Sinking of the Haguro
On the night of the 15th May 1945, the last destroyer action of WW2 took place in the Malacca Strait near Singapore. It was 2240 hrs and Seaman Poole was looking at rain squalls on his radar screen when he insisted to the point of insubordination that an image, way out of range, was a ship. Atmospheric conditions had greatly increased the range of the ships radar. The ship was the Heavy Cruiser HAGURO of 13000 tons, armed with 10 8" guns and was on a course for Singapore. The following is an extract from the book by John Winton, The Sinking of the Haguro. The book is badly written, or proof read, and needed drastic amendments in order to present this small extract.
Haguro, a 10,980-ton (standard displacement) Myoko class heavy cruiser, was built at Nagasaki, Japan. She was commissioned in April 1929 and served until 1933 with the Fourth Squadron (Sentai) and after that with the Fifth Sentai. During the years prior to the Pacific War the cruiser operated in Japanese home waters and off China, taking part in peacetime manoeuvres. She carried troops to China in 1932 and in 1937. During the latter year, as Japan and China began open warfare, Haguro participated in blockade, patrol and landing operations along the Chinese coast. In 1935-1936 and again in 1939 Haguro was in shipyard hands for modifications. Among other things, this work significantly enhanced her torpedo armament, improved her antiaircraft gun batteries and altered her aircraft handling arrangements. Though her combat power was thus improved, her beam and displacement were also increased, resulting in a modest decrease in maximum speed. In 1940 and 1941 Haguro actively took part in the Japanese fleet's preparations for war against the United States and other Western powers. She was sent to the Palau Islands in November 1941 and, after the Pacific War began in December, participated in landings in the Philippines. During the first few months of 1942 she took part in the conquest of the Netherlands East Indies and played an important role in the Battle of the Java Sea. Haguro was also present, with the Japanese main aircraft carrier force, during the Battle of the Coral Sea in May. In the next month's Battle of the Midway, she was part of the Midway Occupation Force.
In late August she took part in the Battle of the Eastern Solomon's, first of the Guadalcanal Campaign's two aircraft carrier actions. In January-February 1943, as that long struggle neared its end, Haguro provided distant cover for Japan's successful effort to evacuate its troops from Guadalcanal. She was in the Northern Pacific in May and June 1943, returned south as the Allies moved into the Central Solomon's and fought in the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay at the beginning of November. As part of the First Mobile Fleet, Haguro took part in the June 1944 Battle of the Philippine Sea. On 24-25 October she was in action in the Sibuyan Sea and off Samar, two of the components of the Battle of Leyte Gulf. In 1945 Haguro was stationed at Singapore, from which she carried out supply and transport missions. In the early hours of 16 May 1945 she was intercepted by five British destroyers while conducting such an operation to evacuate the Andaman Islands, in the eastern Bay of Bengal. Haguro was hit by three torpedoes and sunk, with the loss of about three-quarters of her crew of some 1200 officers and men.
The 293 PPI screen had been showing the smudges and blotches of rain-squall echoes all evening. At 10.40 Poole was plotting one particular squall when he noticed, inside the spreading main echo, the hard bright dot of a solid target. He tried to plot it, but at that extreme range, values were only guesses. ‘Bridge, Plot.’ Poole’s voice crackled over the broadcast. ‘Bridge?’ ‘This is Plot, sir. Is there any land bearing zero-four-five?’ ‘Negative. The nearest land on that bearing is Burma. Looks like a squall!’ ‘Plot, roger.’ Poole carried on plotting the target echo. There was no doubt, it was a good solid target. At 10.50 he reported to the bridge again. ‘Bridge, Plot, I have a good solid echo on that bearing, sir. Bearing zero-four-five, range sixty-eight thousand yards, sir.’ There was a pause, and Poole knew what they were thinking on the bridge. Sixty-eight thousand yards, or thirty-four miles, was well outside the normal range of the 293 set. ‘Plot, Bridge. Investigate.’ ‘Plot, roger.’ At 11 pm Poole made another report. ‘Echo zero-four-three, range fifty-four thousand yards.’ At last the bridge awoke to the possibility of a real target and in Poole’s own words, ‘there was panic’. The broadcast speaker reverberated with requests for ranges, bearings, speeds and courses. Overwhelmed, Poole turned in his seat and asked the first person he saw, who happened to be the Chief Torpedo Instructor, to go down and shake his two fellow watch keepers below. It seemed to Poole an age before they appeared and all the while the bridge was clamouring for more information. At 11.02 the bearing was 042°, range still 54,000 yards.
When Brien and Smith arrived in the AIC they were accompanied by the Leading Radar Operator and the Radar Mechanic, who were both sceptical of Poole’s contact because there was no corresponding echo on the main set PPJ. Poole was pushed protesting aside, while his seniors adjusted his set. The echo promptly vanished at 11.04. Poole exchanged some hot and hard words with the leading hand, but then, realizing what he had said, he said no more. But he did succeed in getting his seat back. No sooner had he readjusted his set than it recognized ‘his master’s touch’ on the knobs and the echo reappeared at 11.10. The bearing was now 039°, range 53,000 yards. If this was a cloud, then it was behaving in a most remarkably purposeful manner. The contact was confirmed as a surface echo by the Radar Officer, Lieutenant Paxton, RCNVR, at 11.11. From 11.15 onwards the echo’s progress was reported every minute. At twenty past, Poole was able to give a course and speed. ‘Course one-three-five, speed two-five, sir. Commander de Chair now allocated the contact a genuine echo code number ‘Jig 541’ and at 11.22 made by TBS to Saumarez the first enemy report: Venus to D.26, Jig five-four-one zero-four-zero (bearing), two-three (twenty-three miles), Queen one-three-five (course) Roger two-five (speed). Captain Power was as sceptical as De Chair had been and at once replied: ‘Interrogative Jig five-four-one Popeye’ which meant ‘Question whether your Jig might be a cloud (Popeye).’ De Chair replied that he did not think it was a cloud and at 11.32 the Plot reported that the Jig appeared to be altering to starboard. At 11.38, Venus passed the new target course, one seven-zero: nearly due south, and steering even closer to the flotilla. Just as Power had forecast, the enemy was now heading directly for Singapore after sunset, with no idea that destroyers might be between them and home. There was still no corresponding echo on any other radar set in the flotilla, but at 11.45 Captain Power allocated the destroyers their lettered sectors for a ‘star’ attack and signalled an enemy sighting report to Colombo. Three minutes later the echo faded from Venus’ screen. The same meteorological phenomenon which had betrayed Haguro by extending Venus’ radar range now helped to shield her. Venus’ scan had been stopped and locked on Haguro’s bearing, being trained fractions of a degree as necessary by hand, to give continuous readings of the target. The full sweep was started again, but the strip of light sweeping round and round on the orange surface now showed nothing but the rain clouds and the flotilla. Haguro had disappeared as completely as though she had dived like a submarine. At 11.55 Captain Power ordered Venus to close her target. He now had no doubt that this was the target and Ordinary Seaman Poole, who had had the courage of his convictions in De