ABDA was an acronym for American-British-Dutch-Australian and was applied to the Allied headquarters for the defense of Malaya and the Netherlands East Indies. The command was activated on 15 January 1942 under Field Marshall Sir Archibald Wavell and was disbanded on 23 February.

ABDA was charged with holding the Malay Barrier for as long as possible in order to retain Allied control of the Indian Ocean and the western sea approaches to Australia. This was a nearly hopeless task, given the Japanese supremacy in naval forces in the western Pacific. The task was further complicated by the addition of Burma to the command; the difficulties of coordinating action between forces of four nationalities that had not trained together; and the different priorities of the national governments. Britain was primarily concerned with protecting convoys to Singapore; the Dutch were most concerned with defending the island of Java; the Australians were concerned with thwarting an invasion of the island continent; and the Americans were not much interested in committing significant resources to defending European colonies.

The organizational structure of ABDA minimized the Dutch contribution and guaranteed that the resources available would not be used to good effect. Particularly galling was that the superb Dutch naval air reconnaissance service, which was trained to work closely with Dutch surfaces forces, was stripped away and placed under the air command within ABDA, because this was British practice with its separate air service. (This didn't work terribly well for Coastal Command in the Atlantic, either.)

The fall of Singapore on 15 February dislocated the ABDA command, which was dissolved a week later. The only notable achievement of the command was the American strike at Balikpapan, which cost the Japanese four transports but failed to set back their timetable more than a day. A strike at Bandung Strait on 22 February went wrong and cost the Dutch a destroyer with no loss to the enemy.


Costello (1981)

Dunnigan and Nofi (1998)

Morison (1948)

Spector (1985)

Willmott (1982)

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