Captain Albert Harold Rooks, USN graduated the Naval Academy, Class of 1914. Over the next seven years he served on the USS West Virginia ACR-5 and USS St. Louis C-20, then commanded the submarines USS Pike SS-6, USS B-2 (SS-11), USS F-2 (SS-21) and USS H-4 (SS-147). He went ashore with an assignment to COMTWELVE Staff, San Francisco and was promoted to LCDR. He returned to sea on the USS New Mexico BB-40, then returned to the Naval Academy as a Staff member. He was on the pre-commissioning detail of the USS Northampton CA-26 and served onboard her until 1933. A second tour at the Naval Academy followed, then in 1936 CDR Rooks commissioned and was the first Commanding Officer of the USS Phelps DD-360. In 1938 he attended the War College.
Promoted to Captain, he returned to sea as Commanding Officer of the USS Houston CA-30, the Asiatic Fleet Flagship for ADM Hart. The Houston was a Treaty cruiser, with limited armament and no radar, a ship with restrictions the allies agreed to after World War I. She was also overdue for overhaul and new equipment. Further, the Houston had five inch rounds that were 70% duds according to her Gunnery Officer, CDR Maher.
When the Japanese invaded Southeast Asia an allied group of mixed use and aged combat ships were available for offense and defense. After a period of confusion, RADM Doorman, Royal Netherlands Navy was made Commander, American, British, Dutch and Australian Afloat (ABDAFLOAT) to hold the Japanese. RADM Doorman deployed his combined force in an unorthodox pattern and dividing that force, thus reducing their combined usefulness. Adding to these problems, a lack of compatible communications equipment and language problems further lowered the flexibility of ABDAFLOAT.
Two large Japanese Task Forces attacked by air, knocking out a turret on the Houston, and killing 44 of her crewmembers February 4, 1942. Half the allied cruisers and several destroyers were lost in this action in The Battle of the Java Sea (or Battle of Bali Sea). Captain Rooks received the Medal of Honor for his defense of ABDAFLOAT and his ship.
After that battle, the allies reorganized and a briefing was held for the surviving ships. Faulty intelligence placed a Japanese invasion fleet at least 250 miles from Western Java, the location of allied forces. The invasion fleet consisted of a carrier, four heavy and two light cruisers and twenty-five destroyers and was in Western Java. On February 28, 1942, the Houston and HMS Perth approached Sunda Straight and found themselves in the midst of sixty invasion transports and their fleet of escorts. The Perth went down with over half her crew March 1st. The Houston fought on until ammo was exhausted and she was gutted by torpedoes and shell fire. Two thirds of her crew, including Captain Rooks, were lost. Thus ended ABDAFLOAT in the Battle of Sunda Strait.
Reference: The U.S. Asiatic Fleet in World War II; The Fleet The Gods Forgot, W. G. Winslow
Submitted by Doug Bewall RMCM USN Ret