Chair’s words ‘almost to the point of insubordination’, had been completely vindicated. As Venus swung away to head for her target, Saumarez also picked up the echo for the first time, at three minutes after midnight. The bearing was 0100, range 14 miles. Power was resting briefly in his sea cabin, heard the report over the broadcast and went down to the Action Information Centre (AIC) to study the plot. Comparison with Venus’ plot showed that this was their target too. The contact plots coincided almost exactly. A minute later, Venus had ‘her’ echo again—bearing 035°, range 35,500 yards. When Venus lost her contact, Power turned his destroyers due northwards, speed 20 knots, to close the target. Although he had already located sectors and sent off an enemy report, he was still not certain of their target’s intentions. To spread the flotilla between the enemy and the coast, and to put it in a position to encircle him from the south-west, Power ordered the 51st Division, of Vigilant and Verulam, to form on a line of bearing 070° from Saumarez. After a few minutes Power saw Virago edging in too close for his comfort to Saumarez’ port quarter and ordered her to steer more to the westward to equalize the gap that had appeared between Saumarez and Venus. As soon as Saumarez had the contact on radar, Power turned his ships together due south and reduced speed to 12 knots, to allow the enemy to catch up, and to give the destroyers a better chance of reaching their attacking sectors around the enemy. It was, in fact, just like laying a net in front of an advancing quarry and waiting for him to rush into it. Now that Saumarez also had the contact on her radar screen, Captain Power could look at the whole situation as it developed on the Plot in Saumarez’ AIC. The small, dimly red-lit compartment was packed with men, radar screens, instruments, telephones, voice-pipes and equipment, and dominated by the main Plot in the centre. It was uncomfortably hot at Action Stations, with barely room to move about. Besides Captain Power himself, there was the Flotilla Navigating Officer, Lieutenant C. H. H. Knollys, as Plotting Officer; Lieutenant Reay Parkinson; Lieutenant M. Marwood, the Communications Officer; Lieutenant D. Stobie, the Flotilla Torpedo Officer; Sub-Lieutenant (SP) J. P. Gardiner, the Action Cypher Officer; Writer Alan Parsons, keeping the Action Narrative; a Leading Seaman as Principal Plotter, and other seamen and radar plotters, manning telephones to the bridge, to the torpedo tubes and the bridge sights; another torpedo rating on the firing panel, plus many sailors for target indication, gun liaison operators, communications numbers in constant touch with the Gun Control Director, the Transmitting Station and the Principal Control Officers. It was a hubbub of commands and reports, no matter how hard Captain Power and Parkinson tried to keep the noise level down.
Power, with Parkinson and Knollys, had chosen their own AIC teams and managed to keep them together, so that they under stood and trusted each other. They had redesigned the lay-out of the AIC compartment and the positioning of the various speakers, recorders, displays and tables. They had practised it all more times than they could remember, rehearsed it and rehearsed it again until they could all recite their parts by rote. Now they were, they hoped, just about to see the results of all their preparations and hard work. Most of the AIC ratings were ‘hostilities only’ men, absorbed in their own immediate duties. But Power, Parkinson, Stobie, Knollys and Marwood were all regular RN officers and even at the height of the action could still preserve a residue of professional detachment. Whatever happened, they would still be professionally curious to see whether their theories worked in practice. Had they done the drills the right way and, if not, how should they be changed? Also in the AIC throughout the action were the ship’s mascots, Minnie the cat and an Alsatian pup called Punch. ‘They were both quite unperturbed by the noise,’ Knollys told the Times of Ceylon afterwards, ‘as they are well accustomed to action by now. Minnie was marking the positions on the chart with her paw regularly every four minutes.’ Lieutenant Calnan has left a description of Saumarez’ officers as the ship went into battle. ‘The Operations Room crew, silent, strained and apprehensive: the bridge crew much happier, out in the open where a man is much braver, but still strained and jumpy. My Captain, massively imperturbable as ever, standing on the compass platform with one enormous arm resting on top of the pelorus, a giant figure in white overalls, anti-flash gloves and hood, silent too, but grinning with joyful anticipation like a naughty boy. He indeed had the joy of battle to come strong in him, and his example was contagious—to some of us. I do believe that only three of us felt, or outwardly showed, that indescribable exhilaration of the prospect of action: my Captain, Reay Parkinson, smiling like a black Cheshire Cat, devil’s eyebrows hooked like a clown’s leaning like a fat sack over the chart table in the operations room, purring with satisfaction as he watched his plot develop. I myself was just plain over-excited. But the others, terribly British and very brave, pretending to be unemotional, calm and faintly bored. I could not understand their attitude, then or now.’ Events began now to slot into place, as Power and his flotilla officers had always hoped and dreamed. At 12.07 the enemy’s course was estimated at 1700, probably zigzagging, speed 20 knots, and all five destroyers were steaming in front of her, waiting for her to catch up. At 12.15, when the range was thirteen miles, the flotilla altered course back to north. As they closed, the radar scans at this time presented a picture, the flotilla bearing down on the enemy in a deep crescent with the tips of the horns about to complete his encirclement’.
Venus’ various man had left her to the northward of the rest and at 12.25 Captain Power allocated new attacking sectors, giving Venus Sector George, to the north-west. At 12.39 he signalled to the flotilla that he intended to attack at 1 am. This gave the others a datum time at which to try and coordinate their own attacks. Captain Power ordered the torpedoes to be set to run at a mean depth of 9 feet, so that they could also hit the enemy destroyer (and also, of course, Power’s own destroyers, if attacks should become uncoordinated). The destroyer had not yet actually been detected, but Power was assuming she had still stayed in company since the last aircraft sighting. One by one the other destroyers, Verulam at 12.25, then Virago, and finally Vigilant whose radar set had been giving trouble, at 12.35, picked up the target, and Venus was at last able to discontinue continue transmitting enemy reports. It was nearly two hours since Norman Poole had picked up that first incredible, faintly scoffed at target echo, and he had been tracking ever since. He well deserved the DSM he was awarded after the action. At about 12.45, when the enemy’s range had come down to ten miles, he seemed suddenly to become aware of possible danger and swung away first to the west and then, manoeuvring freely, back towards his mean course shortly afterwards, a range of nine miles, the target echo split and a second, much smaller, echo could be seen close astern of the first. This was Kamikaze, a venerable little destroyer, of 1,400 tons, launched in September, 1922, and now commanded by Lieutenant-Commander Kinichi Kasuga; originally she had had a speed of some 37 knots and could still make 34 in May, 1945. She was armed with three 4.7-inch guns in single turrets, thirteen 25 mm and three single 13 mm anti-aircraft guns. She also carried eighteen depth-charges. Three twin torpedo tubes, originally fitted, had been removed in 1945, possibly to make room for increased AA armament.
