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Part 2 of 2 - 1943-1945

HMS Indomitable in the Far East 1944/45 (Maurice Whiteing)

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Each Summary is complete in its own right. The same information may therefore be found in a number of related summaries

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Burma - The First Arakan campaign continued as Indian troops tried to move on Akyab.

Monthly Loss Summary: Pacific Ocean only - 2 merchant ships of 9,000 tons

PROSPECTS FOR ALLIED VICTORY  - The Russians gained a famous victory with the German surrender at Stalingrad in January 1943. Taken with the October 1942 British Battle of El Alamein and June 1942 American Battle of Midway, the three Allied successes are usually considered as marking the turning point in the 40 month old war against the Axis powers. The Battle for Guadalcanal, ending as it did Japanese hopes of controlling the South West Pacific should also be added to this roll-call of victory.


Burma - Col Orde Wingate mounted the first Chindit Operation behind Japanese lines, northwest of Lashio. Success was limited, losses heavy and the survivors started to withdraw in late March 1943. In the south-west, the Arakan Offensive failed to make any progress.

Monthly Loss Summary: Indian Ocean - 3 merchant ships of 16,000 tons

MARCH 1943

Burma - In the Arakan the Japanese went over to the attack and pushed back the British and Indian forces which by mid-May 1943 were back in India. The first of three Allied Arakan campaigns was a failure.

Monthly Loss Summary: Indian Ocean - 10 merchant ships of 62,000 tons

APRIL 1943

Monthly Loss Summary: Indian Ocean - 6 merchant ships of 43,000 tons

MAY 1943

Merchant Shipping War - Adm Somerville's Eastern Fleet had lost its remaining carrier, two battleships and many smaller vessels to other theatres. An inadequate anti-submarine and escort force was left to deal with the submarines active in the Indian Ocean. Japanese boats were again joined by German U-boats, and right through until December 1943 not many more than a dozen German and Japanese boats inflicted quite heavy losses throughout the length and breadth of the Indian Ocean. Between June and year's end they sank over 50 merchantmen. (May 1943 was the month that saw the Victory of the Escorts in the Battle of the Atlantic)

Monthly Loss Summary: Indian Ocean - 6 merchant ships of 28,000 tons

Indian Ocean Merchant Shipping Losses, January 1942 to May 1943
Total 230 British and Allied ships of 873,000 tons

JUNE 1943

Monthly Loss Summary: Indian Ocean - 12 merchant ships of 68,000 tons

JULY 1943

Monthly Loss Summary: Indian Ocean only - 17 merchant ships of 97,000 tons


Australia - John Curtin was re-elected Prime Minister and the Labour Party returned to power.

Merchant Shipping War - As Axis submarines continued to take a toll of Indian Ocean shipping, German "U-197" was sunk by RAF aircraft off Madagascar on the 20th, the first of two lost in the Indian Ocean in 1943.

Monthly Loss Summary: Indian Ocean - 7 merchant ships of 46,000 tons


SOE Raid on Singapore - Working for Special Operations Executive, a small group of Australian and British servicemen were carried from Australia in an old fishing vessel, and on the night of the 24th/25th penetrated Singapore harbour in canoes. Several ships were sunk. In a similar raid in September 1944 the attackers were captured and executed.

Monthly Loss Summary: Indian Ocean - 6 merchant ships of 39,000 tons


Merchant Shipping War - RAF aircraft sank their second U-boat of 1943 in the Indian Ocean with "U-533" on the 16th in the Gulf of Oman.

Monthly Loss Summary: Indian Ocean - 6 merchant ships of 26,000 tons


12th - On patrol off Penang, Malaya in the Malacca Strait, submarine "Taurus" sank the Japanese "I-34" sailing on a supply trip to Europe.

Monthly Loss Summary: Indian Ocean - 4 merchant ships of 29,000 tons


Burma - Under Adm Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia, Gen Slim's 14th Army prepared for a major offensive into northern Burma from the area of Kohima and lmphal in India. Preceding this would be a Second Arakan campaign to the south, and in the far north a parallel Chindit and American/Chinese operation in part to open a new route to the Burma Road from Ledo in India. The Arakan push started late in December. Throughout the rest of the war, Adm Mountbatten's plans to prosecute the campaign even more vigorously in South East Asia were continually frustrated by his lack of amphibious capability.

