Herbert Stanley Bierton: Australian Army

Herbert was the first cousin of the wife of one of my first cousins twice removed. The line of lineage goes backward from me as follows:

  • My mother: Alice May Priday (1917 - 2009) - daughter of Mary Louisa Sheward
  • My maternal grandmother: Mary Louisa Sheward (1880 - 1967) - daughter of Herbert Sheward
  • Herbert Sheward (1843 - 1906) - son of Richard Sheward
  • Richard Sheward (1817 - 1870) - father of William Sheward
  • William Sheward (1859 - 1906) - father of Ernest William Sheward
  • Ernest William Sheward (1885 - 1918) - husband of Laura Bierton
  • Laura Bierton (1888 - unknown death at present) - daughter of Albert Bierton
  • Albert Bierton (1867 - unknown death at present) - son of Ellen Owen
  • Ellen Owen (1855 - 1928) - mother of James Bierton
  • James Bierton (1879 - 1949) - father of Herbert Stanley Bierton
  • Herbert Stanley Bierton(1907 - 1942)

Herbert Stanley Bierton was born on 22 December 1907 in Brentford, Middlesex, England. His father, James Bierton was an Artifical Stone Maker and worked for the local Borough Council and his mother, Emma Rose Williamson was a stay at home housewife. Herbert had 2 brothers, Frederick James & Ernest George.

In 1911 the family were living at 12 Northfield Road, West Ealing, Middlesex and his father James was employed by Ealing Borough Council.

Artificial stone is a name for various kinds of synthetic stone products used from the 18th century onward. They have been used in building construction, civil engineering work, and industrial uses such as grindstones. A lot of artificial stone was used in the London Boroughs for paving and kerbing. In 1844, Frederick Ransome created a Patent Siliceous Stone, which comprised sand and powdered flint in an alkaline solution. By heating it in an enclosed high temperature steam boiler the siliceous particles were bound together and could be moulded or worked.

Emigration

By 1931 Herbert had emigrated to Australia and was living at 5 Victoria St, Footscray, Maribyrnong, Victoria, Australia and working as a labourer.

And by 1936 he had moved to 27 Pitt St, Footscray North, Maribyrnong, Victoria, Australia. He was married to Florence Alice Taylor, born July 1908 in Rugby, Warwickshire, England. Florence & Herbert married in Australia in 1936.

He was still shown to be resident at 27 Pitt St at the time of his death in 1942.

World War Two in the Pacific

herbert-stanley-biertonHerbert is recorded to be a Private in the Australian Army (Infantry) at the time of his death, which took place at sea Sulawesi Tengah, Indonesia.

Sulawesi (formerly known as Celebes) is an island in Indonesia. One of the four Greater Sunda Islands it is situated between Borneo and the Maluku Islands.

Sulawesi comprises four peninsulas: the northern Minahasa Peninsula; the East Peninsula; the South Peninsula; and the South-east Peninsula. Three gulfs separate these peninsulas: the Gulf of Tomini between northern Minahasa peninsula and East Peninsula; the Tolo Gulf between East and Southeast Peninsula; and the Bone Gulf between the South and Southeast Peninsula. The Strait of Makassar runs along the western side of the island and separates the island from Borneo.

During World War 2, Indonesia was occupied by the Japanese. The Japanese occupied the (Indonesian) archipelago in order, like their Portuguese and Dutch predecessors, to secure its rich natural resources. Japan's invasion of North China, which had begun in July 1937, by the end of the decade had become bogged down in the face of stubborn Chinese resistance. To feed Japan's war machine, large amounts of petroleum, scrap iron, and other raw materials had to be imported from foreign sources. Most oil - about 55 percent - came from the United States, but Indonesia supplied a critical 25 percent.

Once Germany had invaded the Netherlands on continental Europe, Japan opened a dialogue with the Netherlands Indies government (then rulers of Indonesia) during which Japan Japan's demanded that the Indies government supply it with fixed quantities of vital natural resources, especially oil. So called negotiations took place throughout 1940 and into 1941.

The Indies government, realizing its extremely weak position, played for time. But in summer 1941, it followed the United States in freezing Japanese assets and imposing an embargo on oil and other exports. Because Japan could not continue its China war without these resources, the military-dominated government in Tokyo gave assent to an "advance south" policy. French Indochina was already effectively under Japanese control. A nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union in April 1941 freed Japan to wage war against the United States and the European colonial powers.

