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Admiral Helfrich

June 2 2010 at 2:58 AM
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Tom Womack  (no login)

Response to Re: Dutch Perception Of Admiral Helfrich

Interesting comments by Arie. I had not seen/heard remarks about Helfrich not recognizing the influence of air power on the modern battlefield. Were they made by Dutch officers? This mindset was certainly not uncommon in Allied command circles in the Far East; clearly Admiral Phillips was of the same mindset when he led Prince of Wales and Repulse to disaster.

The same failure to fully appreciate the veracity of air power would also play into the NEI campaign in 1942. Helfrich continually pushed Doorman to maintain offensive action in the face of Japanese air action while failing to grasp, or ignoring altogether, the impact it could have on naval operations. That he remained unresponsive to Doorman's predicament even after the Flores Sea on February 4 and the Banka Strait on February 14 I think speaks volumes.

Arie's reference to Helfrich's message "you must continue attacks until the enemy is destroyed" must also be examined. In his after-action report dated July 21, 1942 Helfrich makes several comments that I honestly have to wonder about. Not only does Helfrich "nitpick" Doorman's tactical decision-making before and during the Battle of the Java Sea, but he also goes after Captain Waller aboard Perth as well.

The Combined Striking Force started the day with 14 ships. With the loss of De Ruyter and Java, Perth and Houston were literally all that remained on the proverbial battlefield. Yet, Helfrich takes Waller to task to retiring. While Helfrich doesn't openly condemn Waller, he dances around the topic by saying that it "TECHNICALLY" violated the order that he (Helfrich) gave to continue attacking until the enemy was destroyed. He does give a somewhat half-hearted acknowledgement that they could have been low on fuel, ammunition, etc.

He continues by stating his surprise that Captain Waller took Houston and Perth to Tg. Priok instead of back to Soerabaja. Despite Doorman's pre-battle orders to fall back on Tg. Priok, Helfrich apparently wanted to reform the surviving CSF ships (Houston, Perth, Exeter and screening destroyers) and make another sortie against the Japanese off East Java. But since Waller took the only two undamaged capital ships to Tg. Priok he (Helfrich) made the decision to disband the CSF on February 28 and allow the ships a chance to evacuate.

Helfrich also critiques Doorman's choice of actions. Despite having no clear intelligence and no consistently reliable air reconnaissance, Helfrich essentially attacks the latter's choice to remain close to shore rather than heading out to sea in an effort to surprise the Japanese fleet. Doorman had chosen to remain close to shore near those points where he knew the enemy would land, versus going out to sea and missing the convoy altogether and allowing the Japanese to land unimpeded.

Helfrich also makes several references along the lines of "if I had known what Doorman was doing at the time I probably would have intervened." He also critiqued Doorman's movements before and during the battle despite being wholly detached from the scene of the battle.

Right or wrong, Helfrich in many ways strikes me as a senior commander who felt the need to constantly meddle in Doorman's operational command. He exhibits signs of someone who doesn't fully trust his subordinate's skills or decision-making process.



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  • Re: Admiral Helfrich - Melmoth the W on Jun 2, 2010, 5:28 AM
  • Helfrich & allied logistics - Lou Dorny on Oct 24, 2013, 11:38 PM
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