USS Houston: The Galloping Ghost of the Java Coast – The Ship That Wouldn’t Sink

The Galloping Ghost of the Java Coast

Initially, the USS Houston was classed as a light cruiser in 1929, but when World War I ended, new treaties forced the United States to designate Houston as a heavy cruiser. However, ships can only go so far above their weight class before they sink.

World War II

After Pearl Harbor was attacked, it sailed for Australia to join the Allied naval force in Surabaya. It was not long before the ship had to defend itself.

On February 4, 1942, the ship’s guns were firing at the enemy in the Battle of Makassar Strait. Soon after, the ship was shielding convoy ships headed to Timor from bombers.

The gun crew fired at such a rapid place that it was said the Japanese planes were flying “into a sheet of flame.” Allied forces soon heard that the Japanese were descending upon Java with a massive force and heavy-duty surface ships.

The Allied fleets admiral gave orders to intercept the invading forces using ten destroyers and five cruisers, beginning the Battle of the Java Sea. The battle was not a successful one for the Allies.

They lost three destroyers, two light cruisers, and over 2,300 sailors. However, two ships, the USS Houston and the HMS Perth, came out of the fire fight relatively unscathed.

Both of the ships were low on ammunition and fuel and had to head back to Surabaya independently. When they hit Tanjong Priok, Indonesia, there was no fuel or ammunition to be found.

Battling the Japanese

Instead, they were told to go to the Javanese port, Tjilatjap, where they would be able to get supplies. On their way, they needed to go through the Sunda Strait.

The two ships thought the area was safe, however Japanese naval forces were in Bantam Bay. A scout on the Perth saw a Japanese destroyer, and the two attacked.

The rest of the Japanese ships encircled the USS Houston and HMS Perth, attacking them and stopping any forward movement. Perth attempted to battle through the ships, but was sunk.

At that point, the Houston was running out of ammunition. It shot off an eight-inch shell, but sunk. The Marines and sailors aboard all went to prisoner camps unil the war was over.

Throughout the remainder of February 1942, the Japanese would repeatedly radio in that they sunk the ship, to the tune of five times. Though, the ship had already been sunk.

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