Banka Straits: Japanese bombers approaching
12 January 1942 HMS Emerald is informed that large formations of Japanese bombers are on the way to the convoy. Over time it has become abundantly clear what they are capable off and on board Abbekerk the crew is under no illusions; If the planes find them it is all finished. If they can sink modern battleships, a merchant ship filled to the brim with ammunition is a sitting duck.
The convoy now navigates through the narrow, tortuous and shallow Sunda and Banka Staits in between Java and Sumatra. The ships sail in keel line ( in a long row, one after the other) with no room to manoeuvre to evade falling bombs. Defence is at high alert.
Tension on the troopships also runs high:
Due to appalling weather conditions — heavy rain and a tropical storm — they (the planes) had difficulty in finding us even in those narrow straits and although the fighters got through and inflicted some damage, it was negligible. We would have stood very little chance in good conditions. This was the first of many pieces of luck that I had in the Far East. The climate is hot and humid with average temperatures about 80degrees the year round. Still to get the weather we did at just the right time was a wonderful, unexpected bonus.
The last film we saw on the ship was ‘The Road to Singapore’. What a sense of humour someone must have had.
Harry Tweedale, 232 squadron RAF on RMS Aorangie
A few hours later another large formation of bombers appear. This time the weather is clear and the convoy in the narrow straits a easy target. Everybody holds its breath as the bombers approach:
We thought ‘well this must be the end’. But they did nothing. They flew over and went on to bomb Singapore.
Third mate Jacob Visser