It seemed very probable that Haguro’s radar had picked up echoes ahead at that range of about ten miles. Sugiura would not expect danger from the south from surface ships. The echo or echoes would probably have been classified as surfaced submarines and the free manoeuvring might well have been an exaggerated anti-submarine zigzag around a mean course of south. At 12.49 Captain Power signalled Venus and Virago to ‘close the enemy’ and both ships went to ‘Full Ahead’ together. Saumarez herself was still well placed for her own attack which Power intended to be from the enemy’s starboard bow. The enemy’s course was now about 1600. Saumarez altered to close the enemy as well at 20 knots, and at a range of about six miles Power left the Plot and went up to the bridge. As he said, ‘The timing of the move from Plot to bridge is always a subject of controversy. This one turned out right, because although I did miss personal observation of important tactical developments in the Plot I had time to settle down comfortably on the bridge before the action developed’. At 12.50, Power felt that ‘the situation was entirely in accordance with plan. The net was spread and the quarry, with little encouragement, was walking straight into it.’ But it was all a little too perfect to be true. Only four minutes after Captain Power was experiencing such satisfied feelings, Haguro turned right round to starboard and, obviously now thoroughly alarmed, set off to the north-west, increasing speed as she went. Kamikaze made a wide sweep out to the east and then turned sharply back to the west towards Haguro’s starboard quarter. Power’s carefully laid plans for a nice, calculated bow shot were ruined. As soon as the Plot reported the enemy’s change of course, Power ordered full ahead and began to chase after his enemy at 30 knots. He later reproached himself for the delay feeling that he should himself have noticed sooner that the range had stopped coming down and begun to open again. At that time radar operators did not amplify their reports with any words such as ‘closing’, ‘opening’ or ‘steady’. A captain listening to a monotonous stream of radar reports, without acknowledging each one, tended to get semi-hypnotized by the operator’s voice. At any rate, Power now found himself with a high speed stern chase, and, in what he called a moment of irritation, he signalled the flotilla: ‘Am unable to attack now’, which, he said afterwards, ‘was an extremely silly signal to make. It could be no conceivable use to anyone and could only, and in fact did, cause confusion in the minds of some Commanding Officers’.
Haguro had indeed detected the 26th Destroyer Flotilla at about the time she was seen on the destroyers’ radar screens to make a violent alteration of course to the west. From 5 pm on wards that afternoon Haguro had been receiving urgent reports from Sabang and Sumatra, ‘Many cruisers and destroyers in sight’, and ‘Many ships including aircraft carriers and battleships rushing into Malacca Strait’. At dusk, Rear-Admiral Hashimoto, the 5th Cruiser Squadron commander, who was on board, ordered Captain Sugiura to make for the Malacca Strait, just as Power had forecast she probably would. Haguro was fast enough to outrun pursuit, given her head start, and would certainly have done so, but for the caution of her Navigating Officer, Commander Ota. He was new to the ship, having only just joined before she left Singapore; possibly he was new to the Malacca Strait as well. With the lack of navigational aids in the Strait, he was not confident enough of avoiding the Japanese minefields off Singapore by night and preferred to arrive after dawn. Thus Haguro’s speed was reduced to 24 knots until midnight, and 21 knots thereafter. This, unfortunately for Haguro, gave Power’s destroyers the leeway to catch up. Hashimoto and Sugiura agreed with Ota and signalled their intentions ahead to Singapore. They did not ask for air cover, knowing (significantly) that it would not be forth coming. It was curious how both sides weighed the same factors and reached roughly the same conclusions. Hashimoto, Sugiura and their staffs estimated, quite correctly, that any pursuing force would catch up at about 1 am on 16 May. But they hoped that the pursuing ships might turn back at midnight, having by then sighted nothing and knowing that if they carried on they might find themselves too close to the coast of Malaya at dawn. On passage down to the Malacca Strait Haguro’s ship’s company were in three watches with a third of the crew on watch at a time, and the rest stood down. Very few of Haguro’s officers survived the action. One account of the last hours on her bridge is from Lieutenant-Commander Isamu Motora, a communications officer whose action station was on the bridge, assisting the Captain. Motora was sound asleep on his bunk at the rear of the bridge when the alarm was sounded at 12.50 am. Motora rushed to the bridge and found Admiral Hashimoto and Captain Sugiura already there, staring ahead through their binoculars. The officer of the watch was just leaving the bridge to go to his own action station, the Captain having taken control of the ship.
According to Motora’s account, that officer of the watch had been guilty of gross negligence. He was a veteran on board, having been in Haguro for more than two years, but had failed to warn the captain until far too late. Haguro’s radar had detected the enemy destroyers at 20,000 metres range, or over ten miles. Bridge lookouts had reported the destroyers in sight at 18,000 metres, or more than nine miles (the Japanese had demonstrated their truly superb night vision in dozens of actions in the Pacific sea war). But, according to Motora, the officer of the watch had taken no action and when Motora joined his senior officers at the front of the bridge, he was horrified and dumbfounded to see, as they could, four destroyers strung out in a line in front of Haguro, and only just 6,000 metres away (Venus, the fifth, was then astern, on Haguro’s starboard quarter). The destroyers were to the south west and south-east of Haguro and between her and Singapore. Haguro had run right into the trap. After a moment’s staggered silence, Sugiura ordered the helm hard-a-starboard and gave the order for the main armament to open fire on the port-hand destroyer. Hashimoto now ordered Sugiura to head for Penang (exactly the outcome Commodore Searle had foreseen), but first they would have to deal with the destroyers. Haguro’s dash to the north took her towards Venar, who had been astern of her. Suddenly, De Chair could see the cruiser silhouetted by lightning, closing rapidly, moving right. Radar had also picked up Kamikaze abeam of Haguro. De Chair planned to pass between Haguro and the destroyer and attack from Haguro’s starboard bow. Tubes were brought to the ready and at 1.06 am de Chair signalled ‘Attacking’. ‘The First Lieutenant, as Gunnery Control Officer, was on the bridge with me, and the Sub-Lieutenant was below in charge of the Plot until required to fire torpedoes from the bridge. Shortly before the time ordered to attack, he reported that the range was closing rapidly, with a small echo to the left of the big one. Clearly the cruiser had spotted our destroyers ahead, turned round and was coming towards us at a relative speed of about 60 knots with a destroyer on her starboard beam. I told the First Lieutenant we would aim to pass between the two ships and fire our torpedoes at the cruiser as we passed. I hoped that in the resulting confusion the two enemy ships might fire at each other.’
