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American-British-Dutch-Australian Command (ABDA)

The American-British-Dutch-Australian (ABDA) Command, or ABDACOM, was the short-lived supreme command for all Allied forces in South East Asia in early 1942, during the Pacific War in World War II. The command consisted of the forces of Australia, the Netherlands, United Kingdom and the United States.

The rapid advance of the Japanese early in the Pacific War stunned even them. The basis for their advance, superior equipment, training, tactics, and in some cases, numbers, left the Allies confused and in disarray. In February 1942, in Java, remaining elements of the Allied naval forces (Australian, British, Dutch, American) gathered to coordinate their defense of Java and try to stop the tide of the Japanese advance.

They took their operational name, ABDA, from the first letter of each nation who had naval forces involved.Four navies, Australian, British, Dutch, and American, were gathered under the command of Dutch Admiral Doorman. Throughout February 1942, Doorman and his command fought a series of battles that were never in the Allies’ favor, and resulted in the destruction of ABDA as a major threat to the Japanese. Doorman himself was killed during the Battle of the Java Sea (February 27, 1942.)

ABDA suffered from a lack of modern ships, but more so from a lack of coordinated training as a unit. All of the capital ships were lost: HMS Exeter, the cruiser that chased the Nazi pocket battleship Graf Spee to extinction in 1939; the Dutch Navy’s Java and DeRutyer at the Battle of the Java Sea on February 27, 1942; and USS Houston and HMAS Perth at the Battle of Sunda Strait on March 1, 1942. The Japanese only suffered damage to several destroyers and lost a transport.

The Japanese night-fighting tactics would remain superior to the Allies throughout 1943. The ability to fight at night and the superiority of their torpedoes meant that the Japanese could hold their advantage in the Solomons, despite their losses. But radar would outpace the ability of Japanese optics, and the Battle of Surigao Strait in October 1944 would see the fortunes of war reversed by technology.

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