Category: War News

From ABDA to Desert Storm and the lesson missed by Bush/Cheney

During the Desert Shield buildup in the fall of 1990, two World War II names came together again for the first time in close to 49 years: Admiral Thomas C. Hart and Witte de With. American Admiral Hart was the first naval commander of ABDA, the American, British, Dutch and Australian unified command set up on the island of Java in January 1942. The Witte de With was a Dutch destroyer in his command. Their job was to stop the Japanese advance on the Netherlands East Indies, now Indonesia.

As part of the Desert Shield almost 49 years later, the American Navy sent the frigate USS Thomas C. Hart with the USS Saratoga battle group. The Dutch stationed two frigates in the Middle East at the same time, one of which was a new HNMS Witte de With.

The frigates Thomas C. Hart and Witte de With became part of a far more successful military operation than their namesakes of 1942.

Admiral Hart attempted to instantaneously weld the four World War II navies into an ABDA Unified Naval Command. But Japanese forces sank most of the Allied ships in their path. The destroyer Witte de With, after escorting the wounded heavy cruiser HMS Exeter from the Battle of the Java Sea, was bombed by the Japanese at Surabaya on March 1, 1942. She was scuttled and abandoned the following day.

ABDA was the first attempt at a multi-national, unified command in the 20th century. Hastily assembled after the Pearl Harbor disaster, ABDA faced the full weight of the Japanese assault in the far east. It failed to stop them at sea, on land and in the air.

Desert Storm was fought by an international, unified military command. But this time it was a resounding success, capable of capturing far more than it was authorized to subdue.

ABDA involved just four nations in 1942. Those four nations squabbled over tactics and who should be in charge. Their communication systems, training and ships didn’t mesh into cohesive fighting units. They hadn’t planned and trained together to fight a common enemy. They weren’t prepared.

As a result, in 1942 the British surrendered Singapore and 70,000 troops in Malaya to the Japanese. The Dutch lost their East Indies Empire, two cruisers and all seven destroyers in their far eastern fleet. Australia lost fighting men and the HMAS Perth, a modern light cruiser. And the United States lost the Philippines, thousands of fighting men, the USS Pope, a World War I vintage destroyer and the USS Houston, a modern, heavy cruiser, one of President Franklin Roosevelt’s favorite warships.

ABDA’s inability to stop the Japanese in 1942 wasn’t due to any deficiencies in the fighting men from the four Allied nations. Chris Droste, a harbor pilot at Tjilatjap on the southern coast of Java in 1942, wrote in his book, Till Better Days, that the American and Allied sailors were far from demoralized before the battles. Knowing that the odds were stacked against them, “…they went as hounds to a hunt, agitated only that they might miss the opening clash.”

Desert Storm’s success as a unified command in 1991 is a testimonial to the heroism and sacrifice of ABDA soldiers, airmen and sailors. It was in the waters around Java, on Javanese beaches and in the air over Java in the first three months of 1942 that the Allies learned that cooperation in training, that standard equipment and communications were required to defeat a powerful and determined enemy.

That knowledge enabled 28 nations, led by the US under the UN banner, to defeat Iraqi aggression in Kuwait. President George W. Bush and Vice President Cheney ignored this valuable lesson when they launched the US attack on Iraq in 2003. The attack wasn’t authorized by the UN, wasn’t really authorized by the American people because of the lies they were fed, wasn’t supported by enough armed forces and wasn’t supported by most of our Allies.

It has been a disaster, launched by men who have never served in the active armed forces (and did everything they could to be certain of that), have never studied military history and have never failed to use deception to get their way.

World War II ‘Spy in the Sky’ dies

Jean L. Chase, author of The Grasshopper That Roared, published by Southfarm Press in 2005, died on February 11, 2008 at age 86. He was born June 16, 1921 in McMinnville, Oregon. He served in the Army for 20 years and saw service in the Pacific as an L-4 Piper Cub artillery spotter pilot during World War II. He served in Korea after that.

I was going through papers involved with the publication of his book looking for material about Jean that I could share with you about him. We had talked many times on the phone in 2005 before our publication of his book that November. I came across his suggested epilogue for his book, most of which we didn’t use. Now that he is gone, it seems like his own words are the fitting epilogue for him personally.

‘The Army was good to me. It taught me self discipline, how to approach a problem in a logical sequence and that there is no job you cannot accomplish. But most of all it taught me how to think.

‘I can’t say that I enjoyed every minute of my service, but there were many exciting and beautiful things that I experienced. After retirement I observed many young men working in banks and business that would be stuck in that position for the rest of their lives. The same old thing every day. I pondered how much of life would they really miss?

‘I was afforded the opportunity to see a large part of the world. My education, from a flying standpoint, operating in the mountains, desert, jungle and the flat land of Mid-America, was invaluable to me as a pilot. I learned the hazards of the thunderstorms in the south, the heat and cold of the desert and the high humidity of the jungle that could produce a quart of water in a half filled gas tank overnight.

‘These were things we learned that helped keep us alive, and sometimes we learned them the hard way.

‘I was just an ordinary guy that got up in the morning, went out to my little old Piper Cub and then took off on a combat mission, like hundreds of other pilots in those horrible days of war. The mission was primary in mind at all times. I was just going to work.

‘I have awakened in the morning at home since my retirement, sat on the edge of the bed and thought, ‘What if today, I had to go out and climb into a plane and take off, knowing full well that I would be shot at that morning.’

‘A chill would go up my spine.

‘Whenever I would get a little skittish about flying a combat mission, I would think about that poor infantry guy on the ground who was depending on me to keep the enemy artillery from firing by just flying around overhead. That was pretty easy to do, compared to what the soldier faced on the ground.

‘The advancement in Army Aviation has been tremendous since World War II. But Army pilots should never lose sight of the fact that their only reason for being is for the guy on the ground that takes the real estate.

‘I knew deep down, when I retired, that I would probably not ever fly again. I love it, but my experience in Mississippi where I had a number of close associations with civilian pilots, taught me that flying now and then on weekends was not for me. I knew how much you lost when you only flew occasionally and I knew how sharp you could be when you flew almost every day.

‘The things I prized most, that I received from my short 18 years as a Liaison Pilot and Army Aviator, is not the decorations or the satisfaction of fighting for my country. It is the friendships I have made and the comradeship I received during those wonderful years. You always knew that you were never alone.

‘My comrades and I will meet again at that great Cub Strip in the sky that is open both ends, wide, with no pot holes to dodge or ditches along the sides, where the wind is never gusty, it is always straight down the runway and the sun never stops shining.

‘When my granddaughter Heather was seven years old, she asked me if I would drive her and a friend to a birthday party. As we were waiting outside the friend’s house, a civilian model of the L-17 flew across the sky in front of us. I commented that I had flown that type of aircraft in the Army.

‘When the little friend came out to the car, we started for the birthday party. Out of a clear blue sky my granddaughter suddenly spoke.

”You know my granddad was a good pilot when he was flying in the Army.’

”How would you know? You weren’t even around when he was flying,’ the friend replied, looking down her nose at Heather.

‘Heather looked her straight in the eye when she answered.

”He’s alive isn’t he?”