Meryon, the First Lieutenant, was looking at Haguro through his binoculars, ‘She looked huge to me when we passed on opposite courses. I recall that we were a good deal closer than the 4,000 yards referred to in later reports because I am certain I had a sighting of her at one stage in my 1900A binoculars and the ship took up the full width of the binocular vision. I feel sure at that point her guns were still trained fore and aft.’ Meanwhile, De Chair got ready for his attack. ‘I ordered the Sub-Lieutenant to come up on the bridge and prepare to fire torpedoes, and reported ‘Attacking’. We could see the cruiser ahead with night glasses and were obviously going to be in a perfect position to fire torpedoes on the beam at very close range. When nearing the firing position I said to the Torpedo Control Officer, “Are you ready, Sub ?“ but received no answer. By this time the enemy was very close, about 450 on our bow, her two funnels filled my glasses and I repeated, “Are you ready, Sub?” He said in a quiet voice, “We’ve missed it, sir.” He had angled the torpedoes ahead, in spite of my order for straight running on the beam, and it was too late to alter the settings. Short of ramming the cruiser, or possibly fouling Saumarez or Verulam somewhere astern of her, I had no alternative but to turn to port, which I did under full helm, to try and prevent the Jap from breaking out of our circle. Evidently he saw us turn and, assuming we had fired torpedoes, turned away to comb the tracks. This threw him back into the arms of Captain “D” and Verulam. Haguro was now racing southwards back towards Saumarez again. Saumarez’ First Lieutenant, Lieutenant Tony Tyers, was aft, at his action station in charge of the two after guns, so placed, as he told his wife in a somewhat unreassuring letter, ‘so that if anything happens to the bridge team, there would be someone with a bit of experience left to get the remains home, so you can visualize me standing in a position open to all four winds with very little to hide behind! From the time we felt the engines increase speed, just after the announcement that we were going to attack, there was a complete silence among the guns’ crews, and I think it was pretty general throughout the ship. ‘I could hear over another loudspeaker the ranges and bearings of the enemy being passed to the bridge, and as the range closed, so we held our breaths, waiting for a salvo of 8-inch to come hurtling towards us; and so the range shortened, complete silence, except for the voice on the loudspeaker saying “8,000 yards, sir, 7,000 yards, sir”. I wonder what everyone was thinking—but still the dramatic silence held as the ship rushed at full speed closer and closer to the enemy, who was lit up by lightning flashes, but even without those you could see the cruiser by this time as a large black blob on the horizon.’ Once again Power’s attacking plan had been disrupted. His bow shot had turned to a stern chase and back to a head-on shot again, with the enemy tearing towards him at over 60 mph. Knollys could see the whole picture from the tracks on the Plot in front of him. ‘It was like a net closing in,’ he said, ‘and we were expecting the quarry to begin snapping at any moment. In spite of the very close ranges, not a shot had been fired, and it seemed uncanny to be chasing this silent and so far invisible monster around his own backyard without once being bitten.
‘Events from now on began to move pretty fast. From the bridge the enemy destroyer’s bow wave was suddenly seen ahead.’ Saumarez’ manoeuvring had taken her out of her proper sector, Sector ‘Dog’, and into Vigilant’s Sector ‘Baker’ but Power was quite oblivious of this fact. ‘At the time I had forgotten all about sectors, other ships, or anything else except the urgent need to close the enemy.’ Power saw Kamikaze ahead, saw that the two ships were converging rapidly and that Kamikaze was well placed to fire torpedoes. Instinctively he gave the order, ‘hard-a starboard!’ to pass under the enemy destroyer’s stern, and Kamikaze slid rapidly down Saumarez’ port side. Not so rapidly, however, as to get off scot-free. ‘The next few moments were confused but exciting,’ wrote Calnan. ‘The enemy destroyer reappeared under our port bow, and as she passed close down our port side at more than fifty knots relative speed, the Bofors raked her from stem to stern. ‘Above the growl and groan of the stabilized mounting, always level in spite of the heel and slew of the ship, I heard my layer yelling wordlessly as he depressed the gun and stamped on the pedal: then the shells streamed out in a hosepipe sweep, the tracers hitting along her whole length—no ricochets on this soft target.’ Kamikaze had been sighted at only 3,000 yards range but she had been tracked and held by Saumarez’ gunnery radar, and as Sawnarez wheeled to starboard ‘A’ gun (the only one able to fire, ‘B’ gun being loaded with star shell) opened fire under radar control, shifting to visual after two salvoes, as soon as the layer could see the approaching destroyer. As Saumarez turned to port again to cross Kamikaze’s stern ‘A’ gun would no longer bear, but later claimed three hits in the short time it had been in action. Kamikaze’s own 4 7-inch guns appeared to be still trained fore and aft as she raced past and a signal lamp could be seen flashing frantically from her upper bridge, as though astounded at this unwarranted and unfair assault. Kamikaze at last got her guns into action, though possibly only close range weapons, as she passed off Saumarez’ port quarter, but took no further part in the action and nobody saw her definitely again. Haguro was much more alert and opened with 5-inch star shell which illuminated Saumarez in a brilliant glow. Saumarez herself also opened with star shell from ‘B’ gun at 1.08 am. Power now got his first clear look at his enemy. ‘She looked pretty big and her direction was easy to see by her bow wave and wash. Inclination vague but obviously broad. I thought she was going very fast. Her side was shining like a wet wall, with the reflection of her own star shell from behind us, I think.’
As soon as he saw her, Power realized his tubes were trained out on the wrong side, i.e. to starboard, from the previous frustrated approach. Power might have thought that ‘foresight and providence should have prompted me to train the tubes to port as soon as the Plot reported the cruiser going left. To have done so would have made the shot far easier and would have exposed the ship far less’. But this would have been a policy of perfection and as there was no time to train the tubes round, Power decided to swing his whole ship round to port, ‘like a shot-gun’. ‘I was just considering turning to fire when our boiler got hit. There was a lot of steam and smoke amidships and a sort of queer silence. The ship was obviously slowing down and I thought she was going to stop. Enemy was still right ahead. The prime requirement being to get the torpedoes away, I went port 25 to get round before we lost way and told the Torpedo Firing Officer to stand by. ‘In fact, owing to the use of the unit system, the starboard screw was still heaving round full speed, and with this and the wheel the ship slewed round very quickly. Just as the sights were coming on a very heavy shell splash arrived on the bridge, the bulk of it falling on the TFO and his sight. Before he could come up for air it was obviously time to fire, and I ordered “Fire One” by eye from the binnacle (this had been practised frequently). The rest were fired automatically by interval. The TFO surfaced in time to see the enemy crossing his centre prong at about the 3rd or 4th torpedo. ‘As soon as the fish had all gone wheel was put hard over and telegraphs to “full” with a view to as quick a getaway as possible. Smoke was also made and was effective, the ship being steadied with smoke lying fine on the starboard quarter but as salvoes were still pitching close on the starboard beam I altered a little to port and looking aft along the port side, saw the cruiser hit at that time. ‘The hits were very distinct, three gold coloured splashes like a Prince of Wales’ feathers, more than twice as high as her bridge. She did not fire any more.’
