- Hobbs, D.A., MBE, Commander, RN
- WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 2000 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The second range was made ready more quickly than on 24 January with the result that the Fireflies were able to join the main body before it crossed the coast and the 2 Ramrods were on time when they attacked enemy airfields.
The enemy was, however, more alert than he had been on the 24th and was apparently maintaining standing fighter patrols over Palembang. The Ramrods found few aircraft on their airfields but destroyed 4 and damaged 2. Their subsequent presence on patrol over the airfields may have prevented the enemy reinforcing his airborne patrols.
The bombers carried out a ‘step aside’ deployment, which gave the escort fighters a more difficult task than the ‘circular’ deployment used over Pladjoe. Whilst they were carrying it out, enemy fighters broke through and attacked 849 NAS, the second squadron of the first wing, which lost 2 Avengers. 857 NAS, which led the first wing, took the brunt of the anti aircraft fire, which had been improved since the first strike, and was lucky not to suffer heavier losses.
The balloon barrage was reported to be less severe than at Pladjoe but there was still no effective counter to it and the Avengers had to dive through it, once more, in order to bomb accurately. 854 NAS, the leading squadron of the second wing lost 2 aircraft which were seen to hit balloon cables including that of their Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander W.J. Mainprice DFC RN.
Bombing results were, however, excellent with hits concentrated in the briefed target areas. Photographs taken during and after the attack show a sea of flames in both the distillery and the power house areas. Many Avenger aircrews felt the concussion of huge explosions as they pulled out of their dives.
The long withdrawal route was hazardous with isolated Avengers being attacked by enemy fighters, which went for them as they emerged from the smoke over the target. Many were damaged but none were lost in this phase and Lieutenant Conolly RNVR of 854 NAS distinguished himself by shooting down a “Tojo” that was attacking a damaged aircraft from 849 NAS. The fighter escort shot down 7 enemy aircraft and claimed 3 probables.
Once the rendezvous was reached, the form up was carried out expeditiously and the strike returned to the fleet. 4 Avengers, 1 Firefly and 1 Corsair were lost to enemy action. 9 further aircraft made the coast but were then forced to ditch because of the damage they had received. The crews of 8 of these were recovered.
An armed reconnaissance by 2 Fireflies had attacked Maria airfield and found that a football match was the only form of activity! The players ran to man a light anti aircraft gun as they were strafed. Aircraft recovered to the fleet and began to land on at 1010, recovery was complete by 1100.
Enemy attacks on the Fleet
The Japanese made more determined attempts to attack the Force on 29 January. The first “bogey” was detected by radar at 0900; a Seafire from the CAP was vectored onto it and identified it as a fast single engined aircraft but it escaped by diving into cloud. At 0939 several enemy aircraft were detected approaching from the north. They probably failed to sight the Fleet, which was under low cloud but Seafires intercepted and shot down a “Dinah” 28 miles west of the British Force.
At 1026 a group of more than 12 enemy aircraft were detected approaching from the north. Corsairs and Seafires from the CAP were vectored to intercept and reported sighting 2 single engined enemy aircraft carrying bombs, which were chased far to the east. One CAP Corsair from Victorious failed to return from this chase. At 1028 more enemy aircraft were detected passing the Fleet on a southerly track some 40 miles to seaward of it. They were not intercepted, as they seemed to have no knowledge of the Fleet’s position.
After the strike had been recovered a further enemy raid was detected approaching low from the south and 7 Seafires from the Low CAP, which was north of the Fleet at the time, were vectored to intercept. They did so and identified the aircraft as 1 “Helen” and 6 “Sallies”. Just as the Fleet sighted the aircraft, 3 Hellcats were launched by Indomitable as the ship opened fire with guns.