Monthly Loss Summary: Indian Ocean - 5 merchant ships of 31,000 tons




Indian Ocean Operations - Late in the month the British Eastern Fleet was considerably strengthened by the arrival of capital ships "Queen Elizabeth", "Valiant", "Renown" and carriers "Illustrious" and "Unicorn", cruisers and destroyers. To date only the Ceylon-based submarines had been available to carry out offensive operations in the Indian Ocean, and in January they had two successes against Japanese light cruisers of the 'Kuma' class, both off Penang in the Malacca Strait. On the 11th "Tally Ho" (Lt-Cdr L. W. A. Bennington) sank the "KUMA". Two weeks later "Templar" damaged "Kitakami".

Monthly Loss Summary: Indian Ocean - 8 merchant ships of 56,000 tons


11th - As German and Japanese submarines continued to attack Allied shipping in the Indian Ocean, two Japanese boats were sunk, but in the second case only after the loss of many lives. First "RO-110" attacked a Calcutta/Colombo convoy in the Bay of Bengal and was sunk by the escorts - Indian sloop "Jumna" and Australian minesweepers "Ipswich" and "Launceston".

12th - Off Addu Atoll "I-27" attacked a five-ship troop convoy bound for Colombo from Kilindini in East Africa, and escorted by old cruiser "Hawkins" and destroyers "Paladin" and "Petard". Transport "Khedive lsmail" went down with over 1,000 men, but "I-27" was hunted and sunk by the two destroyers.

14th - On patrol in the Malacca Strait, submarine "Tally Ho" had another success (the other was cruiser "Kuma" the month before) by sinking German ex-Italian submarine "UIt-23" bound for Europe with cargo from the Far East.

Burma - The Arakan offensive to the south was slowly progressing when early in the month the Japanese started their own attack, outflanking and surrounding the British and Indian troops. Supplied by air they held out and by June 1944 were established on a line north of Akyab, where they stayed through the monsoon until December.

Monthly Loss Summary: Indian Ocean - 10 merchant ships of 64,000 tons  

MARCH 1944

March - Submarine "STONEHENGE" sailed from Ceylon for patrol in the area between Sumatra and the Nicobar Islands. She was overdue on the 20th, cause of loss unknown.

Burma - In the north, as one Chindit group marched from Ledo into Burma, a second one was airlifted to a position northeast of lndaw on the 5th. US Gen 'Vinegar Joe' Stillwell and his Chinese forces also left from near Ledo and started their own march into Burma heading for Myitkyina. Behind them the new Burma Road was constructed through the mountainous country, but would not link up with the old road until January 1945. Major Gen Orde Wingate was killed in an air crash on the 24th, and shortly afterwards the Chindits were used to support Gen Stillwell's campaign. Further to the south and west the Japanese chose this time to start their own major offensive into India to pre-empt 14th Army's planned attack. By the end of the month they were over the Assam border and approaching the British and Indian defences at Kohima and lmphal.

Monthly Loss Summary: Indian Ocean - 12 merchant ships of 75,000 tons

APRIL 1944

India - On the 14th freighter "FORT STIKINE" loaded with ammunition and cotton caught fire and blew up in Bombay harbour. Damage was widespread to both shipping and installations.

Burma - By the 6th, the Battles of Kohima & lmphal started when the two towns were surrounded. Although the ring around Kohima was partly broken on the 18th, the defenders had to hold out in the two areas in often desperate conditions, supplied by air, throughout April and May 1944.

19th - Carrier Attack on Sabang, Sumatra - Adm Somerville's Eastern Fleet had almost enough strength to start offensive operations although the loan of US carrier "Saratoga" was necessary for the first attack on oil installations at Sabang, together with shipping and airfields. Sailing from Ceylon with "Saratoga" and fleet carrier "Illustrious", were battleships "Queen Elizabeth", "Valiant" and the French "Richelieu", cruisers and destroyers. From a position to the southwest, bombers and fighters flew off from the two carriers for a successful strike on the 19th before returning to Ceylon.

Monthly Loss Summary: There were no merchant shipping losses in the Indian Ocean in April and May 1944

MAY 1944

17th - Carrier Attack on Surabaya, Java - Eastern Fleet carried out another raid, this time on the oil facilities at Surabaya and with the same ships as the Sabang strike. Afterwards "Saratoga" returned to the US.

