to perpetuate the memory and history of our dead

6.0 their Journey

2 Bn 131st Field Artillery Rgt TXNG:

As noted in other sections, the soldiers of the TXNG began their journey to the TBR on 11 NOV 1941 from Camp Bowie, TX. They departed San Francisco on the USS Republic later that month. After a short lay-over at Pearl Harbor, they set sail for the destination code-named PLUM (it was later revealed that this stood for Phillippines-LUzon-Manila). But their convoy was re-routed mid-Pacific as the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and invaded the PI.

After another short lay-over in Brisbane, they sailed for Surabaja on the island of Java. It was here that they would briefly support Australian troops before the Dutch authorities capitulated casting all into 1000 days of captivity, deprivation and death as POWs.

USS Houston:

One of six heavy cruisers in the US Fleet, CA-30 was forward-deployed to the Philippines in 1940. At the out-break of the war, she departed that harbor bound for Darwin Australian. From there she performed convoy protection duties until on 26 FEB 42 she participated in the Battle of the Java Sea as part of the combined Australian-Dutch-American Task Force. She and the HMAS Perth — both damaged in that battle — were ordered to withdraw to Java. In the evening of 28 FEB, they sailed west intending to reach Darwin for repairs.

Near midnight, the two ships found themselves in the midst of the major invasion fleet off the NW coast of Java. After a valiant, but short and vain, battle both ships succumbed to multiple torpedo hits from IJN destroyers. Of a complement of just over 1000 men, about half abandoned ship but only about 350 reached the shore to be taken captive.

US POWs reunited:

The sailor and marines were policed up off the coast or as they made landfall. Over the next few weeks, they were consolidated with crewmen from the Perth and Dutch (KNIL) POWs. Eventually, all were moved to the former KNIL barracks known as the Bicycle Camp. The name came from the unit that occupied it used bicycles as their primary means of transport as they acted more like a regional police force rather than a military unit.

Following the official capitulation by the Dutch on MAR 8, the TXNG soldiers debated trying to escape to the mountains to wage a guerilla campaign, but realizing the futility of such an action they destroyed their cannons and many of their vehicles and awaited the arrival of their IJA captors. A few did try to escape to south coast, but finding nothing but IJN ships there, they, too, simply awaited their fate.

Eventually, in mid-APR, the various groups of US POWs were reunited at the Bicycle Camp. The first order of business was for the soldiers to share their uniforms and supplies with the Houston survivors most of whom were clad in only their skivvies.

When LTC Tharp led his battalion west to attempt to thwart the invasion, he left a few 100 men of E Battery to defend the port of Surabaja where he would have expected to receive supplies. After a few days of resistance, this unit too under the command of CPT Dodson, were taken captive. They were never reunited with their comrades and eventually most were sent to Japan.

Journey to Hell:

Once consolidated, the IJA made no distinction between members of the various military services. They separated the POWs by nationality only. Over the coming months, various groups well culled out. The first was sent to Japan and consisted of any men that they IJA thought had technical skills. For the Americans this was known as the Zeigler Party under the command of ARMY CPT Ira Zeigler. ARMY CPT Archie Fitzsimmons commanded the advance party who departed from Burma via Singapore. The last and largest group of US POWs, under the command of the Battalion CDR LTC Blucher Tharp followed the Fz Grp to Singapore then Burma.

The Fitzsimmons and Tharp groups remained separated at different camps on the Burmese end of the TBR. They were eventually reunited at Kanchanaburi in early 1944. Along the way, one group of TBR POWs was re-directed to Vietnam.

A small group of US personnel that included US Merchant Mariners drafted into H-Force a mostly Australian group that worked in the Hintok area in Thailand. These men were returned to Singapore following the completion of the TBR and never reunited with their comrades.

In the Sections of this site that follow, I will detail the horrors that these various groups experienced over the next 1000 days.