The Japanese experienced spectacular early victories in the Southeast Asian war. Singapore, Britain's fortress in the east, fell on February 15, 1941, despite British numerical superiority and the strength of its seaward defenses. The Battle of the Java Sea resulted in the Japanese defeat of a combined British, Dutch, Australian, and United States fleet. On March 9, 1942, the Netherlands Indies government surrendered without offering resistance on land.

Battle of Java (Operation J)

The Battle of Java (Invasion of Java, Operation J) occurred on the island of Java from 28 February-12 March 1942. It involved forces from the Empire of Japan, which invaded on 28 February 1942, and Allied personnel. Allied commanders signed a formal surrender at Japanese headquarters at Bandung on 12 March.

The Japanese forces were split into two groups: the Eastern Force, with its headquarters at Jolo Island in the Sulu Archipelago, included the 48th Division and the 56th Regimental Group. The Western Force, based at Cam Ranh Bay, French Indochina included the 2nd Division and the 230th Regiment (detached from the 38th Division).

The Allied forces were commanded by the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (KNIL) commander, General Hein ter Poorten. Although the KNIL forces had, on paper, 25,000 (mostly Indonesian) well-armed troops, many were poorly trained. The KNIL forces were deployed in four sub-commands: Batavia (Jakarta) area (two regiments); north central Java (one regiment); south Java (one regiment) and; east Java, one regiment.

The British, Australian and United States units were commanded by British Major General H. D. W. Sitwell. The British forces were predominantly anti-aircraft units: the 77th Heavy AA Regiment, 21st Light AA Regiment and 48th Light AA Regiment. The only British armoured unit on Java was a squadron of light tanks from the British 3rd Hussars. Two British AA regiments without guns, the 6th Heavy AA Regt and the 35th Light AA Regiment were equipped as infantry to defend airfields. The British also had transport and administrative units.

The Australian formation - named "Blackforce" after its commander, Brigadier Arthur Blackburn V.C. - included the Australian 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion, the Australian 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion, a company from the Royal Australian Engineers, a platoon from the 2/1st Headquarters Guard Battalion, about 100 reinforcements diverted en route to Singapore, a handful of soldiers who had escaped from Singapore following its fall to the Japanese, two transport companies, a casualty clearing station, and a company headquarters unit. Blackburn decided to re-organise his troops as an infantry brigade. They were well-equipped in terms of Bren guns, light armoured cars, and trucks, but they had few rifles, submachineguns, anti-tank rifles, mortars, grenades, radio equipment or Bren gun carriers. Blackburn managed to assemble an HQ staff and three infantry battalions based on the 2/3rd Machine Gun, the 2/2nd Pioneers, and a mixed "Reserve Group". The only U.S. ground forces in Java, the 2nd Battalion of the 131st Field Artillery (a Texas National Guard unit) was also attached to Black Force.

Poorly equipped (compared to the Japanese) and facing overwhelming forces, by 7 March, defeat was inevitable, with Tjilatjap already in Japanese hands. Soerabaja was being evacuated while Japanese troops were rapidly converging on Bandoeng from both the north and the west. At 09:00 on 8 March, the Commander-in-Chief of the Allied forces - Ter Poorten - announced the surrender of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army in Java.

At 23:00, the Dutch radio station NIROM (Nederlandsch Indische Radio Omroep Maatschappij) broadcast the last news from a temporary transmitter at Ciumbuluit. The announcer Bert Garthoff ended the broadcast with the words "Wij sluiten nu. Vaarwel tot betere tijden. Leve de Koningin!" (We are closing now. Farewell till better times. Long live the Queen!)

The Dutch Governor, Jonkheer Dr. A.W.L. Tjarda Van Starkenborgh Stachouwer and Lieutenant-General Ter Poorten, together with Major-General Jacob J. Pesman, the commander of the Bandoeng District, met the Japanese Commander-in-Chief, Lieutenant-General Hitoshi Imamura at Kalidjati that afternoon and agreed to the capitulation of all the troops.

Aftermath

On 3 March, the U.S. Navy Gunboat USS Asheville was sunk south of Java.

