Early on the morning of 7 December 1941, 360 Japanese carrier-borne aircraft made a surprise attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, and laid waste to the American Far East Fleet. They sank four battleships, crippled three cruisers and three destroyers, and seriously damaged two other battleships. One hundred and sixty-four planes were destroyed and 2,403 servicemen and civilians were killed. All for the loss of twenty-nine Japanese aircraft and fifty-five men. Two days later, the British battleships Prince of Wales and Repulse, were sunk by Japanese torpedo bombers as they raced north to intercept an enemy invasion force heading for Malaya. In these two bold forays, the Japanese had successfully emasculated Allied naval power in the East. There now remained no big guns afloat anywhere in the Pacific and Indian oceans capable of opposing Admiral Yamamoto's ships.So began Japan's blitzkrieg.
The Malay peninsular was rapidly overwhelmed, Hong Kong surrendered on Christmas Day, Manila went the same way on the 31st, and on 15 February 1942, in one of the most ignominious defeats in modern warfare, 85,000 British troops laid down their arms, and the vital base of Singapore was in Japanese hands. Thereafter, the rays of the Rising Sun spread ever outwards, overrunning island after island, until even Australia was threatened. The book tells how the Dutch Spice Islands, Java and Sumatra, became a last refuge for those fleeing before the Japanese whirlwind advance, and it was from here that the remaining Allied merchant ships in the area made their bid for freedom carrying hundreds of refugees. For many of these ships it was to be their last voyage.