BRITISH PACIFIC FLEET

British Pacific Fleet Campaign

Our next campaign was the British Pacific Fleet Campaign which saw action against Japan during 1945.

Royal Air Force

Grumman Hellcat II

INTRODUCTION

The British Pacific Fleet campaign was in two parts, a short campaign around the Palembang operation in January 1945 and a longer campaign covering the Sakishima operations from March until May.

The fighter planes flown during this campaign were Corsairs, Hellcats, Seafires and Avengers from Royal Navy aircraft carriers against Japanese fighters, Kamikazes and ground targets.

crown Palembang in Sumatra

PART 1 - PALEMBANG

Formed in January 1945 around the four fleet carriers of the East Indies fleet together with the battleship King George V, the 283 aircraft of the BPF represented the greatest concentration of air power ever assembled by the Royal Navy.

On the 13 January the BFP left Ceylon bound for it new base at Sydney, Australia. On the way it was to attack the Japanese oil refineries at Palembang in Sumatra. The two raids, Operation Meridian one and two, were a major success and dealt a heavy blow to the Japanese, cutting aviation fuel production by seventy-five percent.

crown Map of the Pacific Island Campaign

PART 2 - SAKISHIMA

While at Sydney it was agreed that the BPF would operate alongside the US Fifth Fleet for Operation Iceberg, the invasion of Okinawa in the Japanese home islands. Designated Task Force 57 the BPF would operate on the left flank of the invasion force, interdicting Japanese reinforcements moving through the Sakishima islands from Formosa and China.

Airfield Under Attack

In March the fleet moves to its advanced operating base at Manus, and on the 26th commenced operations against the six Japanese airfields on the Sakishima islands. A pattern of operations developed with three days on station followed by two day refuelling and rearming at sea. The airfields were bombed continuously, with US Navy escort carriers covering while the British Pacific Fleet was away.

Pilot Aboard a Carrier

From April 1st the fleet was subjected to sustained kamikaze attacks from Japanese aircraft operating out of Formosa. Although some damage was inflicted the armoured flight decks of the British carriers prevented the major damage sustained by the wooden flight decks of the US Navy carriers. On the April 12 and 13 the BPF shifted its attacks west to Formosa in an attempted to destroy the Kamikaze’s airfields and take some pressure off hard press US fleet. Poor weather hampered the attacks and on the 14th the fleet withdrew to Utili atoll to replenish.

Aftermath of a Kamikaze Attack

On April 16 the BFP was back off the Sakishima islands and continued operations until it’s final withdraw on May 21. The Sakishima operations represented the RN longest sustained period of operations at sea of the war and made a major contribution to the Japanese defeat at Okinawa.  

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AIRCRAFT USED IN THE CAMPAIGN
Supermarine Seafire III

Supermarine Seafire III  The Seafire was not well liked by the Fleet Air Arm, having a very poor record when deck landing due to its narrow and fragile undercarriage and nose heavy design. It was also hampered by its short range that restricted its use to fleet defence. As a point defence interceptor however it proved more than a match for any Japanese aircraft.

Grumman Hellcat II

Grumman Hellcat II  The Grumman Hellcat II was the preferred fighter plane of the Fleet Air Arm. However they were in short supply as the United States Navy had first call on all production. The Hellcat II was a superb naval fighter, reliable, easy to land and with good performance. Armed with six 50cal machine guns and capable of carrying two 500lb bombs.

Vought-Chance Corsair II

Vought-Chance Corsair II  The most numerous fighter with the BPF. Difficult to land on a carrier it was relegated to shore use with US Marine Corp. The FAA requested Hellcats from the Americans but given the Corsair. To land it safely, they softened the landing gear and used a curved approach. It was fast and could carry a large payload long distances. Armament: six 50cal machine guns.

Grumman Avenger III

Grumman Avenger III  Designed as a torpedo bomber but proved its worth as a strike bomber carrying bombs, depth-charges and rockets. In FAA service it commonly carried four 500lb bombs delivered in a shallow dive. It carried a three man crew and was armed with twin forward firing 50cal machine guns, a rear turret with a single 50cal machine gun and a single 30cal in a ventral mount.

Fairey Firefly

Fairey Firefly  A single engine, multi crewed naval fighter. The Royal Navy’s insistence on carrying an observer was sensible for navigating over open ocean but the Firefly lacked the performance necessary against single seater fighters. Powered by the RR Griffon engine and armed with four 20mm cannon, its principle role was light strike and flak suppression with eight 60lb rockets.

Supermarine Walrus

Supermarine Walrus  Two Walrus flying boats were operated from HMS Victorious and used for air-sea rescue saved many downed aircrew from under the noses of the Japanese.  

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