Merchant Shipping War - No Allied merchant ships were lost in April and May 1944 throughout the Indian Ocean, but 29 were sunk in the preceding three months, and by never more than six German and four Japanese submarines. In return only four boats including one transport submarine had been sunk. The last was "U-852" off the Gulf of Aden to RAF aircraft on 3rd May. 

Indian Ocean Merchant Shipping Losses, June 1943 to May 1944
Total 87 British and Allied ships of 532,000 tons

JUNE 1944

Burma - By early June, units of 14th Army were advancing from Kohima to Imphal, which was completely relieved on the 22nd after some of the bitterest fighting of the campaign. By July the Japanese were retreating back across the Burmese border. British Fourteenth Army now prepared for a main offensive into Burma later in the year.

JULY 1944

17th - As the Ceylon-based submarines continued to cut Japanese supply lines to their armies in Burma, "Telemachus" on patrol in the Malacca Strait sank Japanese submarine "I-166" outward bound for Indian Ocean operations.

25th - FAA Attack on Sabang, Sumatra - Aircraft from "Illustrious" and "Victorious" attacked Sabang, after which three battleships, cruisers and destroyers bombarded the area. This was the last Eastern Fleet operation under the command of Adm Somerville. He moved on to Washington DC as Adm Fraser took over as C-in-C in August. More carrier raids were carried out on Sumatra in August and September.

Monthly Loss Summary: Indian Ocean - 5 merchant ships of 30,000 tons


8th - Battleship "Valiant" (below - CyberHeritage) was seriously damaged at Trincomalee, Ceylon when the floating dock she was in collapsed.


12th - An escort carrier task group was formed to hunt for German and Japanese submarines operating in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Africa. "U-198" was located on the 10th and two days later, sunk off the Seychelles by frigate "Findhorn" and Indian sloop "Godavari".

Monthly Loss Summary: Indian Ocean only - 9 merchant ships of 58,000 tons


23rd - Submarine "Trenchant" on patrol off Penang in the Malacca Strait sank "U-859" arriving from operations in the Indian Ocean. One flotilla of Ceylon-based submarines moved to Western Australia to work in East lndies waters under American Seventh Fleet command.

Monthly Loss Summary: Indian Ocean - 1 merchant ships of 5,600 tons


Burma - Following the repulse of the Japanese around Kohima and lmphal in the Spring of 1944, 14th Army, now including East African troops prepared for the main offensive towards Mandalay. There were all the attendant problems of movement and supply in mountainous and monsoon country, and over the major rivers of Burma. Gen Slim started the advance in mid-October and by the middle of November was over the Chindwin River and heading for central Burma and Mandalay, which was taken in March 1945.

Nicobar Islands - Between the 17th and 19th, ships and carrier aircraft of the Eastern Fleet attacked the Japanese-held islands to divert their attention from the US landings on Leyte in the Philippines.


22nd - Three days after sinking a ship in the shallow Malacca Strait off the west coast of Malaya, submarine "STRATAGEM" was located and sunk by a Japanese destroyer on the 22nd.

Monthly Loss Summary: Indian Ocean - 2 merchant ships of 14,000 tons


Burma - The central Burma campaign towards Mandalay continued. As it did, the Third and last Arakan offensive got underway on the 11th with British, Indian and West African troops aiming for Akyab.

British Pacific Fleet - The Royal Navy prepared to return in force to the Pacific, but even then as a junior partner to the vast US fleets. At the end of November the Eastern Fleet was dissolved and Vice-Adm Sir Arthur Power appointed C-in-C of the newly formed East lndies Fleet. He took over some of the ships of the old Eastern Fleet from Adm Fraser including capital ships "Queen Elizabeth" and "Renown", four escort carriers and nine cruisers. Now as the last U-boats headed back for Europe, Adm Power had sufficient convoy escort strength for Indian Ocean operations. Adm Fraser became C-in-C, British Pacific Fleet (BPF) and early in the month flew to Sydney, his planned main base, and then on to Pearl Harbor to discuss with Adm Nimitz how the Fleet would be employed. By the end of the year, fleet carriers "Illustrious", "Indefatigable", "Indomitable" and "Victorious", battleships "Howe" and "King George V", and seven cruisers including the New Zealand "Achilles" and "Gambia" had been allocated to BPF. Adm Fraser's greatest challenges were to equip and train his aircrews to US Navy standards of operation and to assemble a balanced fleet train. This would enable him to supply and support the fleet so it could operate alongside, but independent o,f the Americans in the vast stretches of the Pacific. Even at the end he lacked many of the ships needed, especially fast tankers. Rear-Adm Sir Philip Vian took command of the BPF carriers and led "Indomitable" and "Illustrious" on an attack against Belawan Deli, northern Sumatra in mid-month. More raids took place on Sumatra in January 1945.