It may have appeared to Power that Haguro was no longer firing, but she certainly was. Calnan and his Bofors crew were under no misapprehensions about that. ‘All this time I had been conscious that the familiar crack of our 4 7s and the thump, thump, thump of my own guns were being blotted out by a gigantic hammering storm of tremendous noise, drowning all speech and sense. Haguro was firing on us, point-blank, with her main armament, opening with a full ten-gun broadside. ‘At this moment I had forgotten her existence, and could not comprehend why great waterfalls of water were erupting before and behind me. Haguro’s salvoes were pitching close aboard, short and over, and the tons of water thrown up were swamping the upper deck so that our position was awash up to the lids of the ready-use lockers.’ Haguro’s main armament was firing by radar control, and very accurately, with a spread of seldom more than 200 yards per salvo Haguro’s size. ‘She seemed to tower above us like a skyscraper and her guns were depressed to their lowest angle.’ Petty Officer L. G. Finch, who actually fired the torpedoes, saw ‘a sheet of white flame which enveloped the ship from stem to stern, as well as internal fires which made her glow.’ The 5-inch shell in No 1 Boiler Room penetrated the boiler, although Stoker P0 ‘Spud’ Yates in charge of the boiler room watch then, did not realize that at first. ‘I saw what appeared to be a flash on the main steam pipe. Amazing how vivid the impression is yet. I didn’t discover that the shell had actually penetrated the boiler until much later. It’s a good job it did otherwise I don’t think I would be writing this. Immediately steam began to fill the boiler room at a temperature of somewhere around 500°F. Leading Stoker Pincher Marten, the water-tender, was nearest the point of impact, being on the gratings practically level with the top of the boiler. Leading Stoker Ginger Elliott was watch keeper on the diesel generator (always running at action stations) which was on the port side of the boiler room, the side where the shell penetrated. He, poor devil, received the full blast of the escaping steam. I should imagine he died instantly. Stoker Daniel Hendren was on the plates, as I was. ‘The very first thing that came into my head was to keep the steam away from us. The only way to do this was to open wide the throttle to the fans supplying forced draught air to the boiler room. This I did and at the same time shouted a warning to the others. Naval procedure would have been for me to say, “Evacuate the boiler room” but I just shouted, “Look out!” Marten under stood and made rapidly for the emergency hatch on the starboard side of the boiler room deck-head. Elliott was slumped in a corner by the diesel and Hendren was on his knees on the plates, the steam already beginning to choke him. I was lucky, being directly under the intake of air from the fan. It would have been impossible for me to carry either Elliott or Hendren out of the boiler room as both were pretty hefty lads and the ladders leading upwards to the deck were far too steep. It was a case of getting away from the deadly searing steam in order to breathe and this I did. The thought of fire then crossed my mind and I went to the secondary position in the fan flat (above the boiler room) and shut down the steam supply to the oil fuel pump and heaters. I then reported to damage control who then informed the bridge that No 1 Boiler Room was out of action. We couldn’t raise the engine room on the telephone so I went back amidships and informed Commander (E) Robins personally. I remember how hot the deck plates over the boiler room were, because somewhere along the line I had lost my shoes and was walking in my stocking feet.’
Haguro’s preoccupation with Saumarez had allowed Verulam to run in and make her attack unobserved, and without a finger laid on her. At first Douglas Bromley had thought he was closing too fast and had altered course out to the eastward. When Power signalled that he could not attack at 1 am Bromley was given more time to gain position. By 1.03 Verulam was closing her target again at a relative speed of over 50 knots. Haguro was actually sighted at about 1.09, range 8,000 yards, bearing Green (starboard) 30, inclination about 150 degrees left. Verulam’s tubes were trained to port and Bromley altered course to bring Haguro right ahead, having decided to fire on opposite courses. At 13 minutes past, Verulam began to turn to starboard to fire, with Haguro now closing ‘alarmingly fast’. Torpedoes were fired at 1.14, range on firing just below 2,000 yards. Haguro was also engaged by gunfire during the turn, Verulam getting off a few salvoes before completing her firing turn and, retiring at 30 knots. Some 90 seconds after firing, Bromley saw three explosions and claimed three hits. (Subsequently those three hits were shared between Verulam and Saumarez.) Verulam then reduced speed and steered out to the north-east to cut off the Japanese destroyer if she tried to break for Penang. All Verulam’s AIC crew had come rushing up on deck "to see the fun" and when he had collected himself after the attack and saw them, Bromley drove them all down below again to get on with their job and Verulam had a ‘short but troublesome time sorting out who was who on the radar screen’. The position was very confused but, significantly, by 1.20 Bromley reported that there were only five echoes on Verulam’s screens, four of the flotilla and the wreck of Hagura. In Haguro, Motora was searching the sea on the port side through binoculars when he heard the look-out shouting ‘Torpedo tracks!’ Haguro was actually turning to starboard at full speed when the torpedoes hit her port side, abreast of the three forward 8-inch gun turrets. Motora saw all three turrets burst into flame from internal fires, as the ship listed quickly over to 30° to port and stayed there. Speed fell off rapidly to 16—18 knots. All electric power had failed and all guns went silent. After a short time the two after 8-inch turrets and some of the AA guns began firing again (possibly, thought Motora, operating in manual control) but their fire was scattered, uncoordinated and, according to Motora, ineffective.
In the heat of the moment, everybody on Haguro’s bridge had quite forgotten Kamikaze who was trailing only 300 metres astern. Haguro’s sudden turns and reduction in speed caused Kamikaze almost to collide with her. Kamikaze shot past Haguro and then began to circle her. The men on Haguro’s bridge were only reminded of Kamikaze when they saw her abeam of them, and Admiral Hashimoto ordered her to Penang, in Motora’s words, ‘without concern to Haguro’. In the meantime Sugiura ordered smoke but as Haguro was by now almost stopped the smoke rose vertically and ineffectually into the air. After another torpedo hit, the engine room ‘went silent’, and the ship stopped. Haguro was now under fire from both sides. Everyone on her bridge crouched low behind the bridge plating under a hail of splinters and close range shells. One 4.7 inch scored a direct hit on Haguro’s bridge, killing Admiral Hashimoto and most of the bridge officers and crew instantaneously. Motora and another officer, a paymaster, survived, miraculously unharmed. Captain Sugiura also survived but was very badly wounded in the stomach. For a while Motora lay unconscious under the wreckage of the bridge until the impact of another torpedo hit brought him to his senses. Haguro was stopped, listing further to port, with some of her close-range weapons still in action, but only sporadically, as individual crews were able to load and fire them. Captain Power never saw Kamikaze again after she passed down his port side but he did see and hear a ‘biggish explosion’ over on his port beam. Over in Venus, Midshipman Robathan saw ‘a huge mushroom of red flame billowing up into black smoke, followed by a dying down to a red glow, which remained and pinpointed the enemy cruiser until she sank. We thought it was Saumarez who simultaneously reported that she was hit, but our fears were soon allayed when we were told that it was the cruiser and fire, especially 8-inch, ceased to come from her’. Virago and Vigilant also saw the explosion and thought it was Saumarez. Power himself ‘did not give it much thought at the time, rather assuming that it must be one of the flotilla in trouble, as I had lost track of the enemy destroyer. The rest of the flotilla saw it and apparently eagerly assumed that this marked the end of yet another dictator. Such was happily not the case’. The explosion was almost certainly two torpedoes colliding and mutually detonating. Everywhere Haguro turned there seemed to be another destroyer waiting for her. The torpedo hits reported by Motora were very probably those fired by Venus and Virago, who were next to attack. Venus had missed her first chance due to a number of factors: the Sub-Lieutenant had stayed too long down in the AIC, where he was apparently the only officer available to sum up the chances of a torpedo attack and inform de Chair. The lighting in the AIC was too bright, so that the Sub was night-blind for some time after reaching the bridge (in contrast to Saumarez, where Power insisted on minimum lighting and himself had gone up to the bridge and easily accustomed himself to the dark without the aid of red goggles). Finally, when Venus missed her bow shot, De Chair was preoccupied with trying to turn the ship to bring the sights on rather than changing the angling of the torpedoes.
