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Re: Dutch perception of Admiral Helfrich

May 31 2010 at 7:28 PM
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Melmoth the Waggish  (no login)

Response to Re: Dutch perception of Admiral Helfrich


I cannot begin to speak for the Dutch, but will make the following observations from an American P.O.V.:

1.) While not everyone thinks MacArthur was THAT successful as a military leader, he did do a good job of sitting in his Dai Ichi Seimei palace in Tokyo as SCAP and watching over our defeated enemies as they tried to piece together their destroyed country. THAT form of generalship was his real forte, some might argue.

2.) Be that as it may, on a more concrete level, I spoke in January of this year with an Asiatic Fleet/ABDA officer who was imprisoned in Japan after his capture. He recalled to me that US personnel there in Japan--he said they were Army Air Force officers, IIRC--were still "hopping mad" (his exact words) at GEN MacArthur for his inept leadership during the Philippines campaign.

3.) I note this because he told me, gently but quite seriously, that he hoped someone would write a book about the Java Campaign, and that it would "do for Helfrich" what other works have done for MacArthur's reputation...Some food for thought there for our PacWar historians.

4.) I have Helfrich's Memoirs in a mediocre English translation, and they are worth reading. He makes an effort to clear up a number of points concerning his decisions. Others are left ambiguous, however. Like Geoff Layton of the RN, Helfrich is generous in his criticism of the USN's mishandling of their submarine forces...It's hard to argue with this, really, although one may take a somewhat different view after going through the Wartime Logbooks--which are available now online--of the American submarines that were active in the Philippines and Java campaigns.

5.) I recently found a British diplomatic communication (by the British Consul at Batavia) that includes a fascinating & detailed account of his escape from Java as the island fell. This report has details as well of his meeting with VADM Helfrich on Feb. 27th in Lembang (?) when the bad news of the battle in the Javazee was coming in, and sheds some light on Helfrich's state at that time.

The NEI campaign has always struck me as one of the Pacific War's great tragedies, yet I can't imagine anyone seeing VADM Helfrich as a tragic figure. That leaves the obvious question, of course.



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