3rd - On patrol to the north of Sumatra, "SHAKESPEARE" surfaced to engage a merchant ship. Hit by return gunfire and later aircraft attack, she reached Ceylon, but was not fully repaired.

16th - The last submarine sinking was on or around the 16th. Minelayer "PORPOISE" on patrol in the Malacca Strait and minelaying off Penang, was probably sunk by Japanese aircraft. (Some sources suggest the 19th.)

Burma - Only now did the Chinese forces in the far north, pushing on from Myitkyina, reach the old Burma Road allowing the Ledo Road link-up to be made. In the centre, 14th Army fought on towards Mandalay throughout January and February. In the south the Arakan offensive moved on by a series of amphibious hops aimed at occupying suitable sites for air bases to support the central Burma campaign. 3rd/21st - Landings at Akyab & Ramree Island - Early on the 3rd, British and Indian forces landed at Akyab from destroyers and smaller vessels of the Royal, Australian and Indian Navies to find the Japanese had gone. On the 21st more British and Indians were landed on Ramree Island with support and cover partly provided by battleship "Queen Elizabeth" and escort carrier "Ameer". The few Japanese resisted in their usual manner into February.

24th/29th - Fleet Air Arm Attack on Palembang - As the British Pacific Fleet transferred from Ceylon to Fremantle en route to Sydney, Australia, successful strikes were made by aircraft from carriers "Indomitable", "Illustrious", "Indefatigable" and "Victorious" on oil installations around Palembang, southern Sumatra on the 24th and 29th. Adm Vian was in command.

Monthly Loss Summary: Very few Allied merchant ships were lost in the Indian Ocean for the rest of the war


11th - Supporting operations on Ramree Island, south of Akyab in Burma, destroyer "PATHFINDER" was hit by Japanese bombers and went to reserve, the 153rd and last destroyer or escort destroyer casualty of the Royal Navies.

British Pacific Fleet - Early in the month, the BPF arrived in Sydney for replenishment. Adm Fraser stayed ashore as C-in-C. BPF had been allocated Manus in the Admiralty Islands as its intermediate base.

MARCH 1945

Burma - On the central front the attacking British and Indian divisions took Mandalay on the 20th after a fierce struggle. As the Japanese started to retreat, 14th Army pushed on south towards Rangoon until early May.

APRIL 1945

Burma - As the Japanese started to retreat, 14th Army pushed on south towards Rangoon until early May.

MAY 1945

Burma - Conclusion - Concerned that 14th Army coming from the north would not reach Rangoon - the capital and major port of Burma, before the monsoon broke, the go-ahead was given for airborne and amphibious landings. On the 1st, Gurkha paratroops landed near the coast. Early next morning the main landings took place. 2nd - Landings Near Rangoon, Operation 'Dracula' - Under the naval command of Rear-Adm B. C. S. Martin, an Indian division was carried from Ramree island in landing ships and craft and put ashore at Rangoon, covered by escort carriers, cruisers and destroyers (Cdre G. N. Oliver). At the same time, diversionary attacks were made on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands by Vice-Adm H. T. C. Walker with battleships "Queen Elizabeth" and the French "Richelieu" and aircraft from two escort carriers. Rangoon was entered on the 3rd by the Indian landing force to find the Japanese gone. On the 6th they met up with 14th Army units just a few miles to the north. The rest of the war was spent mopping up the Japanese unable to escape to Thailand.

16th - Sinking of the "Haguro", Last Major Surface Warship Action of the War - Japanese heavy cruiser "Haguro" sailed for the Andaman Islands to evacuate the garrison. She was reported by East lndies Fleet submarines in the Malacca Strait and Adm Walker set out with his escort carriers to catch her. They were are sighted on the 11th and "Haguro" turned back. She tried again a few days later. This time 26th Destroyer Flotilla (Capt M. L. Power) with "Saumarez", "Venus", "Verulam", "Vigilant" and "Virago" was waiting off Penang. In a classic night torpedo action they attacked from all sides and send "HAGURO" to the bottom early on the 16th.