Venus now, however, made up for previous errors and omissions. Having turned away to the north-west, Venus started to gain bearing on Haguro who was soon abeam. Venus opened fire with main armament and soon began hitting with all four guns at a range of just over 6,000 yards. They could see that Haguro was on fire aft. Venus reduced speed and soon came under some inaccurate fire from Haguro. By radar, Venus’ gunnery seemed very effective. The Chief Gunner’s Mate later told De Chair that sitting in the Transmitting Station he could ‘see’ Venus’ salvoes hitting and also the enemy’s shells apparently hitting Venus, causing him to duck involuntarily in his seat every time. Venus was surrounded by shell splashes but was fortunately not hit. After a few salvoes, ‘A’ gun in Venus suffered a misfire. The gun’s captain Able Seaman J. Greenhaigh ordered the mounting cleared of ready-use ammunition and told the rest of the gun’s crew to stand back whilst he opened the breech and assisted by AB A. M. Dawson withdrew the misfired cartridge. The gun was in action again after three minutes, instead of the thirty minutes laid down in the gunnery manual. ‘B’ gun, firing star shell, jammed on the 12th round leaving Leading Seaman Marshall, the captain of the gun, disconsolately watching ‘A’, ‘X’ and ‘Y’, in Robathan’s words, ‘to do all the bashing with SAP later on. There then followed some very pretty shooting with ‘A’ gun from 6,000 yards to 2,000 yards and getting a deuce of a lot of hits. Towards the end when the cruiser was stopped and we just blazed away from about 1,500 yards and hitting every time. It was good to watch the shell go surely on its way and one could say whether it was going to hit or not before it got there. We fired 40 odd SAP and we reckon on 60% hits at least. Robathan had been officer of the quarters at ‘B’ gun and, when it jammed, he realized the whole action was likely to be over in a t minutes and went up on the bridge. De Chair was delighted to see him, having been hard-pressed to pass orders to the voice-pipe through his steward. An extra officer on the bridge was invaluable and De Chair stationed Robathan by the voice-pipe to pass command orders and to keep an ear cocked for TBS messages (of which there were 365 in one hour).
For his second attack De Chair ordered torpedo depth settings of 10 to 14 feet, in accordance with the torpedo manual settings for a ship of Haguro’s size and draught. Privately De Chair had thought the nine-foot settings previously ordered endangered the flotilla themselves, a point well taken by Venus’ engine-room staff. At the height of the action, Venus’ Engineer Officer, Lieutenant (E) J. W. Galen heard a mysterious ‘whirring’ noise above the sound of the main engines. He asked the engine-room artificer at the starboard main engine throttle, ‘What do you make of that noise?’ ‘Sounds like a torpedo going up the ship’s side, sir!’ A few seconds later Galen heard a second similar ‘whirring’ noise. When he offered a cigarette to Chief Engine Room Artificer S. J. Perrett, his hands were shaking so much he could hardly hold the packet. He apologized for his nerves, but the Chief said ‘That’s not nerves, sir, that’s just excitement!’ Venus went in for her second attack at 1.24 and fired a salvo of six torpedoes in local control, range 2,500 yards. At 1.30 De Chair put the helm over to turn away under cover of smoke after he thought he heard the report ‘All tubes fired’. In fact, in the noise and confusion of the action, De Chair had misheard. The report had been ‘After tubes fired’ and there were two torpedoes left in the forward tubes. When he was told this, ‘thinking of Tovey at Jutland’, De Chair headed back towards Haguro again at 1.39 but had to break off his attack when Vigilant signalled, ‘Keep clear; am attacking with torpedoes’. Meanwhile, Virago had been somewhat ‘left out in the cold’ because she initially shadowed the enemy from a range of 10 - 12 miles, lost contact and had to turn in to close and relocate the enemy. White actually sighted Haguro from Virago’s bridge as early as 1.03 am, but as Virago closed she was hampered in her approach by Venus, crowding in from the port side, and every time she tried to begin another attack her firing range, as White said, ‘was fouled by one friendly ship or another’. White twice had to change his angle of attack as he approached, so that his torpedo crews had to train the tubes to and fro, struggling to keep their balance on the deck as the ship heeled first this way and then that. Haguro’s fire had been reduced to single 5 inch shots, in local control, with occasional sporadic ripples of close range fire. At 2,500 yards range Virago fired a rocket flare which burst above and behind the enemy, showing Haguro almost stopped with a huge list of some 40° to port. In spite of her adventures, Virago’s torpedo attack was very well coordinated with Venus, as it turned out, her salvo going away at 1.27, two minutes after Venus. Only seven of Virago’s torpedoes were fired because the ship was swinging a little too fast and the torpedo sights came off the target before the eighth torpedo could be launched. But Virago was credited with two hits, and Venus one. Meanwhile, Virago’s main armament had opened fire, having been given a splendid aiming point by a rash gunner in Haguro who had fired tracer on the rocket flare. Haguro could be seen almost completely enveloped in smoke astern as Virago heeled away.
The 5-inch shell-hit amidships had thrown Saumarez into a temporary state of confusion. Communications between bridge and steering, and bridge and engine-room, had been cut. The great cloud of smoke and steam prevented those on the bridge from seeing aft and those aft from seeing forward. On the bridge, they thought that the after part of the ship had been destroyed, or at best, very badly damaged. Aft, everybody thought that the bridge bad been hit and all on it had been killed. Amidships, the Captain’s Secretary determined to take remedial action. ‘Between us (and the bridge) was a volcano of flames and steam, and the noise was paralysing. Only one thing was clear in my mind, that the bridge had been blown away, and that I must get to my emergency station, the emergency steering position just abaft the hole where the funnel had. been. So, taking my Petty Officer Writer, Raymond Pollitt, from the gun’s crew, I went forward along the catwalk. We both knew the drill by heart and within seconds we had disconnected the bridge steering and taken over the conning of the ship from our emergency steering position. The little wooden wheel came alive in my hands, and I turned and faced aft, my back to the intense heat coming from the wreckage of the funnel. I put the helm hard-a-port, more to see whether she would answer the helm than for any other reason; but Pollitt was shouting in my ear “Ram her! Ram her!”. Then a figure appeared through the steam and darkness from forward and screamed “Put it back, revert to main steering”. So we did, at once.’ In fact, the damage to Saumarez was, as Power said, ‘ridiculously small’. The exaggerated list to starboard was caused by the wheel hard-a-port, the thrust of the starboard screw and the ship’s own light state, being short of fuel; after remaining longer than expected, for some reason, the list disappeared and marvellously, Saumarez came upright again. It was thought that the gyro compass had ‘toppled’ due to the shock of the shell hits and Captain Power summoned Knollys on the bridge to ship the magnetic compass. Knollys could see the gyro compass repeater swinging rapidly but he discovered this was because Saumarez still had hard port wheel on. The gyro was in fact merely recording the actual situation; as Knollys said, ‘The ship was about to turn round in a sharp circle, with the enemy about twelve hundred yards away.’ As the steam which had filled the Low Power Electrical Machinery Compartment subsided, machines were restarted, fuses replaced, circuits reconnected. Lights came on again and life began to return to normal. Men dried out their telephone receivers, emptied water from their shoes, and realized that they were still alive and, with a little luck, might even go on living. The only damage to the ship’s fighting efficiency were some aerials which had been shot away, and the loss of No 1 Boiler Room.
