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Re: Admiral Helfrich

June 2 2010 at 5:28 AM
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Melmoth the W  (no login)
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Response to Admiral Helfrich


Here are a few thoughts tonight.

I've spent some time looking through VADM Helfrich's memoirs over the past year or two, and found myself feeling somewhat the same...

It does seem to me that while VADM Helfrich usually pays lip-service to having given his commanders freedom of action, he simultaneously can only rarely refrain from criticizing their actions. Thus he nitpicks the route taken by the EXETER group out of Surabaja; he likewise cannot refrain from blaming the loss of HOUSTON and PERTH on the route they took in distinction to the one he ordered...And he does say very explicitly that they were to go to Tjilatjap, not Australia, and he had every intention of fighting his remaining ships from that port, "as long as the fuel supply allows it."

There are a number of incredible misapprehension in his memoirs as well: EDSALL & WHIPPLE took the survivors of LANGLEY into Tjilatjap where they arrived safe and sound; the British carrier INDOMITABLE was coming; he had been "promised" USS PHOENIX; the American submarines could have performed better had HE been allowed to place them differently earlier, etc.

I found it interesting, too, that he always seemed to have time to pardon any repairs for his own ships, but never for those of the other Allies. At one point VADM Helfrich condemns the American Asiatic Fleet ships for not fighting until the 47th day of the war (at Balikpapan), and rather ill-naturedly remarks that they could have had all kinds of yard-time themselves in that interval for if they had been doing nothing.

However, Helfrich (at least in his Memoirs) carps long & hard on the issue of air power, and at one point notes that the only serious disagreement experienced among his command after he took over was on this very subject. So, it may be a little unfair to say that he was oblivious to its necessity. (I realize his Memoirs weren't published until 1950, and that perhaps these may differ from his wartime reports.)

He also states unequivocally: "All Dutch Navy officers had faith in Doorman's tactical capabilities." He rationalizes the failure of the Combined Striking Force in the battle of the Javazee by arguing that had the CSF been put together sooner, and allowed to fight (successsfully) earlier, "then the Allie[s] would have had a better opportunity to notice which excellent tactical talents and qualities Doorman had at his disposal." And yet he recognizes the ad hoc nature of the Striking Force on Feb. 27th, along with its lack of coordination with the available air forces, etc.
His regret at not having included HOBART and EVERTSEN in the CSF on the 27th is understandable, although they could have added nothing of a substantial nature to the fight.
But, the decision to have GOUDEN LEEUW lay mines along the coast ("close to Rembang, within the 20 meter line") between the 26th & 28th might be worth re-examining.



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