At 7:00 p.m., the cruisers, commanded by Captain Hec Waller of the Perth, steamed west into Sunda Strait but without the Evertsen, which was still getting up steam. Two hours earlier, ABDA aircraft had spotted the Japanese approaching Banten Bay, but this information failed to reach ABDA's naval commanders.
At 11:06 p.m., Waller's force encountered the Japanese Western Attack Force near the entrance to Banten Bay. Rear Admiral Kurita Takeo had overall command of the Japanese force covering the invasion. His ships included the heavy cruisers Suzuya and Kumano, the aircraft carrier Ryujo, and destroyers situated about 20 miles north of Banten Bay to protect against an Allied attack from that direction. Just outside the bay were the cruisers Mogami and Mikuma and a destroyer. Inside the bay were the light cruisers Natori and Yuri, eight destroyers, and a minelayer protecting 58 Japanese merchantmen that were disembarking troops onto the shore.
Unaware that he was caught between these two Japanese forces, Waller led the Perth and Houston into the bay to attack the Japanese troop transports. His ships fired at multiple targets while steaming in a 5-mile circle around the bay. Meanwhile, the cruisers of the Japanese covering force came up, which led to some confusion when the two Japanese naval forces fired on each other. In the confusion, the Houston and Perth were about to escape into the Sunda Strait when a Japanese torpedo struck the latter at 12:05 a.m. Three additional torpedoes finished her off. The Houston took a Japanese torpedo hit at 12:15 a.m. but continued to return fire in a gallant effort. Heavy Japanese shelling and additional torpedoes sank the Houston by 12:45 a.m.
In the battle, the Perth lost 353 crewmen, and of her 320 survivors, 100 died while being held as prisoners of war (POWs). The Houston lost 655 crew; of her 368 survivors, 76 died while POWs. Japanese losses, some self-inflicted, included the transports Sakura Maru, Horai Maru, and Ryujo Maru and the minesweeper W2, all of which were sunk. The cruiser Mikuma and destroyer Harukaze were both damaged. Japanese personnel losses are unknown. The Japanese Western Attack Force had crushed Allied opposition and could now expand the beachhead without fear of opposition.
Jonathan "Jack" Ford
Gill, George Hermon. Royal Australian Navy, 1942–1945. Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1957.; Morison, Samuel Eliot. History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. Vol. 5, The Struggle for Guadalcanal, August 1942–February 1943. Boston: Little, Brown, 1949.; Winslow, Walter G. The Ghost That Died at Sunda Strait. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1994.