On 10 March, Lieutenant-General Hitoshi Imamura became the new governor of Java and Madura, thus becoming the highest authority in the occupied Dutch East Indies. He stayed in this position for approximately eight months, until 11 November 1942. Imamura was subordinated to Field Marshal Count Hisaichi Terauchi, the Supreme Commander of the Southern Army, headquartered in Saigon, French Indochina. He was also the governor of the so-called "Southern Territories" (Malaya, Burma, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Java, Sumatra, and Borneo) and directly subordinated to the Imperial Headquarters in Tokyo, Japan.

On 12 March, the senior British, Australian and American commanders were summoned to Bandoeng where the formal instrument of surrender was signed in the presence of the Japanese commander in the Bandoeng area, Lieutenant-General Masao Maruyama, who promised them the rights of the Geneva Convention for the protection of prisoners of war.

Immediately after this, the widely-spread Japanese troops were reorganised. The 16th Army (2nd Division and 48th Division) was ordered to guard Java, while the eastern territory (Lesser Sunda islands, Celebes, Ambon and Netherlands New Guinea) became the responsibility of the Imperial Navy. The other units were deployed to other combat areas in the Pacific or returned to Japan.

The surrender of the Dutch marked the end of the ABDA defence in the Dutch East Indies and the collapse of the "Malay Barrier" (or "East Indies Barrier"). Because the Allied naval force had been destroyed, the Indian Ocean and the approach to Australia lay open to the Imperial Japanese Navy.

The sinking of the Montevideo Maru

The 7,266 ton, twin-screw diesel motor vessel, the MV Montevideo Maru, was a Japanese passenger vessel constructed in Nagasaki in 1926. It was operated until the outbreak of the Second World War by the Osaka Shosen Kaisha Shipping Line for its service between Japan and South America.

montevideo maru

During the Second World War the Montevideo Maru was used by the Imperial Japanese Navy as an auxiliary vessel transporting troops and provisions throughout South East Asia. As a part of the Kure Naval District, the vessel participated in landings at Makassar in the Netherlands East Indies. After operating in the Japanese islands, the Montevideo Maru returned to Java before sailing for New Britain.

Early in the morning of 22 June 1942, members of the Australian 2/22nd Battalion, No.1 Independent Company, and civilian prisoners captured in New Britain were ordered to board the vessel. For the march to the waterfront, Japanese guards divided the prisoners into groups of approximately fifty men. Only the officers and a small number of civilians were left in the Malaguna Road camp. The Montevideo Maru sailed unescorted for Hainan Island, keeping to the east of the Philippines in an effort to avoid Allied submarines.

Eight days into the voyage (1st July 1942), the Montevideo Maru was spotted by the American submarine USS Sturgeon. For approximately four hours the Sturgeon manoeuvred into a position to fire its four stern torpedoes. The USS Sturgeon’s log records an impact at 2.29 am, approximately 100 feet (30 metres) aft of the funnel. Survivors from the Montevideo Maru’s Japanese crew reported two torpedoes striking the vessel followed by an explosion in the oil tank in the aft hold.

According to both the Sturgeon’s log and the Japanese survivors, the Montevideo Maru sank by the stern in as little as eleven minutes from the torpedo impact. Although the Japanese crew were ordered to abandon ship, it does not appear they made any attempt to assist the prisoners to do likewise. The ship’s lifeboats were launched but all capsized and one suffered severe damage. Of the 88 Japanese guards and crew, only 17 survived the sinking and subsequent march through the Philippine jungle.

While the exact number and identity of the more than 1,000 men aboard the Montevideo Maru has never been confirmed, Japanese and Australian sources suggest an estimated 845 military personnel and up to 208 civilians lost their lives in the tragedy.

rabaul war cemeteryConsiderable efforts were made by both the International Red Cross and the Australian government to seek details of the Montevideo Maru’s passengers from the Japanese authorities. Despite evidence that the Japanese navy forwarded information about the loss of the vessel to Japan’s Prisoner of War Information Bureau as early as January 1943, Australian authorities were not provided with a list of casualties until October 1945, when Major H.S. Williams of the Recovered Personnel Division in Tokyo began investigations into the loss of Montevideo Maru.

One of those Australian prisoners of war who died when the USS Sturgeon struck was Private Herbert Stanley Bierton, No. VX23965 of the Australian 2/22nd Infantry Battalion. Herbert was 34 years old.

His passing is recorded on Panel 20 of the Rabaul War Cemetery and Memorial at Kokopo, East New Britain, Papua New Guinea.