DESPERATE DAYS: Com. John Collins and Capt. Leonard Bell, RN [HMS PRINCE OF WALES], escape Java on HMAS BURNIE, March 2 - 8, 1942 - Photostream acquisition.
4235. From the crisp dress uniforms and the easy demeanor, one has to assume this photo captures the right end of an absolutely desperate voyage - that is, that Commodore John Collins, RAN [left] has his binoculars at last trained on Australia, having narrowly escaped a Japanese cordon of heavy cruisers and destroyers off Java as the Dutch East Indies were finally evacuated in early March, 1942.
Conveying Commodore Collins [left] and Captain Leonard Bell, RN [centre], the former captain and survivor of HMS PRINCE OF WALES, to safety is the 730 ton corvette HMAS BURNIE, one of six RAN corvettes and several small Dutch ships that had dispersed as they escaped from Java.
At this time Commodore Collins, of HMAS SYDNEY [II] and Mediterranean fame, had been posted to Java as Comodore Commanding the Royal Navy's China Force, but actually acting as a planning and co-ordination officer for the combined ABDA [American British Dutch Australian] fleet, largely destroyed at the Battle of the Java Sea in the week or so before this photo was taken.
Some brief edited extracts from Vice Admiral Sir John Collins's memoirs 'As Luck Would Have It' [Angus and Robertson, Sydney 1965] will tell the story: Collins and his staff had fled south from Batavia via Bandoeng in a convoy of cars ...
He writes '...As the situation deteriorated, strenuous efforts had been made to clear the port of Tjilatjap of British shipping. The officer sent from Batavia some days previously had done a good job , and by the afternoon of 1st March all British and American ships had sailed. On our arrival at 7.30 pm only HMAS BENDIGO and HMAS BURNIE were in port waiting to evacuate us as arranged. I had driven on fast from Bandoeng to get into the picture at Tjilatjap and the road convoy was following. Furthermore survivors from the British destroyers JUPITER and ELECTRA , sunk in the Java Sea Battle, were coming in from the Sourabaya direction, and more British refugees were arriving.
"It was obvious I could not get away that night, so BENDIGO was sailed at 11.30 pm with 10 of my staff and about 80 personnel from HMS JUPITER. ...'
[Some senior staff are evacuated by flying boat but Collins refuses to leave until the port is cleared]. He continues....
'...I remained at Tjilatjap with a small nucleus staff, including the C.S.O, Captain Leonard Bell. Captain Bell had been Captain of the Fleet in PRINCE OF WALES. He had been rescued, and had been my right hand man ever since. I cannot say how much I owed to his staff work, his ability, and his steady, experienced advice.
'It was not without grave fears that sailing orders were given to BENDIGO. At Bandoeng we had received a report that a force of three Japanese cruisers and four destroyers were operating just south of Tjilatjap. There was no reason why they should not be maintaining a close blockade of the port for we had nothing to hit them with. We hoped they might not know our weakness and that they would play safe by patrolling at some distance from the coast. We kept our fingers crossed and hoped for the best ...'
CONTINUED WITH NEXT IMAGE.
Photo: An Unofficial RAN Centenary photostream acquisition.