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BATTLE OF THE PACIFIC: Thrust from Davao

3 minute read

The next prize that the Jap wants is the rich Netherlands East Indies. Last week while he was still fighting in Luzon and Malaya he struck at the Indies, for their supplies of oil, rubber, metals and all the other storied riches by whose possession he could tilt the economy of the war.

To the Indies’ stubborn Dutch and their broad-faced, able commander, Lieut. General Hein ter Poorten, the thrust was deadly in its possibilities, as it was to the rest of the Allies. To the U.S. it was also bitterly humiliating. The Jap struck from U.S. territory.

His chief base was the broad, well-docked harbor of Davao, 600 miles south of Manila. The U.S. defense force in Davao, a thin little group set there by a penny-wise and pound-foolish nation, never had a chance when the Japanese landed in the second week of the war. Since then the Jap has made Davao his own. Last week a flight of U.S. heavy bombers, probably operating from one of the Dutch bases, dropped in at Davao, saw the Allies’ worst fears spelled out in ships off the coast.

There lay an invasion fleet—a battleship, five cruisers, six destroyers, twelve submarines, twelve transports. The big planes squared off on their bombing run and let drive. They scored direct hits on the battleship, sank a destroyer, landed fairly on some of the other vessels. It was a good job by newly arrived U.S. reinforcements. But it was not enough.

Later in the week U.S. bombers found what was apparently the same battleship at Malalag Bay on the west side of Davao Gulf, gave her the works again. This time she took fire. But the Jap had already moved to the south with most of his force.

By week’s end he had made four landings in the Dutch archipelago. His troops got ashore at Tarakan (see map), an island off the oil-rich northeast coast of Borneo, the Indies’ richest oil center. He pushed in under cruiser protection during the night, was met by the local defense force and by Indies Army bombers.

Japanese troops also got ashore at three points on Minahassa, the thin, eastward-reaching upper handle of Celebes. Here the Jap came by sea and by parachute. He was already in British Sarawak, on the north coast of Borneo. Hein ter Poorten and his Army Air Force commander, thin-faced Major General L. H. van Oyen, promised that oil wells would be fired, refineries dynamited before the Jap got to them for the supplies he now needs more than anything in the world.

The Dutch needed help. They were getting some—but not enough—from U.S. bombers flown across the Pacific, from Tommy Hart’s Asiatic Fleet which they announced was operating, in part at least, from the Indies. In two days Dutch and Allied airmen, reported to be operating from 50 secret jungle airdromes, claimed to have scored direct hits on four Japanese transports and two cruisers, to have shot down seven enemy planes.

The Allies had finally recognized the tremendous strategic importance of N.E.I. (above and beyond its value for supplies), had set their southern Pacific headquarters under Archie Wavell down on Java.

As of this week they were outnumbered on the land, outgunned on the sea. The Jap was pressing hard and the Allies were strictly on the defensive. They were going to have plenty of trouble, for the Jap’s bases were moving south like a fast creeping paralysis across the South Seas.

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