In another series of late-nite musings, I’ve been contemplating the fate of the TXNG 2/131. Were they a political sacrifice?
It makes perfect sense that they were diverted to Australia whilst en route to the PI. We’ll also assume that they were then ordered to Java and that they did not simply arrive there when a second attempt to send them to the PI was aborted. What exactly were they expected to do there?
There seem to have been three US Army contingents on Java. This is in addition to a small number of AAF and US Navy personnel. The smallest group were in Batavia as part of the administrative HQ of the US Force-Java. A dozen or so 2/131 men were sent there as liaisons. This group was evacuated to Australia in mid to late FEB 42.
The second, larger group were the regular Army (not Nat’l Guard) 26th Field Artillery Brigade under the command of COL Searle. We know little about them except that they arrived on the same ship as the 2/131. Exactly what they did and where they were for the next few weeks is not clear. They, too, were evacuated by ship. So why not the 2/131?
We also know that that the 19th Bomb Grp offered to ferry them out to Australia, but by then LTC Tharp had orders to join BLACK FORCE to support the Australians in their defense of the island. Tactically, this makes some sense in that BLACK FORCE was a cobbled together group of AUS units that had been diverted to Java as they were returning to the homeland from the Middle-East Theatre. The TXNG added artillery support. But if the few guns of their three firing batteries were thought useful, why not an entire brigade?
One is forced to ask if the mission assigned the TXNG was driven by military or political motivation. Were they left behind on Java as every other US contingent scurried south as a political statement that the US was going to support her allies? I can easily see how the Australians saw the DEI as a last thin line of resistance to their north. Slowing the Japanese advance across SEA gave them vital time to prepare to defend the continent. But what was at stake for the US government? Everyone else cut and ran, but the 2/131 were ordered to stay.
It makes one wonder if there are not a series of archived inter-departmental memos where the fate of the 2/131 was discussed and decided. Was there truly a hope of successfully stopping the IJA on Java? Were the 500 members of the 2/131 truly expected to make a difference? Was the 2/131 condemned to annihilation? Did their becoming POWs ever enter into the discussion? Who actually issued the orders from them to join newly promoted BG Blackburn’s Java defenders?
In parallel to all of this, is the fate of the USS HOUSTON. Their orders to join the allied squadron of ships that would attempt to interdict the IJA invasion fleet is somewhat better documented and fits into the overall naval strategy of the era.
Given the moniker of the “Lost Battalion” that was given to the 2/131, it seems that the War Department had written them off as KIA/MIA just as was the entire crew of the USS HOUSTON. The failure of the Japanese to report them as POWs meant that it was years before news of their POW status leaked out. I’d go so far as to suggest that the War Dept. fully expected that they would never hear from the 2/131 again. Given that the PI fell soon after Java, the War Dept. was likely much more engrossed in determining the fate of those units as opposed to 500 men in the DEI.