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- WWII operations, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
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- December 2005 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
BPF goes to War
And so the British Pacific Fleet went to war. From early February 1945 ships of the Fleet Train, having topped up in Sydney, had been departing for the operational area. Finally, on 28 February, the first operational fleet sailed –2 battleships, 4 armoured aircraft carriers, 5 cruisers and 11 fleet destroyers, including Quiberon and Quickmatch of the RAN. Quickmatch, in which I had the privilege to be the navigating officer, took part in every operation of the British Pacific Fleet right up to the end of the war. These 22 ships could be described as the original first XI. It was added to a little after this, but going back to the back blocks this gigantic fleet required a tremendous amount of support, which did not build up actually until towards the end of the war. Support was required not only in the Fleet train but in those ships that escorted and looked after the Fleet Train (I would not dare to call those ships the second XI because I suspect that there are chaps who were serving in those ships, still with us!).
A week later this fleet arrived in Manus, to find its frustrations were not over. Here it waited and wilted. The days passed with no operational assignment and spirits sank. Inactivity is the severest test of a fleet’s temper, and in this humid and foul tropical climate, the Fleet’s morale was tested to the full. The politicians, who were still squabbling about where the fleet should be employed, finally relented, and on 18 March the Fleet sailed for the combat area via Ulithi Atoll.
This operation was known as ICEBERG. That was its code name. The BPF’s task in ICEBERG was important but was subsidiary to the main operation against Okinawa. The Fleet was stationed semi-independently to the left of the US Fifth Fleet battleline, off the islands of the Sakishima Gunto, southwest of Okinawa (which was the main objective of the American forces and the US Fleet). Okinawa, when captured, would provide good harbours, good airfields, good everything else, within fighter-cover distance of targets in Japan. And also, it lay right across Japan’s lines of communication to all the places they had expanded to, and the places from which they could obtain their fuel oil.
Okinawa was a particularly bloody battle. The US Fleet, and when I say Fleet, they had 3 or 4 Task Forces, each as big as the BPF, ranged against Okinawa and the Japanese island to the north. The BPF’s job was to nullify airfields on two islands in the Sakishima group, to stop aircraft being staged up to Okinawa from Formosa (now Taiwan), to help in the battle there. Not a very glamorous role, but nevertheless crucial to the success of the main operation. The Americans had originally intended to position two task forces in this area but their losses up to and in the Philippines precluded this. Admiral Nimitz and the Operational Commanders were grateful for the presence of the BPF. Off Sakishima Gunto, the BPF – now designated Task Force 57 and an integral part of the American Forces, stood little chance of glory and every chance of taking heavy punishment. The Fleet Air Arm was now to embark upon a war of attrition in which, like all toe-to-toe slogging matches, there was to be neither glamour nor spectacle. It was sheer drudgery, with a heavy price to be paid for a result which would never be assessed or acknowledged with even a moderate degree of accuracy.
1 NHSA Monograph No. 113 – (This has been edited and republished for this latest anniversary and lists all the Royal Navy, RAN, RCN, RIN, RNZN and SAN ships, supporting ships of the Merchant Navy of the Fleet Train, and all the Commanding Officers on VJ Day, 15 Aug 1945. The magnitude of the Fleet at that period (even though comparatively dwarfed by the USN Fleets) is awe-inspiring. Ed)
2 NHSA Journal of Australian Naval History Vol 2 No.2 Sep 2005 – Article titled: “Sydney 1945 – Strategic Port” by Tim Coyle, contains more detailed research.
3 The Forgotten Fleet – The History of the British Pacific Fleet by John Winton (1976)
BPF Reporting for Duty
In mid-March 1945, when the BPF was ready to join the US Fleet in the Pacific War, the British admiral signalled the USN C-in-C Pacific, “reporting for duty”, and adding that it was hoped to fight the war INDOMITABLY, INDEFATIGABLY and VICTORIOUSLY. The reply from USN C-in-C came: “And HOWE!”
(RADM Gatacre, CBE, DSO, DSC*, RAN`s memoires “Reports of Proceedings“.)