Sinking Of USS Langley In response to intense political pressure from the Netherlands Government-in-Exile, the U.S. agreed to send a shipment of P-40 fighter aircraft, with pilots and ground crew, to Java.
The U.S. Navy’s first aircraft carrier, by then converted to a seaplane tender with half her flight deck removed, the USS Langley was given the mission to carry 32 assembled P-40’s from Australia to Java in late Feb 42.
The mission was by then too little too late, but no one would call it off.
By then the Japanese had complete mastery of the air over Java, and had even shot down 40 allied aircraft in a single day.
But the situation was so desperate, that Dutch VADM Helfrich (in charge of allied naval forces after ADM Hart’s recall) ordered the Langley to make a daylight run into the south Java port of Tijilatjap on 27 Feb 42.
VADM Glassford, commander of U.S. naval forces under Helfrich, concurred with the suicidal order.
Tijilitjap did not even have an airfield, and would require bulldozing of buildings in the port city to widen the roads to get the aircraft to an open field, where they might be able to take off. Japanese bombers solved that problem.
Although not very maneuverable, and unstable due to the load of fighters, the Langley’s CO adroitly avoided the first bomb runs, but the Japanese were skillful too, and the Langley was hit in quick succession by five bombs.
Although the crew tried valiantly to save the ship, it became apparent that the Langley would never reach the port, so the ship was abandoned.
Subsequent attempts to hasten its sinking with friendly torpedoes and gunfire failed, and the ship was left adrift to eventually sink on its own.
The great majority of Langley’s crewmen, and the Army pilots, were rescued by U.S. destroyers.
Before being transferred to the oiler USS Pecos.
Which was then bombed and sunk by 36 aircraft from four different Japanese carriers.
The destroyer USS Whipple (DD-217) attempted to rescue as many survivors as possible. In between attacks on a Japanese submarine, but was forced to break-off the effort during the night.
Some 230 survivors were rescued, but over 400 were left behind in the water, of whom all ultimately perished.
After the events, VADM Glassford’s report stated that CDR McConnell’s actions in failing to save his ship were not in the best tradition of the U.S. Naval Service.
Admiral Ernest J. King, never known to be merciful, reviewed the report, non-concurred with Glassford’s findings. And ordered that McConnell’s record be expunged of any derogatory material.