The situation surrounding a number of Allied ships sunk in a series of desperate battles around what is now Indonesia 75 years ago is a mixed bag, a new report finds. Late last year, advocates worried that many of the wrecks had been looted by modern-day grave robbers, forever altering important monuments to World War II history.
At Tjilatjap, Java, Feb. 6, 1942, seen from USS Marblehead (CL-12), which was passing close aboard. Houston's colors are half-masted pending return of her funeral party, ashore for burial of men lost when a bomb hit near her after eight-inch gun turret two days earlier during a Japanese air attack in Banka Strait. (US Navy photo)
According to a report by USNI News, recent sonar surveys show the wreck of the heavy cruiser USS Houston (CA 30) is still in good shape, while there is inconclusive data on the Australian light cruiser HMAS Perth.
Past surveys have revealed that other wrecks, including the Dutch destroyer HNLMS Kortenear, the British heavy cruiser HMS Exeter and the British destroyers HMS Encounter have been stripped by looters.
The British destroyer HMS Electra, also sunk in the battles around Indonesia, has been "picked over," while the Dutch cruisers HNLMS Java and HNLMS Dr Ruyter have had large portions of their wrecks removed. In one special case, the submarine USS Perch (SS 176), scuttled by her crew, has also been salvaged.
Reports last November claimed that all three Dutch wrecks were completely looted.
According to the United States Navy's Naval History and Heritage Command, only 368 personnel survived the sinking of USS Houston when she sank as a result of gunfire from the Japanese cruisers HIJMS Mogami and HIJMS Mikuma. Of those 368, only 291 survived roughly three and a half years in captivity.
At Darwin, Australia, probably on 15 or 18 February 1942. The destroyer astern of Houston may be USS Peary (DD-226). Among the ships in the background, to the left, are HMAS Terka and the SS Zealandia. (US Navy)
In a release, the Naval History and Heritage Command noted that the survey, conducted by the Australian National Maritime Museum and the National Research Centre of Archaeology Indonesia was the first survey to provide a full view of USS Houston's wreckage, thanks to the use of remotely operated vehicles and multi-beam sonar scanning.
Past surveys had focused on sections of the ship, using underwater video cameras and still cameras to assess the status of the wreck.
"We're grateful to the Australian National Maritime Museum and Indonesia's National Research Centre of Archaeology for sharing this information with us," Naval History and Heritage Command Director Sam Cox said in the release. "We take very seriously our obligation to remember the service of American and allied Sailors who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of freedom. We'll do everything we can, and work with everyone we must, to safeguard their final resting places."