Art by 黒烏龍
2016 was not a great year. Today, I would like to share with you a true story that happened almost 75 years ago. Let us not lose hope in humanity!
The Second Battle of the Java Sea (March 1, 1942) was the last naval action of the Netherlands East Indies campaign. Sam Falle was an officer on HMS Encounter that was sunk by the Japanese Navy. The crew were stranded in the waters of the Java Sea. The following is his account of these events.
Dawn came on 2 March 1942, beautiful, clear and dead calm. We had been in the water for about 18 hours, and there was nothing to be seen. We waited in silence and watched the sun climb in the heavens.
Doc had his medical kit with him, complete with syringe and enough morphine to finish us all off. By that time, according to all logic, there was no hope at all, and yet only one of our number asked for a shot. Doc rightly refused and persuaded our shipmate to give it a bit longer. It grew hotter; the sea was calm and shimmered in the sunshine. We became drowsy; I recall that I felt neither hunger nor thirst.
It must have been about midday, for the sun was vertical and we were just south of the equator. About 200 yards away we thought we saw a Japanese destroyer. Was she a mirage? We all saw her, so perhaps she was real, but our first emotion was not joy or relief, for we expected to be machine-gunned.
There was a great bustle aboard that ship, but the main armament was trained fore and aft and there was no sign of machine-guns. The ship’s sailors were lowering rope- ladders all along the side of the ship. They were smiling small brown men in their floppy white sun-hats and too-long khaki shorts.
The ship came closer. We caught hold of the rope-ladders and managed to clamber aboard. We were covered with oil and exhausted. The Japanese sailors surrounded us and regarded us with cheerful curiosity. They took cotton waste and spirit and cleaned the oil off us, firmly but gently. It was – extraordinary to relate – a friendly welcome.
I was given a green shirt, a pair of khaki shorts and a pair of gym shoes. Then we were escorted to a large space amidships and politely invited to sit down in comfortable cane chairs. We were served hot milk, bully beef and biscuits.
After a while the captain of the destroyer came down from the bridge, saluted us and addressed us in English: ‘You have fought bravely. Now you are the honoured guests of the Imperial Japanese Navy. I respect the English navy, but your government is very foolish to make war on Japan.’
That fine officer searched for survivors all day, stopping to pick up even single men, until his small ship was overflowing. An awning was spread over the fo’c’s’le to protect us from the sun; lavatories were rigged outboard; cigarettes were handed out; and by a biblical type of miracle, our hosts managed to give all 300 of us food and drink.
The only order we were given was not to smoke after dark lest ‘English submarine’ should see a lighted cigarette. The Japanese did not know, it seems, that there were no English submarines in the Java Sea. Yet they had continually stopped to rescue every survivor they could find.
Thanks to this destroyer and other Japanese ships, Encounter only lost seven men and Exeter a surprisingly small number also. The survivors from Pope were rescued by the Japanese two days later.
Ikazuchi (雷 “Thunder”) was the twenty-third Fubuki-class destroyer, or the third Akatsuki class (if that sub-class is regarded as a separate class), built for the Imperial Japanese Navy in the inter-war period. When introduced into service, these ships were the most powerful destroyers in the world. They remained formidable weapons systems well into the Pacific War. (Wiki)
Commander Shunsaku Kudō (工藤 俊作 Kudō Shunsaku, January 7, 1901 – January 12, 1979) was an officer in the Imperial Japanese Navy. He rescued 442 enemy British and American sailors from the Java Sea in 1942. (Wiki)