Tanjong Priok photograph taken 1940.
Below: The Dutch developed the harbour late 1800s early 1900, and in 1914 built the railway system. The Rail head can be seen centre back behind harbour construction.
Captain James Cook had sailed ‘Endeavour’ into this harbour 172 years earlier, seeking repairs for his ship which had sailed from eastern Australia.
Those on the last Singapore evacuee ships that sailed to Java were either joined by further evacuees (whether wounded/civilian/military personnel) at Tanjong Priok, Java or were transferred to other hospital ships heading either for safety at either Colombo (Ceylon) or Fremantle. The hospital Ship ‘Wu Sui’ on which William Darcy O’Neill WX8828 was admitted (he had been injured in Java) departed Tanjong Priok, Batavia about 20th February 1942 for Colombo.
Up until 26th February,1942 several hospital ship convoys departed Tanjong Priok, for Fremantle or Colombo. Most were escorted through Sundra Straits and some were not. Tanjong Priok was exceptionally busy with shipping and radio contact with Dutch, American, Australian, New Zealand, English and Indonesian ships either on naval patrol/deliveries, transporting evacuees and/or military personnel from varying locations around the Islands or seeking passengers/personnel from shipping sunk or damaged by Japanese air strikes or sea attack. Most of these ships leaving Tanjong Priok appeared to have reached their intended destinations, however many did not.
Tanjong Priok harbour was finally cleared of all shipping (that was seaworthy) by 26th or 27 February 1942.
During the next few days the Battle of the Java Sea delivered a stinging loss on the Allied navies and shipping forces leading to Japanese occupation of the entire Netherlands East Indies. It was the largest sea battle since 1916 Battle of Jutland.
From the outset the Allied effort lacked cohesion with the inclusion of navies from four countries. Coordination between Allied navies and air forces was poor and all had been subjected to Japanese bombing raids and sea attack for some time.
2/4th Arthur John Charles Rowland WX17293 who had received a gunshot wound to his thigh and listed as missing in action was believed to have escaped to Sumatra. It is very likely he was picked up on a hospital convoy to Colombo where he was admitted to 2/12th Australian General Hospital. Both Rowland and O’Neill embarked on HMT Stirling for Melbourne on 13th March 1942. Whilst O’Neill was hospitalised Rowland was transported to Fremantle and eventually taken on strength with 2/3rd MGB and joined 1st Australian Gun Training Company on 6th August 1944.
On 28th Feb 1942 two ships from the defeat of the Battle of Java Sea HMAS ‘Perth’ and USS ‘Houston’ arrived at Tanjong Priok. These battle weary ships stayed five hours to replenish fuel and ammunition. Their crews had not slept for the past 30 hours.
The Port itself appeared near to defeat. Days earlier it had been subjected to heavy Japanese bombing and the inevitable was about to happen – Japanese invasion. Attempts were being made to destroy essential supplies.
The Perth crew worked with urgency during the afternoon to refuel and scrounge ammunition. The ship could only get 300 gallons of fuel – bringing her total capacity to 50% – leaving sufficient for other ships due that afternoon. Both Houston and Perth sailed with nowhere near the ammunition they required.
Perth and Houston were due to sail at 6pm but labour problems and disconnecting fuel lines put departure back to 7pm. The sirens began to wail, labourers began scattering to safety and the two ships left sailing through the minefields for an hour before reaching the open sea. Reports advised there were no Japanese fleets in the Sundra Straits! But this was not correct and these two ships were soon fighting for their lives.