Sunday, April 17, 2016

When Australia Was Under Siege

In the spring of 1942, the people of Australia felt that they were under siege. They had every reason to believe so. In the opening months of the Pacific War, Australians had watched one Allied bastion after another fall to the forces of Japan’s Rising Sun. Hong Kong collapsed almost immediately. The key American islands of Wake and Guam quickly followed. But the earthquake than shook the defense of the entire region occurred when the British Army in Singapore, which included Australian troops, surrendered to a numerically inferior Japanese force. Conquest of the Dutch East Indies came quickly afterwards. Only in the Philippines, where General Douglas MacArthur’s Filipino-American army on the Bataan Peninsula stubbornly held out, had the Japanese been held in check.

By this time, Australia had already come under direct attack. With the usual supply lines already cut, all Allied support to the Philippines and Dutch East Indies had to be funneled through the northern Australian port of Darwin. Japan’s planners took notice of Darwin’s importance. As Japanese forces prepared to wrap up their East Indies conquest, Tokyo sent Admiral Nagumo’s powerful carrier force, Kibu Butai, into the Indian Ocean to strike the British Royal Navy at Colombo, Ceylon, and block all lines of Allied retreat from Java. Sailing close to Australia, the six carriers launched a devastating air raid against Darwin, essentially destroying the town.  Savaging ships and aircraft in the area, the Japanese sailed on to pummel the Royal Navy near Ceylon and chase the remaining ships out into the Indian Ocean.

Many people in Australian coastal ports panicked. With Kibu Butai roaming the Indian Ocean at will, residents feared further air attacks or even bombardment by battleships. Many relocated as far inland as they could afford. Such fears were prevalent in the southwestern cities off Perth and its port, Freemantle.  These offered the only practical haven to the defeated Allied Naval forces trying to escape Java.

The situation to the north continued to deteriorate. Extending their East Indies conquest, the Japanese seized the Admiralty Islands and New Britain, with its magnificent harbor of Rabaul. Landings soon followed at Lae and Salamaua on the north coast of New Guinea.

In Mid-March, 1942, President Roosevelt ordered General MacArthur to break through the Japanese blockade and take command in Australia. When he reached Melbourne, he was appalled to discover that he had few forces at his disposal. Australia’s Army was in the Middle East fighting Rommel or in Japanese POW camps in Singapore. Australia was, in fact, very vulnerable to invasion. Continued air strikes against Darwin from the former Dutch East Indies and the appearance of enemy submarines off both the east and west coasts of Australia emphasized its vulnerability.

This is the situation into which I thrust my characters in my new novel, Endure the Cruel Sun (working title). Those who have read my second novel, Hold Back the Sun, will remember some of them at once. Dutch officers, Colonel Jan Dijker and Captain Garrit Laterveer, are prisoners of the Japanese. Unfortunately for the two officers, the Nazi Gestapo had asked that they be returned to Europe by submarine. Nurse Catherine van Zweden, Garrit’s fiancé, is in a civilian internment camp. What fate does the cruel Japanese Colonel Katsura Okuma have in store for her?

Dutch intelligence in Australia learns of the Gestapo’s request as a result of Allied codebreaking. They scramble to determine if there is any possibility of rescuing the former master spy and air ace.

Jack Sewell, promoted to Lieutenant Commander, now commands the old four-stack destroyer, Rust. With Japan marshaling for a full scale invasion of New Guinea, Allied naval commanders dragoon Rust into the Royal Australian Navy for the looming naval battle to seal Australia’s fate.

I plan to publish Endure the Cruel Sun early next fall. Those who have yet to read HoldBack the Sun may want to check it out before release of the new book.

On, Hold Back the Sun has 131 reviews with a 4.2 out of 5 stars overall rating. Forty-three percent of the reviews are five-star.

Warren Bell is an author of historical fiction.  He spent 29 years as a US Naval Officer, and has traveled to most of the places in the world that he writes about.  A long-time World War II-buff, his first two novels, Fall Eagle One and Hold Back the Sun are set during World War II.  His third novel, Asphalt and Blood, follows the US Navy Seabees in Vietnam.  His most recent novel, Snowflakes in July, was released on Kindle on September 15, 2015, and a paperback version will be following.  For more about Warren Bell, visit his website at: or see him on twitter @wbellauthor.  

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