WW2 PACIFIC -- THE EARLY YEARS
THE BRITISH FLEET
Last updated on June 19, 2005
Force Z -- Dec 9, 1941
- Force Z -- Dec 9, 1941 Prince of Wales and Repulse sunk by Japanese land based bombers.
- Hong Kong Dec 25. Hong Kong surrenders
- Singapore (US escorted troops arrive into captivity) Feb 15, 1942
- Java Sea ABDA
- Ceylon -- April 1942
- Madagascar -- May 5, 1942
The Japanese were on the move in early December 1941 to acquire materials necessary to continue their war to conquer China.1. An invasion fleet, 30 transports and escorts had
departed Cam Ranh Bay Dec 4 for Malaya and Thailand. Its progress was monitored by American aircraft from the Philippines. The Japanese troop landing took place hours before Pearl Harbor was attacked. Force Z, Prince of Wales (BB.53) and Repulse (CB.), sortied with destroyers but without air cover. They were attacked by Japanese land based bombers from Saigon Prince of Wales and Repulse were quickly sunk. American destroyers on the way to join up arrived in time to help in the rescue of sailors.
Reason suggests that the Japanese Strike Fleet would support the Army
in their attacks on the British at Singapore, the Americans in the Philippines, and the
Dutch in East Indies. Only RAdm Turner disagree, he was certain the IJN carrier fleet was on its way to attack the Russians to protect the Army in China while this major expansion took place. No one, N-O-B-O-D-Y, suspected the attack on the American Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor.
Japanese Carrier Attacks on British at Ceylon - April 1942
A new Eastern Fleet has been assembled under the command of Adm Sir James Somerville, recently of Force H. The variety of ships are split into two groups. A fast group includes battleship Warspite, carriers Indomitable and Formidable, heavy cruisers Cornwall and Dorsetshire, two light cruisers plus destroyers. In the slower group are four 'R' class battleships, old carrier Hermes and some cruisers and destroyers. Two Australian destroyers accompany each group. As the Ceylon bases of Colombo and Trincomalee are poorly defended and too far forward, Adm Somerville is operating out of the secret base of Addu Atoll in the Maldive Islands SW of Ceylon.
Madagascar : 5 May - 6 November 1942 - Landings at Diego Saurez, Operation 'Ironclad'.
Early in April, two Japanese forces head into the Indian Ocean.
One under Adm Ozawa with carrier Ryujo and six cruisers makes for the Bay of Bengal and east coast of India. In a matter of days 23 ships of 112,000 tons are sunk. Japanese submarines sink a further five off the Indian west coast.
Bad as this threat is, the real one comes from the carrier strike force of Adm Nagumo with five Pearl Harbor carriers - Akagi, Hiryu, Soryu, Shokaku and Zuikaku - plus four battleships and three cruisers.
The Japanese fleet is first sighted on the 4th south of Ceylon, and shipping is cleared from the ports. In the morning of the 5th a heavy raid on Colombo sinks destroyer TENEDOS and armed merchant cruiser HECTOR. Heavy cruisers CORNWALL and DORSETSHIRE are to the southwest, sailing from Colombo to rejoin the Royal Navy's fast group. Found at noon they soon go to the bottom under a series of aircraft attacks. But Adm Nagumo has not yet finished. As Adm Somerville's two groups search for the Japanese from a position between Addu Atoll and Ceylon, they circle round to the east. From there, on the 9th, Japanese aircraft find the shipping cleared from Trincomalee and back on its way in. Carrier HERMES, Australian destroyer VAMPIRE and corvette HOLLYHOCK are among those that soon go down.
The Japanese carrier force leaves the Indian Ocean, never to return again.
Not knowing this, the surviving ships of the Royal Navy withdraw - the slow group to Kilindini in East Africa and the other to the Bombay area.
Concerned about the Japanese carrier sorties into the Indian Ocean and the
vulnerability of the Cape of Good Hope and Middle East convoy routes, Britain
decides to take Diego Saurez at the north end of Vichy French Madagascar. Under
the command of Rear Admiral E. N. Syfret (recently appointed to Force H), a large
force of ships including battleship "Ramillies" and carriers "Indomitable" and
"Illustrious" assemble at Durban, South Africa towards the end of April. The
assault takes place on 5th May in Courrier Bay to the west of Diego Saurez. The
advance on Diego Saurez is held up and next day a Royal Marine unit storms the
town from the sea. By the 7th the fighting is over and the important anchorage
is in British hands. On the 7th and 8th, French submarines LE HEROS and
MONGE are sunk by joint air and sea attacks. Light fighting in the south
continued until November.
With this final act, the British effectively left the Pacific war until the War in Europe
had become a land engagement and heavy fleet elements returned a Far East Fleet to India in 1944. They began monthly raids, after arrival of ISS Saratoga (CV-3), starting on April 19 with an attack on Sabang, north of Sumatra. The Pacific Fleet was established
in Australia and entered the Pacific War as a Task Force 57 with the USN off Okinawa and in the attacks on Japan.
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About this page: Brit42 - A brief summary of British fleet in the Pacific war