Down below ‘Spud’ Yates was still in the fan flat above the boiler-room. ‘I went back to the boiler-room air lock and the ship’s doctor, Lieutenant “Mick” Evans, asked me how many men were trapped below and I told him. He gallantly tried to get down to them but was hit by the tremendous heat. He realized that there was little chance of anybody down there surviving. I was then hustled along to the sick bay by the sick berth attendant and treated for scalds. Marten was already in a cot when I got there.’ Marten and Yates were taken to hospital in Trincomalee, where Marten died of his injuries. Yates’ own ordeal by scalding kept him in hospital for some weeks, after which he rejoined Saumarez in Durban, and was later awarded a very well-won Conspicuous Gallantry Medal. Saumarez had been steaming in ‘units’, an arrangement of main machinery designed specifically to minimise precisely this kind of action damage. In action, the steam supply from No 1 Boiler Room supplied only the port main turbine and hence drove the port propeller shaft, being totally isolated from the steam supply from No 2 Boiler Room which likewise drove the starboard main turbine and the starboard propeller shaft. The two supplies could, however, be cross-connected at will ‘Spud’ Yates’ opposite number in No 2 Boiler Room shut an isolating valve on the steam pipes from the No 1 Boiler Room, while the engine-room staff cross-connected the supply from No 2 Boiler Room to both main turbines. The ship could now proceed on both shafts, albeit at a reduced speed. Meanwhile, Commander (E) Geoffrey Robins and Stoker Petty Officer Enoch Davies, of the damage control party, tackled the situation in the boiler-room. They found the shell still lodged in the boiler. Fortunately for Saumarez, the shell had only partially exploded. Its body was still intact and only the nose portion had sheared off. The damage done was astonishingly slight. A full detonation there might have broken the ship’s back. Telling the damage control parties to clear the area, Robins, with Davies’ help, manhandled the shell from inside the boiler, carried it up to the upper deck and threw it over the side. Later, the bodies of Elliott and Hendrey were recovered. Amongst those present at this very melancholy task was Leading Stoker A. M. Watson, a particular chum of Elliott’s. He had donned a smoke mask and tried to enter the boiler-room with Commander Robins and P0 Davies but had been driven back by the heat. It was in fact nearly half an hour before the boiler room had cooled enough for Robins to be able to lead the way below. Robins evidently had a somewhat diabolical sense of humour. He now rang the bridge to report an unexploded shell in the boiler, waited until his sensational news had caused the maximum furore of consternation on the bridge and Power had even ordered ‘Hands to emergency stations’, and then added: ‘But it’s all right, not to worry, we’ve thrown it over the side’. Robins’ sense of humour was evidently shared by some of his department. According to Knollys, a stoker emerged on deck at the height of the action and enquired what was up? On being told it was a Japanese cruiser, he said ‘Blimey I thought it was a junk!’ and promptly dived below again. Robins received a DSC, Enoch Davies a DSM, both very well merited.
On the bridge, Captain Power had more than his Engineer Officer’s sense of humour to occupy him. He had inadvertently left the telegraphs to ‘Full’ and Saumarez had retired some five miles to the north-west. Power had meant to allow time for the ship to collect herself and feel herself all over for injuries but not to remove himself so far from the scene. The loss of his aerials meant he now had to relay his orders through Verulam. At 1.40 he reported ‘Cruiser sinking’ to the C-in-C. At the same time, he knew the cruiser was almost gone, and he knew that Vigilant still had her full outfit of eight torpedoes left. He wanted the others to withdraw, to leave the field clear for Vigilant but, as he said, there was now ‘an apparent and possibly excusable mutiny in the flotilla’. The rest of the flotilla ‘were snarling round the carcass like a lot of starving wolves round a dying bull. I was too far away to make out what was going on and told them all except Vigilant (who I knew had torpedoes) to come away and join me, with a view to getting formed up and the situation in hand. Of course they did nothing of the sort. I should not have done myself’. At the same time, Power could not close the scene himself because the rest of the flotilla were ‘intent on firing torpedoes in unknown directions to finish off the enemy’. Vigilant had had to make a long board out to the east to get into her sector and like Virago, she had been rather cro out by other ships. Furthermore, she had been plagued all night with defects in her 293 radar presentation and in the main ARL plotting table. The radar screen was difficult to focus, so that echoes were not presented sharply enough defined to plot properly, and every time the ship heeled or altered course all the echoes disappeared. Thus for much of the time Argles was only able to get an in complete picture of events as they unfolded. At 1 am the radar set failed altogether and it was nearly a quarter of an hour before frantic work by the radar mechanics brought some response. This gap covered the crucial time of Saurnarez’ attack and when Vigilant’s radar was working again it at once showed a ship contact dead ahead. A rocket flare was fired which illuminated a ship shrouded in smoke or steam or both, obviously badly damaged and very probably enemy. Jubilantly Argles signalled, ‘Am illuminating the enemy’. Captain Power, suddenly bathed in brilliant light from Vigilant’s flare, and seeing Vigilant herself clearly advancing in a belligerent manner, replied damningly, ‘Think that is me’. At 1.30 Vigilant signalled Saumarez to ask if there was a target left and at 1.36 was told to close and sink the cruiser. Vigilant was at this time to the north of Haguro and when a star shell jammed in ‘B’ turret (one of several star shell mishaps in the flotilla that night) Vigilant asked Virago to illuminate the target. Guided by Virago’s flares, Vigilant steered south and then turned east at 1.50 to fire a full salvo of torpedoes one minute later at a now almost stationary Haguro, range about 1,800 yards. The cruiser was lying deep in the water like a sodden log, with her upper deck awash almost from end to end. To Argles’ surprise and chagrin there was no obvious sign of a hit from any of Vigilant’s torpedoes, although one of the Bofors crews reported an explosion which might have been a hit. Vigilant was credited with one probable hit, but Argles himself concluded that all theirs had missed. It was all the more surprising and galling because Vigilant’s Torpedo Firing Officer had a reputation as something of a ‘Dead Eye Dick’. He, in fact, had hit the submarine chaser with one torpedo, although she had been jinking about like a snipe at the time, during the attack on the Japanese convoy on 26 March. Vigilant had used a binocular attachment on the bridge torpedo sight, which was known to have a degree of backlash in the fitting. Although the deflection chosen was thought to cover this defect fully, Argles ruefully concluded that it had not been enough. It was not the torpedoes’ fault. They were all seen to enter the water and run on course correctly.
