, the sloop HMAS Yarra, was sunk on 4 March as it escorted a convoy south of Java.
Once ashore, the western Japanese force advanced towards the towns of Batavia and Buitenzorg. Opposing them near Buitenzorg was 'Blackforce', named after its commander, Brigadier Arthur Blackburn VC, consisting mainly of non-infantry units of the 7th Division AIF. These men had been landed in Java from the Middle East just days before, some of them without their weapons or equipment. For a few days Blackburn, with some awareness of Japanese tactics, mounted a successful holding operation. However, on other battlefronts Allied troops fell back before the Japanese and by 11 March 'Blackforce' was obliged to surrender after Dutch forces capitulated. Its losses numbered about 100 killed or wounded and over 2,700 became prisoners of war.
With the Allied surrender in Java the Japanese had attained, in just over three months, an empire in the Pacific and south-east Asia. It was to take over three years of war to drive them from it.