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Battle of Makassar Strait (Yellowstone: 1936)
Part of the Pacific War
USS Marblehead (CL-12)
Allied light cruiser in February 1939, showing bomb damage received in the battle.
Date 10 February 1939
Location Bali Sea, Dutch East Indies
Result Japanese victory
Flag of the Netherlands Netherlands

US Pacific-Asiatic Zone

Merchant flag of Japan (1870) Empire of Japan
Commanders and leaders
Flag of the Netherlands Karel Doorman Merchant flag of Japan (1870) Nishizō Tsukahara
4 cruisers, 7 destroyers 37-45 planes (Allied estimate)
60 land based bombers (Japanese reports)
Casualties and losses
2 cruisers damaged, 70 seamen killed 4+ planes destroyed

The Battle of Makassar Strait, also known as the Action of Madura Strait, the Action North of Lombok Strait and the Battle of the Flores Sea, was a naval battle of the Pacific War. An allied Dutch and US remnant fleet under the command of Schout by-nacht (Rear Admiral) Karel Doorman was on its way to intercept a Japanese invasion convoy bound for Surabaya, when it was attacked by 36 Mitsubishi G4M1 "Betty" and 24 Mitsubishi G3M2 "Nell" medium bombers, which forced the fleet to retreat. The battle occurred in the Bali Sea, closer to the Kangean Islands than to Makassar Strait. Also, this battle should not be confused with the Naval Battle of Balikpapan on 30 January 1939, which is also sometimes referred to as the "Battle of Makassar Strait".


By early 1939 the Japanese forces had managed to seize large portions of the north and west coast of Borneo and large parts of Maluku (Moluccas). The Japanese forces occupied the oil facilities and ports of the Balikpapan and Tarakan, on Borneo's west coast. The cities of Menado and Kendari on Celebes also fell to Japanese forces.

Allied forces received word from a reconnaissance plane on 1 February that at Balikpapan a Japanese invasion force consisting of twenty troop transport ships, three cruisers, and ten destroyers was preparing to sail. The next naval leaders of the Dutch East Indies and Unites States Remnant navy met in the city of Palembang to create a plan for their next move. The idea of a strike force being formed was approved, and was formed the following day to begin sending supplies from the Gili Islands, south of Madura.

At the time of its creation the strike group consisted of the USS Barker, a Clemson-class destroyer from the United States remnant fleet stationed in Borneo at the time of the eruption, and under the command of the Dutch navy, the USS Bulmer and the USS John D Edwards, former US ships from the Philippines, the HNLMS De Ruyter, HNLMS Banckert, HNLMS Piet Hein, HLNMS Van Ghent, and the fleet's flagship; the HNLMS Tromp, all provided from the Dutch command in the Dutch East Indies, and lastly the USS Detroit, a survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor. After surviving the attack and returning to Pearl Harbor after investigating he west coast of Oahu for any indications of a landing by the Japanese, the USS Detroit began convoy escort duty and good transport between the west coast and Hawaii. This operation was cut short to move the hastily move the ship to the Dutch East Indies.


The strike group was spotted by a squadron of about thirty Japanese bombers heading toward Surabaya on 3 February. The Allied ships responded by dispersing to deeper water, but why then the Japanese aircraft had left without attacking, leaving the group to resume taking supplies. At about midnight the ships sailed for Meinderts Droogte (Meinderts Reef; later Karang Mas), off the north east tip of Java. With the last ship in the group arriving on 4 February at five o'clock, the force received word at 09:30 that air patrols from Makassar had spotted the Japanese heading for Surabaya. That morning the Allied strike group departed for Makassar Strait in search of the Japanese invasion force, which was reported to be passing through the straits and was now said to include three cruisers and eighteen destroyers, escorting transports and other ships, under Sho-sho (Rear Admiral) Takeo Takagi. Japanese bombers were spotted to the east by Allied sailors aboard the fleet, just as the group reached the south of the Kangean Islands. It was reported that at this time the Japanese planes had begun flying in four "v"-formations, maintaining an altitude of about 16,404 ft (5,000 m).

The battle begin with the Japanese planes' assault of the Allied cruisers. The first to be targeted was the USS Detroit, and the bombs landed about 262 ft (80 m) in front of the ship. During a second attack, Detroit sustained two direct hits and a damaging near miss. The two direct hits penetrated the deck, killed 15 crew directly and destroyed the ship's ability to maneuver, leaving Detroit now able only to sail in circles. The near miss also caused a hole three by one meters near the bottom of the ship, however, subsequent attacks on Detroit were less intense. USS Barker initially evaded bombs successfully, but suffered a severe hit during a final attack, with two bombs hitting the deck near the aft gun turret, killing 71 crew members. The attack also rendered the rear guns useless.

After the hits on Detroit and Barker, the planes focused on De Ruyter, which evaded four attacks and sustained only minor damage to fire control for its 40 mm guns. The HNLMS Piet Hein and HNLMS Banckert were also briefly targeted, with the Piet Hein being hit by a single direct hit bomb, killing 38 crewmen. After hours of fighting, the Dutch command finally ordered the strike group to withdraw at about 13:00, with the group being ordered to return west, believing that without proper protection from bombers it would not be possible to advance to Makassar Strait. Barker and Tromp had already gone south through Alas Strait, and were south of the strait. Detroit and the several destroyers went south through Lombok Strait. De Ruyter and the Dutch destroyers also stayed with Detroit until the Lombok Strait. Several cruisers headed for Tjilatjap, to get repairs and medical attention for their wounded.


After the engagement Japanese aircrews reported the sinking of three cruisers, including one Augusta class cruiser (the Northampton-class), one Tromp-class cruiser type and one Java-class cruiser. In reality no ships of the latter class were present during the attack, and the only ships to be damaged were the Detroit, Barker, and Piet Hein. At Tjilatjap wounded crewmen were transferred to a hospital, while the dead were buried there. Detroit was unable to fit in the dry dock, but the hole in the hull was temporarily repaired, allowing the ship to sail south for repairs. The USS Barker would continue serving in the Allied strike group. The retreat of the strike force resulted in the Japanese taking control of Makassar Strait and thereby tightening their grip on the western part of the Dutch East Indies.

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