Indian Ocean raid

Indian Ocean raid

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Indian Ocean raid

caption=British heavy cruisers "Dorsetshire" and "Cornwall" under Japanese air attack and heavily damaged on April 5, 1942.
partof=World War II, Pacific War
date=31 March – 10 April 1942
place=Indian Ocean and Ceylon
result=Decisive Japanese Victory
combatant1=flagicon|UK United Kingdom
flagicon|Australia Australia
flagicon|Netherlands Netherlands
combatant2=flagicon|Japan|naval Empire of Japan
commander1=flagicon|United Kingdom|naval James Somerville
commander2=flagicon|Japan|naval Chuichi Nagumo
strength1=3 carriers
5 battleships
7 cruisers
15 destroyers
100+ aircraft
30 smaller warships
50+ merchant ships
strength2=6 carriers
4 battleships
7 cruisers
19 destroyers
5 submarines
350 aircraft
casualties1=1 carrier
2 cruisers
2 destroyers
1 Armed Merchant Cruiser (AMC)
1 corvette
1 sloop
23 merchant ships sunk
40+ aircraft destroyed
casualties2=20+ aircraft destroyed|

The Indian Ocean raid was a naval sortie by the Fast Carrier Strike Force of the Imperial Japanese Navy from 31 March to 10 April 1942 against Allied shipping and bases in the Indian Ocean. It was an early engagement of the Pacific campaign of World War II. The Japanese under Chuichi Nagumo compelled the Allied (largely Royal Navy) forces to retreat to East Africa, leaving the Japanese unopposed in the Indian Ocean.

First moves

Following the destruction of the ABDA forces in the battles around Java in February and March, the Japanese sortied into the Indian Ocean to destroy British seapower there and support the invasion of Burma. The Japanese force, commanded by Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, had six carriers: "Akagi", "Ryūjō", "Hiryū", "Sōryū", "Shōkaku", and "Zuikaku". This powerful force left Staring Bay, Celebes on 26 March 1942.

Signal decrypts provided the British commander of the Eastern Fleet, Vice Admiral Sir James Somerville with warning of the Japanese sortie, and he retreated to Addu Atoll in the Maldive Islands, expecting an attack on 1 April or 2 April.

The first raids were against shipping in the Bay of Bengal by the carrier "Ryūjō" and six cruisers under the command of Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa. They sank 23 ships, and five more were sunk by submarines off India's west coast.

When the expected attack on Ceylon failed to take place, Somerville sent the slow carrier "Hermes" back to Trincomalee for repairs, escorted by the heavy cruisers "Cornwall" and "Dorsetshire", and the Australian destroyer HMAS "Vampire".

On the evening of 4 April, the Japanese fleet was detected 400 miles south of Ceylon by a PBY Catalina flown by Squadron Leader Leonard Birchall of 413 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force. The location of the fleet was transmitted before the Catalina was shot down by a Zero fighter from the "Hiryū".

Attack on Colombo, Ceylon

On 5 April 1942 the Japanese struck with a force of 125 aircraft, made up of 36 'Val' dive bombers and 53 'Kate' torpedo bombers with 36 Zero fighters as escort. The aircraft, under the command of Commander Mitsuo Fuchida of the Akagi, who had led the attack on Pearl Harbor, made landfall near Galle. They flew up the coast for half an hour in full view of everybody, but nobody informed the RAF at Ratmalana, whose aircraft were still on the ground as the Japanese flew overhead.

The Japanese attacked the naval base at Colombo, Ceylon, sinking the auxiliary cruiser "Hector" and the old destroyer "Tenedos" in the harbour, but losing a claimed eighteen planes to heavy flak (the Japanese only admitted to 5, three of them over land - as only three destroyed planes were discovered on land). The RAF lost at least 27 planes. Then Japanese search planes discovered the "Cornwall" and "Dorsetshire", commanded by Captain Augustus Agar, 200 miles southwest of Ceylon and sank them, killing 424 men.

On 6 April 1942 the Indian sloop "Indus" was sunk by air attack off the coast of Burma, off Akyab.

Trincomalee and Batticaloa, Ceylon

On 9 April 1942 the Japanese attacked the harbor at Trincomalee at 07:00. The British again had warning of the attack, and "Hermes" and her escorts had left the night before. They were returning to port when they were discovered at 08:55. "Hermes" had no aircraft on board, and so was defenceless when 70 bombers attacked her at 10:35 off Batticaloa. Hit 40 times, "Hermes" sank with the loss of 307 men. "Vampire" and the corvette "Hollyhock" were also sunk.

The hospital ship "Vita" later picked up 590 survivors. The Royal Australian Air Force lost at least eight Hawker Hurricanes and the Fleet Air Arm one Fairey Fulmar. The Japanese lost five bombers and six fighters, one in a suicide attack on the Trincomalee fuel tanks.