However, as she turned away after firing torpedoes, Vigilant opened fire with all four 4.7 inch guns and soon began to register some 60% hits under Haguro’s bridge and forward turrets, one of which caused a large internal explosion amidships. Vigilant’s midships Bofors also opened fire, spraying the forward super structure with shells. Vigilant was answered by one solitary round, probably an individual 5-inch, from Haguro. Virago now suggested switching on fighting lights. Power could have kicked himself for not thinking of it before. All his previous experience, at Matapan, Normandy and off the Norwegian coast, had shown the absolute necessity of burning fighting lights in a close confused situation. Fighting lights were shining at the flotilla’s yard-arms and the scene therefore was a little clearer when at 1.51 Power ordered Venus to ‘close and make a job of it’. The flotilla had already fired 37 torpedoes, Saumarez, Verulam and Vigilant, 8 each, Virago 7 and Venus 6, but this cruiser was clearly, as Captain Power said, ‘a very hardy specimen, still afloat after six hits’. Venus had already signalled at 1.47 that she was attacking again with her two remaining torpedoes. At 2 am Venus closed to 1,200 yards, when Haguro was dead in the water, and fired her two remaining torpedoes. From the bridge Robathan saw the detonations. ‘There was a lot of star shell in the air and it blended very well with the vivid prolonged forked lightning which went on incessantly. Although the scene was set under lowering clouds it did not rain and the visibility was good and clear. When we closed in, firing the whole time, we opened up with Bofors and their pink tracers were very spectacular as they curved towards the now stopped cruiser with its deck awash and after part covered with billowing thick black smoke. Then at last, in the light of some dozen star shell, we fired our last two fish in local control and there was a tense minute, which dragged on for hours, before one after the other, two huge grey shapes leapt into the air, looking for all the world like poplars, one hit on the stern and one on the bow.’ The news that the Japanese cruiser was going down spread in the destroyers. The bridge wings, upper decks and superstructure vantage points filled with men, all looking out over the water at Haguro’s last moments. Amongst the spectators was Norman Poole, who had rushed out on deck with the rest of Venus’ AIC crew when somebody said ‘She’s going down’. All this sound and fury, this death and destruction, had grown from a tiny bright spot of light. Venus closed to ‘within 500 yards, having ensured two more hits, and watched the Japanese cruiser sink, at the same time lowering the asdic dome which gave the operator the satisfac tion of hearing her break up under water’. At 0206 Venus signalled that the cruiser had sunk. Haguro had gone, in position 50 O’N 99030 ‘E, some 45 miles south-west of Penang.
The man least moved was Power himself ‘What did I think when she sank? The answer is not much. I knew by then she was for it and was concerned to find out how fit my own ship was, where was the enemy destroyer and was she worth searching for, and about getting back to join the fleet before running out of fuel.’ Fifty miles away Cumberland and Richelieu had seen tantalizing glimpses of star shell over the horizon at 1.15, but were too late to take part, at which as Robathan remarked, ‘There was great gnashing of teeth!’ In fact, in Cumberland, who had just missed the Battle of the River Plate in 1939, there later appeared a sardonic little ode:
Saumarez transmitted Vs for Victory and Power signalled to the flotilla: ‘Pick up survivors. Stay no more than ten minutes.’ In the end, they did not stay even ten minutes and although only a ‘few specimens’ of survivors were required, none were picked up. ‘She sank quickly,’ Robathan wrote, ‘and when we steamed through the bubbles we could see hardly anything, no survivors, perhaps a boat and just one winking light like a calcium flare. Miraculously “Lanchester” carbines appeared on “B” gun-deck all ready to discourage any saboteurs among the survivors. We had both our 20-inch searchlights on and we felt most insecure. But Vigilant saw an aircraft with lights switched on circling us (or so she said) and we got to hell out of it.’ Amongst those in the water were Motora and Captain Sugiura. Motora saw his Captain floating with other survivors but he ‘died soon’. The aircraft was almost certainly imaginary (as even Vigilant later admitted) but the flotilla were well within the range of enemy airfields and Power ‘was not taking chances and took the whole party away at once’. At 1.54, during the most hectic part of the action, Venus’ HF direction-finder operator picked up a Japanese surface unit transmitting on a bearing of 105°, with a ground wave transmission giving a range of less than 15 miles away. The message consisted of 36 words of 4-sign code and was transmitted to Singapore, bearing the highest degree of priority. It was repeated at 2.07 but at neither time was Singapore heard to give a receipt. Allied Intelligence, however, picked up fragments of a message from an unknown operator, time of origin some three hours after Haguro’s sinking. The signal described an action fought by Haguro and Kamikaze against an Allied force of two (possibly cruisers) and a destroyer in position 04°49’N 99°42’E. The message did not mention that Haguro had been sunk, but stated that one of the Japanese ships had received hits in three places, with 32 casualties, and that one of Haguro’s guns had been destroyed. The message also claimed the sinking of one Allied destroyer. This, in its way, was a fairly accurate resumed of the action up to the time when Kamikaze left the scene. The message was clearly transmitted from her, giving her version of the action.
At 2.12 am Captain Power signalled to the others, ‘Out lights. Join me at full speed.’ So ended what he later called ‘a very satisfying and enjoyable party E & OE’. ‘I remember saying during the afternoon,’ wrote Midshipman Robathan, ‘what an awful joke it would be if we sunk her on our own, without the big ships, aircraft and submarines!’ AT 2.40 AM ON 16 MAY Captain Power signalled his official report of the sinking of Haguro to the Commander-in-Chief. Repeated to Admiral Walker and Patterson, the signal was routed ‘Immediate’ and classified ‘Confidential’. ‘Enemy cruiser sunk. Enemy destroyer unaccounted for. Saumarez one boiler-room out of action. Remainder of 26th DF NOT repeat NOT damaged. My position course and speed 0O5 099°35’E—295—25 knots.’ Twenty-five knots was full power on Saumarez’ remaining boiler, with its steam supply now cross-connected to supply both main turbines.
On the bridges and in the AICs of the destroyers men were so keyed up by the tension of the action that they could not relax. It was some time before the excitement died down. All those present knew that they had just passed through one of the most climactic experiences of their whole lives. They would remember the last couple of hours, in ever increasing detail, until their dying days. Already men were going back over the moments of combat, remembering, adjusting, comparing, justifying, excusing, boasting, preparing their own memories of the action. Already, a received version of events was beginning to appear from the fog of war. Every man had a different memory, but as time went by they would all emerge with the same memories.
Wartime Map of The Region
See also here: http://www.ijn.dreamhost.com/IJN%20Wrecks/IJN%20Wrecks%20-%20Haguro.htm