Lombok Strait has a mystique all its own to the submariners operating out of Perth, Austra1ia, during World War II. The strait lies between the islands of BaJi to the west and Lombok to the east. To the north is the Java Sea, to the south is the Indian Ocean. It is about 15 miles wide east to west and 50 miles long north to south. It is deep and its currents are strong and variable-four to five knots. The direction of current flow is either north to south or reverse. Strangely, the north to south flow lasts for about 16 hours and the reverse about 8 hours. How the water from the Java Sea to the north is returned from the Indian Ocean to the south was a real mystery. The current characteristics resulted in the submarines mainly transiting on the surface at night. One submarine attempted a submerged transit from south to north but ended up hours later several miles south of her diving.
Using this strait for access to the convoy routes utilized by the Japanese, the submarines were able to interdict the routes and effectively cut off the supplies of oil and critical materials to Japan.
As mentioned before, to the submariners, Lombok had a unique aura of mystique unlike any of the many straits and bodies of water in which the submarines operated.
Transiting from either direction was always marked by a fundamental change in the attitude of the ship’s company. When going north, it brought home to the crew that there was a real war going on, and if they were going to survive, they had to concentrate on their mission. When clearing to the south, a11 hands spent considerable time getting ready for liberty in Perth, four days away. The amateur barber broke out his tools and the crew their address books and phone numbers, which were studied carefully.
LAPON made many transits of Lombok. As a result, we came to believe that there appeared to be a mutually accepted truce between the Japanese patrol craft and U.S . submarines, that “if you let us chase you around a bit and don’t shoot us up, we will return the compliment by letting you clear the strait without critical interference.”
However, on many occasions, passage through Lombok Strait could be a memorable experience. On one such trip, Lombok almost did LAPON in. We had encountered the usual patrol boats and had paid our customary dues playing a grim form of tag at full power. Finally, when we had broken out of the strait and were in the wide expanse of the northern throat, I went up to the bridge to relax a bit.
It was a beautiful night. with quite a lot of the usual phosphorescence in the water. Suddenly. the high lookout broke the silence as be bellowed. 11 Right full rudder!” Such action on the part of a lookout is very unusual, and immediately gets one’s attention. My reaction was to look to port and was rewarded by seeing two phosphorescent torpedo tracks coming fast. There was no way of avoiding them as they were close aboard. The Pearly Gates were clanging loudly, as they either closed or opened, depending on one’s background.
Suddenly, the torpedoes turned hard right and paralleled LAPON, and escorted us along our way. Instead of two torpedoes, two porpoises had decided to give us a thrill. I then told the rest of the bridge watch, that any of them requiring a change of skivvies could join me below.
The apparent truce in Lombok Strait came to an abrupt end when our friendly British submarine allies, who were short-legged and had difficulty finding suitable torpedo targets, decided to use their deck gun in Lombok. The British deck gun was designed so that it could be manned and made ready to fire without revealing that fact to an unsuspecting target. Further, the British submarine’s silhouette was not unlike a Japanese R·O class submarine. This gun capability was demonstrated rather unfortunately by a British submarine skipper one sunny day when, while flying the Japanese flag, he approached one unsuspecting Japanese patrol craft and, at about 400 yards, blew it out of the water. This event caused considerable indigestion on the part of the Japanese high command. Shortly thereafter shore batteries and searchlights were installed on the beach which abruptly terminated the mutual peace agreement. The event also brought down the wrath of Admiral Christie, the Force commander, along with that of all the U.S. submarine skippers. Fortunately, the end of the war was fast approaching and only one submarine loss could possibly be attributed to the increased ASW attention given to Lombok by the Japanese.