19th - On patrol in the Java Sea, submarine "TERRAPIN" attacked an escorted Japanese tanker and was badly damaged by depth charges in the counter-attack. She was not repaired, the last Royal Navy submarine casualty of the war.

Borneo - Australian forces under Gen MacArthur started landing operations on Borneo, partly to recover the oil fields. On the 1st they went ashore at Tarakan on the east coast of Dutch Borneo, covered by ships of Seventh Fleet including the Australian cruiser "Hobart". Similar assaults took place at Brunei Bay on the north coast of British Borneo on 10th June, after which the Australians advanced south down the coast of Sarawak. In the last major amphibious operation of the war on the 1st July, the Australians landed at Balikpapan, south of Tarakan on the east coast. Tough fighting was needed to secure the port

Indian Ocean Merchant Shipping Losses, June 1944 to May 1945
Total 21 British and Allied ships of 134,000 tons

JUNE 1945

8th - As Japanese heavy cruiser "ASHIGARA" (sister-ship to "Haguro") carried troops from Batavia to Singapore, she was torpedoed five times by submarine "Trenchant" and sank in the Banka Strait off southeast Sumatra.

JULY 1945

Australia - Prime Minister John Curtin failed to see the end of the war, dying on the 5th after an illness. Acting PM, Joseph Chiffley, succeeded him.

24th/26th Last Major Warship Casualties of the RN in the War  - In East lndies Fleet operations against the Phuket Island area off the west coast of southern Thailand, including mine clearance, fleet minesweeper "SQUIRREL" was mined and sunk on the 24th. Two days later on the 26th, kamikaze aircraft attacked for the first and last time in the Indian Ocean theatre. Fleet minesweeper "VESTAL"  (below - Navy Photos) was hit and scuttled. Heavy cruiser "Sussex" was very slightly damaged by a near miss.


31st - Sinking of the "Takao" - Japanese heavy cruiser "Takao", previously damaged by US submarines on passage to the Battle of Leyte Gulf, was now laying off Singapore in the Johore Straits. On the night of the 30th/31st, midget submarines "XE-1" (Lt Smart) and "XE-3" (Lt Fraser) were released by towing submarines "Spark" and "Stygian" and managed to reach the cruiser to drop their charges. "XE-3" was almost trapped beneath the hull of "Takao" on a falling tide. "TAKAO" was badly damaged in the resulting explosions and sank to the bottom. Other XE craft cut or damaged the undersea telephone cables off Saigon and Hong Kong at this time. Lt Ian Fraser RNR and his diver, Leading Seaman James Magennis were awarded the Victoria Cross.


6th - B-29 Superfortress "Enola Gay", flying from Tinian dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The equivalent of 20,000 tons of TNT killed 80,000 people.

8th - Russia declared war on Japan and invaded Manchuria early next day overwhelming the Japanese defenders.

9th - The second A-bomb was detonated over Nagasaki and over 40,000 people died.

15th - VJ-Day: After days of internal argument, Emperor Hirohito over-rode the politicians and military, and broadcast Japan's unconditional surrender over the radio.

Total 385 British and Allied ships of 1,790,000 tons lost


2nd - Gen MacArthur accepted Japan's surrender on behalf of the Allied powers on the quarterdeck of US battleship "Missouri". Amongst the signatories of the surrender document were Adm Sir Bruce Fraser for Great Britain, Gen Blamey for Australia, Col Moore-Cosgrove for Canada, Air Vice Marshal lsitt for New Zealand and, for the United States, Adm Nimitz.

Royal Navy - As ships of the Royal and Dominion Navies repatriated Allied prisoners of war and transported food and supplies throughout South East Asia, other surrenders followed during the next few days. 6th - On board light carrier "Glory" off the by-passed Japanese stronghold of Rabaul, Australian Gen Sturdee took the surrender of the Bismarck Archipelago, New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. Local surrenders in the area took place on Australian warships. 12th - South East Asia was surrendered to Adm Mountbatten at a ceremony in Singapore. 16th - Arriving at Hong Kong in cruiser "Swiftsure", Rear-Adm C. H. J. Harcourt accepted the Japanese surrender.


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