Battleship Campaign in Indian Ocean
The World War 2 battleship campaign in the Indian Ocean is one of the Least known and Studied, But nevertheless features many key aspects of battleship warfare. Two German Surface raiders visited Indian ocean: The pocket battle Ship GRAF SPEE in October 1939, where she claimed a small tanker of 717tons south –west of Madagascar and than escaped back into the South Atlantic before Anglo-French hunting groups could find her, And the pocket battleship ADMIRAL SCHEER, Which even reached Seychelles in spring of 1941 and lucky to evade the British hunting party. The purpose of these raids was to cause British and allied warships to disperse and to make them introduce the convoy system, which is considered inefficient by Germans. However these raids short lived that they had little effect on the actual distribution and deployment of Allied warship.
Until 1942, However, The Indian Ocean remained a relatively safe theater of operations for Royal Navy. Admiral Sir James Somerville, Who had successfully commanded the battleship and Aircraft carrier of H force based at Gibraltar, had sent to command eastern fleet based in Sri Lanka. Somerville formed his fleet in two groups, a fast fleet consists of battleship Warspite and two carriers INDOMITABLE and FORMIDABLE, and a slow group consist of four battleships RESOULTION, RAMILLIES, ROYAL SOVEREIGN & REVANGE, and the carrier HERMAS. Both Colombo and Trincomalee were poorly defended and Somerville made a secret base at Addu Atoll in the Maldives.
In early April Japanese Navy stuck Indian Ocean. A force of carriers and Cruisers entered the bay of Bengal and sank 23 ships of 113800tons while Japanese Submarines attacked shipping on the west coast of India. Meanwhile a strong carrier group escorted by four fast battleship reached Srilanka. However, the Japanese Admiral Nagumo lost the element of surprise when his force was sighted on 4th April south of Srilanka, Somerville was able to clear his ships out of the ports.
Between April 5 and 9th Japanese air attacks were frustrated as only a British destroyer and a merchant ship were caught in harbor, and two heavy cruisers were discovered at sea and sunk. Somerville’s aggressive tactics led him to counter attack in the process he lost two Battleships and carrier Hermes, The Japanese than left Indian Ocean, and Somerville, uncertain of whereabouts of his enemy, retired, sending his low group to east Africa and fast group to Bombay. The Japanese had thus secured their perimeter and reached the high tide of their expansion for little cost in either material or ship.
The British were now concentrated about further Japanese advance into Indian ocean and about the neutrality of Madagascar, held by Vichy French. A large force including two carriers and and battleship RAMILLIES was assembled at Durban for operation Ironclad, The occupation of Diego Suarez, a natural harbor at northern end of Madagascar. There a May 30 the Japanese counter-attacked using midget Submarine and Ramillies was severely damaged, needing to towed back to Durban for temporary repairs.
Thereafter Somerville’s Eastern fleet was reduced to reinforce other theatres, and throughout August he carried out diversionary raids using carrier ILLUSTRIOUS and Battleship WARSPITE and VALIANT. From September to November 1942 the remainder of the island of Madagascar was occupied and Indian Ocean was relatively quiet for next few years, During which Axis Submarines scored some success
In January 1944 the British Eastern fleet was strengthened by arrival of Queen Elizabeth, Valiant, Renown and several carriers. This was in preparation for series of strikes against Japanese position on Sumatra beginning on April 19, By which time Eastern Fleet included the free French battleship RICHELIEU. Thereafter the war in the Indian ocean mainly fought with aircraft carriers, And in August Valiant was badly damaged and never repaired successfully, She collapsed over dry dock..
In November 1944 the British east Indies fleet included the battleship Queen ELIZABETH and RENOWN, and British Pacific fleet based battleship HOWE nad KING GEORGE THE FIFTH, Aircraft carriers, However, Predominated in both fleets as the battle moved out in Indian Ocean. After World war two the Indian Ocean once more became a Naval power vacuumed, Until the growth of Indian Navy in the late 20th Century.