The sortie demonstrated Japanese superiority in carrier operations, and exposed the unprofessional manner in which the RAF was run in the East, but it did not destroy British naval power in the Indian Ocean. It is arguable that, by making full use of signal intercepts, decryption, reconnaissance and superior radar, Somerville was able to save his fast carriers "Indomitable" and "Formidable" to fight another day. However, it might equally be said that the blunders made by the Royal Navy meant that the main fleet from Addu was not able to make contact with Nagumo's force as it intended.

An invasion was feared by the British, who interpreted the Japanese failure to do so as due to heavy losses over Ceylon - and hence led to claims of a British victory. However, in reality the Japanese did not have the men, shipping or land based air power to spare for an invasion and occupation and were not even in a position to make a temporary occupation as a raid. The island did not face a real threat of invasion at any point during the war.

The island of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), was strategically important, since it commanded the Indian Ocean. Thus it controlled access to India, also the vital Allied shipping routes to the Middle East and the oilfields of the Persian Gulf. Ceylon held most of the British Empire's resources of rubber. An important harbor and naval base, Trincomalee, was located on the island’s eastern coast. Japanese propaganda had many of the native Sinhalese population, who now awaited their arrival.

The raid had allowed the Imperial Japanese Navy to demonstrate their mastery of the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal; also their ability to seize territory by capturing the Andaman Islands. Despite losses, the British fleet escaped conflict by retiring; in view of the overwhelming superiority of the Japanese, particularly in carrier operations, this seems to have been a wise decision by Admiral Somerville. Japanese plans were already made for a submarine base in the island of Madagascar to attack Allied shipping routes; now a weakened Ceylon invited invasion, possibly with limited objectives, the taking of Trincomalee, a more convenient base.

That the British expected invasion, from their mastery of Japanese codes and other sources, is borne out by a speech, the C. in C. of Ceylon, Admiral Sir Geoffrey Layton, made in mid-April, to personnel of the damaged airfield, at China Bay in Trincomalee Harbor. He warned them, ‘The Japanese Fleet has retired to Singapore, to refuel and rearm, and to organise an invasion force, which we think is coming back to attack us.’ He ended by saying, ‘He was going for re-enforcements, while you men here, must be prepared to fight to the last man to stop the Japanese.' The Admiral’s speech had a negative effect on personnel, particularly his reference to leaving the island for re-enforcements; afterwards he became known as ‘Runaway Layton.’

However, the expected Japanese invasion, never took place; the First Carrier Striking Force was recalled to Japan, due to events far away in the Pacific.The Doolittle Raid of April 18th 1942, was the first air raid by the United States on the Japanese home islands, during World War II. The totally unexpected raid on Tokyo, the capital and home of the Emperor, caused little damage, but had strong effects in the Japanese High Command. U.S. bombers had flown near the Imperial Palace, so insulting their revered Emperor; more important was their realization that the home islands were now vulnerable to U.S. air attack. The Imperial Japanese Navy had responsibility for securing the ‘Pacific Frontier’, thus would have to fix the problem.

Their Commander in Chief, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, now took charge of a complex operation, which would involve the taking of Midway Island, with the luring of U.S. Navy aircraft carriers into a fatal battle. Instead, in June 1942, the U.S. Navy would turn the tables and all four aircraft carriers of the First Striking Force would be sunk at the Battle of Midway, thus depriving the IJN of the ability to conduct long range strategic attacks.

Three British army divisions came to strengthen Ceylon’s defences; also measures to improve morale ensued, such as ensuring Sinhalese food rations were increased. Several minor mutinies against the British by native soldiers, were quickly put down. Admiral Sir G. Layton remained in Ceylon for most of the war. Later, Ceylon would become an important base for the planned re-taking of Malaya and Singapore.fact|date=July 2008

ee also

* South-East Asian Theatre of World War II
* The Easter Sunday Raid on Colombo
* Indian Ocean Disaster
* Battle of Madagascar
* Cocos Islands Mutiny



*cite book
last = Brown
first = David
authorlink =
year = 1990
title = Warship Losses of World War Two
publisher = Naval Institute Press
location =
id = ISBN 1-55750-914-X

*cite book
last = D'Albas
first = Andrieu
authorlink =
year = 1965
title = Death of a Navy: Japanese Naval Action in World War II
publisher = Devin-Adair Pub
location =
id = ISBN 0-8159-5302-X

*cite book
last = Dull
first = Paul S.
authorlink =
year = 1978
chapter =
title = A Battle History of the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1941-1945
publisher = Naval Institute Press
location =
id = ISBN 0-87021-097-1

*cite book
last = Gill
first = G. Hermon
year = 1968
url =
title = Volume II – Royal Australian Navy, 1942–1945
series = Australia in the War of 1939–1945
location = Canberra
publisher = Australian War Memorial
accessdate = 2006-11-20

* Noel Crusz, "The Cocos Islands Mutiny", Fremantle: Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2001.
* Michael Tominson, "The Most Dangerous Moment: The Japanese Assault on Ceylon 1942", London: Granada, 1979.

External links

* [ Order of battle]
* [ Raids into Indian Ocean]
* [ Royal Air Force History: Battle for Ceylon]

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